Monday, April 13, 2009

Spring Break Road Trip - Wednesday

We took a zig-zaggy route from Lone Pine, CA (A), to Las Vegas, NV (F) --- passing through Stovepipe Wells, CA (B), Furnace Creek, CA (C), Dante's Peak, CA (D), and Indian Springs, NV (E).

The scenery along the way? Stunning. I can't tell it, so have a look at the photos. Here's just one:

Into the Valley

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Spring Break Road Trip - Tuesday

We began Tuesday morning by spending a few more hours down by the Topaz Lakeshore, so serene as it was. We went on a micro-hike through the rocks and brush around the water, meeting towards the end some wrinkly local fisherman who cheerfully informed these sandal-clad urbanites that "there's a buncha rattlers around here this time of year". At this point we tip-toed back to the car and headed to our next stop.

Next stop was Lone Pine, CA, and Google's directions from Topaz Lake to the Dow Villa Motel there couldn't be much simpler:

And indeed 192 miles later there it was, on the left on the main road:
Dow Villa Motel

You'd have been forgiven for missing it, though, in the day's dust storm. Dust storm! The guy at the Dow Villa reception shrugged resignedly and confessed that no, it wasn't unusual for the town---and that yes, it sucks. He'd lived there a few months and didn't seem to be loving it so far. He muttered about the dry lake bed, and looking at satellite images of the area you can definitely see where all the dust comes from.

For a photographer it was something brand new: a cloudless spring day at 3,700 feet and yet strangely hazy and completely deserted:

School School

Bright sun on the dust in the air seemed to make everything glow, although that's not the easiest to capture in pictures. The emptiness of the place was easily recorded, though: when I say "deserted" I mean really deserted:

Double Bar
Empty Street
Deserted Street

We took refuge in a bar, played some cribbage and shuffleboard (we were the only people in the bar apart from the barmaid and her beau), and waited out the storm. After the dust had subsided I took some pictures in the setting sun

Three Trees
and we had dinner in Lone Pine's finest "Seasons".

I uploaded more photos too, including a rare shot of the artist himself.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Spring Break Road Trip - Monday

Topaz Lake (population 2,128) is a tiny town about 30 miles south-east of South Lake Tahoe, and 65 miles due north of Yosemite Village. It's right on the California-Nevada border; in fact the border runs right through the lake itself. On arrival in the area you will find

  • a motel;
  • a lake; and
  • a small lodge with a casino
which we visited in that order after our drive from San Francisco.

The motel was nice enough, with a view of the lake and... well, that's pretty much it unless you count a parking lot. We checked in and went straight down to the lakeshore to hang out for a while. I got these pictures down there in the setting sun:


After it got dark we went to the casino, the only place in town to eat. The tempting cash-for-catch offer outside gives away the local pastime: people in Topaz Lake like their underwater animal friends, it turns out, but they like them even more when they've been snagged and brought up above water. And if the interior of the casino is any guide then they like them most when they're stuffed, mounted behind glass and nailed to the wall.

The casino was half-closed on a Monday night, but the bar was open and over a few beers we learned to play video poker. After a quick dinner and we wandered back to the motel. It was dark but I think we saw some more dead fish on the way. Fish are everywhere in Topaz Lake.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Man on Hill

I liked this one. I liked the others too.

Man on Hill

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Empire Strikes Retrospectively

I forwarded "Empire strikes forward" to a good friend of mine who I knew would enjoy it. Delightfully, he countered with the below, here with his permission with his comments in bold interspersed with the original in italics:

1) Use firearms. Blasters are slow, not very powerful, and easily deflected by a light saber. An AK-47 would be far, far more effective. And don't forget the training! Despite the advantage in fire power, the storm troopers clearly can't shoot straight. Take them out to a range once in a while, and see how much more effective they become only after a couple training sessions!
Projectile weapons were rendered obsolete many years ago by kinetic deflector shields, which most people still carry around with them. Light, discrete and 100% effective
2) If you use droids to fight your wars, build the best kind - do not waste time and money on anything else. It looks like the Destroyer model is more effective than50 units of the other kind (and even more effective than a Jedi). I doubt it could be more than 3 times more expensive. Why not just build Destroyers?
But just like the fact that the army has humvees *and* tanks, you need a selection of droids. Destroyers can't negotiate stairs and are no good at fighting in groups, for example. Perhaps most importantly, key parts of the Destroyer design are patented, making them 100x more expensive than generic droid designs.
3) And while we are on this subject, let's have droids use more effective communication channels than human speech when they talk to each other. The same goes for all interfaces between the droids and everything else - spaceships, vehicles, and weapons. There is no reason while a droid should press a button to fire a weapon - a wireless interface would control it far more efficiently. Also, do invest in computerized targeting for your weapons. If your droids can already see, making them very accurate shooters is a relatively trivial task - ask any engineer.
One technology - super-advanced field jamming - made wireless technologies obsolete 2 centuries ago.
4) Missiles seem to be an extremely effective weapon in Star Wars, except that there are very few of them. Why not build more of them and launch, say, 20 or 30 at a time? I doubt the Jedi, who have visible trouble dealing with one or two, would be able to escape ten. Also, consider building missiles that are FASTER than the star fighters they attack.
Missiles are never faster, cos they have smaller engines. They're more maneuverable, cos of inertia, but can never outrun ships (as there's no friction) and that's why they're hardly ever used, except in situations where maneuvering is tight and they can take advantage of their agility.
5) Consider using encryption. It looks like anyone can plug into the system anywhere and take control of everything in the space ships. This problem has been solved years ago! It really is not that hard.
The imperial mainframe OS is notoriously riddled with security holes. Although 22 CTOs have been executed, the main imperial supplier continues to deliver shocking quality software, but is so deeply entrenched that's it's impossible to replace. Most commentators believe this effective monopoly status is the cause of the problem.
6) Pack animals are slow, can't carry much, and are very, very hard to maintain. They need food, living compartments, etc. Consider eliminating them from the army in favor of mechanized transporters. Animals are not very effective in executions either - this has been proven many, many times. Instead of staging elaborate shows with giant predators that always fail to kill the prisoners, just shoot your captives, and put their heads on a stick.
There's a galaxy-wide shortage of actuator motors of sufficient power to meet transporter demand. The military are embarrassed by their temporary reliance on alien pack animals, but what can you do?
7) I cannot overemphasize the importance of conventional firearms. If the probe sent to assassinate Princess Amidala had used a regular rifle instead of the poisonous centipedes, the subsequent events might have taken a very different turn. And in space, consider using nuclear weapons. The laser guns you currenlty mount on your ships are massively underpowered.
Energy weapons are rendered less effective by shields, but still do better than nuclear weapons, which are difficult to deliver (see problem with missiles, above). Plus you have to drop you shields to fire them, meaning almost certain destructions from the enemy's otherwise lethal energy weapons (see below).
8) Did you know that space ships do not need wings to fly in space? Once you get entirely comfortable with this (yes, I do know it's extremely hard, given that they even make fying noises while moving through vacuum, but making this leap of faith might be crucial to your survival - do it!) you can start using very different design paradigms - like, for example, minimizing the surface area so your spacecraft is easier to protect and harder to target.
These are not wings, just mounts for weapons in order to give them better firing positions.
9) On the subject of spaceship designs - there must be something in the way you build them that makes them explode after they are hit. Unfortunately, this applies to all other vehicles as well. While this generates impressive visuals, this design point leads to unnecessary casualties among your troops. Consider enclosing whatever it is that explores in extra layers of protection. You have already solved this for your small weapons, which do not seem to have the same problem. Why not use similar design everywhere?
Once shields are depleted or knocked-out, the awesome power of energy weapons becomes apparent.
10) This is more of a tactical rather than an engineering advice, but I will give it anyway. Instead of deploying the Walkers and other weird ground assault vehicles, consider attacking from the air to suppress the adversary's ground troops.
There is a surplus of walkers, following a contract the Empire signed with the Emperor's brother-in-law's military walker company. And because of protectionist measures from the walker manufacturing industry and the WOU (Walker Operators Union).

In other news, here's one from a while back:

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