Older blog entries for steve (starting at number 77)

Okay, it's time to go over my list of major and minor nits with Star Trek: Nemesis (as if anyone really cares!) I don't think there are any spoilers in here but read at your own risk if you haven't seen the movie.

  • Clones with no tone - the Nemesis of the title is supposed to be a clone of Captain Picard. The clone doesn't look or sound anything like Picard. This one was so obvious that it was noticed by most non Star Trek folks. A lot of the reviews mention the clone problem. Susan notes that not only did the clone not sound like Picard, but also had an unexplained speech impediment. And anyone familiar with ST:TNG knows that the real Picard had hair when he was young but the clone is bald like the old Picard.
  • Wheels! - The Enterprise has a new shuttle called the Argo which includes a 4-wheeled motor vehicle for driving around on away missions. That's right, wheels. Big, rubber wheels inflated with air. Even though the Star Trek series has made a point of saying over and over that wheels were given up long ago. Even back in ST:TOS, Kirk and Spock used to see an automobile and make comments to each other like, "wheels, how quaint". Not even a hint of an explanation was given for this glaring continuity error. Somebody should have caught this the first draft. Don't any of these folks even watch Star Trek?
  • Sickbay Setbacks - How do you analyze a blood sample on a knife when you're on a Federation star ship? Anyone who's watched even a handful of Star Trek episodes can tell you it's done with a medical tricorder or any of a variety of handheld medical scanners that can relay information about the sample to ship's computer. How do they do it on Nemesis? They use a 20th century plastic eye-dropper thing with a rubber bulb on the end to suck some blood up and then squirt a few drops into a glass petri dish, which is then stuck under something that looks like a microscope. Huh? Oh and a little later the Romulans (or, rather, the Remans) are using a hypodermic needle to take a blood sample - yep, a needle; they stick it right through the skin.
  • No fasteners - Gene Roddenberry had a long standing rule that no fasteners were to be shown on the Federation sets or costumes. Maybe we don't know what held Captain Kirk's pants on or how his chair was attached to the deck, but it wasn't anything from the 20th century like zippers and bolts. In a key scene in Nemesis, 20th century bolts play a part in the action when Riker and an alien are fighting on a what looks like a portion of iron fire escape inside a Jefferies tube and the bolts holding it to the wall break. All without an explanation of what an iron fire escape is doing on the Enterprise or why it should be attached to the wall with prehistoric fasteners.
  • Shocking optics - In the aforementioned fight between Riker and the alien, Riker gains an advantage by pulling a fiber optic cable assembly out of the side of the Jefferies tube and jamming it against the alien, who is thrown to the floor in a shower of sparks when the broken end of the optical fibers touch him. This might make sense if a high voltage electrical cable was used, maybe even if it was one of those mythical "plasma conduits", but a fiber optic cable is unlikely to do much more than make a dim spot of light.
  • Equal and opposite action? - After the Enterprise has rammed the much larger alien starship, the two ships are adrift and locked together in a mass of wreckage. The Enterprise has no power. The alien ship orders full reverse thrust and begins tearing itself away from the Enterprise, which somehow remains motionless in space. What force is holding the Enterprise in place against the thrust exerted by the Alien ship? This is another one of those Hollywood physics problems that could have been caught by anyone with a knowledge of high school level physics. One sub-nit with this scene is that exterior view of the alien ship shows what look like huge chemical reaction motors (i.e, rockets) firing; another faux pas for ships which are supposed to be equipped with some sort of FTL drive.
  • Antiques from the 23rd Century - There is a scene where a nostalgic Picard is looking at curled, brown photographs of himself as a Star Fleet Cadet. The photos are taken from an ancient looking paper photo album. Yet paper photographs were long gone even in Kirk's time, long before Picard was born. Previous episodes and movies have used 3D images, moving images, and holographic projections of the past, but never old photographs. Oh well, at least they were color photographs.
And there you have it. I'm sure there are other problems but those were the most glaring. Now I expect I'll get a few of those, "why do you think about this stuff, it was just a movie" emails. My question has always been "how do you manage not to think about this stuff when watching a movie?". I guess some people just have lot more practice with this not thinking thing...

