Friday, December 31, 2010

Morning Walk...

We slept in this morning until just before sunrise; lovely, that was.

I took the dogs out into the dim light for their walk, with Race off-leash.  Our yard looked almost like it had snowed, but it was just frost.  According to our thermometer (which is 15 feet in the air), we got down to 32°F; it was probably a few degrees colder right on the ground.  Say, 28°F – enough to make a fine coating of frost, given the humid air.

In the course of his usual pine-cone chasing, Race discovered that this morning he could skid on the frosty grass.  He started zooming around the yard, then holding all four feet stock-still so he'd skid.  He had a couple of really good skid runs, over 10 feet long.  For whatever reason, it was obvious that Race was really enjoying this; he kept right on doing it.  In fact, I had a great deal of trouble getting him back into the house, as he'd discovered that going down a hill while skidding was even better than the relatively flat parts of our yard!  That border collie is one smart puppy...

The three field spaniels, meanwhile, completely ignored the skidding opportunities.  Instead, they were completely absorbed by the new smells they were finding.  The three short tails were all wagging like made, and all three noses were snuffling about in the frosty grass.  They didn't want to come back in, either – but in their cases, I could drag them back in by the leash!

The Christmas Bird...

Via my mom:

Venn Diagram: People Who Touch Your Junk...

Via reader Doug S.:

As the Instapundit would say: heh!

Snowflakes Like You've Never Seen Them...

Snowflakes under an electron microscope.  The photo at right (click to enlarge) is “3D” – cross your eyes to fuse the two halves into a single center image and it will pop out at you.  More fascinating photos at the link...


This beautiful photo montage of the analemma comes from APOD, of course...

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Continuous Air Fare Checking...

Interesting daemon written in Perl that continuously searches for the best fares for a particular trip.  Might be quite useful for someone in a long-distance relationship!

North American Dialects...

Here's a fascinating little web site that's chock full of information about the English dialects of North America.  There are even audio samples you can listen too!

Rain, More Rain...

Check out the rain gauges at right – we're now over 30 inches for the year with the 1.25 inches we got yesterday and last night. 

Our ground is saturated, there's standing water all over the place, and our temperatures are down near the freezing mark.  Meanwhile, all the plants have decided it's spring, and they're growing like mad – we have hundreds of bulbs growing in our yard, and the thickest blanket of actual grass (instead of weeds) that we've seen in ten years or so.  If we get a hard frost (quite possible in the next few days), some of these plants are going to suffer...

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Digital Nativity...

If you have even a passing acquaintance with the modern online world, this will make you laugh until you hurt.  Via Frankie T.:

Primes, Visualized...

Here's a nice post about the Ulam spiral and related visual patterns made from primes – along with the code to generate them!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Romance Novel Material?

My wife forwarded this short story to me, with the subject line “Romance novel material”:
He grasped me firmly, but gently, just above my elbow and guided me into a room, his room. Then he quietly shut the door and we were alone. He approached me soundlessly, from behind, and spoke in a low, reassuring voice, close to my ear.

"Just relax..." Without warning, he reached down and I felt his strong, calloused hands start at my ankles, gently probing and moving upward along my calves, slowly, but steadily. My breath caught in my throat. I knew I should be afraid, but somehow I didn't care. His touch was so experienced, so sure. When his hands moved up onto my thighs, I gave a slight shudder, and I partly closed my eyes. My pulse was pounding. I felt his knowing fingers caress my abdomen, my ribcage. And then, as he cupped my firm, full breasts in his hands, I inhaled sharply. Probing, searching, knowing what he wanted, he brought his hands to my shoulders, slid them down my tingling spine and into my panties. Although I knew nothing about this man, I felt oddly trusting and expectant. This is a man, I thought. A man used to taking charge. A man not used to taking "no" for an answer. A man who would tell me what he wanted. A man who would look into my soul and say...

"Okay, ma'am," said a voice. "All done." My eyes snapped open and he was standing in front of me, smiling, holding out my purse. "You can board your flight now."
What is she trying to tell me?

Caring for Your Introvert...

This resonates strongly.  Nobody who knows me well will be surprised.

One of My Heroes Died on December 23...

I first read about Fred Hargesheimer about 15 years ago.  Fred was a P-38 pilot in WWII, shot down over Papua New Guinea, hidden and nurtured by natives.  He survived the war and went on to become a successful businessman (with ERA and Univac).  Later he went back to the natives of the Nakanai tribe, and offered to help.  He started with a school, but did much, much more for the tribe, trying to repay them for saving his life (at great risk to themselves).  Eventually he was given a great honor by the tribe, and just a few years ago the wreckage of his plane was found (after all these years!).  Fred was, of course, an old man by then – but the tribe knew he'd really want to see the wreckage.  So they cleared a helicopter pad in the jungle nearby the wreck, and arranged for him to be helicoptered in, and then carried through the jungle to the wreck.  Fred was able to positively identify the plane.  Here's a more detailed version of his story.

There's much more to Fred's story, of course.  I recommend his book The School That Fell From the Sky; read it and you'll see why I call Fred one of my heroes.

Fred Hargesheimer died on December 23.

Monday, December 27, 2010

More Linux Tricks...

A dandy little collection...

Cassini Visits Rhea...

Cassini is still traipsing about the Saturnian system, producing vast quantities of quality science.  As it gets nearer to the end of its mission (in particular, as it runs out of fuel), the mission planners are sending it on ever more risky endeavours.  Most especially they are sending it closer and closer to Saturn's satellites (this is risky because the gravitational field of these satellites attracts more space junk that could kill Cassini, and because some of these satellites even emit dangerous materials).

