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Tue, Mar. 16th, 2010, 09:07 pm
Faraway ruins behind walls of bureaucracy

I am currently trying to navigate dense layers of red tape from multiple country's governments to get the necessary paperwork to be able to visit the creepiest place on Earth. But there is a deadline. Deadlines and red tape don't mix... this might not work. :-/

There are some pretty creepy places in the world, including
- The Catacombes de Paris, in France.
- Centralia (AKA Silent Hill), in the USA.
- Auschwitz, in Germany.
- The Sedlec Ossuary, in the Czech Republic.
- Unit 731, China.
But most of these places are creepy because of a past that has passed.
There is another place, where the past casts its reach into the present.

They call it Зона відчуження Чорнобильської АЕС.
It describes a circular area of land 60km wide. Near the centre of it lay a bustling modern city of 50,000. About 20 years ago, in one sudden exodus, all human inhabitants fled the city and the surrounding area - almost overnight - and they never returned. There is an energy in the air and ground that sickens, and it is all around, invisible and silent. If you go there, you don't stay long.

Meanwhile, in a land without people, the city is slowly being consumed by the earth:

Tue, Mar. 2nd, 2010, 03:11 am
Fashion show

It simply never occurred to me that one day I might end up being a ferris wheel operator. And indeed, operating a ferris wheel is something I have never done, and never expect to. Likewise, it absolutely never crossed my mind that I might end up on the runway of a fashion show. But weirdly, that just happened.

Seeing myself in runway-model makeup cracks me up without fail:

I'm pretty sure I'm not that gaunt. I think that's the make-up. Maybe runway models aren't really skinny, maybe it's all make-up!

I was expecting the event to be almost boring actually (and perhaps for more experienced models it was), like a dance competition without the dancing, so I was pretty blase, and instead it kind of knocked my socks off. In a good way :)

I also got Kora interested (for those out of the loop or overseas, she's a (MARRIED!) friend of mine, and is one of the instructors at a studio I go to), so here's Kora in one of the outfits she modelled, from an anime-style line:

Give that girl a ray gun :)

A whole bunch more pics and descriptionCollapse )

Mon, Jan. 4th, 2010, 10:23 am
THIS is why the rum is gone!

There is a good reason why I'm in a bathrobe and tail-suit and blowing fire in front of a bunch of people in their pajamas. A perfectly good reason. I can't think what it is, but I assure you there is one.

Oh right - New Years Eve!


Later on, I got a call from a friend sounding disoriented and scared. She said she was drunk and didn't know where she was (she wasn't drunk, she had been slipped a roofie), but she thought she was somewhere near my place. She said she thought she lost the creepy guys, and then passed out mid phone-call.
I was with friends in another city, so did a rapid disappearing act and drove back to my place to search for her.
All's well that ends well, and things could have so easily gone a lot worse than they did, but she had a really nasty New Years. And the day after. And the day after that. That stuff really makes a mess of you. :-(

Thu, Dec. 3rd, 2009, 03:27 pm
In which Our Hero suddenly ages, and a bottle of champagne is decapitated with a rapier.

Liz was absently thinking my birthday was later in the week so when the day arrived she hadn't planned for it (we were going to get some food or something to mark the day). Perhaps she learned her lesson over this, because this meant that I had to make myself some last-minute plans, and dragged her along over her protests that these (outdoor) plans were NOT her idea of fun and she wasn't dressed for it and she was going to freeze to death (and then I'd have to tell her mother). But I had a car that does ~ Mach 0.3, a full tank of gas, a trunk full of everything needed for anything1, and enough food and snacks to get us to Mexico!
(And a rapier.)

But by then it was 11pm, so instead of Mexico, we only went as far as Kora and Simeon's place out at Snoqualmie. It was a great night - full moon, thick fog, barely below-freezing temperature, no cars on the road, heaters on, and a co-pilot to pass the snacks.

1. The trunk of a man's car should look like this.

Liz hadn't seen the Falls before, so I drove there, and forced her from the warm car out into the cruel cold night, to the gentle background soundtrack of Liz repeating that she hates cold, and that I'm crazy, and that she's only doing this because it's my birthday, and godamnit.

