Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Photo Transmission...

These days, we take it pretty much for granted that photographs (and even videos) can be electronically transmitted around the world, nearly instantly.  But not so long ago, this was a bleeding edge technology:

Ansel Adams at Manzanar...

Manzanar was one of the notorious internment camps where over 100,000 Japanese-Americans were imprisoned in WWII.  Ansel Adams was already a famous photographer at the time.  I just ran across a fact previously unknown to me: that Adams was unhappy about the internment, and asked permission to photograph the Manzanar camp.  You can see a collection of these photographs (one of which is at right) on this site.

Looking at these photos, I don't get the sense that Adams was appalled by what he found.  In fact, I'd say the collection overall conveys quite a positive, hopeful sense of people making the best of a bad situation.  I've not been able to find anything in writing from Adams, describing how he felt about what he observed at Manzanar.  If you know of any such writing, please let me know...

Unsettled Science...

This is fascinating stuff that I've been following for a few weeks now, as the news dribbles out.  It's beginning to look like archaeologists have a solid case for Europeans having been the first to colonize North America:
New archaeological evidence suggests that America was first discovered by Stone Age people from Europe – 10,000 years before the Siberian-originating ancestors of the American Indians set foot in the New World.

A remarkable series of several dozen European-style stone tools, dating back between 19,000 and 26,000 years, have been discovered at six locations along the US east coast. Three of the sites are on the Delmarva Peninsular in Maryland, discovered by archaeologist Dr Darrin Lowery of the University of Delaware. One is in Pennsylvania and another in Virginia. A sixth was discovered by scallop-dredging fishermen on the seabed 60 miles from the Virginian coast on what, in prehistoric times, would have been dry land.

The new discoveries are among the most important archaeological breakthroughs for several decades - and are set to add substantially to our understanding of humanity's spread around the globe.
The general question of when did humans first make it to the Americas, and which humans were they, has had about 10 different “consensus” answers just in my lifetime.  It's clearly far from a settled question even now. Various series theories put forth include several variations of migration across the Bering Straights, landings by Polynesian explorers, Egyptians, Africans, the Vikings, and (now) even earlier Europeans. 

One of these fine days, I wouldn't be a bit surprised to read that humans originated in the Americas!

Climatology could learn a thing or two from archaeology about how science is actually supposed to work...

Quote of the Day...

By Gwynnie at Maggie's Farm:
The food stamp program, part of the Department of Agriculture, has announced that is pleased to be distributing the greatest amount of food stamps ever.

Meanwhile, the National Park Service, also part of the Department of Agriculture, asks us to "Please Do Not Feed the Animals" because the animals may grow dependent and not learn to take care of themselves.
The left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing – but the right hand has the right idea!

WWII Bombers over Arizona...

If you're an aviation (or WWII history) buff, this is beautiful stuff:

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Universal Flu Vaccine...

Scientists are working on “universal” flu vaccines.  Unlike the current flu vaccines, these don't have to be custom-made for each variant of the flu.  Some of them are in clinical trials.

Faster, please!

Crowdsourced English...

What will they think of next?

It's No Longer Possible...

Most of the time, I don't long for the “good old days” at all – mainly because there's so much about the old days that really wasn't all that good.  In my profession, the computers have gotten more powerful, cheaper, and smaller – and the tools we use today are fantastically powerful compared to the (by comparison) extremely primitive tools I first learned.

But there is one aspect of working with microcomputers that I miss.  When I first got started (in the '70s), it was possible for a single individual to understand how an entire computer worked.  I know this, because in the late '70s, some friends and I had a company making microcomputers.  I designed (and we built) the entire thing: electronics (even the power supply!), operating system, and application software.  We bought components and some subsystems (like floppy disk drives), but everything else we built.  It wasn't even that hard.  Computers were much simpler back then.

Today's computers are far too complex for one person to design and build the whole thing.  Most people working with computers today know one area reasonably well, but the rest of the computer is a bit of a mystery to them.  I'm not the only one to notice this

That's the part I really do miss: knowing how the whole thing worked...

Quote of the Day...

From Linus Torvalds, in 2007 (but I just read it):
C++ is a horrible language.
If you're a programmer, that statement will either (a) resonate strongly, or (b) infuriate you.  I'm in the (a) group.

If you're not a geek, you may not know who Linus Torvalds is.  He's one of the people who has revolutionized the world of software development, in his case twice: once for the development (and continued management of) the free open source operating system called “Linux”, the other for development of a revolutionary new source code management tool called “git”.  He is a hero to many geeks.  He's also a bit of a bad boy, and the rest of the context for that quote provides a fine example:
From: Linus Torvalds>
Subject: Re: [RFC] Convert builin-mailinfo.c to use The Better String Library.
Newsgroups: gmane.comp.version-control.git
Date: 2007-09-06 17:50:28 GMT (2 years, 14 weeks, 16 hours and 36 minutes ago)

On Wed, 5 Sep 2007, Dmitry Kakurin wrote:
> When I first looked at Git source code two things struck me as odd:
> 1. Pure C as opposed to C++. No idea why. Please don't talk about portability,
> it's BS.

*YOU* are full of bullshit.

C++ is a horrible language. It's made more horrible by the fact that a lot of substandard programmers use it, to the point where it's much much easier to generate total and utter crap with it. Quite frankly, even if the choice of C were to do *nothing* but keep the C++ programmers out, that in itself would be a huge reason to use C.

In other words: the choice of C is the only sane choice. I know Miles Bader jokingly said "to piss you off", but it's actually true. I've come to the conclusion that any programmer that would prefer the project to be in C++ over C is likely a programmer that I really *would* prefer to piss off, so that he doesn't come and screw up any project I'm involved with.

