Thursday, March 31, 2011

Explosion and Fire on the USS Stennis...

I don't know anything beyond this news report.  The bare facts: 10 sailors on the USS Stennis (off the coast of San Diego) were injured when an F/A-18C fighter's engine exploded and burned on the flight deck.  None of the injuries are life-threatening.  Two of the sailors are in the hospital in San Diego.

When I was in the Navy, over thirty years ago, a fire at sea was my personal nightmare scenario.  This could have been much, much worse – and when the full story comes out, I won't be a bit surprised to find that a combination of pure luck and skilled damage control is why it wasn't.

These sailors will be in my thoughts today.  If any of my readers have any further news or details, please leave them in comments here...

MESSENGER: More Photos...

At least superficially, Mercury closely resembles our own planet's fair moon.


Quote of the Day...

Via Ricochet, this jaw-dropper:
A Hamas official quoted by the International Crisis Group, or ICG, said the move violated the "reasonable rules of the game: that when Palestinian projectiles hit open space ... Israel aims at open space in response."
Some lefty sites are already lauding the “reasonableness” of this approach, and are asking Israel to get on board.

By that reasoning (if that's the right term!), if some guy broke into my house and attacked my wife, I wouldn't shoot him with my semi-automatic shotgun, and I certainly wouldn't use all seven shells to make certain he was dead. 

I hereby serve notice on any potential attackers of this house: I do not buy the “reasonableness” of Hamas' argument.  In my home, disproportionate response is a feature, not a bug. 

Translation: if you attack us, you'll likely die quickly, and in a somewhat messy fashion.  I think that's roughly what Israel is saying, too...

Climate Change...

An interesting presentation on climate change science:

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Well, Well...

Via Doug S., Jimmy C., Laura F., Bob C. and probably several others whom I've forgotten: James Gosling, of Java fame and recently resigned from Oracle, has landed – at Google.  I can hardly wait to hear what he's going to be doing there.  It's hard to imagine any role for him at Google that wouldn't be good for the future of Java...

The Rational AGW Proponent...

This video was recommended to me by reader and friend Doug W.; it's over an hour long and I haven't had the time yet to view it myself.  The guy in the video is Professor Richard Muller, a physicist at U.C. Berkeley.  Doug liked many of his points (especially vis a vis Al Gore) and his rationality.  Given that he's employed at U.C. Berkeley (the academic home of some notable kooks), the latter is particularly noteworthy.

MESSENGER: First Image from Mercury Orbit!

MESSENGER is doing fine.  The mission controllers are progressing along their planned “wake up” sequence, working their way through all the systems and instruments, getting them ready for MESSENGER's primary science mission.  It won't be long now before the science data start pouring in.

The main imaging system was just brought on line, and as you can see at right (click to enlarge) it's working just fine.

Woo hoo, and three cheers for MESSENGER!

Cryptanalysts: the FBI Wants Your Help!

The FBI has an old, unsolved murder case wherein one of the main clues is some (apparently) encrypted notes (like the one at right; click to enlarge) that they've been unable to decrypt.  It could be that the author of the notes was just nuts, or they could be an actual clue.  Nobody knows for sure.

Can you help?

Jamul Casino Update...

Lakes Entertainment has posted their latest results, and it's more of the same: the long, slow slide downhill.  I've heard no other news about the Jamul Casino for over a year now...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Quote of the Day...

Via Dave H.:
The Wizard of Oz is 70 years old. However if today Dorothy were to encounter men with no brain, no heart or no courage, she wouldn't be in Oz … she'd be in Congress.

How to Insult a Computer Scientist...


Monday, March 28, 2011

Old Man on a Turbocharged Moped...

Via my mom, who seems to have a special attraction to stories about ancient ones:
An elderly man on a Moped, looking about 100 years old, pulls up next to a doctor at a street light.

The old man looks over at the sleek shiny car and asks, 'What kind of car ya got there, sonny?'

The doctor replies, 'A Ferrari GTO. It cost half a million dollars !'

'That's a lot of money,' says the old man. 'Why does it cost so much?'

'Because this car can do up to 320 miles an hour!' states the doctor proudly.

The Moped driver asks, 'Mind if I take a look inside ?'

'No problem,' replies the doctor.

So the old man pokes his head in the window and looks around. Then, sitting back on his Moped, the old man says, 'That's a pretty nice car, all right. But I'll stick with my Moped!'

Just then the light changes, so the doctor decides to show the old man just what his car can do. He floors it, and within 30 seconds the speedometer reads 160 mph.

Suddenly, he notices a dot in his rear view mirror. It seems to be getting closer! He slows down to see what it could be and suddenly WHOOOOSSSHHH! Something whips by him going much faster!

'What on earth could be going faster than my Ferrari ?' the doctor asks himself. He presses harder on the accelerator and takes the Ferrari up to 250 mph. Then, up ahead of him, he sees that it's the old man on the Moped !

Amazed that the Moped could pass his Ferrari , he gives it more gas and passes the Moped at 275 mph. And he's feeling pretty good until he looks in his mirror and sees the old man gaining on him AGAIN! Astounded by the speed of this old guy, he floors the gas pedal and takes the Ferrari all the way up to 320 mph.

Not ten seconds later, he sees the Moped bearing down on him again! The Ferrari is flat out, and there's nothing he can do! Suddenly, the Moped plows into the back of his Ferrari, demolishing the rear end.

The doctor stops and jumps out and unbelievably the old man is still alive. He runs up to the banged-up old guy and says, 'I'm a doctor. Is there anything I can do for you?'

The old man whispers, 'Unhook my suspenders from your side view mirror!'.

Beware of Cats!

Via my lovely (brunette!) wife:

Things That Are Passed Around...

