Herman I. May

Herman I. May


30 August 2005

Tax DollarZzzz

I witnessed something today, which epitomizes the concept of municipal governmental waste. While traveling to work this morning, I felt a compelling urge to take a slight detour down a particular alley I know to be rather secluded.* Upon doing so, I was puzzled to see a Dallas Police Department Cruiser parked about 200 meters down the lane.

As I approached, I was puzzled to note that there was no one at the wheel. From a distance of about fourty meters, I could hear the engine idling. Curious, I began to look in the abutting backyards for signs that perhaps the officer was on foot, engaged in some official business: providing backup; servicing a warrant...something. However, I saw nothing.

Continuing down the alleyway and approaching the cruiser, I squeezed as far to my left as possible to continue past the vehicle. A few meters in front of the front bumper, I noticed that the driver side seat was laid back and, as I passed by the front windscreen, was surprised to find the occupant reclining in deep repose. To my knowledge, he was completely oblivious to my presence and pasing.

Witnessing this abuse of public trust, one is left with several questions wanting for answer. Among them are, is this what we pay our public servants to do...sleep on the job? It was 0730 in the morning. Certainly, whether just coming on shift or soon preparing to clock out, the officer in question could have used his own time to catch up on his sleep. Next, is there no procedure by which municipal public safety employees are required to keep in touch with the district commander? This guy was out...totally. Though I did not pause for any definable length of time, when I passed by his vehicle, he paid me no attention whatsoever. No eye creaking open; no stirring; nothing. It begs the question of what would have happened if a need arose for his assistance. Would a call over the radio have aroused him? Failing the ability to raise him by radio, would he have responded to a cell phone call?

I should not bee too surprised, though. This is not the first time I have witnessed the incompetence of Dallas Police Officers. On several occasions in the past, when I have needed their assistance or attempted to file a police report, I have been given the runaround, at best, or completely ignored. It is common knowledge in this region that they are — in their estimate, at least — underpaid, overworked and unappreciated. Nevertheless, they have a job to do and have sworn to do so. To witness one of their rank snoozing in a secluded alley when he was supposed to be at work protecting and serving is quite disconcerting.

27 August 2005

myView: "Born Into Brothels"

Highly Recommended

Following on a theme of sorts lately, we enjoyed a documentary film which peers behind the veil of life as a child of Calcuttan prostitutes. Whereas "City of God" and "Hotel Rwanda" were dramatizations of human plight, "Born Into Brothels" is the real thing. Arming children with inexpensive 35mmm cameras, the filmmakers embarked upon a project to empower these precocious children to express their feelings and lives through the capture of reflected light. Meanwhile, the documentarians gained, and share with the viewer, a unique insight into the conditions under which these forgotten children live.

Verbal abuse, belittlement and squalor are just a few of the descriptors. So engrossed were the filmmakers that they incorporated into the film their endeavor to find private, boarding schools which would accept the children in order to liberate them from the dead-end lives for which they are destined. One easily becomes engrossed in the story.

This film is not for the faint of heart...or the naive. For those who are not afraid of reality and interested in learning more about the lives of those who have it harder than we in the "first world" this is a compelling and revealing experience.

24 August 2005

Google Speak

It is now official: Google has entered the contentious realm of instant messaging.

In a Press Release earlier today, Google officially announced the launch of their Talk service. Unfortunately, the initial client rollout is limited to the Windows operating system. However, being based upon the open source eXtensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP), the new service is accessible to anyone with a Jabber compatible client. Sadly, that excludes the use of one of the most touted features: high quality voice communication. The latter is only supported through the official client and is, therefore, limited to Windows users.

While this heralds yet another highly competitive strike at the M$ juggernaut, it bodes ill of Google's desire to appeal to any other platform. Much like their Earth released earlier in the summer, they are focusing their assaults only on Wintel users. As a result, they risk alienating their other, arguably more loyal, supporters. Despite attempts to appease with statements such as"Apple Macintosh computers are not supported at this time (but we are working on it)", there has been no sign of support for the Mac Os (or any other platform for that matter) since the original announcement on 28 June, instant. I guess they are not working too hard... ;-)

20 August 2005

myView: "Hotel Rwanda"

Highly Recommended

Though a dramatization, this is a must see film for anyone interested in an insider's perspective of the Hutu on Tutsi genocidal violence. Written from the perspective of a sympathetic, horrified Hutu civilian, this is the semi-autobiographical account of the assistant manager of the upper-crust Sabina-owned Hotel des Milles Collines in Kigali.