C++ leads to really really bad design choices. You invariably start using the "nice" library features of the language like STL and Boost and other total and utter crap, that may "help" you program, but causes:

- infinite amounts of pain when they don't work (and anybody who tells me that STL and especially Boost are stable and portable is just so full of BS that it's not even funny)

- inefficient abstracted programming models where two years down the road you notice that some abstraction wasn't very efficient, but now all your code depends on all the nice object models around it, and you cannot fix it without rewriting your app.

In other words, the only way to do good, efficient, and system-level and portable C++ ends up to limit yourself to all the things that are basically available in C. And limiting your project to C means that people don't screw that up, and also means that you get a lot of programmers that do actually understand low-level issues and don't screw things up with any idiotic "object model" crap.

So I'm sorry, but for something like git, where efficiency was a primary objective, the "advantages" of C++ is just a huge mistake. The fact that we also piss off people who cannot see that is just a big additional advantage.

If you want a VCS that is written in C++, go play with Monotone. Really. They use a "real database". They use "nice object-oriented libraries". They use "nice C++ abstractions". And quite frankly, as a result of all these design decisions that sound so appealing to some CS people, the end result is a horrible and unmaintainable mess.

But I'm sure you'd like it more than git.


Where the Page Views Come From...

One of the things about this little blog that I monitor is where my readers come from.  Over the years, I've commented a few times about surprises in this.  In general, this blog has two kinds of readers – a core of mainly friends and family who visit regularly, and then lots of readers who come in because some post of mine popped up in their Google search results (I get hits from other search engines, too, but Google totally dominates).  That latter group is where the surprises generally come from: some search term that gets used frequently and points to my blog.

For example, one search term that regularly pops up is “kevlar shoelaces”.  Enter that search term into Google, and (at this writing) my blog post shows up as the 11th hit.  That generates a lot of visits to my blog.

Right now another search term is leading the pack: “servicenow ipo”.  My blog post the other day is the third hit on the results of that search, and it's bringing an interesting group of readers to my blog.  I can tell roughly where these readers are, by their IP addresses – the people searching for “servicenow ipo” are mostly in New York, London, San Jose, and Los Angeles.  That sounds like financials, tech, and investors to me.

I don't really know what any of that means, but it sure is fun to watch and wonder!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Morning Smile...

Via reader Simon M.:

One of Reagan's Best...

Best speeches, that is.  Listen to this speech, and remember a time (not so very long ago) when we had leadership that actually led:

Sure would like to have someone like him at the helm. Sure don't see anyone like that running, dang it...

Some Clear Thinking on Iran...

In today's Wall Street Journal, this article by Frederick Kagan and Maseh Zarif.  The lead:
Americans are being played for fools by Iran—and fooling themselves. There is no case to be made that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapons capability. There is no evidence that Iran's decision-makers are willing to stop the nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions or anything else. The International Atomic Energy Agency reported on Friday that it has made no progress in its negotiations with Iran and that Iran continues to accelerate its enrichment operations, which are in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and agreements with the IAEA.

Yet the policy discussion in the U.S. is confused. Former Ambassador Dennis Ross writes that the Iranians are ready for talks. Anonymous administration officials refer to one of the most dangerous Iranian nuclear installations, Fordow, outside the city of Qom, as "a Potemkin facility." The media are full of comparisons to Iraq in 2003, when suspicions that Iraq was pursuing a covert nuclear program led to war.

People are conflating intelligence assessment with policy recommendation. The prospect of war with Iran is so distasteful that people are desperate to persuade themselves that the problem is not serious.
I'm getting darned tired of having my government be played for a fool – though, given the individuals who comprise the current administration, that's probably inevitable...

Read the whole thing...

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Completely Unsurprising...

Reading this, my first reaction was “Of course he did!”
With Hollywood gathering this weekend for the 84th Academy Awards, President Barack Obama has recruited Oscar-winning documentary director Davis Guggenheim to again produce a short film for his campaign.

Obama’s re-election staff in Chicago spent $162,834 on the film last month, according to the January Federal Election Commission filing. Currently in post-production, the film focuses on the president’s first three years in office, according to a campaign official.
There are comments here and here. My favorite:
I puked and my cats threw up a couple of hair balls.

Bloggiversary, Missed...

Seven years plus one week ago today, I made the first post on this blog.  Since then, I've posted 5508 times, or 2.15 posts/day...

Introverted? Be a “Shy Connector”

In recent months I've accidentally run across a lot of great articles about what it's like to be introverted, and how to embrace it.  Here's yet another one: a short presentation by Sacha Choa with great advice for introverts about how to connect easily with other people.  Much of the advice I've worked out on my own, but there were a couple of new ideas for me in there.  One recommendation she made resonates particularly strongly: blogging – though I'd generalize that a bit into writing for an audience, any way you can...

The Shy Connector
View more presentations from Sacha Chua

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Richard Lindzen at the House of Commons...

I'll let James Delingpole (my favorite English Conservative) introduce him:
Professor Richard Lindzen is one of the world's greatest atmospheric physicists: perhaps the greatest. What he doesn't know about the science behind climate change probably isn't worth knowing. But even if you weren't aware of all this, even if you'd come to the talk he gave in the House of Commons this week without prejudice or expectation, I can pretty much guarantee you would have been blown away by his elegant dismissal of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming theory.

Dick Lindzen does not need to raise his voice. He does not use hyperbole. In a tone somewhere between weariness and withering disdain, he lets the facts speak for themselves. And the facts, as he understands them, are devastating.
Follow the links in Delingpole's article to get more information.  You can read Professor Lindzen's presentation (PDF) yourself – I recommend it as an excellent summary of the debate.  In particular, it highlights the critical issue of positive vs. negative feedback assumptions and how the models the AGW proponents rely on consistently get it wrong...

Kira Davis Apologizes...

