Saturday, June 30, 2012

Is Universal Suffrage a Good Thing?

First a clarification: “suffrage” means the right to vote; “universal suffrage” means the right for all adult citizens to vote.

I've wondered for a long time about the wisdom of universal suffrage, and finally I read about someone else thinking the same thing.  The linked post doesn't talk about any proposed alternatives, but does leave you expecting that any proposal would be to somehow limit suffrage to those who understood how democracy actually works. 

I don't much like that idea (though I wonder if it might not be better than universal suffrage), but for years I've been thinking about a different approach: making some people's votes count more than others.  I didn't have a name for it, but I coined one just now: “asymmetric suffrage”.  There are many ways one could construct such a system, but here's an example (not a serious proposal, mind you, but just an example to give you the gist of what I'm talking about).

Every adult starts with 1 vote, but various kinds of life experience and accomplishments could be used to modify that.  For example:

Multiplier   When
----------------------
1.5            when you have owned a home for 10 years
2.0            if you honorably complete at least 4 years of military service
1.5            you obtain a college degree in engineering, medicine, science, or math
2.0            if you have been the owner of a business with 10 employees for 5 years
1.5            you reach the age of 40
2.0            you reach the age of 60
0.5            you are a public employee
0.5            you are on welfare
0.0            you are convicted of a felony (removed if pardoned or overturned)

For example, if you're a 45 year old engineer who has owned a business employing 50 people for 10 years, owned a home for 20 years, and served four years in the Army, your multiples would be:

1.0   that everyone starts with
2.0   for service in the Army
1.5   for your engineering degree
2.0   because of your business ownership
1.5   because you're over 40
-------
9.0   the multiple of all the above; your vote would count as 9

Whereas, if you're 25 years old, have a degree in French literature, are on welfare (because you can't find a job), then your multiples would be:

1.0   that everyone starts with
0.5   because you're on welfare
-------
0.5   the multiple of all the above; your vote would count as half a vote

Naturally there would be a huge debate about what the multiples should be.  Surely there must be some that we could all agree on, though, no matter what our political, religious, and intellectual leanings might be.  A multiple based on knowledge of how our democracy works (or doesn't!) might be an interesting addition.

Completely aside from the problem of getting anyone to agree with me that this is a good idea, there's another problem, a political one: this scheme couldn't possibly work without some reliable form of voter identification.

Thoughts, anyone?

How I'd Like to See Our Healthcare System Work...

I read a piece by Holman Jenkins this morning in the Wall Street Journal.  It introduces a new term I hadn't heard before that gave me a chuckle: “lip-commitment” – referring to politicians who have verbally committed to something, but haven't actually done it yet.  He also proposes a solution to this country's healthcare problems, via a relatively small tweak to ObamaCare:
Now just modify the Affordable Care Act so buying any health policy authorized by the new charter, no matter how minimalist, satisfies the employer and individual mandate.

What would follow is a boom in low-cost, high-deductible plans that leave individuals in charge of managing most of their ordinary health-care costs out of pocket. Because it would be cheap, millions who would opt not to buy coverage will buy coverage. Because it will be cheap, companies will direct their low-wage and entry-level employees to this coverage.
I don't believe the solution is anything like that simple, but this is definitely a component of the reform I would like to see: a return to real insurance, instead of the all-you-can-eat prepaid healthcare pseudo-insurance we have today.