Just in time for the holidays, Cassini snapped this closeup of little Rhea, looking a bit like a Christmas tree ornament...

Milk and Butter are Good for You?

Nutritionists change their mind so frequently, and offer conflicting results so unashamedly, that a lay reader has a great deal of difficulty keeping track of what's good and what's bad.  I've basically given up myself, and have pursued a course of mindless eating for pleasure, moderated only when my body gives me unambiguous feedback or when my wallet runs out.  But I still read about the scientists hard at work trying to understand all this.  The latest missive: turns out that milk and butter may help you resist diabetes.  Well, that's nice – I drink a lot of milk!

So You Lost Your Election...

Iowahawk does it again.  Put down your morning beverage and cruise on over to read his latest masterpiece.  My favorite line (hard to pick just one!):
I removed my Congressional experience from my resume. How do I explain the 28-year gap?

Claim you were in prison.

Morning Walk...

Cold and clear this morning; the barometer is rising and you'd think we're in for a typical wintry sequence of mornings like this one.  But the forecast calls for rain on Wednesday, cloudy days through the end of the week, and more rain on Sunday...

Out with the dogs at 3:20 am, and my old friend Orion hangs just above the southwestern horizon.  Another week or two and he'll disappear.  The moon was high overhead and very bright, even though it's less than half lit.  I could see colors in the yard, and the distant mountains were clearly visible.

The three field spaniels focused on one particular spot alongside our driveway, doing their usual intense olfactory absorption.  Today I got down on the ground with them and smelled the same patch of ground.  I could only smell the earth and the grass, nothing else.  The dogs were fascinated by my joining them; didn't quite know what to make of it.

Race, the border collie, did something quite unusual for him.  A neighbor's dog was barking, objecting to our presence.  Race got his hackles up, and took off out the gate (unlike the field spaniels, he was off-leash).  He ran up the patch of ground between my neighbor's fence and our fence, and headed over to the neighbor's fence to get in his dog's face.  Much growling and posturing ensued.  With some difficulty I managed to call Race back.  Next time, he's going out on the leash.

As we walked back toward the house, I heard the low call of an owl nearby.  With some effort (as the calls were very intermittent), I located it – high in one of our eucalyptus trees.  I could just barely make out his silhouette against the bright sky; from the size and shape and call, it had to be a barn owl.  Be afraid, little mice...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Have a Doggy, Doggy Christmas!

'Cause we sure are...

From all of us, to all of you:

Merry Christmas!


The graph at right says it all – nearly 8 inches of rain, in just 5 days.  Several times during this storm, the rainfall rates were amongst the highest we've seen here in 11 years.  Awesome storm!

Today, our creeks are running strongly, the moss on all the rocks is bright green, the seeps on the hills are starting to flow (making bright shiny spots on the rocks), the sky is blue and clear, it's cold, the birds are is good in Lawson Valley!

And more rain is forecast for this weekend...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Another Obituary...

Via Debbie:
Please join me in remembering a great icon of the entertainment community. The Pillsbury Doughboy died yesterday of a yeast infection and trauma complications from repeated pokes in the belly. He was 71 and rollin in dough.

Doughboy was buried in a lightly greased coffin. Dozens of celebrities turned out to pay their respects, including Mrs. Butterworth, Hungry Jack, the California Raisins, Betty Crocker, the Hostess Twinkies, and Captain Crunch. The grave site was piled high with flours.

Aunt Jemima delivered the eulogy and lovingly described Doughboy as a man who never knew how much he was kneaded. Born and bread in Minnesota, Doughboy rose quickly in show business, but his later life was filled with turnovers.. He was not considered a very smart cookie, wasting much of his dough on half- baked schemes. Despite being a little flaky at times, he still was a crusty old man and was considered a positive roll model for millions.

Doughboy is survived by his wife Play Dough, three children: John Dough, Jane Dough and Dosey Dough, plus they had one in the oven. He is also survived by his elderly father, Pop Tart.

The funeral was held at 3:50 for about 20 minutes.


Just over 4" (10 cm) storm total – and two more days of storm to go.  Woo hoo!

Monday, December 20, 2010


We've still got three more days to go, but we're over an inch and a half (4 cm) at this point.  Another half inch and calendar 2010 will be the wettest year we've seen since we moved out here some 12 years ago...

If I Didn't Have Any Pets...

Via Debbie:
If I didn't have dogs and cats, I could walk around the yard barefoot in safety.

My house could be carpeted instead of tiled and laminated.

All flat surfaces, clothing, furniture, and cars would be free of hair.

When the doorbell rings, it wouldn't sound like a kennel.

When the doorbell rings, I could get to the door without wading through fuzzy bodies who beat me there.

I could sit on the couch and my bed the way I wanted, without taking into consideration how much space several fur bodies would need to get comfortable.

I would have money, and no guilt to go on a real vacation.

I would not be on a first-name basis with 6 veterinarians, as I put their yet unborn grandkids through college.

The most used words in my vocabulary would not be: out, sit, down, come, no, stay, and leave it ALONE.

My house would not be cordoned off into zones with baby gates or barriers.

I would not talk 'baby talk.' 'Eat your din din.' 'Yummy yummy for the tummy'...
My house would not look like a day care center, toys everywhere.

My pockets would not contain things like poop bags, treats and an extra leash.

I would no longer have to spell the words B-A-L-L, W-A-L-K, T-R-E-A-T, O-U-T, G-O, R-I-D-E, C-O-O-K-I-E.

