Archive for 2010

Wyoming is Quite Big

Did you know that they have permanent signs along Route 80 between Sinclair and Cheyeene WY so they just have to turn on the blinky lights to indicate when the highway is closed? The lights were blinking last night!

Quantitative Easing Explained

Exhibit A

QE2: Fed pulls the trigger (CNN Nov 3, 2010)
Short form:The fed is going to buy 600 billion dollars in T-bills as part of a Quantitative Easing program (e.g. paid for with money they borrowed from themselves… e.g. they just effing printed it)

Exhibit B
Quantitative Easing Explained by 2 cartoon characters

local version:

Are the cartoon characters correct?

Ok, now the big question: Should I cash out my meager life-savings now?

(Yes I know that if every individual cashed out the way I am considering, the world would get all Mad Maxy real quick. But I have to act as an individual, right? I cashed out in September 2008 for a few months; I ended up loosing about 30% of my life savings to the credit crunch while many people lost 50%; it was the right decision then.)

Legislating the Happy Meal

Earlier this week San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 8-3 to ban toys in Happy Meals. Mayor Newsom vetoed it. But they might have enough votes to institute it anyway.

This NPR article about the Happy Meal ban goes into it pretty well.

This week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to ban McDonald’s Happy Meals as presently constituted, including the toy. Yesterday, Mayor Gavin Newsom vetoed the ordinance, saying, “Parents, not politicians, should decide what their children eat.”

But the board has the votes to override him. By December 2011, people may be able to buy medical marijuana in San Francisco, at places called The Vapor Room and Goodfellows Smoke Shop — but not a Happy Meal.

Supervisor Eric Mar, who introduced the ordinance, worries that children who crave a toy, which is frequently tied to a movie promotion, will urge their parents to buy them a Happy Meal.

“From San Francisco to New York,” says Mr. Mar, “the epidemic of childhood obesity in this country is making our kids sick.”

Right now, a Happy Meal contains a small hamburger, cheeseburger or four Chicken McNuggets; french fries or sliced apples; and juice, milk or a soft drink.
Mr. Mar hopes to spur McDonald’s into reducing sodium and fat in the items it bundles into Happy Meals, and include more fruits and vegetables.

McDonald’s sent its chief dietitian to San Francisco to point out that Happy Meals already offer fruit instead of fries, and even with fries, meet current federal nutritional guidelines that cap children’s meals at 600 calories.

Will Happy Meal Prohibition work any better than Prohibition? In fact, I wonder why some people who question the logic of laws that label marijuana a drug, but license alcohol as a beverage, seem confident that some new anti-fatty food Prohibition will keep Happy Meals off the streets of San Francisco. After all, the golden arches of Daly City, Oakland and Milpitas are so close by.

I know parents who vow to never let their children eat sugary, salty, franchise food, and I admire them. I think this bill was probably aimed at those of us who try to make sure our children eat healthy food, but don’t begrudge an occasional treat. As Julia Child once said, “Moderation. Small helpings. Sample a little bit of everything. These are the secrets of happiness and good health.”

It’s been my parental experience that many children tear open a Happy Meal to find the toy and eat the fries. In fact, I know of some parents — all I have to do is look into the mirror — who order a Happy Meal with fruit instead of fries, then also order fries, because that’s their children’s favorite part. There’s a reason why they serve steak frites, and not steak fruits, in the bistros of Paris.

Maybe you can pass a law that will bring children a Happy Meal with fruit and vegetables. But you can’t make them eat it.

I just wrote to David Campos, my Supervisor

Parents right now have the choice to give their children healthy food or junk food. They have the voice to tell McDonalds what foods they want to buy. Please do not take their rights away. Please do not take their voice away.

Thank you for representing me,
Lee Sonko
District 9

How to Install Pan-o-Matic in Hugin

Hugin is a terrific free open source panorama stitching tool. It does not come with automatic control point software pre-installed, I suppose leaving the choice to the user. It takes a long time to set control points by hand and virtually no time to have the computer do it for you. Here is how to set up one of the automatic control point creation tools.

After you have set this up, you will be able to open up Hugin, select your images to stitch and about 3 clicks later have an awesome panorama image like this:

Sunset on a rooftop in Riyadh. Right-click download to view it full size!

  1. Download and install Hugin (I’m using version 2010.2.0 released October 2010 on Windows)
  2. Download Pan-o-matic (local copy of version 0.9.4 just in case) and unzip to some permanent location, let’s say it’s c:\stuff\pan-o-matic
  3. In Hugin, go to File | Preferences. Select Control Point Detectors
  4. Delete all the existing Control Point Detector Programs in the list
  5. Make a new one called (it doesn’t matter exactly) Panomatic
  • Description: Panomatic
  • Program: c:\stuff\pan-o-matic\Panomatic.exe
  • Arguments: -o %o %i
  • Type: Autopano-SIFT

Done setting up!

Now, when you want to stitch images, do the following:

  1. Start Hugin
  2. From the Assistant tab, click “Load Images…”. Select the images you want to stitch.
  3. Click “Align” and wait a while for processing
  4. Click “Create Panorama”


Installed Like-it

If you like this post, then click the Like-it button at the bottom of it! It’s easier than leaving a comment.

I’m Coming to Your City

From November 15-22nd I’m driving across this grand land of ours, almost from the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters!

I’m taking pictures of states with my company’s camera rig.

If all goes well, I’ll be sleeping in

  1. West Wendover, Nevada Monday
  2. north of Denver Tuesday
  3. Topeka, Kansas Wednesday
  4. Joliet, Illinois Thursday
  5. Cleveland, Ohio Friday
  6. The mystery day (in case of rain etc)
  7. Washington, DC Sunday
  8. flying to Nashville (with family for Thanksgiving) Monday

If you’re along the route, give me a call and I’ll stop to say hello!

I’ll be taking pictures of places like Salt Lake City, UT; Cheyenne, WY; Denver, CO; Kansas City (Kansas & Missouri); Chicago, IL; Benton Harbor, MI; Cleveland, OH; Pittsburgh, PA; Fredericks, MD.

Information checks into Facebook, But it doesn’t check out

I reiterate, don’t trust your data to Facebook.


Google will no longer let other services automatically import its users’ email contact data for their own purposes, unless the information flows both ways. It accused Facebook in particular of siphoning up Google contact data, without allowing for the automatic import and export of Facebook users’ information.
Google said that while it makes it easy for other Web services to automatically import a user’s contact data, Facebook was not reciprocating.

“We have decided to change our approach slightly to reflect the fact that users often aren’t aware that once they have imported their contacts into sites like Facebook, they are effectively trapped,” Google said in an emailed statement.

“We will no longer allow websites to automate the import of users’ Google Contacts (via our API) unless they allow similar export to other sites,” Google said.

More Progress from Electronic Controlled Flame Effects

Tim, one of my students from the Electronic Controlled Flame Effects class this spring built this nice propane sand fire pit recently. :-)

local version:


Our equipment hasn’t come in yet. Who knew importing near-military grade GPS equipment to Saudi Arabia would be problematic?

We’ve been twiddling our thumbs 8,000 miles from home for 3 days. Our hosts are great, the food is excellent, the accommodations very nice. It still sucks to be just sitting here.

285 cable channels, 15 in English. There’s nothing on. Though there is the Mecca channel… all Mecca all the time, with these long slow pans of the place. And there’s like 150 channels of religious singing, 60 channels of unintelligible  (to me) talking heads with headdresses…

I really need a portable mouse. The trackpad on my laptop is getting old.

I’m not getting over jetlag nearly as fast as I would if I weren’t sitting around all day. Ugh, a 10 hour time difference!

High points so far

  • the Saudi style dinner we had 2 nights ago was quite an experience!
  • walking part of Riyadh and going to the top of Kingdom Tower.

If you care to, email or comment on this post to allay my homesickness. Please don’t call my cell, it’s $2.50/min whether I pick up or not. But I can call you via Skype when I have wifi…

Jack and Lee of Arabia

From the roof of our apartment in Riyadh

The sound of all the prayers being sung from the innumerable mosques just after sunset is indescribable.