Via my mom, who found this very funny.  I'm now wondering what little habits she's acquired in the 40 years or so since I left home...

Guts and Balls...

What's the distinction between them?  My mom thought I needed this educational refresher:
There is a medical distinction between Guts and Balls. We've all heard about people having Guts or Balls, but do you really know the difference between them?

In an effort to keep you informed, here are the definitions:

GUTS - Is arriving home late after a night out with the guys, being met by your wife with a broom, and having the Guts to ask: 'Are you still cleaning, or are you flying somewhere?'

BALLS - Is coming home late after a night out with the guys, smelling of perfume and beer, lipstick on your collar, slapping your wife on the butt and having the Balls to say: 'You're next, Chubby.'

I hope this clears up any confusion on the definitions.

Medically, speaking there is no difference in the outcome. Both result in death.
Er ... thanks, mom?


From reader Jim M.  When your friends vote Democrat but they can't explain why – here's how you can help them:
You can give them this list...
They can then pick their reasons from this "TOP 12"...

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

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

3. I voted Democrat because Freedom of Speech is fine as long as nobody is offended by it.

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

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

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

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

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

10. I voted Democrat because I think that 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. I voted Democrat because while we live in the greatest, most wonderful country in the world, I was promised "HOPE AND CHANGE".

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

Homemade Radiation Tester...

Via reader Dr. Simi L.:
Home made radiation tester:

With all the fear of radiation fallout from Japan I thought it might be
useful to tell you about a cheap, effective, homemade radiation tester you can easily assemble and rely upon.

Follow these simple instructions, IT REALLY WORKS!!



Sunday, March 27, 2011

Valles Marineris on Mars...

Via APOD, of course.  This is a marvel a little older than you might think – this image was constructed from a mosaic of Viking orbiter images taken in the '70s:

Friday, March 25, 2011

Noonan on Libya...

An interesting morning read...

On Approach to Tokoyo Airport During the Earthquake...

Via reader Dr. Simi L., this message from a pilot who was in the air, piloting a passenger jet, on final approach to Tokoyo airport when the earthquake hit a couple weeks ago:
I'm currently still in one piece, writing from my room in the Narita crew hotel.

It's 8am. This is my inaugural trans-pacific trip as a brand new, recently checked out, international 767 Captain and it has been interesting, to say the least, so far. I've crossed the Atlantic three times so far so the ocean crossing procedures were familiar.

By the way, stunning scenery flying over the Aleutian Islands. Everything was going fine until 100 miles out from Tokyo and in the descent for arrival. The first indication of any trouble was that Japan air traffic control started putting everyone into holding patterns. At first we thought it was usual congestion on arrival. Then we got a company data link message advising about the earthquake, followed by another stating Narita airport was temporarily closed for inspection and expected to open shortly (the company is always so positive).

From our perspective things were obviously looking a little different. The Japanese controller's anxiety level seemed quite high and he said expect "indefinite" holding time. No one would commit to a time frame on that so I got my copilot and relief pilot busy looking at divert stations and our fuel situation, which, after an ocean crossing is typically low.

It wasn't long, maybe ten minutes, before the first pilots started requesting diversions to other airports. Air Canada, American, United, etc. all reporting minimal fuel situations. I still had enough fuel for 1.5 to 2.0 hours of holding. Needless to say, the diverts started complicating the situation. Japan air traffic control then announced Narita was closed indefinitely due to damage. Planes immediately started requesting arrivals into Haneada, near Tokyo, a half dozen JAL and western planes got clearance in that direction but then ATC announced Haenada had just closed. Uh oh! Now instead of just holding, we all had to start looking at more distant alternatives like Osaka, or Nagoya.

One bad thing about a large airliner is that you can't just be-pop into any little airport. We generally need lots of runway. With more planes piling in from both east and west, all needing a place to land and several now fuel critical ATC was getting over-whelmed. In the scramble, and without waiting for my fuel to get critical, I got my flight a clearance to head for Nagoya, fuel situation still okay. So far so good. A few minutes into heading that way, I was "ordered" by ATC to reverse course. Nagoya was saturated with traffic and unable to handle more planes (read- airport full). Ditto for Osaka.

With that statement, my situation went instantly from fuel okay, to fuel minimal considering we might have to divert a much farther distance. Multiply my situation by a dozen other aircraft all in the same boat, all making demands requests and threats to ATC for clearances somewhere. Air Canada and then someone else went to "emergency" fuel situation. Planes started to heading for air force bases. The nearest to Tokyo was Yokoda AFB. I threw my hat in the ring for that initially. The answer - Yokoda closed! no more space.

By now it was a three ring circus in the cockpit, my copilot on the radios, me flying and making decisions and the relief copilot buried in the air charts trying to figure out where to go that was within range while data link messages were flying back and forth between us and company dispatch in Atlanta. I picked Misawa AFB at the north end of Honshu island. We could get there with minimal fuel remaining. ATC was happy to get rid of us so we cleared out of the maelstrom of the Tokyo region. We heard ATC try to send planes toward Sendai, a small regional airport on the coast which was later the one I think that got flooded by a tsunami.

Atlanta dispatch then sent us a message asking if we could continue to Chitose airport on the Island of Hokkaido, north of Honshu. Other Delta planes were heading that way. More scrambling in the cockpit - check weather, check charts, check fuel, okay. We could still make it and not be going into a fuel critical situation ... if we had no other fuel delays. As we approached Misawa we got clearance to continue to Chitose. Critical decision thought process. Let's see - trying to help company - plane overflies perfectly good divert airport for one farther away...wonder how that will look in the safety report, if anything goes wrong.

