We Saw Gravity

gravity movie posterHelaine and I joined my cousins Michael, Melissa and Max at the movies tonight. We saw Gravity in 3D on the Imax screen and digital projector at the Irvine Spectrum’s 21 screen theater. I considered taking Dramamine before we left the house!

If you’ve seen Gravity’s trailer or commercials you know there’s an accident in space. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are flung around as their space shuttle disintegrates around them. Like a Steven Segal/Bruce Willis/Sylvester Stallone movie, both remain unscathed while the world around them is blasted to smithereens&#185.

There’s been a great deal of talk about the scientific liberties taken within the movie. It’s a movie. I was willing to suspend believe.

However, much of the dialog, especially early on, just didn’t ring true. Mission control explained the impending doom to Clooney and Bullock as if they were speaking to a theater full space-naive people, not astronauts.

That being said, the movie was intense. The action seemed real. Even in the microgravity of near Earth orbit mass is mass. A human slamming into a giant metal structure is going to get just as banged up in space as on the ground.

In Apollo 13 director Ron Howard simulated microgravity by shooting scenes on the ‘Vomit Comet.’ Clooney and Bullock claim everything in Gravity was done on-the-ground (or reasonably near it). I have no idea how the effects were achieved. I’m impressed.

wpid-IMAG0082.jpgBefore the movie, as we sat through 15 minutes of trailers, one came on in 3D. The action was shot with long, fast lenses producing very shallow depth-of-field. It looked artificial. Jarring.

In Gravity the 3D never got in the way. It seemed organic. However, since 3D imagery can move action off-the-screen toward you, the close-ups were really close! Really, really close, especially on the gigantic Imax screen.

I was glad I went. I enjoyed the movie. But it was much more flawed than I anticipated. Sparkling reviews got my hopes too high.

&#185 – I don’t think I’ve ever type smithereens before. I’ll try and not let it happen again.

It’s Time For Me To Build A New PC

I spent part of yesterday afternoon in at MicroCenter Tustin. I’m getting ready to assemble a new computer, my third build.

Building your own PC is a lot easier than it sounds. There are a limited number of components necessary. You just buy the pieces, plug and play.

OK, there’s also the anguish part where you pray it will fire up when plugged in. I’ve been mainly lucky in that regard.

PC sales are down. For most folks the box they bought a few years ago is still plenty fast to get the job done. Computer makers are victims of their own success!

My problem is different. I need a machine that can easily handle the immense files used for photography and video. And, since I’m doing more web development&#185, two wide screen monitors would be nice.

My specs are fluid, but here’s what I’m looking at:

  • Intel I7-4770K CPU– This is the brain. It’s a quad core chip that runs fast and can be overclocked to run faster.
  • ASRock Z87 Extreme4 ATX LGA1150 Motherboard — All the components plug into the motherboard. This one has sufficient USB and other ports. I’m not totally sure how different different motherboards really are, but there’s a lot of buzz about ASRock.
  • Samsung 840 EVO 250GB 2.5″ Solid State Disk — There will be two drives. This first one is for booting the machine and loading programs. A solid state drive is VERY fast, especially compared to a conventional hard drive. They’re also more expensive with less capacity.
  • Western Digital Caviar Black 2TB 3.5″ 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive — This hard drive will be used for storage. Video files are immense! 2TB means 2,199,023,255,552 bytes. When was the last time you had two trillion of anything?
  • EVGA GeForce GTX 660 2GB Video Card — Most motherboards have video already built-in. The programs I want to use take advantage of the GTX 660’s “cuda cores,” which handle much of the math involved in manipulating stills and video. That means editing, rendering and transcoding will speed along.
  • Windows 7 64bit — There’s a lot of controversy between Windows 7 and 8. Some folks feel Windows 8’s touch/tablet oriented design makes it less able in a keyboard/mouse environment. I’m very unsure. This could easily change.

Beyond this there’s 16 gb of RAM, case, power supply, CPU cooler, DVDRW and a few other assorted parts.

I posted to the “buildapc” section on Reddit, but was disappointed with the level of advice I got. Feel free to throw your two cents in. As it is, I’ll be forced to make some choices without as much knowledge as I’d like.

Helaine asked how long this will take to build? After I get the parts, it should go together in a few hours on the kitchen table. Not much more than a screwdriver is needed. Maybe this weekend?

&#185 – I’m in the middle of redesigning the site for Connecticut Hospice. Their old site has served them well, but it needs to be updated for style and made easier to wrangle.

Mention Snow, People Go Nuts!

Doppler Versus SnowA few folks wrote to me because one of yesterday’s runs of the GFS computer model predicted snow over Connecticut for midweek next week. Mention snow and people go nuts!

Get a grip. Forecast models project that far out because they can, not because they’re good at it!