In response to a reader's question, here are the pieces of a reformed healthcare system that I'd like to see here in the U.S.  A lot of these pieces interact with others, so they really need to be considered together.  And before people start yelling at me, I know that the chances of these elements being enacted together at that national level are vanishingly close to zero.  So shut up, already – it's my dream!  The elements:
  1. Either eliminate healthcare costs as deductible by employers, or make them deductible by individuals (or both).  This would eliminate the tax bias toward employer-provided healthcare (this never was a good idea, and only came into being as an accidental side-effect of WWI-era wage controls).  Employers could still provide healthcare, but it would cost them more.  Most employers would drop healthcare benefits like a hot potato, and then most Americans would be shopping for insurance.  Why do I think this is good?  Because it would empower individuals to shop for healthcare and health insurance, choosing the right combination of benefits and cost for them.
  2. Eliminate all mandated features of health insurance products, both at the federal and state levels.  In other words, allow health insurance providers the same freedom as car manufacturers – let them make high-end and low-end products, some full of glitzy features and others stripped down to the bare metal.  Insurance providers will immediately start promoting high-deductible major medical policies – because they are dirt cheap compared with the feature-laden policies most states mandate today.  Why do I think this is a good idea?  Because then the insurance companies will fall all over themselves trying to find products that the marketplace finds compelling – just like car makers do today.  This will include low-end products (like high-deductible major medical policies) and high-end products (like today's healthcare insurance, if enough people are willing to pay for them).  The most important piece of this is that consumers then get to choose – and the marketplace does the rest.
  3. Eliminate all state regulations that have the effect of creating a separate market for healthcare insurance within a state.  I can buy a Toyota in any state of this country.  I should be able to buy a Brand XYZ insurance policy the same way.  Why do I think this is a good idea?  That's easy: increased competition always means lower prices and better products.  No government ever produced a product like the iPhone, good service like Zappos, or low prices like Walmart – these all happened through the magic of competition in the marketplace – and the bigger that marketplace is, the better.
  4. Forbid denial (of high-deductible, major medical policies only) on the basis of pre-existing conditions – but allow insurance companies to recover as much of their costs related to the pre-existing condition as possible.  The idea here is to allow anyone to obtain coverage, no matter what their medical situation – but when an insurance company is forced to accept someone with a pre-existing condition, they can come after all that person's assets to recover their costs, much the way student loans are treated today.  I'm glossing over lots of troublesome details here, like determining what's actually related to pre-existing conditions, dealing with pre-existing conditions that predate adulthood, people uninsured for a short time (like between jobs), etc.  All that would most definitely have to be worked out, and I suspect it wouldn't be pretty.  But...what I like about this approach is that we'd end up in a situation in which two things are true: (1) anybody, with any pre-existing condition can get insurance, and (2) people who choose not to buy insurance until they needed it would be penalized, potentially severely.
  5. Remove all barriers to forming a robust healthcare reinsurance market.  This has the effect of enlarging the risk pool, an unambiguously good thing for competition.
  6. Completely separate the welfare component and the insurance component of healthcare-related policy and regulation.  Government programs like Medicare and Medicaid are part insurance, part pre-paid all-you-can-eat healthcare services, and part welfare.  What I'm proposing is requiring that when the government provides (directly or indirectly) health insurance to a program beneficiary, they buy a private health insurance policy to do so.  This has the effect of greatly increasing the size of the risk pools for both the indigent and the elderly, while still keeping it a competitive marketplace.
See what I mean?  Chances of all that passing are zero!

A Lovely Summer Brunch...

I just made this and had it for my brunch...

1 ripe tomato
1 ripe (but not mushy) avocado
1 chicken thigh and leg, roasted
2 tsp mayonaise
1 tbsp dried tarragon OR
2 tbsp minced fresh tarragon

If you're using dried tarragon, be aware that brands vary tremendously in quality.  Around here, the best we've found is Archer Farms, which Albertson's carries occasionally (stock up!) and Target carries usually.  Crush the dried leaves between your thumb and forefinger until they're almost powdered.  Remove any obvious stem fragments.

Cut the tomato, avocado, and chicken into pieces, roughly a quarter inch in size.  Put the tomato pieces and their juices into a bowl and mix the tarragon into them.  If you're using dried tarragon, let stand for 10 minutes or so to rehydrate the tarragon.  Then mix in the other ingredients and eat!

It's Just the Law...

An interesting and very different piece on the ObamaCare ruling by Jazz Shaw...

ObamaCare is Bananas...

Just watch this – it's the best short explanation of the major problems with ObamaCare I've seen yet, in language that anyone can understand...

A Cause for Celebration...

My father is the patriarch of our extended family, and of course he's even more ancient than I am.  Friends and family alike fondly refer to his age as “older than dirt” to edge around any awkward need for a more specific reference.  For him, waking up in the morning is reason enough for celebration – but he's got another reason just now: he's come through a minor surgery (hernia repair) in fine shape.  Through long experience, our family has discovered there's only one way to reliably tell what condition my dad is in: whether he's eating.  And he's eating his favorite food – chocolate milkshakes :-)

So we're celebrating!

Mom's Flowers...

It's got something to do with the combination of weather, “Scott's super soil” (Scott is my brother), and good fortune – all working together to make my mom's yard (near Charlottesville, Virginia) full of beautiful blooms.  Holly (my sister) is keeping a photo journal.  And flowers make moms happy, as everyone knows...

And Then I Read Mark Steyn...

...and was depressed all over again about the ObamaCare ruling.

