A sad day for Lego

2014-07-18 11.37.35Well we moved into a new office and I finally decided to complete my Star Destroyer project (see here for all my Lego posts) by hanging the Destroyer from the ceiling. This seemingly simple task was way harder than one would think.

I bought some fishing line and some wire and with the help of my friend Andy came up with a plan to suspend the very heavy model from the supports in the center. We tried a number of different solutions and finally decided to use one central point at the center of mass and then have another line out the back to adjust the tilt.

We worked really hard to get it perfect and we got it up and mounted and it looked amazing and it wasn’t going anywhere. So I next decided to remove the legs underneath the model since we could now fly…

Here is where the accident happened. I took off one tiny foot portion of one of the legs and the balance along the ‘roll’ axispic5-1 immediately changed and the model rolled slightly. This roll made the top portion of the ship fall/roll off and fall to the floor. At this point I yelled “Fuck no!”

1Oa3ARiand then the ship rolled even more due to the loss of the top portion and the top wing flew off and then all hell broke loose and the entire ship just fell apart in front of me and crashed to the floor. What was left was the perfectly hung frame.

It was a sad fate but it was totally worth it. Go big or go home right?

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What is going on in Iraq

isis-is-finding-support-during-lightning-advances-in-iraq-article-body-image-1402707814I really love the Dan Carlin “Common Sense” podcast. Dan seems to really have a way of seeing the world that lines up almost perfectly with me. His most recent show (titled : “Riding Chaos to Stasis”) is something that you all should listen to if you are even a tiny bit interested in what’s going on in Iraq right now. Dan is a historian and he gives us a little history lesson about the region which is super enlightening. It really taught me a lot about how the borders of Iraq (and other countries in the area) were drawn and how England and France and the like really messed things up after WW1.

The episode also talks a bit about ISIS and after you hear it I’m not sure you won’t be convinced that we should just leave things alone. I certainly don’t want the US getting involved in that region and especially in Iraq.

Give it a listen. You will be glad you did!

Go California

voterCalifornia is a kind of a cool state when it comes to Democracy. Unlike every other state, the voters there have the ability to propose referendums and then vote them into law – totally skipping their representatives. In 2010 they made two very significant changes to the electoral system.

The first was that all districts were drawn up based on geography and they were made by unaffiliated professionals. This contrasts almost everywhere else in America where the politicians get to draw the lines of their districts which has led to districts where the politicians almost cannot be removed from office. See this from 2010 as an example of the gerrymandering I’m talking about.

The second change was that the state primaries were to become non-partisan where everyone regardless of party could vote for anyone running in the primary and the two top vote getters (regardless of party affiliation) would face off in the general election.

These two changes are HUGE and will go a log way to making elections more fair in California. This year there are a number of candidates running for congress there that would never have had a shot otherwise. I urge you to read this short article from Time magazine explaining the current election cycle there.

Before I tell you what else needs to happen I want to take a second to applaud the voters of California for these changes. They are game changers and they need to be implemented universally across the country and I urge all of you to publicize these changes and write to your representatives to beg them to make these changes. Sadly we won’t see this happen almost anywhere else because the people able to change things are the ones who benefit the most from keeping them the same. There’s always revolution…

Anyway, California needs to go further and I’m going to take a second to tell you why. For years now, mathematicians and others have studied voting and have pretty much unanimously decided that plurality voting for more than 2 candidates in a field is the worst system one could possibly use . The reasons are many. But they mostly boil down to the fact that not all of your wishes as a voter are being counted in the math deciding the winner. If you simply choose who gets the most votes, that candidate may very well not be the one most people would choose.

For example, lets take an election with 3 candidates. One (candidate R) is a hard core Right Wing candidate, another (candidate D) is a hard core Left leaning candidate and one (candidate M) is right in the middle. Say that many of your voters are strongly biased towards candidates R and D and that all of those strongly biased voters would gladly vote for M if they knew that R or D would win.

 

Say that after the results are in the voting comes out to something like : 40% R, 30% D, and 30% M. Is this a fair result? Is it the right one? The only happy voters are the R voters. The D voters are thinking “we would totally have taken M, we hate R”, the M voters could be thinking the converse “if we had chosen D instead of M we’d be in great shape” (remember the Nader voters who swung Gore out of the presidency?).

A system like this leads people to strategically vote : They vote for a candidate they don’t really like much because they think they have the best shot at beating a candidate they hate. This is called Tactical Voting and it pretty much kills third party candidates that would have a legitimate shot if people had a way to say “I want D but I’d also accept M.. just not R!”

