Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My LEGO Flash Drive

During my freshman year, I was fortunate enough to get a free flash drive from my roommate, who already had several. It was a nice 1 GB drive that worked quite well for quick transfers. Unfortunately, the outer casing was cracked, causing the cap to be quite loose and the inner workings of the drive to separate from the casing as I was removing it from my desktop computer one day. After my initial dismay at my drive separating in such a way, I realized nothing was permanently broken and I became intrigued with the circuitry of the drive, taking these pictures:
I think the large black rectangle in the second picture is the actual memory unit. Just behind it is the LED that blinks when the drive is transferring data.

After that, I put the drive back together and made do with a precariously broken case for a few weeks, until I got home and had plenty of crafting materials and time. As long as the circuit board that makes the drive work is kept safe from dust and shorts, you can protect it inside pretty much anything. This video gives some excellent ideas, though most are rather unwieldy. At the suggestion of one of my floormates, I decided to make a new case for it--out of LEGOs!

As a small child before I got into video games, LEGOs were my thing. I would eagerly await my next allowance that would allow me to buy some new set, and they were standard gifts for my birthdays and Christmas. I've since sold most of them (largely to buy video games; this was before I had a job), but I still have some in storage in my room. After getting them out and blowing off copious (disgusting) amounts of dust, I got to work and made the following:

A nice, solid, black case for my beloved flash drive. Thanks to some LEGO Technic fasteners, the new cap would stay on quite securely. Next it was time to hot-glue it...

...and then add some transparent bricks so I could still see the LED.

So at last, my flash drive has this extremely schnazzy case. Not exactly pocket-sized (or shaped--those sharp corners would hurt), but sturdy and dustproof.

Monday, May 24, 2010

On Drink Temperatures

Time for a more offbeat post. This morning I happened upon this comic strip:

Oh, Hagar the Horrible. You never change. Anyway, after reading it, I thought how there is a cultural consensus that beer should be consumed at a very cold temperature. In fact, after a bit of thought, I realized there is a culturally mandated temperature for just about every beverage. For social situations where it would be uncouth to consult Wikipedia, I've created a quick reference chart of culturally mandated drink temperatures.

Tea was the only beverage I can think of that's often served hot or cold (though I've heard of iced coffee). Wine was literally the only beverage I could think of that's normally served at room temperature. From my findings, I concluded that there is but one explanation: there is some kind of beverage cabal that controls the social regulation of drink temperatures! Presumably they have hidden thermometers in our beverage containers, so if you want to drink hot beer, be sure to do it in a coffee mug. Nothing near room temperature should ever be consumed out of a teacup.

Anyway, I hope that this guide on our secret beverage temperature overlords has been most enlightening, blagoblags. Tune in next week as I tell the story of how I invented water skis for sheep!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

On the Modes of Biking

I live in a middle-ring suburb of Minneapolis. Now that I'm home for the summer, I have great deals of free time and would like to spend some of that free time biking. Problem: I'm convinced I live in one of the most hostile cities to bikers ever. Biking in the city (at least, a bike-friendly city like Minneapolis) looks like this.
Biking out in rural areas doesn't have such nice trails, but there's no one out there anyway and wide highway shoulders serve the same purpose.
Biking in the suburbs looks something like this.
Not too fun for driving, even worse for biking. It's hard to make fast progress when you have to bike on bumpy sidewalks and wait for a walk signal every few minutes. It's mostly a matter of finding streets that are better for biking and sticking with them to minimize your contact with bike-unfriendly streets like that one. If I can bike to Minneapolis' network of trails, I can go anywhere, but getting there is a headache.

Anyway, just in case your find yourself in a similar predicament of having to bike through those bike-hating lands they call the suburbs, here are some tips to keep in mind.

Bike along obstacles. By obstacles, I mean rivers, airports, lakes, freeways, etc; things that streets don't cross. This will reduce the number of intersections. Note that freeways tend to be lined with big intersections and are inadvisable.

Look for shoulders. If you're lucky enough to find one of these, ride it to victory!

Keep to quiet streets. Busy streets tend to make a grid of difficulty, with easy, residential streets in between. These are your friend.

Look both ways before crossing streets. Bring emergency rations if it's a busy street and you have to wait a while.

Always carry a map. Use it only if you're a wimp, though.

Ignore all stop signs. You're a bike, not a car. Signs don't apply to you.

Don't panic. You're just stuck in a nightmarish maze of pavement that wasn't made for you. Everything will be okay.

If all else fails, go off-road. Preferably in a park or other public area. This is easier with a mountain bike. If you must bushwhack across private property, it might help to tell the owner you're biking to cure a disease of some sort. If your sunglasses are cool enough, tell them you're a spy.

Choose a fighting style and hone it to perfection. Just in case you offend a driver.

Don't die. This is always good advice.

With these tips, you should be able to  bike anywhere in your city. Enjoy! Disclaimer: some of this advice may not be factual.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Summer Project!

Well, summer is officially here; I had my last final yesterday afternoon and am all unpacked at home. These days, though, it's hard for me to know what to think about summer. Like any kid, I used to be ecstatic about summer as a time to play with friends and celebrate our freedom from the tyranny of schoolwork. This summer most of my friends seem to be out of town and I'm honestly struggling to figure out what to do with no schoolwork, but I fear not, because I know what I'm doing with this summer!