Until this morning I had never heard of Kira Davis.  I ran across the video below, and then I wanted to know more:

I'd like to know when she's running for office, so I can move to her district and vote for her!

Friday, February 24, 2012

English is a Crazy Language...

Passed along by my friend and colleague Aleck L. (for whom English is a second language).  As always, click to enlarge:

Remarkable Employees...

LinkedIn has an interesting article on what makes remarkable employees so remarkable.  It cites 8 attributes, and some of them resonate strongly with me – and made me think of some remarkable employees I've had...

What's Wrong with this Picture?

The chart at right covers most of my lifetime.  When I first entered the workforce, 88% of all Americans paid income tax.  I paid income tax while working in my very first “real” job (that is, one I was being paid wages for) – as a dishwasher for the New Jersey Turnpike's Howard Johnson's restaurant.  That was a minimum-wage job.  I paid income taxes.

The same has been true for each and every job I have ever held.  I have always paid income taxes.

The same is not true today for about half of all Americans.  What this chart doesn't show is that the majority of that half who doesn't pay income tax actually receives money from the federal government (in the form of the “Earned Income Tax Credit” – the name of which is a terrific example of politically-motivated doublespeak).  Those of us who pay taxes are paying many of those who do not.

I don't know about you, but I find this involuntary transfer of my money to someone else quite infuriating.  And I will remember that in November...

ServiceNow IPO Buzz...

Things like this are starting to show up quite regularly...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

If Obama Has Lost Playboy...

It's been many years since I last saw the inside of a Playboy magazine.  But I do remember that the articles there (yes, I did actually read some of the articles) had a distinctly left-wing tilt.  A little googling this morning and I see that the same is still true, and perhaps even more so.  With that context, consider this joke that a friend tells me is in the March 2012 edition of Playboy:
In the tough economy, an educated woman was forced to apply for a job in a lemon grove. After the foreman had reviewed her résumé, he frowned and said, “I must ask, do you have any actual experience in picking lemons?”

“As a matter of fact I have,” she answered. “I’ve been divorced three times and I voted for Obama.”
Well, how about that.  I think Obama's “free pass” has expired.  Let's hope that's an accurate omen for November – because no matter what level of dismay I feel about the prospect of a Romney, Santorum, or Gingrich presidency, it pales into insignificance next to the dismay I feel about the prospect of a second Obama term... 

There's Always a Better Way...

For me, one of the constant delights of engineering is that any design, no matter how good it is, can be improved.  Even seemingly simple things can always be made better.  The world of software (where these days I do nearly all of my engineering) is perhaps an extreme case of perfectability – it's hard to even imagine a piece of software that couldn't be improved in some way.

Here's an example that delighted me: a better way to fold a piece of paper.  It's much harder to explain than to actually do it – if you follow the instructions linked on that site, you'll see that it's not hard at all.  Awesome!

A Nuclear a Garage...

A nuclear fusion laboratory in a garage – that would be quite enough to pique your interest, no?  It gets even better: the person constructing this laboratory (Taylor Wilson) is just 16 years old.  Read about him here.

Via reader Doug S.

Brodiaea coronaria...

Via Botany Photo of the Day, of course:

Growing Old...

Though I'm almost sixty years old, I spend very little time even thinking about my age – and none at all actually worrying about it.  About the only time I even notice is when some new physical limitation shows up, or if I notice (and I'm always surprised!) that some part of my skin is all wrinkled up.  The rest of the time I just feel like me, and my age is apparent only by the cumulative learning and experience it allows.  I don't ever wish I was young again...

So when I read this (short) post on growing old, I found a lot that resonated with me – especially this paragraph near the end:
If I could go back to being 20 again, but stay the person I am, I would. But if going back to being 20 meant going back to being the person I was when I was 20, there's no way I would do that.
Yes.  That's it exactly.

Read the whole thing...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

You Find Your Own Happiness...

An inspiring 12 minute video, via reader Simon M.:

What Is a Cat?

A logician's investigation, via my mom:
What is a cat?

Cats do what they want.
They rarely listen to you.
They're totally unpredictable.
When you want to play, they want to be alone.
When you want to be alone, they want to play.
They expect you to cater to their every whim.
They're moody.
They leave hair everywhere.

CONCLUSION: They're tiny women in little fur coats.

I Am a Free Man...

Don't. Tread. On. Me.

Via my mom:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


The Black-Scholes equation is little-known outside of financial circles.  It's challenging to explain if you don't understand the financial instruments (options) that it deals with, and I'm not going to try to explain them here (but the Guardian has a readable article).  I want to make a different point: that the Black-Scholes equation is, essentially, a mathematical model.  It is universally implemented on a computer, so it's fair to call it a “computer model”.

The Black-Schole computer model is a very simple example of such a model, based on a single equation modeling an isolated financial instrument.  The data underlying the model are as perfect as is possible to obtain.  Yet the financial industry – even those who understood the mathematics – badly misused it.  As best I can tell, the misuse arose entirely because of the lack of a better alternative.

The computer models being used to investigate climate change, by contrast, are enormously complex – many of the models contain hundreds of equations and millions of interconnected elements being modeled.  The data underlying the models is known to be full of systematic errors, unexplained negative correlations, and missing large pieces.  No single human fully understands all the mathematics involved. 

Without even looking more deeply than this, I cannot fathom why so many scientists are willing to bet their careers on those climate models...

Skeptical Scientists Engaging in Debate...

A few weeks ago, a group of prominent scientists skeptical of the claims of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) supporters published an open letter expressing their concerns.  Quite predictably, the AGW community rallied round and blasted the group with everything from idiotic ad hominem attacks to more serious critique.  In today's WSJ, the skeptics reply – and thereby start a very healthy engagement between the AGW skeptics and the proponents.  It's interesting and accessible reading.  An excerpt (but do go read the whole thing):
Given this dubious track record of prediction, it is entirely reasonable to ask for a second opinion. We have offered ours. With apologies for any immodesty, we all have enjoyed distinguished careers in climate science or in key science and engineering disciplines (such as physics, aeronautics, geology, biology, forecasting) on which climate science is based.

