Saturday, December 31, 2011

Public Service Announcement...

Aunt Chippy Wraps a Present...

Via my mom.  Put down your morning beverage first:


Top 12 Reasons to Vote Democratic...

Via reader Jim M., this handy list you can use when talking politics with your lefty friends:
Top 12 Reasons To Vote Democratic

I'm voting Democratic because...

1. 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.

2. I believe the government will do a better job of spending the money I earn than I would.

3. Freedom of Speech is fine as long as nobody is offended by it.

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

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

6. I'm not concerned about millions of babies being aborted so long as we keep all death row inmates alive.

7. I think illegal aliens have a right to free health care, education, and Social Security benefits.

8. I believe business 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 Democrats see fit.

9. 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.

10. I think it's better to pay billions to people who hate us for their oil, but not drill our own because it might upset some endangered beetle or Gopher.

11. While we live in the greatest, most wonderful country in the world, I was promised "HOPE AND CHANGE".

12. My head is so firmly planted up my ass, it's unlikely I'll ever have another point of view.

Our Perception...

From the Abstruse Goose, this interesting infographic showing just how little we actually can perceive of the total electromagnetic spectrum (what we perceive with our vision) and the acoustic spectrum (what we perceive with our hearing):


Friday, December 30, 2011

Corporate Cronyism...

Note the little Ds (for Democrats) and Rs (for Republicans).  See a trend?  As always, click to enlarge...



Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Hack from 1903!

Read about the exploits of Nevil Maskelyne – it sounds much like something that might happen today on the Intertubes...

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

iPad Cool...

This is just plain cool – a NASA visualization application for the iPad, with content updated several times a month...

A New Low...

A French fellow has set a new record low in the never-ending geek quest for elaborate, weird, and useless technology.  His accomplishment?  The successful transmission of TCP/IP over a Lego model railroad...

Color eInk...

Showing up commercially for the first time.  I saw a demonstration of this technology a couple of years ago, before it was ready for production.  The unit I saw had quite low contrast and took almost 30 seconds to refresh the image.  I've been waiting for this – I can't wait to see the production units for myself!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

We're cooking and feasting with close friends today, and otherwise goofing off.  It will be slow blogging for the next few days...

ClimateGate 2.0: the Smoking Gun...

Blogger Tom Nelson spotted an open admission of the fraudulent nature of the data publicized by the IPCC and Mann et al.  Anthony Watts is all over it...

Another Christmas Flash Mob...



Bad Publicity for FedEx...




I'll bet that guy is sorry now.  This video clip has been viewed by millions of people – and I'll bet the FedEx CEO is one of them...

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Morning Smile...

Gorilla Cool...

TSA: Epic Fail...

A journalist tests the TSA with some professional help.  Conclusion: the TSA is very good at spending enormous sums of money and at irritating travelers.  Making us safer?  Not so much...

Mac Tools...

Interesting list of developer-oriented tools for Macs...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cool!

Take a short length of ordinary copper pipe, and a small stack of powerful neodymium magnets.  Drop the magnets through the pipe, and watch them fall far more slowly than usual.  Why?  Magnetic braking due to the induced eddy currents in the pipe.  Awesome!


Chipping Away at Our Freedoms...

The Department of Justice is going after three blogs: the three blogs that first published the release of the ClimateGate2 emails.

Our Founding Fathers wouldn't even recognize their country today.  The freedom of speech that they so carefully bequeathed to us is eroding in front of our faces...

Flash Mob...

Reader and colleague Doug S. passes along this flash mob, from Lawrence, Kansas:

A Marine's Christmas...

Master Sgt. Allen, currently on duty in Afghanistan, sings to his family back home:




I can't find the words to express my pride and admiration for the finest warriors the world has ever seen...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Deck the Halls (Flash Mob)...

Dog, Cat, and Rat...

Via my mom:


Christmas Music of a Different Sort...


Christmas Hippopotamus...

Oldie-but-goodie, sung by a 10 year old girl:


Bad Code Can Kill...

Most of the time, we software engineers can safely think of our code as not life-threatening.  But the proliferation of computers into devices of almost every kind is changing that. 

The first time I ever ran into an example of code that could kill, it was a very straightforward example: I interviewed a fellow who had just quit his job at a medical device manufacturer here in San Diego.  When I asked him why he had quit, he told me that he had worked on the firmware for an automated insulin pump his company was making.  This pump would be worn by severe diabetics, and it would automatically maintain their blood sugar levels at an appropriate level – no matter what the person ate, or how he exercised.  Firmware that he wrote had a bug in it, one that wasn't detected during normal testing.  One of the patients trialing the device did something to provoke the bug – and the pump flooded his body with insulin, killing him.  My candidate quit his job that afternoon, and vowed to work for a company where that couldn't happen.

At the time, I was working for Stac Electronics.  The team I lead was building Stacker, a disk compression product.  We didn't think of that product as life-threatening – but suppose someone used Stacker in a computer that ran some vital piece of equipment.  If Stacker had failed, causing the computer to crash, then conceivably that could result in harm to a patient.  We had language in our license agreement designed to avoid this situation, but still...

