Monday, May 31, 2010

Cartoon of the Day...

A New Personal Project...

Because I just don't have enough things going on in my life!  I'm going to learn Scala.  This is what motivated me.  Here are some resources...

Phobos is Hollow?

Apparently there's some data from at least two of the spacecraft orbiting Mars that indicates that about 1/3 of the volume of Phobos is empty.  I haven't been able to locate the original reports of this.  For all I know, this simply means that Phobos is really just a loose collection of boulders with lots of empty space between them – or possibly even the conclusions about the data are misrepresented. 

But whatever the data and conclusions are, the tin-foil hat brigade is already at it...

Extended Solar Minimum...

Even the mainstream scientific press is starting to talk about the very odd, extended solar minimum we're experiencing.  Next thing you know, they'll start wondering about its impact on climate!

Mickey Kaus vs. “The Box”

Mickey Kaus is running his “Long-shot, bare-bones, grassroots, maverick, seat-of-the pants or independent, but not symbolic, or quixotic” campaign against Barbara Boxer.  I like the cardboard box on the podium!

Memorial Day Message...

From Ted Nugent:
Never forget them. Make every day Memorial Day.
What he said.

The Sarah Palin Homunculus that Lives Inside Liberals' Heads...

IowaHawk is at it again.  WARNING: put your drink down before reading...

Arctic Ice News...

It's Arctic Ice week, or at least it seems like it over at Watts Up With That?

Volcanic Smoke Ring...

Steve and Donna O'Meara captured this photo of a smoke ring shooting out of the Eyjafjallajokull Volcano on May 1, on Iceland.  Anthony Watts estimates its diameter at 1 to 2 kilometers (about a mile).  Awesome!

Quote of the Day...

From Escort81 (at TigerHawk), upon seeing this bumper sticker on a Prius:
If you've lost the Whole Foods-shopping Prius-driving voter, you've lost liberal America, and you're in trouble with your base.
Don't miss the comments...

Miracle of the Little Ships...

Seventy years ago this week, a ragtag, hastily-organized flotilla of some 850 little ships – mostly civilian – crossed the English Channel to Dunkirk to rescue over 300,000 British and French troops under siege from the Nazis.  Through a combination of excellent adaptive leadership, enthusiastic civilian participation (at great risk to both the sailors and their boats), numerous tactical errors and poor leadership on the part of the Nazis, and pure blind luck, they pulled off one of the most amazing wartime feats ever. 

This week, more than 50 of the remaining “little ships” are making a commemorative crossing from Dover to Dunkirk.  The last such crossing was in 1990, on the 50th anniversary...

Good Bosses Believe...

According to Robert Sutton, good bosses believe twelve things.  Lots of ground truth here, I think...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

More Dogs...

Here are the promised videos...







Dogs...

Now comes the important part of our trip: the dogs!  Racer and Miki had the time of their lives yesterday.  After the long drive from home to Mt. San Jacinto, they were visibly surprised to find that when they got out of the truck they were in a doggie wonderland.  Lots of space to run around in!  Lots of new smells!  Lots of things to play with – especially pine cones.  Racer has a thing for pine cones; they are by far his favorite toy.  Then there was the stream – oh what fun to run and splash in it!  After a couple of hours of running around like crazy, they crashed on the drive home, sleeping like logs...

Here are some photos from the day; videos will follow:

Streams...

Mt. San Jacinto is a very dry mountain, especially on the eastern flanks.  We spent the day on the north side, which isn't quite a desert environment but doesn't look so very far from it.  The soil is mainly decomposed granite and sand, with very little organic material – so the drainage is practically perfect.  The result is powder-dry soil, lots of dust, and almost no running water.  Except, that is, while the snow pack is still melting – and it was melting while we were there yesterday.  So we had some running water – little rivulets to small streams.  We found one very near the end of Black Mountain Road that was a delight both for us (visually) and for the dogs (much more viscerally).  Some scenes from that stream:

Snow Plant...

Here's one of the stranger members of the flora in the area: the snow plant (Sarcodes sanguinea), a parasitic plant.  My father and I saw lots of these in the Mt. Lassen area a few years ago, and I saw them many times when hiking around Mt. San Jacinto in the 1970s.  I haven't often seen them in the act of emerging, though...

Scenery...

All along Black Mountain Road, one is treated to beautiful vistas.  To the northwest, on a clear day (like yesterday), you can see Mt. Baldy some 65 miles away.  Just 20 miles to the north is San Gorgonio peak.  Both of these were snowcapped, as was the upper elevations of Mt. San Jacinto visible to our south.  We hit just a bit of snow, in shaded areas above about 7,500 feet.  Here are some of the scenes that caught our eye:

Indian Paintbrush...

Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja) wasn't very plentiful, but the few specimens we saw were beautiful – a deeper, purer red than we normally see around home...

Flowers...

Some minature wildflowers that occurred in the lower elevations in sandy flats along the road.  The purple patches were visible from a long distance, but the tiny, sparse little white blossoms were almost invisible until you were upon them...

Manzanita...

One of the delights all along Black Mountain Road are the manzanita.  With all the water this year, most of them are loaded with bloom.  Depending on our altitude (this varied quite a bit over the course of the day), we caught them anywhere from just beginning to bud to absolutely bursting with bloom.  The species found on Mt. San Jacinto are different than the ones we have, just 150 miles south (but much lower altitude).  The species I photographed all day long was my favorite, with bright red or pink flowers than any of our four species have.

Grasshopper...

I've no idea what kind of grasshopper this is, but it was abundant all along the lower reaches of Black Mountain Road...

A Mini-Vacation...

Yesterday Debbie and I took two of our dogs (Miki and Racer) on a one-day vacation: a trip to Mt. San Jacinto, about 150 miles north of our home.  We spent most of our time up there on a leisurely drive along Black Mountain Road, with frequent stops for short walks and explorations.  We finished our day with dinner at the Gastrognome in Idyllwild, long one of our favorite restaurants.

The next few posts contain photos from our trip...

Friday, May 28, 2010

Why Can't They See?

My mom sent along the photo at right as one in a collection of absurdities.  It nicely illustrates the paradox that many before me have pointed out: if psychics can predict the future, then why can't they (a) forsee circumstances such as the one at right, (b) get rich by forseeing stock price movements or real estate values, (c) avoid accidental trauma themselves or their loved ones, (d) etc., etc.?

The few times in investigational writings when I've seen such questions raised, the replies of the psychics are such obvious claptrap that one would think nobody would buy their story.  Yet billions of people around the world persist in believing this sort of magical thinking, in the face of such abundant contrary evidence.  Why can't they see the truth in front of their faces?

The Hell You Say...

Via my mom:
George Bush, Queen Elizabeth, and Vladimir Putin all die and go to hell. While there, they spy a red phone and ask what the phone is for. The devil tells them it is for calling back to Earth.

Putin asks to call Russia and talks for 5 minutes. When he is finished the devil informs him that the cost is a million dollars, so Putin writes him a check.

Next Queen Elizabeth calls England and talks for 30 minutes. When she is finished the devil informs her that the cost is 6 million dollars, so she writes him a check.

