Saturday, February 28, 2009

Quote of the Day...

From the insightful and funny Mark Steyn:
Last week, the president redefined the relationship between the citizen and the state, in ways that make America closer to Europe. If you’ve still got the Webster’s to hand, “closer to Europe” is a sociopolitical colloquialism meaning “much worse.”
Read the whole thing.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Golden State? Not So Much, Anymore...

Many long-time residents of California (over 35 years for me) consider themselves very fortunate to live in this “Golden State”. But these days, many of us – for the very first time – are entertaining the possibility that we might leave. Why? For me, outrageously high taxes, intrusive regulation, and an increasingly succesful socialist takeover top the list. Others may have different lists. But the chart at right (from this study by Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore) contains the sobering numbers...

The chart shows net internal immigration (positive) or emigration (negative). In other words, those states with larger positive numbers have U.S. residents moving into them from other states, and those states with larger negative numbers have residents moving out of them into other states.

And look where California is...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Remote Wireless Links...

Recently our little Lawson Valley was connected to the terrestrial Internet through some clever wireless technology, from a little company called SDWISP. This morning I read about some truly remote wireless linkups, in the small villages of Nepal (a map of these connected villages is at right). The web site for that Internet provider is here, and a related story here...

Ancient Greek Humor...

Interesting stuff. I'd never have guessed that humor would have such durability. An excerpt:
Pride of place in the Philogelos goes to the “egg-heads”, who are the subject of almost half the jokes for their literal-minded scholasticism (“An egg-head doctor was seeing a patient. ‘Doctor’, he said, ‘when I get up in the morning I feel dizzy for 20 minutes.’ ‘Get up 20 minutes later, then’”). After the “egg-heads”, various ethnic jokes come a close second. In a series of gags reminiscent of modern Irish or Polish jokes, the residents of three Greek towns – Abdera, Kyme and Sidon – are ridiculed for their “how many Abderites does it take to change a light bulb?” style of stupidity. Why these three places in particular, we have no idea. But their inhabitants are portrayed as being as literal-minded as the egg-heads, and even more obtuse. “An Abderite saw a eunuch talking to a woman and asked if she was his wife. When he replied that eunuchs can’t have wives, the Abderite asked, ‘So is she your daughter then?’” And there are many others on predictably similar lines.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Geek Humor...

Via Brian Dunbar:
A SQL query walks into a bar. He sees 2 tables, walks over and asks “May I join you?”

Thursday, February 19, 2009


The cartoonists are catching on quickly to popular sentiment:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

This Bud's for You...

From my mom:
A cowboy named Bud was overseeing his herd in a remote mountainous pasture in California when suddenly a brand-new BMW advanced out of a dust cloud towards him.

The driver, a young man in a Brioni suit, Gucci shoes, RayBan sunglasses and YSL tie, leans out the window and asks the cowboy, 'If I tell you exactly how many cows and calves you have in your herd, Will you give me a calf?'

Bud looks a t the man, obviously a yuppie, then looks at his peacefully grazing herd and calmly answers, 'Sure, Why not?'

The yuppie parks his car, whips out his Dell notebook computer, connects it to his Cingular RAZR V3 cell phone, and surfs to a NASA page on the Internet, where he calls up a GPS satellite to get an exact fix on his location which he then feeds to another NASA satellite that scans the area in an ultra-high-resolution photo.

The young man then opens the digital photo in Adobe Photoshop and exports it to an image processing facility in Hamburg , Germany

Within seconds, he receives an email on his Palm Pilot that the image has been processed and the data stored. He then accesses an MS-SQL database through an ODBC connected Excel spreadsheet with email on his Blackberry and, after a few minutes, receives a response.

Finally, he prints out a full-color, 150-page report on his hi-tech, miniaturized HP LaserJet printer and finally turns to the cowboy and says, 'You have exactly 1,586 cows and calves.'

'That's right. Well, I guess you can take one of my calves,' says Bud.

He watches the young man select one of the animals and looks on amused as the young man stuffs it into the trunk of his car.

Then the Bud says to the young man, 'Hey, if I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back my calf?'

The young man thinks about it for a second and then says, 'Okay, why not?'

'You're a Congressman for the U.S. Government', says Bud.

'Wow! That's correct,' says the yuppie, 'but how did you guess that?'

'No guessing required.' answered the cowboy. 'You showed up here even though nobody called you; you want to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never asked. You tried to show me how much smarter than me you are; and you don't know a thing about cows ... this is a herd of sheep.'

Now give me back my dog.

Now when you're done laughing, just think what this Congressman is about to do with the $12,000 they just stole from us (each and every taxpayer) in the “stimulus bill”.

