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Cat Hair and Computer Components

A few months ago, my video card and processor started getting too hot. Since both my CPU and video card fans point down, and it’s dark under my desk, the hair was not immediately noticeable. But it didn’t take much hunting around to find the cat hair clogging my device’s fans. Here are some shots of the fans clogged with hair and a “ring of hair” I removed from around one of the fans – amazing. Needless to say, the coolers performed a lot better once they were unclogged.

Heatsink fan clogged with cat hair

Heatsink fan clogged with cat hair

Heatsink fan clogged with cat hair

Heatsink fan clogged with cat hair

Cat hair collected from heatsink fan

Cat hair collected from heatsink fan

Spokane Valley Panorama

While visiting my wife’s family in Spokane Valley, WA, I decided I wanted to see the sun rise one morning. So we both got dressed and out the door in under 10 minutes and raced the sun out to the hills overlooking the valley. Turns out we didn’t need to rush – it took the sun a leisurely hour or so before it finally crested the hills behind us. While waiting, I snapped several pictures of what I thought was the best view of the sun peeking out from behind the hills and had turned to leave when my wife alerted me to the sunrise pictured in the panorama.

Spokane Valley Panorama

Spokane Valley Panorama

Nashville Parthenon Panorama

Recently I visited the Parthenon at Nashville, Tennessee’s Centennial Park. Here is a panorama I took of the entire scene. If you think you’d like to visit this structure, which is really a museum and contains a full-scale statue of the goddess Athena, you can visit the official site.

Nashville Parthenon Panorama

Make Terragen 2 Do What You Want It To

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, and, truth be told, I don’t have time to do it now. But while I’m happily rendering images in Terragen 2, I wanted to post some advice for those of you struggling to navigate in the 3D preview window.

FIXING YOUR SCREWED-UP CAMERA:

For reasons I still don’t understand, the camera can get royally screwed up in the 3D preview. Don’t worry about the lack of description – you’ll see it happen. So make the camera point to the exact spot you want it to, and place it precisely. Here’s how:

Click on the “Cameras” tab on the main interface. In the left panel, click on the “Add Camera” button. “/Camera 01” will appear in the left panel. If you click on it, you’ll be presented with the following interface (image A):

Camera01 Options

Image A: Camera01 Options

That’s great, but your 3D view probably didn’t change. To make it assume the view of the camera, click the small camera button under the 3D view (image B):

3D View Menu

Image B: 3D View Menu

This button is used to control what the 3D view camera does. Normally you’d use the Perspective or other control options, but they are very difficult to control for newbies, especially if you are attempting precise positioning of the camera. So, newbie, click on “Camera 01” at the bottom of the menu and your view will assume its video feed.Now you’re no doubt all excited to begin rendering what Camera01 is seeing. That is just as easy – click the view button right next to the 3D view menu that says “Copy this view to the current render camera” (image C)

Copy View Button

Image C: Copy View Button

And that is it. The render camera is now looking through camera01. This is the strategy now: Make Camera01’s video feed active in the preview window and then click the copy to current render camera button to render what you’re seeing. When you’re done rendering, if you need to move the camera, don’t forget to go back to the view menu and change it back to camera01 to make the 3D view assume camera01’s video feed again (when you click on the copy to current render camera button it changes the video feed of the 3D preview window from camera01 to the render camera).

Now let’s get to the camera controls. The ones you need to be concerned with are the position and rotation fields of the camera control window. If they are all at 0, your camera will be positioned in the center of the world, and not looking up or down. The 2 fields each consist of 3 number entry boxes. Here is what each does:

Rotation: tilt up/down, rotate left/right, tilt sideways (put 20 in there and you’ll get it)
Position: left/right, up/down, forward/back

Now you can go fiddle with settings to your heart’s content, knowing that once you finally get the look you want you can get the render you want too!

