Brandon's Notepad

July 26, 2016

July 26, 2016: Boettner, White Noise, Stereotypes, Gradient Mesh


Boettner’s Roman Catholicism Online
In 1962, Loraine Boettner published the protestant’s definitive guide to the Catholic Church, explaining all of the ways in which Mother Church deceives her members into believing that they are part of a legitimate Christian sect, when instead she is doing the work of Satan, enticing these poor sheep into the snares of false religion. The only problem is, it’s all bunk. Boettner’s classic receives a healthy treatment in Karl Keating’s Catholicism and Fundamentalism, which is well worth the read. The text may sound convincing and well-written, but Boettner’s footnotes and citations often lead to misquoted, misunderstood, non-authoritative, and even non-existent sources that “condemn” the Church and her teachings. In all, this text definitely falls into the category of anti-Catholic hate literature, and now, you too can peruse it’s pages free of charge…well, some of them anyway. I happened across an online copy of Roman Catholicism, which is incomplete with only three chapters represented and none of the footnotes I recall from the printed book.

White Noise
Need help falling asleep or want to drown out the sound of your neighbor’s afternoon snack in the ol’ cubicle farm? Try using white noise. The folks at the MC2 Method offer nearly fifty types of white noise in durations of 10 minutes, 60 minutes, and 8-12 hours free for download (for personal use only).

Maps Mocking Stereotypes
Even though we shouldn’t judge people unfairly, we are all guilty of using stereotypes at one time or another. Then again, I’d heard it said time and again that it wouldn’t be a stereotype if it weren’t true. Here is a set of 31 maps that present stereotypes in map form. [Warning: some of these are NSFW…or children…or any self-respecting member of the human race…oh, you clicked it already, didn’t you? Ok, enjoy.] Pay attention to the perspective being portrayed in each, and please don’t take these too seriously.

Gradient Mesh
I stumbled upon a few examples of vector art created in Adobe Illustrator using the Gradient Mesh tool. I don’t know how it works and I didn’t include any links here due to the shear volume of Google hits, but do a quick image search and see how this tool is being used to create some very realistic art.

December 4, 2014

Computer Graphics

Home > My Lists > Technology > Computer Graphics

This page is a listing of user guides and how-to documents for various computer graphics manipulation tools that I have found useful over time.

General Purpose Tool References & Articles

CLIChart. Commandline tool for quick visualization of tabular data.

D3 Data-Driven Documents. JavaScript library for producing advanced visualizations.

eplot. Short for “easy gnuplot”, eplot is a Ruby wrapper for Gnuplot (see below).

Gnuplot. Multi-platform CLI graphing utility used for mathematical functions plotting and data visualization.

Graphviz. Visualization tool for creating diagrams based on structured information using the DOT language. Best used for directional charts (flowcharts, hierarchy charts, PERT/CPM charts, mind maps, etc.

ImageMagick. Command-based art program suite.

Inkscape. Vector graphics package.

Message Sequence Chart generator (Mscgen). Creates sequence diagrams from text files. These diagrams are used in telecommunications, object-oriented software design (e.g. UML), and other applications.

Project-Specific Tools & Tutorials

Web-Based Charting

Project Management.

Map Making

Circuit Diagrams

November 23, 2014

My Texas Map Collection

Filed under: Maps,Texas — Brandon @ 2:06 am
Tags: ,


My collection of Texas maps began as a stack of street maps that I bought over the years just to get around. Eventually, I started comparing maps from different years to see how things had changed (map regression) and felt compelled to acquire even older maps to see the lay of the land before my time. Antique stores, used book shops, and garage/estate sales are great places to find old maps, but I never have had an inventory of my collection handy to prevent the purchase of duplicates…until now.

Just a few notes about the list below. The maps are grouped by region/city and ordered by year. The titles given are what appear on the ‘cover page’ of the map and not the title or legend block on the face of the map. Some maps bear no year of publication and are therefore listed according to an estimated year followed by a question mark or a string of four question marks if the year cannot be reasonably deduced. I may add the ISBN numbers and other identifying marks in the future.

