Sunday, May 31, 2009

Modern Communications...

Reader Larry E. writes:
I was sitting here thinking how communication has changed so much.

Right now I’m sitting in a room around a table with 10 people. Developers, tech writers, qa. There are at least 5-6 other team members working from their homes at the moment.

In the room there are two distinct conversations going on verbally and at the same time a lot more going on via IM and still others via email. I’m sitting right across from my QA lead and I IM him asking for the updated QA Plan. I tell him that Christophe in France has a patch for our import problem which I got from email and he says, Christophe told him (via IM) and that Christophe is looking the ETL run as well. With a team spread over 5 sites in 3 countries this instantaneous communication is so important.

The other day I realized that when I left home for the USMC, communication with my family and friends back home dropped off to a trickle. Occasional letters and phone calls. Now my son left home for the USMC and even though he is on the East Coast, I hear from him a great deal. He calls me on the cell, text messages and emails. I get emailed pictures occasionally or he just takes a picture on his phone and sends it to me in a message. My son keeps up with his friends still in California via text and sites like facebook.

While it may not be as personal as face-to-face communication, and it is certainly very different, it is communication that would not happen at all without this technology. It enables you to maintain relationships you would not otherwise be able to do so otherwise.

Fascinating. At least from the perspective of someone that didn’t grow up with it.
This is a topic I've often thought about. Usually what brings it to my mind is “talking” (usually by email) with one of our soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan. This always reminds me of my days in the U.S. Navy, and how sawed off from the world we were whenever we deployed to the Western Pacific or Indian Oceans. There were intervals of months when I had no communications of any kind (not even mail!) with friends or family. Often the only news we got was from highly-filtered one-page news summaries sent to the ship's radio room (weekly, if I remember right) and made available in the ship's library. Very urgent family news (births, deaths, etc.) was occasionally sent via U.S. Navy radio traffic; it was a big deal when one of these came in. I remember very clearly the profound sense of isolation while on one of these deployments.

Contrast that with today's military, as Larry points out. Soldiers literally on the front line of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are using cell phones, email, instant messaging, and blogs to communicate with friends, family, and the whole world. They take digital photos and video, and post them up on Flickr and YouTube. I've watched videos of countless battles and actions just hours after they occurred, thanks to these technologies. And certainly our troops aren't cut off from the world in any sense of the world.

Neither are the homeless:
Like most San Franciscans, Charles Pitts is wired. Mr. Pitts, who is 37 years old, has accounts on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. He runs an Internet forum on Yahoo, reads news online and keeps in touch with friends via email. The tough part is managing this digital lifestyle from his residence under a highway bridge.

"You don't need a TV. You don't need a radio. You don't even need a newspaper," says Mr. Pitts, an aspiring poet in a purple cap and yellow fleece jacket, who says he has been homeless for two years. "But you need the Internet."


In my profession (hardware and software engineering), another Internet-enabled phenomenon has been equally revolutionary: search engines and freely available technical information.

Years ago, if I wanted to design a piece of electronic hardware, the starting point was to talk with the hardware resellers and try to convince them that they should supply me with “data books”. These were thick catalogs of the parts from a particular manufacturer, and owning a library of these was an absolutely essential prerequisite for any hardware design work. Today those data books are completely unnecessary. You can look up the parts on any of hundreds of web sites (for hardware vendors), and just click to get a PDF of the data sheet for the exact part you're interested in. It's hard to overstate the extent and importance of that liberation from the data book tyranny – it means now that any individual (not just engineers working for big companies) has wide-open access to all electronic parts.

In software engineering, the Internet has been just as revolutionary. Years ago the only method available for advancing your knowledge of the field was to buy (and read, of course!) expensive texts. Often you also had to buy expensive software development tools as well. These days that model has completely blown up. There are tens of thousands of web sites chock full of interesting and relevant technical information on any conceivable (and sometimes inconceivable!) and arcane software engineering topic. I still buy some books, but it's more for the convenience of at-hand access to a familiar reference than it is for learning. Perhaps an even more profound impact has come from sharing knowledge with others, often through web forums. Now when I run into some kind of unfamiliar problem, or I have a how-do-I-do-this? question, the first thing I do is launch a Google query – and very often this will lead me directly to a solution in a few seconds. In the past, I might have beat my head against the wall for these problems, for hours or even days. Not any more.

This Internet thingie has had quite an impact!

Fire Lookout Tower...