We walked to the lookout, the falls thundering, the spray wetting us, and then peering out over the railing, she was finally able to see... the same empty gray wall of fog as everywhere else and in all other directions. Except louder and wetter!

Liz also looked kind of cold, but I wasn't ready to get back into the car. So I took her into the forest and we walked down to the bottom of the gorge to see the falls from their base.
The full moon was shining through the trees, casting moon-rays in the fog, it was amazing. I so wished I hadn't left my camera in the car, there were so many incredible shots to take! But I was pretty sure that if I went back to get it, and then spent another 20 minutes standing still with a camera, I'd turn around to find Liz had become a small lifeless popsicle, and then I'd have to call her mum. So we walked on!

Clambering through huge wet rocks and uprooted trees in the freezing foggy dark is fun. It's obvious, right? Even just reading that sentence, you just know right away that that has got to be a good time. This wasn't immediately apparent to Liz for some reason, but she eventually had to concede that it was exceeding expectations. And eventually she even had to partly unzip one of the coats she was wearing, as movement started to defeat the cold.
Not everything was great - unfortunately I was wearing my good boots, which have no tread and so were quite slippery, and rocks cut and scuff the hell out of pristine leather, and they are now no-longer my good boots :-(

Onwards to Simeon and Kora's place. I had decided to open my birthday champagne with the rapier. I had never done this before, but I had done some research on the technique and was confident I could do it without a hitch. The others were.... not so confident.
Unfortunately, as we headed outside, the stairs were iced over, and my boots have no traction, and I had a bottle of champagne in one hand, and a sword in the other, so when I slipped, I had no hands available to grab the railing, so I fell down half a flight of stairs until I came to rest on the ground at the bottom. But during the fall, I managed to keep both the bottle and the sword from hitting anything, so all was good.

I lopped the top off the champagne with the rapier, poured us all a glass, and we had a birthday toast.

Liz is a bartender, and a very good one at that. I'm a total lightweight. She opens more bottles in a day than I open in a month. And she just got schooled. :-)

Here is the bottle after the cut!

Then we retired inside to warmth and comfort, and talked and talked for hours until it was almost time to get up and go to work. It was a good birthday.
Even if I didn't get my wish.

Tue, Nov. 17th, 2009, 11:49 am
Get a haircut!

I've been meaning to do this for years - finally got around to cutting off the long hair.

Here's the traditional quick bathroom-mirror snap:

another picCollapse )

Fri, Aug. 21st, 2009, 03:30 pm
Seattle Star Ball - pics!

Seattle Star Ball 1

Seattle Star Ball 6 Seattle Star Ball 2 Seattle Star Ball 3

Karen isn't so fond of these pics, as there are better ones of her, but these are the ones I like so far. We'll probably be getting more pics at some point too.

Sun, May. 10th, 2009, 07:14 pm
Pics of my car

This is a "semi" truck. Semi is short for "semi-articulated tractor-trailer".
This machine can be loaded up with 50 tonnes of, well... anything, and then haul that load to the top of a mountain.

It can do this because it has an engine that can generate 400 horsepower!

But... what would happen if you took all that horsepower, and built an engine and transmission designed to use that power for speed instead of for hauling? And then you crammed all that into a little two-seater car?

What you would get is this:

The Corvette C6.
And I just bought one.

Pics, details, and first impressions - good and bad - insideCollapse )

Sun, Feb. 15th, 2009, 07:51 pm
Still alive

My parents called to find out if I was still alive, on account of how long it's been since I posted a LJ entry. As it turned out, I was still alive, so the story had a happy ending.

I've been way too busy to post, because of dance competitions pushing all else aside, and then trying to catch up on life afterwards.

Six of us rented a van and drove down to California for the competition, and a bunch of others flew down. In the end, there were five couples from the studio competing there. So, a huge group of us.