Finally George Bush gets his turn and talks for 4 hours. When he is finished the devil informs him that the cost is $5.00.

When Putin hears this he goes ballistic and asks the devil why Bush got to call the USA so cheaply.

The devil smiles and replies: "Since Obama took over, the country has gone to hell, so it's a local call."
Depending on your frame of mind when you read this, it can be either comic or tragic...

Lessons Learned from 13 Failed Software Ventures...

Often there's more to learn from failure than from success.  I've learned more than many have ...

Attitude in Programming...

Jonathan Edwards has an interesting post about the importance – the primacy, really – of attitude in programming.  The basic message is that when there's a choice between simple, readily digestible way to do something and a more complex but also more elegant or beautiful (to a sophisticated or accomplished programmer), then choose the simple way every time.  Making those choices for the simple means the overall piece of software will be less complex, more bug-free, more easily modified, etc. 

I couldn't agree more, but I don't the picture is quite as clear as he paints it (and I suspect Edwards would agree).  For example, one of the tensions in making such choices lies with deciding exactly what is simple and clear.  I had an experience a couple of years ago that illustrates this.  I'd written a small piece of code (in Java) that made use of the exclusive-or operator (“^”).  To me, that was obvious, simple, and clear – and obviously simpler than the alternative.  But my colleagues disagreed, because they didn't know that operator.  To them, writing (a && !b) || (!a && b) was simpler and clearer than a ^ b (where a and b are boolean values) which was a huge surprise for me!  I eventually settled on the code a != b, which satisfied both of us.  The point is that it's not always easy to decide exactly what constitutes simple and digestible – but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be your goal...

Quote of the Day...

From an excellent piece by Peggy Noonan, who seems to be seeing clearly once again:
But Mr. Obama was supposed to be competent.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Full Moon, Round Two...

Walking the dogs at 3:30 am again, but this morning the moon is a bit higher in the sky, and much brighter than yesterday.  My walk was in the moon-shadows of the pines along our driveway, but from there I could see the entire eastern end of Lawson Valley all lit up with the moonlight.  It was bright enough to see some colors; the hills were distinctly brown and green, and the native grasses on our hillside that have gone to seed were waving their reddish-beige heads in the gentle morning breeze.  A little desert scent wafted in on that breeze; not much compared with a month ago, but still enough for anyone who knows the chaparral to recognize.

The dogs, as usual, couldn't care less about the beauty around us.  As I got near our gate, all four were nose-down, intent on absorbing the essence of some night-time visitor.  But then a surprise!  A rabbit suddenly bolted from about 4 feet away – and of course all four dogs immediately lunged after it just as hard as they could.  This overwhelmed my ability to hold them back, as the force vectors on the leashes were all pointed the same exact direction  – across the bottom of our yard.  So off we went, four dogs followed by an ancient software engineer, trying my best to stop them, or at least slow down their breakneck pace.

Somehow I managed to stay upright.  The rabbit disappeared under our fence about 150 feet from our driveway, and the dogs stopped.  They seemed surprised that I was still behind them, and I was a bit surprised myself.  They resumed their random walking, the force vectors on my leash hand once again largely canceled out, and I was able to drag the four dogs back toward the house and my morning tea...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

AGW Loses at the Premier Formal Debate...

Lord Monckton (a well-known advocate for AGW skepticism) represented the “pro” side in a debate for this motion put before the Oxford Union Society:
That this House would put economic growth before combating climate change.
In that somewhat detached world of formal debate, this provoked a gasp heard 'round the world, as Lord Monckton was supposed to lose. Big.  Instead, he won, 135 to 110.

AGW skepticism (or even better, a more generally skeptic view) seems to be taking root even amongst the young, idealistic, credulous kids at school...

Would Global Warming Really Be All Bad?

Interesting piece over at Watts Up With That?...

There's a Reason Why Farmers are Smarter...

But it just may be a different reason than you imagined...

Full Moon Morning...

Out at 3:30 am to walk the dogs, and there was a nearly full moon hanging just above the horizon to our southwest.  It cast enough light for me to walk easily without a flashligh.  Our local horizon is comprised of mountains, and from our driveway the moon was hanging at the bottom of a deep “notch” in the horizon, with a mountain to either side of it.  Simply beautiful.

The four dogs, of course, couldn't have cared less about the beautiful moon.  As usual, they were noses-down, checking out who visited our yard last night.  I'm sure that if they could only talk they'd be able to give me a detailed list...

Corruption...

My friends hear me say that corruption pervades our politics, and many of them react by giving knowing looks “I knew that guy was crazy!” or by asking me to explain such an irrational comment.  I've tried to explain, but I've never managed to do so quite as well as this.

That, folks, is what I'm talking about when I say that we're all paying for pervasive corruption.  That's what scares me so much about having the government run my healthcare.  And that's what we need to blow up somehow if we really want to change the way politics works...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Desert Morning...

Yesterday morning was a desert morning to remember.  Despite being almost June, the temperature was 34°F when I went out for my 3:30 am walk with our dogs.  There was no moon in the sky, and when I first went outside I could see only the very brightest stars.  Within a few minutes, though, I could see many thousands of them – along with one of the brightest displays of the Milky Way I have ever seen.  I walked a little further than I usually do, down past our gate, just to get a clear view to the southeast, where the Milky Way descended into the horizon.  It was simply stunning – arcing from the southeast straight overhead into the north.  Details of shape and texture that I'd never seen before leapt out at me as my eyes continued accommodating to the darkness.  Beautiful!

The dogs, of course, couldn't possibly care less about the Milky Way.  As I stumbled along with my face toward the sky, they were noses-down, deciphering all the visitors to our yard last night.  All four were on leashes, and as they wandered about me, randomly, they tied their leashes into a very impressive knot.  At one point, a sound off to our right caught their attention, and all four simultaneously lunged off in that direction.  Four dogs pulling in the same direction is right at the limit in terms of my being able to stand upright.  They dragged me off our driveway about 20 feet into our yard, until their attentions were grabbed by something else.  When they're each doing their own thing, the vector sum of the forces they impose on my arm isn't very large (lots of cancelation!), so they're easy to control.  But when they all decide to go the same way, I'm in trouble...

I finally got them back to the driveway, and (carefully) resumed my skygazing.  It made me remember Jim Lovell in Apollo 8, describing how bright and beautiful the Milky Way was as they were halfway between the Earth and the moon.  I'd like to see that...

Sun Drives Climate?

For years now, skeptics of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) have been pointing out the abundant evidence for a linkage between solar output and Earth's climate.  For the most part these are observed correllations, not causual observations – but (as many skeptics have pointed out) even an observed correllation is far more interesting evidence than the output of a rather primitive computer model (what the AGW proponents rely on).

So it was with special interest that I read this newspaper article asserting that (a) solar scientists have been skeptical-but-silent about AGW from the beginning, and that (b) ClimateGate or something in the water seems to have released the solar scientists from their vow of silence, and they are increasingly assertive in their claims that solar cycles drive Earth's climate.  Yes, I know it's a Canadian newspaper.  Yes, I know that makes it suspect, on political and moral grounds.  But still...

