Judging a Science Contest

On Wednesday the 27th, I volunteered as a judge for an 8th grace science contest at Imago Dei Middle School. There were three groups for whom my input was particularly important. One involved people's fear of robots, another involved human-powered electricity generation, and the last involved crown gall, a bacterial infection of plants. I also talked with two girls who did a presentation on aromatherapy (lavender and peppermint) and relaxation.

All the kids did a good job, and I enjoyed judging. It was interesting to see what the students put on their posters versus what they had to say about their projects.

This project, Your Own Electricity, was done by a group of three young men who went through five different generators in an attempt to charge a cellphone.

"Your Own Electricity" Science Project

This project, Crown Gall, was about a bacterial infection of plants and was a solo project. Unfortunately for the student, someone who had a collection of crown gall-infected roses never delivered them to her, so she wasn’t able to perform her experiments.

"Crown Gall" Science Contest

The final project, Robotics, mainly involved building and programming two kit robots, but the two young men who did this researched who fears their possible future robot overlords.

"Robotics" Science Contest

Everyone did a good job, but I regret that I didn't spend more time at others' presentations.

Flash Flushed

This past weekend I finally removed Flash. Adobe has declared that Flash will die this year or next, so I decided to get it done now. It's somewhat sad, as I liked the Flash panoramas, and I had some hope of playing with a Flash to do what could be done with QuickTime in LiveStage Pro. However, it died a long time ago, too,

Studying (Brazilian) Portuguese: Some Software and Sites

For a few years now, I have been studying Brazilian Portuguese since befriending a Brazilian visiting professor while I was completing my engineering degree. He is an electrical engineering professor in João Pessoa, Paraíba, Brazil, which I have visited once. The regional accent of Brazil's Northeast is sometimes called Nordestinês, spoken by Nordestinos, people who live in the northeast.

When reading Portuguese online, I usually am on my iPad and using the very nice iOS browser iCab. It has a Google Translate module that works very well.

Reading Portuguese online with Google Translate:

  • Jornal da Paraíba is a local newspaper that is well laid out with longish articles covering a range of topics.
  • FaceNewsJP has a more cluttered interface but many more articles on happening events, especially crimes and accidents, in João Pessoa.
  • BBC News | Brasil (in Portuguese) has lengthy articles on which I tend to give up then read in English.
  • O Globo is a major Brazilian media firm whose reporting tends to be conservative, according a Brazilian professor I had. Many of their articles are only for subscribers, but I find their RSS feed a good way to pick short articles of interest.

Listening to Portuguese online:

  • ReallyLearnPortuguese is a podcast that has fairly frequent interviews and conversations. If you become a paid member of the site, you gain access to their transcripts. They also have a good flash card collection through Quizlet and its iOS app. My membership has lapsed, because I'm not yet fluent enough and lack the time to benefit from it. Sadly, on 17 January, the owner of RLP passed away, so the site's future is now uncertain.
  • Rádios Brasil is an ad-supported app that lists streaming Brazilian radio stations, including a bunch from Paraíba.
  • Rádios do Brasil is a site with plenty of streaming Brazilian radio stations.

Online Study Tools for Portuguese:

  • Google Translate can help immensely. Its corpus is larger than that of any dictionary I have used.
  • Duolingo warrants special mention, since it is so comprehensive. The Duolingo app offers various drills arranged by theme or grammatical function. An optional flash card app, Tinycards, helps reinforce the drills. If you login to the site, you get the same drills as well as conversations in Brazilian Portuguese.
  • ReversoTranslation is a good bilingual dictionary, but I cannot recall the last time I used their translation tool.
  • Conjuguemos drills you on conjugating Portuguese (and other languages).
  • Conjuga-me is another tool for conjugating in Portuguese.

Software for Portuguese:

  • Duolingo offers various drills with a point system. Too many missed points, and you must either wait for points to return or do practice drills to recover points.
  • Tinycards is a flash card app that is especially bound to Duolingo's drills and conversations.
  • Quizlet is the app for the flash card website.

