Friday, July 30, 2010

Together Again...

In the early morning (3 am) sky, the moon and Jupiter are just a few degrees apart, high in the southeastern sky and easily visible.  The moon, though less than half lit, was still bright enough to provide walking light and to wash out almost everything else in the night sky...

The dogs were noses-down again this morning, as they have been nearly every morning for the past couple of weeks.  Some beastie is frequenting our yard at night, and the dogs do not approve!

We heard some good news from our roofing contractor yesterday: the roofing materials are due to be delivered to the fabricator today.  If they are delivered on time, the fabricator will have all our roofing panels made by next Wednesday – and that means the contractor may start installing the actual roof next week.  This would be nearly two weeks ahead of schedule.  Woo hoo!

Wolf-Rayet Star...

Captured by the ESO Wide Field Imager in Chile.  As always, click to enlarge...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Obama Signs...

Via my lovely wife:

Sobering CBO Report...

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has released a sobering report titled Federal Debt and the Risk of a Fiscal Crisis (PDF).  The graph at right is taken from that report.  So is this warning:
Further increases in federal debt relative to the nation’s output (gross domestic product, or GDP) almost certainly lie ahead if current policies remain in place. The aging of the population and rising costs for health care will push federal spending, measured as a percentage of GDP, well above the levels experienced in recent decades. Unless policymakers restrain the growth of spending, increase revenues significantly as a share of GDP, or adopt some combination of those two approaches, growing budget deficits will cause debt to rise to unsupportable levels.
I recommend reading the entire report. It's only a few pages long, and is written for laymen.  It took me quite aback to see the CBO is looking at the experiences of Argentina, Greece, and Ireland (countries that had or have comparable debt loads) to forecast what's going to happen to us.

Basically the advice in the report boils down to this: Stop spending so damned much borrowed money!  Quickly!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Self Defense Wisdom...

Via my lovely wife (click to enlarge the photo at right and read the enscription on the end of the barrel):

  1. Don't pick a fight with an old man. If he is too old to fight, he'll just kill you.
  2. If you find yourself in a fair fight, your tactics suck.
  3. I carry a gun because a cop is too heavy.
  4. When seconds count, the cops are just minutes away.
  5. A reporter did a human-interest piece on the Texas Rangers. The reporter recognized the Colt Model 1911 the Ranger was carrying and asked him 'Why do you carry a 45?' The Ranger responded, 'Because they don't make a 46.'
  6. The old sheriff was attending an awards dinner when a lady commented on his wearing his sidearm 'Sheriff, I see you have your pistol. Are you expecting trouble?' 'No Ma'am. If I were expecting trouble, I would have brought my shotgun.'
  7. Beware the man who only carries one gun. HE PROBABLY KNOWS HOW TO USE IT!!!
Also this:

I was once asked by a lady visiting if I had a gun in the house. I said I did. She said 'Well I certainly hope it isn't loaded!' To which I said, of course it is loaded, it can't work without bullets!' She then asked, 'Are you that afraid of someone evil coming into your house?' My reply was, “No not at all I am not afraid of the house catching fire either, but I have fire extinguishers around, and they are all loaded too”.

Uh Oh...

Another week, another Google Unemployment Index report.  This really looks bad – the number of unemployment-related queries has almost doubled in the past few weeks.  I'm still not entirely sure how this report correlates to our economy's health, but it's really hard to see any way for this to be good news...

Room-Temperature Superconductor?

If this pans out, it could enable another technological transformation of the world...  Details.

One Ring to Rule Them All...

Update: Bruce Schneier weighs in.

Original post:

Several readers (and a colleague) wrote to ask me about this story (and the many others like it) that hit the web in the past few days.  The stories don't have much detail beyond the fact that somehow seven people were chosen to hold the keys that it would take to “restart the Internet” in the event of a disaster.  The more geekly folks out there know that the Internet is a highly distributed system with no central point of control, so the notion of restarting the Internet doesn't, on the face of it, make much sense.  So what the hell is this story talking about?

Well, first of all, there's a bit of overdramatization in the story.  Actually, a whole lot of overdramatization.  But there's also a grain of truth to it.

To understand what's going on here, you first need to understand a tiny bit about the Domain Name System (DNS).  Even though you may not realize it, you're probably using it every day.  For example, if you typed “” to read this blog, your web browser submits that name to DNS to look up the address (“” in this case) of my blog's web server.  Then your web browser contacts that web server to get the actual blog posts.  So DNS is sort of like a phone book in which your web browser can look up names to find the address – which, like a phone number, it can use to contact a web server directly.

DNS has a trick that your phone book doesn't, however.  If you ask for a name that your local DNS server (probably run by your Internet service provider) doesn't know, that DNS server will ask a “root server” for the address of the “authoritative” DNS server that will know that name.  For example, if you typed in my blog's address and your local DNS server had never heard of it before, your local DNS server would ask a root DNS server for the address of the authoritative DNS server for “”.  Then it would ask that DNS server for the address of “”.  This is called a recursive query.  I've glossed over all sorts of details, but the basic idea of a recursive query is key to understanding this “restart the Internet” story.  With me?

Recently (July 15th) the root DNS servers implemented DNS Security Extensions (DNSSEC).  These security extensions are a very complex, designed-by-gigantic-committee protocol designed to allow DNS clients (such as your web browser) to verify that the DNS responses it receives (those addresses) are, in fact, authorized (not forged) responses.  Without these extensions, it's relatively easy for a program to forge DNS responses – so that you type in “” but instead of getting the Bank of New York, you get some site that looks like the BONY site but is actually just trying to capture your password.  Forging DNS responses is bad, and DNSSEC is designed to prevent it.  But (and this is where the hype comes in) DNSSEC is optional on the client (like your web browser).  You can turn it off.

The way that DNS clients can verify that responses are authorized is to follow a chain of authority all the way back to the root DNS server.  Ignoring the details of how this works, it all depends on a Secret Master Key (SMK) that's held on the root DNS servers.  This SMK is just a (very) big number, with something like 1000 digits in it.  Without the SMK, the root servers could not generate verifiably authentic responses, and neither could any other DNS servers.  That means that without the SMK, no DNS clients (even your web browser) that have implemented DNSSEC could verify the responses.  You'd type in my blog address and you'd get an error message instead of my blog.  The internet would be broken!

Well, not quite.  It's simple enough to turn off the DNS security on DNS clients.  It's a bit more work for intermediate DNS servers (like the one your Internet service provider runs), but not really very much more work.  In addition, even if DNSSEC was completely broken, there are plenty of DNS servers that don't participate in DNSSEC at all (such as Google's DNS servers, for example), and these would keep right on working.  Nevertheless, if the SMK were lost, the result would be (temporary) service interruption for millions of systems.  Plus it would be a really big pain in the patoot.

