Best Quote Ever…

If you’ve never listed to Neil deGrasse Tyson he’s a great American astrophysicist, director of the Hayden Planetarium and has a podcast. A while back someone asked him the following:

“What is your favorite or in your opinion most significant space exploration related discovery of the last year or so?”

Here’s Neil deGrasse Tyson’s response: “… So I would have to say It was not a discovery it was the fact that we were able to land curiosity on mars in the way we did, it was an engineering Rube Goldberg nightmare that turned out to be completely successful and that tests all the other ways we can now land on other planetary objects, loved it, it was an engineering achievement not a scientific achievement.”

What’s best about it?  “.. it was an engineering Rube Goldberg nightmare that turned out to be completely successful..”

Just classic. If you research all the things that were done to land Curiosity on Mars you’ll understand what a mess of, well, Rube Goldberg systems were in place to land it on the surface. It was quite the contraption and the fact that it worked was amazing.

Assault Rifles. My Thoughts & Support

My wife and I are ravenously divided on gun laws and ideals. I believe we should have the right to own guns. She thinks only law-enforcement should have them.

She’s starting to see it my way, especially in the context of home security but there is one area we both agree on.

Assault rifles.

There is NO reason any non-law-enforcement person/agency should have an assault rifle.

The reasoning is simple:

  • You don’t hunt with them.
  • They’re not concealable (within reason).
  • They’re purpose is outside the scope of what a citizen should be doing.

Assault rifles were designed for one purpose. Killing people. Assaults on people. Assaults by law-enforcement. Not citizens.

What law abiding citizen needs to kill anyone? Never mind that it’s not legal or moral (in any country on the planet).

I agree you should be able to own:

  1. a hand gun for home or personal protection
  2. a shot gun for home protection or fowl hunting
  3. a hunting rifle for – hunting game aka animals

Outside of these reasons there isn’t much else you’d need a high powered people killing rifle for. An assault rifle will destroy a deer. If you’re not hunting deer for food you shouldn’t be hunting.

I know there are those the believe that we may some day need to protect ourselves from our own government.

I know there are those that believe that we may some day need to protect ourselves from a foreign government on our soil.

Do you honestly think that any legally available gun is going to match the US military? If the US government falls the military is the last thing you’re going to need to worry about.

When was the last time we were attacked on US soil? WWII. Hawaii. Would an assault rifle have helped you? Not likely.

Our little vinyl cutting adventure is now selling ban-assault-rifle stickers via eBay with 25% of the sale (not proceeds or profit- 25% off the top) going to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

We need legislation. I know we will never eliminate assault rifles. I know we’ll never be able to protect ourselves in every situation and location.

I do know that it needs to be A LOT more difficult for civilians to get weapons like assault rifles.

Help us support the Brady Campaign by buying AND displaying our NO ASSAULT RIFLES stickers. It’s not about making money. It’s about showing support for a good cause.


Just moved to the Amazon EC2 Cloud. Yippie! AND I’m running the RDS service for the back end database. Sweetness. There is definitely something to be said about hosting with Amazon. Sure you’re still using Linux “machines” now called “instances” but the control and speed of it all is just amazing.

New York Sidewalk Etiquette

I hope this doesn’t turn into a rant, my main purpose is to educate all of you who don’t know the rules of the sidewalk, especially in cities (NYC in particular) where walking is a main mode of transportation.

I really don’t feel like enough people take sidewalk etiquette seriously. The New York Times wrote in 2002:

First, walking rules are like driving rules.

”Stay to the right is the golden, No. 1 rule,” said Chris Avila, 29, who has lived in the city for nine years.

Everyone in the USA drives on the right. Even if you don’t have a car or a drivers license you know this. KEEP RIGHT!

Further in the same article:

”People who stop short really get me,” said Carla Melman, 26, a lifelong New Yorker. She said it was the equivalent of a car wreck on the Long Island Expressway on a Hamptons weekend.

If you need to stop an collect your thoughts or what not, PULL OVER. The rest of us need to keep going! Listen, I need to stop and think on the sidewalk all the time. I pull over, looking over each shoulder first to make sure I’m not cutting others off.

In another piece in the NYT they extol the inconsiderateness of walking texters. Can you really cross a street, avoid other walkers AND text? 99% of you can’t. Pull over and text.

