Bad Astronomy

For the past couple of months, I have been following Dr. Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog.

This is one of those blogs that you end up wishing you had been reading since the very first day. BA posts regular news updates and some stunning pictures from the world of astronomy (in particular) and science (in general). Plait also writes about the importance of skepticism and the abuse of the scientific method in areas such as homeopathy and the anti-vaccinations movement.

It is almost always interesting and well worth subscribing to the RSS feed.

Exiting The Deep Freeze

Phew! It is melting! The glorious upward tick in temperature started yesterday and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Microsoft’s office was closed most of the week; but since this weather shouldn’t keep someone who spent three decades in Canada down, I came in anyway. I was late a couple of days since I could not ride my bicycle and had to be dependent on taxis and buses.

My workouts were cancelled too. Funny, sometimes you don’t miss something until it is gone. I’ll be heading into the gym a bit later today to re-acquaint myself with the treadmill.

Being Canadian did not protect from slipping and falling either. Although minor, the ribs on my left side are still complaining to me about the damnable ice.

Dallas simply cannot handle this sort of thing. The city shuts down. I still laugh at them (sorry, but it is kind of funny) – I also empathize with them. I moved to Texas to get away from this sort of weather.

Time to get life back on track now. Laundry, groceries, workouts and more ray tracing await!

Ray Traces On Flickr

As previously mentioned, I have experimenting further with ray tracing graphics. It is a fun blending of both art and programming.

When I create an image that I really like and want to keep, I will upload it to my Flickr set.

If you have any questions about how a particular image was created, feel free to leave a comment and I will share the Scene Description Language file(s) with you (if it is a POV-Ray image).

Glass & Tiling Experiments

This image is one of my newest and also took the longest time to render – over 300 minutes. It looks deceptively simple but I I put a light source behind every piece of "glass."

This meant that POV-Ray had to compute many millions of rays and all their refraction and reflection angles.

I have also purchased Leveller from Daylon Graphics. This should help me render some interesting landscape features and bump maps for base objects.

If this hobby keeps up, I may very well have to build a dedicated rendering computer!

Two Years Of Working Out

Somewhere between the middle and the end of January 2009, I walked into the local Gold’s Gym that was a few blocks from my apartment. The management had big plans for the place and I can barely remember what the old gym looked like back then.

I had a fitness assessment with a trainer named Patrick. I had no idea that this would be the start of something awesome.

The sales pressure (not from Patrick) to buy personal training sessions on top of the membership was a bit on the hard side. But I did it and bought some sessions – and have not looked back since. I keep renewing sessions with Patrick – who has since been promoted to Fitness Director – and my life has been completely changed by it.

It was tough at first. My diet was terrible (it still needs work). I used to get breakfasts at IHOP on my way to work 3 or 4 times a week. It took time to wean me off of that addiction; now I will go to IHOP 3 or 4 times a year. Perseverance has paid off and I do not doubt that I am in the best shape of my life now.

The time has come to take the next big step. Gold’s is starting their annual Transform Your Life contest and Patrick convinced me to sign-up for it. I am also trying to convince my friend Mark to join this too; the personal competition will be helpful to us both.

The last remaining challenge for me (like a lot of guys) is my belly. This means another big correction to my diet and Patrick will be guiding that very carefully for the duration of the contest. Hopefully, it will turn into a lifestyle change that I stick with for the remainder of my days.

Later today, I’ll be having some "before" photos taken for the contest. I’m anxious to see what the next 12 weeks holds for me and my body.

Bring it on!

Australian Flooding

I have been following the stories of the flooding in Queensland with interest and concern.

This morning, the stories took a personal turn as my hometown of Brisbane is now affected. The dam protecting the city has held back what it can and now must allow flood waters into the city to prevent it from bursting.

To think it was only about 7 months ago that I walked by the 1974 flood marker!

I hope my friends are alright.

Quick edit to the original post; my friend Mark pointed me to this video from the town of Toowoomba. This is intense!

Diving Into 2011

I intentionally delayed my first post of 2011 so that I would not get caught up in the hype of summarizing 2010 (though my hero Paul Randal did make an excellent summary of the books that he read during 2010) or making silly resolutions.

I have a few things planned for the first half of this year – yes, this are dangerously close to being called "resolutions." I think they are different though.

More Ray Tracing

I am really enjoying experimenting with this. It is fun to see what can arise visually from one’s "programming" efforts. I’ll be exploring POV-Ray’s color_map feature as it is something that I see used quite often but didn’t grasp. A shout-out must go to Friedrich Lohmueller again for helping to explain color_map in an approachable way.

I am going to be purchasing Daylon Graphic’s terrain editor Leveller program in the very near future. I am excited to see what I can create with this. One of the key reasons that I chose this program is that much of what it produces can be exported to POV-Ray.

Work With The SharePoint Team

I have proposed to my manager that I leave the DSD team for the last quarter of our fiscal year and incubate with the SharePoint CSS team. We help that team a great deal since SQL Server is the back-end storage support for it and few SharePoint engineers really understand the nuances of that.

My goal is to be the first point of contact for all things SQL Server related. After directly assisting with their cases; I will be producing training and exploring ways to improve our data collection and analysis tools. I am hoping that ultimately both CSS teams will benefit from this in the long run.

Improve The House

This coming May will mark two years of house ownership. It is time that I make my mark with this place and turn it into my home instead of just a place to store my stuff. This goal is still very fuzzy on details and I am open to ideas in the comments (Oh! That could be a mistake…).

Keep Working Out

back workout 12-22-2010It is around this time that my second anniversary of hiring Patrick as a personal trainer is due. I have made a lot of progress. I have no doubt that I am at the healthiest that I have been in at least 20 years.

This picture was taken by Patrick on December 21. He says that my back is getting into great shape and now has some clear definition. Of course, I cannot see my own back so I’ll try taking some pictures here at home (I’ll spare the global community the horror of that and keep them for my eyes only!).

My last body fat percentage was 17.3%. I’d like to get just below 15%. My diet is the toughest obstacle there, I have always known that. The fact is, I dislike a great deal many vegetables; I find that their flavours are unpalatable. I also dislike cooking; so I am often consuming quick and dirty options like frozen dinners (even brands like Healthy Choice probably do not stack up to doing it yourself).

There are new tools that are helping me. Gold’s Gym now has an online food journal that can total calories, fat and other dietary statistics. This is giving me quick visual feedback – especially when I slip and consume some fast food or make a poor snack choice. I also bought a Polaris watch to monitor my heart rate and compute calories burned.

Read More Books On Religion

Last night I finished Bart Ehrman’s excellent Misquoting Jesus. The subtitle, "The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why" drew me in right from the start. I have a certain conservative, Christian friend who immediately rolled his eyes upon hearing the title. It is sad that people dismiss things out-of-hand without first seeing what the subject is really about.

Textual criticism is a fascinating subject and it is a shame that our children do not learn about in school.

I need to finish Ehrman’s Lost Scriptures too.

He has a superior style of writing that takes a complex subject and makes it accessible to the lay-person.

Sam Harris (another hero of mine) recently blogged the Afterword that he wrote for his Letter To A Christian Nation. Both are excellent reads. I was very glad that my father read Letter twice while I was visiting him in Australia last year. I will definitely be reading Harris’ newest book The Moral Landscape very soon.

To be fair to my former Christian beliefs, last year I read Patrick Glynn’s God: The Evidence. This was, unfortunately, pitifully written. It was unconvincing on all levels. To me, it felt like just about every chapter stopped short. Almost as though Glynn believed that he had presented his "evidence" sufficiently for anybody to connect the "obvious" dots together. He failed. Badly.

I have many others in my ever-growing queue thanks to Amazon constantly recommending purchases.

Bring It On 2011!

In one month, I’ll be heading to the Dominican Republic for a week to attend a friend’s wedding. All the old crew from my Proctor & Gamble slumming days will be there and we’re all looking forward to ensuing mayhem we’ll cause. A vacation is a great way to start a year!

So now, we’ll see what the next 50 weeks bring!

Re-Entering The Matrix

Another (irrelevant) Christmas Day has passed by and along with it a double-shift. Ouch. Winter weather over Europe stranded the engineer who was to cover the early morning hours so I jumped in for him. Equal parts generosity and stupidity.

It was not that bad really. I have worked several Christmas Day shifts; they are typically very quiet and yesterday was no exception. I spent a few hours helping out a Qatari customer who let an unchecked transaction log fill up his drive space. After that, it was little more than a waiting game for the next engineer to relieve me.

Now that I am rested again, I decided to watch the Matrix Trilogy again.

Return To Ray Tracing

I am getting back into learning more about how to use POV-Ray to create ray-traced graphics. Unfortunately, the POV-Ray documentation makes it an uphill climb. Just evidence that programmers should not produce documentation.

Fortunately, I have found a site that helps out quite a bit. Friedrich and Andrea Lohmueller’s site is focused on ray-tracing and other artwork. Friedrich has put together a helpful tutorial for using POV-Ray and he includes custom expansions to the Insert Menu (to save yourself some typing) as well as some useful macros for building interesting shapes.

The best aspect to the tutorial is that he often includes thumbnail images of the code in question. You get to see what the code in question should look like ahead of time. If I build up any real skill beyond the cliché work that I do now, then I may try to produce a similar tutorial.

I have been trying various modellers and editors for POV-Ray too. So far, nothing has really been useful in that regard. Bishop 3D is looking promising, but this only works with the 32-bit POV-Ray. I may try exploring Blender too. These seem to be the most advanced modellers.

I also hope to learn a great deal from this rendering. It is rare that an artist who creates such an incredible image shares the code behind the work.

Look for more posts here as I explore further.

Welcome To The Family Ava!

On Saturday, my cousin Erika and her husband Mark welcomed Ava Grace into our family. She weighed 8 pounds and 2 ounces. Mom and baby are doing fine.

I’m looking forward to seeing some pictures soon.

Happy Birthday Debug!

Today is the day that I have opted to celebrate Debug’s birthday. I’m not sure when she was actually born, but this should be close enough.

IMGP1309

Giving Debug more room to roam around was actually a factor in my decision to buy a house. The two-bedroom apartment that I was tiny compared to the place that I had in Etobicoke. Now there are plenty of window sills that she can sit by and watch the world.

I sometimes wonder about getting another cat. Debug has been queen of the house for so long that I doubt she would take kindly to the intrusion. We shall see.

Bicycling Around The World – Part 5

It has been a little over four months since I posted an updated map of how far I have cycled since April. The biggest reason is that I rebuilt my machine that had Streets & Trips 2010 installed on it. However, I remedied that yesterday and plotted my latest distance of about 1440 miles.

image001Wow! I am almost in Seattle, already in Panama and into Quebec from my house in Irving. When centered on my apartment in Etobicoke, I am nearly in Mexico and just outside of St. John’s, Newfoundland.

I am using Excel to keep track of this progress. It fascinates me how linear the chart is. So all this bike riding doesn’t vary much from week to week…it covers me going to and from work, the gym and grocery shopping.

I’ll probably take the bike into the shop for a complete overhaul in January. It could probably use the tune-up.

Michael Moore Posts Bail For Julian Assange…Sort Of

I liked what Michael Moore had to write in a Huffington Post article yesterday. Although it was typical Moore fair of not-quiiiiiite digging far enough and lacing it heavily with personal opinion. He claims to have posted bail for Julian Assange and makes it seem like he did it all himself. Read carefully and you’ll see that he had help and further, only half of the bail has been raised.

All of that aside, I do agree with Moore. This world needs something like WikiLeaks. Politicians and corporations often do act against the public and they rely on the public’s laziness and apathy (plus the control of most of the media) to get away with this behaviour. I would like to see these circumstance changed.

Heroes

Alright, I am several seasons late to this show. But the first season of Heroes came to the top of my Netflix queue and I am sorry that I missed out on this when it was first aired.

Without any particular evidence, I had immediately written-off Heroes as being formulaic. Hollywood had already thrown a lot of superhero stuff our way – although I liked the X-Men movies, I didn’t want to see the idea re-hashed on a smaller screen.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how the plot for Heroes has twisted thus far. I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of the episodes.

Texas judge puts state’s death penalty on trial

Wow!

Is Texas actually becoming civilized? A Texan judge in Houston is challenging the legality of the state’s barbaric death penalty. This will be something to watch over the coming days.

There are certainly some people who should never be permitted back into society. However, the risk of executing an innocent person can never be reduced to zero percent. That makes it a chance not worth taking.

With any luck, Texas might become a state enjoyable to live in…