Saturday, March 31, 2012

I Come from a Family With Unusual Abilities...

But we're all different.  This is my brother Scott:

Taxes...

I'm “doing” my taxes today. 

In other words, I'm spending my own time (valuable at least to me) computing how much money our federal and state governments are going to steal from me.  I do this only because I will be fined or jailed if I do not.  I know that 90%+ of the money they steal will be spent in ways that I do not approve of.  I have no choice in this matter; the bureaucratic thieves are going to win.  It's as if I were forced to allow burglars to come into my home, hold me at gunpoint for a day while I compute how much they're going to steal, and then help them load up their truck.

You can probably guess my mood.

That is all.

More Dog Humor...

Mac Hacks...

Here's a nice collection of little OS/X hacks.  One example, from many: have you ever wanted to change your keyboard's repeat rate?  Now you can!

Graphs in Google Search...

I don't know when this happened, but Google's search bar graphs now.  Who knows what else it does?  To see an example, click on the link...

Nine Peeves...

Looking at things from a dog's perspective...  If your dog could talk, some things he might say. Via my mom:
  1. Blaming your farts on me... Not funny. Not funny at all!
  2. Yelling at me for barking. I'M A FRIGGIN' DOG!
  3. Taking me for a walk, then not letting me check stuff out. Exactly whose walk is this anyway?
  4. Any trick that involves balancing food on my nose. Stop it!
  5. The sleight of hand, fake fetch throw. You fooled a dog! Woo hoo!  What a proud moment for the top of the food chain!
  6. Taking me to the vet for 'the big snip', then acting surprised when I freak out every time we go back!
  7. Getting upset when I sniff the crotches of your guests. Sorry, but I haven't quite mastered that handshake thing yet.
  8. Dog sweaters. Hello ??? Haven't you noticed the fur?
  9. How you act disgusted when I lick myself. Look, we both know the truth. You're just jealous.
Now lay off me on some of these things. We both know who's boss here! You don't see me picking up your poop do you?

Friday, March 30, 2012

Airport Security Debate: Bruce Schneier Kicks Butt!

The Economist has been hosting a debate on airport security for the past 10 days.  The motion:
This house believes that changes made to airport security since 9/11 have done more harm than good.
Defending the motion: Bruce Schneier, who should be well known to readers of this blog.
Opposing the motion: Kip Hawley, former TSA Administrator.

The debate has been lively.  For me, the arguments were familiar; the debate has essentially been held in a much less formal way over the past several years, through the many writings of Schneier, Hawley, and many others.  It's been a real pleasure to see Mr. Schneier make his arguments, though – he's got a real flair for exposition.

The debate is now over, though.  The motion has been carried: 89% of the votes were “aye”.  Mr. Schneier carried the day, rather dramatically.  Adam Barnes was the moderator.  An excerpt from his announcement of the winner:
Voters have roundly declared that the frustrations, the delays, the loss of liberty and the increase in fear that characterise their interactions with airport-security procedures vastly outweigh the good these procedures achieve. For some, indeed, the benefits are essentially non-existent: any sensible terrorist can find a work-around or choose a different point of attack, as Bruce Schneier explains. And so the widely expressed hope is that changes made to security in the (near) future will make the whole regime less reactive, more rational, more flexible and more intelligence-driven. The results of this debate suggest that these changes should be made with some urgency: passengers are angry.
Now if only our (insert your own epithets) Congresscritters would listen up.


The Open Mic...

The always-interesting Martin Peretz on President Obama's recent “open mic” moment with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev:
Additional "give" to Moscow on the nuclear issue was not something he admitted to the relevant senators that he was contemplating when they were weighing and approving the New Start Treaty a bare year ago. Yet it is a matter of deep interest to the Kremlin which, without any moral credit and without much material credit either, seems to be charting the cartography of another Cold War. (Remember, it pursued the last one from an impoverished base.) Mr. Obama's pliancy on the matter will encourage them to think that we are, in this matter, a patsy.
Precisely my own reaction, albeit articulated much more clearly than I could have.

Read the whole thing (in today's WSJ)...

Not That Sad...

Peggy Noonan's column is up in today's WSJ.  She's reflecting on the disappointment he's been to his own supporters.  An excerpt:
If you jumped into a time machine to the day after the election, in November, 2012, and saw a headline saying "Obama Loses," do you imagine that would be followed by widespread sadness, pain and a rending of garments? You do not. Even his own supporters will not be that sad. It's hard to imagine people running around in 2014 saying, "If only Obama were president!"
Go read the whole thing...

Preserving Hope...

I found this satirical take on Obama's performance on, of all places, the Huffington Post.  Four years ago, you could depend on the Huffington Post for completely unadulterated Obama adoration.  These days?  Not so much...


My level of hope is enhanced :-)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

ObamaCare's Defense...

Reader Doug S. passed along this gem: a simple recording of Don Verrilli, Jr. defending ObamaCare during the Supreme Court's oral arguments this week.  Mr. Verrilli is a lawyer, and the Solicitor General of the United States (an Obama appointee).



As many commentators have noted (contrary to the current liberal chatter), Mr. Verrilli is a superb and competent lawyer – he's not the problem.  The bad law (ObamaCare) he's being asked to defend is the problem...

Go Version 1 is Officially Released...

The Go programming language has officially released its version 1...

Wind Map of the U.S...

A beautiful animated map rendering of winds in the U.S.  I had to try a few times to successfully load the site; I suspect their servers are being overwhelmed...

Sealand...

The amazing story of Sealand, a WWII relic in the North Sea that claims to be the world's smallest nation.  There's a tie-in with “data havens” (think Neil Stephenson) and other technological developments...

Moral Reasoning...

Cassandra at Villainous Company has an interesting post up on moral reasoning.  She quotes a few scenarios postulated by Steven Landsburg to illustrate just how challenging a moral choice can be.  A good, brain-engaging read...

A First Place!

Debbie and Miki ran in an agility competition this past weekend.  It was a three-day meet, and they ran twice each day.  On one of those six runs (the standard course on Friday, amongst 20 or so 16" jump height dogs), they took first place!  Miki is a Field Spaniel, a breed most agility competitors know for their inability to focus on the job at hand and their easy-going, unhurried approach to life (including agility competition, where speed matters).  They are pretty much the precise opposite of a Border Collie, the canonical agility champion.  For a Field Spaniel to take a first place against a big field of dogs that included all the usual suspects (breeds) for agility competition is a bit like an unmodified Volkswagen setting a new land speed record.  Here's that first place run:




Here are the other five runs over the weekend as well: here, here, here, here, and here...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Advice to the Employer of a Hacker...

Parts of this I found quite funny (and I think it's intended to be a joke).  Other parts resonated to various degrees, in some cases quite uncomfortably...

Religions...

Found this graphic showing the religions of the world's population.  As always, click to enlarge.  More info at the source.  There were some surprises in here for me...

Trayvon Martin

I haven't been commenting about the Trayvon Martin (the black youth shot and killed by George Zimmerman) case mainly because I don't know what all the facts are (and I'm confident the lamestream media is not reporting them straight up in such a charged, sensational case).  I'm not going to comment on it now, for the same reason.

But I will note, with interest, that a growing number of prominent black voices are reacting in a way that I find refreshingly constructive.  They are wondering why the black community (and the news media) aren't outraged by the long-standing scourge of violence against blacks perpetrated by other blacks.

