05.30.06

Lightning Shots

Posted in Weather, Photography at 3:28 am by Administrator

Tonight’s thunderstorms gave me a chance to try some more lightning photography. Here are a few of the results:

lightning bolt with billboard

This one was an eight second exposure at f/4.  

Here’s another:

Another Lightning Photo

This is an eight second exposure at f/2.5. It was taken through my windshield in the rain with the wipers going.  Notice the speckle of “hot pixels” on this one that isn’t present on the first one. I think it’s due to the lower f-number; but I’m still not exactly sure why. It could be my ancient camera. I’ll use a higher f-number from now on.

Finally:

Lightning and power lines

This was a five second exposure at f/4. It might have been one of my best shots if I hadn’t bumped the camera and blurred the power lines. (I didn’t crop this one. That’s actually how close it was!)

05.25.06

DVDs and DaVinci

Posted in Movies & TV at 11:50 pm by Administrator

What do you think when you read the following headline?

Pirates promise improved version of DaVinci Code next month(link may be slashdotted)

I know what I thought: “Maybe some film pirates have reedited the DaVinci Code movie to make it less boring”. I was disappointed of course. The story is actually about the poor quality of pirated DaVinci Code DVDs being sold in shops and on street corners in Shanghai; not about the soporific nature of the movie itself. Too bad.

P.S. Try National Treasure for a less pretentious version of the same basic plot. It’s about the same mix or historical fact and fantasy. It’s more exciting too.

Guilty

Posted in Money & Finance at 3:59 pm by Administrator

Monopoly Go To Jail Chance Card

Former Enron bigwigs Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling have just been found guilty of, among other things, terminal stupidity in not fleeing to Argentina when they had the chance. Now, they will probably spend the rest of their lives in Federal PMITA Prison. I don’t feel sorry for them.

Seriously though, did they actually think they would be able to beat this? They won’t be able to pull a Martha Stewart and come out even stronger. Thousands of people lost their pensions and life savings. (Diversify. Diversify.)

The long term ramifications should be interesting. Since Enron’s collapse, new laws have been passed that increase accounting transparency in publicly held companies. This trial definitely sends the message that high level executives will be held accountable for book-keeping fraud. I suppose it’s a responsibility that goes with those huge salaries.

Ultimately, I suspect, these changes will make the end result of this mess a positive. The more investors know about a company’s books, the better decisions they can make. In a way, the Enron debacle made the market a little more efficient.

05.24.06

Extravagance

Posted in Money & Finance at 5:55 pm by Administrator

A few days ago I got my 2005 Annual Report for Ameristar Casinos Inc. (Nasdaq ASCA), of which I own a small amount of stock. The report is a huge, glossy magazine measuring twenty-two inches by thirteen inches. It came in a triangular cardboard box, and cost $7.20 to ship to me.

The report is handsome to be sure (and it quotes Frank Lloyd Wright). Still, it had the opposite effect on me than was intended. Reports such as this one should encourage investment in the company. But why would I want to invest in a company that spends its capital (my investment) on lavish annual reports? They should be spending it on more slot machines.

I have no problem with expensive advertising campaigns. My problem with this one is that it does not target customers. It targets investors. Investor interest may boost the stock price; but it will not add real value to the company. Although I haven’t decided whether I will keep the stock, this does not encourage me.

Ameristar Casinos Annual Report

Ameristar Casinos Inc. 2005 Annual Report

05.19.06

Machine Pistol on 24

Posted in Movies & TV, Guns & Weapons at 2:52 am by Administrator

24 Glock machine pistol shot #6

The past few episodes of 24 have been rather boring to the core with hardly any death, no torture, and no Kim Bauer uneventful. One of the few redeeming qualities of Monday’s episode was that one of the badguys was armed with a machine pistol. (Finally, something original this hour.) Being slightly fanatical about firearms in general and machine pistols in particular, I was determined to identify exactly which model the baddy used. I even took some screenshots to aid in my investigation. (Yes, I have too much free time.)

It’s apparent from the screenshots that the weapon is a Glock handgun with a stainless steel slide and an extended magazine. From here on it gets a little tricky. 

