John McDonald

Blogging about politics, life, and the web

Vintage / Nova

July 11th, 2011

A trust – an illusion of memories
Differing under darkened light.

Unholy mistruths and half-lies,
unearthed by bone-cracking misconceptions.

Purple steel churns, under crushing
eternal gravity. Hammer-weakened,
tempered in eternity’s forge

and crashing against dimmer,
weaker realities.


It stands majestic in temperate woods and rolling fields.

Stone is cold, cracked, chipped, and battered.

Here stands the oldest monument – glorious triumph of science and war!

A column aged and lifeless, technological memorial to genocide and death. Memorial of a most primitive – but not wholly dead generation….


Here spins worlds
encased in diamond shells

shot and spinning – grows life!

Among even darkness,
and frozen possibility.

Bold now! Unknown!
Venture forth, dare we?

Into the growing darkness –
growing stronger daily…

Evolution Cubensis

July 11th, 2011

slimes in to life,
threatening the dry
it grows in to death

growing over life,
synthesized disease
patched in to factions.

health, soiling
that which was once
its own life – dry yet alive.

(the) melting (of) two
minds in to one
as is/has/will (ever) be

of infinite new futures —

that cracked, dried,
dying sort of

UNF Iron Pour – Spring 2011

April 3rd, 2011

The sculpture department at the University of North Florida had an iron pour this weekend and while Aisling was working on her roles in the event I managed to get some video and pictures of this intense creative process.

First up, Professor Lance Vickery guides students in installing the air blower for the cupola furnace – then finds and demonstrates where the hot part is.

Off to the side, the students’ molds sit in preparation for the iron to heat up.

Molds wait while the iron melts

Now the furnace is starting to really heat up:

To keep the temperature up, coke is added to the fire. This isn’t Charlie Sheen’s kind though, this is a distillate of coal that serves both as a fuel and as a reducing agent that will help to separate the oxidization and other impurities from the scrap iron.

Loading up the furnace with coke and iron

This next video shows the actual tapping of the furnace and pouring of the iron. Molten metal cascades out to the pre-heated ladel, and two students carry it off to have the final impurities skimmed out. Once only the pure iron is left, they then walk off to pour this liquid iron in to the waiting molds the students have prepared.

And here they finish up the ladle’s worth of iron and pour the remainder back in to the furnace to stay fresh for the next round.

More iron and coke is added in to the furnace to prepare for the next batch of molds to be poured.

Students on fire duty stand ready with sand to put out any flames that get out of control.

Students ready to bury fire under sand

In this video, I’ve got a slightly different perspective for the entire process, from tapping the furnace and skimming impurities, to filling the molds and managing the resulting flames:

In the last video, molten iron bursts through several ceramic shell molds. After several late-minute changes, the longer & thinner ceramic molds can’t manage to hold the 2800 degree iron without cracking and bursting at the weak points. Still, one of them worked perfectly and one of the others might still be somewhat salvageable in a modified form:

Group Photos and Aftermath

When the final molds were full and the furnace started winding down, the students and professors all gather around for a few group photos:
UNF Iron Pour Group Photo

UNF Students and Professors gather for a photo after the iron pour

Now the fun part, cracking open the molds like it was Christmas morning:
Opening the molds to see the results

And finally, smashing the last few molds and preparing for cleanup. Quite a mess compared to the orderly set up of molds when things got started!
Smashing the last few molds and preparing for cleanup

100 hours without a cigarette

April 1st, 2011

While I’m not ready to claim a victory over the greatest addiction in my life, I am sitting with a slightly cocky grin tonight as I’ve passed 100 hours without a proper cigarette. As its Friday night (err… Saturday morning?), that means I’ve even made it past a night of moderate drinking without falling to the temptations of tobacco.

A long history

And I’ve been smoking for a long time. Around 12 or 13, a friend’s sister offered me a dollar if I could snag a smoke from my mom and deliver it to her. Except, when I did provide the cigarette and collected my dollar, she didn’t actually want to smoke it so her brother and I split it.

It was pretty good.

I’ve always had a bit of anxiety lingering in my mind, and with Celiac Disease there was a constant unease in my stomach that tobacco seemed to calm better than anything else I’d tried.  So while we weren’t of the legal age to acquire more smokes, that didn’t stop us from slipping them in to pockets when no one was looking, or asking the homeless vets who hung out by the gas station to pop in and buy us a pack.