Suddenly ATC comes up and gives us a vector to a fix well short of Chitose and tells us to standby for holding instructions. Nightmare realized. Situation rapidly deteriorating. After initially holding near Tokyo, starting a divert to Nagoya, reversing course back to Tokyo then to re-diverting north toward Misawa, all that happy fuel reserve that I had was vaporizing fast. My subsequent conversation, paraphrased of course...., went something like this:

   "Sapparo Control - Delta XX requesting immediate clearance direct to Chitose, minimum fuel, unable hold."
   "Negative Ghost-Rider, the Pattern is full" <<< top gun quote <<<
   "Sapparo Control - make that - Delta XX declaring emergency, low fuel, proceeding direct Chitose"
   "Roger Delta XX, understood, you are cleared direct to Chitose, contact Chitose approach....etc...."

Enough was enough, I had decided to preempt actually running critically low on fuel while in another indefinite holding pattern, especially after bypassing Misawa, and played my last ace...declaring an emergency. The problem with that is now I have a bit of company paperwork to do but what the heck.

As it was - landed Chitose, safe, with at least 30 minutes of fuel remaining before reaching a "true" fuel emergency situation. That's always a good feeling, being safe. They taxied us off to some remote parking area where we shut down and watched a half dozen or more other airplanes come streaming in. In the end, Delta had two 747s, my 767 and another 767 and a 777 all on the ramp at Chitose. We saw two American airlines planes, a United and two Air Canada as well. Not to mention several extra Al Nippon and Japan Air Lines planes.

Post-script - 9 hours later, Japan air lines finally got around to getting a boarding ladder to the plane where we were able to get off and clear customs - that however, is another interesting story. By the way - while writing this - I have felt four additional tremors that shook the hotel slightly - all in 45 minutes.

Cheers, J.D.

Dogs and Winter...

Via my mom:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Morning Walk...

It was very wet outside this morning, as we got another half inch (1 cm) of rain last night.  It rained quite hard at times; the sound on our metal roof woke us up a couple times.  We had just over a half moon in the eastern sky, and it was clear overhead.  Down in the valley below us, a cloud moved slowly across, all lit up by the moon – quite beautiful. 

The dogs were all very quiet, noses down (even Race, the border collie – the smells were more interesting to him than pine cones this morning).  I couldn't smell a thing other than the usual chaparral scents of sage and similarly spicy plants.  The dogs all pulled in different directions, chasing down the latest interesting scent.  They managed to work about half of each leash into a gigantic knot, squeezing my fingers so tightly that I had trouble getting my hand free!

Debbie shocked me yesterday.  When I said goodbye to her in the morning, she was blond Debbie.  When she came home in the afternoon after seeing her hairdresser, she was dark brunette Debbie.  This is going to take some getting used to!  After 30 years of light-colored hair, all of a sudden my wife has dark hair.  It feels a bit like there's a stranger in the house who can mimic Debbie's voice and mannerisms perfectly.  It's a very odd and unexpectedly powerful feeling, from such a trivial change as hair color.

I suspect in 20 or 30 years it will feel normal to me.  Maybe...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Meghan Saves Bobby with a Pink Pistol...

Seriously.  You go, girl!

On Libya...

No time for a serious blog this morning, but here are a couple of interesting articles on Libya.  First, Niall Ferguson (one of my favorite writers on history and economics), and then TigerHawk with an article from StratFor and lots of linky goodness...

Monday, March 21, 2011

And Yet More Rain!

In the past 12 hours, we've had just over an inch (2.5 cm) of rain (click to enlarge the graph at right), and still more is in the forecast.  In fact, the forecast for the week ahead has the probability of rain at between 20% and 70% on each day.

We're having a beautiful beginning to our spring out here in the chaparral.  Everything is greener than we've seen in quite a few years, all thanks to the rains, of course.  Our yard, normally an arboretum of weeds, is now covered with a mixture of grass and other plants we haven't seen for years – and hardly any of the mustard and other noxious invaders of the dry years.

In the past few days, one of the signature plants of the San Diego chaparral – the blue ceanothus species – have erupted into flower at our altitude (around 2200', or 700 meters).  Our hillsides have been painted blue.  Last night on the way home from dinner, Debbie spotted a particularly gorgeous patch along Lyons Valley Road, just south of Barrett Lake.  For the next couple of weeks these will be in full display.

In most years, by late March we have seen the end of our seasonal rains.  This year's rains are continuing right into April, it seems.  Woo hoo!

Unemployment Index...

It's been a while since I've posted this.  Obviously, it has changed very much for the better (click to enlarge).  As always, I don't really know what the search index is telling me, but nonetheless I find it quite interesting...

Amazing What You Can Do... a modern web browser.  A JavaScript stats package, including graphing...

Tyranny of the Extroverts...

Lots of this resonates with me.  Follow the links, too...

Sunday, March 20, 2011


For a civilian observer, the fog of war is firmly in place.  I don't really have much of an idea what's actually going on over there.  Some number of U.S. Navy ships are involved, and at least on British submarine.  Similarly, there are French, British, and U.S. aircraft involved, and possibly some from other nations as well.  The official press releases are mainly going out of their way to stress the multinational nature of this attack, but one credible report has the operation as being comprised nearly entirely of U.S. forces, and U.S. led.  I'm pretty sure we launched a whole bunch of cruise missiles (100 to 114, depending on the report) and apparently (two reports) we have stealth bombers over Tripoli.  The French aircraft are visible and active over Benghazi.  That's about all the actual news content I've seen.

Ghadaffi is, of course, ranting like the madman he is.  He claims to have armed men, women, and children with heavy automatic weapons, grenades, mortars, rockets, etc.  He says that he will push the invaders (who are either after his oil or exterminating Islam, he says) off the earth.  Good luck with that, pal.