Texas State Maps

1992 AAA Texas
1992? MAPSCO Texas Road Map
1995 Gousha Texas Roadmap
2000 TxDOT Official Travel Map

Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex

Regional Maps
???? Ashburn’s Dallas County and Tarrant County
???? Ashburn’s Dallas Fort Worth Streetmap
1966 Dallas Fort Worth Turnpike Metrpolitan Area Map
1994 Rand McNally Dallas, Ft. Worth & Vicinity

???? Rand McNally Dallas Street Map
1986 Travel Graphics Int’l Dallas Metropolitan Area Illustrated Pocket Map
1994 Rand McNally Dallas Metro City Map
2001 Rand McNally Dallas City Map

Fort Worth
???? Southwest Map “Rattikin Title Company” MAp of Metropolitan Fort Worth
???? Ashburn’s “Rattikin Title Company” MAp of Metropolitan Fort Worth
1969 Gousha “Phillips 66” Fort Worth Street Map
1971 Ashburn’s “Shannon’s Funeral Chapels” This is Fort Worth
1973 Rand McNally “Texaco” Fort Worth Street Map
1975 Ashburn Map of Greater Fort Worth, Texas
1978 American Map Distributors Street Map of Fort Worth and vicinity
1979? Rand McNally Fort Worth
1984 MAPSCO Map of South Fort Worth
1992 MAPSCO Fort Worth, Texas City Map
1999 Rand McNally Fort Worth Street Map
2000 MAPSCO Fort Worth Street Map

1972 Ashburn “Arlington Bank & Trust” Map of Arlington Texas
2001 Rand McNally Arlington/Grand Prairie, Texas City Map
2001 Arlington Street Map & Visitor Guide

Other Cities
???? Map of De Soto Texas (local advertising map)
???? ADMAR Inc. Welcome to Duncanville Texas (local advertising map)
1976 A.I.D. Assoc. Inc. Cedar Hill Texas (local advertising map)
1979 Southwest Map Map of Duncanville Texas Street Map and Community Guide
1998 Mapsco Collin/Denton County Map
2 maps to record…

San Antonio

1972 Bookmap Corp. Brochuremap San Antonio Texas
3 maps to record…

April 1, 2014

Catching Fire

After reading Hunger Games, I immediately started listening to the Catching Fire audiobook. Just as with my post about the first book, this post is not meant to be a complete summary, but a brief synopsis and a handful of observations and supporting research.


This is the second book in the Hunger Games series. If necessary, read my synopsis of the first book.

At the time of this writing, I still have not yet seen the movies, so I cannot attest to their faithfulness. As the storyline progresses, however, I do find myself contemplating how they portrayed this event or that on screen, so I may have to bite the bullet and watch them after all. [As a sidenote, while I was reading this book, actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died tragically in a drug overdose. He played a key role, and it will be interesting to see if/how they change the storyline to accommodate for this loss.]