Here’s another example that’s illustrative. Imagine if there are 10 candidates and they get 11%, 10%, 10%, 10%, 10%, 10%, 10%, 10%, 10%, and 9% of the vote. Who should be the winner then? Would that be fair?

There are many other problems with plurality voting, just do a tiny bit of research and you will see what I’m talking about. This is the problem in California that they need to fix and there are many ways to do it.

The way I propose is called Approval Voting and it’s so fair that the American Society of Mathematicians use it for their elections (at least they did last time I checked). The way it works is simple. You vote for all the candidates you like and you don’t vote for the ones you don’t and the one with the most votes wins. It’s not perfect, but it’s 100 times better than what we do now.

There are other systems like the Borda Count and other Ranking systems, but in terms of simplicity and ease of implementation Approval is by far the clear winner. So California, you are almost there, just change your primary voting system and I will move there!

 

BusCam

I ride on Septa busses a bunch and one of them goes down 8th Street into South Philly from Center City and every day its another adventure. There is always something interesting to see or hear on that bus. It’s always an experience for me.

Which leads me to my next great idea.

There are a number of cameras in the bus (see the photo below) and of course they are used for security purposes, however I think they should be used for more than that.

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My idea is that Septa should pick a bus line and they should broadcast on the web a feed of all the cameras in real time. With sound. The page should have a real time comments section as well.

This all could be supported with ads and I would imagine that it would be an instant hit. Not only in Philly, but all over the place.

And before you start saying that Septa is taking advantage of it’s riders, forget it. The cameras are already there and people already are used to them and don’t expect privacy on the bus.

In fact, more and more companies should broadcast on the web their cameras for money. Septa is just one example.

Rockets from Copenhagen

Ever since I was a kid I’ve had a fascination with space flight and rockets. A few years ago I took a trip to Huntsville and while there I was lucky enough to spend some time at the US Space and Rocket Center. I’ve been a close follower of the X-Prize competition (which was won by Burt Ratan and his team in 2004) and of course I’m a huge fan of Elon Musk and Space-X !

I just came across a company/group called Copenhagen Suborbitals which  is essentially a bunch of do it yourself guys who are building a rocket and capsule to put a man in space. I can’t explain how awesome these guys are.

If you’re into this stuff even a little bit, spend some time checking out their website. They are documenting every step of their work and they are making real progress. I am kind of sorry that I don’t live near them because I would be quitting my job and sweeping their floors for them just to hang out and be part of what they are doing. It’s really amazing stuff. Support them if you can!

 

UniversalSocialFeed

So it’s about time that someone came up with a universal consolidator of social content. Here’s what I’m talking about.  I post stuff on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Yelp, here on my blog, Instagram, Vine, and who knows where else. And I have friends that do the same. How can I keep track of them? How do I know when you’ve posted something? Do I have to continually check all my apps?

What I want is one place where I can look at a feed of all my friends content and also has the ability to look at a feed of all the stuff from one friend (or more). So if you were using it, you could see a feed in real time of all my posts and you can also see all your other friends. In one place. Why hasn’t anyone done this yet?

Best Picture 2014

 

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Well I saw 8 out of the 9 nominees for best picture and I figured that I would order them and give mini reviews for those interested. Also, I’m going to tweet stuff during the show so if you’re interested, tune in to me at @neodem.

First off, it’s important to note that I’m listing these in my order which is heavily based on which movies entertained me the most, seconded by which ones I’d watch again and of course which ones were made the best (production quality). Also, maybe a also a bit of how well acted they were. But if I were voting in the AAwards I would probably put more acting weight into the acting categories. Anyway, here we are:

1) Wolf of Wall Street. Say what you want about the excess portrayed in this film, it was fun as shit and I could have watched another 3 hours of it if I could. Like, maybe there needs to be a tv series about the Wolf and his buddies. This movie was super fun and was basically Goodfellas set against the backdrop of Wall Street.Wolf-of-Wall-Street

I want to see this again just so I can see Jonah Hill and Leo and McConaughey.