Now that we're engaged in Libya, I wonder mainly what our criteria for success are.  Are we going to limit our involvement to the literal wording of U.N. Resolution 1973 – to protect Libyan civilians?  Or are we committed to “regime change”?  And who are these rebels, anyway?  It's hard to conceive of a replacement for Ghadaffi that would actually be worse than him, I admit – but what does come after?  I have no idea.  In Tunisia and Egypt, the rebels were clearly asking for democracy.  In Libya, I simply don't know what they were asking for.

Another big question mark for me: our intervention in Libya represents an enormous shift in Middle Eastern strategy.  We have not intervened in a Middle Eastern country's internal affairs for a long time.  Are we now saying to the Middle Eastern thugocracies “Look at Libya!  Ghadaffi crossed a line that we will not let you cross.  Pay attention, or you could be next!”  And if we're not saying that, then what's so special about Libya that caused us to decide to intervene?

What I'm really afraid of – the subtext of the preceding paragraph – is that the Obama administration has no overarching strategy for Middle Eastern policy at all.  Instead, I fear, they're simply being reactive – and mainly to polling data.  I fear that the Obama acolytes saw this as an opportunity for Obama to become a “war president” in his own right (instead of a reluctant caretaker to inherited wars), and to earn support for the 2012 elections that way.  That's not a Middle Eastern strategy, and down that road leads disaster.  That's my fear.  I hope I'm wrong.

There is one thing we can know for sure, even without news reports:

Brave soldiers in all three parties to the conflict are in harm's way.  Most of these soldiers are apolitical, and are just doing their duty as they see it.  Some of them will be injured and killed in the next few days.  On all sides, families will be grieving.  All because of one nutcase thug.  It isn't fair, it isn't just ... but it's the way this crazy world works.  Despite the best intentions of the progressives, who think diplomacy and negotiation can settle any conflict – sometimes that just isn't so.  Sometimes it comes down to brutally applied force of arms...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Now We're Talking!

Flight and hotel reservation systems have always been frustratingly complicated.  It actually helps a lot to be a software engineer when you're trying to navigate the mainstream reservations web sites.  It always seems way to hard to find what you're actually looking for.

If you share my impressions of those web sites, I recommend checking out Hipmunk.  It's the first such web site I've ever used where my reaction was a smile of appreciation, instead of feeling an incipient headache coming on.  So far, at least, they only have flight and hotel reservation – but those two things are done beautifully.  There are lots of features about those sites that I like, but I'm going to call out two in particular that really, really resonated:

First, by default (you can change this) flights are presented to you sorted by “agony”, with the least agonizing flights on top.  What do they mean by agony?  It's a combination of price, layover time, and number of connections.  I'd say that's a pretty accurate reflection of my agony index!  In every trial search I made, the flights I'd pick were right at the top of the list.  Perfect.

Second, when you're looking for hotels you're presented with a map of the general area, very much like a Google map view.  A selector allows you to overlay one of several “heat map&rdash;.  These show things like tourist attractions, shopping, nightlife, and ... “vice” (bars, casinos, and other adult entertainment).  The result is a beautiful and simple way to choose a hotel by its proximity to what you care about.  There are also very simple filters so you can see just the cheap hotels (or the expensive ones), just the ones with breakfast, etc.  But those heat maps are just perfect – simple, visual navigation of what you can choose from.

Bravo, Hipmunk!

Crying in Rage...

Sad story about the risks of manned space exploration amplified by the incompetence of Soviet socialism...

Yes, I realize it's on NPR's web site...

Friday, March 18, 2011

The UN Takes Action?!?

I confess myself totally amazed by this.  How is it possible that the UN could dawdle for nearly 20 years on the much more dangerous and cruel Saddam Hussein, and then act so quickly with respect to Ghaddafi?  There's something going on here that I just don't understand. 

The French leadership in the UN was notable, both for its difference from French anti-leadership with respect to Iraq, and for its clarity and principled basis compared to what the U.S. had on offer.  The French had huge financial entanglements with Saddam's Iraq, and that may explain much of the former.  The latter is simply shameful.

Now I wonder, like the rest of the world, what we are actually going to collectively do about Ghaddafi...

Earthquake Liquification Video...

One of the most under-appreciated effects of earthquakes is soil liquification.  In certain areas (including many in California), this phenomenon is actually the single largest risk factor to man-made structures.  This video shows one of the visible symptoms: surface water appearing out of nowhere.  What it doesn't show is damage-causing mode – the loss of stiffness in the soil, turning it essentially into a liquid, removing all support for structures built upon it.

The most interesting stuff starts about halfway through the video, so be patient:

RSA Hacked: Not Good...

But not catastrophic, either, if I choose to believe this message.  I'm looking for Bruce Schneier's take on this.  Meanwhile, here's the best analysis I've seen so far.

The RSA SecurID system is, I believe, the most widely deployed two-factor authentication system.  I've worked at several companies that use it (including my current company), and many of our customers use it as well.  Any practical compromise of this system would be quite a large security hole...

MESSENGER Is Looking Good!

I stayed up (late for me) last night, listening to the webcast of MESSENGER's orbital insertion burn.  When I heard the operations team cheering and applauding, I went to bed.  This morning I woke up and scanned the news – and it was all good.  Every report I read says that the orbital insertion burn was “nominal”, which is NASA-speak for “perfect”.  All systems appear to be operational, and MESSENGER is now going into it's week or so of preparation for science operations.

Woo hoo!  And congratulations, MESSENGER team.  This has to be a happy morning for all of you...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Rare Cat Not Quite So Rare as Thought...

The Andean cat's range is considerably larger than had previously been thought.  This is very good news for the highly endangered species...

MESSENGER's Big Day...

