Blotter.

September 23rd, 2016

I’m stuck blogging from the phone, but quickly:

Three men, including the previously named suspect, have been indicted for the attempted murder of Judge Kocurek.

I’ve written about this previously, but don’t ask me to find links now. Seriously, phone blogging sucks.

Apparently, two out of three (including the original suspect) are in custody: number three got away during a chase last night and is on the run.

Christmas is coming.

September 23rd, 2016

I’ll post another reminder after Thanksgiving, but remember: clicking on Amazon links, or using the search box, gives us a small kickback on your purchases, and allows us to indulge our penchant for small electronics, knives, books, and movies from the 16 page list, “A partial and incomplete list of movies we might want to watch or have talked about watching (with annotations)”.

(I maintain that as a Google Doc which is shared with a few friends. I’m not sure I want to share it here, and if I did, it would be read-only. But if you ask directly, I might think about it…)

(Speaking of the Amazon search box, is anyone having trouble with it? It seems to be working okay for me, and I thought I replaced that when Amazon end-of-lifed the old version, but Lawrence made a comment to me the other night about it not working…)

I don’t expect gifts: the thoughtful and pleasant people who hang out here are more than enough of a gift for me. However, as an administrative note: if you are someone who feels inclined to purchase a gift for me, please do not purchase this book. Thank you.

(However, I wouldn’t object to a book on goat raising. Especially those Nigerian dwarf goats. I have been trying to persuade my mother that she needs a dwarf goat, or some dwarf cattle, to keep the Corgi company and give it something to do besides park itself under the bed.)

(Via. The funny thing is, I’d actually heard of this guy, or at least his toaster project. I would be more interested in the toaster, though it strikes me as an inferior version of “I, Pencil”.)

Obit watch: September 23, 2016.

September 23rd, 2016

The NYT had an obit the other day for Deborah S. Jin, who died way too young (47).

She was not someone I knew personally, or had ever met, but she sounds like an interesting person who I would have enjoyed talking to. She won a MacArthur fellowship in 2003; her specialty was ultra-low temperature physics. Ultra-low.

Dr. Cornell and Carl E. Wieman, then a physics professor at the University of Colorado, had recently succeeded in cooling a gas of rubidium atoms to less than one-millionth of a degree above absolute zero, at which matter comes to an almost complete stop. The individual atoms melded together, acting as a single coherent particle.

This is what is known as a Bose-Einstein condensate.

The rubidium atoms in Dr. Cornell and Dr. Wieman’s experiment acted like bosons — a fundamental class of particles named after Professor Bose — which cozy up to each other to form the condensate. Dr. Jin wanted to do a similar experiment with fermions, the other class of fundamental particles (named after the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi). Fermions, which are inherently antisocial, are loath to meld together like bosons, but they can pair up and, coupled together, act like bosons.
Dr. Jin succeeded in making what she called a fermionic condensate in 2004.

After creating fermionic condensate, Dr. Jin began collaborating with Jun Ye of JILA to move beyond atoms and study ultracold molecules. That involved cooling two types of atoms and then finding a way to bring them close enough to bond, without the atoms heating up from the energy of the collision.
Lasers and magnetic fields carefully braked and steered the atoms, siphoning off energy as they bound together into molecules. That achievement has opened up a new field of research into chemical reactions: Scientists can now start to study quantum effects that are obscured at higher temperatures.

Also among the dead: John D. Loudermilk, noted country singer and songwriter.

Obit watch: September 21, 2016.

September 21st, 2016

Curtis Hanson, noted film director. A/V Club.

“L.A. Confidential” was a swell movie. I wouldn’t mind watching that again.

D. Keith Mano. I was most familiar with him as a National Review writer, and was unfamiliar with his work as a novelist.

“Seriously, at the end of a CC class when I was fed up with all the atheism, socialism and relativism taught, I went over to St. Paul’s Chapel and said, ‘If that’s the way the world is, I’d better turn to God,’” he told The Columbia Spectator in 1976.

Art, damn it, art! watch (#52 in a series)

September 21st, 2016

I am backing the Kickstarter for The Jerry Orbach Memorial Art Car.

Why?

1) He’s not asking for a (relative) lot of money, and the rewards tiers are reasonable. $10 for four bumper stickers? I don’t think you can get bumper stickers for that price at the gun show.

2) Brandon Bird, who I have written about before in this space, is the person behind it. I have faith in his ability to deliver.