I mean this was just an epic rags to riches story and it was such a fun ride. Sure there were drugs and hookers and greed but that was the story and I simply loved it. And wow, it was funny as hell. Lastly, the fimmaking was pretty awesome. Not flashy, but you never felt that the story was constrained due to the inability to visualize something. It was all there. There were over 300 sfx shots and you didn’t notice one of them. (check out the Wolf reel at Brainstorm Digital)

2) Gravity. This film was just awesomely beautiful. It was so skillfully made and the GRAVITYshots were simply gorgeous to look at. I felt like I was in space and I also felt like I wanted to be there, to see the Earth the way it was shown. I know the movie and the plot was a bit implausible but I didn’t care. I enjoyed the ride just way too much. Ans I admit I’m a space nerd so a lot of my enjoyment came from the realistic seeming space stuff.

3) Her. The vision of the future that they came up with was just so plausible and also kind of beautiful. her3I wasn’t as moved by the relationship stuff as others have been but overall I really liked the story and Joaquin was really perfectly cast.

4) Captain Phillips. Maybe because I have a fascination with boats and have wanted to join the merchant marines but I loved the feel of being on that huge ship. And I loved how real it seemed. The story was super compelling (although maybe not true, who cares) and it moved along at a great pace. Captain-PhillipsWhen we got to after the rescue Tom Hanks played a dude in shock so well and the doctor on the ship was taking care of him and I was just stuck there in shock with him. It was an intense and awesome moment. I really found this movie way better than I thought I would.

5) 12 Years a Slave. I was dreading going to see this film. I really wasn’t looking forward to 3 hours of period stuff about slavery. I know it’s important and I know it’s moving but I’ve seen Roots, I’ve seen other slavery films. I get it.images That period was fucked beyond all recognition and it was awful. What I didn’t think was that I would find the film really beautiful and moving. It was shot so well and it was acted even better. And the story was so interesting and sad and powerful. It was truly a great film. I have a few tiny complaints but overall it would deserve it if it won (which I suspect it will).

6) Dallas Buyers Club. Great performances from M McConaughey and also Jared Leto.A disheveled Matthew McConaughey gets arrested in scenes for 'The Dallas Buyers Club' in New Orleans But the story was kind of uninteresting and the way it was shot wasn’t too compelling either. I think this was a fine film but no where near the above 5. I think this and the next 2 just didn’t deserve to be here.

7) Nebraska. I was so looking forward to seeing this film and it was good Nebraska film stillbut it wasn’t oscar worthy. It was kind of neutral. There were funny parts and good performances but… eh.

 

8) American Hustle. Why do people love this film? The acting (except for Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence rs_634x1024-131210124228-634.american-hustler-lawrence.ls.121013 and maybe Bale) was kind of terrible.  It was unclear if this was a comedy or a drama. The story could have been so interesting but it felt confusing. The characters didn’t develop properly. I think that the main issue was the direction. This film was kind of shitty. I have seen way better in the last year. 

 

Studio Kitchen is the Bomb

shola11-400x264For a long while now I’ve been wanting to find my way to Studio Kitchen to sample some of the goodness cooked by Shola Olunloyo. I’ve heard about his food and I’ve heard about this experience over and over again (as anybody who is into the Philly food scene has) so I really needed to go here and taste.

The problem is that, much like Cook, it’s hard to get in to the kitchen. There are only 10 seats and he only does dinners once and a while so I would find myself checking out the website from time to time hoping to find a spot at the table that coincided with my schedule and life.

Sure enough, one popped up and I pounced on it. That was last night and I have to say that I’m super glad I was persistent because it was an amazing experience.

I won’t talk about the food specifically since if you go you will most likely not have the same stuff I did. Shola cooks theme meals and it seems like each dish is a one of kind snowflake. I will say one thing. This guy can cook. Not only were the plates beautiful but they tasted amazing. It has something to do with all the super fresh ingredients and a lot to do with talent. Of the 6 courses, not one was bad. The food was quite perfect.

But that wasn’t what made this dinner so awesome. The chef himself and his style was.

First off is the space he has set up for you. This is in an apartment in N. Liberties and you are essentially in the middle of a lab. There are ingredients and spices and stuff all over the place (perfectly organized and labeled) and there are all kinds of molecular gastronomy tools as well. I can’t even begin to name the stuff I saw but it really looked like a lab. We all sat in the middle of the room at this communal table with one side left open for the chef to plate things before we got them. It was a really intimate and fun experience.

Next was chef Shola himself. What a cool person this guy is. Not only is he a great cook but he’s a really gracious and kind host and it’s so clear that he loves to entertain like this. He was the cook, busboy and waiter and really spent a ton of time answering questions and teaching us about the food we were eating.

Overall this was just an incredible experience and if you like dining at all, you need to book a seat at one of these tables. It’s awesome!