At 5:45 pm PST today, MESSENGER will start its 15 minute long orbital insertion burn.  With any luck at all, after over 6 years of incredibly complex travel, MESSENGER will be safely parked in a highly elliptical orbit around the planet Mercury – the first explorer from earth to have done so.  The last time any explorer visited Mercury was on March 16, 1975 – almost exactly 36 years ago – when Mariner 10 made its third and final high-speed fly-by.

I remember Mariner 10 quite well, as I thought its pioneering use of the “gravitational slingshot” technique was both clever and fascinating.  MESSENGER is itself a rather extreme example of that same technique in action; without it, MESSENGER's fuel budget would have been prohibitively large.

The scientists and engineers of the MESSENGER project must be very excited right about now.  They've been waiting for this moment since MESSENGER's launch on August 3, 2004, some six and a half years ago.

Fare thee well, MESSENGER!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Leadership, the Graphic...

Leadership, AWOL...

The past week has been particularly eventful, with the seismic disaster in Japan and the Libyan struggle topping the long list.  Periods like this make all of us long to see strong and effective leadership from someone (or even some group).  Such leadership provides us all with reassurance that someone is looking out for us, but more importantly, actually affects the course of events.

For Americans, most of all we hope to see that leadership in our President.  Our President has been completely AWOL (absent without leave), preferring to play golf and record basketball advice.  My own reaction to this is first shame and dismay, second to hope that the 2012 elections bring a change.  At this point, almost any conceivable change would be hopeful.  While many of the 2012 candidates on the Republican side are not particularly attractive to me, I can't think of one at the moment who would be worse than Obama.

For others, organizations like the EU or the UN are where one might look to for leadership.  The U.N. can't even bring itself to expel Libya from the Human Rights organization.  Worse, China and Russia both are blocking any possible effective action.  And have you seen the U.N. leading the way on helping Japan?  Of course not.  The U.S. Navy was there before Ban managed his first flaccid, platitude-filled speech on the subject.  A couple of European national leaders (from France and Italy) managed to sound aggressive on the subject of Libya, but they quickly shut up after the EU weighed in with “caution”, and of course they've done absolutely nothing concrete.  Meanwhile, Libyans fighting to get out from under Gadaffi are being slaughtered.  It's hard to say what the situation is from the news, but it looks to me like it's just a matter of days before Gadaffi has managed to suppress the revolution.  Somehow I don't think revolutionary supporters will find him to be merciful.

All in all, a bad week for demonstrated leadership.  As others has observed before me, there are periods in history where the world seems to slip into just this sort of rudderless mode.  Such periods are often followed by cataclysmic wars.  The runup to World War II was just such a period.  Let's hope that we can manage to get some effective leadership in place before that happens again.  The U.S., as the sole superpower, is the most likely place for such a leader to emerge.  Maybe we'll manage to elect one next year...

The Flute is as Big as She Is!

Federal Spending, Made Simple...

Would you like to know where the federal spending dollars are actually going?  It's not all that mysterious, despite the best efforts of your elected representatives and the media to keep you from finding out.  Tigerhawk does a great job of laying it out (and links to even more)...

I'd be all for an amendment requiring voters to have a basic understanding of how government functions and where tax dollars are going.  No understanding, no vote...

Introduction to Music Theory...

Written for someone like me, who knows nothing at all about it.  Fascinating stuff...

A Little Information...

On the nuclear situation in Japan, from MIT scientists.  This article is very readable, and contains all sorts of actually useful information, as opposed to just about every news report I've read...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

It Seems Impossible...

...but each and every day, my job seems to get busier and busier – and even more chaotic.  Each day as I drive home, I tell myself “It can't possibly get any crazier!” – and each day, it gets even crazier.  These are symptoms of a very good problem at the company I work for: success!

In the past year, my little team has gone from two people to five people (and probably a sixth within a couple of weeks).  I still have five more “official” openings (Are you a crazy good programmer?  Talk to me!) – and I suspect by the time I get those positions filled, I'll have even more.

And meanwhile, the work keeps piling on.  We're acquiring new customers at an ever-increasing rate, and existing customers are using our product for more and more things.

All of this means lots and lots of work for us.  But it's a good kind of problem to have, compared with the opposite (a product that nobody wants to buy).

So when you see a few days with no posts from me, now you know why!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Joys of Aging...

Via my mom:
A little silver-haired lady calls her neighbor and says, "Please come over here and help me. I have a killer jigsaw puzzle, and I can't figure out how to get started."

Her neighbor asks, "What is it supposed to be when it's finished?"

The little silver haired lady says, "According to the picture on the box, it's a rooster."

Her neighbor decides to go over and help with the puzzle.

She lets him in and shows him where she has the puzzle spread all over the table.

He studies the pieces for a moment, then looks at the box, then turns to her and says, "First of all, no matter what we do, we're not going to be able to assemble these pieces into anything resembling a rooster."

He takes her hand and says, "Secondly, I want you to relax. Let's have a nice cup of tea, and then," he said with a deep sigh "Let's put all the Corn Flakes back in the box."

Origin of Some Common Sayings...

Again via my lovely wife, Debbie:
They used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in a pot & then once a day it was taken & sold to the tannery. If you had to do this to survive you were "Piss Poor." But worse than that were the really poor folk who couldn't even afford to buy a pot ... they "didn't have a pot to piss in" & were the lowest of the low.

The next time you are washing your hands and complain because the water temperature isn't just how you like it, think about how things used to be. Here are some facts about the 1500s:

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and they still smelled pretty good by June. However, since they were starting to smell, brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water!"

Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying "It's raining cats and dogs."

There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That's how canopy beds came into existence.

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, "Dirt poor." The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way. Hence: a thresh hold.

