Monday, April 30, 2012

Can You Guess What This Is?

It's a table of the numbers from 1 to 100, with the prime factors for each.  Seriously!

Awesome math geekiosity.  Sondra Eklund rocks!

We're Back...

...sort of.  This has been a weekend to remember. 

On Friday evening, I started transferring my “stuff” from my old Macbook Pro laptop to my new Macbook Pro laptop.  My laptop is full of all the sorts of tools and daemons a developer needs, and this makes the transfer more complex.  Added to that, my old laptop's operating system was two versions older than that of my new laptop, and that indroduced other difficulties.  Even worse, my user's UID on my old laptop was different than my user's UID on the new laptop, and I didn't realize that until I was half done.  Oh, and did I mention that my old laptop had a half a terabyte of data on it?  Bottom line: while I'm using my new laptop right now, many things are still not working on it.  I've got some work to do today!

But it's not that I spent all weekend working on my computer.  I should be so lucky!  Nope, this was the weekend of the “great burn” – Debbie and I were committed to burning the rest of the giant burn pile that's been sitting in our front yard ever since we trimmed up our pines last year.  And we did it, with just a half hour to spare before the 3 pm deadline (the time at which we had to put out the burn pile, per our burn permit).  We even raked up all the innumerable twigs scattered about the yard, and burned them as well.  The big logs – a couple cubic yards worth – that we thought were going to be a disposal problem turned out to be no problem at all.  Our neighbors Wayne and Marissa were happy to take the pine logs, as they have a big open fireplace in which they'll burn just fine.  It was quite a nice feeling of accomplishment to get that intimidating task done...

Then last night, after finishing the burning, I repaired Debbie's “Easy-Up” – a kind of portable folding canopy.  There's a complex-looking mechanism that forms and expandable framework, involving many hollow metal bars with pivots at each end and the middle.  Two of the end pivots had worked loose and fallen out.  I manufactured replacements by getting one inch long 10-24 stainless steel bolts and jam nuts, then using a Dremel tool to grind a cavity in a molded plastic piece of just the right size and shape to hold the jam nut.  I felt like a dentist with his drill, making this teensy little cavity in my big plastic “tooth”.  In the end, the thing was better than new, as the original design didn't use jam nuts and the bolts could easily come undone.

Now this morning as I sit here typing this post, I'm sore all over – my muscles aren't used to this kind of workout!  I'm almost 60, and this morning I actually feel like I'm that old (most of the time I don't feel that way at all)...

Friday, April 27, 2012

It Takes One to Know One...

Via my mom:
Having already downed a few power drinks, she turns around, faces him, looks him straight in the eye and says, “Listen here good looking, I screw anybody, anytime, anywhere, your place, my place, in the car, front door, back door, on the ground, standing up, sitting down, naked or with clothes on, it doesn't matter to me. I just love it.”

Eyes now wide with interest, he responds, “No kidding. I'm a Congressman too. What district are you from?”

A Blooming Time-Lapse Show...

Via my mom:

A Bush League President...

That's Peggy Noonan's pun of a title for her latest column up at the WSJ...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Theodore Roosevelt Dodged the Bullet ... Sort Of...

This is a story I've read before, though in a much drier form.  It's a great example of the grit for which Roosevelt was justly famous...

The Most Expensive Single-Byte Mistake?

Poul Henning-Kamp makes a good case for it being the UNIX/C style NUL-terminated string...

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Two Skinny Lawyers...

An interesting comparison of Presidents Lincoln and Obama.  Via my mom:
For all of you who have made disparaging remarks about President
Obama, please read the following...

I'm sure most of us have read the so-called comparison of Lincoln and
Kennedy, but did you ever consider the relationship between Lincoln and Obama?

You might be surprised...

Parallels of Abraham Lincoln and Barack Hussein Obama:

1. Lincoln placed his hand on the Bible for his inauguration. Obama
used the same Bible.

2. Lincoln came from Illinois. Obama comes from Illinois.

3. Lincoln served in the Illinois Legislature. Obama served in the
Illinois Legislature.

4. Lincoln had very little experience before becoming President.
Obama had very little experience before becoming President.

5. Lincoln rode the train from Philadelphia to Washington for his
inauguration. Obama rode the train from Philadelphia to Washington
for his inauguration.

6. Lincoln was a skinny lawyer. Obama is a skinny lawyer.

7. Lincoln was a Republican. Obama is a skinny lawyer.

8. Lincoln was in the United States military. Obama is a skinny
lawyer.

9. Lincoln believed in everyone carrying their own weight. Obama is a
skinny lawyer.

10. Lincoln did not waste taxpayers' money on personal enjoyments.
Obama is a skinny lawyer.

11. Lincoln was highly respected. Obama is a skinny lawyer.

12. Lincoln was born in the United States. Obama is a skinny lawyer.

13. Lincoln was honest, so honest he was called Honest Abe. Obama is
a skinny lawyer.

14. Lincoln saved the United States. Obama is a skinny lawyer .

Amazing, isn't it?

Holy Herds of Cows, Batman!


Say Good Bye to the Family Farm...

The Obama administration is preparing to promulgate and enforce new rules that would prohibit children from doing many of the kinds of work that kids on family farms have been doing from time immemorial.  Depending on the specific kind of work, the age requirement is either 16 or 18. 

Under these new rules, many of the kinds of things that I did as a “child” on our family farm would now be prohibited.  For instance, I couldn't have used a mower, or a sprayer, or a tractor until I was 16.

The country I was born into – the country of hope and promise in the Eisenhower era – is disappearing before my eyes.

I sure hope we change course in November...

TSA Leads the Way...

Here's yet another story of TSA's security theater run amok, this one involving a four year old little girl.  The little girl's mother wrote this:
My daughter is very shaken up about this, and has been waking up with nightmares. What should have been a very minor, routine security check was turned into a horrific ordeal. All of this could easily have been prevented if the TSO involved had used a little bit of compassion and a smidgen of common sense. There is no reason for any child to go through this. And while I completely understand the necessity of tight airport security, I fail to see how harassing a small child will provide safety for anyone.
The little girl is having nightmares about her experience. The TSA insists their people acted appropriately:
TSA has recently implemented modified screening procedures of children 12 and under that will further reduce the need for a physical pat-down for children. These new screening procedures include permitting multiple passes through the metal detector and advanced imaging technology to clear any alarms as well as the greater use of explosives trace detection. These changes in protocol will ultimately reduce – though not eliminate – pat downs of children. In this case, however, the child had completed screening but had contact with another member of her family had not completed the screening process.
I'm reminded once again of the Harry Potter books in which Dolores Umbridge exhibits all the bureaucratic bullying behaviors that we see routinely in the TSA.  If there were a real Dolores Umbridge, there's little doubt that she would be applying for work in the TSA. 

As someone who travels fairly often through our airports, that's not a particularly comforting thought...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

You Know...

Via my lovely bride:
An elderly lady was walking on the golf course on the island of Martha's Vineyard. She slipped and fell.

Obama who was behind her by chance, helped her to get up promptly. She thanked him and he answered, “It was a pleasure to help you, ma'am. Don't you recognize me? I am your president. Are you going to vote for me in the next election?”

The elderly woman laughed and replied: “You know, I fell on my ass – not on my head!”

Psalm 2012...

Via my mom:
Psalm 2012

Obama is the shepherd I did not want.
He leadeth me beside all the still factories and banks.

He restoreth my faith in the Republican party.
He guideth me in the path of unemployment for his party's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the bread line,
I shall fear no hunger, for all his bailouts are with me.

He has Anointed my income with taxes,
My expenses runneth over.

Surely, poverty and hard living will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will live in a mortgaged home forever.

I'm glad … I am an American,
I am glad … that I am free!

But I wish … I was a dog,
And Obama … was a tree!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Say It Ain't So!

The Cutty Sark is storied Clipper ship, built in 1869.  She's a piece of history that you can touch, as she's been carefully preserved (though not without some ups and downs) all these years.

But in a tragic story of Hollywood-meets-history, the Cutty Sark is about to become a joke.  A bad joke:
In her years of cutting ribbons, Her Majesty has had to smile politely at many brave new mistakes. But few can compete with this clucking, Grade A, Bernard Matthews–class turkey. One of Britain's most precious maritime treasures now looks like it has run aground in a giant greenhouse.
Read the details here. I thought the English had more sense than this...

Flight From California...

Debbie and I will likely be amongst the droves of people leaving California – once the most coveted destination state of all.  This article does a good job of summarizing why so many have left California, and why so many more – like us – are considering doing so...

Awesome People...

Two videos showing incredible feats.  There are only a few in here that I would even consider...




Please Tell Me This Is A Hoax!


Not Your Ordinary Politician...



Found on the Intertubes...

No commentary required:


Profit is a Good Thing?

An educational video on the power of profit, with Professor Walter Williams presenting.  Perfect for the “progressive” ninnies you might know who are attracted to profit about as much as we're attracted to a steaming pile of vomit...

Global Warming in Oz...

The Australians are getting increasingly skeptical about global warming for some reason.  It might have something to do with the utterly failed predictions of the warmists.  For example, in 2005 they predicted that the reservoirs supply Sydney's water might be dry within two years.  The actuality?  Sydney's reservoirs are now at record levels, with more than two and a half times the water they had in 2005, and without enough remaining capacity to contain floods like they've experienced over the past three years.

Oops...

Steyn on the Secret Service Scandal...

As always, Mr. Steyn delivers a slightly different perspective with his trademark wit:
Cartagena’s most famous “escort” costs $800. For purposes of comparison, you can book Eliot Spitzer’s “escort” for $300. Yet, on the cold grey fiscally conservative morning after the wild socially liberal night before, Dania’s Secret Service agent offered her a mere $28.

Twenty-eight bucks! What a remarkably precise sum. Thirty dollars less a federal handling fee? Why isn’t this guy Obama’s treasury secretary or budget director? Or, at the very least, the head honcho of the General Services Administration, whose previous director has sadly had to step down after the agency’s taxpayer-funded public-servants-gone-wild Bacchanal in Vegas.

All over this dying republic, you couldn’t find a single solitary $28 item that doesn’t wind up costing at least 800 bucks by the time it’s been sluiced through the federal budgeting process. Yet, in one plucky little corner of the Secret Service, supervisor David Chaney, dog-handler Greg Stokes, or one of the other nine agents managed to turn the principles of government procurement on their head. If the same fiscal prudence were applied to the 2011 Obama budget, the $3.598 trillion splurge would have cost just shy of $126 billion. The feds’ half a billion to Solyndra would have been a mere $18 million. The 823-grand GSA conference on government efficiency at the M Resort Spa & Casino would have come in at $28,805.

Chaney-Stokes 2012! Grope . . . and Change! Red lights, not red ink.
Go read the whole thing...

A Window into the Entitlement Mindset...

If you'd like to peer into the mind of those who feel entitled, you'd be hard-pressed to find something better than this video of New York Times union members whining about proposed changes to their pension plan.  They're better than the rest of us, you see.  They're entitled to their defined benefit pensions, and business realities be damned.  These are the people who are trying to kill this country.  That's not, of course, how they would word it – but it certainly is how I would...

“If I Wanted America to Fail”...

This is an awesome piece, with a devastating punch line right at the end.  It would be wonderful if every American watched this just before heading to the polls this November:

Incarceration Rates...

I read an article the other day that mentioned an interesting factoid: the U.S. has a higher incarceration rate than any other country in the world.  I'd seen this before, but hadn't checked into it.  So yesterday, just poking around a bit, I did a little research and came up with this list of incarceration rates by country.

I find this simple list quite sobering.  The U.S. incarcerates (jails or imprisons) 730 people out of every 100,000; a rate of 0.73%.  By itself, that number doesn't really convey very much.  But consider this: Finland – a very modern society – incarcerates just 59 per 100,000 – twelve times fewer than the U.S., and Japan incarcerates even fewer.  Or this, from the other side of the spectrum: the repressive despots of Burma incarcerate just 120 per 100,000 – a sixth the U.S. rate.

Amongst the other countries with high incarceration rates (though none are particularly close to us): Russia, Rwanda, and Belarus.

I know that drug-related incarcerations account for a high fraction of our inmates: between half and two-thirds, depending on who's doing the estimating.  But our incarceration rate is so high that even if you removed two-thirds of them, we'd still be in the top 15% of all countries.

I don't really know what this means, other than that there's something about our society that is in fact quite different than the other countries we think of as our peers.  My long time readers will know that I favor legalization of drugs (I know, I'm a radical – but I have trouble seeing any actual value in the “war on drugs”).  But even with the effects of drug-related crime removed, there's still a very large difference that comes from other causes.  What those are, I haven't a clue.  It's clearly not as simple as our freedom to buy firearms, because other countries with liberal firearms laws have low incarceration rates.  Most likely there isn't any simple explanation. 

A look at U.S. incarceration rates over time (the graph at right) shows that our incarceration rates have been quite high at least since 1925.  With the onset of the war on drugs, the rates increased very quickly.

I'd like to learn more about the causes of our high incarceration rates, so I've started a search for reliable sources of information.  Drop me a line if you know of any, please...

A Clever Twist on the Prisoner's Dilemma...

There's a game show on British TV that's based on the Prisoner's Dilemma.  They've modified it very slightly, by allowing the two contestants to talk briefly with one another before they make their choice.  Here you can see one contestant make a very clever move to greatly enhance the chances of a good outcome...

A History of English, in 10 Minutes (more or less)...

Quite a Sunday...

Yesterday our burn permit and the weather finally came together – and we made a great start at taking care of our (giant) brush pile (the result of our pine trimming project of last summer).  We burned more than half of it yesterday, using our little Kubota tractor to move piles of brush to near the burn site, and then the chainsaw and muscles to get the brush onto the pile.  The wood is very dry, so it burned hot and nearly smokeless, giving off huge amounts of heat.  By early afternoon, we could do no more – time to put the fire out, and clean ourselves up.

Then we went out to dinner at Descanso Junction, and had ourselves a fine meal.  They've recently added a new entree to their menu: pork “steaks”, wrapped in bacon, and topped with gorganzola crumbles.  Last night they served that up with homemade chicken noodle soup and sauteed baby spinach.  Oh, my.  That was so good...

After dinner we decided to head up to the Stonewall Mine Road in Cuyamaca State Park.  It's a short drive from Descanso, and we'd seen large numbers of deer there recently.  The deer population has been greatly depressed ever since the 2007 fires, but they're finally coming back in numbers.  Last night's viewing was the best we've ever had in the park.  We spent a delighted hour watching a herd of more than 30 animals grazing in the large meadow just south of Stonewall Mine.  There is more genetic variation in that herd than we're used to seeing; we suspect that the deer have been brought in from various other places to re-establish the herd.  There were very few deer around last year, so it's hard to imagine how the herd could have grown so fast over the winter without outside help.  Toward the end of our time there, the entire herd was within a couple hundred feet of the road.  We drove very slowly right through the herd, deer on both sides of us, some within 50 feet of the car.  They don't seem to be scared of the cars, but they're very skittish when people are walking.

A very satisfying Sunday for us: a hard day's work, followed by a spectacular dinner, followed by a beautiful evening of wildlife watching.  Woo hoo!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Purple Crabs...

New fresh-water crab species
When I first saw this photo, I thought it was some kind of an April Fool's joke.  But apparently it is completely on the level – this is one of four new crab species recently discoverred in the Philippines...

Ice-Chewing Robot for Europa...

Inventor Bill Stone is building a robot specifically designed for the task of drilling through the ice “crust” of the Saturnian moon Europa.  It involves 5,000 watt lasers and fiber optics.  Awesome!

Flowing Martian Sand Dunes...

From APOD, of course:


Non-Union Workers Enslave Unions!

Indiana employers are being sued on the grounds that they're enslaving unions by hiring non-union workers.  From an article at the Daily Caller:
The new lawsuit suggests that when nonunion employees earn higher salaries and better benefits because of the union’s negotiation on behalf of its members, the union has been forced to work for those nonunion employees for free.

And being forced to work without compensation, the union suggested in its revised lawsuit, is slavery.
Strictly from the perspective of an observer of creative litigation, this is absolutely awesome.  Should it succeed, it would throw open the door for more creative lawsuits.  For example, I might consider suing my employer for enslavement – they're “forcing” me to spend unpaid hours on the road for my commute, because I live so far from my employer's offices.  Clearly they should either pay me for those hours of commute, or count them as work hours.  Slavers!

But from just about any other perspective (aside from the slavering socialists, anyway), this is more demonstration of the decay of legitimate purpose for labor unions (as if we really needed any!).  I'm not in favor of outlawing unions, or anything nearly so radical – despite these ludicrous excesses, they do occasionally have a legitimate purpose in the U.S.  But I would be in favor of some carefully-crafted limits on their power and reach – most especially for the public sector unions, who in places like California (at the state level) and San Diego (at the city level) virtually “own” our local governments...

Rattlesnake Season is Here...

A couple days ago, my neighbor Wayne told me that he'd seen a baby rattlesnake in his yard.  Yesterday, while mowing in our back yard, I saw three: one adult and two babies under a foot long (I transported them all to a lovely new home in Cleveland National Forest).  Then this morning I read this harrowing story of two parents trying to get care for their two-year old child who had been bitten by an adult rattler in Deerhorn Valley (just a couple miles south of Lawson Valley, where I live).  No word on the child's condition, other than that he or she is checked into Rady.

So it's that time of year, folks.  Watch your kids and your pets...

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Friday, April 20, 2012

Oldie-But-Goodie...

Via my mom:
Heaven or Hell?

While walking down the street one day a Corrupt Senator (that may be redundant) was hit by a bus and died. His soul arrives in heaven and is met by St. Peter at the entrance.

"Welcome to heaven," says St. Peter. "Before you settle in, it seems there is a problem. We seldom see a high official around these parts, you see, so we're not sure what to do with you."

"No problem, just let me in," says the Senator.

"Well, I'd like to, but I have orders from the higher ups. What we'll do is have you spend one day in hell and one in heaven. Then you can choose where to spend eternity."

"Really?, I've made up my mind. I want to be in heaven," says the Senator.

"I'm sorry, but we have our rules."

And with that, St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to hell. The doors open and he finds himself in the middle of a green golf course. In the distance is a clubhouse and standing in front of it are all his friends and other politicians who had worked with him. Everyone is very happy and in evening dress. They run to greet him, shake his hand, and reminisce about the good times they had while getting rich at the expense of the people. They played a friendly game of golf and then dine on lobster, caviar and the finest champagne. Also present is the devil, who really is a very friendly guy who is having a good time dancing and telling jokes. They are all having such a good time that before the Senator realizes it, it is time to go. Everyone gives him a hearty farewell and waves while the elevator rises.

The elevator goes up, up, up and the door reopens in heaven where St. Peter is waiting for him, saying "Now it's time to visit heaven...”

So, 24 hours passed with the Senator joining a group of contented souls moving from cloud to cloud, playing the harp and singing. They have a good time and, before he realizes it, the 24 hours have gone by and St. Peter returns.

"Well, then, you've spent a day in hell and another in heaven. Now choose your eternity."

The Senator reflects for a minute, then he answers: "Well, I would never have said it before, I mean heaven has been delightful, but I think I would be better off in hell."

So St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to hell...

Now the doors of the elevator open and he's in the middle of a barren land covered with waste and garbage. He sees all his friends, dressed in rags, picking up the trash and putting it in black bags as more trash falls to the ground. The devil comes over to him and puts his arm around his shoulders.

"I don't understand," stammers the Senator. "Yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and clubhouse, and we ate lobster and caviar, drank champagne, and danced and had a great time. Now there's just a wasteland full of garbage and my friends look miserable. What happened?"

The devil smiles at him and says, "Yesterday we were campaigning. Today, you voted..."
Remember this when you vote in November!

Spirea henryi...

Spirea henryi, or 翠蓝绣线菊, is a Chinese shrub that grows at altitudes of 4,000 to 10,000 feet. Photo courtesy of Botany Photo of the Day.



Creative Litigation of the Day...

From Austalia: Worker injured during sex gets compensation payout.

How Can They Be So Stupid?

Or is it that they think we're so stupid?  Maybe it's both...

The first amendment of the U.S. Constitution says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
That's the whole thing. It's simple, straightforward, and is one of the most important freedoms we have as Americans. The first amendment gives us a right that is surprisingly rare in this world, though most Americans don't realize it. 

The first amendment was ratified as part of the “Bill of Rights” (the first ten amendments), on December 15, 1791 – some 220 years ago.  In all that time, nobody has ever seen the need to modify it.  It does its job quite admirably.

But now the Democrats (led by the harridan-in-chief Nancy Pelosi) want to change it.  In particular, they want to remove this freedom from corporations.  I suspect that their internal noodlings are that corporations, being businesses, are more likely to lean right – so shutting them up would be advantageous for Democrats. 

This is a very dangerous step down the slippery slope.  You can bet on this: if they managed to amend the Constitution for reduce our freedom of speech for this reason, they'll keep trying to impose more restrictions.  But slippery slope aside, this is dangerous for another reason.  The law considers a corporation to be a person in a legal sense, and with very good reason: a corporation is nothing more than a collection of people (the shareholders).  Restricting freedom of speech for a corporation is exactly the same thing as restricting the speech of a group of people.  The argument is sometimes made that corporations are comprised of people who aren't necessarily Americans, and that's true.  But it's also true that foreigners in America have freedom of speech here.  So why would we treat them any differently simply because they're part of a group?

Thankfully, there's very little chance that Pelosi's amendment would ever be ratified.  The Founding Fathers made amending the Constitution very, very hard for a reason – and this is an excellent demonstration of that reason.  Their best hope to accomplish something like this is to pack the Supreme Court with allies – one of the main dangers of allowing Obama to stay in power.

Remember all this when you vote in November!

Mystery Solved!

This is actually old news, but the Planetary Society's blog has a nice post with some new details.  The original mystery was that Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 were slowing down a tiny bit more than any known source could account for.  In a feat of data recovery and scientific analysis (paid for the by Planetary Society), Slava Turyshev and his colleagues figured out why: the nuclear power source (RGT) on board differentially radiated toward the direction of flight – acting like a teensy, tiny retro-rocket.  A very nice piece of scientific detective work, and an equally nice confirmation of radiation-induced acceleration...

Crisis of Character...

From Peggy Noonan's column today:
The reason the story is news, and actually upsetting, is not that a government agency wasted money. That is not news. The reason it's news is that the people involved thought what they were doing was funny, and appropriate. In the past, bureaucratic misuse of taxpayer money was quiet. You needed investigators to find it, trace it, expose it. Now it's a big public joke. They held an awards show. They sang songs about the perks of a government job: "Brand new computer and underground parking and a corner office. . . . Love to the taxpayer. . . . I'll never be under OIG investigation." At the show, the singer was made Commissioner for a Day. "The hotel would like to talk to you about paying for the party that was held in the commissioner's suite last night" the emcee said. It got a big laugh.
Read the whole thing...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Giant Ant Colony, Revealed...

Via Simon M., this fascinating look at a giant ant colony' structure:

Audiophile 24 bit DAC ... Open Source!

A DAC for reproducing digital music, designed to plug into a PC's USB port, with specs and listener reviews that match the very best products on the market – for around $100 (instead of around $10,000).  This nicely complements the already available open source amplifier.  Awesome stuff!

Man Bites Dog...

I've been ignoring the currently hot meme about Obama having eaten dog meat when he was a child.  It's just silly to hold him culpable for what the adults around him provided for him to eat as a child.  But after the Obama campaign's hammering of Romney for strapping their pet dog to the roof of their car, it's quite funny.  James Taranto has the whole story, plus a small collection of “Obama ate the dog” one-liners:
#ObamaDogRecipes: Yorkshire terrier pudding, mutt chop, Pekingese duck, bichon frisee salad, beagle with cream cheese, pure bread.

"So, Mr. President, where shall we go to eat?" "I know a great Spot."

If you want a friend in Washington, don't eat him (credit to Jim Geraghty).
Happiness is a warm puppy, with a side of fries.

Obama's favorite fast-food joint? Checkers (Patrick Daly).

I wouldn't vote for that guy for dogcatcher.

Did you hear about the insomniac polyphagiac president? He lies awake at night wondering if there is a dog.

Don't Try This at Home!


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Godafoss, Iceland...

From National Geographic, the photo of the month (click to enlarge).  I'd love to see this in person...

Once again I am gobsmacked by both the technical skill and the artistry of National Geographic's photographers.  I can only dream of taking a photograph like this; those folks actually do it...

A Next Big Thing?

OpenFlow just got an absolutely enormous (and convincing) endorsement...

Quote of the Day...

From Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle:
I don't know.
So sayeth “the Larry”, in response to this question: “Is the Java programming langauge free?”

Oh, my...

Portraits of Our Sun...

A fantastic collection of astrophotos of our sun, by Alan Friedman.  Much, much more at his blog, Averted Imagination.

Dad Comes Home...

A very surprised kid:



Some great photos here...

Health “Insurance”...

Warren Meyer at CoyoteBlog weighs in on one of my pet frustrations:
In a reasonably sane world, and in all other contexts outside of health care, insurance is obtained at relatively low prices to cover only catastrophic events that would be potentially bankrupting. Car insurance does not cover oil changes and home insurance does not cover oven repairs. So why is it that Drum is arguing that we should ban insurance policies that only cover catastrophic losses and not routine costs? After all, the second sentence in the first paragraph from the LA Times sure seems to define exactly what insurance should be (and is similar to my personal policy, which has a high deductible attached to a health savings account).
Some of us are old enough to remember when health insurance was sold exactly like this in the U.S.  You bought a “major medical” policy to insure you against the catastrophic expenses, and the rest of the health care costs were out-of-pocket.  The currently conventional notion of healthcare “insurance” isn't actually insurance at all – instead, it's a bubble of socialism living inside our nominally capitalist society (I say nominally because we've managed to regulate capitalism into something that's a hybrid between capitalism and socialism, and highly variable across various market segments).

It's fascinating to think about how our current form of healthcare “insurance” distorts consumer behavior.  Consider this scenario.  Imagine that you were working out in your yard, and in some accident you got a 2 inch long gash in your arm.  It's bleeding, and it hurts, but it's obviously not life-threatening.

First scenario: you have healthcare insurance through your employer, as most Americans today do.  Without even thinking about it, most people will call their general practitioner to make an appointment, or go to an urgent care facility.  Cost to you: perhaps a $10 “co-pay”.  Cost to the insurance company: $500 to $1,000, depending on exactly where you went and what services were rendered.  Who pays that cost?  You do, in the end: your employer is paying directly, but your employer's cost is money that would have been in your salary if your employer didn't have this expense.  Even if you don't believe that (though it's easy to prove), you'll pay for it anyway: your employer, like all employers, will recover this cost through increased prices for goods and services – which we all pay.  Obamacare is an extreme version of this scenario.

Second scenario: you have a major medical policy (which this injury isn't covered by), and otherwise you're on your own for major medical expenses.  You will think hard about how to handle this, and you'll make a considered choice: either you'll go to the doctor or urgent care (and pay that expense out-of-pocket), or you'll go to the pharmacy and get yourself a supply of butterfly bandages, or some glue (which is likely what the doctor would use), and some topical antibiotics.  I know what I would do: I'd wash the wound carefully (it's really not that hard, folks), dry it, hold the edges together, apply some glue, perhaps slap a protective bandage over it, and I'd keep mowing the yard.  My expenses would be a few dollars at most.  The most important element: I'd be thinking like a consumer, and adjusting my purchases to match what I'm willing to pay.  That's the element that's missing with today's healthcare “insurance”, and it's distorting the consumption of healthcare in a way that drastically drives up its cost...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Oracle v. Google...

Reading this brought back lots of memories, of the Stac v. Microsoft case in the early '90s, in which I was a participant...

Dragon Cleared for Launch...

The SpaceX Dragon space craft has been cleared for launch, tentatively scheduled for April 30th.  This is a private space venture (which I support), but publicly funded as a resupply mission to the ISS (space station) – which I do not support.  What I'd really like to see is open commercial competition for NASA's robotic explorers.  Several private space companies are clamoring for exactly that, but the NASA bureaucracy is furiously resisting, of course.

We're doomed to the government we elect...

Engaging the Mathematical Mind...

I've posted before about the way in which doing math by slide rule forces one to estimate the answer before “reading” it from the slide rule.  You can't get an answer from the slide rule without actually understanding the math in the problem you're trying to solve.  Calculators eliminate that requirement, to my regret – and, I think, to the detriment of our young folks learning how to apply math to the real world.

Here's a calculator that changes that, in an interesting way: it won't give you the answer until you've supplied an acceptable estimate.  That is exactly how it works with a slide rule.  As I read the description of the QAMA calculators, it occurred to me that there's an even simpler way to make a calculator that “behaves” like a slide rule: simply disable the decimal point display!  Such a calculator, if you were to (say) divide 1 by 7, might display 142857143 – and it would be up to you to figure out where the decimal point belonged.  When I divide 1 by 7 on the slide rule at my desk, I read off the answer as 143 – the same answer as the decimal-less calculator, but to less precision.  In both cases, I'd have to estimate the answer in my head to figure out that the decimal place was before the first “1” (the correct answer is 0.143, to three decimal places).

I don't suppose I'd actually be able to talk people into disabling the decimal display :-)

Music Matters...


Explosion on the Sun...

Solar Explosion
Yesterday there was a huge explosion on the sun, visible from Earth along the rim of the solar disk.  The image at right (of 304 angstrom luminosity) was captured by the Goddard Space Flight Center on a solar telescope (I'm not sure which one).  There's a movie of it here.  The SpaceWeather site has a little more on it, including links to other imagery, and another movie in ultraviolet wavelengths.

Monday, April 16, 2012

UT on the Jamul Casino...

In yesterday's Union-Tribune, there was an article talking about the pros and cons of situating casinos in San Diego's backcountry.  The proposed Jamul Casino was mentioned:
Jamul is not unique. The debate playing out in the backcountry town has consumed rural communities throughout the state since voters approved Nevada-style slot machines on California reservations in 2000. San Diego County has more Indian reservations, more casinos and more tribes with state gambling agreements than any other in the nation.

While tribes point to the casinos’ economic benefits to the community, many residents bemoan the change to their rural lifestyle.

A drive into Dehesa Valley east of El Cajon illustrates just how a community can be affected. There, the Sycuan band of the Kumeyaay Nation has built an economic juggernaut fueled by a sprawling casino with 2,000 slots, an expansive bingo hall and 40 tables of blackjack, craps and roulette, along with what it bills as the county’s largest poker room.
Read the whole thing...

The King of Photoshopping...

Erik Johansson is a photographer and retouch artist working out of Berlin, Germany.  He's made a name for himself through his remarkable “photoshops”, like the one at right (click to enlarge).

Here's a portfolio of his work, and here's a TED talk he gave last November in London.  He's got an amazing eye for what would make an interesting photoshop, and an equally amazing talent for actually executing the idea.  Great stuff!

Software Disclosure...

In the ongoing debates about anthropogenic global warming, one of the recurring issues is that the scientists who analyzed the proxy temperature data (tree rings, dissolved gasses in glacier ice, etc.) did so using software to “correct” the data – but they've never disclosed the software itself, so nobody can either verify or replicate their results.  Furthermore, different datasets cannot be independently subjected to the same “corrections”.

As yet, there is no norm or convention in most areas of science that requires scientists to release this code.  In the case of climatology, when some code has been disclosed (generally involuntarily), one can infer a reason why the scientists held the code close to their chests: it's embarrassingly bad, and full of very evident errors.

This situation needs to change.  Scientific norms and conventions need to catch up with the computer age.  Scientific American has weighed in with a similar opinion.  I canceled my subscription a few years ago when I got fed up with their fawning AGW coverage.  I'm amused (but not surprised) to that in this article they cover the problems caused by undisclosed computer software – but manage to miss mentioning one of the most obvious problem areas, in climatology...

Ice: the Multi-Phasic Solid...

Plain old water ice is far more complex than you might think.  Click the figure at right for a phase diagram (of pressure vs. temperature) for that most familiar of substances...

Lost, then Found...

And this is just plain amazing!

The Fake 9/11 Survivor...

This is just plain weird!

Dogly Adventure...

Took the dogs out (all four of them) as usual this morning.  It's a dark and clear night, moonless, with the Milky Way arcing from the north to the southeast.  We went through the usual ritual at the door – all four of them clamoring to get outside, me trying to get the leashes on the three brown dogs while they're wiggling and cavorting.  Race goes out naked – we sort of gave up on leashing him, as he's too darned hard to control with all that rocket-like energy.

All of this was completely normal.  However, once we got outside things changed.  Well, at least for the three field spaniels: they went on full alert.  Everything about their body language said “I'm really interested in this!”  Of course, I had no idea what “this” was – could have been anything at all!

I walked the group down our driveway, alongside the line of pine trees we have planted there.  As we got closer to the end of the pine trees, the brown dogs started acting very interested in the trunk of the last pine tree.  Race was off chasing pine cones, as usual; he was paying absolutely no attention to whatever it was that had the three brown dogs riveted.  I walked (really, the three brown dogs dragged me) toward that last pine, when suddenly a shape detached itself from the pine tree's trunk and scooted just as fast as it could go down our driveway and out the gate.  It was a fox; the silhouette of its tail and head a dead giveaway.  The three brown dogs never made a sound, but they sure wanted to chase it – they dragged me 10 or 15 feet down the driveway before I managed to regain control. 

Race chased his pine cone.  I don't believe he ever smelled or saw that fox...

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Selasphorus rufus

Selasphorus rufus
Selasphorus rufus
Selasphorus rufus, aka the Rufous Hummingbird, is a migratory visitor to us each spring.  Occasionally individuals will stay into the summer, but usually they're gone by early May.  They're a little smaller than most of our hummers, but quite aggressive.

This morning I saw the first one this year, an adult male in full breeding plumage, chasing all the other hummers off the four feeders we have up.

The photo at right is not mine, but it's practically identical to the fellow I saw this morning.  Gorgeous, isn't he?

More on the Manzanita...

Larry E. writes after reading my post about the $200G manzanita transplantation:
A little follow up to our Manzanita story.

Part of the problem with this event is that it presupposes that somehow this is "The Best Time in History" (tm) (I swear I'm gonna trademark that someday). Somehow the species that are here now, are optimal, that the temperature now, is optimal, the sea levels are optimal, that somehow NOW is a better than all the times in the past or any potential future. That if a species goes extinct NOW, it is somehow more important than all the species that came before might come into existence.

The reality is that this NOW is a tiny, tiny blip in the history of the life on earth, the planet, the universe, or even just human history. Far more species have gone extinct than exist. Extinction is a normal, natural occurrence and if the Manzanita goes "extinct in the wild" whatever that really means, something else more suitable will eventually fill that ecological nitch. This give and take in nature has done quite nicely over the history of the earth.

While I applaud efforts to collect, study and even store plants and seeds etc. for future reference, attempting to preserve every existing species in the wild is at best misguided and at worse driven by financial gain. Pointing at the impact of humans as if somehow human existence is not also natural and instead, unlike all other species on the planet, represents a scourge, seems a bizarre exercise in self-loathing by groups of people that like all of the rest of us fly airplanes, drive cars, live in houses, but apparently feel terribly guilty about their own personal existence or are being used by those that seek financial gain.

In terms of planetary impact, the difference between humans and other species is that we alone are able to recognize and analyze our behavior and make conscious adjustments. Where the field mouse population will reproduce and feed and grow until it consumes all of the available resources, until it the population is checked by starvation, felled disease or predation; humans alone make deliberate adjustments. Creating laws to clean up rivers, protecting vast areas of land, treating their own waste products. Packing out our own waste from wilderness areas is the rule for humans, where the field mouse leaves its feces everywhere. Replanting forests where tree killing beetles won't stop until the last tree is gone. Locusts will destroy anything edible before they move on.

Lets stop with the self-loathing and instead start celebrating ourselves and our accomplishments.
I certainly agree with Larry's main point: that it's crazy to think of this moment in planetary history as somehow representing an ideal that must not change.  This is a logical fallacy (a mistake in thinking process) that many observers have noted, but it persists.  Most people have little sense or knowledge even of human history, much less the much broader palette of planetary history.

I suspect I would depart from Larry a bit when it comes to conservation: when it's clear that mankind's activities are needlessly imperiling a species, and when the mitigation can be done for a reasonable cost, I'm all for species preservation.  For example, many plant and animal species on Hawai'i are endangered for no reason other than mankind's meddling, and they can be preserved at a cost I believe is reasonable (thought others might disagree).  On the other hand, preserving a desert lizard subspecies (that wasn't even a subspecies until environmentalists identified that as a tactic) at a cost of forbiding all development in the Anza Borrego desert – that's a questionable cause with an unreasonable price tag.

In other words, I'd like to see some balance in these decisions.  How useful or beautiful or genetically important is the species in question?  Is it actually a genetically distinct species, with important differences from its nearest relative?  How much would it cost (either in direct cost, or indirect costs of missed development opportunities) to preserve the species?  This calls for an informed judgement call – something that bureaucrats in general and politicians in particular are horribly bad at.  A structure much like a court, with appointed judges, would, I suspect, be the most likely human organization to make those judgements wisely.  A Supreme Conservation Court, if you will...

The Founding Document...

...of the World Wide Web.  This is the full text, with accompanying diagrams, of Tim Berners-Lee's original proposal to CERN, in March 1989.  This proposal led directly to the development of HTTP servers and web browsers, which in turn (because they were so intuitive and easy for mere mortals to use) ushered in the Internet world we live in today.  A fascinating read for anyone interested in the history of technology...

A “Changer”...

Ann McElhinney was a self-described typical European Liberal, with all the baggage that connotes – until she had a life-changing experience.  Here Ann describes that experience, and much more:

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Move a Bush? That'll be 200 Gs, Please...

Reader Larry E. passes along this story about $205,075 of stimulus money being used to transplant a manzanita bush.  He comments:
Well, here is our fine government at work. Hundreds of thousands to move and "nurture" a single plant. Paying people 10s of thousands to monitor it?? REALLY?? There sure are a lot of environmental groups making tons of money off this kind of thing. No wonder they run around trying to "protect" every species of plant and animal. They have a financial interest in seeing things classified as endangered or protected etc.
I've seen references before to this sort of bonanza for environmentalist groups (a key Obama/Democratic Party constituency).  What I haven't seen, though, is a rigorous accounting of such shenanigans.  I'll call it an unproven likelihood for now.

I dug a bit into the subject of the article Larry sent along, mainly because (as my long time readers will already know) I'm quite partial to manzanitas in general.  My yard is chock full of them, with beautiful specimens of all four of our local species.

The manzanita in question is Arctostaphylos hookeri franciscana, a subspecies of Arctostaphylos hookeriIt is readily available from commercial nurseries in several horticultural varieties, and is a commonly used landscaping plant in California.  It's also a denizen of a long roster of botanical gardens.  It is not “extinct” as most of us understand that word, as many thousands of individual plants are alive and well.  However, it is “extinct in the wild”, meaning that there are no known naturally occurring specimens.

Or at least there weren't until 2009:
Native San Francisco manzanita bush believed to be extinct in the wild for more than 60 years has been discovered in the Presidio surrounded by concrete and highway traffic.

The wild specimen of Franciscan manzanita was found by a San Francisco biologist who noticed the flowering plant as he was driving in his car.

News of the discovery was like a jolt of fertilizer for local botanists, who see it as an important opportunity to reintroduce to the local ecosystem a long lost part of the city's natural history.

"It's like the unicorn of San Francisco," said Daniel Gluesenkamp, who was returning home from a climate change conference in Sonoma on Oct. 16 when he spotted the plant after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.

"It's a rare second chance to do it right this time ... to relink the chain of life that we broke," said Gluesenkamp, the director of habitat restoration at Audubon Canyon Ranch.

The ground-hugging shrub, uniquely adapted to San Francisco's natural sand dunes, wind and fog, has not been seen growing in the wild since 1947. That's when the last known patch was bulldozed at the old Laurel Hill Cemetery, which was paved over for homes and businesses.

Just before the bulldozers rumbled through, local botanist James Roof saved two specimens, which have been kept alive at Berkeley's Tilden Botanical Garden.

The plant, Arctostaphylos franciscana, has been reproduced and is sometimes sold as an ornamental plant, but experts consider the nursery variety to be a hybrid genetically unsuitable for reintroduction into the wild, as different from the original species as a German shepherd is to a wolf.
Well, that's a bit different, isn't it?  Maybe.  The assertion is that the commercial varieties are genetic hybrids, and “unsuitable for reintroduction”.  I didn't find any other support for that assertion anywhere, though in general the scientific papers that would support it aren't openly published on the web (dang it!).  So I just don't know if there really is an objective, science-based reason for extreme preservation measures for the individual plant discovered.

But even if there were such reasons, the price tag for transplantation (or “translocation” as the scientists called it) seems rather large.  Were there alternatives?  Well, of course there were.  At the very least, cloning the plant would have been very inexpensive – cloning a woody plant is generally quite easy, and has been a common practice for well over a century, by taking “cuttings” and rooting them.  And taking cuttings is the standard procedure for propagating manzanitas.  For a few hundred dollars, the scientists could have had hundreds of plants that were genetically identical to the individual plant in question (and I'm willing to bet that already they've done this along with moving the mother plant).  So the scientific justification – preserving the genome – could have been satisfied for much less money.  Any remaining reasons are, I think, totally sentimental.  And that's rather a lot of my tax dollars to spend for such sentiment...

The conservative blogosphere seems to have gone a little crazy over this story.  A google search found hundreds of hits, most in that world, and generally reacting much as Larry did.  However, I did find some mentions in the left-leaning blogsphere, and they were all rather negative about it as well.  It seems that the “optics” of this look bad to just about everybody...

Update:

Ah, I just found another reference (PDF) – possibly the original source for this story.  An excerpt:
FREY, M.*1 and CHASSE, M.2
1Presidio Trust, 34 Graham Street., San Francisco, CA 94129
2National Park Service, Fort Mason, Building 201, San Francisco, CA 94123

Saving the Franciscan Manzanita – a Plant Extinct in the Wild

In October 2009, the exciting discovery of an individual plant of Arctostaphylos franciscana (Franciscan manzanita) was made in the Doyle Drive corridor of the San Francisco Presidio. This discovery was significant because the Franciscan manzanita has been considered extinct in the wild for over sixty years. This discovery created the opportunity to bring Arctostaphylos franciscana back into the wild as a viable, reproducing, and self-sustaining species. Construction for the highway in the area of discovery was scheduled to begin in January 2010 leaving only twelve weeks to save the plant without delaying construction. Representatives from the Presidio Trust, the National Park Service, CalTrans, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game, and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy (five government agencies and one non-profit) all met and drafted a plan to save the plant. The plan had three primary objectives; first, to preserve for posterity the individual (mother plant) discovered in October 2009; second, to allow for the establishment of offspring from the mother plant (clones from rooted cuttings and rooted layers, as well as plants raised from seedlings) both in the wild through reintroduction and ecological restoration and through ex situ preservation of the mother plant offspring in botanical gardens and special nursery environments so that it can serve as an on-going source of genetic material for this purpose; and third, to propagate other known genotypes of the Franciscan manzanita so that at least three wild, self-sustaining populations of the Franciscan manzanita can be established utilizing this diversity of genotypes to promote the long term viability of this species in the wild. Generally, biodiversity conservation strives to protect rare species in situ, that is, in historic wild locations whenever possible. Following this principle, the ideal approach would be to preserve the mother plant in its current location. However, because retention at the discovery location was deemed infeasible because of undue risks associated with that location, the mother plant was translocated to an environmentally appropriate location within the Presidio. Between the discovery and construction in the area seeds, cuttings, and the plant itself were all salvaged. On January 23rd the 10-ton mother plant (with root ball) was moved to a new home in the Presidio.
This confirms a couple of things I guessed at earlier.  Note that the authors are from the Presido Trust and the National Park Service – both organizations are tightly aligned with the environmentalist movement (in fact, they're often accused of being “infected” with environmentalists in need of subsidies).  It's safe to assume that both of them are at least empathetic to the environmentalist mindset, and it's quite likely that they both are active environmentalists (in the modern, politicized sense of that word).  This is basically confirmed by what they state is their first objective in saving this specimen: “to preserve for posterity the individual (mother plant)”.  That is precisely the sentimentalist motive I mentioned earlier.  Their second objective is cloning, and their third is reintroduction.  Their first objective I reject as something that should be funded with my tax dollars (but if private individuals wanted to spend their money on it, I'd be glad to see it); the second and third objectives I would gladly see my tax dollars spent on.

Quote of the Day...

It's my blog; I can have two quotes of the day!  This one is from Mark Steyn:
Sometimes societies become too stupid to survive. A nation that takes Barack Obama's current rhetorical flourishes seriously is certainly well advanced along that dismal path. The current federal debt burden works out at about $140,000 per federal taxpayer, and President Obama is proposing to increase both debt and taxes.
Just last night I finished reading a rather awful book.  It's plot had the world making a sequence of incredibly stupid decisions until the hero came along and saved the world through sheer force of personality and intelligence.  After finishing the book (and vowing never again to read anything written by the author), I thought to myself that initially the plot was quite believable.  That is, the part where the world (society) was making a series of incredibly stupid decisions.  It became unbelievable only when the hero happened along.  

Reading Mark Steyn's piece this morning, I realized I was reading essentially the same plot.  Except, of course, Mr. Steyn's prose was ever so much more enjoyable than the book's...

Kip Hawley on Fixing Airport Security...

Kip Hawley was the head of the TSA for over three years, just before Obama took office.  He has a piece in today's Wall Street Journal in which he makes some surprising recommendations.  Among them: no more banned items (including liquids)...

Quote of the Day...

From an interview with Roger Scruton in the Wall Street Journal:
Many of the people who brand themselves as climatologists are not in the first rank of scientific minds, you know? I'm not really entitled to say that. But you do have a sense that these are guys who are not particularly good at mathematical modeling, they're not particularly good at computer science, they're not particularly good at physics, not particularly good at chemistry, but who put all those together . . . [and] become an 'expert.'
The interview is wide-ranging and quite interesting for more reasons than just the quote above.  Read the whole thing...

Doolittle Raid Survivors...

The Washington Times has video of some of the five survivors...

Friday, April 13, 2012

Your Morning Smile...

This is completely cool...


Daily Governor Awesome...


There's a Tax for That...

Remember this when you vote in November:

The Doolittle Raid...

April 18th, just a few days from now, is the 70th anniversary of Jimmy Doolittle's raid on Tokyo, in carrier-launched B-25 bombers.  This raid was a turning point in the war from the American perspective – the first time we hit back at the Japanese after their attack on Pearl Harbor and other Pacific targets.  The story of this raid is an incredible story of derring-do and ingenuity. 

This morning I was very surprised to read that five of the aviators on Doolittle's raid are still alive.  It's amazing that any of them survived the mission at all.  Many of the survivors had harrowing experiences after the raid: crash landings, shoot-downs, being taken prisoner, escaping through Japanese-held territory, grievous injuries.  Somehow I never expected that any of them would live into their 90s, but a few of them have.

The story of this raid was captured in a then-famous book (and subsequent movie) called Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, written by Captain Ted Lawson (one of the participants in the raid).  My parents had a copy of that book, and it happens to be the first first-person historical account I ever read.  It kindled a lifelong interest in reading history, and to this day especially of World War II...

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Little Drama, Please...

Start with a quiet little square in Belgium, a place where nothing really happens.  Then add a little drama...

Greatest Closing Paragraph Evah?

Scientific papers are not generally noted for their literary qualities (or even for their readability!).  So to see a such a science paper end like this is quite unusual:
An 
implication
 from
 this 
work 
is 
that 
elsewhere 
in
 the 
universe
 there 
could 
be 
life
 forms 
based 
on 
D 
amino
 acids 
and 
L
 sugars, 
depending 
on
 the 
chirality 
of 
circular
 polarized
 light 
in 
that 
sector 
of 
the 
universe or 
whatever 
other
 process 
operated 
to
 favor
 the 
L
α‐methyl 
amino acids 
in 
the 
meteorites 
that 
have 
landed 
on Earth.

 Such
 life
 forms
 could
 well
 be
 advanced
 versions
 of
 dinosaurs,
 if
 mammals
 did
 not
 have the
 good 
fortune
 to 
have 
the 
dinosaurs 
wiped
 out 
by 
an 
asteroidal 
collision, 
as 
on
 Earth. 

We 
would 
be 
better 
off 
not 
meeting 
them.
Via io9, where you can read more about it...

Pot Pie Night...

Wednesday night is “pot pie night” at the Descanso Junction Restaurant, and we were there last night.  At right is the chicken pot pie they served up for me: crosshatch puff pastry over a dish of curried chicken with just the right mix of chicken, sauce, and vegetables. 

For close to ten years now, the Descanso Junction Restaurant has been our favorite place to eat out.  We love the food, the generous portions, and the wonderful cast of characters who make us feel right at home there.  And they just keep getting better and better!

A Refreshing “Terms of Service”...

It's not often that your reaction to reading a legal document is “Hey, that was pleasant!”  Check out the right-hand column in the linked terms of service for the site 500px...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Cat's Paw...

Ptilotus spathulatus, aka “cat's paw” or ”pussytails”.  I saw this while in Australia, back in the '70s.  They feel just like they look like they'd feel.  I had no idea what it was, but I sure enjoyed it.  As always, click to enlarge.  Via BPOD...


Race: His First Competition...

This past weekend Debbie ran both Miki and Race in an agility competition.  This was Race's very first such competition.  In the video below you can see Race make some “newbie” errors (like knocking down the bar on a jump, or missing the weave poles).  But you can also see some fantastic speed – he looks like he's roughly twice the speed of Miki.  Several times you can see him leaving Debbie far behind.  The numbers bear this out: this course was rated at 44 seconds, and he did it in about 20 seconds.  Watch out, world!  Race is on the way!

Geostationary Satellites...

Look closely at this time-lapse movie and you'll see a line of “stars” that don't move as the real stars rotate.  Those are geostationary satellites – mostly telecommunications satellites – all orbiting about 25,000 miles high.  Their orbits take 24 hours, so they appear to be motionless in the sky above us.  They're all very close to the Earth's equatorial plane; if they were off this plane, they would appear to make a figure-eight pattern in the sky.  From APOD, of course.

The Demise of the Low-Level Programmer...

Andy Firth talks about a topic I've posted on several times:
It depresses me that so much of what I consider to be essential is simply not being taught anymore. I’m not talking about assembly language per se; even those of us who used to spend hours writing assembly now more often opt to use intrinsics built into compilers to avoid the stress and complication. What I’m talking about is simply the understanding of WHAT is happening when someone does i++ and not ++i, why one might opt to stripe a memory copy/set in certain circumstances.
The gist of my earlier posts: I'm serially astounded just how productive it is possible for programmers to be without a well-rounded understanding of how computers work.   The understanding of floating point vs. fixed point arithmetic that Andy mentions is one of my favorite examples.  Though I work in a team packed with more-than-just-competent programmers, I doubt that one in ten of them actually understands IEEE-754 floating point representation.  Perhaps one in five could do a decent job of explaining two's complement arithmetic – and far less would have even heard of one's complement arithmetic.  I've had the same experience as Andy – many times – with respect to bit shifting (and bit twiddling in general). 

I won't say all this depresses me, as Andy says.  But it certainly worries me, especially with my experience working with Soviet-trained developers in Estonia who understood these things far better than my American colleagues.  Also, as I mentioned above, it surprises me that it is possible for programmers to become very good indeed without having this backdrop of deep understanding...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Mosh, the Mobile Shell...

A replacement for SSH?  Better than SSH?  I haven't tried Mosh yet, but I have to say that it looks interesting.  I wonder about it's security, though...

Programming Language FAIL!

Eevee at Fuzzy Notepad really, really doesn't like PHP – and he details the reasons why is great detail.  I was already convinced of PHP's lameness, so I found it quite amusing to see a masterful analysis leading to the same conclusion I'd already reached.  Here's the analogy Eevee uses to set the stage for his thoughtful takedown:
I can’t even say what’s wrong with PHP, because— okay. Imagine you have uh, a toolbox. A set of tools. Looks okay, standard stuff in there.

You pull out a screwdriver, and you see it’s one of those weird tri-headed things. Okay, well, that’s not very useful to you, but you guess it comes in handy sometimes.

You pull out the hammer, but to your dismay, it has the claw part on both sides. Still serviceable though, I mean, you can hit nails with the middle of the head holding it sideways.

You pull out the pliers, but they don’t have those serrated surfaces; it’s flat and smooth. That’s less useful, but it still turns bolts well enough, so whatever.

And on you go. Everything in the box is kind of weird and quirky, but maybe not enough to make it completely worthless. And there’s no clear problem with the set as a whole; it still has all the tools.

Now imagine you meet millions of carpenters using this toolbox who tell you “well hey what’s the problem with these tools? They’re all I’ve ever used and they work fine!” And the carpenters show you the houses they’ve built, where every room is a pentagon and the roof is upside-down. And you knock on the front door and it just collapses inwards and they all yell at you for breaking their door.

That’s what’s wrong with PHP.
Oh, go read the whole thing. You know you want to!

The Wheel of History...

As I was reading this excellent post (at Sultan Knish by David Greenfield) musing on the patterns in human history, one paragraph caught my attention:
That is the thing about America that most Americans don't realize. For all the hopeful speeches made by American leaders about exporting the Des Moines way of life to Baghdad or Kandahar, what people in those parts of the world see when they look at America isn't democracy and freedom, it's wealth and power. Those are the things they want, and they don't understand why American leaders keep chattering on about democracy and freedom, no more than we understand why Muslims keep going on about the Koran.
Yes. That's exactly right, and exactly what so many Americans get wrong when they try to imagine what the people in other countries envy about America. 

I remember well my first explorations in Estonia, in the early '90s, when I met quite a few Estonians who had never before met an American.  Rarely did any of them evince interest in our freedoms or our government.  What were they interested in?  Hollywood stars (especially when they learned that I hailed from California, upon which they assumed I rubbed elbows with all of them).  Jeans.  Cars.  The first Gulf war.  In other words, the trappings of wealth and the evidence of power.

I've traveled in a lot of countries; had lots of conversations with people interested in America.  The few conversations I've had with people curious about our government and what it's like to live in freedom really stand out – for their rarity, mostly...

Mama!

Via my lovely bride:

Monday, April 9, 2012

Computing Trend...

The graph at right (click to enlarge) shows computations/kilowatt-hour on the vertical axis (logarithmic), and time on the horizontal.  When I got started in computing, one could do about 10 million (10^7) computations with a kilowatt-hour of power.  Today one can do about 1 quadrillion (10^15) computations with that same power.  In other words, one can do 100 million (10^8) times as many computations today for a given amount of power as could be done in 1970.  100 million!

This trend shows no signs of slowing down, much less stopping.  Feynman's calculation of theoretical limits, so many years ago, says that we've just scratched the surface.  The theory and the track record both lend credence to the trend continuing for a long time – and that leads to some interesting things...

Granular Flows...

This is the best video of granular flows I've ever seen:

Swimming Eagle...

A bald eagle does what it takes to get his dinner. Via my mom:

Friday, April 6, 2012

Anger Management Really Does Work...

Via my mom:
Anger Management

When you occasionally have a really bad day, and you just need to take it out on someone, don't take it out on someone you know, take it out on someone you don't know, but you know deserves it.

I was sitting at my desk when I remembered a phone call I'd forgotten to make. I found the number and dialed it.

A man answered, saying 'Hello.'

I politely said, 'This is Chris. Could I please speak with Robyn Carter?'

Suddenly a manic voice yelled out in my ear 'Get the right f***ing number!' And the phone was slammed down on me.

I couldn't believe that anyone could be so rude.

When I tracked down Robyn's correct number to call her, I found that I had accidentally transposed the last two digits.

After hanging up with her, I decided to call the 'wrong' number again.

When the same guy answered the phone, I yelled 'You're an asshole!' And hung up.

I wrote his number down with the word 'asshole' next to it, and put it in my desk drawer.

Every couple of weeks, when I was paying bills or had a really bad day, I'd call him up and yell, 'You're an asshole!' It always cheered me up.

When Caller ID was introduced, I thought my therapeutic 'asshole' calling would have to stop.

So, I called his number and said, 'Hi, this is John Smith from the telephone company. I'm calling to see if you're familiar with our Caller ID Program?' He yelled 'NO!' and slammed down the phone. I quickly called him back and said, 'That's because you're an asshole!' And hung up.

One day I was at the store, getting ready to pull into a parking spot. Some guy in a black BMW cut me off and pulled into the spot I had patiently waited for. I hit the horn and yelled that I'd been waiting for that spot, but the idiot ignored me. I noticed a 'For Sale' sign in his back window, so I wrote down his number.

A couple of days later, right after calling the first asshole (I had his number on speed dial) I thought that I'd better call the BMW asshole, too. I said, 'Is this the man with the black BMW for sale?'

He said, 'Yes, it is.'

I then asked, 'Can you tell me where I can see it?'

He said, 'Yes, I live at 34 Oaktree Blvd., in Fairfax. It's a yellow ranch style house and the car's parked right out in front.'

I asked, 'What's your name?'

He said, 'My name is Don Hansen.'

I asked, 'When's a good time to catch you, Don?'

He said, 'I'm home every evening after five.'

I said, 'Listen, Don, can I tell you something?'

He said, 'Yes?'

I said, 'Don, you're an asshole!'

Then I hung up, and added his number to my speed dial, too.

Now, when I had a problem, I had two assholes to call.

Then I came up with an idea...

I called asshole #1.

He said, 'Hello'

I said, 'You're an asshole!' (But I didn't hang up.)

He asked, 'Are you still there?'

I said, 'Yeah!'

He screamed, 'Stop calling me'

I said, 'Make me.'

He asked, 'Who are you?'

I said, 'My name is Don Hansen.'

He said, 'Yeah? Where do you live?'

I said, 'Asshole, I live at 34 Oaktree Blvd., in Fairfax, a yellow ranch style home and I have a black Beamer parked in front.'

He said, 'I'm coming over right now, Don. And you had better start saying your prayers.'

I said, 'Yeah, like I'm really scared, asshole,' and hung up.

Then I called Asshole #2.

He said, 'Hello?'

I said, 'Hello, asshole,'

He yelled, 'If I ever find out who you are...'

I said, 'You'll what?'

He exclaimed, 'I'll kick your ass'

I answered, 'Well, asshole, here's your chance. I'm coming over right now.'

Then I hung up and immediately called the police, saying that I was on my way over to 34 Oaktree Blvd, in Fairfax, to kill my gay lover.

Then I called Channel 7 News about the gang war going down in Oaktree Blvd in Fairfax. I quickly got into my car and headed over to Fairfax. I got there just in time to watch two assholes beating the crap out of each other in front of six cop cars, an overhead news helicopter and surrounded by a news crew.

NOW I feel much better.

Anger management really does work.

Quote of the Day...

Today from Peggy Noonan, the close of her column this week:
One misses that special grace. 
Yes, one does.  Read the whole thing...

Phased Array on a Chip...

Holy silicon wafers, Batman!  A collaboration between UCSD and TowerJazz has produced a working phased-array radar on a single silicon chip.  The chip is roughly a quarter inch on a side, and contains the entire radar: transmitters, amplifiers, phase shifters, and 16 (4 x 4) antenna elements.  It operates at 110 GHz.  Absolutely awesome! 

With just 16 elements, its directional gain won't be spectacular – but this is a lab experiment, a demonstration of concept.  It's not hard to predict that we'll see much larger arrays in short order, with correspondingly higher gains.

Almost 40 years ago, I was floating around on the ocean on an experimental platform for phased array radars.  The platform was the USS Long Beach (CGN-9), a nuclear powered cruiser.  It carried two phased array radars: the AN/SPS-32 and the AN/SPS-33.  These radars were huge, as you can see on the preceding link, which shows the big, flat antenna panels on the USS Enterprise (it had the identical pair of radars).  If I remember correctly, the AN/SPS-33 panels were each 20 feet wide by 25 feet high!  The electronics that drove those antennas filled an entire deck (story) of the superstructure, and took dozens of men to care and feed it.  I'd estimate that on the cruises I participated in, the AN/SPS-33 (which I worked on) was “up” (operational) less than 10% of the time.  Why so unreliable?  Mainly the sheer number of discrete systems, subsystems, parts, wires, etc. that all had to be perfectly functional for it to work.  All this on a ship rolling around in an atmosphere full of corrosive salt.

It's remarkable to read that this system that occupied perhaps 700 cubic yards has been shrunk to something smaller than a postage stamp...

Thought of the Day...

From Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert:
When robots become awesome and economical, no one will want to spend time with a smelly, inconvenient, annoying, overpriced human.
Read the whole thing...

Warmists Confounded: Polar Bears Not In Short Supply!

Oops.  There goes one pillar of The Gore's preaching...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

On the Healthcare Mess...

Reader Larry E. weighs in (I quote his email to me in its entirety):
If the congress had created a nationalized healthcare system paid for through taxes, much like they did with medicare and social security etc., the supreme court would likely not be ruling on its constitutionality. When congress tried to pull a fast-one, and straddle the line between a nationalized healthcare system and a private healthcare system and to play games with the funding, they created a mess and put themselves in this position.

I would contend a nationalized healthcare system would be preferable to this mess. The only reason insurance companies can be profitable is because the cost of health insurance exceeds the cost of healthcare when amortized over large population groups. This is also why we have such debate over this "individual mandate". What this means to me is that it would grossly inefficient to attempt to purchase healthcare for every person in the United States vs simply paying for their healthcare. This is the same argument over the former "hillarycare". Why would you buy insurance for people rather than just pay for it directly?

While I'm not a fan of nationalized healthcare, and there were other solutions to the various problems of rising healthcare costs, nationalized healthcare would be cheaper. Or, even cheaper yet, institute proper insurance reforms and open up competition and keep the system largely as is. Those that can afford it, with employer subsidy etc. buy health insurance, those that can't or won't, show up at the hospital and get healthcare paid for by the government. Its still cheaper even though they may not get as good or thorough care.

Having recently been laid off, I was forced to decide whether to use continuation coverage at a cost of over $900/month (unemployment only pays about $1600/mo no matter how much I paid into it for 30 years) or to go without. I chose to pay for the continuation coverage and instead drop Cable TV services, reduce my cell phone bill, and reduce/eliminate as many other expenses as I could. Its a sucky choice to have to make, but it is still a choice.

We like to cry about the poor in this country but you'll find that while I have to pay for my cell phone and cable tv, there are subsidies for the poor. there are school lunch subsidies, food stamp subsidies, housing subsidies, and endless list of ways in which those above a certain income (even slightly) are paying dearly to support those below that rather arbitrary line. For my kids to participate in various school events, I had to pay fees. Band fees, bus fees, athletic fees... in addition to property taxes and the never ending flow of school bonds that are not being paid for by those below this line. That redistribution devalues the worth of my labor and artificially inflates the value of others and this effect magnifies as the subsidies artificially increase demand and cause the prices to rise. If anything, these attempts to "narrow the gap" are really devaluing the middle-class as these effects are a much larger proportion of their income and this does nothing to reduce or eliminate any gap between rich and poor. You can almost plot a exponential curve that you have to get over.

If you want to see the effect of subsidies, look at the cost of solar panels before and after government subsidies started? Green cars? How about your refrigerator? It changes the supply/demand equation and forces prices up to absorb the "free money". This is why it is so hard to get rid of a subsidy once in place. It would take awhile before the economy adjusted again and quite possibly put a lot of people out of business suddenly. How about lets not do the subsidy thing to start with since we know what it leads to?