Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I'm sure you've heard the news about the earthquake near Los Angeles yesterday – a 5.4 temblor (the big blue square on the map at right). This is a sort of medium-sized earthquake, but the most powerful one we've had since the Northridge quake in the early '90s.

At the time it struck, I was working in my company's offices in Solana Beach, in the building the employees affectionately call the “wooden spaceship” (for its slight resemblence to the disk of Star Trek's Starship Enterprise). From our perspective there were two phases: first a kind of exaggerated rumbling that many of us thought was caused by heavy footsteps, followed in a few seconds by distinct transverse waves (side-to-side motion) large enough to move the building an inch or two. Wooden buildings have a bit of “give” to them, so they move a little more than a steel or concrete building of the same size would. Nobody panicked, or was even truly frightened, but everybody was on alert to see if the quake would get any worse...

We had no damage of any kind in our building, but at that moment we had no idea where the quake's epicenter was. Several of us are very familiar with the USGS earthquake web site for California and Nevada (the source for the picture above). Moments after the shock wave hit us, several people had this site up on their screens. Within a minute or two of the shock hitting us, the initial reports for the quake came in, and the site showed the location and preliminary intensity – quite impressive. Not so many years ago, we'd have had to wait days to get this information, and it wouldn't have been nearly as accurate. For me personally, the news was very comforting: the quake's epicenter was far away from my home. I found out later that Debbie (who was within a few miles of our house when the quake hit) never felt a thing...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Short Takes...

Good for some chuckles and ponders... Sent along by Simon M.:
  • Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things.
  • One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor...
  • Atheism is a non-prophet organization.
  • If man evolved from monkeys and apes, why do we still have monkeys and apes?
  • The main reason Santa is so jolly is because he knows where all the bad girls live.
  • I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, "Where's the self-help section?" She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.
  • What if there were no hypothetical questions?
  • If a deaf person swears, does his mother wash his hands with soap?
  • Why do they put braille on the drive-through bank machines?
  • If the police arrest a mime, do they tell him he has the right to remain silent?
  • Can vegetarians eat animal crackers?
  • If a turtle doesn't have a shell, is he homeless or naked?
  • Why do they lock gas station bathrooms? Are they afraid someone will clean them?
  • Would a fly without wings be called a walk?
  • If a parsley farmer is sued, can they garnish his wages?
  • What do you do when you see an endangered animal eating an endangered plant?
  • Where do forest rangers go to "get away from it all"?
  • Is there another word for synonym?
  • If someone with multiple personalities threatens to kill himself, is it considered a hostage situation?
  • Lenin's tomb is a communist plot.
  • If you don't pay your exorcist will you be repossessed?
  • Can an atheist get insurance against acts of god?
  • If you spin an oriental man in a circle three times, does he become disoriented?
  • Why is there an expiration date on sour cream?
  • Why is it called tourist season if we can't shoot at them?
  • Why are hemorrhoids called "hemorrhoids" instead of "assteroids"?
  • Whose cruel idea was it for the word "lisp" to have an "s" in it?
  • If you try to fail, and succeed, which have you done?
  • If you ate both pasta and antipasto, would you still be hungry?
  • If one synchronized swimmer drowns, do the rest drown too?
  • How is it possible to have a "civil" war?
  • Does the little mermaid wear an algebra?
  • One nice thing about egotists: they don't talk about other people.
  • What was the best thing before sliced bread?
  • How do they get deer to cross the road only at those yellow road signs?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Professional Bull Riders Are Insane...

Last night, I proved this beyond any reasonable doubt. Debbie (my wife) and I traveled to a distant place – the Del Mar race track – to watch a Professional Bull Riders (PBR) competition. After watching forty or fifty of these men attempt to ride a pissed-off bull for eight seconds, I feel completely qualified to render judgment upon their sanity. Conclusion: they have none.

The goal of these bull riders (as best I understand it) is simply to stay on the bull for eight seconds without violating any of the rules. The riders are not allowed to slap the bull with their free hand, and I think there are some other rules as well. They are just sitting on the bull's back, holding onto a rope tied around the bull's chest, just behind its front legs. There's also another rope tied around the bull's body, just in front of its rear legs – I think that rope is there to piss the bull off (that's not hard to do!), encouraging it to spin and buck. If they qualify (by staying on for eight seconds), the riders get up to 50 points for the quality and style of their riding, and up to an additional 50 points for the challenge presented by the bull.

Above right you see the most common outcome: the bull wins, pitching the would-be rider off into the dirt.

The evening started with some patriotic words, a skydiver landing in the ring with a giant American flag streaming behind him, and the singing of our national anthem. There was a lot more patriotic fervor in that stadium than you normally see in people on the street – I suspect this sort of event is most frequently attended by those people who tend to be fervent patriots. It was heart-warming to see this. George Bush and John McCain would have been right at home here; Barack Obama, I'm sure, would have been very uncomfortable...

First we saw the flag, then as the skydiver got closer we could see him as well (and you can see his feet in the photo at right). It was a perfectly still night – great conditions for a stunt like this – and the skydiver was very skilled. He landed smack in the middle of the ring, flag trailing behind him.

As he landed (see photo at left), other people on the field came running to grab the flag before it hit the ground. Seconds after he landed, there were about 15 people surrounding the big flag, stretching it out horizontally at waist height while the national anthem was sung. Then they rolled it up carefully and took it off the field.

I'm sure some people would think this overt display of patriotism rather corny – but I liked it; it reminded me of earlier days when most people thought overt patriotism was normal, and admirable…

My lovely bride naturally had to get properly outfitted before we left for the show. I perched her on my truck's tailgate for this photo (at right) – Debbie in her natural element!

