Thursday, June 28, 2012

Boing! Boing!

We generally try to keep Lillian out of the bathroom. There are lots of hazards in there. There are chemicals and medicines in the cabinet under the sink that could poison her or that she could choke on. The toilet, despite being cleaned regularly, is still an infection risk—as is the brush we clean it with. If she gets into the bathtub she could slip and injure herself on the faucet or just hit her head on the bottom. To be sure, there are safe things for her to do in the bathroom—as long as she's supervised. We give her her baths in there, now. She can visit Rillian, the Reptilian Lillian.[1] And a few weeks ago she discovered…

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


There are multiple stages of playing peekaboo with a baby. At first you do the hiding and the baby's job is to giggle. Other names for peekaboo include keek-bo, peep-bo, bo-peep.[1] We never managed to get any good videos of Lillian when we were playing this stage of peekaboo with her—she always stopped to stare at (or even try to grab) the camera. The next stage involves the baby doing the hiding. And this time we've got some videos to showcase.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

English–Greek Ambigrams

The third batch of multi-lingual ambigrams I made are in Greek. As in the previous cases [1], I was left to deal with both another language and another alphabet. Fortunately, as with the English–Old Irish ambigrams, I was working with an alphabet that was generally similar to the Roman alphabet we use in English. In fact, the Greek alphabet gave rise to it! For this batch I consulted two fonts: a blackletter font called Spanish Main [2] for my name and a font called Fleischmann Gotisch PT [3] for Leann's and Lillian's names.

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Book Review: A Princess of Mars

My main interest in reading this book was because of the movie which recently came out. I haven't seen it, yet, but I was intrigued by the trailer.[1] which I first saw when I went to see The Phantom Menace in 3D.[2] I can recall seeing this book on the shelves of the public library I attended growing up. That particular edition had a painting of an unclad woman on the cover, so I could never bring myself to check it out.[3] But I did read the summary on the back cover and I was intrigued by the descriptions of the adventures of John Carter.

Book Review: The Gods of Mars

When Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote A Princess of Mars [1] he was very nervous that people would look down on him for writing such silly things. So he published it under a pseudonym in a serial, called The All-Story (originally with the title "Under the Moons of Mars"). He intended his pseudonym to be "Normal Bean" suggesting that despite the childish and outlandish nature of the work, he really was just a normal guy. But someone in the editing department thought there'd been a typo and changed it to "Norman Bean".[2] Burroughs promised the publisher that he could produce at least two sequels, so at the end of A Princess of Mars he leaves himself just such an opening. Following the success of his book Tarzan of the Apes, there was renewed interest in the "Barsoom" series and sequels were requested. Burroughs was only too happy to oblige.

Book Review: The Warlord of Mars

There are several different races on Barsoom (Burroughs's name for Mars): white Martians, black Martians, yellow Martians, green Martians, red Martians.[1] They are all humanoid, but the green Martians are least similar in appearance to the Homo sapiens of Earth. In the first book [2], John Carter encounters the red Martians and the green Martians. In the second book [3], he encounters the white Martians and the black Martians. Now there is only one race left (the yellow Martians), so it's inevitable that he'll meet them during this travelogue.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon

After Leann and I watched Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, someone (I can't remember if it was Leann's brother or one of her co-workers) told her that it had pretty much the same plot as How to Train Your Dragon. This is actually superficial—the only similarity between the two that I found was that they both deal with boys who have trouble connecting with their fathers for one reason or another but eventually manage to forge that bond. But, erroneous as it was, that declaration had a dampening effect on my enthusiasm to see this film. It's too bad, too, since…

Movie Review: Big

Big is the story of a twelve-year-old boy, Josh [1], who asks a wishing machine at the county fair to make him bigger. He wakes up the next day to discover that he's now a man in his thirties (and played by Tom Hanks). When his mom finds him in the house she chases him away, believing him to be an intruder. He is then forced to rapidly adjust to life as an adult, including renting his own apartment and getting a job. While being an adult opens up new opportunities for him, he's ultimately not ready to abandon his childhood so he starts trying to find the wishing machine so he can wish himself back.