SKYBOX RENDERING:

If you’re making a skybox (like I was when struggling with this) make sure to set the Perspective -> “Use Horizontal FOV” to 90 under Camera01’s settings (General tab). Then just take the rotate value and add 90 to it and render that. Do this a total of 3 times (plus a render of the initial position), naming each [filename]N, [filename]S, etc (N, S, E, W for north south east west) – which photo you choose for north really doesn’t matter as long as you keep the names relative to whichever one is north. In other words, just don’t name the photo to the east, or right, of north “south.” That would be confusing when you went to use them. You’ll also need two perfectly vertical shots of the ceiling and floor, so put the camera rotation back to 0 and set the “tilt” to 90 and -90, rendering each time and naming the “up” shot [filename]U and the “down” shot [filename]D.

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Star Trek Voyager uses footage from “Event Horizon”


While there were other video clips used in this episode of Star Trek Voyager, the ones I recognized were from some of the “Hell” scenes from “Event Horizon” (1997). In the episode “Random Thoughts” from the 4th season of Star Trek Voyager, Lt. Tuvok is investigating an outbreak of violence on a planet of pacifistic telepaths. It isn’t long before he encounters an underground market in violent thoughts. Mirroring the ban on alcohol in the early 20th century America, the civilization of telepaths have outlawed violent thoughts for about 60 years, but unknown to the authorities, this ban has simply led people to seek out illicit violent thoughts for sale in a strange sort of black market.

In this scene, Tuvok is “sharing” the violent thoughts he keeps under a tight lid through his Vulcan self-control with some black market thugs. Strangely, some of his thoughts indicate he was somehow present on the Event Horizon during some of the final scenes of the movie. He must have been just off stage because I never saw him there.

In any case, you can view the short video clip I put together for this, um… event.

So the United States Congress is Taking a (well-earned?) Vacation

So Congress has finally managed to broker a deal on the deficit crisis we just narrowly avoided. What do they do? Wipe the sweat from their brows, say “Whew!” and go on vacation. That’s only fair, right?

Well, it seems as if there is a major Federal Aviation Administration issue that is unresolved, that most likely got put on the back burner while Congress dealt with the deficit crisis. Unfortunately for the FAA (and their tens of thousands of employees) Congress twiddled their thumbs for months, staring at the debt crisis with the FAA issue on the back burner, waited until the 11th hour to resolve the debt crisis, and then went on vacation as soon as it was done.

What’s the big deal? Thousands of FAA employees who have either lost their jobs, must work without pay, or are being told they can come back to work when it is resolved – after SEPTEMBER. Meanwhile, our Congressmen and women are taking their ease, visiting family, traveling, relaxing by pools or the ocean, etc. HOW CAN THEY IN GOOD CONSCIENCE DO THAT WHEN THEIR IRRESPONSIBILITY MEANS THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE ARE GOING WITHOUT PAY FOR -AT LEAST- A MONTH? Some of those people are going to lose their homes and possibly everything they own.

I was already outraged by the way they handled the debt crisis. This is beyond bearing. I sent the following letter to my senators (North Carolina):

Mr. Senator,

I am very frustrated and disturbed in congress taking a break for a month while the FAA issue remains unresolved.

To me it seems as if you’re rewarding yourselves after a difficult job, but while disregarding the fact that your job remains unfinished. In the real world, this is called irresponsible – and jobs are lost, projects go unpaid, deals are lost, and contracts are canceled as a result of such behavior.

Why should it be any different for congress? If you and your colleagues want to earn America’s respect, I strongly request you come back to Washington and finish the job. When there are no more issues at stake that cost thousands of people their jobs (and as a result possibly their homes and everything they own), THEN you can take a well-earned vacation.

That’s only fair, right?

My Best Panoramic Shot Yet

Lynville Falls Panorama

Lynville Falls Panorama


I’ve been taking panoramic photographs for years. At first I used 3 open source programs to stitch them together. Today I just use Photoshop CS4’s automated photo stitcher utility, and about 85% of the time it just works. Still, when I fed it 21 4.0MP photographs I took at a river in Lynville Falls, Lynville, NC, and left the PC alone for 30 minutes, I wasn’t prepared for this. Certainly not the most spectacular panorama ever, but the best I’ve done.