Feeling stimulated? Full of hopeyness and changitude?

I am. I'm feeling stimulated to vote for absolutely anyone who has never held elective office and who doesn't want it now. I'm full of hope that more than a few voters will feel the same way next election – at which point maybe we'll see some
real change. 'Cause the only change I'm seeing right now is the boldness of the thieves in Washington, who seem to be convinced that they can steal the food right off our plates and we'll still vote for them.

We won't, will we?

Lyons Peak Lookout...

Lyons Peak is a small but locally prominent peak just southeast of the town of Jamul (and just south of Lawson Valley, where I live). You can drive all the way around the peak: start at the intersection of State 94 and Lyons Valley Road. Drive south on 94 to the intersection with Honey Springs Road, where you take a left. Drive northeast on Honey Springs Road to the intersection with Lyons Valley Roade, where you take another left. Drive to the intersection with State 94 and you've done it.

On Lyons Peak is a fire lookout tower, easily seen from Honey Springs Road. This tower is no longer used, though the Forest Fire Lookout Association would like to change that. From their page on the Lyons Peak lookout:

Lyons Peak has hosted a fire lookout tower since 1913. The original tower was a 5x5 foot telephone booth-like structure.

The tower is located on a Cleveland National Forest 'Island' that surrounds the peak.

Access to the peak is currently limited to helicopter or law enforcement escort only due to a road access dispute with a private land owner.
We wish them good luck with this, both because we'd love to be able to visit the lookout and because this would allow access for UCSD researchers to maintain the cameras on the peak that give us such valuable information during a fire.

The Forest Fire Lookout Association folks were recently able to make an inspection of the Lyons Peak lookout. There's an interesting report, with photos, at the link.

Storm Total: 2.4 Inches...

Well, I'm pretty sure the storm is now actually over. We got an additional 0.3 inches of rain yesterday that we didn't expect, as the storm left the area.

On my drive home yesterday afternoon, Lawson Valley Road showed all the signs of heavy rain earlier in the day: gravel washes across the road, rock and mud falls along road cuts, and muddy rivulets down the sides of the road wherever there is a slope. The streams are running strongly, and the waters are starting to turn clear. All around Lawson Valley, there are many rocks covered with sheets of water: small springs running out over exposed rock faces, which we see every time we get enough rain to percolate down through the soil and cracked rock of our mountains. And all the mosses and lichens are handsomely green.

The wet chaparral can be quite beautiful...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Rain Update...

By special request from Bob C. We've had about 1.35 inches today, and it's still raining now. The graph at right tells the story (remember it's on GMT).

Debbie and I drove up into our local mountains today, along Boulder Creek Road and then back along Sunrise Highway. It's wet up there – I'll be they've had close to 3 inches...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Reader Larry E., who's having a great deal of fun learning the elements of photography with his digital camera, sent in this photo of the moon yesterday.

We only caught glimpses of the moon yesterday ourselves; out where we live it was mostly socked in.

This morning it's completely clear, though...


That's what a dozen eggs cost in the early '50s, in inflation-adjusted dollars. This is from an interesting comparison of where our money has gone over the years.

This is something that people tend to consistently miss. We see that a gallon of gas costs $2.15 (here in Jamul, anyhow), and we say to ourselves: Sheesh! I remember when it was just 25 cents a gallon! What's happened?

And we tell ourselves that everything costs more these days. What we forget is that we made much less money back then, and we spent a larger fraction of our income on necessities (food, medicine, etc.) than we do now. This is actually quite indisputable – there's overwhelming evidence that anyone can verify, and doing so is a very interesting exercise in economic reality.

The exercise I went through once upon a time involved music: how many minutes of my work did it take to buy a record album in 1970 vs. a CD album in 2000? Answer: about 70 minutes in 1970, vs. 10 minutes in 2000. Try this yourself! Virtually everything you can think of – including gas! – takes less of your working time to earn today than it did 30 or 40 years ago. Usually much less.

And yet it “feels” like it costs more now.

Strange are the ways of humans...

Storm Total: 2.86 Inches...

The graph tells the story. As I write this, the sky is completely clear and a nearly-full moon is brightly lighting the nightscape.

The wet nightscape.

Driving home yesterday afternoon, I passed through patches of driving rain, lots of gentle rain, and a few clear spots. At several places along the road, I spotted overflowing streams – most notably along State 94 just east of Steele Canyon.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Better Programming...

A couple of interesting articles on the art of programming, here and here...

Rain Report...

Last Thursday afternoon the first edges of our current storm hit us, and ever since then it's been intermittently raining. So far our storm total is just over 2 inches, and it's still raining as I write this.