I would not have as many leaves INSIDE my house as outside.

I would not look strangely at people who think having ONE dog/cat ties them down too much.

I'd look forward to Spring and the rainy season instead of dreading 'mud' season.

I would not have to answer the question, 'Why do you have so many animals?', from people who will never have the joy in their lives of knowing they are loved unconditionally by someone as close to an ANGEL as they will ever get.

How EMPTY my life would be!

That Explains It!

Via Debbie:
Some of you will recall that on July 8, 1947, a little over 62 years ago, witnesses claim that an unidentified flying object (UFO) with five aliens aboard crashed onto a sheep and mule ranch just outside Roswell, New Mexico.

This is a well known incident that many say has long been covered up by the U.S. Air Force and other federal agencies and organizations.

However, what you may NOT know is that in the month of April 1948, nine months after that historic day, the following people were born:

Albert A. Gore, Jr.
Hillary Rodham
John F. Kerry
William J. Clinton
Howard Dean
Nancy Pelosi
Dianne Feinstein
Charles E. Schumer
Barbara Boxer

See what happens when aliens breed with sheep and jackasses? I certainly hope this bit of information clears up a lot of things for you.. It did for me.

No wonder they support the bill to help illegal aliens!


Via Debbie:

An Obituary...

Via my mom, this obituary allegedly published in the London Times:
Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as:
- Knowing when to come in out of the rain;
- Why the early bird gets the worm;
- Life isn't always fair;
- and Maybe it was my fault.

Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge).

His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a 6-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.

Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children.

It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer sun lotion or an aspirin to a student; but could not inform parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.

Common Sense lost the will to live as the churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims.

Common Sense took a beating when you couldn't defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue you for assault.

Common Sense finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement.

Common Sense was preceded in death, by his parents, Truth and Trust, by his wife, Discretion, by his daughter, Responsibility, and by his son, Reason.

He is survived by his 4 stepbrothers;
I Know My Rights
I Want It Now
Someone Else Is To Blame
I'm A Victim

Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Nemophila Menziesii...

Gorgeous, isn't it?  Click to enlarge, as always.

This is a common wildflower around these parts, and one of our favorites for its exquisite blue hues.  The photo is courtesy of Botany Photo of the Day, which I continue to highly recommend to anyone interested in botany or wildflowers (which are the subject of many of their photos)...

As If We Needed Proof...

...that Michael Moore is a lying sack of equine anal emissions, this is from a memo recently posted on WikiLeaks.  The memo was written by U.S. diplomats in Havana:
...the memo reveals that when the film was shown to a group of Cuban doctors, some became so "disturbed at the blatant misrepresentation of healthcare in Cuba that they left the room".

Castro's government apparently went on to ban the film because, the leaked cable claims, it "knows the film is a myth and does not want to risk a popular backlash by showing to Cubans facilities that are clearly not available to the vast majority of them."

Sicko investigated healthcare in the US by comparing the for-profit, non-universal US system with the non-profit universal health care systems of other countries, including Cuba, France and the UK.
I suspect Moore is just out to make a buck, and couldn't give a hoot about the truth of his assertions, or consequences of them...

Help Needed: a Fox is in Trouble...

Rusty Beatty writes:
We need some help catching a red tail fox that has a plastic jar stuck on its head. We found the fox Tuesday night on Lyons Valley Rd by Luck Kid Ranch. He was wondering along the side of the road trying to at a road kill rabbit. On Wednesday, Animal Control came out and found the fox in the canyon just out of reach. They gave us a net catch him and set up a trap but with a jar on its head I don't think it can smell the bait. Animal control called Thursday that the fox was by the Arco on 94 in town. He was reported heading east. Possible back to our original location. If anyone has seen him today or sees him in the next few days please let us know asap. Its going on at least 5 days without water. Email or call Rusty at 619-920-7773
Can you help this fox in need? If so, please contact Rusty!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Man Found Dead in Jamul...

Update 12/18/2010 @ 6:30 AM:

Now the police are saying it looks like homicide.

Original post:

On Jamul Drive, not far from where Brenden Dallo was killed just a few days ago.  I don't know anything more than this news story...

Public Sporting Dog Training Facility...

Just opened, not far from the town of Jamul.  Cool!

Awesome App...

I sure wish I'd had one of these back when I was traveling extensively in Estonia and Russia!

The Art of Propaganda is Alive and Well...

Reading this site makes me want to vomit as I'm reaching for my shotgun...

Well, I'll Be Darned...

In just the past couple of days, the Senate proposed the most pork-tastic omnibus spending bill we've ever seen, and then withdrew it after seeing that it had no chance of passing (even in the lame-duck Congress!) – and the GOP-Obama compromise tax bill passed both the Senate and the House with overwhelming bipartisan majorities.

I think I could be forgiven for thinking I'm having some kind of a dream.  I'm not sure if it's a nightmare or a good dream, but it surely doesn't seem like something that could happen in the real world!

Some interesting commentary here and here...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

How to Safely Store a Password...

Hint: bcrypt is involved...

Home-Brew 8 Bit CPU...

This is cool, but those of us of a certain age have been there, done that, before.  For that young feller, building a computer from scratch with a microprocesser is an exotic affair.  For me (and many others) in the late '70s and early '80s, it was the norm.  I've designed and built dozens of these – and that's not bragging, that's just the way you did things back then. 