There is a narrow gorge in Lynville Falls where the water rushes through a narrow chasm. When you get to the end of the trail, you can go to an overlook of the falls in this picture, or go another 1/4 mile up the falls further to an lookout from the top of a cliff*. It really is beautiful in the western North Carolina mountains!

*You can see the furthest lookout at the very top leftmost part of the picture, in the part that sticks up above the rest of the photo. There are people there.

GigaPan fun

Presiden Obama's inaugural address on my two monitors

Presiden Obama's inaugural address on my two monitors


Gigapan is an amazing photo website where users submit massive panoramic photographs of interesting places around the world. If you want to go there, you might want to set yourself a time limit or you might be there all day! This photograph is of President Obama’s inaugural address submitted by David Bergman in 2009. I decided to stretch it across my two monitors and take a photograph of it, magically transforming the 1,474 MP (mega pixel) image down to my camera’s native 4 MP. Cool huh! (not really, but it looks neat)

If you’d like to see the source photo, you can click on its image. For the main gigapan website, you can find it at www.gigapan.org. Note, they have a great feature where you can view the most popular photographs – it’s an orange link in the upper right corner of the main page.

Lightning + volcanic eruption = AMAZING (and deadly)

Chilean volcano eruption wreathed in lightning

Chilean volcano eruption wreathed in lightning


Volcanoes erupting are deadly enough by themselves. Add in another of nature’s deadly tantrums – lightning – and you get a vile brew, but one that looks super cool. This is what happened this week in Chile when one of their many volcanoes – dormant for 50 years – decided to wake up. For the full news story, courtesy of Mail Online, click the picture.

Crude Nukem

Duke Nukem 2011

Duke Nukem 2011

Rated M for:

Duke Nukem Forever ESRB Rating

Duke Nukem Forever ESRB Rating

  • Blood and Gore
  • Intense Violence
  • Strong Language
  • Mature Humor
  • Nudity
  • Strong Sexual Content
  • Use of Drugs and Alcohol

Seriously??!  This is what we’ve been waiting – what is it now? – 10+ years for?  It’s like Serious Sam meets Leisure Suit Larry.  Why is it that developers feel compelled to put this sort of stuff in video games?  Always pushing the boundaries of what our society deems reprehensible and morally corrupt, the entertainment industry seems hell bent in eroding our society’s morals. You don’t have to be religious to see what’s wrong in exposing kids to nude women and drugs. Some people will point out that the game isn’t for kids – after all, it’s been given a M rating; but that rating is for 17-year-olds and older.

It’s only been about 6 years since the “Hot Coffee” incident with Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series got their game pulled off shelves around the world (mainly America and Australia – it was already labeled adults only in Europe) for the discovery of an unlockable sex scene buried in their game and made available through a hack.

What ensued was a PR nightmare for Rockstar and an embarrassment to the ESRB no doubt – Senators got involved and tried to correct the problem with legislation.  Parents were outraged, and Rockstar issued a “mandatory recall” of their games.  You can read all about it on wikipedia, but it was a big mess – all over a sex scene that the developers had disabled.

Duke Nukem Forever footage from trailer

Duke Nukem Forever footage from trailer

Now fast forward 6 years and the eagerly awaited Duke Nukem is on the cusp of being released.  The game apparently has a rating of M 17+ but it has full frontal nudity in it.  How did that work?  What was going on in the offices of the ESRB that allowed that little slipperoo?

Technically, the game looks great – Gearbox has obviously lavished a lot of time and effort into making it top-notch; and Duke’s macho charisma and one-liners make him a memorable and likeable character. But morally, it’s a mess. I’ve been playing shooters since Doom 1, so I’m not a neophyte or pollyanna. But this game disturbs me – where do we draw the line? At what point do we as individuals say “this far and no further?” Or do we just allow the entertainment and media industries to spoon feed us whatever they wish? Where are our morals, the basic lessons of right and wrong we should have been taught growing up?