The left side of the pistol is not visible, so I can’t be sure it is not a Glock 18 (the factory full-auto version of the Glock 17). There does, however, appear to be a protrusion on the backplate of the slide - possibly a selector switch. If so, it would mean the pistol is a factory semiautomatic Glock variant that has been converted to full auto with a drop-in conversion device. The pistol is probably a nine millimeter, which means a Glock 17 or maybe a 19. It looks like a G17 to me but I can’t tell for sure from these pictures. A 17 would be slightly more controllable on full-auto so I’m guessing that’s what it is.

There you have it. It’s a converted Glock 17 with a stainless slide and an extended mag. Anyone else notice anything I missed?

24 Glock machine pistol shot #1 24 Glock machine pistol shot #2 24 Glock machine pistol shot #3

24 Glock machine pistol shot #4 24 Glock machine pistol shot #5 24 Machine Pistol shot #7

05.18.06

Wright Stamps

Posted in General, Art & Drama, Architecture at 9:59 pm by Administrator

Frank LLoyd Wright stamps

I got my 1966 Frank Lloyd Wright stamps today. They came in a sheet of 100 and only cost me 1000% of face value! Not quite as colorful as the Ayn Rand stamps, but I think they’ll work. Notice the Guggenheim Museum in the background.

I still wish the post office would come out with a Frank Lloyd Wright Houses set.

Detail of Frank Lloyd Wright stamp 

Click for detail image.

05.17.06

Foreign Skyscrapers and Local Flavor

Posted in World, Architecture at 12:32 am by Administrator

I have in the past been critical of some of the weird skyscrapers that have been built in (usually) foreign cities. These buildings may be ugly or at least strange looking; but I actually like that they are there. Wouldn’t it be boring if, no matter where you went in the world, the skylines all looked the same? 

Examples:

Taipei 101 - Taipei, Taiwan

Taipei 101  Taipei 101 at night

Taipei 101 is one of the ugliest skyscrapers in the world. If it had been built in view of my house, I would seriously consider moving. That being said, seeing this building would definitely remind you you’re in Asia. I would prefer the world’s tallest building to be in the US, but at least it’s in free market Taiwan and not communist China.

Burj Dubai - Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Birj Dubai render

When completed in 2008, Burj Dubai will be the tallest building in the world (see statement above). I actually find this building attractive (in an Emerald City of Oz sort of way). Still, I think it works better in the UAE than it would in the US. It just wouldn’t fit in with the other buildings in Chicago or New York.

Incidentally, the building bears superficial resemblance to Frank Lloyd Wright’s proposed Mile High Illinois tower. It’s too bad I have no other reason to visit Dubai. This is one skyscraper I must see.

Burj Dubai construction photo  Burj Dubai under construction Burj Dubai under construction

Construction Photos (http://www.burjdubaiskyscraper.com/)

Kingdom Centre - Riyadh, Saudia Arabia

Kingdom Centre

I suspect Kingdom Centre is the result of a bet between architects as to who could design the strangest structure and con someone into building it. I’m not sure if it won (There are some strange buildings out there.), but it is definitely a contender. This may be the strongest evidence yet that  money can’t buy taste.

The building looks like some kind of carpentry tool. It would be fun, however, to fly a plane between its “claws” or bungee jump off the sky bridge.

Shanghai World Financial Center - Shanghai, China

Shanghai World Financial Center

I wouldn’t actually mind the Shanghai World Financial Center’s design if it wasn’t for that stupid hole. What were they thinking? Construction of this building began in 1997, but was suspended due to the Asian financial crisis. Work resumed in 2005 and is expected to be completed around 2008.

05.14.06

…with a deadly firecracker.

Posted in Politics, Law, Pyrotechnics at 10:02 pm by Administrator

This recent flap about the government “spying on Americans” caused me to recall a letter I got about a year ago from the Department of Justice. You can find a scan of the actual letter here.

In case you didn’t read it, here’s a summary:

 Dear [administrator],

We’ve been going through the pyrotechnics companies records. Therefore, we know you’ve been ordering chemicals that can be used to make fireworks. How dare you! These things are dangerous. Don’t you know you could poke your eye out?