Trenberth et al. tell us that the managements of major national academies of science have said that "the science is clear, the world is heating up and humans are primarily responsible." Apparently every generation of humanity needs to relearn that Mother Nature tells us what the science is, not authoritarian academy bureaucrats or computer models.

One reason to be on guard, as we explained in our original op-ed, is that motives other than objective science are at work in much of the scientific establishment. All of us are members of major academies and scientific societies, but we urge Journal readers not to depend on pompous academy pronouncements—on what we say—but to follow the motto of the Royal Society of Great Britain, one of the oldest learned societies in the world: nullius in verba—take nobody's word for it. As we said in our op-ed, everyone should look at certain stubborn facts that don't fit the theory espoused in the Trenberth letter, for example—the graph of surface temperature above, and similar data for the temperature of the lower atmosphere and the upper oceans.

Seen on the Intertubes...


U.N. Eying the Internet...

Great.  One of the few things the world's governments has managed to do well is to keep their regulatory mitts off the Internet.  Now a group of countries interested in control (for various reasons) are proposing to screw up the Internet, just as they've screwed up so much else.  From today's WSJ:
Today, however, Russia, China and their allies within the 193 member states of the ITU want to renegotiate the 1988 treaty to expand its reach into previously unregulated areas. Reading even a partial list of proposals that could be codified into international law next December at a conference in Dubai is chilling:
• Subject cyber security and data privacy to international control;
• Allow foreign phone companies to charge fees for "international" Internet traffic, perhaps even on a "per-click" basis for certain Web destinations, with the goal of generating revenue for state-owned phone companies and government treasuries;
• Impose unprecedented economic regulations such as mandates for rates, terms and conditions for currently unregulated traffic-swapping agreements known as "peering."
• Establish for the first time ITU dominion over important functions of multi-stakeholder Internet governance entities such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the nonprofit entity that coordinates the .com and .org Web addresses of the world;
• Subsume under intergovernmental control many functions of the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Internet Society and other multi-stakeholder groups that establish the engineering and technical standards that allow the Internet to work;
• Regulate international mobile roaming rates and practices. 
Read the whole thing...

The Storm Will Pass...

Via my lovely bride (click the photo to enlarge it):

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A SEAL in Action...

But probably not quite the kind of action you're thinking of (and no, not that kind either!).  Here's a video taken by a SEAL with a helmet-mounted camera as he parachutes into the premier of the movie Act of Valour:

Son of Hitler?

There's some interesting evidence that Adolf Hitler had a son:
Jean-Marie Loret, who died in 1985 aged 67, never met his father, but went on to fight Nazi forces during the Second World War.

His extraordinary story has now been backed up by a range of compelling evidence, both in France and in Germany, which is published in the latest edition of Paris's Le Point magazine.

Hitler is said to have had an affair with Mr Loret's mother, Charlotte Lobjoie, 16, as he took a break from the trenches in June 1917.
What a mind-blowing thing it would be, to discover that Hitler was your dad...

Saturday, February 18, 2012


What they're really doing...

We're Not Here Yet...

...but it sure seems like we're working on it:

Allen West...

...should not quit his day job:

Friday, February 17, 2012

Online Electronics Course and Reference...

Spent a few minutes perusing it, and it looks reasonably good.  And free!


Oh, man, would I love to do this! Via my mom:

Allen West...

Man, I just love this guy!  Via reader Aaron B.:

He's on a topic here that just makes me crazy. The progressives have managed to twist history into making them the heroes on ending racial discrimination, while the Republicans become the goats. The truth is pretty nearly the precise opposite. Saul Alinsky would be very proud of his modern acolytes...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Something Went Terribly Wrong...

Consider this story:  Three Iranian would-be terrorists are in a house, apparently working on a bomb, when something goes terribly wrong.  The explosives go off, blowing the house to smithereens.  The three terrorists run out of the house.  Two, uninjured, run away.  The third, bloody, tries to hail a cab.  The cab leaves, and the terrorist throws a grenade after it – and misses.  Then the police arrive, so the terrorist throws a grenade at them.  He misses again – the grenade hits a tree, bounces back, and blows the terrorist's own legs off.

It's like the Keystone Kops of terror.

I'm not sure what your reaction to this story is.  The politically-correct reaction is probably along the lines of “Jeez, we should really feel sad that this poor man was injured, maybe we should demonstrate for U.N. funding of terrorist training.”  Or something along those lines.

My own reaction: BWA-HA-HA-HA!!!

Why We Non-Progressives Suck...

My own political inclinations are hard to specify with any conventional label.  I'm certainly not what most people would consider a “conservative” (not too many conservatives support across-the-board drugs legalization, for example).  But labels aside, much of what Bill Whittle talks about here applies just as well to me as it does to conservatives.  It's a marvelous little political piece:

Animal Misconceptions...

One of these was a complete surprise to me:

I Want!

I want to be able to do this, in my own house, for my own projects:

Peace Talks...

When I heard that the U.S., Afghanistan, and the Taliban had started up three-way peace talks...I couldn't help but immediately think of the infamous peace talks that ended our involvement in Vietnam.  There are some similarities, but also many differences.  But for people of my age, and especially for those of us who were actually in-theater in Vietnam, the optics are bad and the working assumption that the talks are politically motivated.  Like Vietnam, the risk is that so much blood and treasure will have been expended for...very little.

My expectations are very low.

It's Back!