Soon after we entered one of the arterial bridges in San Francisco, the left front tire blew out. And there was no shoulder to pull over too. So we, um, caused traffic problems. A CHiPs cop pulled up behand us, had a look at the wheel, and said we'd have to drive on it until we could get out of traffic, at an on-ramp about half a mile away. Meanwhile, they'd get a repair truck in for us. So we drove on the rim, at about walking pace, with the car going THUNK-THUNK-THUNK-THUNK, it was pretty inpressive how big a difference having a tire makes :-)
While waiting for the repair truck, we found that the rental had a spare wheel under the car and tools, so Simeon changed the tire, and we were ready to go by the time they arrived.

When I was three or four, CHiPs was my favourite TV show. It didn't really occur to me until the guy pulled up behind us that there were CHiPs in real life. There are! It was just like the show, except our van didn't explode!

Anyway, here is a pic of Anne and I during a (restricted-costume) dance event. She complains about how incredibly pregnant she looks, but if someone doesn't know what she looks like when she's not preggers, I really doubt they'd notice.


In latin, we came third in a category that doesn't suck. So I was satisfied with that. In standard we danced well, but most of our events were uncontested. It seems that this is another competition that is mostly pro-am at our level.

Satisfaction was short lived however - the next week we had a small local competition (the last one together before Anne eases out of competition until after her baby is born), and we did terribly, with some massive drawn-out screw-ups. But Anne was sick with a nasty virus as well as pregnant, and the organisers mixed our events in some really mean ways, so we're not putting too much stock in it.

Wed, Dec. 17th, 2008, 03:56 am
pic - random dance competitors

couple competing in amateur standard

I got lots of behind-the-scenes pics, but this was probably my least-bad shot of dancers in motion during competition. It's a really challenging thing to try to photograph, because not only is the light much dimmer than even regular indoor lighting, but the subject is moving FAST, so the exposure times are so long that motion blur is all but guaranteed. And in addition to that, what you "see" when watching the dance is the emphasized movements and moments, whereas most times you hit the shutter, you get something mid-step that doesn't look like what it looks like to watch.

I want a DSLR with full-frame sensor and a f1.4 lense. That would give fast enough exposure to get real shots. It would also cost more than a used car. So I'll likely be sticking with the old point-and-shoot for the time being.

I don't have any pics of me and Anne dancing. We were going to order a video of us in the open-amateur Latin, but the evening session was running so late that as soon as they opened the ballroom, we had to be in the loading dock ready to go, which meant we couldn't contact the video crew. And I was too busy dancing to take any photos of us myself :-)

Fri, Sep. 12th, 2008, 11:37 am
ALICE looks at collisions of lead ions

So for some years I've been dimly aware that Science [TM] has been building a particle accelerator the size of a city.

Whatever. Those wacky scientists!

Excitement has been building around the world over the last few months, because they've spent more than twenty years building the thing, and they finally get to switch it on this week. Ok, that's understandable. But when people I know are calling it things like this generation's man-on-the-moon, some part of me wonders if perhaps I should be paying more attention.

So little by little, I start paying attention. And every time I do so - every time - I learn something that floors me.

As you probably know, it's called the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, and for a start, the project is of a scale normally reserved for science-fiction. It reminds me of that gigantic structure from the movie Contact:

but really, the LHC is even more massive and more impressive, and seemingly abounds with vistas and structures like this:

Now, that's a pretty big thing to be focusing on something as small as sub-atomic particles. So what does it do?

Check out the Large Hadron Rap on Youtube - it's fun and catchy, and explains a lot. (And I'm secretly wondering if I could convince a DJ to play it at one of the nightclubs here)

So take twenty-seven tonnes of electro-magnet. Now multiply that by over a thousand - there are ~1600 such magnets in the LHC.
But that's not enough. To get field strengths of the magnitude needed, all of those magnets need to be turned into superconductors. As you probably know, superconductors need to be so cold that liquid nitrogen is often used to cool them, because its temperature is lower than negative 351 degrees F.
But that's still not enough. Liquid Nitrogen would still be over a hundred degrees too hot. They need to cool these things to less than two degrees above absolute zero!
If there is a fault in any sector of the LHC, then it has to be shut down for maintenance. But it takes over a month to warm up the section to the point where maintenance can be performed. And another month after that to get it cold again afterwards. So when things go wrong, the facility is down for at least two months.