Consider this an endorsement. Let’s make The Jerry Orbach Memorial Art Car a reality. You’ve probably blown $6 this week on a bad lunch: why not brown bag it one day and throw a few bucks to the memory of Jerry Orbach?

(Shame he lives in LA, though. There’s a pretty active art car scene in Houston, and he could get an old DPS car from the state surplus store.)

Edited to add: Mike the Musicologist made a good point to me: Orbach seems to mostly be remembered for his LawnOrder work, but he did a lot of stuff before that (as the true cognoscenti know).

On the one hand, I understand why Brandon Bird focuses on Lennie Briscoe (and I find his story about how Briscoe changed his life oddly touching). On the other hand, I agree with Mike too, and wanted to find something non-Lennie to throw in here: I just couldn’t find anything I liked.

Fortunately, Mike saved me the trouble.

(And I’d really like to see that production of “Chicago” with Orbach as Billy Flynn.)

The nicest thing anybody has said about me so far this week.

September 20th, 2016

In the context of a discussion about “What’s wrong with rednecks?”:

You have all of your teeth.

Your NFL loser update: week 2, 2016.

September 20th, 2016

Down to it.

NFL teams that still have a chance to go 0-16:

Miami
Buffalo
Cleveland
Jacksonville
Indianapolis
Washington
Chicago
New Orleans

I had hopes for the LA Rams this year: I think it would have been delightful to see the NFL return to Los Angeles and go 0-16. Sadly, that didn’t pan out. So who’s left? I’m still thinking Jacksonville has a good shot at the goal.

Random notes and a whole bunch of obits: September 19, 2016.

September 19th, 2016

I didn’t have much to say about the Mew York attack because:

1) I was busy Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday.
b) It was an emerging situation that I don’t think blog posts could have done justice to.
III) I didn’t have anything to add.

I still don’t have much to add (except that I went “Holy s–t!” when I read about this morning’s shootout), but I did think this was kind of interesting: the NYT on the finding of the second device and taking it away in a “total containment vessel”:

The total containment vessel is essentially an inside-out diving vessel, Lt. Mark Torre, the commanding officer of the department’s bomb squad, said in an interview in July. “Instead of keeping the pressure out and keeping you alive in five fathoms of water, it keeps the pressure in,” he explained. Should a bomb explode inside, tiny vents allow pressure to escape. “It sounds like a hammer hitting a piece of steel,” he said.

I don’t remember if the APD has one (or even if we talked about that during the bomb squad presentation) but I’ll try to ask next time around. I keep thinking I should do a post on the APD bomb squad, bomb squads in general, and the weirdness thereof. (Did you know: you can’t just have a bomb squad? Even if you’re a police force. In some cases, even if you’re a major metropolitan police force, as opposed to East Podunk that has six officers and makes their entire budget off of catching speeders where the limit drops from 70 MPH to 25 MPH. Nope, no bomb squad for you.)

I made note of most of the big obits over the weekend, but there are quite a few others that I think are worth observing and commenting on.

NYT obit for W.P. Kinsella.

Charmian Carr, who was the eldest von Trapp in “The Sound of Music”, was in “Evening Primrose” with Anthony Perkins…and that was pretty much it. No snark intended, but I bring this up because: I keep thinking about a new series spotlighting actors and actresses (but most of the ones I’ve found so far are actresses) who had very short careers – like one, maybe two, at most a small handful of credits – and then left Hollywood for whatever reason. I’m thinking the first entry may be sometime in October.

James Stacy, TV actor. He was in a series called “Lancer” that ran for three years and which I have no memory of. Not long after “Lancer” ended, he was hit by a drunk driver while riding his motorcycle: Mr. Stacy lost a leg and an arm, and his passenger was killed. He kept working in what the NYT describes as “specialized” roles, though his career was interrupted by a suicide attempt and prison time for child molestation.

Howard E. Butt Jr.. oldest son of the founder of the HEB grocery chain. HEB is huge in this part of the country, and Mr. Butt, Jr. was in a position to take it over. Except…

But Mr. Butt, a Southern Baptist, who as a college student and lay minister had led a Christian youth revival movement, wrestled with the dual pressures of the business and his spiritual pursuits. That struggle led to severe depression, which he later discussed openly.

He ended up turning leadership of the chain over to his brother, ran the family foundation, and continued his ministry.