Movie Review: The Ladykillers (2004)

From 1947 to 1957 a British film company, Ealing Studios, released 17 comedy films, many of which featured the actor Sir Alec Guinness. These movies have since come to be known as the Ealing Comedies. In 1956 the company was bought by the BBC, marking the end of the Ealing Comedies era.[1] One of the last Ealing Comedies to be made was called The Ladykillers and it involved a gang of criminals renting a room from an old lady so they can stage a robbery. She eventually gets in the way, so they start devising ways to get rid of her. This is a modern remake of that film by the Coen brothers.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Product Review: Kraft Vegemite

The first time I ever heard of Vegemite was from the song "Down Under" by the band Men at Work. However, I was somehow embedded with the erroneous notion that Vegemite was processed seaweed. When a graduate student from Australia rotated through my lab, he corrected me on that point: Vegemite is concentrated yeast extract, a by-product of beer brewing. In much of the British Commonwealth a similar product, Marmite, is sold. This originally came up because we use yeast extract to make LB [1], a common growth medium for culturing bacteria and he speculated whether we could use Vegemite to make LB.

Product Review: Doritos Salsa Río

Doritos has certainly embraced the fact that tortilla chips have their origin in Mesoamerican culture, particularly Mexican culture. Two of the flavors they always keep on the shelf, acknowledge this: Spicy Nacho and Salsa Verde. They've also had other impermanent flavors in the same theme: Taco flavor [1], Tapatío flavor [2], and even one named Flamas (which isn't a real Spanish word, but is meant to look like one).[3] Besides the nods in the names, tortilla chips are prepared via a process known as nixtamalization [4], which was developed in what is now Guatemala before 1000 BC. It involves boiling the corn (maize) with lime (the chemical, not the fruit) and ash and then hulling it.[5] At this point the processed corn can be consumed (e.g. the hominy in pozole [6]), or it can be ground into cornmeal to be used for dough. Unlike many processing methods, nixtamalization actually improves nutrient availability.

Product Review: Doritos Sour Cream & Onion

I've found two classes of sour-cream-and-onion flavoring for chips. I can't find exact words to describe them, but I'll try. Some chips, typified by Lay's Sour Cream and Onion potato chips, taste sharp and tangy, almost to the point of seeming rancid. I dislike this class of sour-cream-and-onion potato chips. Other chips, typified by Pringles Sour Cream and Onion potato crisps [1], are smooth and creamy. These are the sour-cream-and-onion chips that I like. Regrettably, most sour-cream-and-onion-flavored chips fall into the class I dislike, so I generally avoid them. But when Doritos brought back this flavor [2], I decided to give them a chance.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Little Monkey

Leann is quite fond of baby monkeys [1], particularly the smaller ones and the ones with 'funny headgear', as she puts it. Examples of small monkeys: a baby François' Leaf Monkey (Trachypithecus francoisi; see here), a baby Golden Monkey (Cercopithecus kandti; see here), baby Golden Lion Tamarins (Leontopithecus rosalia; see here), baby Pygmy Marmosets (Cebuella pygmaea; see here), etc. Examples of monkeys with 'funny headgear': a baby Common Squirrel Monkey (Saimiri sciureus; see here), a Cotton-top Tamarin (Saguinus oedipus; see here), an Emperor Tamarin (Saguinus imperator; see here and a baby here), etc. So when Lilli started acting like a monkey [2], needless to say Leann was thrilled.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Movie Review: Red Riding Hood (2011)

I approached this film with mixed feelings. The director, Catherine Hardwicke, directed a movie I enjoyed very much (The Nativity Story) and also a movie that I could only watch with an accompanying RiffTrax Commentary (Twilight [1]). In fact, it has a lot in common with the Twilight series besides the director: there is a mythological creature (with a penchant for eating humans) that plays a key role in the ploy, there is a love triangle, and it all takes place in a heavily-forested location.