This facility draws enough energy to power up to 180,000 US homes.
Of that, enough energy to power twenty two thousand homes goes into the experiment (and that's not counting the cryogenic refrigeration keeping everything cold, the power consumption of that A-C unit could run another 27,000 homes).

So what happens when you focus that much energy into an atomically-tiny area?

No doubt you've heard the fears and lawsuits that this is enough energy to create miniature black-holes that could destroy the earth. (Studies were conducted to evaluate this risk, concluding that the project will not destroy the world, but that it even needed to be studied has resulted in a lot of attention - and fun - check out the on-site web-cams)

The amount of energy a particle has is measure in electron-volts, ie "eV". (So, 1eV is how much energy an electron would gain if you accelerated it with an electrostatic potential difference of one volt. It can be used various ways, but think of it like kinetic energy - more eV in means a particle moves faster, and a particle with a large mass moving fast will have more eV than a lighter particle moving the same speed)

And if you are reading this on a CRT monitor, you are staring at a particle accelerator - the image on a television or monitor is created by phosphor on the inside of the glass being struck by high-speed electrons. The electrons impart some of their energy, which the phosphor turns into light.
Your television might impart 25,000eV to particles, and that is enough that your television will light up your room at night. But LHC is bigger than your TV, so we have to go higher.

Radioactive materials can emit Gamma radiation, which can have a wide range of energy. Certainly enough to mess with your DNA. At 50,000eV, cancer can be a concern, or in higher doses, burns, all the way through.

Radioactive materials can also emit alpha particles. These are big and energetic enough to make a puree of your DNA that is visible under a microscope. These guys often have about 10,000,000eV.

The linear particle accelerator of the LHC gets protons up to 50,000,000eV.

Cataclysmic astronomical events can create particles above 100,000,000eV, where you start to get Muons forming when they hit something (such as our atmosphere). I have built a muon-telescope. A muon telescope is not optical, but I guess it's called a telescope because you use it to look at space - cosmic radiation. Cosmic radiation is pretty much all you can see with it because earth-sources like radioactive materials here on earth just can't impart that much energy to particles. Nuclear reactors can't do it. Not even nuclear bombs can impart that much energy. Thermo-nuclear (fusion) bombs can't produce muons either, though they're getting up there.

The LHC takes those 50,000,000eV protons, and feeds them into its Proton Synchrotron Booster, which gets them up to 1,400,000,000eV. Orders of magnitude greater than nuclear fusion.

Then they are boosted to 26,000,000,000eV
Then they are boosted to 405,000,000,000eV
Then they are boosted to 7,000,000,000,000eV

(This is as much kinetic energy as small things in motion that we can touch and see - and feel if they hit us - but it's all concentrated into a sub-atomic particle, with millions upon millions of times less mass. And all particles in the beam have that kind of energy.

And peak collision energy for some of the ion experiments is...


That number just doesn't mean anything to me. That's the kind of number that you can't hold in your head - the kind of number that if it ever actually existed, you'd expect it to unravel the very fabric of the universe.
And that, of course, is the point.

As you can tell from how I have written this, to me, the results and progress that this facility will bring to my life are only half the story. That a project so ambitious is being undertaken at all, that is something in itself. In a world of wars by choice, corruption, cruelty and indifference, it's so refreshing to see humanity united, and reaching boldly for tomorrow.

--- ---

I can (more or less) explain how a computer works at the software level, and I can explain how the software works at the hardware level, and I can explain how the hardware works at the circuitry level, and I can explain how the circuitry works at the semiconductor/component level, and I can explain how components and semiconductors work at the atomic level, and I can explain how the atoms work at the sub-atomic level, but beyond this I get fuzzy, and if you drill down too much at any stage, things quickly get very complicated. However I think in this particlar post, if I've made any mistakes or over-generalisations, probably only pfcblogshere will notice. I don't think Cafe reads my LJ :-)

"OMG!" gasped a proton, "I've lost an electron!"

"Are you sure?!" asked the neutron.

"I'm positive!"


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