Updating My Site and Its Panoramas

Having recently bought a used Canon 50D with the intention of shooting panoramas again, I have begun updating my old panorama work, trying to relearn various things, and seeking alternatives to applications no longer supported. This includes the looming obsolescence of Adobe Flash by the end of 2020, which was the format I used after Apple killed QuickTime VR support. I never cared for the Java-based options.

Last night I purchased a costly upgrade to Garden Gnome Software's Pano2VR, which I used years ago before engineering studies ate all my free time and energy. Thankfully converting an old *.p2vr project to HTML 5 turns out to be quite simple. However, expecting to be able to add a few more pages to my website built with the long-defunct ShutterBug by XtraLean Software, I was only mildly surprised to find that the program's built-in FTP functionality apparently no longer works. My guess is an OS X update has crippled or blocked it, but I have not yet been able to confirm anything.

Initially I thought a forgotten password was the problem, but Yummy FTP works just fine for connecting to my site. I ended up doing some simple quick edits through it with my text editor BBEdit then a few more edits from my iPad with FTP Client Pro.

My plan is to replace all of my Flash panoramas with HTML 5 ones over the next couple of weeks while doing as little website HTML tweaking as possible, since I need to spend more time messing with C programming. I did pick up a cheap copy of Flux 6, but I haven't even opened it, and they're on at least 7 anyway. There is little benefit to learning HTML for me, so I am happy to keep with a WYSIWYG option.

National Day for the Victims of Communism

I was pleased to learn that President Trump has declared November 7 as the National Day for the Victims of Communism. There have been so incredibly many millions of victims, especially in China, Russia, Cambodia, and Cuba. The grossest ongoing statist scam, Communism and its gateway drug Socialism are still killing, oppressing, and impoverishing people in North Korea, Venezuela, and elsewhere.

Befriending Vietnamese boat people somewhat opened my eyes as a youth. In university, on my own I read accounts of life under Communism as well as the risible propaganda of the starry-eyed Westerners who visited Communist countries. Reading The Black Book of Communism was particularly influential, and I recommend it to everyone.

Consider visiting and donating to the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

Boating Trip to Lake Powell

My friend and I decided to tow his boat from Tucson to Lake Powell a few weekends ago for a multi-day adventure. The trip was that, but instead of describing why, I will summarize what happened:

  1. Traffic accident.
  2. Departure delayed by hours for repairs.
  3. Seeing mountainside on fire north of Phoenix.
  4. Choking on smoke on the way up to Flagstaff.
  5. Sleeping in bed of truck just south of Flagstaff.
  6. Waking up in the cold.
  7. Hearing that two armed men had robbed the mini-mart within sight of where we camped.
  8. Driving through the vast Navajo Nation and is varied colors and landforms.
  9. Reaching Page and Glen Canyon Dam.
  10. Launching boat and finding recently repaired impeller has failed.
  11. Learning nobody in Page (and nowhere else) has the old impeller key.
  12. Talking our way out of a speeding ticket inside the National Park.
  13. Machining a key then relaunching to find engine runs about 40%.
  14. Boating to the other ramp 17 miles away then having the engine die for good.
  15. Using the 3hp backup motor that dies as well.
  16. Finding that I have no cell service at the ramp.
  17. Getting lift back to other ramp by park rangers.
  18. Returning to pull the boat but ending up riding out a storm at the dock during which time panicked people assault the dock to get their own boats out.
  19. My tent nearly blowing away in another storm.
  20. Waking up to find friend's boat had drifted away.
  21. While I scale nearby ridge, boat has electrical fire.
  22. Can't burn almost any of the gas we bought despite the 3hp have returned to life.
  23. Meeting 20-mile bumper-to-bumper traffic jam north of Phoenix.
  24. Taking crazy route through Prescott.
  25. Arriving at 10pm to unload boat.
  26. Finding trailer third wheel is trashed due to earlier accident, so we have to rip it apart to remove it.
  27. Returning home at midnight.
  28. Waking at 5 to go to work.