It is my sincere hope that Gearbox will consider the impact of their content decisions and not become part of the media crowd that tries to make the world a little less moral with every passing game or movie. We are all better than this. As for the ESRB – their judgement is slipping. I am not convinced they are policing the industry like they should be. When Hot Coffee became public and the government threatened to take over 6 years ago, they told them “Let’s not do something hasty! We can and will do a better job.” Looks like it’s time for another re-eval.

I wanted to copy here the full rating summary from the ESRB for Duke Nukem Forever:

This is a first-person shooter in which players assume the role of Duke Nukem, an action hero who must save Earth from invading aliens. Players use pistols, rail guns, shotguns, explosives, and Duke’s bare hands to attack and kill the alien enemies. The majority of gameplay involves destroying these enemies in frenetic gun and laser battles in order to move on to the next section. Aliens are often decapitated or dismembered when hit, sending large splashes of blood across the ground, surrounding walls, and players’ screen. Some sequences depict more ‘over-the-top’ instances of violence: aliens getting stabbed in the head or impaled; a human soldier bursting into bloody gibs after being tossed through propeller blades. In one sequence, players have the ability to shoot human characters that are trapped in pod-like alien webbing; bodies explode into pieces upon impact. During the course of the game, players enter a strip-club level and view several topless dancers and receive lap dances. A couple of missions within this level require players to recover sex toys and pictures of topless women. A few sequences strongly imply sexual acts: two women appear to perform fellatio on the central character (e.g., raising their heads from his lap)—though there is no actual depiction of the sex act; Duke moans and leans up against the wall of a bathroom stall (furnished with a hole)—it is implied that a sex act (not depicted) occurs. The game also contains several sexual references and innuendo in the dialogue (e.g., ‘I have hungry—you have big egg ro’ for me, Duke,’ ‘If you supply the dancing, I’ll supply the pole,’ and ‘I’ll need something naughty to play with.’). Duke’s comments range from jokes about colon cleansing to several one-liners about sex and female body parts. Bathroom humor includes the ability to urinate in toilets or urinals and/or pick up feces from toilets and throw it against walls. Players can use both steroid pills and beer as power-ups; when beer is consumed, the screen temporarily blurs. The words ‘f**k,’ ‘sh*t,’ ‘c*ck,’ and ‘a*shole’ appear in dialogue and on-screen text.

Alyx Vance, Half Life 2 heroine

Alyx Vance, Half Life 2 heroine

People like to vicariously role-play actions and behaviors they would never do in real life but secretly would love to do: In the Grand Theft Auto series players can hijack cars, murder other people in a grotesque variety of ways, and carry out various heinous acts, any of which would land them in jail. I’ve played it and I can say: role playing a mobster is great fun.

In Duke Nukem Forever, players get to take on the persona of Duke Nukem, who is basically a mountain of a man who shoots oversized guns, uses vulgar language at every opportunity, and is the ultimate womanizer. I can see the draw for any guy out there to this character – who doesn’t want to be the biggest guy/chick magnet on the block? Additionally, it’s been said that every man at some level believes he is a low-level super hero. Inside us all, we desire to save the day, rescue a damsel in distress, and be hailed as a hero.

But do we accomplish this goal – of being great – by looking at pornography (the nudity in Duke Nukem and its crass treatment of women)? There is not one redeeming quality to the degrading of women in any way. Sure there have been “babes” in games for decades – and I’m not talking about Princess Peach (Mario). The list of game babes is huge and some are more memorable than others (Laura Croft, Tomb Raider; Alyx, Half Life 2). And yes some games have stretched the lines of propriety (Ritual Entertainment’s Elexis Sinclair and Gearbox’s Moxxy), and while that is disturbing, I believe DNF has gone too far. Let’s dial it back, guys – enough is enough.

Elexis Sinclair

Elexis Sinclair