This caught my eye in a U-T article:
The forest service also will have two lookout towers staffed around the clock this fire season, one near Jamul in the south central part of the county and the newly renovated High Point Lookout Tower on Palomar Mountain.
Naturally, being the U-T, there are no more details. I can only think of two lookout towers they might be talking about: Los Pinos and Lyon's Peak. Los Pinos is regularly manned (though not full time), and Lyon's Peak hasn't been used in a long time. Do you know for sure what the plans actually are?

Grab You by the Ankles...

Don't miss today's Day-by-Day cartoon. An excerpt:
Amusement ride operator: “So...can we take you all for a ride today?”
Customer: “What's the ‘Stimulus Surprise’?”
Amusement ride operator: “Hydraulic grippers grab you by the ankles, bend you over, and – let's just say the ride's over when we say it's over.”

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Earliest Audio Recordings Ever Found...

These recordings were made 20 years before Thomas Alva Edison made his famous recordings. Unlike Edison's, these recordings were never intended to be played back – the original goal was simply to make a “picture” of sounds. They were made by a French inventor, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville. The picture at right shows the apparatus he used.

The actual recordings can be heard here.

Hope 'n Change?

Ted Rall is an editorial cartoonist, sometime columnist, and author of the raving liberal lunatic persuasion. He's not someone I'd normally find myself agreeing with. He is someone I'd expect to be a rabid Obama supporter.

So imagine my surprise when I read one of his columns this morning, to find that contained the following (but not out of context!) quotes:
We expected broken promises. But the gap between the soaring expectations that accompanied Barack Obama’s inauguration and his wretched performance is the broadest such chasm in recent historical memory. This guy makes Bill Clinton look like a paragon of integrity and follow-through...

...Obama is useless. Worse than that, he’s dangerous. Which is why, if he has any patriotism left after the thousands of meetings he has sat through with corporate contributors, blood-sucking lobbyists and corrupt politicians, he ought to step down now — before he drags us further into the abyss...

...Obama is cute. He is charming. But there is something rotten inside him...
Whoa, there, lefty. Steady on, there, Ted. And right on!

In my own defense, the reasons behind these quotes are most definitely not the reasons I might use in arriving at the same conclusions.

I guess this is some evidence that Obama is moving toward the “center” (whatever that actually is). Long reviled from the right, he's now starting to be reviled from the “respectable” left...

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Beautiful Idea...

Would eliminating the current state government completely and starting over with a clean slate appeal to you? Until I read this web site, I didn't know such a thing was even possible (at least, not without an actual revolution). The general idea is to call a “Constitutional Convention”, and rewrite the state's constitution from scratch.

Currently California's Constitution requires two thirds of the legistature to vote in favor of placing the question of a Constitutional Convention on the ballot, where it must win a majority of the voters to gain approval. The first part of this is unlikely in the extreme – it's hard to imagine two of the current legislators voting for this, much less two thirds.

However, the voters in California have the power to place propositions on the ballot that would amend the State's Constitution (as we did recently with Proposition 8, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman). So the folks at propose exactly such an amendment proposition, to amend the State's Constitution to allow the voters to directly call a Constitutional Convention.

This would be like a revolution without the guns and tanks. I want to think about this some more, but on a first pass I'm inclined to agree with Peter Robinson:

Will California default, forcing states and municipalities throughout the nation to pay higher interest rates to bondholders? Will it persuade Washington to bail it out, rewarding the Golden State's political class while punishing the citizens of prudent, solvent states such as Indiana or Texas? Or will California cut its budget so sharply that basic state agencies--the California Highway Patrol, for instance, or the Department of Corrections--will be impaired?

None of the answers are pretty.

Yet this financial crisis has produced one beautiful idea.

Jim Wunderman, president of the Bay Area Council, a business group, has begun calling for a constitutional convention. The current constitution, Wunderman argues, is so long, convoluted and encrusted with amendments that Californians ought to toss it out and start again from scratch.

To keep the political class from taking over the convention, Wunderman wants to choose delegates from the state jury pool. Does that sound like placing trust in chance? If so, you've got the idea. Ordinary Californians, redesigning the entire state government.

William F. Buckley Jr. once said, "I would rather be governed by the first 400 names in the Boston telephone book than by the faculty of Harvard University." Me? I'd rather be governed by a few hundred jurors from Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Irvine, San Diego, Bakersfield, Fresno, Modesto and Stockton than by all the lobbyists and union officials in Sacramento.

It is, as I said, a beautiful idea.