At the same time, he continued to encourage the evangelical movement to engage other Christians, even those unaffiliated with a particular church. In 2000, he began giving a one-minute radio homily, a segment he titled “The High Calling of Our Daily Life,” which highlighted the role that faith has played in the successful careers and personal lives of ordinary people. His homilies were carried on 3,000 stations in every state, reaching millions of listeners.

I used to catch this on KLBJ-AM when I was driving to work at Dell and still listened to the radio.

Duane Graveline, who I’d never heard of before. And neither had my mother, who was an adult during this time. Dr. Graveline was an astronaut:

With much fanfare, the space agency named Dr. Graveline one of six new “scientist-astronauts” on June 26, 1965. The group included two physicians, two university teachers, a research physicist and a geologist, Harrison H. Schmitt, who would later walk on the moon and become a United States senator.

He was in the program for about two months. A month in, his wife announced she was divorcing him. Shortly after that, he “resigned”:

In his memoir, Donald K. Slayton, one of the original seven astronauts and a longtime NASA official, said: “The program didn’t need a scandal. A messy divorce meant a quick ticket back to wherever you came from — not because we were trying to enforce morality, but because it would detract from the job.”

I don’t recall Dr. Graveline being mentioned at all in any of the histories of the space program that I’ve read (and I’ve read several). It sounds like he had some issues: he was married a total of six times and lost his medical license twice. The first time, it was suspended for two years after “a large number” of Demerol went missing. The second time, it was revoked permanently “over allegations that he had sexually abused children” (though not, apparently, ones that were patients of his).

C. Martin Croker, animator and voice actor. I was most familiar with him as the voices of Zorak and Moltar on “Space Ghost Coast to Coast”. I’d include a clip here, but the one I want to use is actually on the A/V Club page. And: according to the A/V Club, most of the “Space Ghost” episodes are now up for free streaming on the Adult Swim website.

Don Buchla, one of the early electronic music innovators. I’d never heard of him (perhaps because Bob Moog got all the press). I’ll try to remember to ask Todd next time I see him if he was familiar with Mr. Buchla’s work.

Mr. Buchala and Mr. Moog were contemporaries:

In the early ’60s, the better-known Robert Moog, who died in 2005, and Mr. Buchla arrived independently at the idea of the voltage-controlled modular synthesizer: an instrument assembled from various modules that controlled one another’s voltages to generate and shape sounds. Voltages could control pitch, volume, attack, timbre, speed and other parameters, interacting in complex ways.

Part of the reason Mr. Moog may have gotten more press was that he put keyboards on his machines. Mr. Buchla “wanted instruments that were not necessarily tied to Western scales or existing keyboard techniques. To encourage unconventional thinking, his early instruments deliberately omitted a keyboard.”

More:

Mr. Buchla’s instruments had modules with more colorful names, like Multiple Arbitrary Function Generator, Quad Dynamics Manager and, for his random-voltage noise generator, Source of Uncertainty.

Damn. I want a “Multiple Arbitrary Function Generator”.

In 1965, with $500 from a Rockefeller Foundation grant made to the Tape Music Center, the composers Morton Subotnick and Ramon Sender commissioned Mr. Buchla to build his first voltage-controlled instrument, the original Buchla Box.
It included a module that would transform both avant-garde and popular music. Called a sequencer, it vastly expanded the concept and functionality of a tape loop by generating and repeating a chosen series of voltages, enabling it to control a recurring melody, a rhythm track or other musical elements. It would become an essential tool of electronic dance music.

Bookmarks.

September 17th, 2016

Two things I found on the YCombinator Twitter feed that I want to bookmark:

“JavaScript Systems Music”. I’m not really good at music in general, nor am I the audio guy of my group of friends (Hi, Todd!). But I am kind of generally interested in computer audio, and the subtitle of this one sucked me in: “Learning Web Audio by Recreating The Works of Steve Reich and Brian Eno”. Yes, you can do in JavaScript what Steve Reich did with tape loops in 1965.

To say I actually enjoy listening to this piece would probably be stretching it. It wouldn’t be among the records I’d take with me on a desert island. But it is certainly fascinating and kind of hypnotic too. If you allow it to, it does evoke a certain kind of mental atmosphere.

I like “It’s Gonna Rain”, but, yeah, this.

YComb also linked to an article here, but I actually find the whole site interesting and want to bookmark it: Gary McGath’s “Mad File Format Science”. Or everything you ever wanted to know about file formats, identifying them, and recovering data from them.