From June 11th to August 7th, I'll be on a missional project in inner city Milwaukee, sharing the gospel and helping people. There are a lot of blanks to fill in as to how I'll be filling 8 or so weeks, but I'm excited to have God work through me like never before. Summer projects are pretty big with Campus Crusade for Christ and are constantly described as truly life-changing experiences. So while I'm nervous about the challenges I'll face, I'm pretty excited for the whole life-changing part.

So before you ask what I'll be doing with my summer, hopefully by some miraculous stroke of luck you will read my blog and learn that I shall be in Milwaukee! Sadly, the project leadership is pretty adamant about me staying for the whole thing; one of the hard parts of the project is all the stuff I'll miss, including my family's yearly vacation to Maine and my old Bible study leader and dear friend's wedding. I'm trusting it will be worth it.

More meditations are likely to come as I spend time preparing for this undertaking.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

On my Other Blog

Yes, blogogrid, apparently I need two blogs even though I can barely maintain one. I've made a side blog for posts on music to avoid cluttering this one; it can be found here. I'll leave the posts on music that are already here as well as bring them over to the other one; any new posts on bands, albums, songs, etc. will go there. General ruminations on music or musings about high-end audio will remain here. Enjoy!

On Fractal Flames

A few posts ago, I realize I mentioned 'fractal flames' without further explanation, in the context of saying how much cooler nebulae are. Fractal flames are hobby of mine, and they're still pretty cool.

Basically, fractal flames are art generated by math. Fractals themselves could be considered a subclass of this, but fractal flames are much more general and artificial. With that said, let's get to the cool pictures!

This one is a 3'x2' poster hanging in my room. My favorite.

So, fractal flames are pretty cool. I post all of them to my Photobucket Account, along with some other regular fractals. The software I made all these with is called Apophysis, which you should totally check out. It takes some practice, but fractal flames are so awesome that it's not too hard to stumble across something awesome, tweak it a bit, and render a great image. Most fractal flames are abstract, but occasionally something discernible jumps out. Both of these were made with a single render, and no editing except color fixing done to them.
And there you have it: the rest of the story of why I'm called Fractal. If you have time, check out Apophysis and make mind-blowingly cool images of your own!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

On the Redesign

Greetings, questionably existent audience! Just a quick update: I actually spent some time today and messed with the HTML to change the layout a bit. Everything is now wider, and the header has been updated. This is mostly so the formatting of my last post would match what I saw as I was writing it, but it's nice to have some space. Also, I changed a few colors to reinforce the greyscale aesthetic I have going and changed my blogo-name to a the more fitting 'Fractal'. Peace out, tell your friends!

On the Wild Ride

Ever since my first semester of college, I've greatly enjoyed biking around the city, and the advantage that living in a centralized location like the University of Minnesota gives me to this. Back home in the 'burbs, biking is a constant struggle of avoiding cars and navigating a maze of city streets to find the least painful way to where you want to go. It's not too far from college to my house, but it's tough going, as I have to cross two freeways. Minneapolis, on the other hand, is a veritable hub of bike trails, and from it I can bike just about anywhere in the city. I hope to live somewhere on the bike network someday.

A word about how I bike: I don't just go for bike rides, I go for bike adventures. I set out with my trusty bike map of the city, a full water bottle, and some goal in mind. If I get lost, I just get to see more of the city! I like to bike the Grand Rounds, a circuit of Minneapolis about 35 miles in length which goes through pretty much all the scenic parts of the city.

But as lengthy and fun as that is, since not long after I came to the U I've been planning and hoping for something even bigger: biking to, and around, Lake Minnetonka, a sizable body of water in the far southwestern suburbs of Minneapolis. The route I've had planned since freshman year looks something like this.
It's kind of hard to see on this small size (click the picture to enlarge), but the red line is my route. My dorm is near the red dot marking downtown Minneapolis on the right, and my house is in the lower right corner; I drew a scale into the lower left corner. Needless to say, it was an epic, wild ride.

I spent days preparing for the ride, fixing the various problems my 30-year-old bike was having, procuring all the supplies I'd need, and waiting for a break in the monotonously cold, wet weather we'd been having. 60-degree temperatures and "mostly sunny" conditions were forecast for Sunday, May 9, so off I went. Luckily, my church has night services, so I didn't have to miss that. I got up early Sunday morning, got ready, and packed my bike. Note the water bottle filled with Powerade. That stuff is like high-octane fuel for humans. Helmeted and bundled up for the chilly morning, I set off, saying hi to the people waiting to go to my church.

And so it began. I biked through the neighborhood of my dorm, past the Riverside Plaza apartments to the bike trail along the light rail line--a handy way to get through southeastern Minneapolis. This soon took me to the Sabo bike bridge, which leads to the Greenway. I'm sad more people don't know about the Greenway; it leads straight across the city just north of Lake Street and is a very efficient way to get around (in the daytime, at least).
Several miles of pedaling later, I was past the city portion of the Greenway, which lets out around Lake Calhoun. If you keep following it, which I did, it leads out to Hopkins and beyond. Hopkins happens to be where my dentist is; it's good to know I could bike there in a dental emergency.

