Saturday, January 19, 2013

Gravity-Powered Light

What a great idea. Some brits have built a light powered entirely by gravity. The goal is to replace kerosene lamps in Africa and India, and they initially looked at solar, but decided this was less expensive and more reliable. The target cost is $5 for third world end-users, and I suspect with some markup they could sell it elsewhere for emergency and niche use and fund their third world efforts. 

In addition to providing a modest light source, it can power other small devices and (slowly) charge batteries.

Here's a link to the developers' appeal for funding, which succeeded. It includes video.

Here is the NPR story, with text and audio. Or you can simply download the audio.

Friday, January 18, 2013

George H. W. Bush Resigns from NRA

From the New York Times, 1995:

Letter of Resignation Sent By Bush to Rifle Association Published: May 11, 1995 Following is the letter of resignation sent last week by former President George Bush to the National Rifle Association: May 3, 1995

Dear Mr. Washington,

I was outraged when, even in the wake of the Oklahoma City tragedy, Mr. Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of N.R.A., defended his attack on federal agents as "jack-booted thugs." To attack Secret Service agents or A.T.F. people or any government law enforcement people as "wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms" wanting to "attack law abiding citizens" is a vicious slander on good people.

Al Whicher, who served on my [ United States Secret Service ] detail when I was Vice President and President, was killed in Oklahoma City. He was no Nazi. He was a kind man, a loving parent, a man dedicated to serving his country -- and serve it well he did.

In 1993, I attended the wake for A.T.F. agent Steve Willis, another dedicated officer who did his duty. I can assure you that this honorable man, killed by weird cultists, was no Nazi.

John Magaw, who used to head the U.S.S.S. and now heads A.T.F., is one of the most principled, decent men I have ever known. He would be the last to condone the kind of illegal behavior your ugly letter charges. The same is true for the F.B.I.'s able Director Louis Freeh. I appointed Mr. Freeh to the Federal Bench. His integrity and honor are beyond question.

Both John Magaw and Judge Freeh were in office when I was President. They both now serve in the current administration. They both have badges. Neither of them would ever give the government's "go ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law abiding citizens." (Your words)

I am a gun owner and an avid hunter. Over the years I have agreed with most of N.R.A.'s objectives, particularly your educational and training efforts, and your fundamental stance in favor of owning guns.

However, your broadside against Federal agents deeply offends my own sense of decency and honor; and it offends my concept of service to country. It indirectly slanders a wide array of government law enforcement officials, who are out there, day and night, laying their lives on the line for all of us.

You have not repudiated Mr. LaPierre's unwarranted attack. Therefore, I resign as a Life Member of N.R.A., said resignation to be effective upon your receipt of this letter. Please remove my name from your membership list. Sincerely, [ signed ] George Bush

Thursday, January 10, 2013

French Quarter Dining, New Orleans

First, a word of caution. Many of these restaurants serve local beers, and several of these beers are good. The menus typically do not show the prices. My experience that $7.50 is the going rate for a craft beer in the French Quarter. Too high? The customer can decide when the information is available.

A second cautionary note: I've been here four days. I've mostly stayed away from Bourbon St. There are doubtless many fine establishments that I have not visited.

Highly Recommended

Cafe Beignet, 334-B Royal Street

Note: they also have a location on Bourbon St, which I never visited.

I ate breakfast here twice, and stopped in one afternoon for my obligatory beignet. Each breakfast I had the western omelette. This consists of a very good western omelette, grits, and two slices of french bread with butter. I had never before had grits, and they were fine, a good addition to the breakfast.

Cafe Pontalba, 546 Saint Peter Street

This is a great location, and I tend to be suspicious of restaurants with great locations. It's across the street from Jackson Square, diagonally across from el Cabildo.

It was pretty quiet when I went in, with a couple people at the bar and four police officers at one table. My waiter may have been the manager or owner; he reminded me greatly of Ed from E.Joseph and the Phantom Heart ( The food was good. I had the pasta jambalaya and enjoyed it. I had an Abita Amber, or three, which I had tried a couple nights before at the Chartres House Cafe. The waiter was attentive and friendly and I was happy there, and left happy. Stepping out of the restaurant and seeing Jackson Square, the Cabildo, the cathedral, and so forth is an experience not available in Baltimore, not by a long shot. Like I said, great location.