Dang it – looks like the Jamul Indian Tribe is going to try again:
Jamul Indian representatives told wary community leaders late Tuesday that the tribe is resurrecting plans to build a casino on its postage-stamp-sized reservation near rural state Route 94.

Details of the project are expected to be released early next month, but tribal consultant Steve Davis said it would likely be less than half the size of what the tribe had previously proposed. 
I wonder if they got more funding?  Or if Lakes is still involved?  Anybody know more than this article says?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Lion Queen...

Via my lovely bride, who would give just about anything to have this experience:

Funny Ads...

Via my lovely bride:

Spending: Up, Always Up...

It's the first law of government: spending always grows, even when they say it isn't.  Here's a nice interactive graphic to help you explore what's happened to the U.S. budget over the last 30 years or so.

The perpetual mystery to me is how so many Americans can remain so blissfully ignorant of the disaster that's being visited upon them by the corrupt, incompetent government we've voted into office.  Even with the data readily available, and even with other nations illustrating the future we're careening towards (hello, Greece!)...most of our citizens are somehow unaware of what's happening to us.

I have blue days when I think the human race may be doomed.  Over the past few days, I've been doing a lot of reading about Greece.  Result: this morning, I'm fearing we're doomed...

Rotten Highway Bill...

Jim DeMint is an aberration – a voice of sanity in our Congress.  One can listen to him, or read his writings, and come away with the sense that you're actually talking with a rational person who's interested in our national welfare.  As I said, a Congressional aberration...

He's got a piece in today's Wall Street Journal talking about the latest highways bill.  In it, he reviews the disgusting history of highways bills, and in particular the corrupting Davis-Bacon act that's still operative.  He makes a plea:
Here's a radical idea: Why not pay for new spending by actually cutting wasteful spending in other areas? It's no wonder our country is near fiscal ruin when the option of cutting spending is not even being considered. 
In Congressional Cuckoo-Land, that's just crazy talk.  But it sure sounds good to my ears.

I just wish there was some realistic chance of Congress listening...

Math News...

Terence Tao has just published a paper, titled “Every odd number greater than 1 is the sum of at most five primes”.  He's also got a blog post describing it.

The notion really is as simple as his title makes it sound.  Pick any old odd number you'd like – let's say, 333.  He's asserting that you can find 1 to 5 prime numbers which, when added together, equals 333.  Let's try:
333 = 331 + 2
333 = 283 + 43 + 7
There it is, in two different ways.

I have a fascination for these sorts of number conjectures that I can't quite explain, and it's so far an unrequited fascination, as much of the math involved is beyond me (there are bits and pieces that I can grasp, but on most of it I'm just taking their word).  But the very idea that one could actually prove something (either true or false!) like the Goldbach conjecture seems pretty darned close to magical to me...

What? We Haven't Done This Already?

That's my reaction to this news...

Dolores Umbridge...

If you've read the Harry Potter novels, then the name Dolores Umbridge will be one I'm sure you'll recognize immediately – she was the sadistic, condescending, and power-hungry bureaucrat-without-constraints who plagued the kids at Hogwarts.  Her character is straight out of the deepest nightmares of any freedom-loving individual.

Dolores has admirers who are emulating her behavior...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Awesome Doodles...

Do you like the drawing at right?

Artist Sarah Esteje did it, and more like it.   With a BIC pen.  Yes, just a BIC pen...


The Donkey Whisperer...

Roger Wiliams is a Republican running for Congress, from Texas.  His platform is, essentially, “fight Obama”.  Other than that, I know almost nothing about him.

Roger is currently running the ad below.  To understand the humor in this ad, you need to know that the donkey is the symbol of the Democratic party (as the elephant is the symbol of the Republican party).  With that in mind, enjoy The Donkey Whisperer.

Oh, it's going to be a fun campaign season!

Monday, February 13, 2012

More WWII Color Photos...

From the London Daily Mail.  Interesting how these are emerging after all these years...

One Angry Conservative...

Andrew Breitbart, railing at the “Occupy CPAC” protesters this past weekend:

Seems to me that we could use a few more angry political observers...

Quote of the Day...

First time I've heard this line, from a song by Felix Leclerc:
“The best way to kill a man is to pay him for doing nothing.”
I found it in this video:

New York Taxis...

Collect GPS data from 10,000 taxi rides in New York City, over the course of 24 hours.  Then turn them into a movie, and here's what you get:

California Cuts All State Library Funding...

There was a time, not so very long ago, when this announcement would have greatly upset me.  Starting in my teens and up to 10 or so years ago, I made extensive use of libraries – school libraries, municipal libraries, specialized libraries, military libraries, and university libraries.  This funding cut primarily affects the municipal (and associated regional) libraries.

Before the advent of the Internet, municipal libraries were the only access many people had to much fiction and nearly all reference material.  This was certainly true for me.  Today, that is no longer true – a vast amount of fiction (most especially through open source outfits like Project Gutenberg), and the reference material (especially technical and scientific) is superior and more timely than what any library could provide.  It's still true today (though I suspect for not much longer) that some libraries can still provide more depth in reference material – but this depth is found mainly in university and specialized libraries.

The last time I visited a municipal library was about 8 years ago.  I was, frankly, appalled by what I found.  The publicly available collections were dominated by pop music CDs, recent movie DVDs, and popular paperback books (including quite a number of bodice-rippers, soft pornography, and other such trash).  And animals.  You want to play with a bunny rabbit?  Check it out of our library.  The reference collection was smaller than my collection at home.  The hardback fiction collection was heavily slanted toward books written in the past ten years.  It was very sad...

I went to the library seeking detailed information on earthquake faults in San Diego County; a librarian advised me to go to the UCSD library (which I did), as it would take months for them to borrow the books I was after – if it could be done at all.

So I'm not worried by this funding cut.  In fact, I think it is probably a good thing.  Considering how our municipal libraries are wasting the funding they do get, I think I'd be happiest if they didn't get any at all.

