Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Very Large Telescope Shows You a Very Large Universe

Hat tip to Popular Science:
There’s very little we can write to preface the imagery below, so we’ll just set the scene and get out of the way. The video below was captured by Stephane Guisard and Jose Francisco Salgado at the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile’s Atacama Desert. And it might make you cry.

What makes this time lapse particularly amazing--because we’ve all seen plenty of time lapse videos of the night sky--is the four telescopes in the foreground. Watching these instruments work against a black background would be endlessly fascinating on its own. Unfortunately you won’t be able to pay them too much attention. Because damn, what a sky.

Watch it on full screen.

This edited version shows the Earth rotating against a fixed sky.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Merit and Opportunity

An interesting post from Greg Mankiw.

What this means is that if you are a college admissions officer trying to identify the students who will do best in college, as measured by grades, you would give positive rather than negative weight on family income. I am not proposing that they should do this, as colleges have many goals when putting together a class. But it does seem that the hypothesis implicit in Leonhardt's article is not supported by the data.

The Viking

This 1928 film is a festival of anachronism and overacting, from the distinctly not 10th century castle to Sigurd's Bronze Age armor to the low cut corselet that shows off Helga's creamy decolletage. Also, there are a lot of amazingly badly tailored furs.

Young Alwin Skywalker is so brooding and pouty that you can just know that he's going to to eventually turn to the dark side, call himself Lord Veidr, and start wearing black armor, cape and Sutton Hoo helmet.

Richard Alexander, who played Sigurd, went on to wear other silly helmets, possibly from the same prop closet, as Prince Barin in the Flash Gordon serials.

The film was made at an interesting point of technological transition: a full length film with early technicolor and a soundtrack but no recorded dialog.

More Bronze Age viking goodness:

Leif Erikson has something of a Derek Smalls look going on here.

Helga nearly puts Leif Erikson's eye out with one of her horns at about 9:28

Living in the Future: A Tribute to Spirit

Miles O'Brien gives a eulogy to our robotic proxy. It was a good seven years, and more than anyone expected. Opportunity, one wheel crippled, soldiers on towards Endeavor Crater.

In other news, the president signed a bill into law with his robotic hand.

Private Residences with Defensive Earthworks

Some things never go out of style.

A few observations on these revivals of medieval style defenses.

Being able to rent a bulldozer instead of using a work gang of men with picks and shovels makes the private defensive earthwork affordable to the common man. Also, installing these in advance of construction would involve moving a lot less dirt, and you'd get a better view. On the other hand, in the twenty years between massive floods, you'd need to climb a lot of extra steps to get to your front door every day

Friday, May 27, 2011

Beauty Pool

Beauty Pool by ~WillMcLean on deviantART

Beauty Pool on the Blooming Grove trout stream in the Poconos

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Modest Proposal Towards Peace in the Mideast

I believe that if there’s ever going to be a stable Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, it will be based on something close to the 1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps. And mutually agreeable will be something close to the stated Palestinian position that if Israel wants them to consent to Israeli annexation of land on the Palestinian side of the 1967 border or Green Line, they need to get as much and as good land on the Israeli side of the Green Line.

In 2008, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made what I think was a brave and sincere effort to make a deal on something close to those terms. It failed. The explanation of current Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu was that the Palestinians just weren’t really interested in peace. This doesn’t hold up on close examination. Olmert wasn’t actually able or willing to offer the Palestinians as much land as he wanted them to give up, and the land he was offering included a fair amount of desert that was clearly less desirable than the settlement real estate he wanted them to surrender.

The Israeli argument was that, yes, it wasn’t exactly an even trade, but the Palestinians should have stretched the distance get an agreement. But why should they make the sacrifice if the Israelis wouldn’t? Israel had much more land to spare than the Palestinians, and much of the Israeli need for the land was driven by the understandable desire not to move Israeli settlements that resulted from deliberate Israeli policy to plant them in occupied territories that international law did not allow them to annex.

The earlier Camp David land swap proposal, also described by Netanyahu as generous, was even more unfavorable to the Palestinians.

Looking at a map from Palileaks that claims to show one version of the Olmert proposal, you can see the challenge. Several of the settlements are some distance east of the Green Line, creating narrow, vulnerable peninsulas that if they are to be annexed to Israel, and even these narrow salient must be paid for by giving up other Israeli land elsewhere if the exchange is to be equitable.

Evacuating them is a political challenge for the Israelis since the settlers are citizens, and can be expected to vote against it, and vote hard.