So school would let out, and we’d all congregate behind the convenient store and wait patiently for someone who was willing to indulge or nicotine fix.  The regular price for a pack of smokes included a quart for the buyer, so we got our cigs and they got some beer.

Everyone was happy.

Except that shit will kill you…

But that just isn’t something you worry about when you’re 13 years old and picking up a horrible addiction.  Youth makes us feel immortal, and it is only 10 or 15 years later that one really starts to feel the consequences of such a vice.  It wasn’t just the congestion, but a soreness and stiffness around the sinuses, throat, and mouth. It wasn’t just my own desire to be healthy, like the impulse that has led me to watch my diet and exercise regularly, but also the constant pressure from friends, family, and other loved ones who couldn’t stand to see me hurting myself for the sake of a quick and cheap buzz.

And the odds (for quitting) are stacked against

But even when I realized I wanted to quit, that wasn’t good enough.  I’ve tried several times before – both cold turkey and with nicotine patches.   A single day without cigarettes was pure torture, no matter how much exercise, food, or how many patches I tried to put in their place.  It seems like I wasn’t alone in that hopeless feeling, because the research suggests a slim 3% of people who attempt to go cold turkey manage to go an entire year without more cigarettes.  Even with nicotine replacement therapies, the success rate only tops out around 15%.

Enter the electronic cigarette

Sliding under the regulatory scene is the electronic cigarette.  These portable vaporizers atomize a nicotine solution in to a gaseous fog.  They’re shaped like cigarettes and activated by sucking on the end so everything about the process mimics smoking while strictly controlling what is actually inhaled – mostly pure nicotine minus most of the secondary compounds of burning plant matter.

Of course, the nicotine itself isn’t exactly good for you.  It can increase heart rate, and some nicotine derivatives of the chemical are found in the tumors of smokers who eventually succumb to cancer.

But not all of the health consequences of smoking are directly tied to the inhalation of nicotine itself.  There hasn’t been a whole lot of scientific research in to this particular phenomenon, but the little bit I could find was quite interesting:

The rats breathed in a chamber with nicotine at a concentration giving twice the plasma concentration found in heavy smokers. Nicotine was given for 20 h a day, five days a week during a two-year period. We could not find any increase in mortality, in atherosclerosis or frequency of tumors in these rats compared with controls. Particularly, there was no microscopic or macroscopic lung tumors nor any increase in pulmonary neuroendocrine cells. Throughout the study, however, the body weight of the nicotine exposed rats was reduced as compared with controls. In conclusion, our study does not indicate any harmful effect of nicotine when given in its pure form by inhalation.

Does that mean electronic cigarettes, or smokeless nicotine devices are harmless? Well, probably not, unless you’re directly comparing them to cigarettes which are known to be horrible for your health without any room left for debate. They’re just bad for ya, even if they make ya feel good!

So, for the last four days and some change, I’ve been puffing on a cheap disposable electronic cigarette. It definitely isn’t the same, and even though I’ve kept nicotine running through the blood there has been some brutal feelings of withdrawal. For the first day or two, every action and thought I had was followed up by the idea that “Oh, I should have a cigarette!”

Even right now, I keep thinking about how nice and warm it would feel in the lungs to light up a fresh smoke. Every time the e-cig needs to go down for charging, or after finishing a meal or a glass of rum, I have a hard time getting past that craving.

I’ve acted like a jerk, and thrown little tantrums at my girlfriend like I was some kind of child. She’s had a tough week of her own, and instead of being there to support her I’ve been like this needy & clingy bundle of shaking nerves.

But it is so worth it…

The first benefit of not smoking was the clearing up of sinus pressure. I’ve always had stuffy sinuses, but after just a day of not smoking I started to feel them clear up for the first time in a long time. At two days, I took a walk after it rained and was amazed at how fresh and vital the world smelled. From the wet dirt to the blooming spring flowers, I was amazed at the distinction and potency of these fragrances. Of course, the best smell of all is walking in to my own house without the stale smoke stench, or not tasting the alkaline film in my mouth all day.