When we first arrived at the race track, Debbie was drawn (of course!) to the vendor's booths. Various sorts of items were for sale, things that either were really directly related to bull riding, or which some folks might imagine are. Debbie went straight to the PBR booth; she wanted some official PBR T-shirts.

But the booth operator could only take cash, so we had to go to a portable ATM and withdraw some money. There was a short line there, and immediately in front of us was someone that Debbie recognized immediately: a bull rider named Tony Mendes (see photo at left). We had a silly, brief conversation with him about the probability of the ATM running out of cash, and then a bit about him riding in the competition. At the end of the night, Tony was the winner!

A little later, when we were sitting in the stands waiting for the show to begin, we could see the bull riders off to our left, getting ready for the show. At one point Debbie got quite excited: one of the bull riders took off his shirt briefly, before donning another one. Debbie made me take this photo, which is allegedly for her girlfriend Marsha. I know better!

A woman sitting to our left was even more enthralled with the shirtless bull rider than Debbie was. She was still talking about it when we left...

The actual bull riding events surprised me in one regard: they pay a lot of attention to safety. If you watch them carefully, you can see that there are eight or ten men, each with a particular job, all watching to make sure the bull rider has the best possible chance of emerging from his trial uninjured. There are mounted cowboys with ropes, ready to snag the bull and wrestle him away from the rider. There are people whose entire job is to distract the bull, by throwing hats, waving their arms, and so on. There are three men tending the gate – one to pull it open with a rope, one that acts as a lookout, and one that makes sure the rider isn't crushed between the bull and the gate. Quite elaborate, and, so far as I can tell, quite effective.

During one of the breaks in the bull riding, there was another little piece of entertainment that was, if anything, even crazier than the bull riding! This is something they called “cowboy poker” – wherein four bull riders go sit at a small table in the middle of the ring and pretend they're playing poker. While they're sitting there, an enraged bull is turned loose in the ring. Within a few seconds, the bull is attacking the poker players, with obvious intent to kill.

The objective of this “game” is to be the last man sitting. There was a $500 prize for the winner. You'd have to offer me a lot more than $500 for that to tempt me!

The guy on the ground was uninjured, despite appearances. The table and chairs were completely destroyed. The safety men had quite a time trying to round that bull up and get him off the ring.

I mentioned earlier that Tony Mendes was the champion for the night. He rode twice, qualified both times, and had the highest total score of all the riders. In fact, he was the only bull rider who qualified on both rides. Here he's taking a victory lap around the ring, riding in the saddle but without using the stirrups...

And finally, I'll leave you with a collection of photos capturing the moment that a bull won the contest. Ouch!

Heart-Stopping Geek Experience...

Recently I purchased a Mac “Mini” for my wife. In general I am very pleased with this purchase – the price was right ($800), it reuses components from her old Windows PC (screen, audio, keyboard, and mouse), and it was easier to move her data from her old Windows box to her new Mac Mini than it would have been to migrate to a new Windows computer. And then, of course, she's got OS/X (Leopard) – sleek, beautiful, and zippy – instead of some monstrosity of a Microsoft operating system. Best of all, Debbie (who previously expressed nothing but hatred for her computer) actually likes her new Mac Mini!

But early this morning, as I was attempting to enable file sharing on her new Mac Mini, with a single erroneous click I managed to (temporarily) completely kill it. The steps I took were these: in System Preferences I went to Sharing and added her Mac Mini's hard disk as a shared folder. That worked. Then I noticed that Administrators were granted read only access, and I wanted to limit access to my account – so I removed Administrators from those granted access. Sounds innocent enough, doesn't it?

Any Mac-heads reading this are probably laughing at my expense right now. What I know now, but didn't know then, is that enabling and disabling access to shared folders operates directly on the file system permissions for that folder. Since the “folder” in this case was the entire disk drive, what I did was to remove access permissions for all Administrators from that disk. And Debbie's account is in the Administrator's group. Oops. Suddenly her account had no access to the disk. Nothing worked. I rebooted the system, and all I got was an unadorned dark blue screen with a mouse pointer. I could do nothing whatsoever.

Of course, I figured all this out only later. At the moment it occurred, I didn't have the faintest idea what I'd done. And truth be told, it is kind of dumb for Apple to allow the Sharing settings to affect basic operations that have nothing to do with sharing...

So I started troubleshooting in the usual way. I Googled for information, and very quickly found out about booting from the installation CD and using Disk Utility to repair permissions on the disk. Whew! Sounded easy! So I grabbed the CD, inserted it, restarted the computer, held down the “C” key to force it to boot from the CD, and started it back up.

Nothing. Just the evil blue screen again.

Back to Google, where I discovered that it's common for wireless keyboards (which I was using) to be unable to use the pre-boot key combinations that allow OS/X to boot into troubleshooting, repair, and installation modes. Well, that's fine – I've got several wired keyboards lying about. So I went grubbing for one with a USB connector and dang it, I didn't even have one! All my wired keyboards use the old-fashioned PS2 connector. I really had no choice – I drove 20 miles into town to go buy a new keyboard. At 7:30 in the morning on Sunday, there isn't much choice about where to go. First I tried Target, but all they had was wireless keyboards. Next I drove another 10 miles to Wally-World (Wal-Mart), and they had several to choose from – all much fancier than I actually needed, so I just picked up the cheapest one they had and hurried home...

When I got home, I plugged in the new keyboard and rebooted, holding down the “C” key, and voila! – it booted from the CD. I was saved!

Well, not quite so fast. First I ran Disk Utility, and used it to first repair the disk drive, then to repair permissions. Both of those completed successfully, pronouncing the disk to be in fine fettle. So I rebooted with the hard disk, and … nothing but the blue screen of horribleness...