A clean slate. A system of government designed by ordinary citizens, not the political in-crowd. A beautiful idea, indeed...

Muslim Extremists Routed by ... Other Muslims!

This is one of the most hopeful developments I've seen in a long time. Similar things are happening in Pakistan, as well. From the Daily Mail:

The Muslim community turned on extremists in their midst yesterday, telling them they were 'sick and tired' of their behaviour.

The angry confrontation came in Luton, where anti-Islamist protesters brandished England flags last Sunday, before clashing with police.

The latest violence erupted as arguments raged between fellow Muslims shortly after Friday morning prayers in the Bury Park area of the town. Passing traffic ground to a halt as the large group of moderates confronted about a dozen extremists.

As the radical Muslims began to set up their stall, they were surrounded by a crowd shouting 'we don't want you here' and 'move on, move on'.

Angry words were exchanged and scuffles broke out between members of both groups, with the extremists shouting 'Shame on you' and 'Get back to your synagogue'.

The moderates chanted 'Out, Out, Out', and after an uneasy stand-off, police officers were able to persuade the extremist group to leave the area.

More like this, please...

Willow Fire Cause...

You may remember the 60+ acre Willow Fire of May 23 (my post here). Well, a report came out today on the cause of the fire. I've read several news stories about this report (including the UT story here), and they're all a bit ambiguous. About the only thing they seem to be clear on is that the fire was started while a group of U.S. Department of Justice (Bureau of Prisons) employees were firing on the target range.

Hmmm... One wonders what they're firing out there – RPGs?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

World Health and Wealth...

Absolutely fascinating...

Quote of the Day...

There is a growing tendency to think of man as a rational thinking being, which is absurd. There is simply no evidence of any intelligence on the earth.

Marvin the Martian
(h/t Little Green Footballs)

Monday, May 25, 2009



... We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate…we cannot consecrate…we cannot hallow…this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced...

Abraham Lincoln, from the Gettysburg Address...


From Cox and Forkum.


Of the prisoners that have already been released from Guantanamo Bay, that's the percentage that are known to have returned to terrorism:
The U.S. has revealed, via a leaked report, that 14 percent of the 534 terrorism suspects released from Guantanamo have returned to terrorist activities. This was not a big surprise, except for the extent of the recidivism.
Comforting, isn't it? Fourteen percent of 534 is 75 – that's at least 75 committed terrorists back on the streets. I wonder who they're eager to exact some revenge from?

It's one of the many challenges posed by the war on terror. Instead of fighting a nation (or an alliance of nations), we're fighting an amorphous group that doesn't wear a uniform. The usual rules for dealing with prisoners of war don't really work – there's no country to repatriate these men to (and many of them have no country that will accept them), and no good way to tell when the war is over. It's repugnant to our sense of fair play just to imprison them indefinitely, yet releasing them is unacceptably risky. Those prisoners that have been released are those thought to be the least dangerous – making the release of any more even less conceivable.

Many Congressmen (even many Democrats) think it ill-advised to remand these men to the U.S. prisons and court system. Why? For this very simple reason: the U.S. courts will not allow indefinite incarceration without charges and conviction. If the prosecutors cannot bring a case, then the courts will order these men released – not because the judges are evil, but because the laws they are sworn to uphold require them to.

So what can be done, if repatriation, release, and transfer to U.S. courts are not acceptable? I've only heard two other courses of action put forth: (1) indefinite incarceration outside the jurisdiction of U.S. courts (such as Guantanano Bay), or (2) summary execution. I'm a proponent of (1). There are many proponents of (2), though none to my knowledge in national political office.

Obama had a bad problem until his recent very clever maneuver. During his campaign, he repeatedly promised to close Guantanamo Bay and end indefinite detainment. Now that he's in office, that's something he clearly cannot afford to do, politically. But he also can't be seen to be reneging on his campaign promise. So what does he do? He arranges for the Democratic leadership in Congress to stonewall his request for money to shut down Guantanamo. This is win-win for the Democrats – for the Democratic Congressmen would definitely have problems with their electorate should they vote to bring the detainees back to the U.S., and now Obama gets to stand up and proclaim his desire to shut down Guantanamo Bay while regretting that he can't get his request approved by a Congress controlled by his own party.

Slick, that Barack fellow...

North Korea's at it Again...