How could the SMK be lost?  There are lots of scenarios, all of them involving disasters that wiped out all of the root DNS servers at the same time.  Pick your poison: earthquake, meteorite strike, giant tornadoes, terrorists, nuclear war, coordinated copper-eating ants.  None of these are very likely to wipe all the root DNS servers out, but theoretically it could happen.

So there's an SMK backup and a recovery procedure, part of the overall DNSSEC security procedures.  The security requirements make backup tricky. You don't want to have a complete copy of the SMK available to any one person, because that one person could then do something bad, like sell the SMK to al Qaeda or the Russian Mafia.  The backup needs to be really secure.  So the approach they took (see diagram at right, and associated presentation for details) was to split up the SMK into 7 pieces, any 5 of which could be used to recreate the whole thing.  These 7 pieces have been deposited into 7 safe deposit boxes.  The 7 keys to the safe deposit boxes have been entrusted to 7 individual people (hopefully trustworthy folks!).

In the event of a successful coordinated copper-eating ant attack that wiped out all the root DNS servers, these seven people would be called.  They'd first travel to their safe deposit box, use the key they've been entrusted with to open it, and grab their piece of the SMK.  Then they'd travel to a secure location.  When at least five of these folks had arrived at that secure location, technicians could piece together the SMK from the fragments each carried – and the root DNS servers would once again be able to authenticate their responses, your web browser would be happy, sunshine would break through the clouds, and there would be no more hunger.  I made up the last bit...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Holy Meteorite, Batman!

The world is a really big place.  Just north of the Egyptian border with Sudan, researches recently discovered a 100 foot diameter meteor crater with 10 foot high walls.  They think it's been there for roughly 1000 years, which is very, very young for such a large crater.  So young, in fact, that the ejecta rays are still visible on the Google Earth photo (erosion and other forces usually wipe these out quite quickly).

The researchers who found this crater actually used Google Earth photos to locate it.  Then they went on an expedition to actually look at it in person.  That must have been fun!

If you'd like to look at this yourself on Googe Earth, the coordinates are: 26º05′15″E 22º01′05″N.

Click to enlarge either of these images...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Cow Flop Fungi...

Cow flop fungi, officially (but less descriptively) known as Pilobolus crystalinus.  Via Botany Photo of the Day.  Click for a larger view...

Vive la Changement!

Poster of the day, via my lovely wife.  Click to enlarge.  Put down your morning drink first, though...

Chaparral Morning...

Out with the dogs again at 3:30 am.  A beautiful, perfect full moon was high in the southwestern sky.  It's bright light lit up our whole valley; after my eyes accommodated, I could easily see color in my yard (including that red stripe on our house!), and details in the valley.  To the west and northwest, the morning's marine layer created a fuzz on the horizon.  Jupiter was high and bright in the east, and the Pleiades were just barely visible in the northeast (they were almost washed out by the bright moonlight).

The dogs were all noses down – we must have had a visitor again last night.  A couple of them (couldn't tell which ones) let out the occasional grumpy growl.  They were not happy about the intruders in their yard!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Life's Lessons...

My cousin Mike D. sends along this parable:
A mouse looked through the crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife open a package.  "What food might this contain?" the mouse wondered - but he was devastated to discover it was a mousetrap.

Retreating to the farmyard, the mouse proclaimed the warning: "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said, "Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is a grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me. I cannot be bothered by it."

The mouse turned to the pig and told him, "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!" The pig sympathized, but said, "I am so very sorry, Mr. Mouse, but there is nothing I can do about it but pray. Be assured you are in my prayers."

The mouse turned to the cow and said "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!" The cow said, "Wow, Mr. Mouse. I'm sorry for you, but it's no skin off my nose."

So, the mouse returned to the house, head down and dejected, to face the farmer's mousetrap alone. That very night a sound was heard throughout the house -- like the sound of a mousetrap catching its prey. The farmer's wife rushed to see what was caught. In the darkness, she did not see it was a venomous snake whose tail the trap had caught. The snake bit the farmer's wife. The farmer rushed her to the hospital, and she returned home with a fever.

Everyone knows you treat a fever with fresh chicken soup, so the farmer took his hatchet to the farmyard for the soup's main ingredient. But his wife's sickness continued, so friends and neighbors came to sit with her around the clock. To feed them, the farmer butchered the pig.

The farmer's wife did not get well; she died. So many people came for her funeral, the farmer had the cow slaughtered to provide enough meat for all of them.

The mouse looked upon it all from his crack in the wall with great sadness. So, the next time you hear someone is facing a problem and think it doesn't concern you, remember -- when one of us is threatened, we are all at risk. We are all involved in this journey called life. We must keep an eye out for one another and make an extra effort to encourage one another.

Send In the Old Farts!

Via my lovely wife, who says she agrees with this 100%:
New Direction for any war: Send Service Vets over 60!

I am over 60 and the Armed Forces thinks I'm too old to track down terrorists. You can't be older than 42 to join the military. They've got the whole thing ass-backwards. Instead of sending 18-year olds off to fight, they ought to take us old guys. You shouldn't be able to join a military unit until you're at least 35.

For starters, researchers say 18-year-olds think about sex every 10 seconds. Old guys only think about sex a couple of times a day, leaving us more than 28,000 additional seconds per day to concentrate on the enemy.

Young guys haven't lived long enough to be cranky, and a cranky soldier is a dangerous soldier. 'My back hurts! I can't sleep, I'm tired and hungry.' We are impatient and maybe letting us kill some asshole that desperately deserves it will make us feel better and shut us up for awhile..

An 18-year-old doesn't even like to get up before 10am. Old guys always get up early to pee, so what the hell. Besides, like I said, I'm tired and can't sleep and since I'm already up, I may as well be up killing some fanatical son-of-a-bitch.

If captured we couldn't spill the beans because we'd forget where we put them. In fact, name, rank, and serial number would be a real brainteaser.

Boot camp would be easier for old guys.. We're used to getting screamed and yelled at and we're used to soft food. We've also developed an appreciation for guns. We've been using them for years as an excuse to get out of the house, away from the screaming and yelling.

They could lighten up on the obstacle course however... I've been in combat and never saw a single 20-foot wall with rope hanging over the side, nor did I ever do any pushups after completing basic training.

Actually, the running part is kind of a waste of energy, too... I've never seen anyone outrun a bullet.

An 18-year-old has the whole world ahead of him. He's still learning to shave, to start a conversation with a pretty girl. He still hasn't figured out that a baseball cap has a brim to shade his eyes, not the back of his head.