How serious is this problem with sidewalk etiquette? Wikipedia has an article on it. Yes. It’s that bad people. has an article about it. Their big irritation? Large groups of people making impenetrable walls. Break it up people! Especially you tourists who have no idea where you’re going!

Here’s a good article about etiquette for “considerate” New York tourists. They spell out the same things. A GOOD tourists learns how to blend in.

A few more:


I am certainly not alone in this. There are LOTS of articles from many different places on how to behave on the sidewalk- from car rental places to major news papers. The locals (generally) know the rules. I know SOME who clearly don’t. So lets recap:

  1. Walk on the right. Just like driving.
  2. Don’t stop suddenly. If you need to stop, pull over.
  3. Don’t text and walk and certainly don’t read a book (I’ve seen it!). Pull over.
  4. Keeps pets on a short leash
  5. No skateboards or bikes. If it’s 2am ok, maybe then.
  6. Break up groups. No walking 5 abreast just because you’re all together. Some of us want to pass you.
  7. Don’t step on heels.
  8. If you need to cross the path of oncoming walkers, look for a clearing. See #2.
  9. Don’t cut others off. Look to your sides before changing your position in the stream.
  10. Don’t wander all over the sidewalk randomly. See #1, #2 and #3.

There are probably hundreds of others we could add to the recap. Let me know what they are.

Why are Camera Lenses Round and Film Square?

This is a thinking project. I’ve asked The Straight Dope and not heard back yet… I’m sure I know or can come close to the answer but lets talk it out and see where it goes.

For our purposes we need some definitions:

  • Square = Any object of square, rectangular, boxy or cube likeness. Corners are always 90 degrees.
  • Circle = Any object of circular, oval, spherical or generally round like shape, regardless of deformation on a planar axis (lens shape). Has no corners.
  • Clear = Any material that is optically clear; as in it allows the visible spectrum of light to pass through it.
  • Film = Any image receiving material. This could be old style polyesterPETnitrocellulose or cellulose acetate light sensitive film or new style electronic optical sensors like CCD and CMOS.

So why is a camera lens round and the film square? Why not round film? Why did it get setup like this?


In order to focus and direct light the object or medium doing this has to be clear (duh!). This ability isn’t exclusive to round objects though. Windows are square. Windows are round. Some windows are both square and round. Same goes for eye wear. They’re all optically clear, but the shapes vary from square to round.

To focus light, the clear object needs to be distorted (convex or concave if you like). You can see this with old school eye wear.  Remember the coke bottle jokes? A cross section of the lens was more of a shallow bowl shape. Today this is less so, but the lens is definitely distorted.

Taking a closer look at a focusing lens though shows me something interesting- as you get towards the outer edges of the lens, its ability to keep the image in focus fades. Take a look at a magnifying glass. They’re usually convex on the outsides and the only part of the image in focus is what’s in the middle. The more it magnifies the more distorted the image is as you look farther from the center.

If we had film that was round, the outer edges would most likely be out of focus. BUT! If the film was smaller than the image cast by the lens the film would only capture what was in focus.

Makes sense. Right?


Film is square. CCD (charged coupled devices) and CMOS devices are the electronic versions of film. But they’re still square. Why?

Well from an electronic perspective I can tell you that the matrix of dots that make up the CCD and CMOS chips makes sense. A matrix is square or cubic. Think of a spreadsheet. Each pixel in the matrix (cell) has an address. Spreadsheets have letters on the x and numbers on the y axis. CCD matricies are similar. The combination of x and y allow each pixel (cell) to be addresses individually. This makes sense. Old school chemically developed film doesn’t have to deal with this, but it did have to be coated evenly with the photo sensitive material. So why did they start out square?

Here’s my guess. Humans like square objects:

  • they stack perfectly
  • they are easy to handle
  • they store well
  • they organize well
  • straight lines seem to be easier to make and cut as opposed to arcs or circles
  • the written word has typically been on square like tablets
  • humans tend to read in lines- lines are straight (how hard would a book be to read if the text was along a circular path from outside in??)
  • paintings and drawings seem to lend themselves to square canvases
  • they’re not round

From a design and engineering perspective the square (or plate that is square) seems to make sense too. Engineers like to make machines use  round things for moving parts and square parts to hold the round ones. For example look inside a laser printer or any printer for that matter:

Laser printer mechanics

See all the round stuff? Guess what holds it in place? Big squares of metal or plastic. Maybe engineers and inventors have always thought this way. I can’t find an answer to that. I’d love to see another take on this.