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire.. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme: Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old. Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, "bring home the bacon." They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and chew the fat.

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the upper crust.

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a wake.

England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive... So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift.) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be saved by the bell or was considered a dead ringer.

How the Internet Started...

According to my lovely wife:
A revelation with an Incredibly Big Message (IBM):

Well, you might have thought that you knew how the Internet started, but here's the TRUE story ....

In ancient Israel , it came to pass that a trader by the name of Abraham Com did take unto himself a young wife by the name of Dot.

And Dot Com was a comely woman, broad of shoulder and long of leg. Indeed, she was often called Amazon Dot Com.

And she said unto Abraham, her husband: "Why dost thou travel so far from town to town with thy goods when thou canst trade without ever leaving thy tent?"

And Abraham did look at her - as though she were several saddle bags short of a camel load, but simply said: "How, dear?"

And Dot replied: "I will place drums in all the towns and drums in between to send messages saying what you have for sale, and they will reply telling you who hath the best price.

And the sale can be made on the drums and delivery made by Uriah's Pony Stable (UPS)."

Abraham thought long and decided he would let Dot have her way with the drums. And the drums rang out and were an immediate success. Abraham sold all the goods he had at the top price, without ever having to move from his tent.

To prevent neighbouring countries from overhearing what the drums were saying, Dot devised a system that only she and the drummers knew. It was called Must Send Drum Over Sound (MSDOS), and she also developed a language to transmit ideas and pictures - Hebrew To The People (HTTP)

But this success did arouse envy.. A man named Maccabia did secrete himself inside Abraham's drum and began to siphon off some of Abraham's business. But he was soon discovered, arrested and prosecuted - for insider trading.

And the young men did take to Dot Com's trading as doth the greedy horsefly take to camel dung.

They were called Nomadic Ecclesiastical Rich Dominican Sybarites, or NERDS.

And lo, the land was so feverish with joy at the new riches and the deafening sound of drums that no one noticed that the real riches were going to that enterprising drum dealer, Brother William of Gates, who bought off every drum maker in the land.

And indeed did insist on drums to be made that would work only with Brother Gates' drumheads and drumsticks.

And Dot did say: "Oh, Abraham, what we have started is being taken over by others."

And Abraham looked out over the Bay of Ezekiel , or eBay as it came to be known. He said: "We need a name that reflects what we are."

And Dot replied: "Young Ambitious Hebrew Owner Operators." "YAHOO," said Abraham. And because it was Dot's idea, they named it YAHOO Dot Com.

Abraham's cousin, Joshua, being the young Gregarious Energetic Educated Kid (GEEK) that he was, soon started using Dot's drums to locate things around the countryside. It soon became known as God's Own Official Guide to Locating Everything (GOOGLE)

And that is how it all began.

JavaScript Garden...

This is potentially of use to any JavaScript jockeys out there...

Friday, March 11, 2011

Japan Earthquake...

A magnitude 8.9 earthquake hit Japan last night, and aftershocks are continuing as I write this.  Current map here.  News reports are indicating at least 40 people were killed outright, and many more are missing.  Japan's eastern coast was struck very quickly by a huge tsunami, which is the cause of most of the devastation.

If there was ever a country prepared for earthquakes, it is Japan.  Knowing this provides some comfort as I think of the impact on people there...

Initial reports are also indicating that Japan's quake-conscious building codes paid off – there was little of the sort of house-of-cards collapsing seen after quakes in places like Iran or Turkey.

There's a tsunami watch out for basically the entire Pacific Basin.  Estimates for the tsunami's arrival at Hawai'i are shortly after 3 am local time (5 am PST).  Fingers crossed and thumbs pressed.  The estimates even list San Diego arrival (around 8:40 am PST), but with much smaller (and most likely insignificant) magnitude.

Just when you think mankind's problems are big and significant, along comes Mother Nature with a little hiccup to remind us all that we are but insignficant nothings, granted our meager existence at her whim...

Awesome Chart of Science Fiction Evolution...

Click to enlarge (it's worth it!):

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ripken is Lost!

Please keep an eye out for Ripken:
Sometime yesterday, March 8th, Ripken (Bobbie Sevier's Border Terrier) escaped
from his yard. If you live or are out and about in the Jamul area, PLEASE keep
an eye out for him. He is a very friendly, people oriented kind of guy.

Bobbie's home number is 619-669-4944

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My New Toothbrush...

On the advice of my dentist (given a decade or two ago), I finally broke down and bought one of those industrial-strength electric toothbrushes.  I won't mention the make and model, as none of the following is specific to that.

Opening the box was quite an experience.  I expected a motorized handle, a detachable brush head (I knew these wore out and were replaceable), and a charger.  Those were indeed there, but they were just the beginning.  There was an intimidatingly thick manual (it turns out, mainly thick because it's translated into approximately 1,400 languages).  There were 4 AA batteries.  Most mysteriously, there was a heavy, oddly-shaped piece of electronic gear about the size of a pack of cigarettes.  I only knew it was electronic because the front of it had a liquid crystal display.  Then there were assorted mounting brackets, screws, tape, etc.

After a half hour of manual reading and untangling cables, I had it basically figured out.  The toothbrush bit worked about as expected.  The big electronic gadget simply showed you where to brush – it's basically a timer with a hard-to-understand graphic display that allegedly shows you which teeth you should be brushing at any given moment.  This left me wondering (a) what problem they were trying to solve, and (b) what the preceding said about mankind and its future.  Nothing good, I'm sure.

So I let it charge for the prescribed 10 hours, and then it was time to try it.  I'd never used one of these things before, so I really didn't know what to expect.  I rinsed off the brush head, placed a dab of toothpaste on it, inserted the brush into my mouth, and switched it on.