Back to Google, where after a frustrating marathon session of searching I found nothing but an obscure reference to permissions on mounted volumes. This gave me the clue that finally saved the day. It turns out that for the purposes of sharing, finder, and some other things, mounted disk volumes are exposed to the file system in the /Volumes directory. When I looked in there, I found this:

/Volumes/Macintosh HD

and that object turned out to have no read or execute permissions for the group. This is the sort of thing only someone familiar with Unix command line operation would be comfortable fixing. Just FYI, here's what did the trick:

chmod go+rx /Volumes/Macintosh HD

Just that little magic incantation, and my wife's Mac Mini came back to life.


One little side note… If I had failed in my efforts to fix it myself, I'd have been forced to take the busted-ass Mac Mini into the local Apple store. There, I'd have had to sidle up to the “Genius Bar” to have one of the Apple “Geniuses” (generally pimply kids with baggy, falling down trousers and metal studs and rings penetrating various parts of their bodies). The humiliation of this possibility was a far better motivator for me than the thought of the Wrath of Debbie (my wife). It would be like a Toyota engineer being unable to figure out how to change his car's spark plugs, so he pays the neighbor's 14 year old daughter to do it for him. Oh, the humiliation!

I'm so glad I avoided that!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

10 Worst Insurance Companies?

The American Association for Justice (formerly the American Trial Lawyers Association) has published a list of the 10 worst insurance companies (in terms of customer abuse). Given the source, this needs to be taken with a big grain of salt. But still, it makes one nervous to see one's insurance company near the top of this particular list...

Bumper Snicker...

The upcoming campaign (McCain vs. Obama) is going to produce a lot of political humor – including the iconic political bumper snickers:

New Tax Nixed!

Residents of the San Diego Rural Fire District voted recently on whether to assess all property owners a new tax ($120/year for homes, other amounts for other kinds of property). The tax was voted down, by a very narrow margin. The votes were weighted according to assessed value of property, but the margin was so small that a single vote could have swung the outcome the other way.

I was against this proposal, for reasons I detailed in this post. I'm glad it failed. Two things particularly bother me, however.

The first is the cost of running the election. When I saw the slick, multi-color pamphlet promoting the new tax (this came with the ballot, and no counter-argument was included), I knew this was an expensive election. Now I know how expensive it was:

The election, which was run by a private firm, Koppel & Gruber Public Finance of San Marcos, cost about $26,000, Nissen said. The district mailed 3,458 ballots. On Wednesday night, two members of the consulting firm and three people from the fire district counted the 1,338 ballots that were returned.

That's money we could have used for actual fire protection. Just to cite one obvious example: we could have cleared a lot of brush around structures for $26,000!

The other issue bothering me is the lack of secrecy in the vote. As the Union-Tribune article says:
At a public hearing before votes were counted Wednesday, several residents said they were upset about the non-secret ballots. They said they feared firefighters wouldn't respond to an emergency at their houses if they voted against the tax measure.
You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that having firemen count the vote, looking at every ballot, is going to be intimidating to some voters. The most likely result is that some voters who opposed the tax measure would simply not vote – afraid to vote no, unwilling to vote yes.

Shame on the Fire District for (a) wasting taxpayer money on a sham election, and (b) structuring the election to intimidate the voters.

I'd sure like to see reform of our disjoint fire districts along the same lines as the way San Diego County Operations reformed itself decades ago. Governments from around the world come to see our county operations, marveling at its efficiency and service levels (which are, in fact, stellar compared with most governments – though, sadly, not when compared with for-profit businesses). People everywhere marvel at the unrelieved stupidity of our fire protection organizations, and they wonder how many massive firestorms the population will have to endure before they throw the bums out and get a real fire protection organization...

Useless, Self-Beclowning Idiot Harry Reid...

Just ran across this clip, which caused me for the (approximately) 80 millionth time to wonder just what the hell is wrong with the electorate who keeps returning this guy to the Senate:

Some assembly required.

Faster, please!

Real Estate Resource...

Here's an interesting resource that I just came across: a web site that provides current MLS real estate listings for San Diego County, and also recent closed sales. Looking at the listings and closures nearest to me, and which I have personal knowledge of, it appears to be accurate...

McCain Visits the Intertubes!

Andy Borowitz teases John McCain. The lead:

In a daring bid to wrench attention from his Democratic rival in the 2008 presidential race, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) today embarked on an historic first-ever visit to the Internet.

Given that the Arizona Republican had never logged onto the Internet before, advisors acknowledged that his first visit to the World Wide Web was fraught with risk.

But with his Democratic rival Barack Obama making headlines with his tour of the Middle East and Europe, the McCain campaign felt that they needed to "come up with something equally bold for John to do," according to one advisor.

McCain aides said that the senator's journey to the Internet will span five days and will take him to such far-flung sites as, eBay and Facebook.

Read the whole thing.

I can't believe I just linked to the Puffington Host!

NASA Images...

Here's yet another fantastic resource appearing on the web: an archive of NASA's imagery. The collection stretches all the way back to NASA's earliest days.

Wandering through this collection this morning triggered all sorts of happy memories for me. I was a young lad during NASA's first years, and I followed the space program with intense interest. Relatively little of it was available on television (the public just wasn't all that interested, and the technology was a bit primitive). Mostly I read news reports, read books, and perused the images in National Geographic. Those were heady days for me, and the few live events that I got to see are vivid memories. The best of them all: watching television in my uncle's basement in the middle of the night when Armstrong and Aldrin landed and walked on the moon (Apollo 11, TV frame at right).