Advanced Programming Languages...

Matt Might has a nice brief introduction to some of the more popular “advanced” programming languages.  Several of these look quite interesting to me (like Scala) – if I ever get a free week or two, I'd love to check some of them out...

Software Testing...

Interesting piece on the value (or not) of unit testing – from, of all places, MSDN.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Debbie and Miki...

Running on 5/22/10 (they took first place on each run):

North Korea...

The situation on the Korean peninsula looks very precarious to me (and to many other observers).  There's the classic, oft-repeated political tension caused by the provactive acts of one party – politicians are lining up either in the appeasement camp (though of course they describe it as “caution” or some other positive word) and the stomp 'em into the ground camp (couched of course as “consequences” or some such).  But however they word it, the choices are essentially between appeasement and attack. 

A middle ground seems impossible on this: if one country is blatantly attacked by another, causing deaths and the destruction of property, there really are only two choices: either one responds or one does not.  Both choices have consequences.

Personally, I lean toward “attack”, though not necessarily in the military sense.  I can see at least two different responses that might work: either economic sanctions of the effective variety (very difficult to achieve unless China reverses its policies toward North Korea), or an obvious retaliatory military action (say, sinking the entire North Korean fleet, which I think consists of about 12 vessels).  Both of these actions carry the possibility (perhaps even the probability) that North Korea will escalate the conflict by attacking South Korea.  We know that in the long run North Korea would lose such a conflict, but in the short run the damage to South Korea might be considerable. 

This is exactly the sort of threat that every penny-ante dictator uses as his real weapon, with the real objective of short-term benefit from his adversary's appeasement.  We're decades down that road with North Korea; none of our appeasing moves have brought tensions down one whit.  In fact, quite the opposite.  I think it's time for action.

Then there's the political reality of America's current administration.  It seems most unlikely that they could ever rouse themselves to effective retaliatory action, or even effective backing of our South Korean ally (other than through words).  If I were in the South Korean government, I'd be quite nervous about this...

Avalanche Diagrams of Hash Functions...

Fascinating set of avalanche diagrams for various hash functions.  Like many analysis techniques, these take advantage of our perceptual system's ability to digest information rapidly.  FNV is much worse than I expected...

Copernicus Reburied...

Copernicus (1473-1543) was the astronomer who challenged the Roman Catholic Church's dogma of Earth-centricity (by demonstrating that the Earth and the other planets revolved around the sun), and was condemned for his excellent work.  Yesterday, in a slightly more enlightened times, his remains were exhumed and reburied – now honored by the church that once condemned him...

RIP, Martin Gardner...

If I had to choose one person who was most responsible for my continuing interest in mathematics, it would be Martin Gardner (through his Scientific American column “Mathematical Games”.  This was one of the features that I most looked forward to every month, a new adventure, often into some branch of math I'd never even heard of before.  His columns made math both fun and relevant to other things I was interested in.

Martin Gardner died Saturday at age 95.  Millions around the world will miss him, but his 50 books and hundreds of columns in Scientific American, Skeptical Inquirer and numerous anthologies survive him...

Latest Google Unemployment Index...

Well, this looks encouraging (click to enlarge).  It looks like many fewer people are searching for unemployment-related topics these days.  We had one other dip near the beginning of last year, but other than that the level has been roughly steady since the end of 2008.  Let's hope that this is a continuing trend, and a leading indicator on economic recovery.  Oh, and let's also hope that Greece et al don't drag us all down into the economic swamps, too...

Sheesh, that's a lot of hoping, isn't it?

Poster of the Day...

Where to be a Tourist...

Interesting “heat map” color-coding the entire world based on how many photos are taken and posted on Google Maps.  There are some big surprises for me in here.  Like any other Google map, you can pan and zoom all you want...

On Blumenthal's False Claims of Vietnam Service...

What she said...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Althouse 1, Birnbaum 0...

Ann Althouse embarrasses Michael Birnbaum of the Washington Post – and in the process, nicely demonstrates why so many people distrust the lamestream media.

It's absolutely pathetic.

Doolittle Raiders...

On April 18, 1942 – just over 68 years ago – 80 American fliers in 16 B-25s launched from the decks of the carrier USS Hornet on a desperate mission to strike a defiant blow against Japan.  Just four months earlier, Imperial Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor dragged the U.S. into war, and a series of Japanese conquests and victories, with no Allied successes, had lowered U.S. morale badly.

President Roosevelt wanted some action to turn U.S. morale around, and eventually his call to action translated into a mission for Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle. Very quickly he put together his team, training in secrecy on how to launch B-25s from carriers – something they were never intended to do.  The plan was to launch from a carrier, bomb Japan, and then land on beaches in China.  Every man on the team knew that their chances for survival were low, and for success even lower.  They went anyway, on the mission that will forever be known as the Doolittle Raid.

After the raid, when Doolittle found out that all 16 planes were lost and that very little damage was done, he told his team that he thought the mission was a failure and that he was likely to be court-martialed upon return.  Instead, of course, they were greeted as conquering heroes for having done something that every American wanted to do: figuratively punch Japan in the nose.

My introduction to the Doolittle Raid was Ted Lawson's little book 30 Seconds Over Tokoyo (Amazon: Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (Aviation Classics)).  I have since read much more, but none better.

Last month was the 68th reunion of the few remaining survivors of the Doolittle Raid, in Dayton, Ohio.  To commemorate the occasion, someone arranged the largest gathering of flying B-25s in many, many years.  The video below is from that event.  The few scenes with the remaining survivors gave me goose-bumps, as did the scenes of those plucky planes flying over the airfield.  At this remove, it's difficult to fully imagine what those flyers faced that day, flying such comparatively primitive machines into an implacably hostile enemy's home – but it's easy to admire them, and to be grateful for their unbelievable courage.  I salute them!


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Et Tu, Science?

The mainstream media of science has, in general, circled the wagons with respect to ClimateGate – they are, without significant exception that I'm aware of, uniformly credulous of the IPCC report and dismissive of the rather obvious misbehavior of the scientists exposed in ClimateGate.  One by one, I've been deciding not to renew my subscriptions to these magazines; I'm now more confident of information I (very carefully) get on the web.  Most recently I've decided not to renew my subscription to Scientific American, which I've taken continuously since 1973.  The only remaining science publication I subscribe to is Science News, which (so far) has basically remained out of the debate, while reporting the actual news on all fronts.

I haven't subscribed to Science for many years, but their recent editorial has been all over the intertubes.  Willis Eschenbach does a nice takedown of it.

Book Review: The Price of Glory...

Written by Alistair Horne, The Price of Glory is an eminently readable history of the horrifying Battle of Verdun in 1916, during the first World War.  The perspective of the narrator rambles over almost every possible position, often deliberately contrasting perspectives within a few sentences of each other.  For instance, in describing the battle for Fort Douaumont, the narrative flips freely from the perspective of the German attacker to the French defender, then from a front-line soldier to the battalion commander and then to the commanding general and even the politicians.  Horne is adept at weaving all these perspectives into a story that gives the reader a much deeper appreciation of the entire event.