This is definitely one of those issues upon which one can find any opinion one wants...and which defies rational analysis because of its complexity.

As far as I can tell, ObamaCare's impact on me personally, short term, will be tax increases – more money stolen from my pocket by the government and given to others in its inimitably inefficient manner.  Longer term, I am very worried about the stifling effects of ObamaCare on medical research, innovation, and practitioner compensation.  We currently lead the world on all these fronts, to the point where we dominate.  What happens when we make it unprofitable (or much less profitable) for the businesses and individuals who currently turn the gears of this wonderful machine?  They'll go elsewhere: either to other countries smart enough to take advantage of the bonanza we've handed them, or to other industries.  Either way, innovation most likely gets reduced – or at least our access to it.

Sheesh.

We gotta repeal this pig!

Friday, June 29, 2012

The ObamaCare Ruling...

Watching SCOTUSblog yesterday as the ObamaCare decision was made public, I was as surprised as anyone.  Like many who aren't “progressive”, my first reactions were dismay and anger at the result (ObamaCare upheld!) and utter surprise at the deciding vote (Roberts).  My thoughts tended toward things like alcohol consumption and firearms acquisition.

After getting home from work last night, I set off on a reading junket to see what some smart people were saying – and I was more than a little surprised to see some positive and even optimistic interpretations of the decision from a libertarian or conservative perspective.  A few folks who were most definitely not of the “progressive” persuasion even went so far as to admire Justice Roberts' opinion – and a few “progressives” saw the same issues as dangers for their side.

At this point I can't tell whether these are after-the-fact rationalizations of a bitter decision (lipstick on a pig, so to speak), or if Roberts actually has done the non-progressive world a favor with this decision.  The ideas certainly are interesting, however.  At the end of this post is a collection of links to the original material I read through.  The main lines of hopeful thoughts I read about (in no particular order):
  • The part of the decision that struck down the mandate but turned it into a tax is the first Supreme Court ruling that sets a precedent for limiting Congress' powers under the commerce clause.
  • The mandate/tax has the effect of shifting a huge part of the cost of medical care to younger people, which you'd think would motivate younger folks to fight the law.
  • The ruling materially raises the probability that Obama will be defeated in November, both by boosting Romney's appeal and by re-energizing the Tea Party and other limited-government folks.
  • The ruling materially raises the probability that Republicans will have the Presidency, the House, and the Senate in January 2013 – and therefore materially raises the probability of an ObamaCare repeal.
  • Tax bills (which ObamaCare now is) can't be filibustered.  This vastly decreases the political difficulting of repealing ObamaCare: the Senate now needs just 51 votes instead of 60.
  • The transformation of the mandate into a tax means the ObamaCare bill is imposing a new tax.  The Constitution requires any such bill to originate in the House of Representatives; the ObamaCare bill originated in the Senate.  This presents the possibility of a Constitutional challenge on much firmer grounds than the challenge just ruled on.  Some are proposing that Roberts did this intentionally, so the law could be struck down in a bipartisan fashion.
  • The part of the decision ruling that terminating Medicaid funding to states that didn't participate in the Medicaid expansion is actually a significant reining in of federal power over states – and could lead to challenges of other laws that diminish state's rights.
Even in aggregate, the above are not as immediately satisfying as having ObamaCare struck down in its entirety would have been.  They may, however, be better than what many considered the likliest ruling: striking down the mandate, but allowing the rest of ObamaCare to stand.  While I'm no Republican, the prospect of defeating Obama and repealing ObamaCare is very attractive (even more so that a Supreme Court takedown), so I can take some solace in that...

The pile o'links:

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Morning Walk, with Random Thoughts...

As usual, this morning at around 3 am, the dogs and I gathered near the door for their morning walk.  The last few days, though, have been very confusing for the dogs.  You see, last weekend we replaced the patio door through which we begin our walk.  The old door was a sliding door, sliding from right-to-left, and we walked out the right-hand side of it.  Some of our dogs have been doing this every morning for over 12 years.

The new door, however, opens from the middle, left-to-right, and we walk out of it near the center.  This morning (like the previous few mornings), the dogs gathered near the right-hand side of the door, waiting impatiently for me to affix their leashes.  When I had them all hooked up, and opened the door – the confusion began.  You could almost hear them saying “WTF?”, complete with confused faces, as the door swung toward them.  “This never used to happen!”  Eventually we got it sorted out, and left on our walk...

Three things were much on my mind this morning...