* * *   SPOILER ALERT   * * *   SPOILER ALERT   * * *   SPOILER ALERT   * * *

Six months after Katniss and Peeta win the Hunger Games, they must participate in the Victory Tour, travelling to the other districts to deliver speeches as part of the Capitol’s never-ending propaganda campaign. She is paid a surprise visit by President Snow who warns her to calm the people in the other districts. The trick she pulled to win the 74th Hunger Games has been popularly interpreted as an act of defiance against the Capitol, and Panem is potentially on the brink of rebellion. On the Victory Tour, Katniss and Peeta must maintain the appearance of being star-crossed lovers who were tragically cast together into the Hunger Games Arena as mortal enemies and who, through the benevolence of the Capitol, were allowed to share the victory. The tour begins in District 11, home of Rue (Katniss’ former ally) and Thresh (who showed her mercy). After her speech, the people salute Katniss in unity. This is seen as a dangerous sign by the Capitol and several members of the crowd are publicly executed on the spot by the Peacekeepers. Their visits to the other districts are given little treatment. When the tour arrives in the Capitol, in an effort to convince President Snow and Panem that they are still deeply in love, Peeta proposes marriage to Katniss and she accepts. Snow is not convinced, however, and Katniss knows it. While still in the Capitol, Katniss meets the new Head Gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee, who secretively discusses plans for the next Hunger Games as they dance at a private reception. Katniss and Peeta return to District 12, the final stop on the tour. After learning that there has been an uprising in District 8 and making a failed attempt to escape the district herself, Katniss colludes with her friend Gale to escape with their families. Gale is subsequently captured and tortured by a new Head Peacekeeper for hunting illegally outside the fence that surrounds the district. Katniss then turns to Peeta and their Games mentor Haymitch to determine what the right course of action should be. Escaping to the woods to hunt and think, Katniss encounters two refugees from District 8 travelling through the woods to District 13. They believe that District 13 has not been destroyed, despite what Capitol propaganda claims, but continues to thrive in isolation, a last bastion of freedom in Panem. As Katniss tries to return home, she discovers that security in the district has tightened significantly. Months pass and a special announcement is made regarding the 75th Hunger Games: it is a the third Quadranscentennial of the Capitol’s victory, which they call a Quarter Quell, and to celebrate, tributes will be reaped from living victors. Katniss is the only living female victor from District 12, so her return to the Arena is inevitable, and she will be joined by either Peeta or Haymitch. The three begin to prepare themselves, not only physically, but also by reviewing footage of prior Hunger Games so that they may better understand their pool of potential opponents. After the (pointless) Reaping, they travel to the Capitol for the opening ceremonies, training, etc. The action then shifts to the Arena, and the Games play out in much the same way as they did the previous year with a few notable exceptions. In this Games, Katniss and Peeta have no shortage of allies, some of whom willingly sacrifice themselves to protect them. Also, the Arena is unique in that it does not appear to be a merely natural terrain of unknown shape and size, but a circular design with twelve regions that resemble a clock face. Each region contains a particular danger that is made manifest at the top of each hour in clockwise fashion as the day progresses. A tidal wave, poisonous fog (nerve gas?), and violent monkeys are three of the plagues used by the Gamemakers. The allies eventually understand the pattern and try to find a way to leverage these dangerous traps to their advantage. Katniss eventually realizes that her odd exchange with Heavensbee in the Capitol months before could have been a warning, a clue about the mechanics of the Arena. In the end, Katniss and at least one other victor-tribute escape the arena when the force field is short circuited by one of Katniss’ arrows (cleverly grounded by thin wire). Katniss is nursed back to health only to discover that Heavensbee, Haymitch, and the victor-tribute named Finnick are co-conspirators in a plot to incite a revolution in the districts. She also discovers that Peeta and a few other tributes were captured during the escape.


Maps. Maps are invaluable tools, always in the real world, but sometimes in literature too. Just imagine traversing Middle Earth with out a map! I know I can’t. Search for a map of Panem online and you will find a wide variety of them, most of which are drawn by fans based on clues in the text. Of the ones I’ve seen, almost all of them place District 12 in the vicinity of Pennsylvania, which is a logical choice since coal is the primary export. Districts 13 and 11 are to the north and south respectively and the Capitol is situated in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. This placement of the Capitol makes perfect sense as the high elevation would ensure that it would survive the longest in another global flood. Districts 1 and 2 (and usually 3 and 4) are somewhere near the Capitol, but there is a lot of variance in relative placement and whether these are west of the Capitol or if the Capitol is the westernmost territory on the map. The remaining districts could be just about anywhere, and most people center them around major existing U.S. cities.

Sea Level. A major variance amongst the maps is the coastal boundaries of Panem. We know from the first book that the sea levels rose as a result of large-scale natural events. Curious to know how accurate the maps were in general, I used the Calculated Earth website to get a feel for what the basic shape of Panem might actually be. Using this simulator to create a map that resembles most of the Panem maps out there, one can reasonably conclude that the seas rose somewhere between 50 and 150 meters. In this range, most of New York and Pennsylvania remain dry, and the Virginias start to disappear at the high end. At 50 meters all of Florida and at least half of Louisiana are gone. At 150 meters, all of the Southeast is under water. Interestingly, it seems that most map makers assume that changes in sea level will engulf both coasts at the same rate. Most Panem maps show arbitrarily that the West Coast is flooded as far inland as the East Coast. This, of course, is not realistic. Again using the simulator, waters would have to rise 800 to 1000 meters to cover California, Oregon, and Washington, and at that level all of the states east of the Rockies would be submerged.