And what an event!  Even before I read this book, I'd read enough about WWI to make the word “Verdun” unusually evocative of the horror of war.  After reading this book, I have the same deeply horrified feeling one has after reading one of Edgar Allen Poe's novels – with the additional frisson of knowing that Verdun really happened.  And, one can't help but think, might possibly happen again...

Highly recommended reading for anyone with even the slightest interest in World War I...

Link to Amazon: The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916

Batteries, Dogs, and Other Nighttime Terrors...

So last night I stayed up late finishing an excellent book (more on that in a moment), knowing that on Saturday morning I could sleep in 'till 6 am or so.  Debbie is away at a dog agility event with Miki and Race (our two rambunctious younger dogs), leaving me with Lea (12 years old) and Mo'i (9 years old).  Both dogs stretched out luxuriously on the bed.  By 10 pm or so we were all snoring.

Until about 4:05 am, that is.  At that moment, in the hallway just outside our bedroom door, the fire alarm decided that its battery had reached the end of its lifetime.  I'm sure you know what that meant: at precisely 60 second intervals, an ear-splitting “chirp!” erupted. 

This had three immediate effects: I woke up, Mo'i leapt straight up and then ran out looking for the source of the evil noise, and Lea started shivering with an energy that must be experienced to be believed.  Lea is absolutely terrified by loud, sudden noises (thunder, gun shots, fireworks, and fire alarms all qualify).  Her reaction is to instantly start shivering violently – if you hold her tightly, it feels like she's wiggling back and forth with all the power she can muster, several times per second.  It's so powerful a motion that it's actually a little frightening – you wonder how her flesh can hold up.

So of course, half asleep, half blind without my glasses and in the pitch dark, I have to get up and fix the danged fire alarm.  I don't dare simply pull out the old battery, because it might be months before I remember to replace it.  So I stumble out to the kitchen to find a new battery (bashing two toes and an elbow in the process), then into the livingroom to find a stool to stand on (bashing my face into the wall in the process), then triumphantly carry the stool and battery into the hallway.  Somehow in the darkness I managed to tangle my legs around the stool and I tripped – hurtling the battery a few miles as I fell, and making a satisfying “thud” with the side of my head as I acquainted myself intimately with the floor.

After a couple of minutes I could see the darkness again (after the flashing stars disappeared).  Back into the kitchen.  Found another battery.  Back to the hall, on my hands and knees to reduce the amount of potential energy should I stumble again.  Found the stool, astonishingly still in one piece.  Put the stool in the proper place, clambered onto it, and successfully removed the old battery.  Dropped the new battery.  Carefully descended the stool and searched until I found the new battery.  Back onto the stool, replaced the battery, and slithered back down and back into bed.

A couple hours later, sunshine streaming into the window woke me up.  The first thing I did was to gingerly touch the various parts of my body that had been rudely smashed a couple hours earlier – everything seemed to be in the right place, and at least approximately of normal size, so apparently the injuries weren't as bad as the associated pain would indicate.  A quick check in the mirror: no blood, no bruises.  Amazing!  Then out to the hallway where I located the stool and the old, used battery – but I still haven't found the first new battery that went flying as I fell.  I'm not at all certain it's still on my property, much less inside my house.  I looked for telltale holes in the furniture and walls, but found nothing.  Maybe it vaporized upon impact, or maybe it's in orbit...

Jamul Casino Update...

And the bad news (if you're Lakes Entertainment) keeps on pouring in.

If you happen to be opposed to the Jamul Casino (as I am), this is great news!

The layman's summary: Lakes Entertainment had to acknowledge an additional $1.5 million in losses for the past quarter.  Given that their total operating expenses outside of such losses were $3.2 million, that's a significant number – their CFO must be looking forward to the day when they've completely written off their investment in the Jamul Casino.  I don't have a balance sheet, and I haven't tabulated the ongoing stream of losses – but I think they must be within a year or so of zeroing out that account.

Unless the Jamul Indian Tribe secures other financing somehow, the casino project looks pretty much moribund...

Feynman on Scientific Integrity...

Years ago I read and enjoyed a commencement speech by physicist Richard Feynman (one of my personal heroes).  It was really about the importance of integrity in science, but in Feynman's clever style it contained references to the “cargo cult” of some Pacific islanders, rats running in mazes, Millikan's famous oil-drop experiment measuring the charge of an electron and more.  I remembered that reading this speech, I thought it was the best essay on scientific integrity I'd ever read.

Thinking about the ClimateGate controversy reminded me of Feynman's speech – the behavior of the scientists involved would have made a great addition to the examples of bad science that Feynman used.  So I went looking for it with Google, and quickly found it by searching for “cargo cult” and “Millikan”.

I enjoyed re-reading it just as much as I enjoyed it the first time.  Here's a transcript of Feynman's 1974 CalTech commencement speech...

Friday, May 21, 2010

Our Future Healthcare...

The best model we have for Obamacare is the Massachussetts experiment with RomneyCare.  The more I read about that debacle, the more pessimistic I get about ObamaCare.  Now Megan McCardle points out an entirely new game the political geniuses in Massachussetts are playing: punish the winners and reward the losers. But I forget – that's what socialists do, isn't it?

The short version of the story: the fiscal effects of RomneyCare are making it almost impossible for hospitals in Massachussetts to make a profit (i.e., to avoid going broke).  The politicians quickly realized that this is an unacceptable situation, and that it must be fixed.  So their “fix”?  Steal $100 million  from the precious few hospitals that have managed to remain profitable, and give it to those hospitals that would otherwise be failing.  Sheer genius!

If I was on the Board of Directors of any of those hospitals, I'd be examining all possible options for moving the entire operation out of state...

The Great Dying of Thermometers...

JoNova has a nice animated graphic of the peculiar way that the number of thermometers in the IPCC data increases and then decreases.  The accompanying discussion shows how the thermometers that were removed from the more recent data somehow mysteriously tended to be the ones recording lower temperatures (thus making the average temperatures in their reported data look higher)...

Unions and Schools...

Megan McArdle on teacher's unions, with a particularly interesting example that's a nearly perfect side-by-side test of unionized vs. non-unionized...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pretty Much...

Lake Tanganyika Takedown...

Willis Eschenbach raises a few questions about the recent news stories covering the warming of Lake Tanganyika.  No, that's not right – it's more like Willis Eschenbach reveals the craven, delusional ravings of AGW proponents who claim proof of the lake's recent warming.  Yes, that's more like it...

Holy Moley!

A hailstorm in Oklahoma:


Quote of the Day...

From TJIC:
…the difference between that chimp and the MSM is that the chimp will occassionally type something true.

Draw Mohammed Day...

Poking fun, distributing the risk, whatever – however you position it, it seems like a great idea to me.  I have no talent for drawing anything at all, so I won't offend anyone's artistic sensibilities.  But I was going to attempt an essay on the idea, until Zombie did it for me...

Prediction API...

From Google.  Interesting...

At Last – a Sport for Me!