These days, such situations are far more common.  Computers (which necessarily have software or firmware to run them) are embedded in just about anything you can imagine.  Here's a story about computers in a passenger airliner's flight control systems, and a software bug that nearly caused a crash.  In this case, it's obvious that the computer could potentially cause life-threatening malfunctions – but that's not always the case...

Interesting world we live in.  Flight control bug story via reader Doug S.

NGC 253...

AKA the Sculptor Galaxy, one of the brightest and most beautiful spiral galaxies visible from Earth.  Via APOD, of course...


This is a Big Deal...

High coercivity magnets without rare earth elements.  If this discovery turns out to be scalable to industrial volumes, it will remove a huge strategic natural resource advantage that China has today...

Geek + Christmas Lights = ?

Via Amy L.; more details here:


Monday, December 19, 2011

Hubble Looks at “Nothing”

Passed along by reader Simi L:

Mainiac Humor...

Mainiacs are those who hail from the state of Maine.  They have a strange sense of humor:


Via my mom...

Kim Jong-Il is Dead...

Apparently of a heart attack at age 69.  His twenty-something son, Kim Jong-Un, is his annointed successor.

Kim Jong-Il's death means the fight for succession is on.  Kim Jong-Un, from everything I've read, is unlikely to be capable of holding onto power.  We should be cautious about such outsider assessments, though: I remember very similar things being said about Assad before he took over from his father.  Perhaps Kim Jong-Un will be similarly surprising.  If not, however, then we could be in for a stretch of ugly on the Korean peninsula.

The Onion already has its take on Kim Jong-Un...

New Photos Released...

Life released a batch of photos never before published – of the Battle of the Bulge, 67 years ago.

Some of these, like the one at right, are in color.  This always throws me, as in my mind WWII was entirely in black-and-white...

The World According to Dilbert...

Scott Adams knows the world of engineering very well:

Dilbert.com

Sunday, December 18, 2011

'Twas the Night Before a Non-Denominational Holiday...

Larry the Cable Guy skewers the politically-correct squashing of Christmas...


Cyberwar Legalized...

Here's an announcement that certainly didn't get much attention: cyberwar is now legalized, meaning that our military is now free to respond to a cyberwar attack against us...

America's Debt, Explained...

I just love Bill Whittle's video series – but this time, he's outdone himself in this beautiful take down of Michael Moore's assertion that “America isn't broke!”  In the process, he makes terrific use of IowaHawk's analytics.  This is a video that absolutely anybody can fully understand:


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Honoring a Veteran...

Reader Jim M. passed this along:




The backstory: the award is given to entertainers or other celebrities by the Veterans Foundation.  This was filmed at the 2002 award ceremony.

The Infinite Monkey Cage...

Paul H. passes along this interesting looking podcast, from the BBC: a humorous science series called The Infinite Monkey Cage.  Humor and science – that's a combination you don't often see!

Every Inch Matters...

Passed along by my mom.  All I can say is “Yikes!”

Side by Side...

Put down your morning beverage before viewing...


One Boy USO...

Simon M. also passed along this heartwarming story.  This reminds me of airport scenes I've witnessed in various places, almost entirely in this country's south...

Christmas Shopping...

Reader Simon M. passes along this holiday season joke:
A married couple had been out Christmas shopping at the mall for most of the afternoon. Suddenly, the wife realized that her husband had "disappeared". The somewhat irate spouse called her husband's cell phone and demanded: "Where ARE you"???

Her husband responds by saying: "Darling, you remember that jewelry shop where you saw that diamond necklace that you totally fell in love with, and remember how I told you I didn't have much money at the time but said, 'Baby, it'll be yours one day'?"

Wife, with a smile in her voice, blushing: "Yes I remember that, my love."

Husband: "Well, I'm in the pub next to that place."

Sovereign Keys...

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has published their proposal for sovereign keys, intended to fix a number of well-known problems with current standards for Internet security (especially HTTPS, the secure web).  This page has a high-level overview that is not particularly technical...

Cyberwar?

Not so long ago, news leaked out about an apparently very successful cyber-attack against Iran.  This attack used a virus to attack the centrifuges Iran was using to isolate weapons-grade radioactive material.  The perpetrators are widely believed to be some combination of the U.S. and Israel.

Now the Iranians have somehow captured an American stealthy drone.  According to this Iranian engineer, they did it by interfering with GPS signals in such a way as to trick the drone into landing where the Iranians wanted it to.  This article talks about skeptics of the purported technology.  I'm skeptical on another front: I don't want to believe our military is stupid enough to not put an inertial guidance system on the drone (these don't depend on any external systems like GPS).

But put the skepticism aside for the moment.  If these stories are both real, then we are witnessing the first real cyberwar, with both sides engaged.  The way this is unfolding makes complete sense to me: clever people on both sides identify points of vulnerability and devise ways to attack them.  In both cases, the attack design is quite complex and represents an engineering feat in its own right.  The cost of entry for such attacks is well within the range of just about any nation-state (though countries with a culture of innovation are advantaged), making it a very attractive “weapon” for smaller countries.

Here's a detailed report on an attack against the U.S. in 2008.

This will be interesting to watch evolve...

Salton Sea...