These are all great reasons to keep our kids at home to learn a little more about life before sending them off into harm's way.

Let us old guys track down those dirty rotten coward terrorists. The last thing an enemy would want to see is a couple million pissed off old farts with attitudes and automatic weapons, who know that their best years are already behind them.

HEY!! How about recruiting Women over menopause!!! You think MEN have attitudes??  Oh my God!!! Put them on border patrol. They'll have it secured the first night!
My wife agrees with this?  I'm going to be 60 in a few years.  Hmmm...

Update: The New Roof...

The project is moving right along.  Chris (the contractor) and his two boys were here yesterday (Saturday) to work on getting the roof in a waterproof condition.  He's worried that we'll have some rain before he gets it “buttoned up”, but that seems pretty unlikely this time of year.  At far right, in a carefully positioned shot, you can see what the red roof will look like when it's all done.  The photo immediately to the right shows what the roof really looks like right now – covered with the high-tech underlayment that's making the roof waterproof now, and that provides a good base for the metal roof to lie on.

The metal roofing parts are being made right now, at the roofing manufacturer.  They're going to take between two and four weeks longer to be finished, so once the fascia, underlayment, and soffits are all installed there will be a hiatus in the project until the materials are fabricated.

This short video gives you a tour of our roof in its current condition.  Pardon the low quality; it was shot with a Blackberry!

Most Excellent Car Signage...

Via my mom...

(click to enlarge)

Los Zetas Captures Ranches in Texas...

The open-borders crowd has some thinking to do.  Mexican nationals – members of the much-feared “Los Zetas” drug cartel – have captured at least two American ranches in Texas.  The ranchers are ok; apparently they escaped.

Personally, I think our response should be carefully nuanced, using all the appropriate tools at our disposal.  That would include Hellfire missiles, bunker-buster bombs, C-130 gunships, artillery, tanks, guns, U.S. Marines, and anything else we've got that will kill invading scum.  We need to send a clear message: if you take or harm our citizens or their property, then you die.  Quickly.  Without hanky-twisting, prior notification, or preliminary negotiation.

Something tells me that this administration's response will somewhat less effective than a Marine detachment...

Update: I tried to get a bit more information on this report, and ran into some articles calling it a hoax.  So...take this with a grain of salt until (and if) I can confirm it...

Miniature Explosions...

The frames at right were captured on a 10,000 fps video camera with a macro lens aimed at a sphagnum moss just as it shot out its spores.  The donut-shaped vortex allows the sphagnum to shoot its spores much further than would otherwise be possible for it...

Google Go...

It's a new programming language from Google.  I just ran across it for the first time, and I haven't had a chance to look at it carefully.  From the docs and FAQs at their site, they've made some interesting design choices, especially in moving away from the formality of strongly-typed languages like Java and C++.  I'd love to spend a few days just playing with it, but I don't have the time just now...

The World is a Funny Place Department...

Generally, most of the visitors to my little blog get here in one of two ways: either they are crazy enough to have bookmarked my blog, or they've searched for something that appears on my blog. 

For the last few days, though, a third category of visitors has dominated: those who clicked on a link in an email to this post.  Apparently it caught someone's fancy, they forwarded it in an email, and those people forwarded it, and it went on and on.

Leaving me to wonder...why this particular post?  I have no idea...

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Roof Project: Update...

Well, we're a few days into the project now, and we're still very pleased with progress.  The old roof is now entirely gone; we've got bare wood exposed to the elements.  With the old roofing material gone, some problem areas were exposed (mainly some deteriorated wood toward the bottom of the roof), and these will need to be fixed.  Some of the fascia boards are warped, and Chris (the roofing contractor) is going to fix those as well. 

One piece of the red metal fascia cover is now in place – a bright red horizontal stripe that looks very colorful indeed, given the large area of surrounding white or dull colors.  Debbie is very happy with the color.  Let's hope that continues when the entire roof is covered.

I'm thinking that this red is so bright that we'll easily be able to spot our house when we fly into or out of San Diego (nearly all flights pass with 10 miles or so, high overhead).  Our roof will look like a multi-megawatt beacon.  It might even be visible from space!

Another View of the Manipulated Jobless Number...

This time from the WSJ.  There's a lot of interesting material at the link, but to my point in a previous post:
If people without jobs become discouraged and stop seeking work, the unemployment rate will decline (other things being equal). On the other hand, if people become hopeful about future employment, job seeking will go up—as will the unemployment rate.

This way of measuring job availability is clearly flawed. One simple alternative would be to measure the labor force as the number of people with jobs. Unemployment would be determined based on increases or decreases in the number of people employed relative to historic job growth.
Sounds right to me...

BS Removal Kit...

The web site really exists, though it redirects to a T-shirt store...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Clyde is the Man!

Via my cousin Mike D.:
A farmer named Clyde had a car accident. In court, the trucking company's fancy lawyer was questioning Clyde.

"Didn't you say, at the scene of the accident, 'I'm fine,'?" asked the lawyer.

Clyde responded, "Well, I'll tell you what happened. I had just loaded my favorite mule, Bessie..."

"I didn't ask for any details", the lawyer interrupted. "Just answer the question. Did you not say, at the scene of the accident, 'I'm fine!'?"

Clyde said, "Well, I had just got Bessie into the trailer and I was driving down the road..."

The lawyer interrupted again and said, "Judge, I am trying to establish the fact that, at the scene of the accident, this man told the Highway Patrolman on the scene that he was just fine. Now several weeks after the accident he is trying to sue my client. I believe he is a fraud. Please tell him to simply answer the question."

By this time, the Judge was fairly interested in Clyde's answer and said to the lawyer, "I'd like to hear what he has to say about his favorite mule, Bessie".

Clyde thanked the Judge and proceeded.

"Well as I was saying, I had just loaded Bessie, my favorite mule, into the trailer and was driving her down the highway when this huge semi-truck and trailer ran the stop sign and smacked my truck right in the side.

I was thrown into one ditch and Bessie was thrown into the other. I was hurting real bad and didn't want to move. However, I could hear ole Bessie moaning and groaning. I knew she was in terrible shape just by her groans.

Shortly after the accident a Highway Patrolman came on the scene. He could hear Bessie moaning and groaning so he went over to her.

After he looked at her, and saw her fatal condition, he took out his gun and shot her between the eyes.

Then the Patrolman came across the road, gun still in hand, looked at me and said, "How are you feeling?"

"Now what the hell would you say?"
Why, “I'm fine, officer!”, of course...

Sad, But...True...

Via my lovely (laughing) wife:

Was George W. Bush an Idiot?