North Korea has exploded a second nuclear warhead, this time much larger than the previous one (and roughly equivalent to Trinity, the first test done by the U.S. in World War II). This test simply reconfirms (for the umpteenth time) the intransigence of the North Korean regime and the utter futility of the past decade's worth of negotiations, deals, and other elements of diplomacy. From the Wall Street Journal's article:

President Barack Obama, in a statement, called the action a "matter of grave concern to all nations" and said North Korea was undermining stability in northeast Asia. "It will not find international acceptance unless it abandons its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery," he said.

The United Nations Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting on Monday afternoon New York time to discuss the North's actions.

But it's unclear whether the U.S. and others will be able to muster a response strong enough to move Pyongyang from its stated goal of becoming recognized as a nuclear-weapons state.

Surely I'm not the only one to whom these diplomatic maneuvers seem like some kind of a comedy routine. At the very least, I'm certain the North Korean regime shares my view – they've been spectacularly successful at manipulating the world's diplomats and the U.N., reaping all sorts of goodies for themselves along the way. They must be rolling in the aisles in Pyongyang, clutching their bellies in pain from their howls of laughter at the unbelievably stupid democratic nations of the world.

Somehow I don't think Obama's statement has them even slightly worried, much less considering adjusting their strategic course:

North Korea's nuclear ballistic missile programs pose a great threat to the peace and security of the world and I strongly condemn their reckless action. North Korea's actions endanger the people of Northeast Asia, they are a blatant violation of international law, and they contradict North Korea's own prior commitments.

Now, the United States and the international community must take action in response. The record is clear: North Korea has previously committed to abandoning its nuclear program. Instead of following through on that commitment it has chosen to ignore that commitment. These actions have also flown in the face of United Nations resolutions. As a result North Korea is not only deepening its own isolation, it's also inviting stronger international pressure -- that's evident overnight, as Russia and China, as well a our traditional allies of South Korea and Japan, have all come to the same conclusion: North Korea will not find security and respect through threats and illegal weapons.

We will work with our friends and our allies to stand up to this behavior and we will redouble our efforts toward a more robust international nonproliferation regime that all countries have responsibilities to meet.
In this effort the United States will never waiver from our determination to protect our people and the peace and security of the world.
Not exactly shiver-inducing rhetoric, that.

I'd suggest something slightly more direct, such as:
Either you shut down your nuclear weapons facilities and open them for international verification inspections, or we will start bombing what little viable infrastructure you have. Our bombing objective will be to cause as much pain to the ruling regime as possible. Oh, and that smoking crater where your television studios used to be? That was just to demonstrate our capability.
I can dream, can't I?

They Don't Even Seem to Notice...

Many times when I'm reading recent climatology research, I'll run across a statement that immediately strikes me as contraindicating anthropomorphic (i.e., human-caused) global warming – but somehow the climatologists just ignore it. In an article I read this morning, it happened again:

For example, during the 'Holocene thermal maximum,' the warmest period of the past 10,000 years, the Arctic average temperature was two to three degrees warmer than it is today, while the global average was only a degree or so warmer.

"But based on lake sediments from Baffin Island, our data show that this area of the Arctic experienced temperatures five degrees warmer than today," said Briner.

Let's see now. One thing they neglect to mention above is that the Holocene maximum was a 4,000 year long period, starting 9,000 years ago. So what they're saying is that for almost half of the past 10,000 years, the Arctic temperatures were about 5°C (9°F) warmer than they are today. I don't think those higher temperatures back then were caused by SUVs and private jets!

There's a consistent pattern amongst these research reports that just doesn't add up:
  1. Climatologists doing actual research (as opposed to bulding computer models) consistently find historical data indicating that (a) the Earth's climate has broad long-term natural swings, not caused by human activity, (b) the Earth's climate has smaller short-term swings that correlate well with the sun spot count, and (c) patterns of climate change that don't jibe with the patterns found in the models.
  2. Climatologists “back-testing” computer climate models consistently find that the models don't match reality. In back-testing, the researchers take data from some past period (say, 2,000 years ago), feed it into the model, and check to see if the model successfully predicts what happened afterward. If the model did succeed in such predictions, you'd have some reason to believe that by feeding in today's data you could predict what will happen down the road. It's the gold standard used for testing all models that have the ambition to predict the future. Nobody has built a climate model yet that survives back-testing.
  3. Climatologists building computer climate models consistently throw out (or arbitrarily “adjust”) data that doesn't produce the results they believe are correct. The two glaring examples I know of are (a) tossing out satellite based atmospheric temperature measurements, and (b) adjusting historical temperature records before feeding them into their models.
How on earth can these scientists make statements like the one I highlighted above, and yet go on propounding the notion of impending climate doom caused by anthropomorphic global warming?