As it turns out, this morning’s GFS says, “Snow? What snow?.”

When I look at the models, especially when I see something unusual, I try and remember there’s a reason some events seldom happen–like Connecticut snow before Halloween. Climatology enters into the mix.

Of course unusual things (Halloween snow, Hurricane Sandy) do happen. Unfortunately the computer guidance promises a lot more often than it delivers.

There’s a joke among meteorologists about one overpredicting weather company that’s forecast a hundred of the last ten inches of snow!

Even here in SoCal I’ve got to be careful about the unusual happening. There was a story in this morning’s Irvine World News about the two inches of snow that fell here in 1949! It was also noted in an earlier Coast Magazine article.

Operations at Marine Air Station El Toro&#185 stopped. No equipment to deal with winter!

There probably won’t be snow in Connecticut next week, nor snow here in Irvine this winter. Probably, not definitely.

&#185 – El Toro was closed in 1999. It’s now the Orange County Great Park, under a mile from my house.

A Weather Observatory In Your Pocket

Your cellphone is a miracle of modern science. Along with all the features we think of most phones also have an array of sensors. Nowadays most smartphones know which way is up, how brightly lit their environment is and even have a feel for the Earth’s magnetic field!

Some phones can even sense the weather. That’s a big deal. Samsung’s Galaxy S4 knows the barometer, temperature and humidity.

Some clever geeks realized if they could assemble all this environmental sniffing it might add enough new observed data points to be useful. So began “WeatherSignal,” an Android app (sorry iPhone folks) which sucks this info off your phone for further analysis.

Understand, as weather observation platforms go your phone alone isn’t very good. The temperature in your pocket, purse or family room isn’t the same as the temperature outside. However, once you look at light sensor readings and combine hundreds or thousands of temperature and pressure observations, a pretty accurate picture emerges.

We’re still on the ground floor. A few universities and government weather offices have begun looking at this data and trying to find ways to use it to improve short term forecasts. Over time suites of sensors like what’s inside the S4 will become more, not less, common.

It’s sort of crazy to think the next breakthrough in weather forecasting might not demand satellites or super computers. In fact the next breakthrough weather observatory might be in your pocket right now. Crazy!

You Don’t Piss In The Well

It’s early afternoon in SoCal. Right now it looks like Congress will reach an agreement, the government will reopen and the debt ceiling crisis will be averted.

Where was all of this two weeks ago before we started looking like yahoos to the rest of the world? That’s humiliating.

In many ways this fight between Republican and Democrats reminded me of squabbles with Stef when she was four. Little kids have no leverage. To gain some their strategy often includes actions objectionable to both sides.

I’ll hold my breath until I turn blue while you think about that last sentence.

Like Stef at four the Republicans in Washington feel they’re without leverage. I won’t lie. That’s mostly true. They only have the power to say no and even that’s limited.

Hopefully, by our actions, Helaine and I taught Stef what Congress doesn’t seem to understand. When you fight, you need to remember there is a tomorrow. You don’t throw firebombs to make a point.

More succinctly, you don’t piss in the well.

Doppler Is A Sock Puppy

Dogs are flexible. They can put all four paws (and other parts I won’t mention) in their mouths. Sometimes that leads to trouble. For Doppler it was a hot spot she kept working at until it bled. We needed to keep her paws out of her mouth. Unfortunately, it’s tough to talk sense to a […]

-read more-

A Fairytale Ending For Annie The Missing Dog

If you’re with me on Facebook you probably know about Annie. Annie is the pet of our former neighbors, Glenn and Margie. An open door while a worker was in the house let her escape unnoticed. Like most pups, Annie is a member of the family. Her loss was a shock. Glenn and Margie were […]

-read more-

Doppler And Roxie: Different As Night And Day

Stef drove down from Hollywood to spend the weekend with us. Roxie came too. She saw me as the car pulled up and went a little crazy with excitement. At the moment we’ve got three humans and two dogs here. We’re set! Stef sometimes calls our dog, “Feather McFeatherstein.” At not quite ten pounds the […]

-read more-

Cyclone Phailin Will Do Major Damage

Cyclone Phailin struck the east coast of India Saturday evening (India is 12&#189 hours ahead of PDT). A few hours before landfall top winds were estimated at 120 knots, gusting to 145 knots (around 135 mph, gusting to 165 mph). It will be a while before we know the true extent of the damage. It’s […]

-read more-

Cyclone Phailin Takes Aim On India

Until a few minutes ago I hadn’t heard of Brahmapur. It’s an Indian city on the Bay of Bengal. There are around 350,000 residents–the size of Pittsburgh. The latest projections place Cyclone Phailin near Brahmapur as is makes landfall early Saturday evening local time (Saturday morning here in California). This is no little storm. It’s […]

-read more-