The training regimen for this sport seems particularly enjoyable.  But why on earth is it starting in China, and not San Diego? 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Dying Wish...

Via my mom:
In Washington an old priest lay dying in the hospital. For years he had faithfully served the people of the nation's capital. He motioned for his nurse to come near.

"Yes, Father?" said the nurse.

"I would really like to see Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi before I die," whispered the priest.

"I'll see what I can do, Father", replied the nurse.

The nurse sent the request to The House and Senate waited for a response.

Soon the word arrived; Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi would be delighted to visit the priest.

As they went to the hospital, Reid commented to Pelosi,
"I don't know why the old priest wants to see us, but it will certainly Help our images and might even get me re-elected." Pelosi agreed that it was a good thing.

When they arrived at the priest's room, the priest took Reid's hand in his right hand and Pelosi's hand in his left.

There was silence and a look of serenity on the old priest's face.

Finally Nancy Pelosi spoke.

"Father, of all the people you could have chosen, why did you choose us to be with you as you near the end?"

The old priest slowly replied, "I have always tried to pattern my life after Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."

"Amen", said Reid.
"Amen", said Pelosi.

The old priest continued, "Jesus died between two lying thieves; I would like to do the same.
Har!

Heh of the Day...

If you're a geeky sort (especially with respect to storage), this is pretty funny...

Intro to Fourier Transforms...

Way back when, shortly after the lava cooled enough to form a solid surface on the Earth, I was making my first explorations into digital signal processing.  With a friend, I was trying to design a better radio teletype (RTTY) modem, and I had the radical notion that a computer might do a better job at it than a collection of op amps, capacitors, resistors, and a bunch of solder.  But of course I had no idea how to go about it.

In the course of some reading, I came across the notion of Fourier Transforms, and in particular the “Fast Fourier Transform” (a software technique) – and off I went into what was the first of many explorations using mathematics to solve problems.  I am living proof that it is possible to do useful work with these techniques even though I am far from expert in the mathematics.  There are lots of engineers like me in this regard, and fortunately for us explanations like this exist for many mathematical tools.

The RTTY problem?  Well, it turned out that the Fast Fourier Transform was in fact a great tool for making a RTTY modem – but there was one little teensy problem.  With the hottest microcomputer of the day (a blazingly fast 4 MHz Z-80), the mathematics required took about 1000 times longer than realtime.  In other words, to analyze and provide results for 1 second of RTTY signal took about 1000 seconds of computer time.  My idea was good, but the hardware of the day was woefully inadequate.  Today's computers could easily do hundreds of them at the same time – and naturally today you can buy an RTTY modem (for under $100!) that works on the same principle that I was trying to use.

Oh, well...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Oh, Jeez...

I hadn't thought of this angle before, but obviously the AGW proponents have.  Is there nothing the courts can't screw up?

Quote of the Day...

From the WSJ's editorial page, in their analysis of Iran's announced nuclear fuel deal with Turkey and Brazil:
In her first game of high-stakes diplomatic poker, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is leaving the table dressed only in a barrel.
Disturbing imagery aside, Obama's team looks like the Keystone Kops of the diplomatic world.  One can easily visualize the snickers and knowing smiles amongst the rest of the world's diplomatic corps as they share their amusement at America's humiliation.

Their excellent column starts with a short, to the point summary: “What a fiasco.”  Indeed.  Read the whole thing.

Looking Back...

At Calvin Coolidge – the much-maligned President who looks pretty darned good to me right now...

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Mr. Potato Head Bill...

Brought to you by John (even the French don't want him) Kerry and Joe (even the Democrats don't want him) Lieberman.  The WSJ is on the case.

Let It Burn?

Interesting piece at American Thinker, by someone who thinks the only road to salvation for America is to let it fail.

Snap reaction: I sure hope he's wrong...but I fear he's right...

Big, Bad Bear!

Reader Simi L. sent a photo of the big bruiser of a bear at right.  He lives well north of Los Angeles, in the region we Southern Californians think of as being roughly the same place as Alaska – “Up there somewhere...”  Simi says:
Attached is a picture of the largest bear I've seen here which I took out of my window last night (hence the reflection of the glass – sorry about that). The white bucket is about 12" tall. Fortunately when I yelled at him he turned out to be a fraid-ie bear and ran off briskly. Based on his size, I don't know why he was so insecure, maybe he was abused as a cub. As most of you know, we see bears here all the time but I've never seen a guy this size.
We've had a few bear sightings in San Diego County over the past decade, but none quite as far south as where we live... 

Sunday, May 16, 2010

ClimateGate Poster...

Steyn, Nick...

Go read.

California is in Eigth Place...

Sheesh...

Isn't It Time to Give Up on This Yet?

The Associated Press makes the argument...

Working in the Yard...

Your blogger is sore all over today, after a hard day's work in the yard yesterday.  We started off by a trip to Kniffing's Nursery – the most beautiful nursery we've seen in San Diego County.  We're kicking ourselves for not having found it sooner!  Not only is it a beautiful place to visit, but the people there are friendly and knowledgable; it felt like being home.  We met Ted Kniffing (the owner), his wife Eva (who helped us find what we were looking for), Hugo (he with the big muscles and the ability to manhandle 300 lb trees with little apparent effort), and Dawn (who was full of great ideas).

Our morning trip had an actual plan: we wanted a Palo Verde tree.  We'd picked the Palo Verde because of it's drought-tolerance, beautiful flowers, year-round green, and (perhaps most importantly) it's “twigginess” – for this tree was destined for a place near our bird feeders, where we have a dearth of nearby perches for the hummingbirds, orioles, goldfinches, grosbeaks, and house finches that all habitually perch before visiting the feeders. 

At Kniffings, Eva walked us around to see the various sizes and varieties of Palo Verdes they had in stock, but it was clear from her discussion that the variety “Desert Museum” was, in her opinion, the one to get.  We thought it was more attractive than the others, so we took her advice and bought one in a 24” square wooden container.  Hugo helped us load it up into my pickup, and away back home we went.  When I backed my truck into the place we were going to plant it, and raised the tree to the vertical, the birds were perching in it within 60 seconds – win!  Our friend and neighbor Jim helped me unload it; I dug the hole (about 12 cubic feet of wet dirt), and plop – in it went!  One beautiful Palo Verde tree.  We like it so much, we've decided to bracket the first one with two more...

I spent the next six hours or so whacking weeds on about a half-acre of ground.  I used the hand-carried Husqvarna with a steel blade to get the mustard plants below ground level.  It's a lot of work, but puts a real dent in the mustard's level of enthusiasm.  We also got ready to pull our out-of-control pampas grass by using the whacker to chop off all the blades.  This made about a cubic yard of debris – what a mess!  Also, using the whacker at head height was a lot of work; my arms are feeling it this morning.

After that we took another trip out to Kniffings, and picked up seven beautiful salvias for Debbie to pot and display (she's doing that today).  Then it was off to Wal-Mart to pick up 25 bags of large pine bark (they have very nice quality pine bark at a very reasonable price – over 1/3 less than the going price at the nurseries).  We were up near Alpine, and it was 5:30 pm, so we ran up to Descanso Junction restaurant and had a splendid meal of grilled mahi-mahi.  Then back home and spread all 25 bags of pine bark over a big bed that Debbie had cleared while I was weed-whacking.  Today Debbie is putting those salvias on display in the bed, in elevated pots.  They should show very nicely against the pine bark.

