Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Adventures in Iowa

On Friday, July 10, my dad and I embarked on a trip to Iowa. It was advertised as a tour of a research lab. I feel like I just bought a Snuggie (I've never owned a Snuggie or similar product, so I apologize to the makers of Snuggie or Snuggie owners if they are actually worth purchasing - they just look stupid to me).

The research lab turned out to be a cluttered garage. The owner, Hans, turned out to be a complete nutball. Between paranoid statements about the CIA, NSA, aliens, and/or shady business partners, he showed us a number of "inventions."

His anti-gravity device was in no way an anti-gravity device. It was simply a device that had 3 cams arranged such that one was pointing down, and two were pointing up. Why all three weren't oriented in the same direction was something that really didn't strike me as important. So, when run by a motor, it would shift it's center of gravity in a circular pattern. This could indeed cause a scale to register a lower weight as it shakes, but it is not an anti-gravity device. Hans said he built a larger version and mounted it to a truck. He said the owner was floored when he turned it on and the truck flipped over. First, the guy's truck just flipped over, so being floored is a perfectly understandable reaction. Second, this is a completely expected occurrence when you throw weight around in a circular pattern. It's going to want to shift things.

Amazingly enough, Hans' "gravity engine" was not a gravity engine, and did not produce free energy. It was basically a less plausible version of this old perpetual motion design. He had another engine that used a cam to alter the polarity of an electromagnet, which would in turn drive the engine for another cycle. This is another common idea among perpetual motion tinkerers, but is not "free energy."

He had several sizes of a heater that he claimed was 300-450% efficient. His explanation of how it worked involved spinning magnets, which somehow resonate, which creates a vortex, which results in some particle (I didn't catch the name - possibly made up) shifting between dimensions. First, if it's a resonance thing, the rotational speed would matter a lot. I would expect it to be efficient only at a few speeds (the resonant frequency and perhaps the harmonics). Second, I am guessing that he made some errors in his calculation of the efficiency, such as using Fahrenheit instead of Celsius, or made some incorrect assumptions about the air flow. Or maybe both. Third, I don't think he has any evidence of particles jumping dimensions.

Perhaps he used the same device that he used to track the burnt out star that is hurtling our way and will end life as we know it on October 28, 2011, right when the Mayan calendar predicts, once you adjust for the different day length a few thousand years ago. The device in question? It's a loop of wire connected to what looked like an inductor and an LED. Whatever it was detecting, it was local.

He also had a "machine" that read in some signal or other from whatever object you put in it. The claim was that you could read a person, figure out what was wrong from the frequency information, then output an inverse signal into some water and it would cure you of everything. You could also output the frequency of solar radiation (as downloaded from a NASA site in WAV format) into distilled water and turn cheap whiskey into expensive whiskey by adding a few drops. Does anyone know if cheap whiskey gets smoother when you add a bit of regular distilled water? What else can you do with this amazing item? Why, you can scan a sample of mold, then output it to a *picture* of the house of your enemy, and that house will grow lots of mold. I remain unconvinced.

He also invented a laser harp, which happened to also have been invented in 1981 by someone else. He didn't provide a date for his invention, so I suppose it could have been before that. I highly doubt it, though - where would he have found the time with all his CIA and Area 51 work? Either way, the laser harp was actually somewhat neat.

Ah, but life isn't about the destination, it's about the journey! Well, the journeying in Iowa sucks. A lot. The drive out wasn't too bad, actually. I was operating on only two hours of sleep and kept dozing off in the passenger seat. We had Subway for lunch in Grinnell, then went straight on to Hans' place. We stayed in a hotel in that same town and ate dinner at... Subway again. But, Subway is decent food, and I generally have no problem eating the same thing for every meal for a few days.

Driving home on Sunday turned out to be challenging. We were supposed to stop by another guy's house for lunch and a tour of his warehouse - not exactly sure why, but lunch is lunch. He said it was only a few minutes out of the way, and I had forgotten that Iowa has its own space-time, so we agreed to go. It ended up being over an hour out of the way, which meant it was also another hour coming back. Or, it would have been an hour out of the way, but we were in Iowa.