If we catch you selling fireworks, we’ll send you to FPMITAP for a very long time. We can’t prove you actually did anything illegal, but remember: We’re watching you!

Sincerely,     

[some pantywaist in Washington]

In the first place, you little pissant: I bought those perfectly legal chemicals to make perfectly legal rocket engines. Ever seen October Sky? In the second place: there are lots of legal fireworks I could have made with those chemicals if I had wanted to. In the third place: This is supposed to be the land of the free. What business is it of yours if I make an M-80 or two anyway? Where in the constitution does it charge you to protect me from my chemistry set? If it’s not in the Sacred Document, it’s not supposed to be any of your business. (Read the Tenth Amendment.)

The eventual demise of freedom in this country will not have been the result of NSA datamining operations or the like. It will have been the result of us putting up with thousands of little nanny-state infractions like this. On the subject of the cell-phone records, Kim du Toit offers a pretty good explanation here.

I think I’ll go make some cherry bombs now…

05.12.06

Mozart was a Red

Posted in Art & Drama, Humor, Philosophy at 7:02 pm by Administrator

This hilarious one act play was written by Murray Rothbard and performed at his birthday party in 1986. I stumbled across it while searching for Ludwig von Mises Institute documentaries. (It takes a little while to load.)

Mozart was a Red

I think it is readily apparent to whom the play is referring. If you need an explanation, the full script and a commentary are available here. Sorry L.P., sometimes the truth hurts. (It can also be funny.)

I think Bismarck’s quote about laws and sausages also applies to books. You may not want to meet the author.

Non-Contradiction

Posted in Humor, Movies & TV, Clothing & Fashion at 2:17 pm by Administrator

Jack Bauer with his Manpurse 

I’m in the midst of the most profound sort of personal crisis.

It has long been my cherished belief that the so-called “messenger bag” has no place in a self-respecting heterosexual man’s wardrobe.

If that’s the case, then what the hell is Jack Bauer doing with one?!? I had previously been evading reality by telling myself (and others) that Bauer kept all his weapons and gear in a “duffel bag,” a “laptop bag,” or some other such delusion. However, I just read on Blog4Bauer that Bauer’s actual bag is being sold on Amazon.com and they call it [gasp] a “messenger bag.”

(Actually, they call it a “Heavyweight Classic Messenger and Travel Bag — Unisex.” The word they seem to be groping for is “manpurse.”)

How can this be? Jack Bauer is the quintessential symbol of manliness for the 2000s. Messenger bags are not manly. If he wears a manpurse then nothing is sacred. Will he start getting most of his intel by listening to gossip at the nail salon? Will his primary tool of torture be a hot curling iron? Where does it end?

Perhaps I’m overreacting. Maybe Bauer, being the pragmatic sort, realizes that the messenger bag is simply the best tool for the job and uses it despite its implications. Remember how he kept it hidden away until he absolutely needed it? The War on Terror requires sacrifice after all.

No. I’m simply deluding myself again. He chose that messenger bag. I’ve seen his work and I refuse to believe that Jack Bauer is some sort of closet metro, hipster, or emo. This can only mean one thing. I must have been wrong about messenger bags.

They do have a certain utility to them. They allow quicker access to their contents than backpacks. They allow for the concealment of larger items than pockets. They keep all necessary equipment in one place (”Damn! I have the plastique, but the detonators are in my other pants!”). They also have a long strap that can be used to strangle terrorists.

Does this mean that messenger bags are now manly? Maybe they are. Then again, maybe Bauer chose to wear one specifically so he would appear harmless.

I don’t think so though. Even when undercover, Jack Bauer never loses his “man on a mission” look. Therefore, I must conclude he considers the messenger bag to be part of his overall self-image. Remember: Image is everything.

Where does this leave me? Do I abandon my original notion and embrace the manpurse just because Bauer says it’s ok? Or do I hold out and stubbornly cling to my original notion of manliness?

Oh, screw it. Where’s my credit card…

Bauer's Messenger bag at Amazon.com

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