Movie Review: Enemy of the State

The term enemy of the state is usually reserved for who has acted, is acting, or intends to act against the nation they are a member of and thus is a synonym of traitor. This is in contrast to an enemy combatant who is understood to be a member of some other nation. An enemy of the state is usually understood to be engaging in treason, but the term is sometimes extended to include social and/or political dissidents.[1] This film, which is kind of a modern take on The Man Who Knew Too Much, considers multiple scenarios where someone acts as or is treated as an enemy of the state (in this case, the United States of America [2]). I'll leave it up to you to figure out which character the title refers to.

Movie Review: Lost Treasure of the Grand Canyon

As a youth a lot of my creative fiction was derivative of books or movies that I enjoyed. Sometimes I simply borrowed whole concepts (e.g. I once drew a fantasy map that included Shannara, Mordor, and Narnia along with several imaginary countries of my own design) while others fell squarely into the realm of fan fiction (e.g. I once started writing a "spec script" for a Jurassic Park sequel which involved all of the embryos in the canister dropped by Dennis Nedry combining together to form a giant mutant dinosaur which then wreaked havoc à la Godzilla [1][2][3]). I also came up with several adventures for the Indiana Jones franchise, one of which involved the discovery of El Dorado in the Grand Canyon. So when I saw the title of this movie I was curious to see how much it overlapped with my story even though it had really poor reviews.[4]

Thursday, June 14, 2012

How to Fill in Transparency in a Hugin Panorama

After I started using Hugin [1] to create panoramas, I quickly ran into a problem where I wanted to keep certain parts of the original photographs in the panorama, but because of the way everything lined up, they either had to be cropped or empty (transparent) areas had to be created in the image. The other graduate student in my lab, Ryan, showed me a video that showed a new feature in the latest version of Photoshop, called Content Aware Fill.[2] Basically it analyzes the surrounding pixels and creates similar content to fill in the target area. I didn't feel like forking out hundreds of dollars for Photoshop CS5, so I went looking for a way to do the same thing using the GIMP.[3] I found a plugin for the GIMP called Resynthesizer.[4] As it turns out, this feature has existed for GIMP longer than it has for Photoshop—and the Photoshop tool is derived from the GIMP tool! Now, let me show you the magic:

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Book Review: Cheaper by the Dozen

One summer I was hanging around my high school with my friend Ben waiting for my mom to pick me up from football practice. Near the offices we found stacks and stacks of boxes filled with books. One of our old teachers saw us poking around and told us that everything in the boxes was being discarded, so we could have anything we wanted. We each availed ourselves of a 1988 edition of the Merriam–Webster Dictionary. I also picked out a copy of The Virginian and a copy of this book. That was around 1995, so it's been over fifteen years since this book came into my possession and I only just now got around to reading it.[1]

Book Review: Mistborn: The Final Empire

Science fiction is often seen as a spectrum ranging from hard science fiction to soft science fiction. Material at the hard science fiction end of the spectrum often adheres to the real laws of the universe and when it doesn't it defines technologies that make it possible to overcome those laws. This technology is usually an essential plot point without which the story would fall apart.[1] Examples would include the television series Star Trek [2], the novel Ender's Game, or most of the writings of Isaac Asimov. Soft science fiction, on the other hand, is more character-driven, considers the impact of technology rather than making it a plot point, and can incorporate patently unscientific elements.[3] Examples would include the Star Wars movies, just about everything else written by Orson Scott Card, or most of the writings of Ray Bradbury. Brandon Sanderson, the author of the Mistborn trilogy, has made the case that a similar spectrum exists in fantasy.[4] Hard fantasy has a magic system with definite (and inviolate) rules, consequences, and limitations while soft fantasy has a magic system that is poorly defined and seemingly limitless (even to the point of being used as a deus ex machina). Examples of hard fantasy would be Sanderson's own Mistborn series or David Farland's Runelords series; examples of soft fantasy would be Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series [5], Terry Goodkind's The Sword of Truth series [6], or Terry Brooks' Shannara series [7].