The experience of this film is not complete without viewing the commentary and accompanying documentary resources. One comes away with the impression that this was an under reported attrocity. Perhaps I am spoiled by a tendancy toward exceptional, semi-objective journalism, but that is not what I recall. This was a constant feature of both reporting by NPR, the BBC and satire on "The Daily Show". I have not regularly watched local or national broadcast news in years and so, perhaps, that criticism is valid for those news outlets. Nevertheless, one comes away from "Hotel Rwanda" with a newfound contempt for the so-called "compassionate conservatives" of the world.

It is perhaps an overused cliché, but it seems appropriate to quote Robert Burns at this point:

"Man's Inhumanity to Man, makes countless thousands mourn."


19 August 2005

myView: "Cellular"

One To Miss

This film has been on my "to watch" list for quite some time. It has moved up and down the queue, but had yet to make it to the top of the list. I noticed it playing earliier this evening on one of the Starz channels and decided to watch it via that means. Now I am thankful I did not waste my allocation on actually having it sent.

This is one of the worst films I have seen in quite a while. It is nothing more than a glorified commercial for Nokia. Of the multitude of phones used during the film — and there were several — the producers seemed to go to great length to hype the particular features of each. Besides that shameless example of product placement, the plot was entirely predictable and contained numerous examples of the obligatory Hollywoodisms which plague most of today's cinema offerings. This is simply a poorly devised film.

To say that I am disappointed in Kim Basinger, William H. Macy and Jason Statham for their involvement in this project is an understatement. This is pure mindless fluff!

16 August 2005

Aperture vs Power

In plunging back into my passion with astronomy, there is one particular concept that seems to evade many novices in the field: the relationship between aperture and power. Often times, those looking at the purchase of a telescope are drawn to the magnification claims of the disreputable mass production vendors. Magnification, in and of itself, has very little to do with a quality scope. Instead, it is the aperture which is of paramount importance. Minor considerations related to the later are optical quality, design type and tube mount. However, in the end, the most important consideration is aperture.

There are many tutorials and FAQs on the 'net which attempt to educate the novice on this subject. A nice, concise interpretation is that presented on the Orion site. Nevertheless, few can distill it to a basic conceptual model. It occurs to me that a simple analogy illustrates the point nicely. Consider the topic of aperture vs. power as being very similar to the concept of megapixels in digital camera parlance: An 8.0MP camera will provide superior resolution over a similar 3.0MP model.

The average department store telescope can be had for under $100. For the most part these devices are refractors with a primary lens in the realm of 60mm to 80mm. Yet, these scopes are marketed as being capable of 120x or 150x magnifications. In truth, this is akin to a camera manufacturer selling a 3.0MP camera by stating one can produce 11x14 prints from the resulting images. This is possible, but the quality will be sorely lacking. Such an image will be blurry and heavily pixilated.

Many people have the misconception that the primary purpose of a telescope is to magnify a section of the heavens; to bring it closer to Earth, so-to-speak. In actuality, a telescope is nothing more than a device to capture light. In fact, many astronomers refer to them as "light buckets". Consider this illustration.

It is raining outside; a gentle shower. One has three recepticles: an eight ounce tin can, a five gallon plastic cat litetr bucket, and a forty-eight inch diameter kiddie pool. All three are placed in an open field while it is raining. After the storm passes, the three recepticles are retrieved and their contents measured. Initially, it appears as though all three have a similar quantity of water within them — and they do as far as depth — say a quarter inch. Empty the contents of the tin can and pour the contents of the five gallon bucket into it. Very quickly it fills to overflowing. In act, one can get two to three volumes of the can from the bucket. Repeat the same procedure with the pool. One will fill and empty the tin can over a dozen times from the same relative water level in the pool.