Whew – what a day!  Today I'm in my little home office, working on software.  Sitting, for once, feels very good...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Potential Irony Alert...

Imagine a few years in the future, our country is back on its liberty-loving, capitalist tracks.  Further imagine that we look back then and see that the primary force behind that development was a single politician whose success galvanized the entire polity.  Then imagine that Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey was that politician.

It's at least plausible.

We'd have to invent a whole new word to express irony that profound.

But it seems more likely to me that the Tea Party movement will provide the impetus.

Of course, Christie and the Tea Party are naturals for some sort of political merger...

Our Farcical Confirmation Hearings...

Peggy Noonan weighs in on Senate confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justices, and how they've degenerated into a podium for degenerate Senators to bloviate from.

Every time I catch a clip of a Senator holding forth in confirmation hearings, this little ditty starts playing in my head:
Rope.
Tree.
Senator.
Some assembly required.

Public Service Ad (from the U.K.)...


Via my cousin Mike D.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

If Microsoft Built Cars...

An oldie-but-goodie, via reader Doug S.:
If Microsoft Built Cars

At a computer expo (COMDEX), Bill Gates reportedly compared the computer industry with the auto industry and stated "If GM had kept up with the technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25.00 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon."

In response to Bill's comments, General Motors made the following contribution to the debate:

If GM had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics:

For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash twice a day.

Every time they repainted the lines on the road, you'd have to buy a new car.

Occasionally your car would just die on the motorway for no reason, You would have to pull over to the side of the road, close all of the car windows, shut it off, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue. For some reason you would simply accept this, restart and drive on.

Occasionally, executing a maneuver would cause your car to stop and fail to restart and you'd have to re-install the engine. For some strange reason, you'd accept this too.

Occasionally, for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.

You could only have one person in the car at a time, unless you bout a "Car 95" or a "Car NT". But then you'd have to buy more seats.

Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, twice as reliable, five times as fast, twice as easy to drive - but it would only run on five percent of the roads.

The Macintosh car owners would get expensive Microsoft upgrades to their cars which would make their cars go much slower.

The oil, engine, gas and alternator warning lights would be replaced with a single "General Car Fault" warning light.

People would get excited about the "new" features in Microsoft cars, forgetting completely that they had been available in other cars for many years.

We'd all have to switch to Microsoft petrol and lubricants but the packaging would be superb.

New seats would force everyone to have the same size arse.

The airbag system would say "Are you sure?" before going off.

If you were involved in a crash, you would have no idea what happened.

They wouldn't build their own engines, but form a cartel with their engine suppliers. The latest engine would have 1 cylinder, multi-point fuel injection and 4 turbos, but it would be a side-valve design so you could use Model-T Ford parts on it.

There would be an "Engium Pro" with bigger turbos, but it would be slower on most existing roads.

Microsoft cars would have a special radio/cassette player which would only be able to listen to Microsoft FM, and play Microsoft Cassettes.Unless of course, you buy the upgrade to use existing stuff.

Microsoft would do so well, because even though they don't own anyroads, all of the road manufacturers would give away Microsoft cars free, including IBM.

If you still ran old versions of car (ie. CarDOS 6.22/CarWIN 3.11), then you would be called old fashioned, but you would be able to drive much faster, and on more roads!

If you couldn't afford to buy a new car, then you could just borrow your friends, and then copy it.

Whenever you bought a car, you would have to reorganize the ignition for a few days before it worked.

You would need to buy an upgrade to run cars on a motorway next to each other.

Every time Microsoft introduced a new car, car buyers would have to learn to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.

Microsoft would require all car buyers to also purchase a deluxe set of Automobile Association Road maps (now a Microsoft subsidiary), even though they neither need nor want them. Attempting to delete this option would immediately cause the car's performance to diminish by 50% or more.

You'd have to press the "Start" button to turn the engine off.

This Guy is Just Plain Crazy!


Via reader Tom B...

Quote of the Day...

From Reuters, for Pete's sake:
The United States posted an $82.69 billion deficit in April, nearly four times the $20.91 billion shortfall registered in April 2009 and the largest on record for that month, the Treasury Department said on Wednesday.
Where's all this money going?  I'm certainly not getting any of it.

Are you pissed off yet?  Remember how this feels when you're voting in November...

Great Illusion...


The four ramps in this device actually slope down toward the center, so the balls are really just rolling downhill, powered by gravity.  The illusion is created by making the ramps non-rectangular in a very specific way.  From one particular perspective, this tricks your brain into thinking that the ramps slope upward toward the center – thus creating the illusion of balls rolling uphill.  You can see this for yourself as the demonstrator rotates the entire assembly – you'll suddenly see it as it really is, with all four ramps sloping down toward the center...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Service Recommendation...

A few weeks ago, Debbie noticed some odd “growths” from a tiny crevice in the drywall of our livingroom.  Both of us thought “Termites!” and we decided to call in a pest control company.  On the basis of nothing more than their clever radio ads and advertised guarantee, we decided to call Corky's Pest Control.

It turned out to be a good decision.

First Corky's sent out an inspector – who showed up at the appointed time (even way out in the boonies where we live!), and quickly determined that we did in fact have termites (of the subterranean variety) and what we should do about it.  He prescribed a pesticide “curtain” around our entire house, with special attention to the area of infestation.  To create this curtain, they would have to dig a small trench around the entire house to soak the ground to a few feet deep with pesticide.  Our home, like many others, has a concrete “apron” around parts of it.  In those areas, they would have to drill small (3/8") holes through the concrete, 18" apart, and inject the pesticide at high pressure.

Our house has a feature that complicated the process just a bit.  We have a covered patio attached to one end of our house, and the wood of the patio roof connects directly to the wood of our house's roof.  That means the termites could eat their way into our patio, and from there into our house – so to make the house safe, the patio also needed to be treated, exactly as the house.  The inspector quoted a price for the entire job that we thought was very fair, and we signed up for the treatment.

A week or so after the inspection, Corky's pesticide applicator showed up (again, on time per the appointment made).  He worked all day to dig trenches, drill holes, apply the pesticide, patch the holes, fill trenches, and clean up.  We were very happy with the quality of the work he did, but there was a bit of confusion.  Normally he doesn't treat patios, and though he saw the inspector's order to treat the patio, he thought it wasn't the right thing to do.  It was a Saturday, and the inspector wasn't available for consultation, so he didn't do the patio, telling us that if it turned out that he was supposed to do it, he'd be back out again.

Well, a few days later we got the treatment report from Corky's, and it was very clear from that paperwork that the patio should have been treated.  Debbie called Corky's, had a pleasant conversation about the issue, and was promised that the pesticide applicator would be back out on May 11th to finish the job.  No hassle, no reluctance – just a straightforward acknowledgement of the issue and a promise to make it right – and on May 11th, the pesticide applicator showed up exactly as promised, and in fact made it right, treating the patio area exactly as the inspector had intended.