The Salton Sea, only about an hour's drive east of my home, has long fascinated me.  It's man-made, the result of an accident early in the 20th century that sent the Colorado River pouring into the (then) Salton Sink (a dry ancient lake bed).  It's been slowly shrinking ever since the “leak” was fixed, as there's no natural source of water to sustain it.  As it evaporates, minerals and salts in the water are concentrated to the point where most forms of water life can't live in it.  Here's a collection of photos and videos showing the Salton Sea today.

The part about this that fascinates me is this: there are lots of people, many part of environmental movements, who don't realize that the Salton Sea is man-made and who think mankind is responsible for the current decline of the sea.  I have seen documentaries, advertisements, and even demonstrations based on this rather clear – but very widespread – misunderstanding.  If we (mankind) were actually going to put things “right” (e.g., back the way they were), then we'd find a way to pump all the water out of there and return it to a dry lake bed.

But the Salton Sea is now a prime piece of real estate for migratory birds, who were quick to take advantage of this inland sea suddenly appearing in the middle of the desert.  So now the Salton Sea is the subject of debate even within the well-informed parts of the environmental movements.  Should we return it to it's original dry lake bed status?  Or should we artificially sustain the new migratory bird habitat?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cool Private Companies...

And look who's first on the list!

Letters from Camp...

Reader Jim M. passes along this letter that little Jimmie wrote home to his folks.  I'm hoping this is not for real:
Dear Mom & Dad,

Our Scoutmaster told us to write to our parents in case you saw the flood on TV and are worried. We are okay. Only one of our tents and 2 sleeping bags got washed away. Luckily, none of us got drowned because we were all up on the mountain looking for Adam when it happened.

Oh yes, please call Adam's mother and tell her he is okay. He can't write because of the cast. I got to ride in one of the search and rescue jeeps. It was neat. We never would have found Adam in the dark if it hadn't been for the lightning.
 

Scoutmaster Ted got mad at Adam for going on a hike alone without telling anyone. Adam said he did tell him, but it was during the fire so he probably didn't hear him. Did you know that if you put gas on a fire, the gas will blow up?
 

The wet wood didn't burn, but one of the tents did and also some of our clothes. Matthew is going to look weird until his hair grows back.

We will be home on Saturday if Scoutmaster Ted gets the bus fixed. It wasn't his fault about the wreck. The brakes worked okay when we left. Scoutmaster Ted said that with a bus that old, you have to expect something to break down; that's probably why he can't get insurance.
 

We think it's a neat bus. He doesn't care if we get it dirty, and if it's hot, sometimes he lets us ride on the fenders. It gets pretty hot with 45 people in a bus made for 24. He let us take turns riding in the trailer until the highway patrol man stopped and talked to us.

Scoutmaster Ted is a neat guy. Don't worry, he is a good driver. In fact, he is teaching Jessie how to drive on the mountain roads where there aren't any cops. All we ever see up there are logging trucks.

This morning all of the guys were diving off the rocks and swimming out to the rapids. Scoutmaster Ted wouldn't let me because I can't swim, and Adam was afraid he would sink because of his cast (it's concrete because we didn't have any plaster), so he let us take the canoe out. It was great. You can still see some of the trees under the water from the flood.
 

Scoutmaster Ted isn't crabby like some scoutmasters. He didn't even get mad about the life jackets. He has to spend a lot of time working on the bus so we are trying not to cause him any trouble.

Guess what? We have all passed our first aid merit badges. When Andrew dove into the lake and cut his arm, we got to see how a tourniquet works.

Steven and I threw up, but Scoutmaster Ted said it probably was just food poisoning from the left-over chicken. He said they got sick that way with food they ate in prison. I'm so glad he got out and became our scoutmaster. He said he sure figured out how to get things done better while he was doing his time. By the way, what is a pedal-file?

I have to go now. We are going to town to mail our letters & buy some more beer and ammo. Don't worry about anything. We are fine and tonight it's my turn to sleep in the Scoutmaster's tent.

Love, Jimmie

Smile in the Sky...

Reader Jim M. sends this along:


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Albino Squirrels Cut the Budget!

Via my mom, this unexpectedly funny video about the $1.2 trillion budget cut that Congress is allegedly working on.  I wish this guy was running!


Over an Inch!

We've had just over an inch (26mm) of rain in the past couple of days.  Woo hoo!

Photo of the Day...

From BPotD:


Amazing WWII Find...

Archaeologists have found a fourth tunnel at Stalag Luft III...

I Don't Think...

...that I could pull this off:

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Correlation vs. Causation...

A funny set of graphs...

Rain!

This is turning out to be a lovely, wet end-of-year for us – we got almost three-quarters of an inch (19mm) of rain yesterday, and there's more in the forecast today.  I captured a snapshot of the NEXRAD radar a few minutes ago; the big yellow blobs to our south and southwest are moving toward us.  Hoorah!

Our yard is greener than we've seen in over 10 years.  Narcissus are in bloom all over the yard, with hundreds of plants in bud.  Daffodils are coming up strong; the first ones will probably be blooming in a week or so.  One thing that's surprising us: bulbs are growing where we've never seen them grow before.  These “surprise” plants are all smaller and later than the ones we're used to seeing.  This makes me wonder if perhaps these surprise plants are from weaker or deeper bulbs that have been dormant for years, just waiting until there was enough water.  I know they're planted, because they appear in the same line of plants that we see growing every year.  Does anybody know the reason why we'd see these surprise plants?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sculpting with Horseshoes...