Returning to the digital camera analogy for a moment, a similar comparison works. Photography experts are pretty much in agreement, if one wishes to generate traditional, 35mm quality prints from a digital camera, the more megapixels the better. The largest, moderate quality print obtainable from an image captured by a 3.0MP digital camera is a 5x8. Contrast that with a 5.0MP camera, which is capable of generating an average quality 8x10. It goes up from there.

Telescopes function in exactly the same way. All optical aspects being otherwise equal, the higher the quality of the image one desires to experience, the greater the aperture needed. As with the rainfall collection analogy, the bigger the collection orifice (i.e. the apertuere of the scope), the greater the number of light rays incidental upon the ocular at the end of the focal path. It then becomes a matter of focusing that beam and magnifying it. The quality of the resolution of a star or galaxy viewed at 120x through an 200mm (8") Dobsonian scope will put to shame the same image as viewed at 120x through the average 60mm (2.25") department store scope.

15 August 2005

myView: "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou"


I requested this film from NetFlix without really knowing much about it. Several friends and acquaintances had mentioNed it variously as "strange" and "interesting", while others outright did not like it. Always wanting to experience new things, I added it to my list a couple of weeks ago and promoted it near the top.

Eclectic would be a good term to describe it; so too would eccentric. Immediately after the beginning of the film, I recognized the style. The delivery and visual elements reminded me of "The Royal Tenenbaums". Sure enough, upon looking it up in the IMDB, I found that both were written, produced and directed by Wes Anderson. In fact, making repeat appearances are Bill Murray, Anjelica Huston and Owen Wilson. For Huston, it is déjà vu as she reprises the role of a semi-estranged spouse of the main protagonist.

I certainly would not recommend this film to anyone. For those who enjoy the off-beat, this is an enjoyable look into the life of an adventurous eccentric. (For those who listen to the commentary tracks, it is interesting to note that every reference to a certain famous explorer of the 70's and early 80's is bleeped.)On the other hand, if your tastes tend toward the traditional, you will find it silly and tedious.

14 August 2005

Rediscovering the Heavens

Astronomy and space exploration have been on my mind a lot lately. Between the successful completion of the recent STS-114 "Return to Flight" mission and the launch of the MRO, I have spent quite a bit of time contemplating the heavens. Approximately one week ago, I put those musings to practice by renewing my astronomical observations.

As a teenager, I would spend many hours a month peering through my Jason SpaceMaster at the Sun and stars. Teenage preoccupations and college conspired to draw my interest away from this enjoyable pastime. Through the years I would occasionally dig out my trusty scope and head outside for a gander or two at this or that celestial phenomenon. Last year, though, we (Elizabeth, the kids and I) included a trip to the McDonald Observatory to our annual summer vacation. Memories of the evening adventures of my youth came flooding back. Between the lectures and the "star party", I was smitten with the desire to resume my heavenly explorations. Finally, after a year, I have but that passion to practice and have returned to star gazing. This time around, I am recording my observations and may, from time to time, share a few of the more interesting notations.

13 August 2005

myView: "Collateral"

I had mixed feelings about wanting to see this film. On the one hand, Jamie Foxx has proven himself to be an exceptional actor; on the other, Tom Cruise, while a good actor, is a freak in "real" life. Nevertheless, the trailer seemed to suggest a plot with an intriguing story. I was not disappointed.

The film begins slowly, but the pace soon explodes with action. For the most part, events are believable. Unfortunately, as with all Hollywood productions, one must suspend reason and logic on occasion in order to remain engaged in the story. The latter is especially true as the climax is reached. Nevertheless, it is an entertaining film and will provide fans of both the genre and the actors with a pleasurable experience.

12 August 2005

MRO Aloft

Earth is approaching its biennial orbital convergence with our nearest neighbor, the "Angry Red Planet", Mars. As has been the case for the past several iterations of this event, NASA is taking full advantage of the phenomenon by launching the Mars Reconaissance Orbiter (MRO).

Following a two-day delay due to weather issues and technical glitches, the Atlas V rocket carrying the 2180kg orbiter lifted from the pad at Cape Canaveral this morning at 0843CDT. MRO will enter Martian orbit in mid-March and spend the following six months engaging in aerobraking maneuvers to situate itself in the proper orbit.

With its high resolution primary camera and 8GHz, X-band radio, MRO has the capacity to collect and transmit more data in its projected two year (Earth time) mission than all previous Mars missions, combined. Besides the high resolution imager, the science payload includes a compact image spectrometer, a climate sounder and a shallow RADAR unit. Though mapping and terrain surveys are its primary mission objectives, the orbiter will also conduct gravity field investigations and accelerometers to be used for atmospheric structure alalysis.

In a little over a year from now, the MRO will expand our understanding of the Martian surface and atmosphere to levels heretofore impossible to discern.

09 August 2005

Unique Perspective

Discovery and her crew safely returned to the surface of Earth this morning at 0711CDT. Being 0511 local, Pacific Daylight Time, it was anti-climactic to observers on the ground. However, NASA TV coverage made use of an infrared camera from several miles out until landing. Spectacular television coverage was the result.

Spaceflight has always been a subject which has interested me. I have followed just about every mission in one form or another since the first in 1981. Much as those who can remember where they were and what they were doing when they first heard of the assassination of JFK, I recollect precisely where I was and what I was doing when the two human spaceflight tragedies occurring during my cognizant lifetime took place. However, no following to date can compare with my immersion of STS-114.

It was in December 2003 that Elizabeth and I upgraded our satellite equipment to a receiver capable of handling multiple LNB input. That feature alone allowed us to gain access, simultaneously, to all three DirecTV birds and more programming — including NASA TV. Given the thirty month grounding of the Shuttle program following the disintegration of Columbia, Discovery's recent mission was the first taking place since our reception began. Perhaps it was the return to flight following such a lengthy hiatus; perhaps it was the fact the mission was a "test" flight; hopefully, it was standard practice. Nevertheless, coverage was almost a 24/7 affair and provided our household with a novel and much appreciated glimpse into Shuttle procedures.

From wake-up call to exchanges of good-night, almost every communication between crew members and ground support were broadcast live — usually with accompanying video. Despite the fact that the astronaut day ran from about 2230 to 1400 daily, there were plenty of opportunities to keep abreast of the mission firsthand and realtime. There was no need to visit a web site or read about mission status in some time delayed publication.

Hopefully, this will not be a unique event. One presumes that, as long as the missions are regarded as "test" in nature, the coverage will continue to be comprehensive. It is my hope that such is/will be the case for every flight between now and 2010; as well as extending to the superseding vehicle. In my opinion, the last eleven days have represented the best television content available.

06 August 2005

researchNews: Stierling Collection

During a routine visit to the GenForum message boards back in June, I came across a post to the May Family forum. In it the author shares news that the La Grange library has a collection of photographs from the Stierling family, which are largely unidentified, and seeking help putting names to the faces. She also stated that there were images from the line of Jeptha V. May, including that of his daughter, America (May) Moses. Hoping to get more information, I contacted the posted by private mail.

In response, I was given instructions for how to gain access to the images for research. As an added bonus, the following three images were attached.

Rebecca and I were in the area yesterday and today. Taking advantage of the opportunity, I stopped by the library for a look through the collection. Unfortunately, there were many more images than I had time to peruse. I made it through two sorted boxes (those containing the "identified" images) and a banker's box containing albums and some loose images. Lacking sufficient time, I had to pass on the fourth and most daunting box. Another banker's box, it was stacked to the top with loose images. It is in this box, I suspect, that and May images may be found. A return trip has been added to my short list and I will definitely ensure I have the time to complete a survey of that last box.

02 August 2005

Breathing Room

The rejuvenated Icarus has not even existed for a week yet and already I find it necessary to enlarge the intrnal storage. Fry's was offering a 60Gb Toshiba drive for $99 through today. So, on the way home, I bought one and installed it.

Hardware upgrades are much easier on this model than with any previous Apple portable I have worked. Usually, it is necessary to remove the back shell, remove this or that screw and then remove the front shell. With this model, all of the internal components are accessible by simply removing the top shell. In the past, it has also been necessary to disassemble quite a bit if the internals to get to the drive mount. With this model, simply remove the heat shielding an the drive mounts are exposed in the lower left-hand corner.


continue to the July 2005 archive

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last BBEdited: 2006.10.30