The Ranger project (small satellites aimed at the moon, taking photos until they crashed into the surface) and the Surveyor project (robotic lunar landers that provided the first detailed information about the surface of the moon) were particular interests of mine in the early '60s. I was fascinated by the challenge the engineers faced, using the very best of the day's technology to explore our nearest neighbor in the solar system. It's probably hard for young people today to imagine just how daunting the engineering challenge was. The early robotic missions had very high failure rates. I remember well on the earlier Ranger missions that the little satellites either missed the moon completely, missed their target on the moon, or had failures that prevented them from operating correctly. Only on the last few Ranger missions did the engineer succeed: they hit the moon, they hit their intended target, and the instruments and cameras operated all the way until impact. Today we do amazing things like manuever the Cassini satellite with pinpoint accuracy in its travels around Saturn and visits to its satellites, and put down a Martian lander right where we wanted it – utterly unthinkable feats in the '60s.

If you have any interest at all in space exploration, you'll be amply rewarded by a visit to this site...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Morning Mists...

Those of us privileged to live in Lawson Valley (just east of the town of Jamul) frequently see beautiful mists from a perspective most people don't see very often: from above. We live at a high enough altitude (above 2000 feet) that the coastal “marine layer” tops are well below us. As I drive into work each morning when there is a marine layer, I see it – sometimes right near our home, sometimes not visible until I've driven a few miles toward Jamul.

Once I spot it, I'm in for a real visual treat: cottony white layers of fog, moving at a very slow pace. Often there are very visible “waterfall” formations, apparently formed in slow motion, but looking still or frozen to my eye. Almost always there are mountain tops (as visible near the center horizon in the photo above) that poke out of the “sea” of fog like mountainous islands rising out of some ethereal sea. Eventually I will drive right into this fog, plunging instantly from bright sunshine into gloom and low visibility. Today that transition happened about halfway down the hill on the approach into the town of Jamul down the Skyline Truck Trail.

I love this phenomenon!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Evening Chuckles...

Simi L. passes along this collection of insults and retorts. Most of these I've read before, but they're even better in this highly concentrated form:
The famous exchange between Churchill & Lady Astor:
"If you were my husband I'd give you poison,"
"If you were my wife, I'd drink it."
A member of Parliament to Disraeli: "Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease."

"That depends, Sir," said Disraeli, "on whether I embrace your policies or your mistress."
"He had delusions of adequacy." - Walter Kerr
"He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire." - Winston Churchill
"A modest little person, with much to be modest about." - Winston Churchill
"I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure." - Clarence Darrow
"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary." - William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).
"Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?" - Ernest Hemingway (about William Faulkner)
"Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it." - Moses Hadas
"He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know." - Abraham Lincoln
"I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I appr oved of it." - Mark Twain
"He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends." - Oscar Wilde
"I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend.... if you have one." - George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill.
"Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second... if there is one." - Winston Churchill, in response.
"I feel so miserable without you; it's almost like having you here." - Stephen Bishop
"He is a self-made man and worships his creator." - John Bright
"I've just learned about his illness. Let's hope it's nothing trivial." - Irvin S. Cobb
"He is not only dull himself, he is the cause of dullness in others." - Samuel Johnson
"He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up." - Paul Keating
"There's nothing wrong with you that reincarnation won't cure." - Jack E. Leonard
"He has the attention span of a lightning bolt." - Robert Redford (one flash & it's gone.)
"They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge." - Thomas Brackett Reed
"In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily." - Charles, Count Talleyrand
"He loves nature in spite of what it did to him." - Forrest Tucker
"Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?" - Mark Twain
"His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork." - Mae West
"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go." - Oscar Wilde
"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts... for support rather than illumination." - Andrew Lang (1844-1912)
"He has Van Gogh's ear for music." - Billy Wilder
"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening but this wasn't it." - Groucho Marx

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Well, I finally made it back home, on Sunday evening. Naturally I was greeted with a large pile of things to do, both at home and at work. I think my week will be quite busy!

While on the trip (especially on the plane flights), I had time to read four books – all excellent and highly recommended:
  • American Patriot by Robert Coram. This is hands-down the best biographical work on a soldier of the Vietnam war that I have read. I was riveted, from the first page to the last. Colonel Bud Day (the subject of the book) is a man well worth knowing about – awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions while in prison in North Vietnam. He was the cellmate of John McCain; he and Mr. McCain helped each other survive that episode with their honor intact. Definitely in the “don't miss” category.

  • Generation Kill by Evan Wright. An excellent and sympathetic portrayal of the Marines of the First Recon Battalion as they invaded Iraq in 2003. This book has been criticized in some quarters for its allegedly biased reporting of civilian casualties in the war, but I think those critiques are more borne of ideological biases of the critics, and not faulty reporting by Mr. Wright – bad things happen in wars to perfectly innocent people, and I'm inclined to believe that's just as true in Iraq as it has been in all the wars of the 20th and 21st centuries. This book is well worth your time, most especially if you'd like to read some inspiring stories about the young men and women in America's military today.

  • Last of the Amazons and Gates of Fire, both by Steven Pressfield. These are the first two novels by Mr. Pressman that I've read, but they will not be the last. As the blurbs proclaim, his battle scenes are some of the most believable I've ever read. I've never been in combat, but I have been in the military – his portrayals of soldiers, especially in their ordinary lives, ring of truth and accuracy. Mr. Pressfield was a Marine (and his books are popular with our U.S. Marines today). Though he is not a professional historian, from everything I've read the historical events depicted in his novels are accurately represented, with some minor exceptions in timing, to improve the flow of the novel. The dialog is sprinkled with terms familiar to modern readers, and almost certainly not to contemporaries of the characters in his novels – the author takes this license to improve modern readers' understanding. I think it works, and brilliantly. Last of the Amazons is set in ancient Greece and its surrounding areas, and mainly is about the Amazon culture of women warriors. Gates of Fire is about the legendary (but real) Battle of Thermopylae, fought by a tiny detachment of Spartans and some allies against hordes of Persians. Both are superb, and highly recommended – and I will be reading the rest of Mr. Pressman's works.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Well, Whattya Know!