We stopped in Jesup, IA, "The Right Place", for gas. The road between the highway and the gas station was closed, so we tried to go through town. The town was roped off, though, due to a combine/tractor parade. We decided to ask a local how to get over to the gas station, but that ended up being counterproductive. She apparently never learned to speak English, or navigate her hometown, in her 40+ years of life. From the few words I could pick out, her directions were basically trial and error: "I'd try going that way, then that way, and somehow I'd figure it out." 5 minutes wasted.

The parking lot next to the road under construction looked like it might have cut through, so we decided to head back that way. In fact, it would have cut through had there not been cars parked in the aisles. The parking lot in question is further from the parade than any other part of the town. I really don't know why people were parked there. The owner of the used car dealership assured us that there was a street open, so we headed back over towards the parade.

After a couple of trials and errors, we did find a street that was mostly open, except for pedestrians standing around near their lawn chairs. We turned on our signal, however, and they started moving out of the way. We were almost past them when a police officer ran out from behind a truck on the street we were turning on to and screamed for us to go back. We tried to explain that we just wanted to get gas, but he would hear none of it until we backed up. So, we backed up. We started to explain again, but he wanted us to back up some more. We backed up some more. "10 or 15 more feet!" We backed up 10 or 15 more feet.

He explained that he couldn't have us going through there because there were people not paying attention, and that as soon as the parade cleared out (it was stationary), he would let us through. Never mind the fact that the people were paying attention and had already moved out of the way, or the fact that backing up in a somewhat large vehicle is far more dangerous than going forward. After a few minutes, the parade hadn't moved, but he waved us through. Iowa has its own logic.

Tractor parades are apparently common, as we hit another one a little bit later. It was progressing slowly on the highway - a prime candidate for some passing. We encountered the tractors traveling over what must be the only hills in Iowa, and the double yellow line taunted us off and on for miles. Once we got past these tractors, we were almost at our lunch destination.

Lunch was fairly good, actually. Traditional country cooking, even when there aren't enough green beans or corn to go around, is always welcome. The warehouse was pretty empty, and there wasn't a whole lot of point to the tour. However, it was still a worthwhile side trip. I got to hear a funny comment when the father was talking about when he first suspected his pregnant daughter was having sex. Her brother said, "You didn't suspect them when he started having a stupid grin on his face?" He replied, "I just thought he bought a new gun." Definitely made the trip worth it.

The ride back from there was very uneventful. His house was fairly close to I-35, so we avoided any other tractors or wrong places. We stopped near Lamoni, IA for dinner and had more country-style cooking - this time a buffet with plenty of green beans and corn. I'm really not sure why we did lunch and dinner so similarly both days. No real complaints, though.

A few minutes after dinner, we had passed out of Iowa and into Missouri, and I vowed to resist any future trips back to Iowa. Its space-time and associated logic are disorienting and frustrating. It is better left alone.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Body Image and TV

Recently, I watched a few minutes of America's Next Top Model, or Make Me a Supermodel, or one of those shows. It was extremely depressing. Here's a show that finds the most beautiful people it can, and then makes them compete. That's fine on its own, but I am saddened when I see what it does to these people.

The example I saw was a girl winning a photoshoot contest. She picked another girl to go along with her to some swimsuit ad campaign award, which I guess was a mini-contest between the two of them. The other girl theorized that she was chosen because she was the largest girl. When she lost, she said something similar to "I feel like working out. 10 miles ought to do something." This was a gorgeous woman reduced to tears and well on her way to an eating disorder.

I know people that could have a very successful career as a model, but I would never tell them that. Anyway, it was just depressing television, and I have no plans of watching any more of those types of shows. I'll stick with Star Trek and its Utopian societies.

3 Years at IBM

July 10th marked my three-year anniversary at IBM. I happened to take the day off, but that was just a coincidence. I have to say, I don't feel a whole lot different. While I purchased a home, got cats, and gained other adult responsibilities/experiences, I can't point to any real personal growth. I guess that gives me a goal for the next three years.