As you know, Bob, I’m not a “Star Trek” fan, but I did find this interesting:

Some time after his death in 1991, Roddenberry’s estate discovered almost 200 floppies of his. They went to a company called DriveSavers Data Recovery, which took years to recover the documents due to the unusual challenges.

The floppies were written on CP/M systems custom built for Roddenberry with special disk drivers.

“DriveSavers took three months to reverse engineer the disk format.”

Anyway, I want to spend more time exploring this site. I’m also tempted to spring for his udemy course: $20, open-source tools, and hey! I can actually make a case that it is job related!

Things you may have wondered about. (#5 in a series)

September 17th, 2016

Somebody asked me this question this morning, and I thought the answer was interesting enough to make for a post in this department:

What was the name of Pavlov’s dog?

Turns out “Pavlov’s dog” is actually sort of a misnomer: good old Ivan had a bunch of dogs. I’ve seen 37 in one source, and 40 in another.

But did they have names? Yes.

Eleven years ago, I began a scientific mission with a trip to Russia, to find the names of Pavlov’s dogs. My intention was to name Drosophila memory mutants after the dogs.

This is a pretty cool article that I commend to your attention (especially for the photo of the author wearing Ivan’s old top hot).

The Quora article (with appropriate citations) lists the names of all forty known dogs, Just in case you’re looking for a good name for your new puppy,

Speaking of animal behavior, I’ve been wanting to link to this, and it seems like here is a good place for it. There once was a scientist named John Bumpass Calhoun, whp specialized in studying the behavior of rats and mice.

By 1954, he was working under the auspices of the National Institute of Mental Health, which gave him whole rooms to build his mousetopias. Like a rodent real estate developer, he incorporated ever-better amenities: climbable walls, food hoppers that could serve two dozen mice at once, lodging he described as “walk-up one-room apartments.”

His ultimate experiment, Universe 25, began in 1968 with eight mice.

The mice themselves were bright and healthy, hand-picked from the institute’s breeding stock. They were given the run of the place, which had everything they might need: food, water, climate control, hundreds of nesting boxes to choose from, and a lush floor of shredded paper and ground corn cob.

The population grew to 620 in about a year.

Then, as always, things took a turn. Such rapid growth put too much pressure on the mouse way of life. As new generations reached adulthood, many couldn’t find mates, or places in the social order—the mouse equivalent of a spouse and a job. Spinster females retreated to high-up nesting boxes, where they lived alone, far from the family neighborhoods. Washed-up males gathered in the center of the Universe, near the food, where they fretted, languished, and attacked each other. Meanwhile, overextended mouse moms and dads began moving nests constantly to avoid their unsavory neighbors. They also took their stress out on their babies, kicking them out of the nest too early, or even losing them during moves.

The last mouse was born in May of 1970.

And by the way, there’s also a literary tie to this story, but you’ll have to click through for that; I won’t spoil it here.

Obit watch: September 17, 2016.

September 17th, 2016

Edward Albee, noted playwright (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”).

I remember when I was growing up in Houston, Albee came to town – I think they were doing the world premiere of one of his works at tha Alley Theatre, though I can’t for the life of me recall what it was – and it was a huge deal at the time. As a teenager, I didn’t understand why; in retrospect, it may have been that Albbe’s coming to town put sort of stamp of cultural legitimacy on the city, at a time when many people outside Houston thought of it as a grotty oil boom town.

Thing I had forgotten:

He was also involved in one of the great flops in Broadway history, becoming a script doctor for the producer David Merrick’s 1966 staging of the musical adaptation of Truman Capote’s novel “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” which starred Mary Tyler Moore and Richard Chamberlain and closed on Broadway before it opened, after its fourth preview.

He also did a disastrous adaptation of “Lolita” in 1981.

The Onion A/V Club is reporting the death of noted author William Patrick Kinsella. Kinsella is perhaps most famous for the novel Shoeless Joe, which, of course, was filmed as “Field of Dreams”

(I’ve never read any of Kinsella’s work, though I’d consider it: some of the things I’ve read about his work indicate he’s more interesting and complex than those other lyrical magical baseball happy horseshit writers. I did see the movie and didn’t care much for it, but, yoy know, that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.)