I just don't get it...


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Psalm 2008-2012

Forwarded by reader Simi L.:

Obama is my shepard,
I shall not want.
He leadeth me beside still factories.
He restoreth my faith in the Republican Party.
He guideth me in the path of unemployment.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the bread line,
I shall not go hungry.
Obama has anointed my income with taxes.
My expenses runneth over my income,
Surely, poverty and hard living will follow me all the days of my life.
The Democrats and I will live forever
in a rented home.
But I am glad I am an American,
I am glad that I am free.
But I wish that I was a dog,
and Obama was a tree.


Remember, today, those men and women who have given their lives that we might be free. Sullivan Ballou, killed in the first Battle of Bull Run (in the U.S. Civil War), was one of them...

The Goode Family...

I might have to watch this show!

The Prandtl-Glauert Effect...

I'm sure most of you have seen this photo, or ones like it, showing a cone-shaped cloud of condensation around an aircraft. Some people I've met are skeptical that these photos are real; they suspect photoshopping.

They are most definitely real – they're caused by a well-understood mechanism: the Prandtl-Glauert Effect (sometimes called the Prandtl-Glauert Singularity). I'm lucky enough to have seen this a few times myself, a few times at air shows, and a couple of times while in the U.S. Navy watching exercises involving fighters.

There's a very detailed (but no heavy math) explanation here, and a Wikipedia page here.

But the real reason for this post is to point you to a web site that's chock full of beautiful photos of the Prandtl-Glauert Effect – the best collection I've found...

Al Qaeda Kidnaps Obama's Teleprompter!

In this morning's news:

In an audacious raid Friday, al-Qaeda terrorists managed to slip past White House security and seize President Obama's teleprompter. Their demands were released in a grainy video, which apparently showed the president's teleprompter, bound and blindfolded but unharmed, while heavily armed masked men stood behind it, quoting from the Qur'an. The content of their demands is not being released.

President Obama, visibly shaken, attempted to address the White House press corps on his own. "Words, uh, um, I, uh, heh-heh, well..."

"We need a verb!" shouted David Gregory of MSNBC.

(read the whole thing)
An enjoyable bit of satire, that; courtesy of the folks at The People's Cube. At least, it was until I realized that I wasn't sure it was satire until I remembered what web site it was on...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Willow Fire...

There were an amazing number of news stories yesterday on the small (60 acres) and never very threatening Willow Fire. Even the Associated Press and Fox News picked up the story! I guess it must have been a slow news day.

In the end, there were two minor injuries and no structures damaged or lost. Roughly 60 acres were burned. The news reports are a bit sketchy on concrete information, but based on those reports and a few educated guesses, here's a rough map of the burned area.

Hope Sabers and Obi-Bam...

Mark Steyn at his best (and that's pretty darned good!). Here's just one of many demonstrations of his wit, as he talks about an ad he spotted in a Vermont newspaper, for job openings with a stimulus-funded community organizing group:
Of the eight new positions advertised, the first is:

"ARRA Projects Coordinator."

Gotcha. So the first new job created by the stimulus is a job "coordinating" other programs funded by the stimulus. What's next?


That's how they spell it. Like in "Star Wars" – Luke Grantwriter waving his hope saber as instructed by his mentor Obi-Bam Baracki ("May the Funds be with you!"). The Grantwriter will be responsible for writing grant applications "to augment ARRA funds." So the second new job created by stimulus funding funds someone to petition for additional funding for projects funded by the stimulus.

Deprogramming a Liberal...

Very interesting article at American Thinker, by “Robin of Berkeley”, about the transition of a self-described “rabid liberal” into a conservative. It reminds me of Neo-Neocon's series of articles on changing, but much more condensed. Here's a taste, but do go read the whole thing:
As I educated myself, I started thinking and rethinking. I'd wake up in the middle of the night with the sudden realization that deeply held beliefs made no sense. Take the anti war stance of the left. Noble and sanctimonious and all that. But how easy it is to sit back and preach peace when you have an army defending you; to rail against the U.S. when you are protected by free speech laws; to demonize Israel, when you've never lived through the murderous pogroms of Tsarist Russia or the Holocaust. How hypocritical to lambast Big Business while you are making money from their stocks in your mutual fund portfolio (that is, until Obama took over). And how ludicrous to admire Chavez, Castro and all things socialist, when the closest experience you've had to standing on a bread line is queuing up for goat cheese/arugula pizza at Whole Foods.