There should have been warnings.  Nowhere in the manual does it warn you about the visual hallucinations that occur when your entire head starts vibrating at 20Hz.  Nor does it warn you about the merciful numbness that quickly ensues, much like the way your hands feel after using a mower or chainsaw for a while.  Likewise, there's no mention of the unmentionable things shaken loose from your mucous membranes by the 350 horsepower vibrations.  And most of all, there's no warning about the mangled, lacerated state of your poor, innocent gums after their first exposure to this infernal machine.

My teeth were nice and clean, though.

I'm going to devote this week to building up enough courage to try it for a second time...

The Tire Iron and the Tamale...

Here's a story that will make you feel better about humanity, though not necessarily about your fellow Americans.

We live out in the sticks, far away from the bustling city (though I commute to work there most days).  One of the things we cherish about living out here is precisely that if you are in need of help, chances are good that your neighbors (and folks that pass you on the roads) will stop and lend you a hand.  But we're all too familiar with the feelings of the author about how that would work out “down the hill” in the city.

Debbie and I make a regular practice of stopping to help people or animals in need.  Because I commute to work quite early in the morning, I'm fairly often the first to happen upon some unfortunate situation, and many is the time that I've stopped to assist.  Similarly, when I've stopped for whatever reason, I've had my people stop to see if I was ok.  When Debbie and I are on one of our road trips, we're off in some fairly remote areas, and again are sometimes the first to pass by someone in need of help.  Most of the time when we stop to ask someone if they're ok, they're perfectly fine – they may have simply stopped to eat lunch or to enjoy the scenery.  Often these people are quite surprised that anyone would bother stopping to check on them.  Pleased, but surprised.

Personally I think this is one of cultural consequences of cities, those vast accumulation of nameless strangers in whom you cannot afford to trust.  Outside the cities, that simply isn't so – we all lean on each other when we need some help, and we're all looking out for each other as well.  Of course it's not quite so absolute – there are certainly untrustworthy people living outside the cities, and not everyone out here is going to be neighborly.  But the proportions are definitely skewed out in the country, skewed in the direction that I am much more comfortable with.

I suspect that's what the author ran into.  His benefactor, I'll guess, wasn't willing to help because he was a poor Mexican.  He was willing to help because he came from the culture of the countryside, not the city...

Hear the Dow...

This is just plain cool...

Libyan Rebels Making Progress?

It's hard to know what's really going on with all the conflicing reports flying about.  Here's the clearest summary of the current state of Libyan affairs I've found...

They Were Right!

An apple a day does keep the doctor away!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Morning Perspective Setter...

Grab a box of tissues and go here.

Sure makes my daily challenges seem...small.

Tell Me It Ain't So...

If this news report is accurate, then the Obama administration is even lamer on foreign policy than I'd thought, and that's saying something...

Awesome Solar Eruption...

Via APOD, of course.

Anti-Appropriations Committee?

I don't know enough about the inner workings of Congress to know whether this idea would actually be effective at cutting government spending.  But it sure sounds good!

No Words Necessary...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Steyn on the Shooting of U.S. Airmen in Germany...

Mr. Steyn is back from his hiatus, with a vengence, with all of his trademark blend of wit and barbed commentary on display.  This week he has a column on Arid Uka, the Kosovan Muslim jihadist who killed two American Airmen last week.  My favorite phrase in it is “The strange shrunken spectator who serves as president of the United States...” 

Just so. 

A couple paragraphs of teaser:
Okay, why is a Muslim who wants to kill Americans holding down a job at a European airport? That’s slightly easier to answer. Almost every problem facing the Western world, from self-detonating jihadists to America’s own suicide bomb — the multi-trillion-dollar debt — has at its root a remorseless demographic arithmetic. In the U.S., the baby boomers did not have enough children to maintain their mid-20th-century social programs. I see that recent polls supposedly show that huge majorities of Americans don’t want any modifications to Medicare or Social Security. So what? It doesn’t matter what you “want.” The country’s broke, and you can vote yourself unsustainable quantities of government lollipops all you like, but all you’re doing is ensuring that when, eventually, you’re obliged to reacquaint yourself with reality, the shock will be far more devastating and convulsive.

But even with looming bankruptcy, America still looks pretty sweet if you’re south of the border. Last week, the former director of the U.S. Census Bureau, Steve Murdock, told the Houston Chronicle that in Texas “it’s basically over for Anglos.” He pointed out that two out of every three children are already “non-Anglo,” and that this gap will widen even further in the years ahead. Remember the Alamo? Why bother? America won the war, but Mexico won the peace. In the Lone Star State, Murdock envisions a future in which millions of people with minimal skills will be competing for ever fewer jobs paying less in actual dollars and cents than they would have earned in the year 2000. That doesn’t sound a recipe for social tranquility.
But do go read the whole thing; it's Steyn at his best...

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Morning Sex...

Via my mom (seriously):
She was standing in the kitchen, preparing our usual soft-boiled eggs and toast for breakfast, wearing only the 'T' shirt that she normally slept in. As I walked in, almost awake, she turned to me and said softly, "You've got to make love to me this very moment!"

My eyes lit up and I thought, "I am either still dreaming or this is going to be my lucky day!" Not wanting to lose the moment, I embraced her and then gave it my all, right there on the kitchen table.

Afterwards she said, "Thanks," and returned to the stove, her T-shirt still around her neck.   Happy, but a little puzzled, I asked, "What was that all about?"

"The egg timer's broken," she explained.

Friday, March 4, 2011


Saw this again on another site, and just had to post it. It's a beautiful graphic expostion of the idea that in software engineering careers (and most likely many other endeavors), experience is more valuable than education.