With the approach of another birthday, I've been complaining too much about getting old, I think. My friends are beginning to feel sorry for me and have been doing all sorts of nice things. On Wednesday, a bunch of balloons showed up at the office courtesy of Erin. Interestingly, the bunch consisted of two mylar balloons and five of the older-style latex rubber balloons. Within 24 hours the rubber balloons had lost enough helium to reach neutral buoyancy and by this morning were all lying on the floor. The two mylar balloons are still flying high. Since I parked the balloons where they are visible on my webcam, this experiment in the helium permeability of materials is being carried out live on the Internet. Of course, if I'd read the balloon FAQ, I'd have known this stuff already!

Thursday, Lacey was in town and we had lunch at Sherlock's Baker St. Pub. She also invited me to the Christmas party over at Alexander & Kienast. I put in a brief appearance and did my best to act like a regular person instead of an introverted computer geek (don't know if I fooled anyone). I ate some cookies and listened to the very nice Jazz combo. I guess the last party I saw was the Mozilla 1.0 launch party where I was present just long enough to get my photo snapped as proof I'd been there. Hmmm... that's two parties in the same year, I really need to slow down (especially at my age!).

Today, Erin took me out to lunch at Houston's. Filet Mignon was followed by a birthday dessert complete with candle (thankfully no singing waiters, however).

Tonight is Susan's turn. And then back to work for another year...

I spent a little time tonight working on our annually Christmas letter that we send to friends and family. I realized that 2002 turned out to be a fairly boring year! I'm resolving to make 2003 a bit more interesting.

We saw the Die Another Day, the new James Bond movie, last night and it was okay but a bit disappointing. It's the same story as Diamonds are Forever and Golden Eye; an evil guy with a lot of diamonds builds a big laser satellite so he can take over the world. Major reality disconnects were Bond's invisible car, the MI6 Holodeck, and Bond surfing a 1000 ft high tsunami wave. And what's with the guy with the diamonds embedded in his head? Oh well, looking forward to seeing the LoTR and Star Trek movies soon.

I hope everyone had a nice Turkey day. Ours went fairly well. We ate a lot of food, visited with friends and relatives, and ate more tasty food. I also went for four entire days without doing any work. I did stop by my office once but only to check email. Speaking of email, I notice spam levels continue to rise. Our mail server blocked 32,614 spams during November - and I still ended up with 30 or so per day making it to my mailbox. I'd say the majority of the SMTP traffic on our network is now spam.

Well, it turns out that even though DMOZ/ODP provides "open content" they do it using closed software. So no luck with my offer to help them debug the RDF export problem. They had plenty of other offers to help from editors who were also hackers but all the offers of help in the world won't do any good if they keep their source code secret. I posted links to some Free Software/Open Source propoganda in the hopes it might change a mind or two but I'm not going to hold my breath.

27 Nov 2002 (updated 27 Nov 2002 at 18:53 UTC) »

I became aware of an interesting DMOZ/ODP problem today. Apparently the RDF export code is a bit broken lately and there hasn't been a successful RDF export of the ODP content since September 22. This means the secondary sites such as Google that rely on ODP data aren't able to see any of the changes we've made in the last month. I tracked down an editor's forum with a discussion about the problem and volunteered to help out. I'm not even sure where one can download the code or what language it's written in yet but we'll see what happens...

Winter showed up in Texas this week. It was sunny and warm on the weekend and I was out mowing the lawn. Two days later and it's just above freezing (and expected to go below tonight).

Wow, October is almost gone and I haven't posted any news yet. October is the month of the Texas State Fair and we spent a day there this year as usual. Rather than brave the crowds on the weekend, we took a day off from work and went on a Wednesday. Otherwise, last year's account pretty much sums it up. We also took some time out to go to the Modrian exhibit at the Kimbell. The only other stop for this exhibit will be in Paris but it's well worth going out of your way for if you get the chance.

Work on the GCC Linux to MCORE cross-compiler is coming along ever so slowly. I've been blowing too much time playing with my new DMOZ editor privileges, perhaps. Work on the mod_virgule codebase merge is behind too but I hope to start working on that again in November. Posting Robot news and working on the DPRG site have been taking up a lot of my time too. And on top of all that there's the usual paying work that eats up most of my time.

But I'm still here, still alive, and still hacking.

Not much news to post lately. I'm just staying too busy with work I guess. A lot of my spare time is still getting sucked up doing work on the DPRG website. I've been writing a pile of Perl code to automate a lot of the administration functions of the site. I've made some progress on my MCORE project. I've successfully built a GCC Linux to MCORE cross compiler thanks to a handy bash script by Brian LaPonsey of Motorola. (the scripts recommended in the CrossGCC FAQ are so out of date, they no longer work with any current version of the tool chain). I should have time to put together a little test code for the New Micros MCORE board soon.

Meanwhile, I've managed to become an ODP editor. I was trying to get NCC listed under one of the website design categories and not having much luck because there was no editor for the category. So I volunteered and now get to blow a little more of my time maintaining the prestigous Computers: Internet: Web Design and Development: Designers: Full Service: N category on DMOZ.

I've been busy the last couple of weeks helping with a major renovation of the DPRG website. Susan created some new graphics and we came up with a nice, simple layout. We're using 100% XHTML 1.0 and CSS for the new site. So far it works great in both Mozilla and IE. Opera is a bit flaky when it comes to rendering W3C standard CSS but it's maybe 90% there. The hard part is just the sheer number of pages and images. There is around 150MB of content on the site and it's still very much a work in progress.

All the work on the DPRG website has sucked me back into the hardware side of robotics. I've got two new toys to play with. I went by New Micros, Inc. last week and picked up an IsoPod development kit and an MCORE board. The IsoPod is an based on a Motorola DSP5680x DSP that provides 40MIPS of processing power and a ton of I/O on a tiny little board. To fully utilize it requires the use of IsoMax, a new FSM-based realtime programming language that New Micros developed. Since I'm a diehard C programmer, I also picked up the MCORE. With a 16bit Motorola MMC2107 M*CORE processer running at 33MHz, it's not nearly as powerful as the IsoPod but gives me the advantage of working in a familiar language. Well, I should say it will give me that advantage once I prod GCC into compiling code for it. New Micros only provides Forth for the MCORE. But GCC 3.2 supports MCORE as a target, so I'm trying to get a Linux-to-MCORE cross-compiler working. Should be interesting. Motorol created a Windows-to-MCORE cross compiler using a much older version of GCC, so I know it should be possible. And both New Micros and Motorola have offered technical assistance. I'll provide more details on it as I progress.

Susan has a new claim to fame. She has for a while maintained what is probably the best online discography of Robert Shaw's work to be found. As it turns out, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus seems to agree. Their discography Link now points to Susan's page. I think this means she now maintains the official Robert Shaw Discography.

We were on the receiving end of the slashdot effect last Tuesday. The timeline went something like this:

00:22 - Roger Arrick emails a link to a web page he just finished about his new computer chair.

09:59 - I finally check my email, and click up Roger's web page. Recognizing Slashdot material when I see it, I email him back, warning him that I'm going to submit it.

10:36 - I give Roger's server a quick review to see if anything needs patching or upgrading. I find a couple of minor security updates and install them.

11:10 - Story submitted to Slashdot

11:33 - Story accepted

18:36 - Story is posted by CmdrTaco (is a 5 hour delay normal between accepting a submission and posting it?)

18:37 - MRTG graph shows our bandwidth utilization maxed at 100%, where it stays for the next 6 hours. Fortunately, it's after business hours so other clients are mostly unaffected by the slowdown.

00:30 - Bandwidth finally drops below 100%. Roger's Linux/Apache server never skipped a beat, serving all requests that could get down the pipe to it. I tried hitting the box from my cable modem at home and it was really slow but working. There were a few complaints on Slashdot from people who couldn't see the site so I'm sure some requests weren't making it through. Several mirrors popped up pretty quickly.

07:00 - Suprisingly bandwidth usage started climbing again about 4am CST and we are maxed out again this morning. The story has a way to go before it scrolls off Slashdot's front page.

10:30 - The story finally scrolls off the front page and hits start slowly dropping off.

Hits on Roger's server remained much higher than normal for another two days but things are mostly back to normal now. Roger received a pile of email during the course of events and will probably be posting the more interesting items on the page over time. The most suprising thing in all of this was how many Slashdot reader didn't understand CmndTaco's ^H^H^H humor...

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