The times on the chart at right are GMT; subtract 7 hours to get our local time.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

NGC 4921...

Fantasic composite of 80 separate Hubble telescope images:
NGC 4921 is one of the rare spirals in Coma, and a rather unusual one — it is an example of an "anaemic spiral" where the normal vigorous star formation that creates a spiral galaxy’s familiar bright arms is much less intense. As a result there is just a delicate swirl of dust in a ring around the galaxy, accompanied by some bright young blue stars that are clearly separated out by Hubble’s sharp vision. Much of the pale spiral structure in the outer parts of the galaxy is unusually smooth and gives the whole galaxy the ghostly look of a vast translucent jellyfish.
I'd love to have a wall-sized poster of this!

Friday, February 6, 2009

I Want Some TARP!

Laugh or cry? You decide...

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Executive Summary: SDWISP is the real deal. If you need high-speed Internet access and you're within SDWISP's service area, call them – their stuff works, it's reasonably priced, and the service is great.

The slightly longer version:

If you live in Lawson Valley, Harbison Canyon, Lee Valley, Peutz Valley, or Dehesa, you've most likely noticed the little signs popping up everywhere promising high-speed Internet access by a company called “SDWISP”. We've seen these signs come and go before, sometimes by satellite Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and sometimes by salespeople for DSL ISPs who didn't know (or care) that DSL couldn't reach out into our valley. So there's good reason to be skeptical of the claims of low-cost, high-speed Internet access.

For almost nine years, up until late December, we had satellite-based Internet access. Years ago it was a very expensive technology by Tachyon that my company paid for; more recentely it's been a reasonably-priced ($79/month) service from WildBlue. Those services worked just fine, and beat the heck out of dial-up – but they suffered from a problem caused by the laws of physics. The problem is that the satellites they use are geosynchronous satellites parked in orbits 24,000 miles overhead. The radio waves from the satellite modem take about a half second to travel from my house to the satellite and back down to Earth. So when we try to browse to a web site, it takes about a half second to tell the web site we want to look at it, and then about a half second before the first bits from the web site come back to us. That slowness (called “latency” in the technical jargon) makes web browsing on satellite connections feel much slower than it does with a nice, high-speed terrestrial connection.

Enter SDWISP (which means San Diego Wireless Internet Service Provider). SDWISP is the brainchild of Eric Williams, a local tech (based in La Mesa) who's an expert on telephones and communications technology. He knew about the existence of relatively low-cost, point-to-point radio-based digital links, and he had the brilliant idea to combine those links with low-cost, high-speed wired access to provide a service for the remote valleys of San Diego County. Here's how it works for little Lawson Valley: Eric has a ground station in Crest that has a high-speed wired connection to the Internet. He put up a high-speed radio link from that Crest location to a location high on a hill on the south side of Lawson Valley (which just happens to be straight uphill from my home!). This location in Lawson Valley has a direct line-of-sight to Crest, so the radios can “see” each other.

The final bit is a short-range radio link between my home and that location on the hill above Lawson Valley. This radio link uses technology very similar to the 802.11 WiFi links that laptops all use these days. So now when we browse the web, our requests travel from our house about a quarter mile up the hill, from there they hop about 10 miles over to Crest, and from there they enter the wired Internet. End result: we're getting broadband, low-latency Internet access that is quite equivalent to what you'd get with a DSL connection down in the big city, and at a very comparable price. SDWISP has a number of pricing plans, depending on your need for speed. We chose a middle-of-the-road plan at $59/month that gives us over a megabit per second of download speed. Very nice!

We've been using SDWISP for about six weeks now, and we are simply delighted with it. Part of the attraction is the obvious one: better Internet connectivity at a lower price is a compelling proposition. But there's another attraction as well: SDWISP is a locally-operated small business operation, run by a local entrepreneur (Eric Williams). Eric has the classic mindset of every successful small businessman: he knows that the key to his success is happy customers, and he works very hard to get them happy and keep them that way.

Here's one example out of my own experience. As you read this, imagine what the same experience might have been like with, say, Cox Cable...

I've had a weather station operating in Lawson Valley for five years. This weather station is located about an eighth mile from my home, and communicates with my computers over a wireless link. In late December the weather station stopped working. I figured the battery died (the thing is solar powered), so I bought and installed a new battery. It was still dead. About that time it dawned on me that the weather station had stopped working right about the same time that we had SDWISP installed – so it occurred to me that the two wireless technologies might be interfering with each other. So I gathered some information about the wireless technology used by the weather station and emailed Eric at SDWISP to ask him whether his equipment might be doing this to me.