So back to film. It’s square. Traditional film was a roll (really big rectangle or long square…) divided into frames. Really really old film was on plates. Square plates. One single square plate per frame. Present day “film” sensors are square. They output square images. Those images are made of square pixels. Square.

Printing or developing film has always been on paper. Paper is square. Printers (the machines, not the people) like square paper. Ever tried to use a round sheet of paper in a printer?

Mechanically it seems to make sense to use squares to print on.

The Conundrum

So we know that light focuses best through distorted round clear things. We know that humans, machines, math and computing devices like squares. I guess light will just have to be the odd one here. (I know math likes circles too, but squares seem to be easier to calculate. They have good symmetry (ok so do circles). Call me lazy.)

Lenses focus the light onto square film. But wait. The incoming image isn’t square. It’s round. Sadly, some of the image is lost. Happily, the lost parts of the image are the ones from the outer edges of the lens that are out of focus. Remember earlier:

Taking a closer look at a focusing lens though shows me something interesting- as you get towards the outer edges of the lens, its ability to keep the image in focus fades. Take a look at a magnifying glass. They’re usually convex on the outsides and the only part of the image in focus is what’s in the middle. The more it magnifies the more distorted the image is as you look farther from the center.

I guess I just answered my conundrum.

My Conclusion

Lenses are round because they focus light better than a square. Round lenses are most likely easier to manufacture than a square lens that is, well, rounded.

Film is square because it is easiest for humans and machines to manipulate. Paper has always been square. Printing has always been done on squares. Old film on plates was square because it was originally done on glass. Which was already square for windows (I assume….). Machines like squares.

Square film also conveniently solves the issue of round lenses distorting the outer parts of the image. The film is only exposed to the most focused center of the incoming light. Call it auto cropping. It seems as though cropping an image is just built into the design. Whether the cropping was intentional or not, it worked and it happened long before we had digital cropping tools.


Comments?  I’d love to hear them. Did I screw up something? Let me know!





Random Thoughts and Thanks.

I’ve always loved electronics. Sadly I started before the internet. Now, in just a few minutes I’ve found some of the coolest projects for Arduino and other micro controllers. And the author (lucky larry) of this project is over seas from me. How cool is that? What a great and under appreciated resource the internet is!

Remember back when you had to wait for a magazine to show up with ideas? The library certainly didn’t have do it yourself books. Or worse you had to find someone who knew more than you?

I guess I just want to thank EVERYONE in the Maker movement for sharing. Visit my site Arduino Everything for my projects!

Paper Size Mashup Poster

I get questions all the time about paper sizes, European equivalents and how to convert sizes. I decided to make this quick and very dirty mashup.

It basically shows all the standard cut sheet paper sizes you’re most likely to encounter in the world, or at least in the office environment. It also covers weights and lots of visual comparisons of sizes.

If you want to add anything PLEASE email me or use the form below! I’d love this to be a community effort!

The “poster” is currently 11×17 aka tabloid.

[contact-form subject=”Paper Size Mashup Comment” to=””] [contact-field label=”Name” type=”name” required=”true” /] [contact-field label=”Email” type=”email” required=”true” /] [contact-field label=”Comment” type=”textarea” required=”true” /] [/contact-form]

iOS Shortcuts

These are shortcuts you can use with IconProject for iPhone/iOS. To use them create a new shortcut with type URL(Homepage). Enter the shortcut you want from below. Shortcuts are case sensitive. the actual shortcut text is everything to the right of the —