And this love affair with Radical Islam -- what's up with that? I had previously thought of Islam as a quaint, folksy religion. But when I started actually reading about it, especially Dr. Phyllis Chesler's illuminating books and web site, I realized extremist Muslims were advocating some seriously scary stuff, like destroying Israel and the West. I had been oblivious of the horrendous treatment of women: the honor killings, beheadings, genital mutilation. It now seemed like the height of naivety, if not masochism, to embrace with open arms people who want to kill you. While as a liberal I was socialized to believe everyone was good, all cultures were the same, and We Are The World, We Are The Children, I began to understand that evil exists. The emergence of evil always offers warnings signs, and we ignore them at our peril.
Hopefully we'll see more of this as the liberals start seeing the effects of the Obamanations being foisted upon us all. That's my idea of hope and change!

Quote of the Day...

By John Pitney (a political scientist at Claremont McKenna college):
Arnold's governorship was supposed to be an action movie. Now it's a disaster movie.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

An Adult Speaks...

From a speech Dick Cheney delivered last night to the American Enterprise Institute:

Another term out there that slipped into the discussion is the notion that American interrogation practices were a "recruitment tool" for the enemy. On this theory, by the tough questioning of killers, we have supposedly fallen short of our own values. This recruitment-tool theory has become something of a mantra lately, including from the President himself. And after a familiar fashion, it excuses the violent and blames America for the evil that others do. It's another version of that same old refrain from the Left, "We brought it on ourselves."

It is much closer to the truth that terrorists hate this country precisely because of the values we profess and seek to live by, not by some alleged failure to do so. Nor are terrorists or those who see them as victims exactly the best judges of America's moral standards, one way or the other.

Critics of our policies are given to lecturing on the theme of being consistent with American values. But no moral value held dear by the American people obliges public servants ever to sacrifice innocent lives to spare a captured terrorist from unpleasant things. And when an entire population is targeted by a terror network, nothing is more consistent with American values than to stop them.

As a practical matter, too, terrorists may lack much, but they have never lacked for grievances against the United States. Our belief in freedom of speech and religion … our belief in equal rights for women … our support for Israel … our cultural and political influence in the world - these are the true sources of resentment, all mixed in with the lies and conspiracy theories of the radical clerics. These recruitment tools were in vigorous use throughout the 1990s, and they were sufficient to motivate the 19 recruits who boarded those planes on September 11th, 2001.

The United States of America was a good country before 9/11, just as we are today. List all the things that make us a force for good in the world - for liberty, for human rights, for the rational, peaceful resolution of differences - and what you end up with is a list of the reasons why the terrorists hate America. If fine speech-making, appeals to reason, or pleas for compassion had the power to move them, the terrorists would long ago have abandoned the field. And when they see the American government caught up in arguments about interrogations, or whether foreign terrorists have constitutional rights, they don't stand back in awe of our legal system and wonder whether they had misjudged us all along. Instead the terrorists see just what they were hoping for - our unity gone, our resolve shaken, our leaders distracted. In short, they see weakness and opportunity.

There is more content in this single speech than I've heard in all the fine public words Obama has emitted since taking office. Do read the whole thing – the man is a terrific antidote for the Obama blues...

Obama Man Can...

Just Sayin'...

Some ponders:
Only in America do drugstores make the sick walk all the way to the back of the store to get their prescriptions while healthy people can buy cigarettes at the front.

Only in America do people order double cheeseburgers, large fries, and a diet coke.

Only in America do banks leave both doors open and then chain t he pens to the counters.

Only in America do we leave cars worth thousands of dollars in the driveway and put our useless junk in the garage.

Only in America do we buy hot dogs in packag es of ten and buns in packages of eight.

Only in America do they have drive-up ATM machines with Braille lettering.

Why does the sun lighten our hair, but darken our skin?

Why can't women put on mascara with their mouth closed?

Why don't you ever see the headline 'Psychic Wins Lottery'?

Why is 'abbreviated' such a long word?

Why is it that doctors call what they do 'practice'?

Why is lemon juice made with artificial flavor, and dishwashing liquid made with real lemons?

Why is the man who invests all your money called a broker?

Why is the time of day with the slowest traffic called rush hour?

Why isn't there mouse-flavored cat food?

Why didn't Noah swat those two mosquitoes?

Why do they sterilize the needle for lethal injections?

You know that indestructible black box that is used on airplanes? Why don't they make the whole plane out of that stuff?!