I can hardly believe I'm saying that, being the bookworm that I am, but there it is...

Iron Giant Comes Back to Life...

The Atlantic has a great article on Alcoa's 50,000 ton forging press, recently refurbished. 

I was fascinated to read that in the '50s, the U.S. ordered the construction of massive forges (the Heavy Press Program), basically out of fear that the Soviet Union had an industrial advantage over us.  U.S. taxpayers funded 10 of these monsters, of which this 50,000 ton press was one.  I'd never heard about this program before!

Politics can be Ugly...

Under pressure from the Obama administration, St. Paul withdrew from a case they believed they could win at the U.S. Supreme Court.  Today's Wall Street Journal has an article about it.  The case is most likely too complex to be useful in the campaign, but it's quite telling to anyone paying attention.  The WSJ's conclusion:
St. Paul released a statement Friday saying it "likely would have won" at the Supreme Court but that "such a result could completely eliminate 'disparate impact' civil rights enforcement, including under the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. This would undercut important and necessary civil rights cases throughout the nation. The risk of such an unfortunate outcome is the primary reason the city has asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the petition."

To sum up: St. Paul has spent taxpayer money for almost a decade fighting a case to force slumlords to provide the poor—including minorities—with better housing. But just as it was on the cusp of what it claims would have been a victory at the Supreme Court, the city withdrew its appeal under pressure from the Obama Administration and liberals who feared they might lose a weapon of dubious legality that they want to use to tell banks how and to whom to lend.

It's enough to recall the old joke that liberals love the poor in theory—it's the actual poor they have a problem with.

The Real Deal...

Since returning from my travels last week, I've been fighting off some evil rhinovirus.  I've got all the usual symptoms of a really bad cold, including (most especially) being thoroughly congested.

Being as ancient as I am, this is far from the first time I've had such a cold.  In the past I've used decongestants with great success.  But this time they weren't doing a thing.  My lovely bride suggested that I do a little research yesterday into decongestants, and then she'd pop down to the drug store and get me some of whatever works best.

My starting point was the medication I had been taking.  It's active ingredient was phenylephrine, which I quickly discovered was rather notoriously ineffective compared to the traditional decongestant pseudoephidrine.  So why would they have switched to a less-effective ingredient?  Because many states have passed laws banning or restricting the sale of over-the-counter pseudoephridrine – because the drug lords discovered an easy way to make methamphetamines by using pseudoephidrine.  These criminals go buy huge quantities of cold medicine and convert it to methamphetamines.

Yet another way the drug wars are impacting my life!  This problem only exists because methamphetamines are illegal...

In California, sales of pseudoephidrine are controlled – an individual can buy small quantities only.  That means that you can't just go pull it off the shelf like any other cold medication – you have to ask the pharmacist for it.  My lovely bride did just that, and also picked me up a couple boxes of those wonderful tissues with lotions embedded, so your nose doesn't get rubbed raw.

Last night I took the first round of pseudoephidrine.  Result: in less than a half hour, I could breath easily through my nose for the first time in several days.  Ah, what a relief!  And those tissues...sheer heaven on my nose...

There was one downside for me, though: my personal reaction to pseudoephidrine is that it keeps me wide awake.  I got not a wink of sleep last night.  But I feel much, much better this morning – not least because I can once again breathe freely...

Rick Perry on the Keystone XL Pipeline Decision...

Rick Perry has a column in today's Wall Street Journal.  An excerpt:
It seems unimaginable, yet President Obama refused Trans-Canada's request to run its pipeline across the border from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast. This extensive pipeline holds the potential of moving up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day—including oil produced in North Dakota and Montana—to refineries here in Texas. Translated into job numbers, that's up to 20,000 direct jobs and estimates of up to hundreds of thousands of indirect jobs created by this $7 billion project.

Keystone would have provided a shot in the arm for our nation's uncertain economy, and it could have provided economic opportunity for tens of thousands of families, stretching from here in Texas all the way to the Canadian border.
Hoping to appease environmental radicals, President Obama said no, claiming he didn't have time to adequately consider the pipeline.

This is despite the fact the original request was made in September 2008, and Keystone was the subject of dozens of meetings on multiple levels of his own administration, as well as exhaustive environmental impact reviews. Certainly, three-and-half years is more than enough time to make a decision.

His reasoning becomes even more laughable when you put it up against his massive, ill-conceived so-called stimulus bill, which he muscled through Congress and signed within the first month of his presidency.
It seems to me that this decision by Obama should provide excellent fodder for the campaign this fall...

Lessons from Greece...

Recent events in Greece sound like an implausible Hollywood plot: citizens riot because the government is reducing their welfare.  That's not how they see it, of course – but it is an accurate description of what's happening there now...

For over a decade, the Greeks have been living well beyond their income.  The government has been borrowing easy money (mainly from other EU members) and using it to fund an amazing panoply of benefits for their citizens.  Naturally, the citizens supported these politicians raining money down upon them.  In that ten years, the Greeks have become quite thoroughly addicted to these benefits, to the point where they appear to have completely taken leave of their senses.  Despite the rather simple math involved (you can't continue to spend $5,000 a month if you only make $3,000 a month!), the Greeks riot to keep up the party.  Their unemployment rate is 21% (why work, with such great unemployment benefits?) and over 40% of the entire workforce works for the government.  It's a thoroughly socialist state.

There are many parallels in the U.S., though thankfully not (yet) so extreme.  Our Social Security system is completely broken and indefensible from any rational perspective, yet it still has overwhelming public support.  The biggest fear I have about Obamacare is that once the benefits kick in (starting next year!), it will prove politically impossible to repeal it – that's very much what's happening Greece right now.