Of course this does not mean that education is without value. I have spent many, many hours educating myself – and I certainly don't consider that wasted time. But...for every hour I've spent educating myself, I've probably spent 20 hours practicing (all outside of any work context).

Personally, I think the quickest way to develop practical skills in software engineering (and, again, likely also in many other areas) is just such a lopsided mix of education and practice. I suspect the ideal ratio is different for different people, and also different over the course of a career.  In my own case, I note that I can proportionally spend more time these days on educating myself, especially so when the subject matter is an extension of something I've already mastered.

The real point here is that formal educations that spend far more time empahsizing reading and lecture than they do practice seem wildly out of whack to me. My strongest evidence is the readiness of recent graduates to actually do something useful in the workplace – it's close to zero.

A Blind Man Who Sees...

An amazing and inspiring story of a totally blind man who has taught himself to “see” remarkably well – the same way bats do, with echolocation...

On Public Sector Unions...

Peggy Noonan, in today's WSJ:
Unions have been respected in America forever, and public employee unions have reaped that respect. There are two great reasons for this. One is that unions always stood for the little guy. The other is that Americans like balance. We have management over here and the union over here, they'll talk and find balance, it'll turn out fine.

But with the public employee unions, the balance has been off for decades. And when they lost their balance they fell off their pedestal.

When union leaders negotiate with a politician, they're negotiating with someone they can hire and fire. Public unions have numbers and money, and politicians need both. And politicians fear strikes because the public hates them. When governors negotiate with unions, it's not collective bargaining, it's more like collusion. Someone said last week the taxpayers aren't at the table. The taxpayers aren't even in the room.

As for unions looking out for the little guy, that's not how it's looking right now. Right now the little guy is the public school pupil whose daily rounds take him from a neglectful family to an indifferent teacher who can't be removed. The little guy is the beleaguered administrator whose attempts at improvement are thwarted by unions. The little guy is the private-sector worker who doesn't have a good health-care plan, who barely has a pension, who lacks job security, and who is paying everyone else's bills.
It's been a long time since I had positive feelings about unions in general; I think they've long outlived their original worthy purpose and have become more a drag on progress and on the economy than any possible benefit could justify.  Public sector unions have seemed wrong to me from their very beginnings in the early '60s. 

I remember a high-school history teacher (can't remember his name) – in 10th grade, I think.  He was a recently returned Vietnam War veteran,  one of the first wave of Kennedy's “advisors”.  He was deeply offended by the unionization of federal employees (something that Kennedy approved), and saw it as a betrayal of the values he fought for in Vietnam.  His passionate lecture on that subject, over 40 years ago, is still a clear memory.  His reasons for opposing public sector unions are the same reasons opponents use today, most emphatically the unholy alliance that Noonan refers to in this column (third paragraph above).  

Thursday, March 3, 2011

What Were the Odds...

...of death for a soldier in any particular war?  Here's the answer, courtesy of Essential Militaria, via Gizmodo:
• War of Independence: 2 percent (1 in 50)
• War of 1812: 0.8 percent (1 in 127)
• Indian Wars: 0.9 percent (1 in 106)
• Mexican War: 2.2 percent (1 in 45)
• Civil War: 6.7 percent (1 in 15)
• Spanish-American War: 0.1 percent (1 in 798)
• World War I: 1.1 percent (1 in 89)
• World War II: 1.8 percent (1 in 56)
• Korean War: 0.6 percent (1 in 171)
• Vietnam War: 0.5 percent (1 in 185)
• Persian Gulf War: 0.03 percent (1 in 3,162)
You were about 200 times more likely to be killed in the Civil War than in the Persian Gulf War.  I know from other reading that the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars are slightly less risky for soldiers than even the Persian Gulf War.  I was a sailor at the end of the Vietnam War, never really at risk myself – but I certainly knew a lot of people who were at risk (and three who were killed there).   The Vietnam War, as recent as it was, was nearly 15 times riskier to the soldiers participating in it than the Persian Gulf War.  The difference in risk mainly has to do with technology (precision munitions, fantastically better sensors, communications) and medical care at the battlefront.  The ratio of combat troops to REMFs has actually gone up (meaning proportionally more soldiers in a war are actually in combat in recent wars than in past wars)...

Russian Pole Dancer...

This is over two years old, but new to me.  Amazing!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Charles Koch Speaks Out...

The Koch brothers have been the subject of intense demonization by the liberals and progressives, especially concerning recent events in Wisconsin.  The Wall Street Journal this morning provided a platform for the Koch brothers (Charles Koch is on the byline) to answer their critics.  It's an interesting read, and led me to a ponder on the targets chosen by the left.  I suspect they targeted the Koch brothers not at all for idealogical reasons, but rather because they perceive them as a threat.  In other words, they see the Koch brothers as effective operatives for the right.

The Koch brothers don't appear to be in need of financial support.  But they've got my moral support!

Libyan Rebels Having Some Success...

I don't know much about the factions in Libya, but it's hard to imagine a group I'd not prefer to Mohamar Gahdaffi.  So I was happy to read that the rebels there are having some success against Gahdaffi's forces...

History of Computers...

If you're at all interested in computers, this graphic is fascinating.

If you've been involved with computers as long as I have, it's a little disconcerting to see the computers I first worked with so close to the beginning of the chart.  Yikes!

In my case (and I suspect many others as well), that's not entirely due to my age.  I first worked with computers in the U.S. Navy, and some of the systems I worked with were museum-fodder while I was working on them (and some of those stayed in service for a decade or more after I left!).

Nonetheless...there's a fair number of machines in the top quarter of that chart that I know from hands-on experience.  What a short revolution the computer revolution has been!

Aging Rock Stars...

Via reader Dave H:, who says this strikes a little close to home...