The Supreme Court's decision on ObamaCare is the topper – those few men and women are about to decide something (well, let their decision be known) that has a huge impact on my country and on me personally.  A thought I read from Dave Carter expresses it just about perfectly:
“The very idea that we sit on the edge of our seats, eyes toward Washington DC, waiting on the deliberations and dispositions of nine mortals to tell us how much of our liberty we get to retain is preposterous.”
Yup, that's it, Dave.  And yet...here I am, on the edge of my seat.  And I have utterly no idea how they will rule.  Just a couple hours from the time I write these words, we'll all find out...

Jerry Brown just signed California's (yet again) insane budget, replete with all the usual gimmicks he forswore – and with a new one that tops all the previous gimmicks.  This budget assumes that the compliant sheeple of California will approve a massive tax hike in the November election.  Now the Democratic propaganda engine will swing into action, proclaiming to the sheeple that the sky will fall (and damn soon!) if we don't approve these taxes.  The dollars available to pay for this propaganda are awesome in their quantity, as every single organization that depends on public funding is, of course, wildly enthusiastic about these new taxes.  The teachers, public employees, police, fire, prison guards, and all the other vast army of state employees are represented by unions – and these unions have collected (not necessarily with the consent of their members!) vast hoards of cash to pay for this propaganda.  I am afraid the chances for passage of these tax hikes are reasonably good.  We may be headed down the same spiral that Greece is in the thrall of...

And then there's Fast and Furious, which infuriates me – both the program itself, and the subsequent cover-up of it.  Given the invocation of executive privilege, I'm finding it more and more plausible that not only did the knowledge of Fast and Furious extend to the White House (including Obama himself), but that it might have been ordered from there.  The partisan reaction to it no longer surprises me, but it certainly dismays me to see that because they are Democrats (or because they are black, or both) duly elected Representatives and Senators are refusing to hold Holder in contempt – when he so clearly is in contempt of Congress' request for information (which is itself equally clearly within their purview).  There are precious few Democrats who have committed to voting for the contempt motion later today.  For some reason this partisan reaction is even more depressing to me than the rest of the Fast and Furious mess...

But despite all these less-than-happy thoughts running around in my head, the walk was as beautiful as ever.  The Milky Way glowed overhead, and the dogs were, as always, full of delight and joy.  Cool breezes intermittently puffed down the hill above us, carrying with them the wonderful smells of the chaparral.  The morning was quiet and peaceful, and the dogs and I felt like we owned it completely...

Senior Moments...

This song is dedicated to my parents:

How Our Vision Really Works...

An excellent explication of the way our perception of color actually works, including both the physiology and our brain's influence.  The explanation is very accessible – you don't have to be a scientist to understand it.  What you were taught was almost certainly very different...

A Visual Git Reference...

If, like me, you're new to the world of git – you might find this visual reference quite useful...

Two Words...

James Taranto has two words for you.  Listen up!

This Means Something...

...though I'm not entirely sure exactly what.  Part of it, to be sure, is the ongoing triumph of style over substance.  But I think it goes deeper than that.

One thing I feel sure of: this is not a good omen for our species' future...

Greece Showed the Way...

...and California said “Yeah, that's what I want to do!”

When does the madness stop?  California seems hell-bent on destroying it's attractiveness on every front: as a place to live, a place to do business, and even as a place to visit.

It's close to being time to leave...as so many already have...

Both True and False...

If you're a programmer, you probably think of a boolean variable as having one of exactly two distinct states: “true” and “false”.  The value of that variable is either true or false.  It can't possibly be both.

Oh, yes it can!

Well, in “C”, at least, and probably in other languages that are relatively close to machine language.

Which got me to thinking...  The rise of languages like Java, JavaScript, and C# – all of which nearly completely abstract the underlying computing machinery away – is an enabler of the current programming world in which developers can be quite successful without ever understanding how computers actually work.  With languages like “C” (or assembly language), that just isn't so...

I'd Blow It All On You...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Curiosity Challenge...

On August 5th of this year, at 10:31 PDT, the Curiosity Rover is scheduled to plop down onto the surface of Mars.  It is by far the most advanced probe anybody has ever attempted to land on any planet, and (assuming it lands successfully) we expect it to produce great science data at least through its primary mission.