In very short order, I had my response: yes, it could be the SDWISP equipment. In fact, it most likely was his equipment, as it was configured to use a very similar frequency as the weather station. Eric offered to change channels on his equipment to one that was not adjacent to the weather station – and he did so that very evening. Presto! My weather station is back up, and my Internet connection is just as great as it was.

To borrow someone else's phrasing, SDWISP has been very, very good to me. I recommend it to you as the first reasonably priced broadband terrestrial Internet connectivity that's ever been available to those of us who live out in the boonies of San Diego County. Now we can enjoy the same Internet technology as those city folks, while living out in the beautiful chaparral...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Watermelon Art...


Your Morning Political Chuckle...

The People's Cube pointed me to a collection of “proverbs” from IowaHawk – which the People's Cube then parodied.

A few samples from IowaHawk:

“Give a man a fish, he will eat today. Promise a man a million fish, he will contribute heap big wampum to your tribal election campaign fund.”

“While the polar bear bickers with the seal, that fat asshole walrus snarfs all the fish.”

“All around us is a dream; the sky above and land we walk. Kangaroo dung is the nightmares.”

“The man who builds his well at a distance soon laments when his wife’s mustache catches fire.”

And from the People's Cube:

All good things are either illegal, immoral, or lead to obesity.
(Kennedy family proverb)

Surely you can fool all the people all the time.
(Proverb of the mainstream media)

To err is human, and we use this faculty frequently and with much pleasure.
(Proverb of the US Congress)

All work and no pay makes Jack an exemplary citizen.
(Proverb of Obama's Economic Recovery Team)

If toast falling off the table always lands butter-side down, it is safe to presume that toast buttered on both sides will stop and hover in midair.
(Proverb of Obama's Economic Recovery Team)

All that glitters must be taxed.
(Proverb of the Ways and Means Committee)

Heh! Go read ‘em all!

The Old Man Wonders...

From my sister-in-law Gina:
I took my dad to the mall the other day to buy some new shoes.

We decided to grab a bite at the food court. I noticed he was watching a teenager sitting next to him. The teenager had spiked hair in all different colors: green, red, orange, and blue.

My dad kept staring at him. The teenager would look and find him staring every time.

When the teenager had enough, he sarcastically asked, "What's the matter old man, never done anything wild in your life?"

Knowing my Dad, I quickly swallowed my food so that I would not choke on his response; knowing he would have a good one. And in classic style he did not bat an eye in his response.

"Got drunk once and had sex with a peacock. I was just wondering if you were my son."

Zach and Zoe...

From my brother Mark:
Just wanted to share...

This is Zach (at right)

Zach is bred for show (not field). Zach is large, larger than his sister Zoe by about two inches in height and about 10 pounds. Zach is basically a quadraped tank. Zach is not as fast as his sister. And, Zach doesn’t have near the “moves” of his sister. But ... if Zach catches his sister, or they play tug of war, or there’s an argument over a toy – Zach wins.

The yellow (left) is his sister Zoe (Zo-E).

Zoe is bred from a long line of field champions. Zoe is a very gifted diver (yes, the pool you see there is 32 feet in length and she can clear two thirds of it on the fly WITHOUT being on a platform like those woosie dogs on ESPN!). Anyway, Zoe is lightening fast and has moves that would make Dwayne Wade cry.

Below is my story from today.


Today we got about 3 inches of snow on the ground. If you have Labrador retrievers at home, you know what an incredible event snow is in their lives. Anyway, I’m sitting at my desk typing away this morning. There is a window to my immediate left that overlooks the back yard. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a flash – it’s Zoe. Very shortly behind her is Zach (and he’s gaining on her). Zoe runs straight for the chain link fence that separates my property from the neighbors (as if she KNEW what was going to happen – I swear!). Zach is on her ass, I mean not a foot and a half away from her.

They are running directly at the fence as if they are both going to T-Bone the fence…

At the last millisecond, Zoe makes an INSTANT 90 degree turn and TURNS AROUND (as if she KNOWS what’s going to happen next). Zach can’t stop. There is just too much bulk, too much muscle, too much inertia. Zach SLAMS into the chain link fence. He hit in the center of the fence between the supporting posts. The energy of the impact actually made the chain link fence act like a horizontal trampoline. The fence absorbed Zach’s energy and proceeded to eject him back into the yard. He only flew for about 3 or 4 feet, but he slid along the snow real good and came to a stop on his back.

Zoe just circled him, taunting him, until he got up, shook, and proceeded to run after her again.

I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.

Anyway, no moral to the story. Just wanted to let you all know the highlight of my day.

Go pet your dog.