I think that recovering from a problem situation is a great test of the quality of a service provider, and Corky's passed this accidental test with flying colors.  If we need termite service again, we're calling Corky's – and we're recommending them to our friends and neighbors...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

'Till the End of Time...

Your morning inspirational tear-jerker...

Mullah Omar Captured?

Breitbart's Big Journalism is so reporting, with a disturbing twist in the backstory...

RIP, Guenter Wendt...

In my teens and early 20s, I was a serious fanboy of the first three manned space programs (Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo).  I read everything I could get my hands one, listened to radio programs, and watched the very limited footage available on television back then.  Several personalities loomed large after that immersion, and one of them was Guenter Wendt – the famously authoritarian “owner” of the white room at the top of the gantry.  Guenter was the last person the astronauts saw after they were sealed in their capsule.

Guenter Wendt died on May 3, at age 85.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mule Raffle...

Reader Simi L. passes along a slightly rewritten oldie-but-goodie:
Curtis & Leroy saw an ad in the The Oxford Eagle Newspaper in Oxford, Mississippi. and bought a mulefor $100. The farmer agreed to deliver the mule the next day.

The next morning the farmer drove up and said, "Sorry, fellers, I have some bad news, the mule died last night."

Curtis & Leroy replied, "Well, then just give us our money back."

The farmer said, "Can't do that. I went and spent it already."

They said, "OK then, just bring us the dead mule."

The farmer asked, "What in the world ya'll gonna do with a dead mule?"

Curtis said, "We're gonna raffle him off."

The farmer said, "You can't raffle off a dead mule!"

Leroy said, "We shore can! Heck, we don't hafta tell nobody he's dead!"

A couple of weeks later, the farmer ran into Curtis & Leroy at the Piggly Wiggly grocery store and asked, "What'd you fellers ever do with that dead mule?"

Curtis said, "We raffled him off like we said we wuz gonna do."

Leroy said, "Shucks, we sold 500 tickets fer two dollars apiece and made a profit of $898."

The farmer said,"My Lord, didn't anyone complain?"

Curtis said, "Well, the feller who won, got upset. So we gave him his two dollars back..."

Curtis and Leroy now work for the government.

They're overseeing the Bailout Program.
For my readers in Europe and on the West Coast: there really is a chain of stores called Piggly Wiggly. Really, there is.

Elena Kagan...

The WSJ has a good summary of Elena Kagan's background and experience.  There's lots more on the intertubes.

My own take: she's far less bad than someone Obama might have appointed if the political situation wasn't so disastrous for the Democrats right now.  I suspect he and his aides have done the political calculus, and are betting that Ms. Kagan has the right combination of relatively mild leftism and absence of rabid anti-conservatism to at least have a chance of making it by the Senate.

It could have been much worse...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!

I've been saving this contribution (from reader and cousin Mike D.) for today:
WHY GOD MADE MUMS

Answers given by 2nd year school children to the following questions:


Why did God make mothers?

1. She's the only one who knows where the selotape is.

2. Mostly to clean the house.

3. To help us out of there when we were getting born.


How did God make mothers?

1. He used dirt, just like for the rest of us.

2. Magic plus super powers and a lot of stirring.

3. God made my mum just the same like he made me. He just used bigger parts.


Why did God give you your mother and not some other mum?

1. We're related.

2. God knew she likes me a lot more than other people's mum like me.


What kind of a little girl was your mum?

1. My mum has always been my mum and none of that other stuff.

2. I don't know because I wasn't there, but my guess would be pretty bossy.

3. They say she used to be nice.


What did mum need to know about dad before she married him?

1. His last name.

2. She had to know his background. Like is he a crook? Does he get drunk on beer?

3. Does he make at least 8000 a year? Did he say NO to drugs and YES to chores?


Why did your mum marry your dad?

1. My dad makes the best spaghetti in the world. And my mum eats a lot.

2. She got too old to do anything else with him.

3. My grandma says that mum didn't have her thinking cap on.


Who's the boss at your house?

1. Mum doesn't want to be boss, but she has to because dad's such an idiot.

2. Mum. You can tell by room inspection. She sees the stuff under the bed.

3. I guess mum is, but only because she has a lot more to do than dad.


What's the difference between mums and dads?

1. Mums work at work and work at home and dads just go to work at work.

2. Mums know how to talk to teachers without scaring them.

3. Dads are taller and stronger, but mums have all the real power 'cause that's who you got to ask if you want to sleep over at your friends.

4. Mums have magic, they make you feel better without medicine.


What does your mum do in her spare time?

1. Mothers don't do spare time.

2. To hear her tell it, she pays bills all day long.


What would it take to make your mum perfect?

1. On the inside she's already perfect. Outside, I think some kind of plastic surgery.

2. Diet. You know, her hair. I'd diet, maybe blue.


If you could change one thing about your mum, what would it be?

1. She has this weird thing about me keeping my room clean. I'd get rid of that.

2. I'd make my mum smarter. Then she would know it was my sister who did it not me.

3. I would like for her to get rid of those invisible eyes on the back of her head.

Blondes and Computers...

Forwarded to me by reader Doug W.:
During a company's recent password audit, it was found
that a blonde employee was using the following password:

       “MickeyMinniePlutoHueyLouieDeweyDonaldGoofyWashington”

When asked why she had such a long password, she said she was told that it had to be …  at least 8 “characters” long and include at least one “capital!”
Har!

Government In Action...

My sister-in-law Gina P. passed along an email containing a letter from the State of Pennsylvania to a landowner in the state, and the landowner's response.  It's very funny, but it turns out that the version she sent was modified (why do people do these things?) from the just-as-funny original.  This really happened, but in Michigan, not Pennsylvania. 

The indispensable Snopes has the real dam thing.

Disappearing Food...

My mom passed along this note from a friend of theirs:
The latest thing in our house is that our 4 year old black Lab has figured out how to open the refrigerator. The first time was when I was in California. Owen and Matilda thought one of them had failed to close the refrigerator door. June, the dog, ate a blueberry cobbler, leftover spaghetti, a bowl of grapefruit and oranges, sausage, rice, and soy beans. Matilda made another cobbler. June ate it too. By that time Matilda and Owen were beginning to think it wasn't them but they couldn't believe a dog could really open a refrigerator. That night they caught her. She puts her nose down at the bottom of the door, right where the gasket is and just pushes. Now we have a child proof lock on the door. The only problem is people who forget to lock the lock. One night this week someone had a late night snack, didn't lock the door, and June ate a whole pineapple i'd peeled and cut up. It hurts to be outsmarted by a dog.
Mo'i (one of our field spaniels) would behave just like this, if only he could figure out how to open our refrigerator.  We have one of those extra-large refrigerators (very handy when you live as far from a grocery store as we do), so we're extra-vulnerable.  Thankfully he hasn't been smart enough yet to figure out how to do it...

A Preacher I Can Find Some Agreement With...