Curiosity is also the biggest and heaviest probe anyone has ever attempted to land on Mars, and this meant some tough engineering problems to solve.  The engineering solution involves an advanced ablative heat shield, the largest supersonic parachute ever designed, a rocket-powered sky crane, high resolution descent radar, and a completely autonomous computer-controlled landing system.  Every bit of this has to work perfectly, or the Curiosity landing will fail (as so many previous Mars landings have failed).  For those of us who, like me, are more excited about robotic probes like Curiosity than we are of the manned space program, this landing is real edge-of-the-chair stuff.  It's also a spectacular feat of engineering in its own right, completely aside from the rover itself.

The video below is a sort of mini-documentary, very nicely done, about the technology developed to set Curiosity down on the surface of Mars...


Takedown!

Ann Althouse (one of my favorite bloggers) does a spectacular takedown of Jonathan Turley's proposal to pack the Supreme Court (a la FDR).  It's a thing of beauty, her takedown – one imagines Turley's ego lying shredded on the floor...

The Care and Feeding of Software Engineers...

Lots of truthiness in here...

Political Jokes...

Here's a big collection of contemporary political jokes, mostly about either Obama or Romney.  Some of these are as likely to make me cry as laugh.  The most interesting thing to me – Obama is getting the same treatment as Romney from the humorists.  No more “hands-off” attitude.  I guess there's just too much comedic gold for them there...

Sikorsky Prize Within Reach?

Watch the human powered helicopter below stay aloft for 50 seconds.  Awesome!  The Sikorsky Prize ($250,000) has remained unwon for 30 years.  One of the three requirements is staying aloft for 60 seconds or more.  They're getting very close on that front!  Another requirement is reaching 3 meters (almost 10 feet) high; they've got a ways to go on that...


Citizenship...

Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) has some thoughts on how one becomes a citizen of any particular country.  He doesn't really propose any solutions, but makes some unusual observations and a few predictions.  I found myself agreeing with many of his observations, in particular the arbitrary and capricious nature of “place of birth” as the determinant...

Optical Illusions...

It's a great one below, and there's another where that one came from.  I love illusions like this one that demonstrate so clearly the major role our brains have in visual perception...


MRI of a Human Birth...

This is the first ever MRI “movie” of a human birth.  It's just 25 seconds long, and is comprised (really) of a series of still images from the MRI, all strung together to make a movie.  There's much more about this here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Murmuration...

The Loneliest Little Shop in the World...

The Mulka Store in Australia...

Statoliths: How Plants Tell Up from Down...

Interesting article from NPR (though they've spelled “statolith” incorrectly on their drawing!) and a more detailed explanation...

The War on Drugs: an Alternative View...

This website is full of information and commentary about the futility and waste of the global war on drugs...

Housing Policy and the Great Recession...

An excellent interview of Peter Wallison by Anthony Randazzo of the Reason Foundation.  Content like this is the main reason why Reason magazine is one of only two dead tree publications that I still subscribe to...

Do Not Disturb...


Moscow Flash Mob...

Via my lovely bride:

Monday, June 25, 2012

A Satisfying Weekend...

Our living room opens onto our patio through a sliding glass door, or at least it used to.  Our old door was an old-fashioned glass door made of many individual panes of glass all held together by a wooden frame.  Our dogs, through years of scratching at the door, had worn through one of the wooden frame pieces, and burst one pane of glass right out of the door.  I made some emergency repairs with epoxy on the day it happened – and then we bought a replacement door.  This time it's a conventional hinged door (not sliding), and with a steel frame.  The dogs will not hurt this one!

I guessed that replacing the door would take a couple of days for Debbie and I, and that we might need some help (the new door was heavy!).  So we lined up Jimmy B. (our friend and neighbor) for some help, and this weekend was scheduled.

Saturday we “demoed” (demolished) the old door first.  This ended up taking most of the day, and involved one major frustration.  Once we got the old door physically out of the wall, we did a trial fit of the new door.  It's outside trim was larger than the hole left by the old door – we needed to cut between a half inch and an inch of stucco all the way around the door.  That's about 22 feet of stucco to cut.  Some of you may not be familiar with stucco – it's basically a half to three-quarters of an inch of concrete slapped onto a wire mesh made of high tensile strength steel wire. 