There's a further step I'd love to take.  It's been on my “to do” list ever since Don Tarbell showed me his home-brew 8 bit computer back in the late '70s.  He didn't start with a microprocessor chip – he started with a blank sheet of paper and a TTL parts catalog.  He designed the instruction set, the CPU architecture, and every logic gate in the entire thing.  The result was something that would (barely) fit on a table-top, and operated at a speed that would be most unimpressive today – but it was all his design, from the instruction set on up.

I want to do that.  And someday, I will.

Lame Duck Shenanigans...

This reminds me of the stories about the Clinton team trashing the White House as they left office.  The lead from this story in today's WSJ:
The 111th Congress began with an $814 billion stimulus that blew out the federal balance sheet, so we suppose it's only fitting that the Members want to exit by passing a 1,924-page, $1.2 trillion omnibus spending bill. The worst Congress in modern history is true to its essence to the bitter end.

Think of this as a political version of the final scene in "Animal House," when the boys from the Delta frat react to their expulsion by busting up the local town parade for the sheer mayhem of it. Bluto Blutarsky (John Belushi) did go on to be a U.S. Senator in the film, and a man of his vision must have earned a seat on Appropriations.

Democrats have had 11 months to write a budget for fiscal 2011, which began on October 1. But Majority Leader Harry Reid and Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye have dumped this trillion-dollar baby on Senators at the very last minute, when everyone is busy and wants to go home for the holidays. No doubt that was the plan. The continuing resolution to fund the government expires on Saturday, so Mr. Reid wants to squeeze Senators against the deadline. And with the press corps preoccupied by the tax debate, the spending bill is greased to slide through with little or no public scrutiny.
Disgusting, ain't it? Read the whole thing; I promise, you'll be even more disgusted...

Facebook Connections Map...

Fascinating graphic representation of “friends” connections on Facebook.  Click to enlarge, as usual.

A Drop of Water...

At 10,000 frames per second:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Via reader Jim M.:
France has neither winter nor summer nor morals. Apart from these drawbacks it is a fine country. France has usually been governed by prostitutes.'
– Mark Twain

I would rather have a German division in front of me than a French one behind me.
– General George S. Patton

Going to war without France is like going deer hunting without your accordion.
– Norman Schwartzkopf

We can stand here like the French, or we can do something about it.
– Marge Simpson

The only time France wants us to go to war is when the German Army is sitting in Paris sipping coffee.
– Regis Philbin

The last time the French asked for 'more proof' it came marching into Paris under a German flag.
– David Letterman

War without France would be like ... World War II.
– unknown

The favorite bumper sticker in Washington D.C.right now is one that says 'First Iraq , then France .'
– Tom Brokaw

What do you expect from a culture and a nation that exerted more of its national will fighting against Disney World and Big Macs than the Nazis?
– Dennis Miller

It is important to remember that the French have always been there when they needed us.
– Alan Kent

Somebody was telling me about the French Army rifle that was being advertised on eBay the other day – the description was, 'Never fired. Dropped once.'
– Rep. Roy Blunt, MO

The French will only agree to go to war when we've proven we've found truffles in Iraq.
– Dennis Miller

Q. What did the mayor of Paris say to the German Army as they entered the city in WWII?
A. Table for 100,000 m'sieur?

Do you know how many Frenchmen it takes to defend Paris ? It's not known, it's never been tried.
– Rep. R. Blount, MO

Do you know it only took Germany three days to conquer France in WWII? And that's because it was raining.
– John Xereas, Manager, DC Improv

French Ban Fireworks at Euro Disney
(AP), Paris , March 5, 2003  The French Government announced today that it is imposing a ban on the use of fireworks at Euro Disney. The decision comes the day after a nightly fireworks display at the park, located just 30 miles outside of Paris, caused the soldiers at a nearby French Army garrison to surrender to a group of Czech tourists.

The French Army's brand new tank has 15 gears in reverse (including overdrive) - and one forward gear (just in case they're attacked from the rear).

A Kitty Sort of Christmas...

My cousin Mike D. sent around an email with Christmas-themed cartoons.  This one caught my eye, as several of our feline beasties could easily be the main character in it.  As usual, click to enlarge...

Hooters Calendar...

This came in via email from my mom, so I didn't know what to expect when I opened the attachment – it could have been anything at all, including what you expected when you saw the title.  But this turned out to be a series of calendar photos featuring owls, and the photography is very nice indeed.  The shot at right is an example.

If you're interested, the real deal is on sale here, in both paper and electronic form...

Solar Eruption...

Via APOD, this video of a solar filament erupting.  The last few years have brought astounding advances in our ability to image the sun's surface...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


I posted in some detail about the Geminids yesterday.  This morning the dogs and I watched them for about 10 minutes, and saw about 40 meteors.  That works out to a rate of about 240/hour, nowhere near some of the predictions – but it was still a great display.  Because Gemini is so high in the sky right now, the meteors were visible at all points of the compass, and looked like they were headed straight down.  Of the meteors I saw, two were fairly large and long-lived, one in particular to the southwest of me that disappeared below the horizon still glowing brightly...

Your Morning Puns...

Via reader James M.:
The fattest knight at King Arthur's round table was Sir Cumference. He acquired his size from too much pi.

I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian.

She was only a whiskey maker, but he loved her still.

A rubber band pistol was confiscated from algebra class, because it was a weapon of math disruption.

No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.

A dog gave birth to puppies near the road and was cited for littering.

A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart.

Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.

A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall. The police are looking into it.

Atheism is a non-prophet organization.

Two hats were hanging on a hat rack in the hallway. One hat said to the other: 'You stay here; I'll go on a head.'

I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.

A sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center said: 'Keep off the Grass.'

The midget fortune-teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.

The soldier who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.