Excited and looking forward

Primarily, the electronic cigarette has helped me break the quitting process down in to more manageable parts.  On the first few days, I broke from the secondary chemicals in the smoke, and the feeling of deeply inhaling a burning substance.  Even with the nicotine flowing, things weren’t the same.

After two or three days, that particular feeling started to pass.  It so happens that the cheap e-cig I bought also started to lose its ability to keep a charge, and it doesn’t refill very well.  So the third and fourth day have involved a gradual stepping down in that availability of nicotine, but I think I’m largely past the intense desires I first felt.

All in all, this is by far the longest I’ve gone without a smoke, and I think it is starting to get just a little easier with every additional hour that ticks by.  The withdrawal is bad, and I haven’t even faced the worst part yet, but the benefits of not inhaling a burnt plant are starting to become apparent and my desire to go back to the hacking and coughing have faded pretty fast.

I hope I won’t spend the next fifteen years puffing on an electronic cigarette, but for now, I feel like I’ve accomplished one of those goals that seemed so extreme as to be out of reach.  

Good luck to everyone else out there who is trying to quit – it might take a few tries and a lot of different methods to accomplish it, but it is really worth it when you can finally pull it off!

A few miles above Georgia

March 21st, 2011

Anyone who lives in Jacksonville and flies is pretty familiar with the Atlanta airport. It seems like no matter where you’re going and how much you’re willing to pay, there’s no real way to avoid the transfer at the Delta hub. The flight itself only lasts about fourty minutes – or just enough time to reach cruising altitude before starting the descent right – but the cloud formations and view from the sky is quite awe inspiring:

A view from the plane on the common trip from Jacksonville, FL to Atlanta, GA

And looking down…

Green trees and fields are visible through the layer of whispy white clouds

What might have been the most impressive thing about this flight was that I actually had enough room for my knees and legs. My nerves can’t quite get used to the idea of flying around at 500 to 700 miles per hour at five miles above the ground (or sea), but at least I wasn’t in physical pain for once. Chalk that one up as a bonus for flying with Delta. They might be a bit more expensive, but they’ve got a reassuring safety record and more room than a lot of the alternatives.

Still though, it doesn’t seem like you can get away from the nickel and dime approach to air travel amenities. I was a bit let down when I realized the on-board WiFi cost $9.95 per flight. Not a great deal when the longest leg of the trip from Jax to Philly is 90 minutes. Alcohol, headphones, and even your first checked bag all add in to the costs above the ticket.

Who cares though? They’re still cheap compared to the drinks you get at the airport bars!

“Somewhere Along the Line”

March 10th, 2011

He stumbled a few feet from his input terminal to his couch. The day was long and the meals were light. Even when there were extra boxes available, they never seemed to fill the gnawing hunger.

It was dark, but Marc knew the security eyes would record the every detail of his movements anyway. For a moment, he wished the soft hum of a hundred miniature cooling fans would cease – but that thought led to the abyss he could not imagine or stand to face. Mumbling, he broke the hum with a terrified thought: “Without our systems, there would be chaos.”

Admitting that fear didn’t help settle his unease. There was still something wrong, something that couldn’t be explained. A few more strained minutes passed before the netscreen blasted itself to life with the familiar nightly news.

“We have achieved great things! We stride boldly toward the future in the 22nd century!”

A thousand images span the screen of new towers, new engines, new computers and other various monuments to the human mind. The booming voice continued:

“Hello citizens of earth. This is truly a great day to be alive. Our hard work and sacrifice ensures the greatness of our mighty civilization. All opposition has been rightly defeated. As long as we all take our jobs and responsibilities seriously, there shall never again be a great crisis like the one our ancestors had endured.”

Marc shuddered again and sub-consciously scratched at the humming sound that was coming from inside his ear.

“We know you are taking great care to fulfill these responsibilities. We are watching, and we are very proud of all that you do.”

The screen went dark again, and the hum changed to a deeper pitch. Marc heard a click and suddenly all doubt was replaced with warm sensation of belonging and acceptance. He got up and stumbled the few feet from his couch to his bed.

“Good night, Marc. I will wake you up again tomorrow in time for work…”

Sympathy for the devil.. or at least a wasp

March 6th, 2011

Living in Florida, you get sort of accustomed to all kinds of bugs and creepy crawly things. But I never expected I’d feel sympathy for a wasp.

This injured little would-be killer found his way in to our bathroom last week, and for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to grab my camera and get up close.

Fortunately for me, he didn’t have the strength to attack. In fact, he hardly had the strength to untangle himself from a stray hair in the corner behind the trash can. Unfortunately for the wasp, he wasn’t going to get out of there without some kind of help.

A strange thought entered my mind: Wasps always get a bad reputation, but for all the close encounters I’ve had none of them had ever actually tried to hurt me, personally. Instead of feeling like I needed revenge against a violent intruder, I started thinking like I had an injured & lost guest in my house.

What I did next was probably the height of insanity, but I decided to give the guy a lift on to an alumni magazine & cap him off with a big plastic cup. From there, I managed to bring him outside, where he curled up in a paralytic coma for a while before slowly walking away.

Wasp back outside

Fly away now, little dude!

That was the last I saw of him, and it probably wasn’t too long before the ants & other bugs exploited his vulnerability. I was still glad to give him a chance – or at the very least, I was glad to have him out of the house without anyone getting hurt.

Internet TV feels like the future is here

February 9th, 2011

Cable providers and television networks have been dreading this moment, but it seems like momentum has really built up among consumers in favor of internet-based television solutions.

I recently purchased a Roku box myself, and now that I’ve been using that instead of traditional cable for about a month, all I can say is that it is like getting paid $50 a month to improve my TV experience.

Cost and Benefit

So instead of paying $60 every month to Comcast for their declining selection of programs, I’m paying about $10 to Netflix so I can watch exactly what I want, when I want, without any kind of commercial interruptions.

Of course, in addition to Netflix there are a whole bunch of choices available. Hulu has a premium set-top service, and you can also access popular video sites like Youtube, Funny or Die, and CNN video. Still not enough? Amazon Video on Demand has all sorts of high definition new releases available for just a few bucks each. Instead of paying a huge monthly bill to the cable company, you can actually decide what is worth spending money on and what you can skip right over.

It turns out the Wii also plays Netflix and Youtube, so for two TVs we only had to shell out cash for the Roku box and a wireless router. All counted, the transition cost $200 up front and will start to save money after four months of skipping cable payments.

Beyond DVD

Now, one of my favorite features of the Roku box, and a big advantage it has over the Wii, is that you can plug a USB drive right in to the device and watch MP4 videos. Since these USB drives can hold more gigs than a blu-ray disc, I feel like I’m starting to see the end of the DVD era. Now the few DVDs I do have are being stored up on hard drives and converted for USB viewing. Who needs a boxed set of multiple discs per season when you can put a dozen seasons on one thumb-sized flash drive? Also, you can save up your favorite internet videos to make a custom play list or even to have some back up in case the web goes down for a while. Now, the Wii is theoretically capable of playing USB movies as well, but you’ll have to make some modifications to the software and there’s more risks & effort involved.

Upgrade the smart way

So if you’re thinking about making the switch from cable to internet TV, now is a great time to start researching and making plans. You probably don’t want to rush in because there are a lot of little details to pay attention to, but with the proper planning and analysis of your existing devices and televisions, you can probably maximize your TV entertainment at a really great price.


December 11th, 2010

The quiet,

the silence,

not of peace and calm.

In the dark

of moon rise,

a black omen flies.

The fog rolls

and wind whirls

to silence broken.

A twig snaps

and heart booms

A leaf cracks

and heads swoon

What attacks in the darkest,

blackest dreams untold,

is just mist of fears

and imagination’s cold.

Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear Pictures

November 11th, 2010

Here are a few of my favorite pictures from the Rally to Restore Sanity.

Unfortunately, my camera’s battery didn’t last very long at the event, and I didn’t get a whole lot of shots to choose from. At least I got a few good, memorable moments.

All in all, the turnout seems to have been much higher than anyone had expected or planned for. The screens were set up so everyone could see if about 80,000 people showed up, but most of the estimates that I’ve seen put the actual attendance closer to 250,000.

Needless to say, the view on TV was a lot better than the view on the ground. At the very least, the sound system was good and the crowd was lively, so as hard as it was to see you still knew you were a part of something fun and exciting.