Via reader Dick F.  If you're a regular reader, you know I'm not a religious guy.  But the preacher who delivered the prayer below, to open a new session of the Kansas State Senate – there's a preacher I might find some agreement with.  His name is Joe Wright, and he's the preacher at the Central Christian Church of Wichita, Kansas.  His prayer (from 1996, but even more relevant today):
Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and to seek your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, 'Woe to those who call evil good,' but that is exactly what we have done.

We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values.

We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.

We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.

We have killed our unborn and called it choice.

We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable.

We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self esteem.

We have abused power and called it politics.

We have coveted our neighbor's possessions and called it ambition.

We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.

We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.

Search us, Oh, God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and set us free.
Amen!
You tell 'em, brother Joe – and keep telling 'em, will you?

Top Ten Democratic Slogans for 2010...

Found at a site I'd rather not link to (because there's much on there I don't want to support).  But these are priceless...

The Democrats know they're in trouble for the 2010 mid-term elections this November.  Obviously the cure is a new slogan, or at least that seems to be the progressive theory.  So they came up with candidates for the new slogan, and these are the top 10:

10.  Bitterly clinging to taxes and abortion.

9.  We didn't destroy your freedoms; you can visit them at the Smithsonian.

8.  If you want us to listen to your opinion, move to Europe.

7.  Someday none of this will be yours.

6.  We can't tax terrorism, so who cares?

5.  Please don't vote us out!  None of us can do real jobs!

4.  Why the Founding Fathers limited government: racism.

3.  Reducing America's carbon footprint, one job at a time.

2.  America: we just can't wait to see how it ends!

1.  Making everything in this country free, except you.

Vote this November.  The list above should be all the guidance you need...

Tiny Single-Board Linux Computer for $89...

This brings all sorts of fun little projects to mind.  The board is less than 4 inches square, consumes less than a half watt of power, and has all the basic things you'd expect (Ethernet, video, sound, serial, USB, SATA, and expansion capability).  It's called the Hawkboard, and it's the best thing I've seen yet for hobby projects that need (or would benefit from) a “real” computer in the middle...

Quote of the Year...

By a commenter over at Megan McArdle's place.  The context was Megan's post about SWAT teams shooting homeowners or their dogs for “aggressive behavior” in reaction to the SWAT team's attack on their home.  The commentor said:
Do we really want to live in a country where when someone busts into your house at night you're supposed to assume they might be cops?
Well said, brother!

Armed men entering our home without warning will be met with very aggressive high-velocity lead.  We keep a 7 shot semi-automatic shotgun readily at hand, though we had more need for it in our old home in Chula Vista than we have out here in the far more law-abiding Lawson Valley...

Birdemic...

Birdemic is apparently a recently released movie.  I haven't watched a movie in years, and there is zero probability that I'll ever watch this one, even before reading these reviews on IMDB (at the behest of a friend who thought that this was a movie I might actually want to see). 

But the reviews themselves...now that's a whole 'nother story.  Those make very entertaining reading.  Here's my favorite:
Where does one start? How can you mentally digest something like Birdemic? I am still in shock. I have seen some shitty movies in my time. But Birdemic, friends and neighbors, is the worst movie in the history of film-making, on this planet or in any other dimension for that matter. It is bad, OMG, right off the scale on the shitometer. The acting? Poor Alan Bagh, is he a living, walking wooden plank? Special effects? I swear, the birds are cardboard cutouts dangling from strings. For some reason, they explode when they hit something. Why? Why is that? Can't somebody explain, for freak's sake?

Everything stinks so very gaggingly. A rhesus monkey with a camcorder poking out of its arse would do better. Beware, my friends, beware of this abomination that is Birdemic.

An American Mulim Speaks Out...

We really need to see much more of this.  M. Zuhdi Jasser, an American Muslim and former Navy Lieutenant Commander, wrote a letter to his fellow Muslims.  It concludes:
Whether we declare it or not, the United States is at war with the ideology of militant Islamism. Islamists are not afraid to call for the complete destruction of the principles that built our great country. The United States cannot afford to be timid in our response to their actions. We, Americans, especially American Muslims, must show Islamists that their ideology is beyond being simply ‘dangerous’, or ‘violent’. It is in fact treasonous and punishable as a capital crime against the state as an act of war. Our founding fathers knew how to articulate the values of liberty over theocracy. Where has that American penchant for the defense of religious freedom and liberty gone?

Our elected officials and leaders must show true ideological leadership if we are to ever begin the long process of ridding ourselves of the scourge of Islamist terrorism. We cannot cower to victim-mongering American Islamist organizations that thrive on keeping us on the defensive and from addressing the very real Islamist threats to our security. Platitudes that only condemn violence and ignore ideology are an obstacle to needed reform.

Our leaders must wake up and engage in the global war of ideas and demonstrate that the rule of one law that protects universal religious freedom (Americanism) takes precedence over the Islamic state. America in fact provides the best atmosphere for Muslims to practice our faith and it is long overdue for American Muslims to also wake up and empower honest reformist Muslims to declare the 'Islamic state' dead. We will never slow down the recurrence of Islamist terror against our citizenry until such a movement from Muslims against political Islam is palpable.
Go read the whole thing.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Lesser Goldfinches...

I took this photo (as usual, click to enlarge) last Sunday, of a group of Lesser Goldfinches (Carduelis psaltria) feeding on niger thistle seeds in our feeders.  These are very common birds here; we have dozens that visit our feeders and waterers every day.  This time of year the black-capped males have very bright yellow plumage.  Sometimes when perched in a tree they'll startle observers with their almost neon lemony color.

The angry-looking bright red bird (out of focus) in the upper-right is a common house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus), perhaps the single most abundant bird on our property.  This fellow is perched on another feeder that's serving up black oil sunflower seeds...

Starting to Look Like a Very Big Deal...

Memristors, that is.  If you're interested in electronics at all, this is something you'll want to keep an eye on.  I first heard about them in 2007, but didn't get too excited at that time – we've seen too many such claims of new “fundamentals” and seemingly miraculous new capabilities that ended up being just so much hogwash.  But memristors are following the same pattern that any new technology development does: replicable results, multiple people working on it, and increasingly impressive results from labs.

In other words, it's starting to look like the real deal.  And it has the potential to foment much change in electronics – most especially with storage.  Single chips fabricated with conventional semiconductor techniques, with the storage capacity of hundreds of today's disk drives, archival quality storage lifetime, and nanosecond write speeds.  If that ain't miraculous storage, I don't know what is.

The “new fundamental” bit with a memristor is that it represents the fourth fundamental electronic component.  The other three (resistor, capacitor, and inductor) have been known for 200 years or so; the memristor would be the only component ever added to that list.  In the 1960s a theoretical physicist predicted that memristors should exist, based on the symmetry of the mathematics used to describe the other three components.  Looks like they really do exist, and (more importantly) are actually producable...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Black-Headed Grosbeak...

We've got several pairs of black-headed grosbeaks (Pheucticus melanocephalus) at our feeders this year.  I took these photos last weekend (all with 400mm stabilized telephoto, handheld).  THe first two photos are of a female, the last of a male.  As usual, click to enlarge...