The American Physical Society (APS, a group of physicists) has reversed its previous position supporting the notion of anthropomorphic global warming (AGW), and has now declared that there is considerable skepticism about AGW within its ranks. Here's their rather direct conclusion:

Even if temperature had risen above natural variability, the recent solar Grand Maximum may have been chiefly responsible. Even if the sun were not chiefly to blame for the past half-century’s warming, the IPCC has not demonstrated that, since CO2 occupies only one-ten-thousandth part more of the atmosphere that it did in 1750, it has contributed more than a small fraction of the warming. Even if carbon dioxide were chiefly responsible for the warming that ceased in 1998 and may not resume until 2015, the distinctive, projected fingerprint of anthropogenic “greenhouse-gas” warming is entirely absent from the observed record. Even if the fingerprint were present, computer models are long proven to be inherently incapable of providing projections of the future state of the climate that are sound enough for policymaking. Even if per impossibilethe models could ever become reliable, the present paper demonstrates that it is not at all likely that the world will warm as much as the IPCC imagines. Even if the world were to warm that much, the overwhelming majority of the scientific, peer-reviewed literature does not predict that catastrophe would ensue. Even if catastrophe might ensue, even the most drastic proposals to mitigate future climate change by reducing emissions of carbon dioxide would make very little difference to the climate. Even if mitigation were likely to be effective, it would do more harm than good: already millions face starvation as the dash for biofuels takes agricultural land out of essential food production: a warning that taking precautions, “just in case”, can do untold harm unless there is a sound, scientific basis for them. Finally, even if mitigation might do more good than harm, adaptation as (and if) necessary would be far more cost-effective and less likely to be harmful.

In short, we must get the science right, or we shall get the policy wrong. If the concluding equation in this analysis (Eqn. 30) is correct, the IPCC’s estimates of climate sensitivity must have been very much exaggerated. There may, therefore, be a good reason why, contrary to the projections of the models on which the IPCC relies, temperatures have not risen for a decade and have been falling since the phase-transition in global temperature trends that occurred in late 2001. Perhaps real-world climate sensitivity is very much below the IPCC’s estimates. Perhaps, therefore, there is no “climate crisis” at all. At present, then, in policy terms there is no case for doing anything. The correct policy approach to a non-problem is to have the courage to do nothing.

This paper is consistent with multiple earlier statements by Freeman Dyson, a prominent physicist. In far more technical terms than I have expressed, it is also consistent with my own observations.

Debates within the science community are common (and also an important part of the scientific process). But it is relatively unusual for a debate to remain unresolved until it reaches the level of the AGW debate.

I'm really glad to see this development. To me, it looks like a little bit of sanity shining on a real mess in the world of science. More here, here, and here...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Patio Project...

Debbie and I spent the better part of the day working on our patio “garden” – very enjoyable and relaxing for me, in between two back-to-back business trips. We traipsed down to Simpson's Nursery (a Jamulian institution known all over the city) and collected several more nice plants to join the collection we already have. The prize aquisition today: a 5 foot high, 4 foot broad strawberry guava (Psidium littorale). The photo at right is not mine, but shows why we bought this plant: very attractive, dark green leaves, nice flowers, and a bright red fruit that looks like a giant berry. From our reading, it grows well in our climate (assuming you water it regularly), it tolerates container growing, and it likes full sun. Perfect for our patio!

We also picked up a few annuals for color, and a couple of prostrate rosemary plants. Those we put in big pots on top of the low wall that forms one boundary of our patio; we're hoping it will creep nicely along the top and south side of the wall (the side we see from the patio).

Below are a few lousy photos from my cell phone. I was too lazy to break out the real camera. The third photo shows our new strawberry guava tree..

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Uncomfortable Truthiness...

At right is a graph (click to enlarge) that you won't find in the data from the global warming catastrophists. They don't like this graph, because it doesn't support their notion that mankind's activities are causing our Earth to heat up...

This graph comes from Dr. Roy Spencer, a meterologist who is very skeptical of anthropomorphic global warming. This piece of data is one that I find very convincing. It shows the raw data for temperature measurements made across the entire globe, by satellites, from 1979 through the present. The satellite observations are not biased by poor placement of the sensors (as ground-based stations are), and there are multiple satellites making the same observations (thereby cross-checking each other), something that does not happen on ground-based measurements. Dr. Spencer has circled a couple of interesting pieces, showing the correlation with natural events.

Note the lack of any clear upward trend. Note the temperature dropping rather dramatically over the past year.

And note how the anthropomorphic global warming proponents ignore this data, preferring instead their data from ground stations – which is known to be biased, and which they fudge the heck out of.

Home Briefly...

I returned home late last night from a three day trip to Boise, Idaho. Monday I take off again, this time to Wheeling, West Virginia. The city of Boise is a customer of the company I work for. The IT team works in an annex to the City Hall, and as I arrived on Wednesday, at right is what I saw as I approached. The annex is attached to the City Hall, directly behind it and out of sight in this photo.

I had a enjoyable time in Boise – the people were very pleasant to deal with; everybody always seems to be cheerful there. They were delighted with our product, which of course made it all the more fun for me. Outside of the work, there were several memorable things about the trip.

Each evening I was there, I had my dinner at Emilio's, a restaurant located in the hotel (The Grove) I was staying in. All of the meals were good, but Wednesday night's feast was nothing short of spectacular. The entree was sea scallops and jumbo shrimp (both perfectly cooked), covered with a mound of chopped vegetables and oyster scallops in an absolutely heavenly sauce. The portion was huge, and my first reaction was that I'd never be able to finish it – but it was so good, that I forced every last morsel down. And the last morsel tasted just as wonderful as the first!