Sculptor Tom Hill of Hertfordshire, England is a 26 year old self-taught sculptor who works with recycled horseshoes to make his art.  Example below, much more on his site...


Fraud in Russian Elections...

I'm sure you've heard the news reports concerning the allegations of election fraud in the recent Russian elections.  Here Finnish blogger “Anton” does some statistical analysis that strongly indicates two things:

1.  The elections were indeed fraudulent.

2.  The party that benefited from the fraud was United Russia (Putin's party).

The Rain is on the Way...

Did a quick weather check this morning: barometric pressure is falling fast, humidity is climbing, it drizzled off-and-on last night, and the radar shows squalls approaching (fast!) from the ocean.  It shouldn't be more than a couple of hours before we're being drenched...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Quote of the Day...

Seen on the Intertubes, attributed to the cartoon Maxine (but I wasn't able to verify that):
Minorities

We need to show more sympathy for these people.

They travel miles in the heat.

They risk their lives crossing a border.

They don't get paid enough wages.

They do jobs that others won't do or are afraid to do.

They live in crowded conditions among a people who speak a different language.

They rarely see their families, and they face adversity all day – every day..

I'm not talking about illegal Mexicans – I'm talking about our troops!

Doesn't it seem strange that so many are willing to lavish all kinds of social benefits on illegals, but don't support our troops?

Question of the Day...

Via reader Simi L.:
Q: How do you starve an Obama supporter?
A: Hide their food stamps under their work shoes.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Well, That Was Cool!

Just got back in from watching the total eclipse of the moon, from a beautiful vantage point just a hundred feet or so from my front door.  The moon slipped into totality just as the sky started to significantly lighten from the dawn.  The top part of the moon's disk was into the umbra, and was a nice reddish-orange.  The bottom part was still in the penumbra, and was grayer than the top.  The only eclipse viewing I've ever had that was better than this was decades ago, in the 1970s, when I watched one from the Indian Ocean in the dead of night...

It will be a while before I can watch one of these again...

Friday, December 9, 2011

Mysteries of the Ancients...


No Explanation Required...

Via reader Jim M. (click to enlarge):

West Texas...

Via reader Jim M.:

Northern Nights...

Via reader Rodney R.:
I just got off the phone with a friend living in North Dakota near the Canadian border. He said that since early this morning the snow has been nearly waist high and is still falling. The temperature is dropping way below zero and the north wind is increasing to near gale force. His wife has done nothing but look through the kitchen window and just stare. He says that if it gets much worse, he may have to let her in.

Six Minutes to Management Excellence...

Via my mom:
Six Minute Management Course
Lesson 1:
A man is getting into the shower just as his wife is finishing up her shower, when the doorbell rings.
The wife quickly wraps herself in a towel and runs downstairs.
When she opens the door, there stands Bob, the next-door neighbor.
Before she says a word, Bob says, 'I'll give you $800 to drop that towel.'After thinking for a moment, the woman drops her towel and stands naked in front of Bob, after a few seconds, Bob hands her $800 and leaves.
The woman wraps back up in the towel and goes back upstairs.
When she gets to the bathroom, her husband asks, 'Who was that?'
'It was Bob the next door neighbor,' she replies.
'Great,' the husband says, 'did he say anything about the $800 he owes me?'
Moral of the story:
If you share critical information pertaining to credit and risk with your shareholders in time, you may be in a position to prevent avoidable exposure.
Lesson 2:
A priest offered a Nun a lift..
She got in and crossed her legs, forcing her gown to reveal a leg.
The priest nearly had an accident. After controlling the car, he stealthily slid his hand up her leg.
The nun said, 'Father, remember Psalm 129?'
The priest removed his hand But, changing gears, he let his hand slide up her leg again.
The nun once again said, 'Father, remember Psalm 129?'
The priest apologized 'Sorry sister but the flesh is weak.'
Arriving at the convent, the nun sighed heavily and went on her way.
On his arrival at the church, the priest rushed to look up Psalm 129.
It said, 'Go forth and seek, further up, you will find glory.'
Moral of the story:
If you are not well informed in your job, you might miss a great opportunity.
Lesson 3:
A sales rep, an administration clerk, and the manager are walking to lunch when they find an antique oil lamp.
They rub it and a Genie comes out. The Genie says, 'I'll give each of you just one wish.'
'Me first! Me first!' says the admin clerk. 'I want to be in the Bahamas , driving a speedboat, without a care in the world.'
Puff! She's gone.
'Me next! Me next!' says the sales rep. 'I want to be in Hawaii , relaxing on the beach with my personal masseuse, an endless supply of Pina Coladas and the love of my life.'
Puff! He's gone.
'OK, you're up,' the Genie says to the manager.. The manager says, 'I want those two back in the office after lunch.'
Moral of the story:
Always let your boss have the first say.
Lesson 4
An eagle was sitting on a tree resting, doing nothing.
A small rabbit saw the eagle and asked him, 'Can I also sit like you and do nothing?'
The eagle answered: 'Sure, why not.'
So, the rabbit sat on the ground below the eagle and rested. All of a sudden, a fox appeared, jumped on the rabbit and ate it.
Moral of the story:
To be sitting and doing nothing, you must be sitting very, very high up.
Lesson 5
A turkey was chatting with a bull.
'I would love to be able to get to the top of that tree' sighed the turkey, 'but I haven't got the energy.'
'Well, why don't you nibble on some of my droppings?' replied the bull. They're packed with nutrients.'
The turkey pecked at a lump of dung, and found it actually gave him enough strength to reach the lowest branch of the tree.
The next day, after eating some more dung, he reached the second branch.
Finally after a fourth night, the turkey was proudly perched at the top of the tree.
He was promptly spotted by a farmer, who shot him out of the tree.
Moral of the story:
Bull Shit might get you to the top, but it won't keep you there.
Lesson 6
A little bird was flying south for the winter. It was so cold the bird froze and fell to the ground into a large field.
While he was lying there, a cow came by and crapped on him.
As the frozen bird lay there in the pile of cow crap, he began to realize how warm he was. The crap was actually thawing him out!
He lay there all warm and happy, and soon began to sing for joy.
A passing cat heard the bird singing and came to investigate.
Following the sound, the cat discovered the bird under the pile of cow crap, and promptly dug him out and ate him.
Morals of the story:
(1) Not everyone who craps on you is your enemy.
(2) Not everyone who gets you out of crap is your friend.
(3) And when you're in deep shit, it's best to keep your mouth shut!

Christmas Poem, Brooklyn Style...

This is quite likely the only time you will ever see this blog linking to Imus in the Morning! Via my mom, this audio clip of a Christmas poem, in the style of Brooklyn...

Animal Camouflage...

Can you spot the animal at right? 

Lots more examples of animal camouflage at work in this slide show...

Noonan on Newt...

In today's WSJ.  Her conclusion:
There are many good things to say about Newt Gingrich. He is compelling and unique, and, as Margaret Thatcher once said, he has "tons of guts."

But this is a walk on the wild side.

The UNIX Way vs. Knuth...

Interesting post, with this quote from a review by Doug McIlroy:
Knuth has shown us here how to program intelligibly, but not wisely. I buy the discipline. I do not buy the result. He has fashioned a sort of industrial-strength FabergĂ© egg—intricate, wonderfully worked, refined beyond all ordinary desires, a museum piece from the start.
As the author of the post says:
Just remember, he’s saying this about Donald Knuth.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Geekly Music...

Love the retro touches, like the EICO Model 460 'scope.  Passed along by reader Doug S.:





I have a couple personal connections to that video. First, the EICO 460 'scope – today the thing is a museum piece.  Around 1969 or 1970, that exact same 'scope was the centerpiece of my little electronics workshop.  I found one broken somewhere, bought it, fixed it, and then paid a metrology shop in Philadelphia $40 to recalibrate it (back then, $40 was a substantial sum for me!).

Then there's the stepper motor noise that forms the main “instrument” in this video (the stepper motor is what's positioning the scanner imager).  Back in the late '70s and early '80s, I made a little money selling a nifty piece of software to computer manufacturers who were making systems that included floppy disk drives.  Those early floppy disks used stepper motor head positioners that made an annoying grinding/whining noise.  My software changed the way the steppers were used: instead of sending step commands at a constant rate, it smoothly accelerated and decelerated it.  The constant rate steps made the motor move and stop on each step, “shaking” it, and making the objectionable noise.  With my software, the motor never shook like that, and there was then almost no noise.

While I was developing that software, I noted that I could make the stepper motor make nearly whatever noise I wanted it to make.  But it never occurred to me to make music with it!

Driverless Cars...

A great, thought-provoking short post on the unintended consequences of driverless cars.

Flight 447: the Rest of the Story...

Popular Mechanics has a great summary of what really happened in the crash of Air France's flight 447 two years ago off the coast of Brazil.  Bottom line: profound pilot error combined with an apparent lack of understanding of how the automated flight systems on board their Airbus 330.  Some of the pilot errors were apparently caused by the pilots expecting the plane's flight control systems to work like older, less automated systems worked.  Said another way, the pilots appeared to be unprepared to handle the complexities of their automated flight controls.

This is a problem familiar to any modern software developer: users, in general, have little idea how the software they use actually works.  It's common – in fact, normal – for the users' mental model of the software package to be badly flawed.  For most kinds of software, the outcome of this is frustrated users and angry tech support calls.  This is not the case for flight control software, as this article makes very clear...

Gypsum on Mars...

Gypsum is a mineral, the stuff that's in the core of drywall.  It's very common on Earth, and had been previously detected on Mars.  What's new here is that the Mars rover Opportunity spotted a vein of gypsum (at right, click to enlarge) – and the only way anybody knows of that such a vein could be formed requires the presence of liquid water.  In other words, this is the equivalent of an old sign saying “Liquid water was once present here!”  Lots of other things found on Mars were already hinting that liquid water was once present on Mars – but this finding makes it all but certain...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

70 Years Ago Today...

The Japanese Imperial Navy attacked Pearl Harbor...

It's a fine day for us all to remember that we (the United States) are always a target for those threatened by our way of life...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Utterances of the Newt...

Here are 18 things that Newt Gingrich has said:
1. “I’m not a natural leader. I’m too intellectual; I’m too abstract; I think too much.”

2. “If the Soviet empire still existed, I’d be terrified. The fact is, we can afford a fairly ignorant presidency now.”

3. “The idea that a congressman would be tainted by accepting money from private industry or private sources is essentially a socialist argument.”

4. “Give the park police more ammo.”

5. “The problem isn’t too little money in political campaigns, but not enough.”

6. “I have enormous personal ambition. I want to shift the entire planet. And I’m doing it. I am now a famous person. I represent real power.”

7. “Gingrich – Primary mission, Advocate of civilization, Definer of civilization, Teacher of the rules of civilization, Leader of the civilizing forces.”

8. “The most serious, systematic revolutionary of modern times.”

9. “It doesn’t matter what I do. People need to hear what I have to say. There’s no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn’t matter what I live.”

10. “This is one of the great tragedies of the Bush administration. The more successful they’ve been at intercepting and stopping bad guys, the less proof there is that we’re in danger… It’s almost like they should every once in a while have allowed an attack to get through just to remind us.”

11. “Now, we don’t get rid of it in round one because we don’t think that that’s politically smart, and we don’t think that’s the right way to go through a transition. But we believe it’s going to wither on the vine because we think people are voluntarily going to leave it — voluntarily.”

12. “She isn’t young enough or pretty enough to be the President’s wife.”

13. “I read Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them and I found frightening pieces that related to…my own life.”

14. “It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in child laws which are truly stupid…These schools should get rid of unionized janitors, have one master janitor, pay local students to take care of the school.”

15. “We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto.”

16. “The left-wing Democrats will represent the party of total hedonism, total exhibitionism, total bizarreness, total weirdness, and the total right to cripple innocent people in the name of letting hooligans loose.”

17. “These people are sick. They are so consumed by their own power, by a Mussolini-like ego, that their willingness to run over normal human beings and to destroy honest institutions is unending.”

18. “I think one of the great problems we have in the Republican party is that we don’t encourage you to be nasty. We encourage you to be neat, obedient, and loyal and faithful and all those Boy Scout words.”
Some of these are taken of context in such a way as to deliberately distort their original intent.  Many of these I agree with; some I don't.  Now take a look at how a liberal interprets them...

Yes!


I'm a Developer...

Someone should invest in me!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Where Should You Get Your Mental Healthcare?

Via my mom.  Once again, I'm not certain what message she's really sending:
Ever since I was a child, I've always had a fear of someone under my bed at night.  So I went to a shrink and told him “I've got problems. Every time I go to bed I think there's somebody under it. I'm scared. I think I'm going crazy.”

“Just put yourself in my hands for one year,' said the shrink. “Come talk to me three times a week and we should be able to get rid of those fears..'

“How much do you charge?”

“Eighty dollars per visit,” replied the doctor.


“I'll sleep on it,” I said.


Six months later the doctor met me on the street. “Why didn't you come to see me about those fears you were having?” he asked.

“Well, Eighty bucks a visit three times a week for a year is an awful lot of money! A bartender cured me for $10. I was so happy to have saved all that money that I went and bought me a new pickup!”

“Is that so!' With a bit of an attitude he said, “And how, may I ask, did a bartender cure you?”

“He told me to cut the legs off the bed! Ain't nobody under there now!!!”
 
Forget the shrinks.  Have a drink and talk to a bartender!

No Nativity Scene...

A seasonal oldie-but-goodie, via my mom:
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.

A search for a Virgin continues.

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

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Taken Out the Plane Window...

I didn't take this picture, or any of the 100 out-the-plane-window pictures you'll find in this collection.  I have, however, been to quite a few of those places and seen very similar sights.  The photo of Mt. Ranier at right (note the shadow of the mountain in the clouds), and of the salt ponds in San Francisco Bay that appears in the linked collection, are both things I've seen many times.  Some of these photos are remarkably good considering the usually dirty, scratched, dual-pane windows they were taken through...

Political Correctness vs. Common Sense...

At JFK airport in New York, this past week, TSA agents strip-searched a ticketed passenger going through security

Why? Because the passenger didn't want to go through the X-ray equipment, fearing that it might interfere with her defibrillator.  The usual alternative is a pat-down search (something I've had done myself), but in her case, they opted for a strip search. 

Why?  That's a bit unclear, as the passenger didn't fit any threat profile I've ever heard of: she's white, 85 years old, weighs 107 pounds, and uses a walker.

Somehow in the process of doing the humiliating strip search, they managed to injure her as well.

The only reason the TSA would strip-search a passenger like that is in their eagerness to avoid “profiling”.  In an all-too-familiar example of the triumph of multi-culturalist political correctness over common sense, our TSA has decided that we cannot recognize the rather clear fact that terrorists seem to be overwhelmingly (1) Muslim, (2) young men, and (3) Middle Eastern.  Not that there aren't exceptions (though I'm pretty certain that 85 year old Caucasian women are not amongst them), but the preponderance of terrorists do, in fact, fit this profile.  There, I did it: I used the politically-incorrect word.

The good news: Europe, where our “elites” get their cues, seems to have figured out that the multi-culti movement has been a disaster for them.  The first steps to reversing the ravages of multi-culti are underway.  If they can avoid a new Nazi takeover as the pendulum swings the other way, even our “progressives” will wake up and start singing a different, politically-incorrect song.

I can hardly wait!

How Doctors Die...

A thought-provoking piece by Ken Murray, a retired M.D.  The assertions he makes will be a topic the next time I meet with my doctor; I'd like to know whether he agrees with them.  From our own experiences with our animals at the ends of their lives, I find this entirely plausible.  The intro:
Years ago, Charlie, a highly respected orthopedist and a mentor of mine, found a lump in his stomach. He had a surgeon explore the area, and the diagnosis was pancreatic cancer. This surgeon was one of the best in the country. He had even invented a new procedure for this exact cancer that could triple a patient’s five-year-survival odds—from 5 percent to 15 percent—albeit with a poor quality of life. Charlie was uninterested. He went home the next day, closed his practice, and never set foot in a hospital again. He focused on spending time with family and feeling as good as possible. Several months later, he died at home. He got no chemotherapy, radiation, or surgical treatment. Medicare didn’t spend much on him.

It’s not a frequent topic of discussion, but doctors die, too. And they don’t die like the rest of us. What’s unusual about them is not how much treatment they get compared to most Americans, but how little. For all the time they spend fending off the deaths of others, they tend to be fairly serene when faced with death themselves. They know exactly what is going to happen, they know the choices, and they generally have access to any sort of medical care they could want. But they go gently.

V838 Mon...

Gorgeous astrophotography of a mystery event.  In 2002, the star V838 Mon suddenly brightened to about a million times as bright as our sun (becoming, briefly, the brightest star in the entire Milky Way galaxy).  Just as suddenly, a month or so later, it rapidly dimmed.  The curve of its luminosity over time is unlike any other event astronomers have ever recorded, and there's a great debate and investigation into what the mechanism might have been.

For almost 10 years, that pulse of light (or flash) has been expanding outward from V838 Mon, illuminating an ever-expanding light-month thick “bubble” of interstellar gas and dust.  The Hubble telescope took the photo below in February 2004.  The accompanying description says the bubble at that point is about 6 light-years in diameter, but I think that must be mistaken – it should be 4 light-years in diameter at that point.  Via APOD, of course.


Obama Worshipper – Not!

Reading today's Day-by-Day cartoon strip, you definitely get the feeling that Obama is not a President that cartoonist Chris Muir looks up to.  An excerpt from the character's dialog:
The massive corruption, the transfer of our wealth to themselves and their cronies, the endless vacations, golf trips, parties, a private jet for their dog, the sheer hypocrisy of it all!

Clinton at least pretended there was any kind of law, but Obama truly is
the example of the self-stroking ego of the boomers.
Wow.  Not a fan, Mr. Muir...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Cain Out...

Watching what's happened to him, my constant thought was “Is it any wonder that good, normal folks don't want to run for elected office?”

I have no desire to run for any elective office.  I'm certain I'd make a terrible politician.  But if I did want to run for office, the crap that candidates must endure (whether justified or not) is not something I would ever sign up for.  I don't know about you, but I know about me: my life has been far from perfect, and there are a great many things I've been responsible for that I regret.  They've also made me a better man.  But there's no way I'd offer my life up for the kind of scrutiny (and potentially false accusations, as if the true ones weren't enough!) that a candidate like Herman Cain had to endure.

You have my deepest sympathy, Mr. Cain.  I have no idea what kind of a president you would have made – and our corrupt, low-substance political process has unfortunately ensured that I never will...

On that Drop in the Unemployment Rate...

The “unexpected” drop in the unemployment rate (from 9.0% to 8.6%) isn't quite what it seems like.  More than half of that drop was caused by a drop in the “participation rate”.  What's that?  It's the main fudge factor used by the government to dress up the widely reported overall unemployment statistic – it's one of the “adjustments” they make to the largely unreported raw unemployment number.  This adjustment removes those people the government believes have permanently removed themselves from the ranks of those looking for work – including those who the government believes (or asserts) have permanently given up on the idea that they will ever be able to find a job.  This oh-so-conveniently gives the government a tool to make the widely reported number look better than the raw number.

Me, I think that person who gave up (assuming they really did) is just as much unemployed as the person who hasn't given up – and they should be reported as part of the overall unemployment number.  But I'm a well-known crank about such things...

Accessible ClimateGate 2.0 Summary...

Stephen Hayward (an excellent commentator in general) has a great piece up at the Weekly Standard summarizing his findings upon reading about a third of the ClimateGate 2.0 document trove.  There will be more, but in the meantime this is a very easy to understand summary (even for those not familiar with the ClimateGate brouhaha) of just why ClimateGate 2.0 is so disturbing...

Ode to the Incandescent Lamp...

I detest the light emitted by fluorescent lamps (including the very best CFLs) and by the top-notch LED lamps.  Even more, I detest the loss of freedom that occurs when the government takes away a choice of mine.  I like incandescent lighting, and I'm willing to pay extra to get it.  I just placed an order for a stockpile of 100 watt and 250 watt lamps, and I will use them with pleasure until we run out of them.  By then I'm hoping that either new technology for broad-spectrum lighting will be available, or the nanny statism we're current suffering under will be reversed, or that there will be an established black market for incandescents.  Meanwhile, I can entirely sympathize with the viewpoint expressed here:





By the way, Reason magazine is one of the very few periodicals I still subscribe to. I get the same sort of joy from its arrival that the heroin addict gets when his next nickel bag is in his hands...

Awesome!

Just Disgraceful...

More about the internal bumblings of the Justice Department on the “Fast & Furious” project.  One can't help but observe the silence of the lamestream media on this scandal – compared with the trumpeting that would be happening if it were a Republican administration.  Here we have bureaucratic screw-ups that killed American citizens, and the general public, for the most part, doesn't even know they occurred...

Airless Tires...

Bridgestone is working on them...

Most Popular Tools...

For web designers, that is, in a nice infographic (click the thumbnail below for something you can read).


Friday, December 2, 2011

Mission Impossible: Squirrel Edition...

A Little Maine Humor...

Via my mom, who says:
This actually happened with some guys from Maine.

They dressed the truck up with the guy dummy spread eagle on the roof.

The driver and passenger put on Moose Heads.

Down the Maine Toll interstate they went causing about 16 accidents.

They went to jail.
Personally, I don't think that's an accurate account of events.  The Mainiacs I know would never convict these guys of a crime...

Go, Miki, Go!

Debbie and Miki had six runs in agility competition this past weekend.  This time we go them all on video!













On the Nature of Science...

Daniel Botkin has an interesting piece in today's Wall Street Journal...

Hide the Decline: Even Worse than We Thought!

Steve McIntyre finds some new evidence showing that to enhance the “hockey stick” nature of their temperature graph, Mann et al deleted 20 more years of data than we had previously believed.  Truly this is shameful behavior on the part of these scientists – and arguably even more shameful on the cover-up of it...

The Case of the Missing Ocean Heat...

Yet another well-documented case of the climate models failing to predict measurable phenomena...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Jackbooted Legions Coming to Arrest Us All??

Probably not.  Reader Larry E. points me to a current flap amongst conservatives (check out the update as well).  Larry hadn't read the bill, so wasn't sure just how bad this really was – but certainly didn't like the sound of it.

I found the text of the bill, and below is the language in question (Section 1031 of Senate Bill 1867, the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012).  My reading of this: it authorizes the President to use military force to go after the 9/11 terrorists, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or others associated with them.  Assuming that the last part of that is faithfully followed, I don't have any problem with this.  If a member of the Taliban happens to be an American citizen, I still want the Marines to put a bullet in his heart.  I believe our military is far better equipped to deal with many terrorist attack scenarios than our police forces are.

If I'm interpreting the hyperbolic fire-breathing of those wailing about this correctly, they're afraid that just about anybody could be accused of collaboration with al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and would then become subject to indefinite military detention (or even direct military action).  I understand this fear, but I don't think this bill significantly expands the probability of such a thing.  Both Bush and Obama have unilaterally asserted all sorts of Presidential powers that reasonable men believe were not theirs to grab.  For example, it's not at all clear that Obama actually had the authority to order U.S. troops to fight in Libya.  There has been precious little resistance to any of these power grabs.  Even in the absence of this bill, if Obama decided to incarcerate (let's say) some citizens of Detroit accused of being al-Qaeda funding sources in Guantanamo, do you really thing the absence of clear authority would stop him?  I do not, nor do I think it would have stopped Bush.

So I think this is much overblown...

SEC. 1031. AFFIRMATION OF AUTHORITY OF THE ARMED FORCES OF THE UNITED STATES TO DETAIN COVERED PERSONS PURSUANT TO THE AUTHORIZATION FOR USE OF MILITARY FORCE.

    (a) In General- Congress affirms that the authority of the President to use all necessary and appropriate force pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40) includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons (as defined in subsection (b)) pending disposition under the law of war.
    (b) Covered Persons- A covered person under this section is any person as follows:
      (1) A person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks.
      (2) A person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.
    (c) Disposition Under Law of War- The disposition of a person under the law of war as described in subsection (a) may include the following:
      (1) Detention under the law of war without trial until the end of the hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force.
      (2) Trial under chapter 47A of title 10, United States Code (as amended by the Military Commissions Act of 2009 (title XVIII of Public Law 111-84)).
      (3) Transfer for trial by an alternative court or competent tribunal having lawful jurisdiction.
      (4) Transfer to the custody or control of the person's country of origin, any other foreign country, or any other foreign entity.
    (d) Construction- Nothing in this section is intended to limit or expand the authority of the President or the scope of the Authorization for Use of Military Force.
    (e) Requirement for Briefings of Congress- The Secretary of Defense shall regularly brief Congress regarding the application of the authority described in this section, including the organizations, entities, and individuals considered to be `covered persons' for purposes of subsection (b)(2).