Via my lovely wife:
If George W. Bush had been the first President to need a TelePrompter installed to be able to get through a press conference, would you have laughed and said this is more proof of how inept he is on his own and is really controlled by smarter men behind the scenes?

If George W. Bush had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to take Laura Bush to a play in NYC, would you have approved?

If George W. Bush had reduced your retirement plan's holdings of GM stock by 90% and given the unions a majority stake in GM, would you have approved?

If George W. Bush had made a joke at the expense of the Special Olympics, would you have approved?

If George W. Bush had given Gordon Brown a set of inexpensive and incorrectly formatted DVDs, when Gordon Brown had given him a thoughtful and historically significant gift, would you have approved?

If George W. Bush had given the Queen of England an iPod containing videos of his speeches, would you have thought this embarrassingly narcissistic and tacky?

If George W. Bush had bowed to the King of Saudi Arabia, would you have approved?

If George W. Bush had visited Austria and made reference to the nonexistent "Austrian language," would you have brushed it off as a minor slip?

If George W. Bush had filled his cabinet and circle of advisers with people who cannot seem to keep current in their income taxes, would you have approved?

If George W. Bush had stated that there were 57 states in the United States, would you have said that he is clueless.

If George W. Bush would have flown all the way to Denmark to make a five minute speech about how the Olympics would benefit him walking out his front door in Texas, would you have thought he was a self important, conceited, egotistical jerk.

If George W. Bush had been so Spanish illiterate as to refer to "Cinco de Cuatro" in front of the Mexican ambassador when it was the 5th of May (Cinco de Mayo), and continued to flub it when he tried again, would you have winced in embarrassment?

If George W. Bush had misspelled the word "advice" would you have hammered him for it for years like Dan Quayle and potatoes as proof of what a dunce he is?

If George W. Bush had burned 9,000 gallons of jet fuel to go plant a single tree on Earth Day, would you have concluded he's a hypocrite?

If George W. Bush's administration had okayed Air Force One flying low over millions of people followed by a jet fighter in downtown Manhattan causing widespread panic, would you have wondered whether they actually get what happened on 9-11?

If George W. Bush had failed to send relief aid to flood victims throughout the Midwest with more people killed or made homeless than in New Orleans, would you want it made into a major ongoing political issue with claims of racism and incompetence?

If George W. Bush had created the position of 32 Czars who report directly to him, bypassing the House and Senate on much of what is happening in America, would you have approved.

If George W. Bush had ordered the firing of the CEO of a major corporation, even though he had no constitutional authority to do so, would you have approved?

If George W. Bush had proposed to double the national debt, which had taken more than two centuries to accumulate, in one year, would you have approved?

If George W. Bush had then proposed to double the debt again within 10 years, would you have approved?

So, tell me again, what is it about Obama that makes him so brilliant and impressive? Can't think of anything? Don't worry. He's done all this in 15 months -- so you'll have two years and nine months to come up with an answer.

Pat Condell on the Ground Zero Mosque...

Interesting rant by the ever-fascinating Pat Condell, via my cousin Mike D.:

Most Terrifying Unemployment Graph?

Via The Atlantic.  Someone at the Department of Labor is probably going to have a stern talking-to over this.  Why?  Because it exposes the ongoing lie in the published unemployment percentages.  The Bureau of Labor has been publishing unemployment percentages this year that range from almost 11% to just over 9% – but the only reason those numbers are so low is because the Bureau rather arbitrarily removes millions of people from the unemployed category by saying that they've given up looking for work (and somehow, magically, that means they're no longer unemployed – only a bureaucrat could think that made sense!).  How do people get classified as having given up?  The biggest factor: how long they've been unemployed!

The real unemployment number is somewhere around 15% to 18% (the Bureau doesn't release enough data to compute it precisely, or at least I couldn't find that data).  There are a lot of people who have been out of work for over six months now...

What's Wrong With Obama?

Via my cousin Mike D., a psychotherapist's estimate of Obama's mental health:
Let's return now to my original question: What is wrong with Obama? My guess is a great deal. The answer is complex and likely includes some combination of the above.

Along with the brain issues are personality disorders: narcissism, paranoia, passive-aggressiveness. There's even the possibility of the most destructive character defect of all, an antisocial personality. Untreated abuse can foster antisocial traits, especially among boys.

If my assessment is accurate, what does this mean?

It means that liberals need to wake up and spit out the Kool-Aid...and that conservatives should put aside differences, band together, and elect as many Republicans as possible.

Because Obama will not change. He will not learn from his mistakes. He will not grow and mature from on-the-job experience. In fact, over time, Obama will likely become a more ferocious version of who he is today.

Why? Because this is a damaged person. Obama's fate was sealed years ago growing up in his strange and poisonous family. Later on, his empty vessel was filled with the hateful bile of men like Rev. Wright and Bill Ayers.

Obama will not evolve; he will not rise to the occasion; he will not become the man he was meant to be. This is for one reason and one reason alone:

He is not capable of it.
Read the whole thing...

SSH Hacks...

Useful, geeky stuff for those who have VPN challenges...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


On the way home from work last night, I picked up a package at the Post Office.  It was from a friend (Franz M.) in Munich, Germany, and it was full of slide rules.  I haven't purchased any slide rules for many months, so for the first time in a long while I had the pleasure of opening up a box with some beautiful old instruments in it.

My favorite of the bunch is a circular “Columbus Calculator”. Mostly it is conventional in design, except that it's made of engraved metal (that is, the scales are engraved).  I'm pretty sure that the engraving is photolithographic, and it's very nicely done.  The face is plated (with brass, I think) and the plating has worn, exposing parts of the underlying metal – yet the scales are still perfectly readable and usable.  I've never seen another like it, nor can I find any reference to it online...

Morning Walk...

Another beautiful, cool, high desert morning in the chaparral.  I walked the dogs at around 3:30 am, under a clear, dark sky overhead.  As the season progresses, the Pleiades are now visible in the northeastern morning sky.  These are the harbinger of one of my favorite constellations, Orion, which will soon be visible in the eastern morning sky.  Jupiter was bright and clear in the southeast sky.  And in a broad band from the north to the southwest, the Milky Way cut its swath.  Beautiful.

The air was full of desert scents, and also, intermittently, the musky odor of some large mammal (I'm guessing a mountain lion, but I didn't see it).  All four of our dogs were quiet, noses down, scoping out the events of last evening.  They were happy to go back inside the house; I think they were nervous because of the animal smells...


Yesterday morning when I left for work, our house looked just like it has for the past ten years or so.  When I got home yesterday afternoon, things had changed a bit.  Roughly half our old roof had been stripped off, down to the wood.  An enormous (40 cubic yard) dumpster was parked in our driveway.  And a large amount of building materials were piled in front of our house.

While I was away at work, our roofing contractor showed up (on the promised day, at the promised time!), the dumpster showed up (as ordered), and the demolition crew went right to work.  That's very comforting for this homeowner who's just entered into another large contract (the last one didn't work out so well).  This time we did everything the way you're supposed to: we verified the license of the contractor, verified his bond and insurance, checked with the BBB and every other online source we could think of, and checked his references.  All good.  Fingers crossed!

There's something about the human brain (well, mine, at least) that is thrown out of kilter when there's a large change to your environment. This happened to me upon seeing our house when I came home – it just looked so wrong!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Kindle DX Update...

Questions, I get questions...  Now that I've had my Kindle DX for a couple weeks, what do I think of it?  Am I using it?

The more I use it, the more I love it.  And I'm using it a lot.  I've got just over 150 books loaded onto it now, and about 135 of those were free (mostly from Project Gutenberg).  I've read 3 books on it, and I'm nearly done with the fourth (Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe – last read when I was a kid, and much better even than my memory of it).  I no longer even think about how to use it; it's become as intuitive as turning the pages in a book.

Last night, just for fun, I tried the text-to-speech feature that's built into the Kindle DX.  I have heard computer-synthesized text many times, and had never been impressed with it, so my expectations were low – but I was pleasantly surprised by the Kindle's computerized reader.  The male voice was clear, the speech had (mostly) appropriate inflection and pauses (like a human speaker would make), and it was perfectly understandable.  I let it read an entire page of Robinson Crusoe, which included a dozen or so place names and other proper nouns that text-to-voice systems often screw up (because they're not in its internal dictionary).  Everything was pronounced either perfectly or very close to it.  I had no trouble whatsoever understanding the entire page.  I could imagine listening to a book on my commute with this thing...

Debbie has been resisting even looking at the Kindle.  Last night she borrowed it to check it out.  I'm gonna hazard a guess here: we're likely going to be a two-Kindle family someday soon...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Climate Absolution?

Not so much...

Beautiful Ontario Lacus Lake...

Beautiful, that is, if you don't mind the oxygen-free atmosphere, or swimming in a mixture of liquid methane, ethane, and propane at a temperature of -300°F!

A Hot Weekend...

We had a hot weekend – the first, really, of the season (much later than usual).  This morning it's much cooler, back down to the level of early last week.

Saturday I made some lime gelato, picking and choosing ideas from several recipies.  The result is very good – tart and smooth.  I learned one thing that's worth passing along to fellow citrus-dessert lovers: an easy way to get the flavor from the zest, without the bitterness.  It's simple: simmer the zest in a little water-and-sugar mixture.  By adding sugar you raise the boiling point of the water; this makes it more effective at dissolving the oils in the zest that bear the flavor.  After ten minutes or so of simmering, just run the mess through a sieve, saving the now-zesty sugar water.  Yum!

We spent Saturday morning talking with a roofing contractor, and in the end, deciding to use him.  I'll keep you posted on how this goes.  Our new roof will be bright red, made of Kynar-covered 24 gauge steel.  We're having the fascia covered and soffits put in as well.  The steel roofs are completely fireproof (a very attractive feature out here in the  chaparral!), and they are not as hot as you might think, because they reflect more sunlight than a conventional shingle roof does.  In addition, as part of the work, we're having 12 dormer-style ventilators installed, which should considerably cool down our attic (and thence our house) by removing the hot air via convection.  That's the theory, anyway...

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Feynman Algorithm...

Here it is:
  1. Write down the problem.
  2. Think real hard.
  3. Write down the solution. 

Much more here...

Clamorous Needs...

Peggy Noonan, at the top of her game:
Youth is supposed to bring vigor and vision. In general, however, I think we find in our modern political figures that what it really brings is need—for greatness, to be transformative, to leave a legacy. Such clamorous needs! How very boring they are, how puny and small, but how huge in their consequences.
You'll want to read the whole thing...

People and Probability...

Interesting piece on how people perceive and think about probability...

Women in Software Development...

Why are programmers overwhelmingly male?  Eric's theory: women are unwilling to eat shit.

Twelve Hours in the Chaparral...

Yesterday afternoon when I drove home, we had some unusual weather: thunderstorms, complete with rain and lightning, and dramatic lighting effects.  Usually these storms are confined to the tallest mountainous areas, ten or fifteen miles east of us.  We had several periods with enough rain to thoroughly wet the dry ground.

Debbie got home an hour or so before I did.  On the way home, she drove along Campo Road (State 94) near Steele Canyon High School.  She spotted a frightened little dog there, and stopped to get it out of the road.  She opened the door to her truck and the dog jumped right in, obviously happy to get out of her precarious situation.  The dog was an older female Shiba Inu, and it had a collar with a phone number and the dog's name: “Bandit”.  By the time I got home, Bandit was in a crate in our living room, looking calm and unruffled by recent events and the strange people and animals surrounding her.

Debbie called the number on Bandit's collar, but got only an answering machine.  She left a message, but nobody had called by the time I got home.  I tried googling the phone number, on the off chance it was listed someplace, and struck gold: it was listed as the business number for a web site selling boats.  From there I was able to find an email address, and I fired off a message about Bandit.  An hour or so later, I got a response from Ray: yes, Bandit was their dog – and they didn't know she was missing, and were very happy to hear she was safe!  Ray called his wife Carol, and a few minutes later Carol called us: she was on the way out here to pick Bandit up.

But Carol had to drive from Pt. Loma, a long way from Jamul.  It turns out they were putting new flooring in their house, and while all that work was going on they had left Bandit with a friend who lived out near Jamul.  Then the thunderstorms started, and most likely all the noise spooked Bandit into fleeing their friend's yard.  Next thing you know, Pt. Loma Bandit is lost in Jamul!  Carol made it out to our general neighborhood, but called us from her cell phone, lost about five miles away.  We told her to park, and we piled ourselves and Bandit in Debbie's truck.  A few minutes later, Carol and Bandit had a happy reunion.  A nice happy ending to a lost animal story...

When we pulled into our driveway, we noticed that the mosses on the boulders in our yard had all turned bright green from the moisture.  The heat and humidity were still oppressive, so we left the house closed up and the air conditioning on all night.  This morning it's clear in our area, and as I walked the dogs I could see the Milky Way, bright and crisp, stretching from our north to the southwest, nearly directly overhead.  A planet (Saturn, I think) was bright, high in the eastern sky.  To our west, some low clouds were lit up by the cities.  The air was still humid, and therefore full of scents.  I could hear the tree frogs, out because of the rain.  I also heard several birds calling, perhaps an owl whose cry I don't recognize.  The dogs were excited by traces of some animal that had visited us; no telling what that was.

A most unusual twelve hours in the chaparral!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Cold to Hot...

We've had unseasonably cool weather for the past few weeks, but that ended quite abruptly yesterday.  When I got home from work, the house was at 88°F – and we had to resort to turning on the air conditioner for the first time this year.

Last year we turned it on in May.

The forecast for the next few days is for temperatures approaching 100°F.  The chaparral summer has officially arrived...

Feline Smile of the Day...

Via my catty wife:


Clive Crook – who is not a global warming skeptic – rips into the several ClimateGate investigations...

End of the Road for Telecomms?

Eric thinks this invention, coupled with Google's support, just might do it...

Warrior Song: U.S. Marines Version...

I read recently of a study that asked the leaders of military and paramilitary organizations worldwide what force they would least like to oppose. Over 80% of the respondents put the U.S. Marines at the top of that list.


Operator Error...

Those of us in the software business are very aware of the “operator error” problem – some behavior the user didn't expect, but which was actually caused by something the user unwittingly did.  With software, most of the time the real problem turns out to be a misleading or unobvious user interface design.  Some fraction of operator errors, though, are things you're never going to be able to fix by redesigning the user interface.  For example, if someone insists on putting their name into a field labeled “street address”, there's probably nothing you can do about it.

Toyota's notorious “sudden acceleration” problems turn out to be a case of operator error – users (overwhelmingly senior citizens) were stomping on the accelerator instead of the brake.  It's not obvious to me what one can do about such a thing...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

If Obama's the Answer...

Forwarded by my lovely wife:


From reader Simi L.  Click to enlarge:

Government Prosecutorial Abuse...

Scary stuff...


I don't know if this is real or if it's parody, so I don't know whether to laugh or cry:
Stay away from the History Channel. Unlike most of the other networks, they don't even try to make their stuff believable.

Quotes on Programming...

Stack Overflow has a thread with a great collection of quotes about programming, like this one:
If debugging is the process of removing software bugs, then programming must be the process of putting them in.

-- Edsger Dijkstra

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bumper Sticker of the Day...

Another from the collection my mom forwarded to me:


Via reader Simi L.:

I gotta see this flick!

I Don't Care...

My mom forwarded me an email that was allegedly sent by “a housewife in Brunswick.”  A quick check on Snopes showed that it was actually an edited version of a column by Doug Patton of GOPUSA – and I think the original was even better.  It's short, so I've reproduced the whole thing:
First, Newsweek pulled a Dan Rather on us, running a fabricated story just because they wanted it to be true. They told the world that an American guard at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center had ripped pages from a prisoner's Koran and flushed it down a toilet. As a result, innocent people died when practitioners of Islam rioted in protest in Afghanistan.

Oops, said Newsweek, it seems we can't back up our story. Oh well, it's probably true; we just can't prove it. (Isn't it convenient for Newsweek that the media now have "Deep Throat" to talk about so they can revel in their glory days and divert our attention from their criminal negligence.)

The lie heard round the world about the flushed Koran has caused convulsions in the Bush Administration and forced the Pentagon to launch an investigation of unfounded allegations contained in an unsubstantiated story. The results of said investigation are now in, and it seems there are at least five incidents of "mishandling" of the Koran at Gitmo.

Well, guess what? I don't care!

Are we fighting a war on terror or aren't we? Was it or was it not started by Islamic people who brought it to our shores on September 11, 2001? Were people from all over the world, mostly Americans, not brutally murdered that day, in downtown Manhattan, across the Potomac from our nation's capitol and in a field in Pennsylvania? Did nearly three thousand men, women and children die a horrible, burning death that day, or didn't they?

And I'm supposed to care that a copy of the Koran was "desecrated" when an overworked American soldier kicked it or got it wet? Well, I don't. I don't care at all.

I'll start caring when Osama bin Laden turns himself in and repents for incinerating all those innocent people on 9/11.

I'll care about the Koran when the fanatics in the Middle East start caring about the Holy Bible, the mere possession of which is a crime in Saudi Arabia.

I'll care when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi tells the world he is sorry for hacking off Nick Berg's head while Berg screamed through his gurgling, slashed throat.

I'll care when the cowardly so-called "insurgents" in Iraq come out and fight like men instead of disrespecting their own religion by hiding in mosques.

I'll care when the mindless zealots who blow themselves up in search of nirvana care about the innocent children within range of their suicide bombs.

I'll care when the American media stops pretending that their First Amendment liberties are somehow derived from international law instead of the United States Constitution's Bill of Rights.

I'll care when Clinton-appointed judges stop ordering my government to release photos of the abuses at Abu Ghraib, which are sure to set off the Islamic extremists just as Newsweek's lies did a few weeks ago.

In the meantime, when I hear a story about a brave marine roughing up an Iraqi terrorist to obtain information, know this: I don't care.

When I see a fuzzy photo of a pile of naked Iraqi prisoners who have been humiliated in what amounts to a college hazing incident, rest assured that I don't care.

When I see a wounded terrorist get shot in the head when he is told not to move because he might be booby-trapped, you can take it to the bank that I don't care.

When I hear that a prisoner, who was issued a Koran paid for by my tax dollars, is complaining that his holy book is being "mishandled," you can absolutely believe in your heart of hearts that I don't care.

And oh, by the way, I've noticed that sometimes it's spelled "Koran" and other times "Quran." Well, Jimmy Crack Corn and -- you guessed it -- I don't care!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Bumper Sticker of the Day...

From a collection forwarded by my mom:

The Climategate Whitewash Continues...

Environmental scientist Patrick Michaels has an interesting column up at the WSJ, in which he lambastes the recent Muir Russell report that essentially exonerated all the Climategate scientists and their organizations.  He also says this:
Climate Research and several other journals have stopped accepting anything that substantially challenges the received wisdom on global warming perpetuated by the CRU. I have had four perfectly good manuscripts rejected out of hand since the CRU shenanigans, and I'm hardly the only one. Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama, Huntsville, has noted that it's becoming nearly impossible to publish anything on global warming that's nonalarmist in peer-reviewed journals.
Read the whole thing.

Rosetta Does Lutetia...

Early indications are that the Rosetta robotic explorer's flyby of the asteroid Lutetia was a rip-roaring success.  An early photograph release of Lutetia at the closest point of the flyby is at right (click to enlarge).  More data will be forthcoming soon...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Woman Marine Pilot...

Via my mom:
The teacher gave her fifth grade class an assignment: Get their parents to tell them a story with a moral at the end of it.

The next day, the kids came back and, one by one, began to tell their stories. There were all the regular types of stuff: spilled milk and pennies saved. But then the teacher realized, much to her dismay, that only Janie was left.

“Janie, do you have a story to share?”

“Yes ma'am. My daddy told me a story about my Mommy. She was a Marine pilot in Desert Storm, and her plane got hit. She had to bail out over enemy territory, and all she had was a flask of whiskey, a pistol, and a survival knife. She drank the whiskey on the way down so the bottle wouldn't break, and then her parachute landed her right in the middle of 20 Iraqi troops. She shot 15 of them with the pistol, until she ran out of bullets, killed four more with the knife, till the blade broke, and then she killed the last Iraqi with her bare hands.”

“Good Heavens!” said the horrified teacher. “What did your Daddy tell you was the moral to this horrible story?”

“Stay away from Mommy when she's been drinking.”
Har! And hooah!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Kindle DX, Latest Generation...

I've been thinking of buying a Kindle for quite some time now.  Earlier models all had some deficiency or other that stopped me, but when the new Kindle DX came out I knew the time had finally come.  I ordered it, and it arrived on Thursday afternoon.

Just 48 hours later, I am completely and totally addicted.

First thing I did was to find a few books I've been wanting and ordered them.  The most expensive one was 40% off of the printed book price; the cheapest was over 75% off.  Finding the books and ordering them was very easy to do right from the Kindle.  It has a built in 3G (cell phone) that it uses to contact Amazon for this purpose.  It worked perfectly the very first time, with no setup required.  Amazon has done a magnificent job making the Kindle's technology transparent to the user.  You don't have to know anything at all about how it works in order to use it – you just point and click, and stuff happens.

Then I started exploring a bit, and discovered that there are many free (or nearly so) works of literature available.  These are books on which the copyright has expired, and they're now in the public domain.  Most of these were typed in by volunteers (such as from the Gutenberg Project).  I downloaded some of these in just a few minutes, and now my Kindle has things like The Wizard of Oz, the complete works of Charles Dickens, and Pride and Prejudice.  Wow!

But it gets even better, I discovered.  You can directly download eBooks from Project Gutenberg and other such eBook libraries, all free.  About thirty seconds after I read this page, I had a copy of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea on my Kindle. 

This is just amazing – this little device, the size and weight of a modest book (though much, much thinner), holds about 3,500 books that I can take anywhere.  Never again will I run out of reading material on a flight!  Or anywhere else...

I Used to Love America More...

Oh, man, does this resonate with me...

Bumper Sticker of the Day...

Part of a collection forwarded by my mom:

Nice Article About Our Software...

My company's products are featured right now on the front page of InformationWeek, including a video demonstration of parts of the product.  Where the article is talking about discovering systems, mapping connections, and's talking about the bits and pieces whose development I'm responsible for.  Woot!

Friday, July 9, 2010

10 Reasons...

Via my brother Mark:
When your friends can't explain why they voted for Democrats, give them this list. So they can then pick a reason.

10. I voted Democrat because I believe oil companies' profits of 4% on a gallon of gas are obscene but the government taxing the same gallon of gas at 15% isn't.

9. I voted Democrat because I believe the government will do a better job of spending the money I earn than I would.

8. I voted Democrat because Freedom of speech is fine as long as nobody is offended by it.

7. I voted Democrat because I'm way too irresponsible to own a gun, and I know that my local police are all I need to protect me from murderers and thieves.

6. I voted Democrat because I believe that people who can't tell us if it will rain on Friday can tell us that the polar ice caps will melt away in ten years if I don't start driving a Prius.

5. I voted Democrat because I'm not concerned about the loss of millions of babies through abortion so long as we keep all death row inmates alive.

4. I voted Democrat because I think illegal aliens have a right to free
health care, education, and Social Security benefits.

3. I voted Democrat because I believe that businesses should not be allowed to make profits for themselves. They need to break even and give the rest away to the government for redistribution as the government sees fit.

2. I voted Democrat because I believe liberal judges need to rewrite the Constitution every few days to suit some fringe kooks who would never get their agendas past the voters.

1. I voted Democrat because my head is so firmly planted up my rectum it is unlikely that I'll ever have another point of view.

Sign of the Day...

Judgment Day Cometh - in November!

A lot of Tea Partiers would identify with the message of this song...

Thousands of Roman Coins Found...

Near Frome, in Somerset, England, a guy named Dave Crisp, armed with a metal detector, found a large jar containing over 50,000 Roman coins buried about a foot deep.  Archaeologists believe the jar was buried somewhere around the year 300 A.D.

What a cool find!

I don't know exactly where Dave Crisp made his find, but I have visited the town of Frome a couple of times.  It's along the path of one of my favorite drives in England, between Salisbury (where Stonehenge is) and Exmoor National Park, on the way down to Cornwall...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Bomb the Mullahs!

The United Arab Emirates' ambassador to the U.S. is saying publicly that the U.A.E. would support a preemptive strike on Iran's nuclear capability.  Rumors have been swirling for months that many Arab countries were privately supporting such a move, and even that some (particularly Saudi Arabia) were covertly supporting an Israeli strike.

To anyone reasonably well informed about the Middle East, this isn't really very surprising – the Persians (Iranians) and Arabs have been at each other's throats for centuries.  To any Arab, the notion of the Persians obtaining the strategic advantage of a nuclear weapon would be all but unthinkable – an existential threat much like the threat that they themselves present to Israel...

Friends of Israel Statement...


Unemployment Benefits are the Best Stimulus?

Arthur B. Laffer says, very politely, that Pelosi is an idiot...

Geek T-Shirt of the Day...

It says:
I Reverse Polish Notation (Heart)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


There's absolutely no surprise here...

Uh Oh...

Every morning I glance at this graph (Google's unemployment index).  It's updated roughly weekly.  This morning it spiked to nearly double what it was just a few weeks ago.  For whatever reason, lots more people are googling for unemployment-related terms.  It's hard to see how this could be good.  The fear, of course, is that the much-feared “double-dip” recession is upon us.  I sure hope not...

Mac Tips and Tricks...

Great collection of terminal hacks...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Back to Work...

We had a lovely dinner last night, just Debbie and I and our good friend Jim.  First course was salsa and chips, but what a salsa!  Roast corn, roast poblano peppers, avocado, roast green onions, tomatoes, and cilantro.  Excellent stuff!  Second course was barbecued pork ribs, with an apricot-based barbecue sauce, accompanied by an absolutely perfect potato salad – oh, most excellent stuff.  Finally, for dessert: homemade French vanilla ice cream with chocolate chips, smothered in a homemade fresh cherry topping.  My belly hurt when we were done, but my taste buds were very happy indeed...