Juan Williams has just such a question in today's WSJ.  In it, he cites an old quote from Jesse Jackson that I remember well:
"There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery. Then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved... After all we have been through. Just to think we can't walk down our own streets, how humiliating."
Whatever the facts of the Trayvon Martin case are, these black voices are raising a most excellent question. Where is your outrage, Al Sharpton?  Why aren't you tweeting about that, Spike Lee?  And most of all, our first black President: why aren't you siccing Holder on a real problem, Mr. Obama?

Hope and Change...

The news from the Supreme Court's oral arguments on Obamacare sure sound hopeful...

Passwords...

Passwords are really hard to get right.  To be useful, they have to be memorable (so you can remember them without writing them down) and they have to be secure.  It's the second part that's so hard, because most non-technical people have no idea what makes a password secure. 

These days, the most common passwords fall into one of three categories. 

First there are the stupid, easy passwords, such as "password123" or "qwerty".  An amazing number of people (by some accounts, over 20%) use such passwords for things they really care about, like their bank account.  This is like removing the lock from your house.  If you do this, you shouldn't be allowed to touch a computer.  The bad guys have readily-available lists of common stupid passwords, and they will try them all to see if they work.

Then there are the passwords comprised of personal information of some kind: your kid's name and birthday, or the names of your two dogs, etc.  If these are well-chosen, and if (this is a huge if) the attacker has no other information about you, these kinds of passwords can be reasonably secure.  But you need to be very certain that the personal information you disclose isn't available electronically anywhere: not on Facebook, not at your bank, not even on your tax return.  A bad guy who hacks into your Facebook account might well know your kids names and birthdays.  The safest things to use for this kind of password are generally things in your distant (and hopefully pre-Internet) days.  Say, for example, the name of your fourth grade teacher (I'm looking at you, "Mrs.Dalrymple4th").  Good passwords of this type are relatively uncommon, though – most people make poor choices with easily discoverable or guessed information.

Finally, there are the passwords comprised of some memorable sequence of words, like "JamulGeekGeezer".  People, especially non-technical people, are attracted to these passwords.  They look secure, mainly because they're long and they look unlikely.  The problem is that they are usually made up of words from a relatively small list of common words: a few tens of thousands of ordinary words and place names.  That may sound like a lot of words to you, but to a computer this is a small list.  Most web sites don't have protection against an attacker trying thousands of passwords, so the bad guys simply try lots of combinations of these words from their “dictionary” of common words.  These attacks are depressingly effective.  A common variant of this type of password replaces all "o" characters with "0" (zero) characters, "s" with "$", or some such thing.  There are also relatively few variations of these, and the bad guys have dictionaries of them as well.  A more secure variation of this type deliberately misspells one or more words, like "JamulGekkGezzer".  That's far more secure, as the misspelled words are not likely to be in the dictionary.

Years ago, I read about another technique (mentioned in the linked article) that yields passwords that are both memorable and secure.  I've been using it ever since.  The technique is simple.  First, choose a phrase that is easy for you to remember, but is unlikely for anyone else to ever use or guess.  For example, I might choose "Miki is playing outside my red-roofed house."   You must be careful, when choosing a phrase, not to use some famous lines from movies or plays, etc. – those an attacker could certainly guess.  Then apply some simple rule (also easy to remember) to turn that phrase into a password.  For example, I might have the rule "Take the first letter of each word, plus any punctuation".  That would yield the password "Mipomr-rh."  Now that's a pretty secure password.  It's reasonably long (10 characters; a little longer would be better) and it certainly isn't attackable by a dictionary attack.  I've been recommending this to anyone who asks me, and I still recommend it.  For passwords protecing things that are really valuable to me, I use passwords with 12 or more characters, created from phrases like I used above. 

Milky Way...

Out with the dogs a little later than usual this morning.  In the eastern sky, the Milky Way shone bright and clear, stretching from the north to the southeast.  I was staring at this celestial beauty, lost in awe, until the arresting aroma of dog poop brought me back to earth.  Oh, well...

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Enigmas in the News...

Enigma machines, that is: WWII-era German cryptographic machines.  I had no idea that so many had survived the war...

Hope and Change, Australian Style...

The state of Queensland, Australia is afflicted with a liberal-dominated government comparable to California's, with predictable consequences.  Make that was afflicted – in yesterday's election, the liberal majority was absolutely demolished.  The results were the largest political swing in Australia's history, and it was away from the liberals.

Let us hope that's infectious...

Comeback of the Week...

Rick Santorum had a bit of a dustup with New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny the other day.  It went like this:
Zeleny: "You said Mitt Romney was the worst Republican in the country. Is that true?"

Santorum (visibly angry): "What speech did you listen to? Stop lying! I said he was the worst Republican to run on the issue of Obamacare. And that’s what I was talking about! Would you guys quit distorting what I’m saying? Quit distorting my words! If I see it, it’s bullshit! Come on, man! What are you doing?"

Zeleny: "You sound upset about something."

Santorum: "I'm upset when the media distorts what I say, yeah, I am, I do get upset. What are you guys in the business of doing, reporting the truth or are you here to try to spin and make news? Stop it! You don’t care about the truth, do you? Asking that question shows me you don’t care at all about the truth."
That's the kind of moment the press loves to pounce on, and that the candidates' handlers wish they could just outlaw.  You can almost see those handler cringing in the background as Santorum lets loose with that one.  How can their candidate take back the high ground?

Here's how.  Later, when asked about his outburst, Santorum said this:
"If you haven't cursed out a New York Times reporter during the presidential campaign, you aren't a real Republican."
Heh! Now that's one hell of a response!  Nice comeback, Rick...

Rachel is Back!

Rachel Lucas, one of my favorite bloggers, is back on the air after a months-long hiatus.  Her rude and irreverant humor is back on display, as in this post discussing the Tex-Mex Ramen noodles she found in an Italian grocery store.

When I visit her blog and see that she's got a new post, I'm careful to put down my cup of tea and swallow before I start reading.  Otherwise, there's a good chance I'm going to spew tea all over my computer!

Rachel, please don't disappear again...

Who's on Government Assistance?

The New York Times has a fascinating map of the U.S. (view of a small section at right), showing county-by-county the percentage of people taking government assistance (of any kind).  There were lots of surprises on here for me...

The Weird Blue “Hollows” on Mercury...

The robotic MESSENGER mission to the planet Mercury has vastly extended our knowledge of that little orb.  One of the oddest things MESSENGER has found are bluish “hollows” dotting the surface, a feature not found so far on any other planet.  The photograph at right (click to enlarge) is on APOD.  You can learn more about the hollows here.

Once again, NASA's little robots are quietly pouring fascinating science data back to Earth – and at a bargain price compared with the relatively useless ISS...

Emmy Noether...

I'd never heard of Emmy Noether before I read this article, and I've read a lot of science history...

and One Drug to Shrink Them All...

I just had to sneak a LOTR reference in there!  But seriously, this looks very promising...

Headline of the Month...

From ScienceDaily:
Slime Mold Mimics Canadian Highway Network
The article involves oatmeal, maps, slime mold, and Canadians. What could go wrong?

Dave Carroll: 1, United Airlines: 0...

Via my lovely bride:
A musician named Dave Carroll recently had difficulty with United Airlines. United apparently damaged his treasured Taylor guitar (worth $3,500) during a flight. Dave spent over 9 months trying to get United to pay for damages caused by baggage handlers to his custom Taylor guitar. During his final exchange with the United Customer Relations Manager, he stated that he was left with no choice other than to create a music video for YouTube exposing their lack of cooperation. The Manager responded: "Good luck with that one, pal."

So he posted a retaliatory video on YouTube. The video has since received over 11 million hits. United Airlines contacted the musician and attempted settlement in exchange for pulling the video. Naturally his response was: "Good luck with that one, pal."

Taylor Guitars sent the musician 2 new custom guitars in appreciation for the product recognition from the video that has led to a sharp increase in orders.
The Internet empowers ordinary people in ways that we're all still learning to recognize. As United found out to their chagrin, YouTube gives everybody a potential bully pulpit.

I'll be there have been a few revisions in the way they handle damaged or lost baggage claims!

Here's the (rather delicious) video:


Monday, March 26, 2012

An American Clothing Manufacturer...

...makes a statement on the “care tags” of clothing destined for France.  As always, click to enlarge...

Via reader Simi L.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Putting Smiley Faces on the Zeroes...

The cartoon at right appeared in this weekend's Wall Street Journal.

I think the cartoonist was imagining a business setting when he drew that.  But what came to my mind was our government bureaucracies – not the elected officials, but the hordes of appointed bureaucrats that run our vast government enterprises.  Putting smiley faces on the zeroes is exactly what they do every day as they find ways to put lipstick on the pigs – the many metrics that we use to measure what those bureaucrats are (allegedly) responsible for.

Consider the unemployment rate numbers, for example.  Over the years, the bureaucracy has repeatedly modified the number they feed to the news media to make it look artificially low.  To just about anyone not involved in the bureaucracy, it's rather obvious that a person is still unemployed even if they've completely given up on finding a job.  In fact, you might reasonably say that such a person is especially unemployed.  But our bureaucracy has defined them out of the unemployment rate, and their unemployment is not counted in the number they feed to the press.  That's but one of many, many examples of this stock-in-trade “trick” of the bureaucracy.

They're putting smiley faces on the zeros.

Remember that when you vote in November!

On North Korea...

Yesterday, on his visit to South Korea, Obama said this (part of a larger comment):
North Korea will achieve nothing by threats or provocations. Bad behavior will not be rewarded. There had been a pattern, I think, for decades in which North Korea thought if they had acted provocatively, then somehow they would be bribed into ceasing and desisting acting provocatively. What I've said to them consistently is rewarding bad behavior, turning a blind eye to deliberate provocations, trying to paper over these not just provocative words but extraordinarily provocative acts that violate international norms, that that's not obviously working.
This sounds like the right thing to say to the North Koreans. The trouble is that Obama's predecessors, all the way back to the Eisenhower administration, have said essentially the same thing, but behaved otherwise. The rest of the world, but most especially the U.S. and South Korea, keep telling the North Koreans that we will not reward them for bad behavior – and then we go ahead and reward them.  What passes for an upper class in North Korea has grown to be dependent on the food and other aid from the West.  Worst of all, they've learned (because we've trained them well) that if they do something outrageous (like, say, shelling a South Korean community), we'll respond with ... more aid.

I have no argument with Obama's rhetoric here; it remains to be seen whether he (unlike Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, H.W. Bush, Clinton, or G.W. Bush) will break the pattern I just described.  I hope he will...

NGC 1300...

A big, beautiful barred-spiral galaxy, about 70 million light-years away, as seen by the Hubble Telescope.  From APOD, of course...


Friday, March 23, 2012

Morning Dog Walk...

It is cold (40°F) this morning, and there's a thick fog.  Everything outside is wet, and tiny droplets fill the air.  When you breathe in, water condenses on your nostrils.

This is sheer heaven for the three field spaniels.  They were nose down, snuffling at warp speed, for the entire walk.  There was some evidence of turkeys visiting our yard down by the gate; that got very special attention.  About half-way up our driveway, a few feet into the lawn (we have grass!), there was a spot that also got lots of attention, though I couldn't tell why.  Three brown stubs of tails were wagging like mad for our entire walk.

The border collie just couldn't figure out what all the fuss was about.  So far as he is concerned, fog just gets in the way of spotting pine cones that have been kicked.  You could almost hear him say “What is all this yucky stuff, anyway?”  The enhanced ability to smell means nothing to him.  The pine cone is everything.  Everything.

Our walk yesterday afternoon was completely different.  Wall-to-wall blue sky, warm sunshine.  Birds fluttering and chirping all around us, including bluebirds and hooded orioles.  The hummingbirds are not back in force yet; only a few so far.  We also heard ground squirrels (they have a short, high-pitched whistle) all around us.  Their population is way up, presumably due to the rich vegetation we have this year.  We heard quail off to the west, but close – in our yard.  Time to start putting out the corn!

The ceanothus are all in bloom in our yard, as are our two wisterias.  The acacia, walnuts, and liquid amber trees are all starting to leaf.  The eucalyptus all have a very strong, red new growth.  Our pines have “candlesticks” of new growth over a foot long.  Many of our manzanitas have a couple inches of new growth (spectacular for them!), including our largest specimen in the back yard (it's now over 30’ tall).

Spring has sprung!

Spelling Lesson...

Via my lovely bride:
Spelling Lesson

The last four letters in American..........I Can
The last four letters in Republican........I Can
The last four letters in Democrats........Rats

End of lesson. Test to follow in November, 2012

Remember, November is to be set aside as rodent extermination month.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Advice from Farmers...

There's some practical wisdom in these (from reader Jim M.):
Your fences need to be horse-high, pig-tight and bull-strong.

Keep skunks and bankers at a distance.

Life is simpler when you plow around the stump.

A bumble bee is considerably faster than a John Deere tractor.

Words that soak into your ears are whispered....not yelled.

Meanness don't just happen overnight.

Forgive your enemies; it messes up their heads.

Do not corner something that you know is meaner than you.

It don't take a very big person to carry a grudge.

You cannot unsay a cruel word.

Every path has a few puddles.

When you wallow with pigs, expect to get dirty and look like an idiot.

The best sermons are lived, not preached.

Most of the stuff people worry about, ain't never gonna happen anyway.

Don't judge folks by their relatives.

Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.

Live a good and honorable life, then when you get older and think back, you'll enjoy it a second time.

Don't interfere with somethin' that ain't bothering you none.

Timin' has a lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance.

If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin'.

Sometimes you get, and sometimes you get got.

The biggest troublemaker you'll probably ever have to deal with, watches you from the mirror every mornin'.

Always drink upstream from the herd.

Good judgment comes from experience, and a lotta that comes from bad judgment.

Lettin' the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than puttin' it back in.

If you get to thinkin' you're a person of some influence, try orderin' somebody else's dog around.

Live simply, love generously, care deeply,

Speak kindly, and leave the rest to God.

Don't pick a fight with an old man. If he is too old to fight, he'll just kill you.

Feynman Lectures...

Seven classic Feynman lectures, online...

An Artist's Commentary...

Artist Jon McNaughton has been in the news a several times over the past few years for his controversial political paintings.  The one at right, showing President Obama holding a burning U.S. Constitution, is his latest.  On his web site, the following text appears below the painting:
One Nation Under Socialism

“I pledge allegiance to the United States of America,
And not to an ideology, which can never stand,
One nation under socialism, divisive,
With no liberty or justice for anyone.”

This November, you will make a choice. Will you choose One Nation Under Socialism?

McNaughton’s Answers to Questions Regarding This Painting:

Why the title “One Nation Under Socialism?”
Our federal government has been moving in the direction of socialism for over one hundred years. Many presidents and politicians have compromised the Constitution as we have given away our freedoms under the guise of entitlements and government intervention. When the people are willing to sacrifice the next generation for their current lifestyles and allow the federal government to have all the power for an illusory mess of pottage—you have chosen One Nation Under Socialism.