Our elections this fall are, I think, our last good chance to steer the U.S. away from the disastrous course that most of Europe is on.  By this I mean that it's still politically possible at this point to execute a “course correction”.  In four more years, if Obama wins reelection, that will be vastly more difficult to pull off...

Sunday, February 12, 2012


As I watched this, I felt the presence of backhoe greatness.  Never in my wildest imagination could I do this with my backhoe...

Disturbing Obama Propaganda...

Watch first:

One of the few teachers I can remember from my elementary school was Mrs. Dalrymple (how quaint the “Mrs.” sounds these days!) in the fourth grade.  This would have been the second year of John F. Kennedy's administration, I believe.  She had us watch a documentary about Kennedy's WWII service on patrol boat.  This was not the commercial movie PT-109, but a typical low-budget black-and-white docudrama of the day.  Think Victory at Sea and you'll get the idea.

Anyway, this documentary portrayed Kennedy as an impossibly capable hero.  By the time the film was over, I was ready to believe that Kennedy could have towed a disabled aircraft carrier by taking the anchor chain in his mouth and swimming with his feet only.  While badly burned, and under simultaneous attack by submarines and dive bombers.  And with a broken back.  It was every bit as bad as this Obama film, but with lesser production values.

I wasn't disturbed at the time – that film was easily the most interesting and exciting thing that ever happened in Mrs. Dalrymple's class, other than her occasionally catching me reading a library book.

But it disturbs me today to think back upon it.  My perception of Kennedy as a perfect hero didn't change until I started reading history in earnest, in the '70s.  Then it changed very quickly :-)  Most people don't ever read history, so I suspect such propaganda has a real and lasting impact...

This Could Be Our House...

But this time, it wasn't.  Kitten attempts linguaectomy:

Sarah Palin at CPAC...

My favorite moment comes just after 9:45, and another at 10:50.  There's a lot of red meat in here, and the audience ate it up...

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Headline of the Week...

The Wall Street Journal wins the coveted JamulBlog Headline of the Week™ award for this one:
Immaculate Contraception
The column is excellent.  My favorite line:
If that sounds like a distinction without a difference, odds are you're a rational person.
Heh!  Read the whole thing.

Prompted by this kerfuffle, Paul Rahe (a man of formidable intellect) lays into the American Catholic hierarchy in this post on Ricochet.  He places the blame for the current situation squarely on the American Catholic's loss of their moral compass.  It's a delight to see such a mind intellectually stomping all over the field, and even more of a delight to see someone placing all this in a historical context dating all the way back to the Magna CartaDon't miss his post!

Late-breaking news: the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is blasting Obama's plan as a non-solution.  The flap continues...

Scafetta vs. HadCRUT...

There's a new icon in the right sidebar, labeled “Scafetta v. HadCRUT”.  This is courtesy of Anthony at Watts Up With That; if you click on the icon you'll go to his reference page.

The icon shows competing climate forecasts.  In bright green, the IPCC “consensus” forecast.  The black line shows Scafetta's forecast based on solar models.  The red line (and blue recent extension) shows the actual measured temperature.  Anthony promises to update this monthly.

The evidence so far is convincing to me: nobody knows how to forecast climate!  But the IPCC folks are off by the proverbial country mile; Scafetta is at least in the general area...

Don't Panic!

This is still JamulBlog.  I'm still SlightlyLoony.  Just making a few changes in the appearance, that's all...

Root Cause...

I stumbled across this post quite by accident.  It articulates very clearly something I learned about the hard way, in a past job.  I was responsible for the operations of our datacenter, and in particular for the availability (meaning the percentage of the time everything was running correctly).  One of the routine exercises we went through was called “root cause analysis” – an absolutely standard methodology for identifying the cause of an outage.  Once the cause was identified, the idea was that you'd take action to prevent it ever happening again, thus incrementally improving your availability metrics over time.

Nice theory.  It even worked, sometimes.  But many times it did not.  Here's one relatively simple real-life example to illustrate how this theory could break down:

We had a planned change to the configuration of one of the applications we developed.  The change consisted of adding two words to one line of a configuration file, which would be automatically re-read by our application.  We had tested the change on a lab instance of the application.  Our technician opened the file in his favorite editor, made the change, and saved the file.  About two minutes later, our application crashed (taking down a stock trading application with hundreds of users).

We restarted our application, and everything was fine.  Then we went into full root cause analysis mode, as this failure was kind of scary.  I'll spare you all the details, but eventually we figured it out: the technician had saved the file, but left it open in his editor – and his editor literally kept the file open.  Our application tried to re-read it and got a “file in use” error and promptly exited.

The root cause analysis exercise pointed the finger of blame at the technician, for leaving the configuration file open.  The mitigation my team recommended was (a) training the technicians to not do that, and (b) always making such changes with two-man teams, one to watch the other and verify that the editor was closed.

I was not at all happy with this outcome.  Leaving the file open only caused an error because our application was stupid enough to behave that way.  And our technician was only able to cause this error because we were too lazy to automate this sort of configuration change.  To me, there were several “causes”, all contributing:
- the technician's error
- our lame software crashing on a config file open error
- our failure to automate the task

The article linked above discusses the failings of root cause analysis in a clear and easy to understand way.  I particularly liked this observation:
Finding the root cause of a failure is like finding a root cause of a success.
In a single sentence, that's exactly the problem I found with root cause analysis.  In the end, we still used root cause analysis as a tool for analyzing our outages, but the mitigations we chose were not those that you'd expect to get with root cause analysis.  I wish I'd read this article back then, as I think it would have provoked me to go think out a different approach...

Baby Dunya is Reading...

Via my mom...

Laugh or Cry?

Political humor, via reader Jim M.  I verified three of these at random; they appear to be accurate.  I'm surprised at how many of these are new to me!
The problem with political jokes is that they get elected.
    Henry Cate, VII

We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.