I have a cunning plan. Bear with me.

A little background first. Most of the land in question is publicly owned, and leased for 49 or 98 year terms.

The settlement blocks closest to the Green Line can be solved with a straightforward land swap. For the peninsulas, a more creative solution is required.

They would be transferred to Palestine, but control would be immediately leased to Canada or some other tolerant liberal democracy for 20 years At the end of that time full sovereignty would revert to Palestine.

Current residents could retain their current citizenships, and continue to lease on the current terms. They could freely transfer their leases for whatever price they could negotiate. Palestinians could lease land in the peninsulas on the same terms offered to Israelis.

A set share of revenue from land leases and sales would go to Palestine, which would therefore have an incentive not to let attacks hurt property values.

The lease to Canada would require free passage for Palestinians across the peninsulas at an agreed number of points, perhaps by underpass or overpass.

The settlers would probably wish to sell their leaseholds at some point, unless Palestine was clearly developing into a well run and tolerant democracy. However, they'd have two decades to find a buyer, so they wouldn't need to accept a fire sale price.

Palestine would get the assurance that they'd get the land eventually, that it wouldn't be controlled by israel in the meantime, and they''d get lease revenue for20 years.

Israel would lose the headache of defending vulnerable salients, would not have to find land to swap to retain them, and would not have to face the same political pain and expense they would have from an immediate settler evacuation.

I do see one potential problem: as the lease term for the peninsulas neared an end, there might be a great deal of pressure from the peninsular inhabitants to extend it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Playing the Dr. Who Theme Song on Tesla Coils

More Tesla coil music here:

And the Imperial March:

Played here with Palpatine Zaps from the fingertips.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Obama argued that a peace agreement would be based on the 1967 borders, with mutually agreed land swaps from that starting point.

Netanyahu responded that that was crazy talk. The 1967 borders were entirely indefensible. Israel defended them pretty well in in 1956 and 1967, but those were just lucky flukes.

Instead, Israel needs better borders. What kind of borders does Netanyahu's government want? Look at the West Bank Fence.

Here's a clearly Pro-Israeli source:

It's striking how unimportant military defense was to the route of the fence. Instead, the priorities seem to have been:

1}Any deviations from the 1967 borders must increase territory under Israeli control.

2} Any deviations from the 1967 borders must increase the number of Jews inside the new boundary.

Making the new border longer was not really an important concern. Creating vulnerable salients outside the 1967 borders was not a significant concern either, at least compared to satisfing the first two priorities.

Budget Tudor

Budget Tudor by ~WillMcLean on deviantART

Friday, May 20, 2011

Jeffrey Jones, RIP

I first encountered the work of Jeffrey Jones in the strip titled Idyl in the National Lampoon. It was like hearing Scott Joplin playing the piano in a bordello.

Here is the artist's site. Here is a retrospective appreciation.

Frazetta called Jones "the greatest living painter". There was a visible Frazetta influence in the early work, but there was a lot more going on. There were passages that reminded me of Whistler, N. C. Wyeth, John Williams Waterhouse and Alma-Tadema.

The Sheep Unloaded Their Entire Clip

Newt Gingrich's press secretary has a gift for producing prose that is not so much memorable as seared into your brain with a hot iron.

The literati sent out their minions to do their bidding. Washington cannot tolerate threats from outsiders who might disrupt their comfortable world. The firefight started when the cowardly sensed weakness. They fired timidly at first, then the sheep not wanting to be dropped from the establishment’s cocktail party invite list unloaded their entire clip, firing without taking aim their distortions and falsehoods. Now they are left exposed by their bylines and handles. But surely they had killed him off. This is the way it always worked. A lesser person could not have survived the first few minutes of the onslaught. But out of the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia emerged Gingrich, once again ready to lead those who won’t be intimated by the political elite and are ready to take on the challenges America faces.

Sheep. Sheep with smoking hoof-enabled automatic weapons clutched in one foreleg and cocktail napkins in the other. There's an image I won't forget easily.

Also, that word, intimated. I don't think it means what what you think it means.

It's a rare press release that inspires not only a villanelle but also a dramatic reading by John Lithgow

Onward, my minions.

Living in the Future: Talking About Turing...

Android Romance by ~WillMcLean on deviantART

...with a lonely chatbot.

"no im not a bot are you?"

Well, it would say that, wouldn't it?

Banned Weapons of the SCA: the Arquebus

The Arquebus by ~WillMcLean on deviantART

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

SCA Camping

Camping by ~WillMcLean on deviantART

Installing Linux on a Dead Badger

Let's face it: any script kiddie with a pair of pliers can put Red Hat on a Compaq, his mom's toaster, or even the family dog. But nothing earns you geek points like installing Linux on a dead badger.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"Historical Gloves" from The Time Seller

These are offered as "Historical Gloves" by The Time Seller, a Spanish firm.

The thumb pattern appears to be a Boulton or Bolton Thumb, what I originally believed was a late 19th century innovation in which a gusset for the thumb is formed from the same piece of leather used for the palm of the hand. However, some medieval gloves seem to have used a thumb gusset of this construction. On these gloves the thumb is joined to the palm with an overlapping seam and a double row of machine stitching.

The medium brown color is atypical for medieval gloves. White, off-white, or very light brown are most often seen in medieval iconography. Red and green are also sometimes shown, although more rarely. Black is rare at best: I can’t thing of a time I’ve seen black gloves in medieval art.

The gloves are made from fairly stout cowhide. Judging from surviving examples, kid or chamois would be more appropriate for gloves used to line gauntlets or for fashionable wear.

There are other un-medieval details that would be generally concealed when seen from the outside if the gloves were sewn into gauntlets.

The front and back of the glove are joined on the thumb side by a seam rather than a fold.

There is a seam at the wrist I have not seen on medieval gloves. With some gauntlet styles, such as the Black Prince’s, this would be visible at the inside of the wrist.

The cuff has insufficient flare. To line an hourglass gauntlet the seams would need to be opened and, ideally, the gap filled with triangular gussets. There’s probably enough excess length in the current cuffs to provide material if used for that purpose.

The knuckle sides of the fingers are sewn to the fourchettes at the sides of the fingers with overlapping seams and visible machine stitching.

These are not accurate reproductions of medieval gloves. That said, as far as commercially available gloves go, I haven’t seen better alternatives, and you could do a lot worse.

As far as I can tell from the catalogue photos, these seem very similar if not identical to the gloves offered by Westland Crafts as Swordsman Gloves. Westland offers a wider range of colors, red and green in addition to brown and black. Westland doesn’t post their prices online, instead offering a form for submitting inquiries on their website, so I can’t say how pricing compares.

The Time Seller charges a substantial minimum shipping and handling fee, but it seems to be a flat charge up to a weight limit that covers several gloves, so a multi-item order will be significantly more economical. I suspect the same would be true for Westland.

My order to The Time Seller was accepted March 22 and shipped April 12, 21 days later. These seems a bit long for items they advertised as being in stock. I received the shipment a month later on April 12.

These gloves are advertised as cowhide, and appear to be robust and well made. They are not as supple or comfortable as kid gloves, but should be more durable than gloves made from thinner and more flexible leather. According to their sizing directions, my hands are size eight, and their gloves of this size seemed to be a fairly good fit out of the box. Size seven is distinctly snug on my hands out of the box, although I’ve been advised by one source I respect that for a really good fit you should choose gloves one size smaller than your hands, make the leather wet, and wear them for several hours while gripping a steering wheel or similar object. I haven’t tried this.

Their size nine is no more comfortable than their eight on my hands, and has some empty space at the ends of the fingers.

Close Cover Before Striking

Close Cover by ~WillMcLean on deviantART

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Rembrandt and His School: Masterworks from the Frick and Lugt Collections

I saw this today. Rembrandt, who was awesome, with extra awesome sauce: a man of prodigious and humbling talent.

The link says the show is extended through May 22. Plus Mr. Frick's splendid collection regularly on display. The man spent his money well.

When I was young and foolish I thought a good black and white reproduction should be able to give you a pretty good sense of what I black and white etching was like. The I saw a Rembrandt print in person. I changed my opinion that day.

I learned today the print of The Three Crosses from the Frick Collection was printed on vellum rather than paper.

Rembrandt used both drypoint and an engraver's burin to produce this monumental depiction of Christ's crucifixion. He conveys the intensity of the stream of celestial light by rendering the figures in its path with spare contour lines and minimal detail. Their emotions are expressed instead through their demonstrative gestures as, for example, the particular tenderness with which Saint John the Evangelist supports the Virgin to the right of the cross. This impression is printed on vellum, which is less absorbent than paper and lends a matte quality to the ink.

Kettle Hat

Kettle Hat by ~WillMcLean on deviantART

Friday, May 13, 2011

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Hoth Realtor Addresses Concerns...

...about his marketing Han Solo's dead Tauntaun as a studio apartment

Pochspiel Board

Pochspiel Board by ~WillMcLean on deviantART

You can mount this print on pasteboard or wood for a better playing surface. I've used artist's spray mount. Strathmore multi-ply gives a surface without modern labels on the back.

Rules here.

The pictures were, where possible, based on 15th c. German cards, with costume details and drawing style backdated to the late 14th century. This is speculative: Pochspiel is first documented in 1441. Dummet claims there's a reference in an account book to Glic in 1397. When reported later in the 15th century Glic seems to have been a similar game to Pochspiel.

The leftmost panel in the lower row is a 10: the early German decks I was using as prototypes used banners for tens. I've put a Roman numeral X on the banner as a reminder.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Confusing Computers in the 29th Century

Confuse Computers by ~WillMcLean on deviantART

Another Star Saga illustration: Confuse Computers was an important offensive technique for the computers of the 29th century, which showed a marked resemblance to the computers of the late 1980s, when the game was produced. Confuse Enemy Computers was the technology of bamboozling the opposition hardware.

You might think that this simply showed lack of imagination on the part of the illustrator. In fact, it was a deliberately retro design choice, like Corinthian columns in the 20th century or Steampunk in the 21st. There was (or would be) a whole genre, Floppypunk, devoted to imaginative recreation of the Floppy Disk Era, just like Steampunk, only different.

Like Steampunk enthusiasts, Floppypunkers did not aim for literal recreation of the past. They tended to use floppy disks as belt buckles or epaulets, like steampunkers gluing nonfunctional gears to their hats. Realism wasn't the point, it was all about style. A Floppypunker convention would always feature an inordinate number of women dressed like Madonna, only with more cleavage. She was, after all, a well documented woman of the era.

It is remarkable how often the imaginative.recreation of an alternative past is indistinguishable from a plausible excuse to wear corsets as outerwear.

In the 29th century the hardware to hold a Turing capable A.I. could be lost in a good sneeze, and high quality displays are a few microns thick. Still, nobody wants to waste space, so the bulky retro monitor casings are mostly used to keep drinks cool.

Fighters! Avoid this Common Error!

Sallet by ~WillMcLean on deviantART

Saturday, May 07, 2011

First Crusade

First Crusade by ~WillMcLean on deviantART

I take it this is your First Crusade.

Sheep Blimp

Sheep Blimp by ~WillMcLean on deviantART

I used this on the change of address announcement when we moved into our current home, back when I had more hair.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Star Saga

Missionary by ~WillMcLean on deviantART

Star Saga 1 and Star Saga 2 were fun, innovative computer games that came out in 1988 and 1989. I did the illustrations for the game booklets, and they were two of my most favoritest illustration assignments ever.

Unfortunately, they were not a commercial success, and there was no Star Saga 3.

I'm republishing several of the illustrations on deviantART and CafePress. I was pretty pleased with them, and I hope that some people that never saw the original game will enjoy them too.

In the game, you could take the role of one of six different space adventurers, whose back story was described in a paper booklet, and I needed to come up with a cover illustration for each of those booklets for both the first and second game. To allow you to identify more easily with your chosen role, the gender of each was carefully unstated, and the names were all chosen to preserve the ambiguity.

I had to come up with an illustration that said something meaningful about each character, without ever explicitly indicating if they were male or female. One solution is shown above.

Master Peter Falkner's Art of Knightly Defense

In the late 14th century, the German swordsman Johannes Liechtenauer developed and codified a system of armed combat with sword, spear, and dagger that spread through the Holy Roman Empire and dominated German martial arts for nearly 300 years. By the end of the 15th century, a fellowship of swordsmen in Frankfurt known as “the Brotherhood of Saint Mark,” or Marxbr├╝der, had been granted an imperial charter to train and test swordmasters.

Peter Falkner was a long-time member and sometime captain of this famed fencing guild, and it was during this tenure that he set about creating an illustrated fight book of his own; colorful, painted figures and short captions depict combat with a wide variety of weapons: the longsword, dagger, staff, poleaxe, halberd, dueling shield and mounted combat. Where his work excels, however, is in its extensive treatment of the falchion-like messer, and the unique variations of core techniques of the Liechtenauer canon.

Now available from Freelance Academy Press

Last Days of the Norsemen

The Last Days of the Norsemen by ~WillMcLean on deviantART