Chartres House Cafe, 601 Chartres St

Despite their web page, this restaurant is competent with a very good selection of local beers. I had dinner there twice. The first time I had their Taste of New Orleans. It had jambalaya, chicken andouille sausage gumbo, and crawfish etouffee. Very good. The waiter was excellent: he noticed right away when he made a beer suggestion (an IPA or wheat beer--yuck) and I immediately took something else, and then for my second beer he didn't make a suggestion. He was attentive, friendly, and did a great job. For reference, he was young, dark hair, thick dark mustache.

On my second visit, I got a different waiter, young and foppish, and I felt more like I was an obligation of his and less like he enjoyed his job. The beer I had was an English brown ale, the Southern Pecan from Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company in, get this, Kiln, MS. That beer was specifically the reason I went back: I wanted to try that beer; also I'd eaten at Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville the night before, and didn't want another crappy dinner.

And dinner was fine. But with this second waiter, after the first beer and the main course, no second beer, no desert, etc., I was ready to go. He'd satisfied his obligation, and so had I. I should say the the maitre d' recognized me when I appeared, and was very welcoming. 

Not Recommended

Tequila Blues Mexicajun Catina[sic], 1200 Decatur St

Okay, Mexicajun? I couldn't resist, and, besides, I needed lunch. However, had I walked another block or two SE, I would have been at the French market, and had no problem finding a better place. But maybe not something more interesting-sounding.

I had a shrimp meal with some green sauce on it. The side of grilled squash was good, but the shrimp was mediocre on first bite, and then many, many bites of mediocre sameness. Oh well. I've eaten at a Mexicajun restaurant.

Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, 1104 Decatur St

I ate at the bar, and had a pair of slightly different frozen concoctions, neither of which was remotely special. The meal had started to cool by the time I got it, or maybe it didn't come out of the microwave hot. There was a singer/guitarist who was good. Sitting at the bar was possibly a mistake since my back was to him, and I would have enjoyed the show more had I seen it.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Buying MP3 Music: Amazon Cloud vs. Google Play

I just bought Tal Ben Ari's Sheelá on MP3 from Amazon. I've been buying most of my music lately from the Google Play Store, but strongly dislike the limited number of downloads they allow a purchaser. Purchasers do buy the MP3s, right? And, no, I don't care about any fine print since the e-mail receipt which Google sends clearly states that the track is purchased. Quote: You've purchased a track on Google Play. 

The reason I switched to Google from Amazon was that Amazon no longer supports Linux, and forces Linux customers to download songs one at a time. PITA for albums.

So I can purchase the MP3s from Amazon and then download them to my Android. I probably want them there anyhow, and, of course, backed up in the cloud. Then I can sftp them to my desktop machine. Amazon doesn't get in the way, and the Google bean counters don't get involved.

An issue that may have me reconsidering the above is that Google says they have Tal Ben Ari's Sheelá at 320 kb/s, whereas the Amazon MP3s vary from 203 kb/s to 230 kb/s.

Note to Android users: AndFTP is a wonderful app, allowing me to connect to my desktop at home and a server at work wirelessly.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Yet Another Annoying New Gmail "Feature"

In the past few days on a number of occasions I've been reading e-mail messages that ended abruptly. They ended at "[Message clipped]  View entire message." This adds steps to reading e-mail: noticing the truncation, clicking on it, and then closing the resulting new tab.

Not helpful. I still wish Google would hire someone with expertise in HCI, user interfaces, user experiences, etc., rather than stumbling along toward a higher entropy state. Their algorithms folks are great, but their UI folks truly suck.

Google on Windows

Thomas Bushnell at Google quoted by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols in The truth about Goobuntu: Google's in-house desktop.

 Ubuntu Linux Googlers must ask to use Windows because Windows is harder because it has 'special' security problems so it requires high-level permission before someone can use it.” In addition, “Windows tools tend to be heavy and inflexible.”

Pretty much what everyone knows anyway, or at least anyone with experience outside the Microsoft ghetto.