Book Review: The Tale of the Nutcracker

E. T. A. Hoffman, the original author of the Nutcracker story [1], intended this tale to be a departure from the immaculate bourgeoisie fairy tales so prevalent during his lifetime. Thus he incorporated many darker elements, including graphic descriptions of injuries, terrifying images, and ill treatment of children. These elements were watered down by  in his embellished translation (originally called Histoire d'un casse-noisette). And it was further bowdlerized by Tchaikovsky for the libretto to his ballet. So, by the time the story reached a Twenty-first Century audience (us), it had become almost as innocuous as the fairy tales Hoffman meant it to defy.[2]

Book Review: Nutcracker and Mouse King

This book (originally called Nußknacker und Mausekönig [1]), by E. T. A. Hoffman, along with a retelling by Alexandre Dumas, père [2], was a Christmas present [3] from my friend and former roommate, Markham.[4] It is the inspiration for the better-known Tchaikovsky ballet, The Nutcracker. While I'm familiar with Tchaikovsky's music, I've never watched the ballet all the way through or read the libretto. So this was my first time experiencing the actual story.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Free Fishing Day

This last weekend I went up to Idaho for free fishing day with my dad, my brother, Nathan, and my brothers-in-law, Mike and Luke. In years past we've gone up for Wyoming's free fishing day or stayed here for Utah's free fishing day. This year Utah and Wyoming had their free fishing days on June 3rd, but several of us were busy.[1] So we went to Idaho's instead, which was on the 10th. We went up Friday evening and stayed with my aunt in Star Valley, Wyoming. The next morning, after helping her out with a few things, we headed over to Tin Cup Creek in Idaho. I forgot to bring a camera, so I had to use the dinky camera in my phone—which means all the photos are really tiny.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Thiomargarita namibiensis

The word microbe or microorganism technically circumscribes all living things which can only be seen with the aid of a microscope.[1] It includes bacteria and protozoa as well as certain fungi (e.g. bread yeast), plants (e.g. green algae), and animals (e.g. dust mites) and sometimes viruses. But in rare cases organisms which are considered microbes aren't actually microscopic. Enter Thiomargarita namibiensis.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Book Review: On Becoming Babywise

On Becoming Babywise [1] was originally written by Gary Ezzo, an Evangelical Christian who has no pediatric experience except for raising his own two children with the help of his wife, Anne Marie Ezzo. In fact, the only formal education he has is a few semesters of study at a community college and a Master's Degree from the Talbot School of Theology.[2] After that he and his wife began teaching parenting classes at a megachurch in Los Angeles, California, where they eventually published the first edition of Babywise.[3] Even at this early stage it met with resistance and engendered controversy, eventually leading to their exit from that church. Rather than treat the book as a whole, I'm going to address each chapter separately, listing things that were good, things that were bad, and things that would've been bad in our situation because of Lillian's health problems.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Dirty Dash 2012

After 3.2 miles of fantastic muddy fun last September [1], Jordan and I knew we wanted more. So in December when I finally removed the last bit of mud from around my nails, we signed up for the 5.5- mile June Dirty Dash. We trained about four months for the race (last year we trained three weeks). And this time we coordinated outfits courtesy of D.I. (see below).[2] The Dirty Dash was held at Soldier Hollow, again, but they did have a few new obstacles like monkey bars, an artificial waterfall, A-frame walls with knotted ropes, cargo net walls, and wooden arches. Matt and Lilli came along to watch and to cheer us on.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Just Like Daddy

Every once in a while Lillian gets to meet and play with other people, but for the most part her social interactions are limited to playing with Leann and me. So she can't help but start to mimic us. Lucky kid, right? Sometimes…maybe…we teach her, but sometimes she just picks things up by watching us. Here are some of the ways she is or is trying to be like her Daddy.