A backward poet writes inverse.

In a democracy it's your vote that counts. In feudalism it's your count that votes.

When cannibals ate a missionary, they got a taste of religion.

If you jumped off the bridge in Paris , you'd be in Seine .

Two fish swim into a concrete wall. One turns to the other and says 'Dam!'

Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says, 'I've lost my electron.' The other says 'Are you sure?' The first replies,'Yes, I'm positive.'

Aging Rock Stars...

If you're of a certain age, you'll enjoy this:

Mandate Take-Down...

This WSJ piece is a good summary of the ruling yesterday that the Obamacare individual mandate is unconstitutional.  A taste:
Judge Hudson's opinion is particularly valuable because it dispatches the White House's carousel of rationalizations for its unprecedented intrusions. The Justice Department argued that the mandate is justified by the Commerce Clause because the decision not to purchase insurance has a substantial effect on interstate commerce because everybody needs medical care eventually. And if not that, then it's permissible under the broader taxing power for the general welfare; and if not that, then it's viable under the Necessary and Proper clause; and if not that, well, it's needed to make the overall regulatory scheme function.

But as Judge Hudson argues, the nut of the case is the Commerce Clause. Justice can't now claim that the mandate is "really" a tax when the bill itself imposes what it calls a "penalty" for failing to buy insurance and says the power to impose the mandate is vested in interstate commerce. Recall that President Obama went on national television during the ObamaCare debate to angrily assert that the mandate "is absolutely not a tax increase."

Moreover, Judge Hudson says that no court has ever "extended Commerce Clause powers to compel an individual to involuntarily enter the stream of commerce by purchasing a commodity in the private market."
The best part so far as I can see is that this ruling is a necessary first step in the inevitable appeals process, so the (first) journey of this legislation to the Supreme Court has begun...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Morning Walk...

We got up a little early this morning, and I had the dogs outside by 2:30 am.  Down by our gate they (all four of them!) got all excited about something slightly off to one side of our driveway.  Some smell there was driving them slightly crazy; all four of them trying to shoulder the others aside so they could catch the best olfactory experience.  It's times like this when I fervently wish I could somehow communicate with the dogs.  What on earth has you so excited, guys? 

Tomorrow morning we should see the peak of this year's Geminid meteor shower.  The viewing around here should be close to ideal at my normal morning walk time.  The Geminid shower gets its name from the fact that it appears to emerge from the constellation Gemini, above and to the left of Orion as you view the night sky.  This morning, Castor and Pollux (the two brightest stars in Gemini) were almost straight overhead at 2:30 am – it doesn't get any better than that for viewing a meteor shower!  For any astronomy buffs out there, Castor is a very interesting star system: an optical binary system (easily seen even in binoculars), each member of which is itself spectroscopic binary – and this quadruple star system has a orbiting companion binary system!

This morning, staring at Gemini for a couple of minutes (I didn't time it, so that's approximate), I saw 12 meteors.  That works out to a rate of about 360/hour.  Some sources are predicting rates tomorrow morning of around 1,000/hour.  I hope you have a chance to see this...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

No Nativity Scene in Washington D.C. This Year...

Via my mom:
There will be no Nativity Scene in Washington this year!

The Supreme Court has ruled that there cannot be a Nativity Scene in the United States' Capital this Christmas season.

This isn't for any religious reason. They simply have not been able to find Three Wise Men in the Nation's Capitol.

The search for a Virgin continues.

There was no problem, however, finding enough asses to fill the stable.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Branden Dallo Killed...

In an accident that may have been alcohol-related, 21 year old Branden Dallo was killed yesterday in a single car accident off Jamul Drive:
A 21-year-old man was killed and his passenger was injured early Friday when their car went off a winding, rural road in Jamul, authorities said.

Branden Dallo was driving a Porsche south on Jamul Drive when he lost control of the car and veered off the shoulder east of Tuk-A-Wile Drive about 2:15 a.m., California Highway Patrol Officer Brian Pennings said.

The Porsche went down a grassy slope and hit several trees and a boulder, Pennings said.

Dallo died in the wreck. His passenger, McKenzie Hillman, 18, was taken to a hospital with minor injuries, Pennings said.

Pennings said there was evidence that Dallo may have been under the influence of alcohol.
One small consolation: Ms. Hillman is ok.

Many readers have written to let me know that Branden was the younger brother of Johnny Dallo.

Our sympathy to the family and friends of Branden.


Paul Ryan's Roadmap for America's Future just got a celebrity endorsement: from Sarah Palin.

Geek Rant...

Here's an interesting rant about Object Oriented Programming (OOP).  I'm certainly not ready to abandon OOP, but nonetheless the man makes some points that resonate.  Like this one:
Finally, I hate the catchphrase: “Objects are not enough. We need …” Over the years we have needed frameworks, components, aspects, services (which, curiously, seems to bring us back to procedural programming!).

Given the fact that objects clearly never were enough, isn’t it odd that they have served us so well over all these years?
Read the whole thing (and don't miss the comments!)...

Politics and Eye Movements...

Lead from a Science Daily article today:
It goes without saying that conservatives and liberals don't see the world in the same way. Now, research from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln suggests that is exactly, and quite literally, the case.

In a new study, UNL researchers measured both liberals' and conservatives' reaction to "gaze cues" -- a person's tendency to shift attention in a direction consistent with another person's eye movements, even if it's irrelevant to their current task -- and found big differences between the two groups.

Liberals responded strongly to the prompts, consistently moving their attention in the direction suggested to them by a face on a computer screen. Conservatives, on the other hand, did not.
The reason for this hypothesized by the researchers is that conservatives are less likely to be influenced by what other people say or do.


Read the whole thing...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

M81 in All Its Glory...

Via APOD, of course.

When I was a kid, the best image you could hope for of M81 was a black-and-white smear about the size of a penny.  Click to enlarge this beauty, and marvel at what modern technology allows us to see...

Quote of the Day...

From J.R. Dunn, at American Thinker:
Serves 'em right for using Windows.
I had no idea that Dunn is a geek.

This is right in the middle of an excellent article about the Stuxnet worm and the WikiLeaks cable dumps as examples of modern warfare.  Well worth reading the whole thing...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Scary Chart...

I've published this chart before; but it was time for an update.  The basic message here is that we're in the mother of all recessions, no matter what kind of blather you're hearing from politicians, economists, or “settled science”.  Read it and be afraid, especially of that almost-flat bottom.  Where's the steep upturn that we see in nearly all the other recessions?  It ain't here yet, that's for sure...

Cell Phone Karma...

Very funny ad:


So the Democrats are split – some are ok with Obama's tax cut compromise; others are angry that he compromised at all, and are threatening to scuttle the compromise.  And I'm not sure which side to root for...

On the one hand the compromise is very good for me personally; my taxes would be thousands of dollars lower next year if it passes.  On the other hand, continuing the deficit spending is clearly a bad thing for the country, and will come back to bite us one of these days – in ways that will probably be bad for me personally.

This tax compromise is really just more politics-as-usual.  While it solves a problem about to smack us all upside the head in a few weeks, it does absolutely nothing to address the fundamental problem (federal spending exceeding federal taxes), and in fact makes it worse (reducing taxes while not changing spending).  So I'm having a hard time getting excited by this.

It sure would be nice to have a problem-solver go to work over there in D.C...

Who Knew?

The easy way to peel a banana:

Yes, I tried it.  Yes, it works.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Several months ago I purchased a Kindle, and I've been using it ever since – I haven't read a single paper book since first picking up the device (though I do still read paper magazines and the occasional newspaper).  At this point I have read almost 40 books on my Kindle, and my style of using it has settled down.  I can make some observations based on experience:

I don't miss the paper format at all.  The convenience and portability of the Kindle far outweigh any aesthetic loss.

Having an entire library (over 300 books now) that I can carry around means that I now find myself much more easily jumping around from book-to-book, reading what suits my mood and mental state.

The dictionary and word look-up facility built into the Kindle has me now doing something I did decades ago, but stopped: looking up every word I don't know.  The only ways Amazon could make this feature any better would be to (a) speed it up (it now takes 10 seconds or so to look up a word) and to (b) switch to the O.E.D. as the dictionary (“antique” words are often not in the Merriam dictionary included, and I read enough older literature for this to be annoying).

The fact that I can download and read copyright-free books at no cost has me exploring all sorts of books that I'd probably never buy.  For example, I've just finished rereading Gulliver's Travels (Jonathan Swift), which I last read in my twenties.  I've also reread all of Jules Vernes' works that were translated to English, and I'm starting on Charles Dickens (many of which I've never read). 

I'm also buying books that I might not have purchased on paper, because of the cost differential.  For example, I recently purchased Decision Points (George W. Bush), and read it.  I'm glad I did – I rather liked the book (something I didn't expect), and it clarified something for me: that the essential thing I liked about Bush as President had nothing to do with his competence, but rather his decency and humility.  In this respect, the contrast with the current President couldn't be more stark...

Another Takedown of the TSA Approach...

From Evan DeFillipis:
There is little evidence to suggest that the newest TSA procedures will be effective at reducing terrorism. Indeed, security expert Bruce Schneier stated unequivocally that nothing that can conceivably be done to stop a well-financed al-Qaeda-like plot from materializing — once terrorist plotters have made it to the airport, it’s already too late to stop them. Against “lone-wolf” amateur forms of terrorism, upper-level intelligence agencies and pre-Sept. 11 technologies has consistently proven effective at neutralizing the threat.

Nevertheless, the TSA continues to advocate a model of security based upon overreaction. Ineffectual peripheral threats relating to liquid explosives, shoe bombs or printer cartridges coincide with rapid changes to the terrorist alert level (as if the risk of terrorism increases after a failed plot!) and reactionary modifications to security protocol, resulting in the loss of millions in governmental revenue, inconvenience for passengers and the abatement of fundamental liberty.

The fundamental problem is that terrorism is innovative while TSA policy is reactive. The TSA modifies its protocol on the basis of terrorist plots that have already happened, while an intelligent terrorist knows not to duplicate the failed efforts of past terrorists.

Security expert, Bruce Schneier, noted that international terrorists have already started smuggling weapons through body cavities, which can’t be detected through either x-rays or pat-downs, instantly rendering both our new procedures useless.
Read the whole thing...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Now This is a Cold Winter!

In Russia, of course.  Brrrrr!

Click to enlarge (and make your room feel colder).

San Diego looks very warm by comparison, even when we have a frost...

A Christmas Carol...

The kind you might hear around our house:

Freaky-Deaky Wireless Technology...

Via my mom:

Excellent Article on the TSA's Security Theatre...

From John Wohlstetter at NRO.  His conclusion:
Does anyone really believe that Americans, if given a choice between intimate patdowns and Israel-style interviews, would choose being groped?

The bottom line is that Israel’s methods work. Instead of having ill-trained TSA agents search for bad things, have well-trained agents search for bad people. Profile by behavior and circumstance (cash ticket, one-way trip, etc.), and leave most of us alone. Compile accurate no-fly lists. Heed credible warnings. Ignore political correctness.

Instead, Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano reportedly has two more Bright Ideas: unionizing TSA employees and special reduced screening for Muslims in traditional garb. The former, rejected when the Department of Homeland Security was established, would make it harder to fire incompetent employees. The latter would have the unintended impact of so enraging most Americans that they will insist lawmakers make TSA apply uniform rules.

Israel’s skies have been friendly for 42 years. Not a bad record. We should learn from it.
Go read the whole thing.

More Handy-Dandy Linux Commands...

Some of these were completely new to me, and useful to know.  Example:
man ascii
Can you guess what that does?


Interesting new JavaScript library.  Interesting, that is, if you want to display equations and formulae on your web site...

Friday, December 3, 2010

Peer Review...

The study reproduced at right (in its entirety; click to enlarge) was published in a peer-reviewed science journal.


Enceladus, Even Closer...

The image at right (click to enlarge), of Saturn's moon Enceladus, was taken a few days ago by Cassini on its closest approach yet (to within just 48 km).

If you've been following the fascinating discoveries Cassini has been making about Enceladus, then you know that this moon is one of the most fascinating and surprising objects in our solar system.  The jets visible so clearly in this photo are primarily composed of water – and the simple existence of that water is perhaps the most surprising finding of all the many surprises from Enceladus.

Cassini has now been making steady, amazing contributions to science for over five years.  It's still going strong, though getting closer and closer to its end of life.  The scientists are directing it now to missions that would have been deemed too risky earlier in its mission, such as this very close pass to Enceladus.

More Cassinis, please, NASA.

Marine Corps Bumper Stickers...

These gems nicely sum up the reasons why the U.S. Marine Corps is feared by all the bad guys in the world:
U.S. Marines – Travel Agents To Allah

When In Doubt, Empty The Magazine

The Marine Corps – When It Absolutely, Positively Has To Be Destroyed Overnight

Death Smiles At Everyone – Marines Smile Back

Marine Sniper – You can run, but you'll just die tired!

What Do I Feel When I Kill A Terrorist? Just a little recoil..."

Marines – Providing Enemies of America an Opportunity To Die For their Country Since 1775

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Anyone Who Threatens It

Happiness Is A Belt-Fed Weapon

It's God's Job to Forgive Bin Laden – It's Our Job To Arrange The Meeting

Artillery Brings Dignity to What Would Otherwise Be Just A Brawl

Machine Gunners – Accuracy by Volume

A Dead Enemy Is A Peaceful Enemy – Blessed Be The Peacemakers

Except For Ending Slavery, Fascism, Nazism, and Communism, WAR has Never Solved Anything.

Terrorists and the Washington Monument...

Bruce Schneier weighs in.

Listen to the man, folks.

The Four Cats...

For some reason, my mom thought of us when she read this:
The Four Cats

Four men were bragging about how smart their cats were. The first man was an engineer, the second man was an accountant, the third man was a chemist, and the fourth man was a government employee.

To show off, the engineer called to his cat, "T-square, do your stuff."

T-square pranced over to the desk, took out some paper and pen and promptly drew a circle, a square, and a triangle.

Everyone agreed that was pretty smart.

But the accountant said his cat could do better. He called his cat and said, "Spreadsheet, do your stuff."

Spreadsheet went out to the kitchen and returned with a dozen cookies. He divided them into 4 equal piles of 3 cookies.

Everyone agreed that was good.

But the chemist said his cat could do better. He called his cat and said, "Measure, do your stuff."

Measure got up, walked to the fridge, took out a quart of milk, got a 10 ounce glass from the cupboard and poured exactly 8 ounces, without spilling a drop, into the glass.

Everyone agreed that was pretty good.

Then the three men turned to the government employee and said, "What can your cat do?" The government employee called his cat and said, "Coffee Break, do your stuff."

Coffee Break jumped to his feet...

Ate the cookies...

Drank the milk...

Crapped on the paper...

Screwed the other three cats...

Claimed he injured his back while doing so.

Filed a grievance report for unsafe working conditions...

Put in for Worker's Compensation...and went home for the rest of the day on sick leave.

I hope my mom thought of us because of the cat theme, and not because she thinks we want to be government employees!

Don't Mess with the Old Guys!

My (much younger) colleagues at work had a good laugh over this:

Truth and Peer-Reviewed Science...

Reader Doug W. forwarded this fascinating Atlantic article (by David Freedman), about a scientist who is systematically studying the errors in science as it is practiced today.  It's longer than most of what I link to, but if you're at all interested in understanding the process of science, it's well worth your time.

Though the article focuses on medical science, Doug points out that what it says is obviously applicable far more broadly – such as to climate research.  I read the article with that thought in mind, and this passage jumped out at me:
Though scientists and science journalists are constantly talking up the value of the peer-review process, researchers admit among themselves that biased, erroneous, and even blatantly fraudulent studies easily slip through it. Nature, the grande dame of science journals, stated in a 2006 editorial, “Scientists understand that peer review per se provides only a minimal assurance of quality, and that the public conception of peer review as a stamp of authentication is far from the truth.” What’s more, the peer-review process often pressures researchers to shy away from striking out in genuinely new directions, and instead to build on the findings of their colleagues (that is, their potential reviewers) in ways that only seem like breakthroughs—as with the exciting-sounding gene linkages (autism genes identified!) and nutritional findings (olive oil lowers blood pressure!) that are really just dubious and conflicting variations on a theme.

Most journal editors don’t even claim to protect against the problems that plague these studies. University and government research overseers rarely step in to directly enforce research quality, and when they do, the science community goes ballistic over the outside interference. The ultimate protection against research error and bias is supposed to come from the way scientists constantly retest each other’s results—except they don’t. Only the most prominent findings are likely to be put to the test, because there’s likely to be publication payoff in firming up the proof, or contradicting it.
These are exactly the points that many AGW skeptics make about the IPCC reports and much of the “settled science” of climatology, and the reaction (both by the scientists and the press) is exactly as described.

The overall conclusion is that science is a messy, error-filled process that nonetheless drifts in the general direction of increasing truth and knowledge.  I'd argue that skepticism is an essential part of the scientific process, in particular helping with the direction of the drift...


If you're unfortunate enough to know who Keith Olbermann is, then you know that what he needs more than anything is a good smackdown.  That's exactly what has happened here, delivered by none other than Bristol Palin, of all people.  Money quote:
I have never claimed to be perfect. If that makes me the "worst person in the world" to Mr. Olbermann, then I must apologize for not being absolutely faultless like he undoubtedly must be.
Definitely read the whole (short) thing.

Wealth vs. Health, Over Time...

Not only is the information presented here interesting in and of itself, but the video is a terrific example of the power of well-done visualizations.  You won't regret spending a few minutes with this video:


Mostly I get to read Lileks, or listen to him on the Ricochet podcast.  Here's a video interview.  Oh, would that our newpapers and online media were full of wit like his!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Where the TSA is Headed?

Via reader Kyla M:

A Great Dental Plan!

Via my mom:

Gray Lady Hypocrisy...

Via reader Cliff F.:
New York Times editors, as cited in James Taranto's Best of the Web Today column at, Nov. 29:

"The documents appear to have been acquired illegally and contain all manner of private information and statements that were never intended for the public eye, so they won't be posted here."—New York Times, on the Climategate emails, Nov. 20, 2009.

"The articles published today and in coming days are based on thousands of United States embassy cables, the daily reports from the field intended for the eyes of senior policy makers in Washington. . . . The Times believes that the documents serve an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy in a way that other accounts cannot match."—New York Times, on the WikiLeaks documents, Nov. 29, 2010.
The original Best of the Web Today article.

It's been over 20 years since I last read the New York Times regularly.  This is a good example of why.

TSA Pinup of the Year...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

If You're Wondering About Your Fellow Humans...'s a story that will cheer you up.  Grab some Kleenex, and read:
In the grand scheme of prayer requests, theirs seemed fairly simple.

Dave and Melanie Stieglitz were asking for friends at their church to pray for the youngest of their three daughters, the one who was born with Down syndrome. Not that they wanted God to change anything about her. To the contrary, they were hoping, praying, to change those around her. Specifically to change her classmates at Fletcher High School. Not all 2,000 of them. Just one.

God, they asked, send a friend to Cara.

One friend.

Someone to sit with her at lunch.

At the time, Cara Stieglitz was 14 years old, a Fletcher freshman. And if you had wandered into the school and, just at a glance, tried to pick who was least likely to be named homecoming queen, you might have pointed at the girl who was eating by herself.

"As a parent, that pulls at your heart," Melanie Stieglitz said of picturing her daughter sitting alone.

So every Tuesday, she went to school and ate lunch with Cara. And on Sundays, they prayed that someone else would join her.

They never imagined that four years later Cara would be standing on a football field, wearing a purple dress that she and her mother picked out for homecoming. The court already had been narrowed from more than 80 nominees to 10 boys and 10 girls. One by one, the runners-up were announced. Then the king.

Jesse Hughes fits the traditional mold of a homecoming king. Star basketball player, 4.2 grade point average, good-looking, popular. He was the nominee of the senior class.

But the queen ...

Several television stations were there that night, so you may have seen video of the moment. The queen leaping up and down, her grin making the king's grin grow even bigger. Everyone in the stands on their feet. Parents dabbing their eyes. And not just Cara's parents.

The king said his mom was crying.

"And not for me," he said with a laugh.

So beyond prayer, how did this happen? How did Fletcher High become the scene of a story that feels almost too good to be true, like something straight out of a movie script? How did Cara go from sitting by herself in the lunchroom to standing by herself on the football field, the crowd cheering as the time-honored symbol of high school popularity was placed onto her head?

This is Cara's story. But it is also her classmates' story.
The rest of the story...

Dog Found!

Update and bump: Added photo from Kathy.  This little guy just wants to go home!

Original post: Reader Kathy reports that they have found a dog wandering about. From her email to me:
We found a dog tonight about 4 PM wandering on Lyons Valley Rd near Jamul Intermediate. He was scared and was almost hit several times. He looks like a young Rotweiler. He has a collar, but no tags. He is a sweet dog, but really wants to go home. Our phone number is 669-2923.
Does this sound like any dog you know? If so, please give Kathy a call. Meanwhile, I'll see if she can supply a photo...

<head> Script...

This looks interesting, though I haven't yet tried it...

Optimizing Sleep...

This I gotta read...


The Mars Express orbiter recently took this photo of Mars' mysterious dark moon Phobos. 

I remember vividly the science fiction stories of my youth, wherein the authors could plausibly posit that the two satellites of Mars were not of natural origin, but were (depending on the story) either remnants of Martian civilizations, remnants of prior Earth civilizations, or artifacts of alien civilizations.  They could do this because we knew so little about these tiny little moons.  Now all those lovely story lines are destroyed because of sharp photos like this – but now we've got an even more intriguing series of questions and mysteries!