For lunch on Friday, I went to a little cafe that's actually inside the annex (but it is privately run). I ordered the special: two fish tacos for $6. When I got back to the office with my tacos and opened them up, I could scarcely believe it – these folks (obviously not from California, and probably never visited there) had done just about everything wrong. The tacos were cheap grocery-store flour tacos. The fish was (horrors!) ordinary fish sticks. The sauce was a sweet, heavy tomato-based salsa, awful on its own and even worse on the fish. There was a heavy dose of shredded fake cheddar on top. Oh, those tacos were hideous! I took one bite, quickly determined that they were even worse than they looked, and into the trash they went. Ugh!

My taxi driver back to the airport was a very talkative fellow; he appeared to be about 60 or so. He was tall and thin, with a grizzled, leathery face and several evident scars (on his face, one ear, and both hands and forearms). Very friendly, he was – invited me to sit up front with him, and we chatted amiably all the way to the airport. At one point I asked him how he got the scars, and that launched him into a series of stories. I can't tell how many of them were tall tales, or whether they were all real – but he was a convincing raconteur.

The most interesting story was one of several about his years in the Special Forces. He was an Army Ranger, an enlisted EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) technician. Just prior to the famous Blackhawk Down incident in Mogodishu, Somalia, he was assigned to a team there. He told the story of one mission in which they had to traverse part of the city that was controlled by the gangs. He was carrying a satellite phone, and right in the middle of a firefight the phone rang. It was his girlfriend, worried about him because she'd seen news reports of the increasing tensions and violence there. Just as he said hello, the building they were in came under fierce attack – and he just dropped the phone and started shooting. His girlfriend hit the record button on a tape recorder she kept attached to the phone, and listened to about ten minutes of intense firefight. Soldiers on both sides yelled out in pain when they were hit, bullets were smacking and ricocheting; his girlfriend was terrified for him. Then the bad guys succeeded in entering the building, and my driver and his comrades beat a hasty retreat – leaving the satellite phone on the ground. His girlfriend heard a bit of foriegn language and then a short crunch, and then no more. Apparently one of the bad guys crushed the phone under his heel. My taxi driver said that the tape ended up being played on Fox news, and I can easily imagine that would have made for some dramatic television. I searched for the file on line, but in vain – that was quite a few years ago, long before the ubiquitous posting of news on the web that we have today.

Then there was one more memorable event, this time in the airport. Like any airport, Boise's has a P.A. system for announcements. Unlike most, Boise's airport has a decent quality system – all the announcers voices were easy to hear over the normal din of the airport. There were many announcements, but one series of them really stood out. It started with a sweet-voiced female announcer saying "Mr. John Delfs, please pick up any courtesy phone for a message." This was repeated several times, with increasing urgency in the announcer's tone. Then came this announcement: "John Delfs, get off your butt and pick up a courtesy phone! Your wife will never speak to you again unless you do!" One could hear lots of chuckles around the terminal over that message. A minute or so later, a new message: a laconic "Thank you, John." That brought the house down, so to speak!

Monday, July 7, 2008


Here's a name to keep an eye on: ceftobiprole. This is a new antibiotic that is particularly effective against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Furthermore, the developers believe that bacteria will not develop resistance to ceftobiprole:

The research, to be published in the August 2008 issue of the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy and available online now, looked at how well Ceftobiprole worked against bacterial clones that had already developed resistance to other drugs. In every case, Ceftobiprole won. "It just knocked out the cells 100 percent," says the study's lead investigator, Alexander Tomasz, head of the Laboratory of Microbiology at Rockefeller.

Previous research had already shown that -- in general -- Ceftobiprole was highly effective against most clinical isolates of S. aureus. "Instead, we looked more carefully at the highly resistant cells that already occur in such clinical isolates at very low frequency -- maybe in one bacterium in every 1,000," says Tomasz. Ceftobiprole was able to kill these resistant cells.

Never before has an antibiotic been tested this way. "In the history of antibiotic development, an antibiotic arrives on the scene, and sooner or later resistant bacteria emerge," Tomasz says. "We sought to test in advance which would win this particular chess game: the new drug, or the bacteria that now cause human deaths."

If the immunity from drug resistance proves to be true, then ceftobiprole is the Holy Grail of antibiotic developers. Let's hope they're right!

Hmmm... I wonder if Johnson & Johnson stock might be a good buy?

More information here and here.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Quote of the Day...

From Kathy Shaidle, via Rachel Lucas:
If your religion thinks dogs are unclean, your religion is fucking retarded.
What she said!

Bill Mesa Dies in Motorcyle Accident...

Yesterday evening, shortly before 5 PM, William C. Mesa (pictured at right) was killed at the scene of a motorcycle accident. Apparently Bill lost control of his motorcycle and crashed into a utility pole. His passenger, Crystal Roberts-Mesa (Bill Mesa's son's wife), died while being transported in an ambulance for emergency care. Bill Mesa was 57; Crystal was 29. The accident occured on Lyons Valley Road, a short distance east of the stop-sign junction with Skyline Truck Trail.

The California Highway Patrol is hinting that alcohol is likely involved in the accident, though they're not saying why they think that.

Bill Mesa was a long-time leader of the Jamul Indian Tribe, and was the key advocate and activist behind the notion of the Jamul Indian Casino project – a forceful, effective, and dogged proponent who had worked for many years to push the project as far as it has gone. My readers will know that I am an opponent of the Jamul Casino project. While I had this rather intense disagreement with Bill (whom I have seen speaking a few times, but never actually met), I mourn this awful loss of life. My first thoughts are for the surviving families Bill and Crystal leave behind...

Slam the Racist!

An Australian college student who posts commentaries on YouTube got some emails with very racist content. Here's her response:

Hah! Revenge will be hers...

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Miki and the Tennis Ball...

Miki is our two-year old field spaniel, the youngest of our gaggle; we still call him the “puppy.” He's still in the early phases of his training for agility competitions. One of the drills that Debbie uses to build drive and focus is also one of Miki's favorites. It's a simple game – Debbie puts Miki in a sit at her side, tells him to “stay.” Then she tosses the ball across the room, while Miki waits for permission to go. Once he's released, he tears off after the ball, brings it back, and gives it to Debbie. Then (and only then!) he gets his reward.

Watch the video to see Miki in action on the first part of this drill.

BTW, this little video was taken on my cell phone. I'm still having trouble wrapping my brain around that...

Something For Nothing...

Earlier this week, I ordered a new flash RAM card for our new cell phones. The best deal turned out to be a 2 GB card for a mere $17 – astonishingly cheap to this gray-bearded geek. And even though this was the best price I found for the card, it came with three freebies: an adapter so the tiny microSD chip could be read in a normal SD reader, a USB SD reader and a “cell phone antenna booster.” The first two things sounded at least possibly useful; the last thing I didn't even know what it was.

So when I received my package, it was with some interest that I looked for the cell antenna booster. When I finally found it, I could scarcely believe it – the entire thing was on a single little slip of paper, about 1.5 inches wide by 3.5 inches tall (see photo at right).

On the blue face of this paper were some, er, extravagant claims. First, it claims to work with all cell phones, walkie talkies, pagers, and cordless phones – devices that operate on a large number of different frequencies (and the frequency is critical to the design of any antenna or component). Second, it claims to help cell phones operate in tunnels, elevators, buildings – areas where cell phones often have some difficulty. A blurb at the top of the paper yells “IT'S LIKE HAVING A FOUR FOOT ANTENNA ON YOUR PHONE!” The back has a paragraph on the cell antenna booster's theory of operation, plus installation instructions. The theory of operation is a single sentence:
The cell antenna is a passive device designed to capture stray radiation in the body of the phone and to re-radiate the signal to improve the phone's performance.
Finally I figured out that the odd gold pattern on the bottom of the face of the slip was the cell antenna booster. The gold pattern is stamped onto a piece of clear plastic with a sticky back, and that is stuck to the small piece of white cardboard at the bottom in the photo above. A close-up of the gold stamping, still mounted on its cardboard, is at right.

If you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you know I'm a technical guy, with a background in electronics and software. I knew within a few minutes that this gadget was an utter and complete fraud – but it's easy to see how that might not be so apparent to someone with no technical background. I've got more detail that proves this is a fraud below.

What's most surprising to me is just how credible this looks. It's obviously mass-produced, the text is full of marketing-speak, and it's very slick – not something produced in someone's garage. Some careful examination reveals (in tiny text on the back) that it is made in China. The front has a suggested price of $19.99 – pretty darned pricy for some paper and a teensy bit of what appears to be gold foil stamping, though perhaps not out of line if it actually performed as advertised.

But “perform” is one thing that this gadget will never do. Here are the fatal flaws I observed in the gadget, in the order I observed them:
  1. The theory of operation describes an actually kind of device, called a “resonator.” In certain very restricted circumstances, a resonator can in fact boost an antenna's performance. One of the requirements for a resonator is that it be tuned extremely precisely for the exact frequency being received. The gold foil stamping forms five shapes that could conceivably be called resonators, but actually only three different shapes are involved. That means that if all other issues were removed, this device could resonate on only three different frequencies (or multiples of them) – nowhere near enough to cover all types of cell phones, let alone all the other devices it claims to work with.

  2. The theory of operation claims to work by capturing stray radiation inside the cell phone's body. This is just nonsense; any stray radiation there was wouldn't help you receive an actual signal. Positioning the gadget inside the body of a metal cell phone (which is what the instructions tell you to do) is a particularly useless exercise, as the metal body shields the gadget from any signal radiation – which is the only kind of radiation that would actually do any good.

  3. The coup de grace for the gadget's claims: any resonator (or any other conceivable passive antenna boosting technology) would need to be conductive. The most common conductors are metals, such as copper, aluminum, gold, etc. My first impression of the gold stamping was that it actually was gold – but on closer inspection, it didn't look precisely right. Ah, but there's a very simple test for conductivity: an ohm-meter. By strange coincidence, I own a very nice digital multimeter that can directly measure conductivity. So I broke out the multimeter and tested the conductivity of the gold stampings. More precisely, I measured the electrical resistance of the gold stampings, which is the inverse of conductivity – the higher the resistance, the lower the conductivity (and vice versa). If the gold stampings were conductive enough to be useful as a resonater, I'd expect them to have a resistance of less than one ohm, and probably less than one milliohm (a thousandth of an ohm). What I actually measured was a resistance of over 200 million ohms (that's the highest resistance my instrument can measure). That means the gold stampings are a very high-grade insulator (probably just garden-variety ink) – the exact opposite of a conductor, and totally useless in a resonator.
So this gadget is a complete fraud. It won't do any harm, but it most certainly won't do any good. It's exactly as effective as placing a slip of ordinary paper inside your cell phone.

When I started googling to find out if these gadgets were anomalous, I got my second big surprise. First of all, these things are actually for sale out there, at many stores – and for prices as high as $19.99. Oh, my. Then I found one cell phone site (which echoed my poo-pooing the gadget) that said their data indicates that somewhere between 100 thousand and 500 thousand of this brand have been sold – and this is just one of dozens of brands. Double oh, my. Some Chinese scamster is holding his belly in pain...pain from laughing hard at the gullible Americans who plunked down their hard-earned coins for this piece of paper. I wouldn't be a bit surprised to find out the pattern is actually a Chinese character meaning “damned fool American!”

Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence Day...

When I went through public school, we had history classes each year, from the 7th grade through the 12th grade. In addition, I can remember studying some history in the 5th and 6th grades (when one teacher taught us all day), and most likely there was some exposure even earlier. When I talk with young people today, I keep getting surprised at just how little history they are exposed to in today's public school system – and at how “politically correct” that tiny exposure has become.

So yesterday, at work, I wasn't really all that surprised that the three young people I talked to really had no idea what the Declaration of Independence that we celebrate today was all about. They had only the vaguest idea what the document actually said (one of them didn't even know that we declared our independence from the British crown); not one of them had ever actually read it. One of them expressed some momentary interest; the other two were overtly disinterested.

How sad. And, I suspect, not a very hopeful sign for this country's future...

But me – I will celebrate! The first thing I did this morning, as I drank my morning tea, was to re-read (for the umpteenth time), the Declaration of Independence. As always, the final paragraph provoked chills and shivers:
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
If you know even just a bit about the context in which that document was written, then you know that these men were not just throwing words about like a modern-day politician. No, these men, by the act of this Declaration of Independence, were quite literally betting their lives on the notion that a group of upstart colonists – civilians – could successfully repel the most formidable military on the planet. This notion was fantastical dream, backed by spirit, anger, dreams, and damned little in the way of military might or prowess. And yet, they prevailed – and only because these men dared to declare their independence from the British tyrant are we free today.

If you take a few minutes to read the entire (short) text of the Declaration of Independence, and a little more time to read about the context in which it was written, you will likely have the same reaction I do: there are elements in the list of charges against the British Crown that resonate today. That is, some of the specific charges the Declaration of Independence makes about the conduct of the British King have close parallels in the conduct of the U.S. government today. There is, however, one important distinction – in pre-revolutionary times, the King of England's conduct was imposed on the colonies without the permission of its citizens. Today, the conduct of the U.S. government is condoned by its citizens; they control who gets to exercise power.

For me, that last fact is a constant source of both despair and hope...

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Thursday Morning Blonde Joke...

Via reader Jim M.:
A gorgeous young redhead goes into the doctor's office and said that her body hurt wherever she touched it.

'Impossible!' says the doctor. 'Show me.'

The redhead took her finger, pushed on her left shoulder and screamed, then she pushed her elbow and screamed even more. She pushed her knee and screamed.

Likewise she pushed her ankle and screamed. Everywhere she touched made her scream.

The doctor said, 'You're not really a redhead, are you?

'Well, no' she said, 'I'm actually a blonde.'

'I thought so,' the doctor said. 'Your finger is broken.'
I can almost feel my wife (who is blonde) kicking me...

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Ghost of Political Correctness Yet to Come...

There's one way in which the U.K. is a few years ahead of the U.S.: in their journey down the path of political correctness. The photo at right is what provoked the latest example. Read about it...and weep:

A police force has apologised to Islamic leaders for the "offensive" postcard advertising a new non-emergency telephone number, which shows a six-month-old trainee police dog named Rebel.

The German shepherd puppy has proved hugely popular with the public, hundreds of who have logged on to the force's website to read his online training diary.

But some Muslims in the Dundee area have reportedly been upset by the image because they consider dogs to be "ritually unclean", while shopkeepers have refused to display the advert.

Tayside Police have admitted they should have consulted their 'diversity' officers before issuing the cards, but critics argued their apology was unnecessary.

I can't believe that Muslims are actually so offended by a photo of a puppy. Surely, if that were so, we'd have heard about it long before this. I think a much more likely explanation is that some mullah, totally bemused by his enemy's propensity for cultural suicide, decided to see just how far he could push the boundaries of political correctness. Right about now, he's probably in pain from laughing so hard...

Don't laugh too hard, though, folks – this path is exactly where Obama and the Democrats want us to go...

Here's a link to the web site of the police force mentioned above.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Harry Reid...

Dennis Miller says it – the way I wish I could:

Oh, ouch!

But Hapless Harry deserves every morsel of this...

War and Decision...

Even though the war in Iraq started just five years ago, there have already been quite a few books about it published. Unfortunately, most of these books have been written by people with a much stronger grasp on their opinions and ideology than on the facts. I've been assuming that we'd have to wait a decade or more before any first-hand material made it through the declassification and publication pipeline – but I've just finished reading one that has made it already: War and Decision, by Douglas J. Feith. Mr. Feith is not an outside observer – he was the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy from 2001 to 2005, and was right in the middle of all the decision making that led up to the war and through the first two years of the war.

This book has received very little attention in the mainstream media, and after reading it, it's easy to see why: the book demolishes the mainstream media's cherished myths about how we decided to go to war against Saddaam Hussein, and about why we conducted the war and its aftermath as we did. The book has the unmistakable ring of authenticity and truth – Mr. Feith is an observer with his own biases, but he writes like a historian, with scrupulous attention to sourcing and citations. Click on the link above to read other reviews of this fine book (not all of them are positive), and to buy it from Amazon if you'd like to. I highly recommend it.

New Moon...

When I walked the dogs this morning, around 4:30 AM, there was a beautiful new moon hanging just above the mountains that form our northern horizon. Our skies have been quite hazy for the past week or so, mainly from dilute smoke from the fires far north of us. This haze gave the new moon a slightly yellow cast, but didn't really hide any detail. The sky surrounding the moon was just barely brighter than the black of the rest of the sky; the moon is still separated from the sun by a large enough angle to put it in the night sky. Probably tomorrow morning it will not be framed by the black of night, but rather by the brightening sky of morning...

Meanwhile, Debbie and I enjoyed several things about this new moon: its large apparent size (an illusion caused by its proximity to the horizon), the very bright “earthshine” (the dark portion of the moon being illuminated by light reflected from the Earth), the moon's appearance much further north than we usually see it (because it's summertime), and the beautiful contrast of the new moon against the almost-black night sky...