Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Always Remember...

Reader Simi L. – a frequent source of humor for this blog – passes this gem along:
When you have an “I Hate My Job” day, try this:

On your way home from work, stop at your pharmacy, go to the thermometer section, and purchase a rectal thermometer made by Johnson & Johnson. Be very sure you get this brand.

When you get home, lock your doors, draw the curtains and disconnect the phone so you will not be disturbed. Change into very comfortable clothing and sit in your favorite chair. Open the package and remove the thermometer. Now, carefully place it on a table or a surface so that it will not become chipped or broken.

Now the fun part begins.

Take out the literature from the box and read it carefully. You will notice that in small print there is a statement: “Every Rectal Thermometer made by Johnson & Johnson is personally tested and then sanitized.”

Now, close your eyes and repeat out loud five times: “I am so glad I do not work in the thermometer quality control department at Johnson & Johnson.”

Have a nice day, and try to remember: there is always someone else with a job that is more of a pain in the butt than yours!


Yesterday the Messenger spacecraft made its second fly-by of the planet Mercury, and early this morning it started returning science data from the encounter – including the three photos shown here.

This is another of NASA's robotic explorers that's doing incredible science at a bargain-basement price (especially compared to the International Space Station).

NASA's press release starts:
MESSENGER Reveals Mercury as Never Seen Before

When Mariner 10 flew past Mercury three times in 1974 and 1975, the probe imaged less than half the planet. In January, during MESSENGER’s first flyby, its cameras returned images of about 20 percent of the planet’s surface missed by Mariner 10. Yesterday, at 4:40 am EDT, MESSENGER successfully completed its second flyby of Mercury, and its cameras captured more than 1,200 high-resolution and color images of the planet – unveiling another 30 percent of Mercury’s surface that had never before been seen by spacecraft.

“The MESSENGER team is extremely pleased by the superb performance of the spacecraft and the payload,” said MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. “We are now on the correct trajectory for eventual insertion into orbit around Mercury, and all of our instruments returned data as planned from the side of the planet opposite to the one we viewed during our first flyby. When these data have been digested and compared, we will have a global perspective of Mercury for the first time.”
I'd say they sound a little excited. As well they should be.

As usual, click on any of the photos for a larger view...

SDGE Proposal...

Recently SDG&E proposed to start making preemptive power cuts during especially high Santa Ana winds (estimated to be a once-in-three-years sort of event). The idea is to reduce the probability of downed power lines starting a fire. The map at right shows the areas where these cuts would take place. Jamul and Lawson Valley are well within the affected areas.

Those of us who live in the affected areas tend to have an immediate reaction of alarm. They're proposing to cut off our power at the very moment when we need it the most – while we're trying to protect our property from a rapidly advancing firestorm. If this proposal becomes actual policy, those of us who can afford it will most likely buy backup generators. Those of us who can't afford it will suddenly be at greater risk.

I don't have any personal knowledge of the probability that a downed power line could start a fire. I do recall that not so many years ago, a helicopter downed a power line near Julian and started the Pines fire. And during our most recent fires – just a year ago – several allegations of wind-blown power lines starting fires were made (these are the subject of the lawsuit mentioned above). What I don't know is the truth of the matter. If in fact there is substantial risk of wind-blown power lines starting fires, then the SDG&E proposal may in fact be worth considering. During one of our hellacious Santa Anas, anything that reduces fire risk is worth considering. I know that during those storms I get very upset when I see smokers outside, or a neighbor burning some brush...

The timing of SDG&E's proposal lends credence to the notion that their real goal is legislative relief from liability for powerline-caused fires. The lawsuit currently wending its way through the court system is exactly on this point.

On the other hand, as a business they have an obligation to their shareholders to mitigate risks. Certainly both the lawsuit (whether based on reality or not) and the possibility of wind-blown power lines starting fires are risks to their shareholders. So from their point of view, this proposal makes perfect sense.

So what's the right thing to do here? For me, the answer depends on a piece of information I don't have: whether strong Santa Ana winds really do have some real chance of causing fires by blowing down power lines. If the answer to that is “yes”, then I think they've got the right idea – and I'll start looking at backup generators. If the answer is “no”, then I think we should oppose this proposal – but give SDG&E that legislative relief from liability.

Do any of my readers know where I can find the answer to that question?


Interesting set of realtime statistics at Worldometers...