Why don't sheep shrink when it rains?

Why are they called apartments when they are all stuck together?

If con is the opposite of pro, is Congress the opposite of progress?

If flying is so safe, why do they call the airport the terminal?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Voters Speak...

...but I sure wish they'd send a coherent message!

A few years ago, California's governor Arnold Schwarzenegger asked the voters to approve a series of propositions that would slash the state's expenditures, mainly by reducing services provided by the state. That series of propositions lost at the ballot box. So Arnie said, very publicly, “The voters have spoken!” – and went on a spending binge that made the recalled Gray Davis look like a miser.

Yesterday, Schwarzenegger asked the voters to approve a series of propositions that would raise the money to pay for this spending binge. These propositions lost by a wide margin (the one winning proposition in the table at right would limit lawmaker's salaries if they couldn't pass a budget).

Now don't get me wrong – I'm absolutely delighted that these propositions went down in flames, and I'm hoping (seriously!) that it leads to a bankruptcy in California. I think that's likely the only path that will lead to some badly needed replacements in the team of loonies up in Sacremento.

But think about the message that “we, the people” have just sent Sacremento. We've said “give us all those expensive benefits and programs”, but “we don't want to pay for them”. Rather a juvenile pair of messages, wouldn't you say?

Which is why I sometimes despair about the long term viability of democracy. Armed anarchy sometimes seems like an attractive alternative...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Jamul Culture...

Both the title and the photo are from Steve K., a fellow Jamulian and reader. He, I, and about a bazillion other Jamulians have been getting a kick for the past few days from this sign. It's along route 94 (map), just north of Jamul.

Extra Senses...

Here's an idea that I've never heard before: use modern technology to give humans more senses. For example, how would you like to be able to simply feel which way was north?

For six weird weeks in the fall of 2004, Udo Wächter had an unerring sense of direction. Every morning after he got out of the shower, Wächter, a sysadmin at the University of Osnabrück in Germany, put on a wide beige belt lined with 13 vibrating pads — the same weight-and-gear modules that make a cell phone judder. On the outside of the belt were a power supply and a sensor that detected Earth's magnetic field. Whichever buzzer was pointing north would go off. Constantly.

"It was slightly strange at first," Wächter says, "though on the bike, it was great." He started to become more aware of the peregrinations he had to make while trying to reach a destination. "I finally understood just how much roads actually wind," he says. He learned to deal with the stares he got in the library, his belt humming like a distant chain saw. Deep into the experiment, Wächter says, "I suddenly realized that my perception had shifted. I had some kind of internal map of the city in my head. I could always find my way home. Eventually, I felt I couldn't get lost, even in a completely new place."

The effects of the "feelSpace belt" — as its inventor, Osnabrück cognitive scientist Peter König, dubbed the device — became even more profound over time. König says while he wore it he was "intuitively aware of the direction of my home or my office. I'd be waiting in line in the cafeteria and spontaneously think: I live over there." On a visit to Hamburg, about 100 miles away, he noticed that he was conscious of the direction of his hometown. Wächter felt the vibration in his dreams, moving around his waist, just like when he was awake.

I suspect I'd really enjoy that belt...

Read the whole article, it's all very interesting...

Race and the One-Armed Handler...

Debbie is just starting to get back into her agility dog training. Here are a few clips of her working with Race, our border collie puppy...

Sunday, May 17, 2009


On the feeders in our front yard:

We're currently using “hummer juice” at the rate of three to four quarts a day. Soon it will be time to make 5 gallon batches!

Hint: if you've got a high-speed Internet connection, try hitting the “HQ” button (lower right on the player above, but only after you've started playing the video) to get the high quality version of the video...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

This Is Science?

ScienceDaily published a credulous report yesterday that proclaimed the “troubling hypothesis” that variations in solar radiation (such as the sunspot cycle) affected Earth's weather had been “laid to rest”. Well, that's an article bound to catch my attention, as I've been quite intrigued by the correlations found between the sunspot cycle and historical temperature records here on Earth.

So what is this research that has laid that troubling hypothesis to rest?

A computer model.

I'm not making that up.

That's what passes for research today, apparently. Nobody went out and did anything messy or dirty like, say, measuring temperatures or solar radiation. Nobody showed that the historical correlations were artifacts caused by some other mechanism. No, nothing like that.

Instead, some geek of a climatologist made up a new computer model and proclaimed the case proven!

Hell, I could do that!


A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words...