District 11. This is the first stop on the Victory Tour for the 74th Hunger Games. Katniss notes the warm climate and wonders just how far south they had travelled. Using this as a clue, most map makers place the heart of District 11 in the Deep South, encompassing Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. Some include Florida, though most show that state to be completely covered by ocean waters. Some show the district extending into Texas and as far north as Ohio. Whether the Carolinas are in District 11 or District 12 is a toss-up. This placement is also supported by the fact that the chief industry of District 11 is agriculture. From a cultural perspective, it is interesting to note that the citizens of District 11 live in a walled and heavily guarded city, are forced to labor in the fields, are treated with unusual cruelty by the Peacekeepers, and are all dark-skinned. [Note: stills from the movie show a mixed, but predominantly black citizenry.] This reference to the oppression of African-Americans is pungent, though I hardly guess we should label them as such, for in the story there is no ‘America’ anymore and it is doubtful after seventy-five years of Capitol rule that they know much of their African heritage. This begs the question of how this demographic came about. Were people organized into districts based on outward appearance when Panem was formed? Or was segregation implemented by the Capitol after the first revolution? More innocently, did it start to occur naturally because humans undeniably tend to form closer relationships with those who resemble themselves? Katniss notes several times in the series how the people of District 12 share certain physical traits, especially those from the Seam, the poor community where her family is from. Is it then that prolonged isolation within a district results in the breeding out of certain traits and the homogenization of the people therein? Would this even be possible in only seventy-five years? Or is this a politically charged innuendo by the author that, regardless of circumstance, people with dark skin will always be oppressed? The books, of course, are silent on this issue so you are free to draw your own conclusions. The real question in my mind is whether or not the depiction of a segregated Panem adds any value whatsoever. At best — and I use that word with all possible cynicism — it spawns a few reactionary articles and blog posts on racism, a little controversy to help sell books. At worst, people start saying stupid and hateful things, which is exactly what happened on Twitter when fans of the book saw the first Hunger Games movie and decided to announce their disappointment that Rue and Thresh are black.

Quarter Quell. Every quarter-century the Gamemakers add some cruel twist to the Games. In the First Quarter Quell (25th Hunger Games), the tributes from each district were elected by popular vote instead of being selected at random in a lottery, and in the Second Quell twice as many tributes were reaped, thereby doubling the number of youth killed. As mentioned in the synopsis above, the Third Quarter Quell called for a reaping from a pool of all living victors in each district, and since Katniss is the only surviving female victor from District 12, she is guaranteed a second appearance in the arena. This is not an insignificant development. The Quells were defined when the Games were founded, and it is suggested that President Snow overrode the rule for the Third Quell in the hopes that Katniss, who he sees as a political threat, may be killed in the arena. The word quell is is an Old English verb for killing with violence, to torture, to murder, to suffer pain. The Quarter Quell is meant to be an especially painful time for the districts, and an opportunity for the Capitol to reinforce some lesson. In the case of the 75th Hunger Games, the lesson is that even the strongest of those in the districts (symbolized by the victors) remain subject to the Capitol’s rule. With the threat of rebellion mounting, this message from Snow is intended for the would-be rebels.

The Mockingjay. This bird is a hybrid species descendent from the genetically engineered Jabberjay and common mockingbirds. Jabberjays were used by the Capitol for reconnaissance in the first revolution against the rebelling districts, but were turned against them when rebel counterintelligence started feeding them misinformation. No longer considered dependable, they were abandoned for military use, released into the wild, and mated with mockingbirds to bring forth mockingjays. The image on Katniss’ mockingjay pin becomes an effective rallying symbol for the rebels because the bird itself represents the idea that something better than the Capitol will naturally evolve from it. For the pre-game interviews, President Snow mandated that Katniss wear her wedding dress as a painful reminder that she will never actually see her wedding day (perhaps to also tell Panem in a subtle way that nothing in their lives is either certain or sacred); however, her cunning stylist, Cinna, modifies the dress to transform into a mockingjay costume. In a sense, Katniss becomes the Mockingjay — not only the spirit of rebellion, but a representation of the very ideals that are antithetical to those of Snow and the Capitol. The Jabberjay later returns to confront the Mockingjay in the arena (as a psychological weapon) but ultimately fails to defeat her. As this conflict mounted, I couldn’t ignore thoughts of Georg Hegel and his dialectic political philosophy.

The Arena. While reading Hunger Games, I assumed that the arena was simply a natural terrain, irregular in shape and surrounded by a fence or a wall. I also assumed that different arenas had been built across Panem to take advantage of climate differences (it seemed like a big stretch when I found out that the Gamemakers could manipulate the weather). After all, Panem is recovering from both an earth-changing natural disaster and a civil war. Why am I to assume that they possess technology far greater than that which exists today? Certainly, if they did, they would not choose to settle differences in barbaric death matches. In Catching Fire, however, I discovered that all of my assumptions were wrong. The arena in the 75th Hunger Games is round, surrounded by a force field, and is artificially arranged to resemble a clock face. Each “hour” (region) of the clock contains a hidden danger and at one point the entire arena spins on an axis to disorient the tributes. The infrastructure to support this arena must have taken years to plan and construct, and thus, several arenas must exist at one time. It would make practical sense to leverage existing sites on a rotational basis; however, there is a claim that the arenas are preserved as historical sites, and that they are not reused. There is no indication in the text that the tributes travel far from the Capitol and it is somewhat implied that the arena is always nearby. Like the map of Panem, the arena provides another opportunity for artistic fans to render their ideas.

Bizarre Love Triangle. The embedded teen-romance story began in the Hunger Games, but I didn’t cover it because I felt it added little to my analysis. This subplot thickens in the second book, however, as Katniss is required to maintain her staged affections for Peeta and her hidden ones for her friend Gale. Actually, she claims ad nauseam to be uncertain how she feels for either of them throughout. It goes something like this:

Oh Peeta! He’s so sweet. But I don’t know if I can trust him. It’s all a show for the cameras, right? I really wish I could confide in Gale right now, but we’re not talking. Not that it matters, because I’ll be dead soon anyway.

Yep, that just about covers it. This oft-contrived melodrama is the only thing that keeps this book out of the mainstream sci-fi section of the library. What I can’t figure out is why they let this situation get so out of hand in the first place. The whole idea is that Katniss made her bluff with the berries based on the premise that she and Peeta were so overcome with love for one another that they would rather die together than face life alone. It was an irrational move based on emotion. It is pretty obvious that she doesn’t love him in real life, so why not end the relationship a few months after the Games were over? Make it look natural? Why did Katniss feel compelled to play it out forever? They are just teenagers after all. Relationships do end badly sometimes, right? And why couldn’t Gale just deny having feelings for her instead of claiming to be her cousin? That really complicated things unnecessarily, as did Peeta’s exorbitant lie about their secret marriage and pregnancy. I would have preferred a legitimate rivalry between Peeta and Gale over the soap opera we were given.


I started listening to Catching Fire immediately after Hunger Games and began stubbing out this post shortly after. Unfortunately, life’s circumstances slowed my writing and added even more delay to editing and publication. So, I waited for Mockingjay to be returned by another library patron and then proceeded to listen to it straight through before I had a chance to return to these words again. As a result, I have several sections that started here, which I decided would best be covered under the next post. Having said that, it is difficult now to write this conclusion without being tainted somewhat by Mockingjay, making me wonder if I should have waited.

I found this book less realistic than the first, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing considering it is science fiction. I started this series expecting realism, and between the two books my expectations were reset. Seeing movie stills online didn’t help. This leg of the story also changed my mind about the overall value of the work as well. There is definitely a hint of the rebellious American spirit emerging, and human compassion and self-sacrifice take a front seat to barbarism. Since I already know now how it turns out, I will say no more.

January 30, 2012

Getting Google Maps

Filed under: How-To,Online Tools,Perl,Programming — Brandon @ 4:08 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

So, I’d like to have a current traffic map delivered to my e-mail at the precise moment I’m leaving work for the day. Call me lazy, but this is the sort of thing that can be automated pretty easily and I don’t want to go look it up, I want it delivered. Someday, I’ll get around to setting this up, but as they say, a journey begins with a single step. In this case, the step is to find a way a good to download Google Maps with a script. For now, that is the scope of this post.

Here’s some initial research to plow through:
Mapki: Google Map Parameters Best reference so far!
Google Static Maps API*
A PERL/Wget solution
A Python script
MapTileCacher in PERL
In Bash
Discussion on Google blocking tile downloads

* On 2/7/2012, I tried using the Google Static Maps API and received Error 400 (malformed or illegal request) when using the URL described therein. I have had more luck using Google Maps directly to frame the map, getting the (perma)link, and tweaking the parameters.

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