If we got one-tenth of what was promised to us in these acceptance speeches, there wouldn't be any inducement to go to heaven.
    Will Rogers

Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.

Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river.
    Nikita Khrushchev

When I was a boy, I was told that anybody could become President; I'm beginning to believe it.
    Clarence Darrow

Why pay money to have your family tree traced; go into politics and your opponents will do it for you.
    Author Unknown

If God had wanted us to vote, he would have given us candidates.
    Jay Leno

Politicians are people who, when they see light at the end of the tunnel, go out and buy some more tunnel.
    John Quinton

Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other.
    Oscar Ameringer

The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work, and then they get elected and prove it.
    P.J. O'Rourke

I offer my opponents a bargain: if they will stop telling lies about us, I will stop telling the truth about them.
    Adlai Stevenson, campaign speech, 1952

A politician is a fellow who will lay down your life for his country.
    Texas Guinan

Any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically, by definition, be disqualified from ever doing so.
    Gore Vidal

I have come to the conclusion that politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.
    Charles de Gaulle

Instead of giving a politician the keys to the city, it might be better to change the locks.
    Doug Larson

Don't vote; it only encourages them.
    Author Unknown

There ought to be one day - just one - when there is open season on Senators.
    Will Rogers

Abbott & Costello Explain Unemployment...

Via reader Jim M.:
Abbot and Costello on Unemployment

COSTELLO: I want to talk about the unemployment rate in America.
ABBOTT: Good subject. Terrible times. It's about 9%.
COSTELLO: That many people are out of work?
ABBOTT: No that's 16%.
COSTELLO: You just said 9%.
ABBOTT: 9% unemployed.
COSTELLO: Right: 9% out of work.
ABBOTT: No that's 16%.
COSTELLO: Okay so it's 16% unemployed.
ABBOTT: No that's 9%.
COSTELLO: WAIT A MINUTE. Is it 9% or 16%?
ABBOTT: 9% are unemployed. 16% are out of work.
COSTELLO: If you're out of work you're unemployed.
ABBOTT: No you can't count the "Out of Work" as the unemployed. You have to look for work to be unemployed.
COSTELLO: But ... they're out of work!
ABBOTT: No you miss my point.
COSTELLO: What point?
ABBOTT: Someone who doesn't look for work can't be counted with those who look for work. It wouldn't be fair.
COSTELLO: To whom?
ABBOTT: The unemployed.
COSTELLO: But they're ALL out of work.
ABBOTT: No the unemployed are actively looking for work... Those who are out of work stopped looking. They gave up. If you give up you're no longer in the ranks of the unemployed.
COSTELLO: So if you're off the unemployment roles that would count as less unemployment?
ABBOTT: Unemployment would go down. Absolutely!
COSTELLO: The unemployment goes down just because you don't look for work?
ABBOTT: Absolutely it goes down. That's how you get to 9%. Otherwise it would be 16%. You don't want to read about 16% unemployment do ya?
COSTELLO: That would be frightening.
ABBOTT: Absolutely.
COSTELLO: Wait I got a question for you. That means there are two ways to bring down the unemployment number?
ABBOTT: Two ways is correct.
COSTELLO: Unemployment can go down if someone gets a job?
ABBOTT: Correct.
COSTELLO: And unemployment can also go down if you stop looking for a job?
ABBOTT: Bingo.
COSTELLO: So there are two ways to bring unemployment down and the easier of the two is to just stop looking for work.
ABBOTT: Now you're thinking like an economist.
COSTELLO: I don't even know what the hell I just said!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Wake Surfing, with Dolphins...

Via colleague Frankie T.:

Chrysothemis pulchella

Via Botany Photo of the Day, of course...

The Perfect Little Girl...

But watch it to the end...

IPCC: Oops...

This new finding isn't quite following the AGW talking points:
The world's greatest snow-capped peaks, which run in a chain from the Himalayas to Tian Shan on the border of China and Kyrgyzstan, have lost no ice over the last decade, new research shows.

The discovery has stunned scientists, who had believed that around 50bn tonnes of meltwater were being shed each year and not being replaced by new snowfall.
Oops.  The chatter on the pro-AGW side is amazing – the assumption seems to be that the scientists who did this study were all idiots paid by Big Oil.  I couldn't find a single thoughtful comment considering the implications of the study being correct.  Also interesting: previous skeptical takes on the Himalayan glacier warming were met with “Well, just wait until the satellite studies come in!  Then you'll have your solid evidence!”  This study was the long-awaited satellite study...

Behold a Troll...

An Internet troll, that is:

Thursday, February 9, 2012

How To Fix Any Computer...

Via friend and reader Simon M. (click to enlarge):

Islamic Terrorists Are Like King Salmon...

Via reader Jim M.:

Calling All Code Breakers...

Some historians want some help breaking a Civil War diary code...

Mozilla Gives It the Old College Try...

Recognizing that many developers (myself most definitely not amongst them) look down upon JavaScript as a sort of “toy” language, Mozilla makes a valiant attempt to spiff up its image.  You JavaScript decriers out there: does this change your mind?

Wolfram Alpha Pro...

At $5/month, the price is certainly in the right range.  I haven't checked out the features, but the announcement sure makes it sound interesting.  But then again, it would be pretty sad if it didn't :-)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Just Watch...

Slow Blogging Alert...

I'll be on the road for a few days, a combination of business and a nice visit with my folks...


A SaaS design tool for hardware.  Very cool!  Free accounts if you don't mind making your designs public...

Not Bad, Jim...Not Bad At All...

Oh, It's Going to be an Interesting Year!

Awesome new political ad:

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Oh, How Much I Care...

My lovely bride forwarded me a collection of motivational posters.  Many of them have language a little too, er, rough to post – but here are a few for your enjoyment: