I mentioned in my previous post in passing about determining which was my “dominant eye,” something I’ve merrily gone 22 years without knowing I had.

Wikipedia refers to the subject as ocular dominance. Essentially, the brain “prefers” one eye over the other. Of course, this is something that ordinarily goes unnoticed, but it becomes quite important in some things, including, apparently, firing a weapon. There are two easy tests to determine your “eyedness,” as Wikipedia strangely lists as an accepted name:

  • Focus on a distant (6-10 feet is plenty) object. Hold both arms out in front of you, overlapping, and form a golf-ball-sized circle between your thumbs, viewing the image through it. And then, do one of the following:
    • Slowly pull your hands towards your face, keeping the image centered in the hole. Eventually, your hands end up in front of one eye. That’s your dominant eye.
    • Rather than pulling your hands back towards you and looking ridiculous, close one at a time. With one eye, you won’t be able to see the object: your hand covers it. (If you can see it through both, the hole through which you’re viewing it is way too big.) The eye you can see the object through is your dominant eye.
  • Or, with both eyes open and without paying too much attention, point at a distant object. (Don’t look at your finger or you’ll screw things up and have to start over.) Hold your arm steady and close one eye at a time. One finger will be pointing (more or less) right at the thing. The other is pretty far off. The one that’s accurate is your dominant eye.

Of course, I’m left wondering a few things:

  • Can you accurately use your non-dominant eye? With one eye closed, if you can align the sights of a gun with your target, isn’t it still going to be accurate? I’m trying to ‘test’ this, but doing it with a flashlight isn’t accurate enough, and I don’t have a laser pointer. Further, I feel like a total goofball sitting here squinting with one eye and shining a flashlight at the electrical socket on the other side of the room. To align the flashlight and flashlight, I do shift the flashlight a little, but in both cases, it’s being pointed in the same place; it’s just a question of the angle.
  • Can you change your dominant eye through practice or the like?
  • What are the implications in daily life of having your dominant eye be your weaker eye? Uncorrected, I’m something like 20/300 in that eye. Would my perception of scenes be better if my dominant eye was the one with better vision?
  • The Wikipedia page makes a cursory mention of the two eyes and how they’re processed by the two brain hemispheres. Does this related to being right-brained or left-brained? Is this like the spinning girl and seeing whether she spins right or left?

Gun n00b

Although the citizen’s police academy here formally wrapped up a couple weeks ago, they’d set up an appointment at the local police department’s gun range for us. After about 2 hours of reviewing the functioning of a gun, gun safety, and such, they brought us into the range.

Their standard department weapon is the Glock 23, a .40-caliber handgun. A few comments:

  • They’re very strict about gun safety. (As they should be.) As they talked to us in their classroom, he began with a safety note: all the officers in their room had locked their guns up. The “guns” he used in class were non-functioning demonstration units. He had real ammunition, but, because they would later bring a .40-caliber pistol into the room, had only a single, orange, rubber bullet in the .40-caliber size. The “Range Master” came in later with his unloaded weapon, being very careful to demonstrate that it was unloaded. As he demonstrated proper technique holding the weapon, he was insanely cafeful to never point the weapon, which he had all just witnessed was unloaded, at anyone. When we finally got into the range, they stood right beside us in the booth.
  • He had us determine our “dominant eye.” I’m right-handed. My right eye has decent vision (maybe 20/40 uncorrected, but 20/15 with contacts), but my left eye is comically bad, 20/300 uncorrected. As he joked, I’m “one of those weirdos” whose dominant eye is different from their handedness (that’s an actual word?!). The way he had us determine it was interesting: hold your arms out and make a hole about the size of a golf ball, and focus on some distant object. And then slowly pull your arms back to you, maintaining the gap you’re looking through. Eventually, your hands end up in front of one of your eyes. That’s your dominant eye. An added wrinkle to the fact that I can’t see out that eye all that well is that, being right-handed, the instinct is to hold the gun towards the right side of your body, and you end up pulling your head over to your right. Of course this must look ridiculous, and the proper thing to do is bring the gun more to your left, keeping your head steady. But as he pointed out, it’s not intuitive.
  • He said it’s “optically impossible” to keep the rear sight, front sight, and the target all in focus. Thus, even if it weren’t for my poor vision in my left eye, I’d still have ended up doing what I was doing: focusing on the target as I bring the gun up, and then focusing on the gun’s sights, firing at a blob in the distance.
  • Recoil! It’s pretty common knowledge that the gun will recoil and ‘kick back.’ But until you’ve tried it, it doesn’t do it in the way you imagine. He joked about the stereotypical fear of the gun flying back and hitting you in the face. In actuality, the gun goes more upward; in my case, a little to the left. He mentioned that, with most people who’ve never shot before, their first round will hit dead-center, but then we start trying to “compensate” for the recoil which screws us up. And that’s exactly what I did. I took time to aim each of my five shots perfectly, so my shots are pretty much in a perfect vertical line. Just seeing someone shooting, it’s tempting to think, “What idiots! If you hold the gun a little more steady, you can hold it steady when you fire.” You can’t. You hold the gun nice and firm, and, as soon as you pull the trigger, you’re holding the gun in a totally different place. You see people firing one-handed in movies; I think the gun would fly off your hand if you tried that. In addition to being impossible to prevent the gun from recoiling, he pointed out that it’s actually bad to try to control it: you end up pushing the gun down right before you fire, which throws your accuracy off.
  • I think shell casings are something that’s viewed like recoil: people know that shell cases get ejected out the side, but don’t give them too much thought. I was firing to the right of someone else. My biggest fear wasn’t that I was holding a loaded firearm with no experience, that I was going to shoot myself in the foot, or that I was going to get my finger sliced as the gun’s slide moved. No, my biggest fear was that one of the red-hot shell casings from the guy next to me was going to hit me. They didn’t, but it’s apparently a fairly common occurrence, hence why they’re big on wearing eye protection. One of the officers we were with was telling us that last time he went to the range, he was wearing a shirt tucked-in but with a loose collar, and ended up getting a shell casing down his shirt, which was apparently not an enjoyable experience. Further, my mental image was that the shell casing would just kind of flop out the side onto the floor. They actually go flying out the side, probably at least six feet.

Anyway, it was kind of fun, but now I see why they spend so much time training: there are so many little things that you need to practice before you’re able to pick a gun up and fire it (with any hopes of hitting your target) in under, say, ten seconds. Which, if you actually need to fire a gun, would probably be the situation.

As an aside, the target was a vaguely human-shaped “blob,” with a very faint “Q” in the middle of it. (They didn’t explain why it had a Q on it.) Part of me wonders if anyone has ever made a T-shirt that just has a very faint “Q” in the center. You’d just have to be careful where you wore it…


I’ve had yosigo in my Flickr contacts list for a while now, as I’m a fan of their work.

Check out this photo, for example. It’s a very simple photo, and any of us could have taken it. He didn’t do a ten-minute exposure with a special lens, and he didn’t use any fancy filters. Contrast hasn’t been bumped up in Photoshop. A five-year old with a camera could take this shot.

And yet, no one else did. While we’re all out there hunting down elaborate shots of obscure subjects in perfect lighting, he’s taking shots like these. Incredibly simple; that seems to be his trademark.

In learning photography, we all learned the Rule of Thirds. Never center something in the photo. Imagine a 3×3 grid, and “center” on one of those. Tell him that. He keeps taking ultra-simplistic shots, and they keep being amazing.

Perhaps most “frustrating” as a photographer, though, is that I feel that it’d be very easy to imitate his work, and yet almost impossible to maintain the “Wow” factor of his photos. If I took a photo of a plate with a piece of bread on it, it’d probably wind up in my “delete” pile.

High Voltage!

I’m actually not entirely sure how finding these videos began, but some shocking videos for your enjoyment:

  • Crazy man throws a wire on 110 kV power line” is about as accurate a title as they come. (Highly, highly not recommended!) It’s essentially the same deal as a lightning strike: one end of the wire is connected to ground, and when the wire makes contact with the 110,000V power lines, it shorts to ground.
  • This one is even more absurd? Someone provides a translation of the Russian: they’re 500kV lines, and some idiots throw barbed wire (?!) onto the lines. You can’t see them throwing the wire, though, so there’s just a tremendous explosion as 500kV rushes to ground before, most likely, vaporizing the wire.
  • This one is really bizarre to me. One description says they’re using “splicing technology,” and another explains that they’re “strengthening the lines.” Neither really gave any explanation to why there’d suddenly be a tremendous explosion and plumes of smoke from all of the insulators. It looks like they sent enough voltage on the lines to jump across the massive insulator. (Which is like a six-foot chunk of porcelain, chosen because it’s ridiculously non-conductive.) Rusty gave a good explanation: it seems that they’ve applied something-or-other on the lines, and are essentially “flash-welding” it on.
  • Substations often have “air break disconnects,” which are essentially a big, metal, mechanical arm that they can “open” to keep electricity from flowing. The design wasn’t meant to to switch “hot” loads, though. Here’s a video of them opening the disconnect on a 230kV line, which… Well, just watch. (It shorts to another wire after a few seconds.)
  • Here’s something sort of similar, except it appears that it’s more of a technical failure. It turns into somewhat of an accidental Jacob’s Ladder, before it burns itself out in a fantastic fashion.
  • This is a neat compilation of various high-voltage “problems.” I actually saw a neat explanation somewhere of what happens in the first video… Something in a high-voltage transformer there shorts to ground, but nothing upstream ever tripped a circuit breaker. The transformer is filled with oil for cooling, before finally it becomes hot enough that it boils and starts spewing ‘steam’ (boiling oil) out its ’emergency’ valves, which makes things much worse, but is actually fortunate in that it blows up the incoming voltage, leaving firefighters with a simple de-energized power grid full of burning oil to deal with. The second is another case of them opening a mechanical “air break” disconnect, apparently in a deliberate test of a 500kV system. Then we see the same clip we saw earlier, and then… The most awesome thing ever. I have absolutely no clue what goes on, but it’s the most awesome fireball ever.


Fast Company has an interesting article talking about how the human race seems destined for laziness. Presented two choices, one the “default” (as in, it’ll happen if they don’t do anything), the other being far superior but requiring that they do something, most take the inferior default.

The main example is the “Save More Tomorrow,” where, in essence, most of your “raise” will be socked away into your 401(k) program, unless you request that your employer give you the money. (I assume there’s a lot more going on than them simply failing to give you your money.)

But he presents some other interesting statistics. Organ donors, for example. His example is Germany, but it’s the same deal here: you have to opt-in to being an organ donor. In Germany, 12% of people are organ donors.

Austria requires that you opt out of being an organ donor. What’s their donation rate? You could argue that it’d be close to 12%: for such a big decision, surely 88% of people don’t want to be organ donors. You could also take the other side of the coin: 88% of people were too lazy to check the box, so 88% of people would be organ donors.

But it’s a two-variable problem. In Germany (and the U.S.), the 12% is people who were willing to donate AND who cared to check the box. In Austria, you need the people who don’t want to donate AND who cared to check the box.

For this reason, 99% of Austrians are organ donors. Only 1% opposed being an organ donor AND took the time to opt out.

It’s interesting, then, to apply this to computer interfaces. How many sites, when you register, have “Sign me up for lots of spam!” checked by default? It always annoys me, but I bet they get a lot of people that way. They’re not militantly anti-spam, so they lazily leave the box checked.

When you leave a comment right now, please tell me what you think!

Elevator Electricity Usage

I often take the elevator up a couple stories, or, worse, down a couple. It always seems like a waste, so I came to wonder how much electricity I was wasting.

It took a while to find, but the answer is: apparently, not much. Around 2 Watthours. This seems ludicrously small, lower than the new compact flourescent bulbs I just switched to. (Almost by an order of magnitude.) One interesting concept that might help achieve this number is regenerative braking: essentially ‘capturing’ the energy of the elevator moving downward. (Whether taking an elevator down actually contributes electricity to the system or not is unclear to me.)

In conclusion, see if I ever take the stairs again. (Well, unless it’s a weekend and some drunken jerk peed in the elevator again.)


A cool map of lightning frequency over time across the globe. And a live version for the U.S. Heck, a zoomed-in version on the Northeast for the past 60 minutes. It turns out that you can even buy a small Lightning Detector to map local lightning strikes on your PC. It listens for the signature static crashes from lightning, sometimes called sferics (short for atmospheric noise), much like you can hear on an AM radio during a storm. You can even listen to streaming audio from NASA‘s (Alabama) VLF receiver.


Are you familiar with the Shotspotter system? I’d seen it on a National Geographic TV show, and remembered in the back of my head reading about it being deployed in parts of Boston. It’s actually very cool how it works — it essentially has a big array of microphones, and when it “hears” a gunshot, it’ll compare the exact time of arrival of the sound at each location to triangulate a position, which then pops up on a dispatcher’s screen.

So I’m listening to Boston PD on the radio, and maybe five minutes ago the dispatcher called out for a reading on the ShotSpotter system. “Five, six, seven, looks like eight shots fired.” She figured out the location from the map (apparently, an alley), and started a couple cars. In maybe 60 seconds an officer was on the scene, reported a car leaving, and had confirmed that shots were fired with a witness.

About a minute later, the dispatcher said that they had received a 911 call for shots fired from the same location. (Which means that they had an officer arriving on scene by the time the call came in!) They’ve just pulled over a possible suspect, and another officer found the shell casings. Detectives are en route now for forensics processing.

I’ve got to say, this seems like a pretty impressive system.

The Most Awesome Thing…


Hulu. You can watch TV shows online. In (seemingly, I don’t know the exact resolution) high def. That’s pretty cool. Plus, it’s legal. Oh, and, the most important part: there’s no catch… It’s free. You sign up and watch TV shows.

With shows like Arrested Development, The Office (only 9 episodes right now), House (only 2 episodes), Psych (5), Monk (6), Journeyman (13), I Dream of Jeannie, National Geographic Presents, and…

Alright, you know what? I started listing the cool shows to write a nice, proper review. But the truth is, I really don’t want to write this anymore. I have 8 episodes of The Office, and an episode each of House and Psych to watch. And that’s just of the first four series I’ve listed. Paging through the list of shows to list the ones I love, I realized that I’d much rather be watching Hulu than writing about it.

So sign up and come join me in what might be the single biggest blow ever dealt to American productivity.

Yes we can… win Texas

Quoth the votemaster:

Texas finally got the votes counted. The net result is that Obama actually won Texas. Clinton got four delegates more than he did in the primary but he beat her by nine delegates in the caucus. Between Texas, Wyoming, and Mississippi, he now has a bigger lead in delegates than he had before March 4.

As an armchair (business) strategist, I have to say that Hillary’s attempt to claim him as her VP was a clever, if hilariously transparent, attempt to draw attention away from the fact that he is winning no matter how you slice it. Let me be sappy and quote the Yes We Can Song (which itself quotes Obama). It seems quite apropos here:

We know the battle ahead will be long, but always remember that no matter what obstacles stand in our way, nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change.

We have been told we cannot do this by a chorus of cynics… They will only grow louder and more dissonant.