Panoramic View of Lake Powell, entering from Glen Canyon Dam

Lake Powell, across from Antelope Canyon Ramp, last night’s campsite

Cruising Lake Powell with a 3hp motor and Toša looking at waterfowl

Trip to Detroit

Last weekend I drove from Indianapolis to Detroit to visit my Persian-American friend in Southfield, a Detroit suburb. Southfield' southern edge is the well-known 8 Mile, a dividing line apparently made famous in a movie by Eminem; I haven't seen it or knowingly listened to him.

Apparently it is not the best idea to arrive in Detroit when it's late at night and you don't know your way. I knew I had to change from I-94 to I-96. The latter was not well-marked, so I only made its ramp by hooking across three lanes of traffic. My friend said this is normally not a problem, since Detroit is financially stressed, so the police don't really go after reckless drivers when there are serious crimes being committed. Not sure where I was on I-96, I eventually took an off ramp that looked like it would lead to a safely depopulated after-hours industrial par; however, it led to a merger with a ton of cars from somewhere, so I made a U-turn at an intersection where a Detroit cop was sitting. Not knowing at the time that intersection U-turns are apparently infractions in Michigan, I cut up some unlit three-lane one-way , the cops behind me close. We drove slowly together down the potholed road, passing vacant office buildings with smashed windows and missing doors on the left and streets with dark houses in various states. My Rhode Island plates might have kept me from getting a ticket, but we passed one street on the right that was lit up with house lights, people partying in the street, and a bunch of cars, all with their light on. The cops turned there while I kept going, hoping I wouldn't get a flat. At some point I turned on a road with a section of streetlights visible blocks ahead. That led to Evergreen Road and eventually my friend's house. He was glad to see me and we promptly went to eat at an Arab-run coney joint that had a huge menu with pretty good food and prices.

The next day we hung around his house before going to a Persian restaurant, Rumi, in Farmington. We met another Persian there, had a good meal, and gabbed until quite late.

On Saturday, my friend and I went downtown to the superlative Guardian building, built in 1929 in a style mixing Pre-Columbian and Art Deco. The website contains photos that impress. Inside, the Pure Detroit store was offering free tours around the downtown at 1 and 3, so we went for a beer each (I had a Ghettoblaster) at the Grand Trunk Pub. We returned in time to join the first two, on which we befriended a couple and the wife's Russian friend. We all stayed together to go on the 3pm tour then wound up mid-town for pizza at a brewery, after which we strolled along the edge of Wayne State University. Outside a library we saw one of seven original Thinker statues by Rodin.

Sunday was another trip downtown en route to Belle Isle, where we enjoyed the views across the water of Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. We also enjoyed the large Victorian greenhouse, but hunger eventually forced us to leave for Polish food in Hamtramck. We opted for Polonia, which was very good, nicely priced, and served by an amusing waitress who told us people often noted she resembled Shelly Duvall. The dill pickle soup was particularly superb!

I look forward to visiting Detroit again! It is nice to see that the city is on the rebound, at least in places. But there is still plenty of ruin porn, collapsing decaying homes and buildings in depopulating areas.

Starting with Ruby

Recently I was digging through the many PDF and other ebooks that I have purchased and found Learn to Program by Chris Pine. The book has a publication date of 2011, but I have no idea when I bought it, so I started looking into it. Rather than a philosophical approach to programming, it introduces the reader to programming with Ruby. As with nearly all introductory books, this one is easy to get moving with. The concepts are almost universal, so I have been making nice progress. However, Python is what I really need to be working on.

A blurb I read somewhere claimed that Ruby draws on the best of Perl, a language I never touched, but I once read it was developed by a linguist, which explains some of its quirks. Since I once studied linguistics, that made me chuckle. All the same, the linguistic basis might explain some of the nifty string methods in Ruby.

Oh, I also upgraded the default Ruby installation on Mac OS X to 2.5.0. I picked up some nice gems, too.