(Amazon also lists something called “Rice Field of Dreams”. Turns out this is a documentary about the Cambodian baseball team; whle that sounds interesting, I was thinking it was some sort of Hong Kong movie. Perhaps one of those one-eyed priest/apprentice monk things Lawrence likes, where the good guys have to use martial arts and magic to battle evil spirits. Add some sort of sports element – not necessarily baseball, maybe soccer – and I’m sure it would make money.)

A few notes from the police blotter…

September 15th, 2016

…or, in this case, sort of the blotter.

The City of Austin approved a budget for next fiscal year in an 8-2 vote. The approved budget “will charge the typical resident about $87 more in city taxes and fees next year”.

And what will we get for the money?

Next year’s operations include a 2 percent pay increase for city employees, to kick in during the pay period before Christmas. There’s funding for a new curbside composting program, at a cost of $4.2 million to the city and a phased-in cost of $64.80 to homeowners after five years. There’s $600,000 more for housing aimed at reducing homelessness.

But the news isn’t all bad. The city is hiring eight new employees to do DNA testing. (But the lab is relying on grant money and whatever they can scrounge elsewhere to actually get the testing done.) And the Transportation Department is hiring 13 new people, “most of which will be dedicated to traffic signal timing”. Traffic signal timing? In Austin? You don’t say.

And what of the cops? What of APD’s request for more officers?

In the new budget, Adler explained, Austin will add 52 emergency service workers, 12 police officers, 21 civilian police staff and 38 development service employees intended to speed up Austin’s notoriously arduous permitting and building inspection process.

Exactly what the city manager asked for. (Well, the cops and police staff anyway: I don’t know about the development staff.)

As a side note, I mentioned when I was taking the Citizen’s Police Academy class earlier this year that we got to go on a tour of the forensics lab. I’m attending CPA again this fall, but as an alumnus rather than a student. (What this means in practice is that I’m basically volunteering to help set stuff up before the class, knock things down after the class, and sit in the back and keep my mouth shut during the class.)

Point of this digression: the lab tour isn’t being offered to CPA students this time around.

In other news, the APD suspended an officer for 20 days for improper use of a stun gun: specifically, the officer tasered a restrained person.

The other part of the story: the guy who was Tasered is the same guy who got pepper-sprayed in the back of the police van.

Wilson had been arrested on suspicion of public intoxication. At the booking facility, Wilson was restrained with handcuffs and a set of belly chain handcuffs, but later stood up from a chair and argued with several officers. Wilson refused to remain seated and a struggle ensued, the memo said.
Jimenez fired her stun gun once at Wilson, discharging a five-second pulse as the struggle concluded, the memo said.

Apparently, Tasering a handcuffed possibly drunk guy who is struggling with officers is FROWNED UPON IN THIS ESTABLISHMENT!

Jimenez admitted during her disciplinary review hearing that she should have used less violent means to control Wilson. She expressed regret for her actions, the memo said.

No appeal is once again part of the deal.

And from the department of “play stupid games, win stupid prizes”: the APD shot and killed a guy earlier today. The initial reports make it sound like a good shoot: they got a call about a suspicious guy wandering around an apartment complex with a backpack looking into cars, responded, didn’t find him initially, came back 2o minutes later after a second report and found him…

Officers radioed for air support and K9 units to help find the man as they continued to chase him on foot. An officer eventually ran the man down and used his stun gun to try to make an arrest, officials said.

The guy went down, the officers stated yelling at him to show his hands, he initially wasn’t compliant, and then…

“What we can see on video is that the suspect very quickly rolls over, produces a handgun and begins firing shots at our officers,” Manley said. “Our officers immediately retreat and return fire. There are multiple shots that are fired, again by both the suspect who initiated the gunfire and our officer who returned fire.”

Part of the referenced video (taken by a resident of the complex, not the police) is on the KVUE website. It isn’t the best quality, and I swear I saw a better version elsewhere, but it seems to show exactly what the APD is saying happened: they told the guy to roll over, he came up shooting…

(Edited to add 9/16: the video I was thinking of is on Facebook and linked from this Reddit thread. I recommend ignoring the comments.)

Noted: this is the second fatal police shooting in Austin in 10 days. A week ago Monday, the APD shot a man whp was wandering around an apartment complex holding a “high-powered rifle”: the police took cover, repeatedly asked the man to drop the weapon, actually shot him several times with “beanbag” rounds, and finally (the exact chain of events is currently unclear) shot the man. It sounds like classic “suicide by cop”: the man was being described as emotionally distraught after a recent break-up with his girlfriend.