What do you mean by an ideology, which can never stand?
I will not support an ideology, which will lead to the destruction of America. In the history of the world, never has there been a recorded example where Socialism has led to the betterment of the human condition or improved the liberty of the people. I know there are varying degrees and definitions of “socialism.” Even the European model of Democratic Socialism has proven to be a dismal failure. Do you want to see our country become like Greece, Italy, Portugal, or even Great Britain?

What do you mean by “divisive, with no liberty or justice for anyone?” Socialism uses the illusion of offering fairness and justice for everyone by redistributing the wealth of the nation; picking and choosing winners and losers. This administration has taken over our health care system, given bailouts to the automotive industry, banking industry and energy industry. They support the “Occupy Wall Street” movement of increased taxing of the rich to pay for the welfare of the “less rich.” The Constitution never guaranteed equal things—only equal rights and justice. In America we should be FREE TO SUCCEED and FREE TO FAIL!

At this very moment our Constitution is literally going up in flames. What will you do to preserve the Constitution and save America?

Why Socialism Failed … http://www.thefreemanonline.org/featured/why-socialism-failed/

Learn more at: http://www.mcnaughtonart.com
Interesting character. I don't know anything else about him, so I don't know whether he's expressing his genuine beliefs or just exploiting a market opportunity. After reading his web site, though, I'm inclined to the former...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Oil Crisis, Explained...

Via my mom:
A lot of folks can't understand how we came to have an oil shortage here in our country. Well, there's a very simple answer. Nobody bothered to check the oil. We just didn't know we were getting low. The reason for that is purely geographical. Our oil is located in Alaska, California, Coastal Florida, Coastal Louisiana, Coastal Alabama, Coastal Mississippi, Coastal Texas, North Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Our dipsticks are located in DC.

Any questions? No? Didn't think so...

Civil War Photograph Collection...

The Atlantic has posted a collection of high-resolution Civil War photographs.  It's the best single collection I've seen. 

At right is one example, of a crew building a road...

GOP Race: the “Scores”...


563 Romney
263 Santorum
153 Gingrich
  50 Paul

The “magic number” is 1,144 (51% of the total).  Romney's got a long way to go to wrap that up.  A brokered convention is a real possibility...

Holy Areal Density, Batman!

In the hard disk business, the way to get more data capacity is to increase the number of bits you can store on a given piece of disk surface.  This is called “areal density”, and it's usually measured in bits per square inch.  Areal densities have been improving at a fairly steady rate ever since the '70s, and the density march continues.  Seagate has just demonstrated 1,000,000,000,000 bits per square inch (a terabit/sq. in.), and promises 60 TB (terabyte) disk drives as a result.  Wow!

Einstein Vindicated...

Excerpted from an article in today's WSJ by Michio Kaku:
But the floodgates finally burst open last week when a second group of physicists announced that they redid the entire experiment and found that Einstein was correct all along: Their neutrinos traveled at precisely the speed of light, not faster or slower.

What makes this second announcement so convincing is that they used much of the same apparatus as the previous group. They used the same particle accelerator at CERN, fired a beam of neutrinos over the same path, and used the same destination, a laboratory in Gran Sasso near Rome. The crucial difference between these two groups was the equipment used to measure the speed of the neutrinos. This gives enormous weight to the idea that the first group did not properly calibrate their instruments.

Last week the director for research at CERN, Sergio Bertolucci, issued a diplomatically worded statement that read, "The evidence is beginning to point towards the [earlier] result being an artifact of the measurement." Nobel Laureate Carlo Rubbia, a spokesman for the second group, was more blunt when he said, "We cannot be both right. One of us is wrong. I know who is right. We are right."

Since there is so much at stake, in the coming months more experiments will be done to verify this new result. But in the minds of most physicists the issue is now settled—Einstein's theory remains undefeated.
Do read the whole piece, as Dr. Kaku places this in context rather nicely...

Martian Dust Devil...


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Peak.AR...

WIN!  Simon M. passed this little gem along.  I am in awe of this little enhanced-reality app.  All this awesomeness is free, too.

I downloaded the app in a few seconds (from the iTunes store), and fired it up.  There was no configuration required.  When it started up, I aimed my iPhone at the local horizon and got an image (through the iPhone's camera) much like the one at right (click to enlarge).

What you're seeing there is a realtime video display of whatever your smartphone is looking at, but the mountain peaks are overlaid with a little symbol and an annotation giving you the peak's name and altitude. 

I live in a fairly obscure valley (Lawson Valley) in the foothills of the coastal range in San Diego County.  The “peaks” immediately around me are really just the tops of slightly larger-than-average hills; all of them are less than 3,000' high.  Peak.AR knew the names and altitudes of every one of them – even several local peaks whose names I've never been able to find, not even on Geodetic Survey maps.  Peak.AR must have access to an amazingly large database of peaks!

Highly recommended, a 10 on the awesomometer.  Their home page is here.

Balance of Power...

Here's a fascinating chart of historical Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the nine “Great Powers”, back to the year 1 AD, and projected forward to 2050 (using a projection from Price Waterhouse Coopers).  Note that the timescale is non-linear, so be careful interpreting the trends.  The biggest surprise for me was India, pre-1800 – I don't know much about India's history, I guess.  As usual, click to enlarge...


Weep for Our Future...

Monday, March 19, 2012

Game On!

Via Simon M., this musical tribute to Rick Santorum.  So far as I've been able to discover, this video was not sponsored or paid for by the Santorum campaign; it appears to be a genuinely spontaneous expression of support for him.




I haven't commented on the Republican horse-race much, as I'm not finding it very interesting, and certainly not inspiring. It looks like it's coming down to one of three possibilities:
  1. Romney (not exciting, not scary)
  2. Santorum (slightly more exciting, much scarier)
  3. Random candidate from a brokered convention (who knows what to think about that?)
The last time the Republicans had a brokered convention, Reagan emerged the winner.  That sounds great, except for one little niggling detail: there's no Reagan anywhere in sight...

Obama Blew the Grand Bargain...

An exposé in (of all places!) the Washington Post lays it all out quite nicely.  The bottom line: a grand fiscal bargain was within reach last year, but Obama – Obama alone – trashed it.

Now mind you I'm not entirely sure that the grand bargain would have been better than the current mess.  For instance, had we in fact reached a bargain, Obama's prospects for re-election would almost certainly have been better.  Nevertheless, it is dismaying to see the incompetence by our chief executive on display...

Our Political Class is Unserious...

That's not exactly new news, I know.  Alan Blinder has a piece in today's WSJ that nicely outlines the “fiscal cliff” we face in 2013.  That would be the cliff that our national politicians (a) created, and (b) are doing nothing whatsoever about.  His lead:
At some point, the spectacle America is now calling a presidential campaign will turn away from comedy and start focusing on things that really matter—such as the "fiscal cliff" our federal government is rapidly approaching.

The what? A cliff is something from which you don't want to fall. But as I'll explain shortly, a number of decisions to kick the budgetary can down the road have conspired to place a remarkably large fiscal contraction on the calendar for January 2013—unless Congress takes action to avoid it.

Well, that gives Congress plenty of time, right? Yes. But if you're like me, the phrase "unless Congress takes action" sends a chill down your spine—especially since the cliff came about because of Congress's past inability to agree.
Do go read the whole thing. It's quite depressing...

Snow on the Mountain...

At higher elevations in our local mountains, it's still cold enough for snow – and with the current storm, we have plenty of it.  Debbie and I took a drive up and around Cuyamaca Mountain yesterday afternoon.  These photos will give you some idea what we ran into.  We thought the snow-covered flowers (like the blue ceanothus below) were particularly beautiful.  As usual, click to enlarge...


Rainageddon Update...

We're now at 2.7 inches (7 cm) of rain for the storm (click to enlarge the graph at right), and the NEXRAD radar shows more headed our way.  The forecast calls for a 40% chance of rain today, then fair weather the rest of the week.  Man, are we wet!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Rainageddon Update...

We're at 2 inches (5 cm) of rain for the storm.  The image below shows the NEXRAD radar image at 6:31 am this morning.  This time I've turned on storm tracks (that's the “Z1” with an arrow) and precipitation monitor.  The blue areas show frozen stuff (snow, in other words) in the mountainous areas.  When the weatherman says “scattered showers”, this is what it looks like on the radar...


The image below is from my rain gauge, showing all the rain in the past few days (the time is GMT).  The most intense rain was near the end of the day on the 17th, which was in the early afternoon yesterday (PDT) – we got a half inch in a half hour, a veritable downpour in these parts...


Space Shuttle Video...

NASA released this video pieced together from footage shot on two shuttle missions.  The cameras are mounted at several points on the solid-fuel boosters, which broke away from the shuttle itself shortly into each flight, roughly 30 miles high.  The footage shows not only the “boost phase” (where the solid-fuel boosters are actually firing), but also the boosters' re-entry through the atmosphere and splashdown in the ocean.  There are two boosters on each launch, and often one can be seen in the other's camera as they tumble toward the earth together.

This particular video has been enhanced in two ways.  First, flight data (such as altitude and speed) has been superimposed on the video.  I found this data fascinating.  For example, you can see that the boosters arc up after detachment (carried by their inertia), then arc down, gain speed, and finally are slowed down as they re-enter the atmosphere.  Second, audio has been added in the studio.  I don't know where they got the audio from, but I thought it added a lot to the experience of watching the video.

Here it is:


Jamul Casino: More Details from the Tribe...

Raymond Hunter, Chairman of the Jamul Indian Village, says:
The Jamul Indian Village has been working for many years to develop a gaming facility on our federal tribal trust land. This effort has not been without controversy. We are now creating a new vision for our gaming project, taking into account the concerns of our neighbors and the County of San Diego. Our newly designed project will create jobs for our neighbors, allow the tribe to become self-sufficient, and enable us to share gaming revenue with local governments and charities. We believe this can be achieved while respecting the environment and our neighbors’ concerns.

Some of the most important changes in our project’s design speak to its most pointed criticism. The total size of our gaming project has been cut by more than half from our proposal in 2006 – and this includes eliminating a proposed hotel. Building height of the gaming facility will now be reduced to 45 feet above grade as seen from Highway 94. This allows us to strategically use the contours of our land to provide parking below street level and outside the line of sight. These critical changes reduce the overall footprint of our project and, as a result, the oak and willow-studded stream traversing our reservation will be maintained in its natural condition.

The visual impact of our facility will be largely mitigated by its careful design. The earth-tone colors and natural materials of the exterior reduce the project’s visual impact by matching it to the background of the surrounding area. We will adhere to the county’s dark sky and sign ordinances. We will use native plants and the natural terrain to further limit views from roadways. This will not be a glitzy Las Vegas-style gaming facility with lights and signs. The project will be subject to a vigorous environmental process meeting state and federal standards.

This project will enable our tribe to be a greater asset to our community by generating revenue-sharing dollars for public safety, education, traffic mitigation and critical government services. The Jamul tribe has lived here for a very long time and has been recognized by federal officials since the 19th century. We only occupy a fraction of our ancestral lands and we have a responsibility to our members to seek the most effective economic development of this land for our future financial viability and cultural legacy.

We examined other economic development opportunities in the past. However, Indian gaming has proved to be the most successful means for federally recognized tribes to achieve self-sufficiency. Although Jamul Indian Village is eligible to receive federal money, our gaming project has not been funded with federal funds.

For federally recognized tribes such as ours, the proven path to achieve economic self-sufficiency has been Indian gaming. The Jamul Indian Village has had a gaming compact with the state since 1999. Our compact allows gaming of limited size and scope and only with a comprehensive regulatory system requiring state, federal and tribal participation. Our compact has been formally approved by the U.S. Department of Interior. Now we are working to create a gaming facility that will adapt naturally into our environment and community.

We will soon release our initial proposed plan. At that time we will also seek additional community feedback before finalizing these plans. We hope that our neighbors in the Jamul and Dulzura areas will recognize that we are genuine in our effort to accommodate our neighbors’ input. We have, in fact, made significant changes in our development plan in response to many of the objections that have been raised in the past. Our new vision for the Jamul gaming project embodies a smaller, high-quality facility that is respectful of our neighbors, our environment and the culture of the Jamul Indian Village. We are hopeful that our neighbors can come closer to supporting our new vision.

If you would like to comment or make recommendations to the Jamul tribe, you can contact us here.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Rainageddon Has Started...

As of this post, we've had exactly 1 inch of rain from this storm – and we've only just begun.  Below is what the NOAA NEXRAD radar showed just before this post:


The Survivor...

You won't realize it when you start watching this short video, but ... it has a (very) funny ending:


Light Dancing...

I don't like this music, and I don't like modern dance.  But I was fascinated by this:


The RNC Did This!

The RNC is upping their game – this doesn't look like the kind of humor that would be employed by cigar-chomping back-room boys...


Friday, March 16, 2012

USA: The Highest...

The highest what?  The highest corporate income tax rate.  In the world.  Starting on April 1st.  From an opinion piece in today's WSJ:
April 1 is a date that every politician and business executive in America should circle on the calendar. That's when Japan cuts its corporate tax rate to 36.8% from 39.5%. The United States will then hold the title of highest corporate tax rate, with average combined federal and state profit levies of 39.2%.

Yes, that's higher than Sweden. Higher than Russia. And China, Mexico, Denmark and even France. Doesn't it make you want to break out in a chant: U-S-A, U-S-A? 
I can almost hear the progressives cheering.  “Yes!”, they'll say.  We're leading the world, as we should be.

Me?  I just cry for my country's future.

And, as always, remain amazed at how little attention issues like this get from everyday people.  As though they don't matter...

Table, Rising...

This is an impressive piece of design, and woodworking: a folding table made from a single sheet of wood.  Lots of details, and photos of the actual table, at the designer's site...

Awesome Customer Service Stories...

Here's a very nice collection of great customer service stories.  I'd seen about half of these before...

ServiceNow IPO News: on Fox News!

There's no new news about a potential ServiceNow IPO in this story.  But the venue is new: Fox News!  I got to this page through a link on the Fox News home page.

The search term “servicenow ipo” is still the number one driver of traffic to my blog...

Rainageddon...

Last night on my drive home, I heard a radio announcer talking about the rain storm expected to hit us tonight as “rainageddon”.  It earned this moniker because of the amount of rain expected: up to 2 inches (5 cm).  Anyone from a place like, say, Hawai'i would be greatly amused by this.  We consider 2" of rain to be “rainageddon”, but there that would barely qualify as a morning shower...

This morning the dogs and I took our morning walk through a thick cloud.  Visibility was about 100 feet.  When we walked down to the end of our driveway, our house was gone; just a vague fuzz of light in its direction. 

As usual, Race was all about the pine cone.  I kicked; he was happy.  The three field spaniels, though, were in a frenzy of smelling, just as they always are in wet air.  The three of them would run around, seemingly at random, until one of them found something enticing.  Then upon some signal not apparent to me, all three would congregate at that spot – noses together, bodies angled precisely 120° apart, forming a perfect three-pointed star.  After sufficient sniffing of the exquisite spot, in concert they'd break off and commence the random searching, separately, again.  This pattern repeated ad nauseum for our entire walk.  The usual peeing and pooping occurred, mind you; it was just incidental to the real mission of smelling...

Just another morning in Jamul!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Nymphaea 'Odorata Luciana'...

Otherwise known as “gorgeous”!  From Botany Photo of the Day, of course...


Jamul Casino: The New Plans...

The Jamul Indian tribe unveiled its new casino plans yesterday (drawing at right).  The UT has an article that echoes the tribe's professed optimism about finding a new funding partner.

Let's hope not.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Grope & Pillage: Graphical TSA Rant...

Nice graphic showing some of the reasons why the TSA should be eliminated.  Courtesy of the folks at OnlineCriminalJusticeDegree.com...


The Drunk on the Subway...

Via my mom:
A drunk man who smelled like beer sat down on a subway next to a priest. The man's tie was stained, his face was plastered with red lipstick, and a half-empty bottle of gin was sticking out of his torn coat pocket. He opened his newspaper and began reading. After a few minutes the man turned to the priest and asked, 'Say Father, what causes arthritis?'

The priest replies, 'My Son, it's caused by loose living, being with cheap, wicked women, too much alcohol, contempt for your fellow man, sleeping around with prostitutes and lack of a bath.'

The drunk muttered in response, 'Well, I'll be damned,' Then returned to his paper.

The priest, thinking about what he had said, nudged the man and apologized. 'I'm very sorry. I didn't mean to come on so strong. How long have you had arthritis?'

The drunk answered, 'I don't have it, Father. I was just reading here that the Pope does.'

Print Encyclopedia Bites the Dust...

I haven't used an Encyclopedia Britannica for quite a few years now – at a guess, not since about 1990.  And why would I?  When I see reference material in print form, one of the first thoughts that comes to mind is “Oh oh – it's probably obsolete!” 

What subject area has been static enough for paper references to be reliable?  Certainly not the areas I most frequently research: computer science, science in general, history, and politics.  Of those, history is probably the only candidate – but new discoveries pop up all the time, especially because of declassification and regime change.  For example, our understanding of Eisenhower's presidency has changed quite radically in the past few years.

So the news that the Encyclopedia Britannica's last print edition will be the current 2010 edition doesn't bother me at all.  In fact, mostly I wonder just how they managed to hang on this long.

Most of the news reports are emphasizing the role that Wikipedia (and other community-based efforts) had in killing the Encyclopedia Britannica, and that's certainly an interesting topic to ponder.  What's more likely to be reliable – a reference edited by a single team (with all their biases), or a crowd-sourced effort with many people contributing and cross-checking?  Both of these models have their own sets of problems and their own mechanisms for errors or outright lies to creep in.  If I'm researching something I care about, I'll always look at Wikipedia and multiple other sources, to make sure I'm not missing some controversy or alternative (but unexpressed on Wikipedia) perspective.  I'll also look at the edit history to see if there's a “wiki war” going on.  Such searches frequently do turn up more material that seen on Wikipedia.  But by and large, I've found the Wikipedia entries to be (a) at least not outright lies, (b) always useful at least as background, and (c) most often essentially accurate and authoritative.  After years of practice with such searches, it's hard to imagine ever relying on a single source – a la Encyclopedia Britannica – again...

Today is Pi Day!

Today, 3/14, is π day.  If it's not obvious to you why, consider this: the value of π (in base 10 notation) is 3.14...

Much more on this fascinating number in Wikipedia...

Jamul Casino: Tribe Vows to Carry On...

Shortly after Lakes Entertainment announced they were withdrawing from their funding deal with the Jamul Indian Tribe, the tribe released this presser:
The Jamul Indian Village announces its intent to pursue revised plans for a new casino gaming development on its Federal Tribal Trust land located in San Diego County. Since 1999 the Jamul Indian Village has worked with Lakes Entertainment of Minnesota to develop a gaming facility. As of today, that agreement has been terminated and the tribe is moving forward with revised plans for its gaming facility. This revised direction will allow the Tribe to achieve an economic and cultural foundation for its membership, while also working with its neighbors and the County to address the development's physical scope and potential environmental impact.

"Jamul Indian Village expresses its gratitude to Lakes Entertainment for its involvement in various aspects of development efforts since 1999," said Tribal Executive Chairman Raymond Hunter. "We look forward to proceeding with our efforts to strengthen the economic base of the Tribe and the region, consistent with the character of the Jamul area and respectful of the local processes inherent to this goal."

The Tribe will present its plans and environmental document beginning this week and will kick off a public review process and workshop to discuss its plans with local stakeholders. Through this process, the tribal leadership will invite community engagement and feedback before finalizing their plans. Pursuit of this new development direction emphasizes the Tribe's new vision for the Jamul gaming project -- one embodying a smaller, high quality facility that is respectful of its neighbors and its environment. Ultimately, the newly designed project will create jobs for its neighbors in the Jamul and Dulzura areas, allow the Tribe to become self-sufficient, and enable it to share gaming revenue with local governments and charities.
This sounds more like wishful thinking than substantive announcement.  My first thought (and other observers have said similar things) is that with the huge debt they're saddled with, the tribe is going to have a great deal of trouble finding another funding source (although I will say that there is the possibility of some arrangement made with Lakes' agreement that allowed funding on the condition that Lakes was paid back out of the tribe's cut after the resulting project was up and running).

During the Lakes-funded Jamul Casino project's lifetime, the Jamul Indian Tribe has managed to build up a large reserve of bad feelings with respect to their non-tribal neighbors.  I've lived out here for nearly 15 years now, and I've not seen any other issue that so aroused the ire of my neighbors.  So the tribe's proclamation now that their new efforts will be “...respectful of its neighbors and its environment.” will be met with a great deal of skepticism and suspicion, I think.  Certainly that's true for me...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Jamul Casino: Great News!

Many thanks to reader Mike W. who passed this along.  Here's the interesting part of the press release (full release is here):
Lakes Entertainment, Inc. ("Lakes") announced that it terminated the Pre-Development, Development and Financing Arrangement Agreement (the "Agreement") by and between Lakes Jamul Development, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lakes, and the Jamul Indian Village ("Tribe"). While this Agreement was executed on November 22, 2011, Lakes has been working with the Jamul Tribe under various other previous agreements since 1999 to assist with the development of a casino on the Tribe's reservation outside of San Diego, California.

Due to Lakes' corporate strategic objectives, Lakes determined that it would not continue to move forward with the project with the Tribe and terminated the Agreement, effective March 13, 2012. Lakes has a continuing obligation to fund Tribal support payments equal to approximately $0.6 million subsequent to the termination date and provide funding of certain professional fees for a period of thirty days from the termination date.

As of the date of termination, Lakes has advanced approximately $57.5 million including accrued interest to the Tribe related to casino development efforts. As a result of the termination of the Agreement, Lakes has determined the fair value of the notes receivable from the Tribe to be zero which were previously recorded at their fair value of $9.6 million as of October 2, 2011. Although the Agreement provides that the Tribe commence repayment of all outstanding amounts within 30 days of such termination, it is not contemplated that the Tribe will have sufficient funds to make such payments unless it opens a gaming facility on its reservation in the future. The Tribe remains obligated to repay the advances and accrued interest, and Lakes continues to have collateral in all revenues from any future casino owned by the Tribe, and the casino's furnishings and equipment.

Tim Cope, President and Chief Financial Officer of Lakes stated, "We believe that the Jamul Indian Village casino project continues to have great merit. However, this project does not fit with our current business plan for the future of Lakes. We wish the Jamul Tribe much success with its continued progress toward development of their casino project."
So the Jamul Indian tribe is now carrying, $57m in debt – and Lakes shareholders blew the same amount (it's written down to zero, so there's no real expectation by Lakes that they'll be repaid). The only physical impact of the casino project is some very preliminary construction on the site; nothing to get excited about. There's another impact, though: an adversarial relationship between the Jamul Indian tribe and most of the rest of the local community. Oh, and the gigantic debt the tribe is now carrying – makes my share of the federal debt look puny by comparison.

Now we only have to worry about the Jamul Indian tribe finding another sponsor. I have no idea how likely that is, but clearly the probability isn't zero...

Flavors...

Bryan B., a colleague of mine, forwarded this image with this comment: “My life is now complete!”


Amazon has it, naturally...

How to Piss Off a Frog...

Via my mom:

Singles Ads...

Reader Jim M. swears that these are actual ads from a Florida newspaper named The Villages.  I couldn't find that paper online, so I'm not so sure about that.  But they're funny even if they aren't real:
FOXY LADY:
Sexy, fashion-conscious blue-haired beauty, 80's, slim, 5'4' (used to be 5'6'), searching for sharp-looking, sharp-dressing companion. Matching white shoes and belt a plus.

LONG-TERM COMMITMENT:
Recent widow who has just buried fourth husband, and am looking for someone to round out a six-unit plot. Dizziness, fainting, shortness of breath not a problem.

SERENITY NOW:
I am into solitude, long walks, sunrises, the ocean, yoga and meditation. If you are the silent type, let's get together, take our hearing aids out and enjoy quiet times.

WINNING SMILE:
Active grandmother with original teeth seeking a dedicated flossier to share rare steaks, corn on the cob and caramel candy.

BEATLES OR STONES?
I still like to rock, still like to cruise in my Camaro on Saturday nights and still like to play the guitar. If you were a groovy chick, or are now a groovy hen, let's get together and listen to my eight-track tapes.

MEMORIES:
I can usually remember Monday through Thursday. If you can remember Friday, Saturday and Sunday, let's put our two heads together.

MINT CONDITION:
Male, 1932 model , high mileage, good condition, some hair, many new parts including hip, knee, cornea, valves. Isn't in running condition, but walks well.

Last Known Photo...

From reader Jim M., the last known photo of a moron:

Looks to me like the photographer found a way to capture evolution at work...

Word of the Day...

My mom's on a roll:
Ineptocracy (in-ep-toc'-ra-cy). A system of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.

Closing the Border...

Via my mom, this wonderful example of “I scarcely know what to say...”.  This video shows the ceremony each evening upon closing the border gates between India and Pakistan...

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Pilot and the Priest, at the Pearly Gates...

Via my mom:
A priest dies and is waiting in line at the Pearly Gates. Ahead of him is a guy who's dressed in sunglasses, a loud shirt, leather jacket and jeans.

Saint Peter addresses this cool guy, "Who are you, so that I may know whether or not to admit you to the Kingdom of Heaven?"

The guy replies, "I'm Jack, retired airline pilot from Houston."

Saint Peter consults his list. He smiles and says to the pilot, "Take this silken robe and golden staff and enter the Kingdom." The pilot goes into Heaven with his robe and staff.

Next, it's the priest's turn. He stands erect and booms out, "I am Father Bob, pastor of Saint Mary's for the last 43 years."

Saint Peter consults his list. He says to the priest, "Take this cotton robe and wooden staff and enter the Kingdom."

"Just a minute," says the good father. "That man was a pilot and he gets a silken robe and golden staff and I get only cotton and wood. How can this be?"

"Up here - we go by results," says Saint Peter. "When you preached - people slept. When he flew, people prayed."

Plea Bargains...

Most criminal cases in the U.S. never go to trial.  Instead, the accused pleads guilty as part of a “plea bargain”.  This saves an enormous amount of time and money, and reduces the number of judges, courtrooms, prosecutors, etc. needed in the justice system.

It also leads, in some cases, to miscarriages of justice – in both directions.  That is, sometimes innocent people are pressured into pleading guilty to avoid the risk of long jail terms.  Sometimes (more often, actually) guilty people are pleading to lesser charges than they're guilty of – putting us all at risk of their repeat offenses.

But, what if...every defendant decided to insist upon their right (granted by the Constitution) for a trial by a jury of their peers?  Short answer: they'd crash the justice system, which doesn't have the resources to handle such a load...

Another interesting and thought-provoking read...

Anybody Know What Time It Is?

Go here.  You'll find the exact time, and it will tell you how far off your computer's clock is.  I have a Mac, so it's using NTP out-of-the-box and the clock setting is darned near perfect (0.008 seconds off)...

Locked Up...

The New Yorker has an interesting article on why America imprisons so many more people than any other country.  I have many disagreements with some opinions expressed, but I completely agree that our incarceration rate is symptomatic of some profound problem in our society.  It's a thought-provoking read...

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Ships at the Bottom of the (Former) Aral Sea...

The Soviet Union drained most of the Aral Sea, using the water for irrigation projects.  When they did so, hundreds of ships that had sunk were revealed, like the one below.  Now you can walk among them, and find ships and camels intermixed:


WWII Kodachrome Photos...

A small collection of stunning photographs from WWII, on 4" x 5" Kodachrome transparencies.  One example below, but go see the rest of them!


The Pilot and the Dog...

A great story, passed along by reader Simi L.  The sender claims it's a true story, but I've been unable to verify it:
A woman was flying from Seattle to San Francisco. Unexpectedly the plane was diverted to Sacramento along the way. The flight attendant explained that there would be a delay, and if the passengers wanted to get off the aircraft the plane would re-board in 50 minutes. Everybody got off the plane except one lady who was blind.

A man had noticed her as he walked by and could tell the lady was blind because her guide dog lay quietly underneath the seats in front of her throughout the entire flight. He could also tell she had flown this very flight before because the pilot approached her, and calling her by name, said, "Kathy, we are in Sacramento for almost an hour. Would you like to get off and stretch your legs?"

The blind lady said, "No thanks, but maybe Buddy would like to stretch his legs." Picture this: all the people in the gate area came to a complete standstill when they looked up and saw the pilot walk off the plane with a guide dog for the blind! Even worse, the pilot was wearing sunglasses! People scattered. They not only tried to change planes, but they were trying to change airlines!

Faces...

All my life, I've had difficulty recognizing faces.  It isn't that I can't recognize faces – people I know well I can recognize with no difficulty.  The challenge I have is with people I don't know well.  So I'm pretty sure I don't have any flavor of prosopagnosia.

Recently at work there was a good example of my face-recognition challenges.  There's another fellow there named Tom whom I mistakenly thought was Frank Slootman, our CEO.  When someone corrected me (and only then!), I asked around to a few other people – and none of them thought Tom and Frank looked anything alike!  Yet I still (even after carefully examining both of them) find it challenging to be sure which is which when I see them.  This sort of thing has happened to me many times.

Another common pattern: I'll meet someone for the first time (say, on a visit to a customer), and for the term of the visit I'll be able to recognize them.  Then perhaps 6 months or a year later, I'll visit again – and while the rest of the ServiceNow people attending will recognize the person without difficulty, I will not recognize him or her, and I may not even realize that I've met the person before.

I suspect this difficult is related to my inability to visualize “in my mind's eye”, something I've blogged about before.  Most people tell me that they can easily “bring up” the face of someone they know; I simply cannot do this, not even for people I know very well.  I've got no proof these things are related; it's just an intuition...

The Deer Are Back!

Debbie and I took an evening drive up to Cuyamaca Mountain yesterday, arriving at the Stonewall Mine just before sunset.  The meadows in that area used to be full of deer, but after the fires of October/November 2007 we saw none until the last couple years, and even then just a very few.

But last night...  Last night, the deer were back, in force.  We saw about 10 groups of deer all together, with five or six of the groups number more then 20 individuals.  The grass is plentiful this year, and the deer were chowing down with some enthusiasm.

The return of the deer means that the mountain lions will be back (if they're not already).  We know the rodent population must be healthy because we see lots of hawks.  Hopefully that also means the bobcats are back (we've seen a few, but nothing like the numbers we used to see up there).  It's very nice to see the animal ecosystem returning to some semblance of normality...

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Warning Labels on Alcohol Containers...

According to my mom, the following warning labels have been accepted by liquor manufacturers:
WARNING: The consumption of alcohol may leave you wondering what the hell happened to your bra and panties.

WARNING: The consumption of alcohol may make you think you are whispering when you are not.

WARNING: The consumption of alcohol is a major factor in dancing like a spineless goofball.

WARNING: The consumption of alcohol may cause you to tell your friends over and over again that you love them.

WARNING: The consumption of alcohol may cause you to think you can sing.

WARNING: The consumption of alcohol may lead you to believe that ex-lovers are really dying for you to telephone them at four in the morning.

WARNING: The consumption of alcohol may make you think you can logically converse with members of the opposite sex without spitting.

WARNING: The consumption of alcohol may create the illusion that you are tougher, smarter, faster and better looking than most people.

WARNING: The consumption of alcohol may lead you to think people are laughing WITH you.

WARNING: The consumption of alcohol may cause pregnancy.

WARNING: The consumption of alcohol may be a major factor in getting your ass kicked.

WARNING: the crumsumpten of alcohol may mack you tink you kan tpye reel gode.

Yes, That's About Right...

Via my mom:
A little boy goes to his dad and asks, 'What is Politics?'

Dad says, 'Well son, let me try to explain it this way: I am the head of the family, so call me The President. Your mother is the administrator of the money, so we call her the Government. We are here to take care of your needs, so we will call you the People. The nanny, we will consider her the Working Class. And your baby brother, we will call him the Future. Now think about that and see if it makes sense.'

So the little boy goes off to bed thinking about what Dad has said. Later that night, he hears his baby brother crying, so he gets up to check on him. He finds that the baby has severely soiled his nappy (that's a diaper, for us Americans). So the little boy goes to his parent's room and finds his mother asleep. Not wanting to wake her, he goes to the nanny's room. Finding the door locked, he peeks in the keyhole and sees his father in bed with the nanny.

He gives up and goes back to bed.

The next morning, the little boy say's to his father, 'Dad, I think I understand the concept of politics now.' The father says, 'Good, son, tell me in your own words what you think politics is all about.' The little boy replies, 'The President is screwing the Working Class while the Government is sound asleep. The People are being ignored and the Future is in deep shit...

He Did It to Himself...

Via Simon M., no further explication required:

Quote of the Day...

From the blogger known as TigerHawk:
Give Gloria what she's asking for. Please.
This time, you'll have to read the whole thing to understand it – please do!

Really, Apple?

A fine series of rants on the new iPad, with just the perfect touch of poking fun at the fanboys:

Friday, March 9, 2012

If You Know Me...

If you know me at all, you will be completely unsurprised when I tell you that I am related to the man who created the “snow-alien” at right (as always, click to enlarge – if you dare!).  My brother Scott (who has a landscaping business in Virginia Beach, Virgina, called Artist in the Garden) is the perpetrator.  The snow-alien was quite a hit with the neighbors, we understand.  Proudly showing it off is my sister Holly (who has a web-based business called Learn English with a WorldWide Perspective), who lives near my parents in Charlottesville, Virginia.  We were all there visiting my parents a few days ago when a snowstorm dumped a bunch of that wet white stuff we see so rarely out here in California...and Scott just couldn't resist the opportunity...

Sad, Sad Arthur...

Via my mom:
Arthur is 90 years old. He's played golf every day since his retirement 25 years ago.  One day he arrives home looking sad.

"That's it," he tells his wife. "I'm giving up golf. My eyesight has become so bad that once I hit the ball I couldn't see where it went."

His wife makes him a cup of tea, and says, "Why don't you take my brother with you and give it one more try."

"That's no good" sighs Arthur, "your brother's a hundred and three. He can't help."

"He may be a hundred and three", says the wife, "but his eyesight is perfect."

So the next day Arthur heads off to the golf course with his brother-in-law. He tees up, takes a mighty swing and squints down the fairway.

He turns to the brother-in-law and says, "Did you see the ball?"

"Of course I did!" replied the brother-in-law. "I have perfect eyesight".

"Where did it go?" says Arthur.

"I don't remember."

Rescue of Thirty Dolphins...

A very nice story from Brazil, via friend and colleague Frankie T.:


In the News...

Here's something I don't get to write very often: slide rules in the news!

I have several of the Gilson slide rules in my collection, including a couple in pristine condition...

What He Said...

From “Advice From An Old Programmer”:
...learning to create software changes you and makes you different. Not better or worse, just different. You may find that people treat you harshly because you can create software, maybe using words like "nerd". Maybe you'll find that because you can dissect their logic that they hate arguing with you. You may even find that simply knowing how a computer works makes you annoying and weird to them.

To this I have just one piece of advice: they can go to hell. The world needs more weird people who know how things work and who love to figure it all out. When they treat you like this, just remember that this is your journey, not theirs. Being different is not a crime, and people who tell you it is are just jealous that you've picked up a skill they never in their wildest dreams could acquire.

You can code. They cannot. That is pretty damn cool.
Yes.  What he said!

Clothing Tag Humor...

Nice collection of funny clothing tags.  My favorite is at right, but there are several more really good ones...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Whiskey...

Reader Jim M. passes along this great example of a politician at work:
In 1952, Armon M. Sweat, Jr., a member of the Texas House of Representatives, was asked about his position on whiskey. What follows is his exact answer (taken from the Political Archives of Texas):

"If you mean whiskey, the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean that evil drink that topples Christian men and women from the pinnacles of righteous and gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, shame, despair, helplessness, and hopelessness, then, my friend, I am opposed to it with every fiber of my being.

However, if by whiskey you mean the lubricant of conversation, the philosophic juice, the elixir of life, the liquid that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer, the stimulating sip that puts a little spring in the step of an elderly gentleman on a frosty morning; if you mean that drink that enables man to magnify his joy, and to forget life's great tragedies and heartbreaks and sorrow; if you mean that drink the sale of which pours into Texas treasuries untold millions of dollars each year, that provides tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitifully aged and infirm, to build the finest highways, hospitals, universities, and community colleges in this nation, then my friend, I am absolutely, unequivocally in favor of it.

This is my position, and as always, I refuse to compromise on matters of principle."

British National Health Service is Great! Not.

Interesting piece in the London Telegraph.  Most of the Brits I know (and most especially those who have travelled in the U.S.) think the NHS stinks.  They do tend to like the idea of “free” healthcare, though – who wouldn't?  If only it were really free...