From Hopkins, I got on a mostly gravel trail. Others might be worried about subjecting their road bikes to crushed limestone, but my bike is in fact a mountain bike, having graduated to mountain bike status after I rode it 8 or so miles on a mountain bike trail in the Minnesota Valley, which drew many stares. The trail slowed me down slightly, but I didn't have much trouble. Soon it left suburban Hopkins and continued into some extremely pleasant forests, making for great picture taking.
After some scenic riding, I made it to the closest corner of Lake Minnetonka, Carson's Bay. I'd come this far once before, but I'd turned back immediately and gone home. Not today. I continued on the gravel trail and after another mile or so, I saw this.

All this time, I'd mostly been biking past houses; due to all the waterfront property, I didn't get many glimpses of the lake like this one. Even though it would be expensive and troublesome, I think it would be simply amazing to live on the lake. I biked through downtown Excelsior, then went through what amounted to a ribbon of forest through more lake towns. This continued until I got to a park on the far side of the lake.  I was saddened that I'd never seen this undiscovered treasure before; it was nice to bike through some open space after corridors of forest for miles.

Then it was a few more miles on county roads (a deserted one with no shoulder, and a busy one with a nice wide shoulder, which was less scary) before I got to the little town of St. Bonifacius, population 1873, the most remote place I've ever biked to. It was quite a nice place with a definite historic small town feel to it. I ate lunch there in a Subway that I later learned had been built where an old creamery had been. After restocking my bike with red Powerade, I was off again! More great biking through nature ensued, but before long I hit civilization again.

Luckily some of this civilization was in the form of Minnetonka Beach, probably the nicest neighborhood I have ever seen. (Not a good place to have a medical emergency, though, due to the speed bumps on the roads. So, if you're rich and healthy, live in Minnetonka Beach!)

I was treated to a few more views of the lake before leaving it behind. More biking (a common theme here) ensued until I reached familiar territory: the Grand Rounds! More specifically, Theodore Wirth Park, my favorite portion of the Grand Rounds.

I was in the home stretch now. I'd biked this way numerous times before, and soon Minneapolis was in sight. I rejoined the Greenway where I'd gone off to Hopkins, then biked the last few miles back home.

The final distance is in kilometers, but that's still pretty far--67 miles. Exhausting? Yes. Worthwhile? Yes. Epic? Definitely.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

On the Glory of Nebulae

Hello, blogosphere! I'm pretty elated, having just destroyed my first final. It was for my history of rock music course (best class evar, by the way). This is the class where I sat in the front row and took careful notes every day. On the course evaluation, when it asked what I could have done to be a better learner, I sincerely said "Nothing". The class is so good that you want to pay perfect attention every day so as not to miss anything. The best question was "Compare three heavy metal genres we discussed in class", for which I easily wrote about twice as much as necessary. Good times. Now I just have my three difficult finals to go before Summer arrives!

Anyway, on to the topic I randomly selected from my list of blog topics. Namely: nebulae! We extensively studied these stellar phenomena and how they form in astrophysics, and I am convinced they were created by God to BLOW OUR TINY MINDS. Take a look.
This is the Eagle Nebula. It is 92 trillion kilometers tall. You might recognize this picture of part of it, known as the "Pillars of Creation".
Nebulae like this one are large clouds of dust and gas that eventually collapse, heating up to the point where they form stars. Large nebulae like this are star factories! They take on interesting shapes as star formation and supernovae blow the dust around, creating "holes" in the cloud.

Then we have the Crab Nebula:
Not all nebulae are centers of star birth. The Crab Nebula was formed by a supernova; it's the outward-traveling remnants of an exploded star. Pretty cool, no?

This nebula isn't as well-photographed, but its's formed around the largest known star, VY Canis Majoris, which is about 2,000 times the diameter of the sun. If it were at the center of the Solar System, it would extend all the way out to the orbit of Saturn.
And the Homunculus Nebula, around the most luminous (brightest) known star.
These nebulae are formed by extremely massive stars that shine so brightly that they literally can't hold themselves together, blowing their outer layers off in extremely impressive clouds. My astrophysics professor apparently helped take the picture that led to the naming of the Homunculus nebula. (it was poorer quality than this one and kind of looked like a baby...)

The Ring Nebula, one of the most symmetric ones:

The Ring Nebula is formed by a star not too unlike our sun that reached the final stages of its evolution, becoming a helium-burning red giant that blew its outer layers off similarly to the huge stars above on a smaller scale to produce an especially symmetric nebula. (The white dot in the center is the remnant of the star)

This is the Orion Nebula, another hotbed of star formation. My fractal flames are cool and all, but this completely blows them all away.
Some of these images are false-color, meaning they're made from a variety of frequencies of light that aren't necessarily visible, but that last one is in visible light, meaning if you could somehow travel to the Orion nebula, you would actually see that. The Earth has some pretty cool views, but nothing that can compare to nebulae. Truly God's creation is an amazing thing indeed.