Trouble is, his little game is fooling an interesting percentage of the electorate.

It will be interesting – and instructive – to see what happens in the 2010 interim elections...

Monday, May 11, 2009

Temperature Data...

I've mentioned before the web-based efforts of Surface Stations to have volunteers audit and photograph all 1,221 official NOAA surface temperature measurement sites. They're not done yet, but they just passed a milestone: over 70% of those sites have now been audited. The graph at right shows the results.

These are the same sites that the NOAA and Jim Hansen of NASA specifically call out as being more accurate and more reliable that satellite-based temperature measurements. The cumulative errors that Surface Stations has now documented in these stations is approximately the same as the difference between the satellite measurements and the surface measurements.

In other words, the satellites are right.

And global warming isn't nearly as severe as its adherents would have us believe.

If I believed in an afterlife, I'd hope there was a special sort of hell reserved for corrupt scientists...

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Last week, after Justice Souter announced his retirement, Obama made some remarks that included this bit:
I will seek somebody with a sharp and independent mind and a record of excellence and integrity. I will seek someone who understands that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book. It is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives -- whether they can make a living and care for their families; whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation. I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles as an essential ingredient for arriving as just decisions and outcomes.
I've been stewing on this all's the single most frightening thing I've heard Obama say yet (and that's saying something, as he's made some terrifying utterances). If you parse his words carefully, he's really saying this: he wants Supreme Court justices that ignore the law (including the Constitution), and instead make decisions based on their understanding of people's feelings (that's what “empathy” means).

Am I exaggerating, making too much of his rhetoric? I think not. I believe that he is saying here quite clearly what he wants – justices who won't think of themselves as bound by a musty old Constituition. He really does want justices willing to make decisions even that directly contradict the Constitution, so long as those decisions correspond to where Obama wants the country to go.

We've seen this scenario play out quite recently, and not so far from home. This is exactly what happened in Venezuela, where now the “socialist” (thugalist, really) Hugo Socialist has made the country over in his image.

How are we going to get our country back?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Using Stars as Gravity Wave Telescopes...

Now this is just plain cool!

Scientists have come up with what appears to be a completely practical way to use a special kind of star (millisecond pulsars) to construct a grand telescope for gravity waves. This telescope would be far cheaper to construct than both already-built and proposed Earth-bound gravity wave detectors – and it would actually produce an “image” (something no Earth-bound detector could hope to do). In addition, it would work at some of the most interesting, and very low, frequencies. Read more in Science News and this paper...


I've posted before about the unusually low number of sunspots we're seeing right now, and about the correlation between the number of sunspots and the overall solar radiation. It may seem a little counterintuitive, but the fact is that the sun radiates more energy when there are more sunspots, and vice versa.

Well, the low number of sunspots continues. At the moment we are experiencing the longest sustained period of low sunspot occurrence since 1928, and there's no end in sight yet. That also means we're experiencing a long and sustained reduction in solar radiation output, and therefore of its heating of the Earth. Historically periods of low sunspot activity have correlated nicely with periods of lower temperatures on the Earth, most famously with the period known as the Maunder Minimum. Naturally, the warmenists loudly proclaim that variations in sunspot activity will have no impact on the Earth's climate – they are certain that the correlations of historical low sunspot activity and low temperatures is entirely coincidental.

Looks like we may have a chance here to find out for sure. If our low sunspot activity continues for another year or so, the warmenists will have a hard time explaining a “coincidental” drop in global temperatures. Which, by the way, we're already seeing.

Baby Ground Squirrels...

In our back yard:

You can see a higher quality version on YouTube.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

We Haven't Disappeared!

Sorry for the lack of posts, folks. The past couple of weeks have been somewhat chaotic – I'm currently (a) holding down my job, (b) caring for my wife who broke her arm a couple weeks ago, (c) attending and speaking at the Service-now Knowledge09 user conference, and (d) doing most of the chores at home, as they're impossible for a one-armed wife to do.

The foregoing leaves me with but little time for fun things like my blog.

But I'll be back...

P.S. Debbie's doing fine, though she had a slight setback yesterday. She went to the doctor's office to have a new cast put on, as the old one was causing problems with her elbow (pressure and chafing). The doctor removed the old cast and discovered that her bones weren't in the perfect position – so there was some (very) painful “repositioning” before the new cast was put on. Ouch! But despite that, she's actually doing just fine – her bones are in the right place now, and her new cast doesn't extend over her elbow, so the discomfort caused by her cast is completely gone...