About — prefs:root=General&path=About

Accessibility — prefs:root=General&path=ACCESSIBILITY

Airplane Mode On — prefs:root=AIRPLANE_MODE

Auto-Lock — prefs:root=General&path=AUTOLOCK

Brightness — prefs:root=Brightness

Bluetooth — prefs:root=General&path=Bluetooth

Date & Time — prefs:root=General&path=DATE_AND_TIME

FaceTime — prefs:root=FACETIME

General — prefs:root=General

Keyboard — prefs:root=General&path=Keyboard

iCloud — prefs:root=CASTLE

iCloud Storage & Backup — prefs:root=CASTLE&path=STORAGE_AND_BACKUP

International — prefs:root=General&path=INTERNATIONAL

Location Services — prefs:root=LOCATION_SERVICES

Music — prefs:root=MUSIC

Music Equalizer — prefs:root=MUSIC&path=EQ

Music Volume Limit — prefs:root=MUSIC&path=VolumeLimit

Network — prefs:root=General&path=Network

Nike + iPod — prefs:root=NIKE_PLUS_IPOD

Notes — prefs:root=NOTES

Notification — prefs:root=NOTIFICATIONS_ID

Phone — prefs:root=Phone

Photos — prefs:root=Photos

Profile — prefs:root=General&path=ManagedConfigurationList

Reset — prefs:root=General&path=Reset

Safari — prefs:root=Safari

Siri — prefs:root=General&path=Assistant

Sounds — prefs:root=Sounds

Software Update — prefs:root=General&path=SOFTWARE_UPDATE_LINK

Store — prefs:root=STORE

Twitter — prefs:root=TWITTER

Usage — prefs:root=General&path=USAGE

VPN — prefs:root=General&path=Network/VPN

Wallpaper — prefs:root=Wallpaper

Wi-Fi — prefs:root=WIFI

Oil is EVERYWHERE…or rather – Plastic is EVERYWHERE

Stop and think about oil for a minute. Not motor oil but crude oil. The stuff that comes out of the ground.

What is it? It’s a yellow to black liquid found under the ground and under the oceans. It really is nothing more than long chains of carbon atoms that are arranged in various ways to make molecules of hydrocarbons.

This substance, known as oil, petroleum, crude oil and Texas gold (known for the rest of this article as just oil) is the very foundation of our modern society. Think for a minute what we get out of it:

  • Energy (electricty, liquid fuel (gasoline, desiel, heavy oil))
  • Lubricants (motor oil among others, greases)
  • Alkenes (base for plastics and other items)
  • Wax (candles, lubrication, crayons, other products)
  • Sulfur (for industrial production)
  • Asphalt (for roads)
  • Aromatic petrochemicals (used to make other chemicals)
  • Fertilizers (agriculture)
  • Industrial Ammonia
  • Printing Inks and paints (less so now with soy based inks)

Now stop and think about one specific item that comes from oil. Plastic.

Plastic is everywhere and it is derived from about 7% of a barrel of crude oil. Plastic is just as important to our society as oil based fuel/energy. Everything in our lives is due in some part to plastic. Think about it –

  • All electronics are either encased in, manufactured with and/or covered in plastic.
  • Clothing fabrics like Polyester (the base material to make this is Xylene)
  • Cars, trucks, trains, planes, bikes etc all contain plastic in some form for their engines, safety features, cabin construction, electronics etc.
  • Homes and buildings – chairs, electrical sockets and wire sheaths, furniture, fans, window seals, door locks, plumbing fixtures, even your toilet seat.
  • Product packaging- where would we be without those impenetrable blister packs?
  • Bags, bottles, eating utensils, storage containers, packing materials (foam anyone?)
  • Medical supplies and instruments- can you imagine if we still used syringes made of glass and metal?
  • Communications- that cell phone of yours is mostly plastic!

We are nearly 100% dependent on the products that oil supplies us.

Are there alternatives to oil based plastic? Sure they are now trying to make plastics from corn, but to grow corn we need fertilizer (oil), fossil fuels (oil) for planting/harvesting/transporting  and to generate the electricity (oil) to make the polylactic acid from the corn to make the plastic. Notice oil is still very much in the equation?

Sure we can recycle, but to do that we need transportation (oil), processing (oil), remanufacturing (oil) etc, etc.

I’m not advocating one way or another about the uses of oil. We depend on it every day for everything from transportation to medical to entertainment.

I will say that once we find a way to use less oil for transportation fuels the better off we’ll be (Ok, I’ll advocate that we need to use less oil for energy). Fuels use about 37% of a 42 gallon barrel of crude oil. That 37% will allow us to use more of the barrel for our real addiction- plastics.


Wikipedia (8/4/2011)
EIA.GOV (check this site for how oil is extracted and refined)
Smithsonian Mag
My own common sense