I've got a very busy schedule on this short week; blogging may be light...

Monday, July 5, 2010

Unarius Documentary...

I've written about the Unarians before.  They're a group headquartered in the nearby city of El Cajon, California.  Amongst many other things, they believe that a group of 33 inter-galactic civilizations is going to land representatives on the Earth someday soon.  The only reason I have any interest in these loonies is because they've purchased land in Lawson Valley, not far from our home, where they are preparing a landing site for these representatives.  We've spotted their “flying-saucer car” driving around on a few occasions.

The following three-part series is a very straightforward documentary about the group.  It contains scenes of the flying-saucer car and of their landing site in Lawson Valley.  It also contains many clips from Unarian productions, and many of those are laugh-out-loud funny.  Until, that is, you remember that the Unarians boast a world-wide membership in the thousands.  They walk among us...

Only Israel Has No Right to Defend Itself...

To me, Israel is the only essentially sane and sober government in the Middle East.  Theirs is a lonely plight, far more so than it should be...

The Value of Competition...

What does it mean to have dozens of valedictorians in a single high school class?  Joe Bell's take is one that I mostly agree with...

Russian Spies Had Secure Communications...

Though they looked like the Keystone Kops in general, one thing the Russian spies apparently did right was communications security.  They used steganography, and their communications were never detected, much less decrypted...

A New Contender for High-Density Energy Storage...

An interesting new development from Washington State University.  Their scheme is a compression system, akin to the compressed-air storage systems, but on a molecular level with a vastly higher ratio between uncompressed and compressed states.

There are a few challenges to be overcome, however.  First, the required compression currently can only be achieved in a laboratory diamond anvil compressor – which can only compress tiny quantities at a time.  Secondly, the material used in the system is xenon difluoride (XeF2), a powerful chemical agent that's dangerous to handle.  Despite the challenges, there are possibilities here...

Planck's First Whole-Sky Image...

Six months in the making, the highest-resolution whole-sky infrared image.  As usual, click to enlarge...

Morning Feel-Good...

Watch it through to the end – this kid is having a great time, and shows it!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Australian Humor...

Well, not really – Snopes says it's fake, and has been rewritten for other countries as well.  But the snide answers are still funny as hell.  Via my faithful reader and mom:
Q: Does it ever get windy in Australia ? I have never seen it rain on TV, how do the plants grow?
A: We import all plants fully grown and then just sit around watching them die.
Q: Will I be able to see kangaroos in the street?
A: Depends how much you've been drinking.
Q: I want to walk from Perth to Sydney - can I follow the railroad tracks?
A: Sure, it's only three thousand miles, take lots of water.
Q: Are there any ATMs (cash machines) in Australia ? Can you send me a list of them in Brisbane, Cairns, Townsville and Hervey Bay?
A: What did your last slave die of?
Q: Can you give me some information about hippo racing in Australia?
A: A-Fri-ca is the big triangle shaped continent south of Europe.
Aus-tra-lia is that big island in the middle of the Pacific which does not...
Oh forget it. Sure, the hippo racing is every Tuesday night in Kings Cross. Come naked.
Q: Which direction is North in Australia?
A: Face south and then turn 180 degrees. Contact us when you get here and we'll send the rest of the directions.
Q: Can I bring cutlery into Australia?
A: Why? Just use your fingers like we do...
Q:Can you send me the Vienna Boys' Choir schedule?
A: Aus-tri-a is that quaint little country bordering Ger-man-y, which is...
Oh forget it. Sure, the Vienna Boys Choir plays every Tuesday night in Kings Cross, straight after the hippo races. Come naked.
Q: Can I wear high heels in Australia?
A: You are a British politician, right?
Q: Are there supermarkets in Sydney and is milk available all year round?
A: No, we are a peaceful civilization of vegan hunter/gatherers. Milk is illegal.
Q: Please send a list of all doctors in Australia who can Dispense rattlesnake serum.
A: Rattlesnakes live in A-meri-ca which is where YOU come from. All Australian snakes are perfectly harmless, can be safely handled and make good pets.
Q: I have a question about a famous animal in Australia, but I forget its name. It's a kind of bear and lives in trees.
A: It's called a Drop Bear. They are so called because they drop out of Gum trees and eat the brains of anyone walking underneath them. You can scare them off by spraying yourself with human urine before you go out walking.
Q: I have developed a new product that is the fountain of youth. Can you tell me where I can sell it in Australia?
A: Anywhere significant numbers of Americans gather.
Q: Do you celebrate Christmas in Australia?
A: Only at Christmas.
Q: Will I be able to speak English most places I go?
A: Yes, but you'll have to learn it first.

The Ongoing Creation Story...

Via my mom:
In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth and populated the Earth with broccoli, cauliflower and spinach, green and yellow and red vegetables of all kinds, so Man and Woman would live long and healthy lives.

Then using God's great gifts, Satan created Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream and Krispy Creme Donuts. And Satan said, "You want chocolate with that?" And Man said, "Yes!" and Woman said, "and as long as you're at it, add some sprinkles." And they gained 10 pounds. And Satan smiled.

And God created the healthful yogurt that Woman might keep the figure that Man found so fair. And Satan brought forth white flour from the wheat, and sugar from the cane and combined them. And Woman went from size 6 to size 14.

So God said, "Try my fresh green salad." And Satan presented Thousand-Island Dressing, buttery croutons and garlic toast on the side. And Man and Woman unfastened their belts following the repast.

God then said, "I have sent you heart healthy vegetables and olive oil in which to cook them." And Satan brought forth deep fried fish and chicken-fried steak so big it needed its own platter. And Man gained more weight and his cholesterol went through the roof.

God then created a light, fluffy white cake, named it "Angel Food Cake," and said, "It is good." Satan then created chocolate cake and named it "Devil's Food."

God then brought forth running shoes so that His children might lose those extra pounds. And Satan gave cable TV with a remote control so Man would not have to toil changing the channels. And Man and Woman laughed and cried before the flickering blue light and gained pounds.

Then God brought forth the potato, naturally low in fat and brimming with nutrition. And Satan peeled off the healthful skin and sliced the starchy center into chips and deep-fried them. And Man gained pounds.

God then gave lean beef so that Man might consume fewer calories and still satisfy his appetite. And Satan created McDonald's and its 99-cent double cheeseburger. Then said, "You want fries with that?" And Man replied, "Yes! And super size them!" And Satan said, "It is good." And Man went into cardiac arrest.

God sighed and created quadruple bypass surgery.

Then Satan created HMOs and is now working on OBAMACARE.
The devil you say!