I'd never cut stucco before, so I did some Googling and found lots of advice.  All of it recommended using a diamond saw blade on a 7" angle grinder.  Naturally, this is a tool I didn't own (doesn't it always work that way?).  So down to Lowe's I went (an hour's round trip) to buy an angle grinder and a 7" serrated diamond blade.  I got back home, unpacked the new tool – and promptly discovered that there was no way the blade would fit on the angle grinder.  Argh!  Back down to Lowe's I went, whereupon I met up with a very helpful tools guy.  It seems that California passed a law that went into effect on January 1 of this year, outlawing angle grinders that would accept a saw blade.  Anywhere else in the U.S. I could still buy one, but not here.  Double argh!  Damn the nanny state!  However, the tool guy did make one very helpful suggestion: the diamond blade would do the same job on a worm-drive circular saw – and that's a tool I happened to own.  So back home I went, and drug out the huge, heavy, worm-drive circular saw.  I fitted the diamond blade and went to work cutting stucco.  This worked extremely well, but generated huge quantities of fine white dust.  We had to seal up the house with plastic to keep the dust out, and even so some leaked in.

Once we got the hole cut, the more satisfying work began.  On Saturday evening we got the door in place, tacked it in (just enough to keep it from falling out).  On Sunday, we adjusted it for level and squareness, screwed it into the frame very securely, then filled the voids all around with construction foam (wonderful stuff!).  Then came the really fun part, the part that involved some craftsmanship: we formed a concrete support for the sill, patched the stucco all around the outside of the frame, and then re-grouted the gap between the inside sill and the entranceway tile.  That took all day, but when we were done it actually looked like a real door.  Now the only thing we have left to do is to trim off the construction foam that expanded outside the frame, and then mount some trim boards around the inside of the frame.  Easy stuff! 

The work we did on Sunday was strangely satisfying to me, in the same way that writing some challenging software is satisfying.  It's something about the need to engage my brain, the pure craftsmanship involved in building something, and obtaining pleasing results.  All of that put together is a reliable way for me to have a good day.

Plus we have a new door!

Charlottesville, Virginia: Epicenter of Greekness...

The University of Virginia is currently dealing with it's own version of the economic crisis facing Greece.  On the one side, fiscal sanity and a modicum of rationality – and unattractive squareness.  On the other side, a belief in magic, a second helping of irrationality – and media-friendly progressivism.  Who will win?  The Wall Street Journal describes the mess...

Dance of the Robots...

These are industrial robots – by far the most common kind of robot, though many people have never seen one before.  They come in many varieties; this one is a general-purpose type that can be fitted with many different tools at the working end.  Someone with far too much time on their hands put this together.  I don't care much for the music, but I find the idea of choreographed robots fascinating...and strangely attractive:

Quote of the Day...

Via my mom, a tweet from David Burge (aka Iowahawk):
Apparently, I'm supposed to be angrier about what Mitt Romney does with his money than what Barack Obama does with mine.

ObamaCare...

Today is probably the big day: the day that the Supreme Court announces their ruling on the challenge to ObamaCare's constitutionality.  Though they still have the option to delay their ruling even longer, if they follow their traditional schedule of ruling announcements, today would be the day.

Some folks (like myself) have trouble understanding how ObamaCare supporters could be supporters – the flaws of the bill are numerous and pretty obvious.  Here's an interesting post on a very liberal web site that lists the 10 things we're going to miss if ObamaCare is struck down.

To me, this list is a wonderful capsule view of the progressive mentality.  Basically it's a list of benefits without any tinge of the consequent costs.  It's tantamount to saying “Wouldn't you like to have a bag of gold delivered into your hands every morning?” – without ever stopping to think how you're going to pay for it.  Don't worry about it!  The government will provide.  Why, yes, of course I'd like my daily bag of gold!

Idiots.  Shallow, self-centered, feel-good, irrational, “gimme-gimme” obliviots.  The trouble is, there are so damned many of them that they've managed to elect a government.  They deserve the government they elect.  Trouble is, they drag me (and my wallet!) along with them, kicking and screaming.

November 2012.  It may be this country's last real hope, else we go the way of Greece...

LOST: Law of the Sea Treaty...

George Will on why we should not ratify the U.N.'s Law of the Sea treaty.

What he said.

Balancing the Budget – in 10 Minutes...

When you need a budget done quickly and effectively, just go to your nearest talk show host for assistance:

Sunday, June 24, 2012

PBO, It's Time to Go...

Via my lovely bride:

If You've Lost Jon Stewart...

...then you've lost the whole thing on Fast and Furious...

Holder, If You Won't Explain...

...then other people are going to start speculating on what you're hiding.  Here's one smart guy came up with, quite plausible (if horrifying):

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Read-Only Memory...

This post at NYC Resistor, about EPROMs, set me off on a little trip down memory lane this morning...

“EPROM” stands for Eraseable, Programmable Read-Only Memory.  The “ROM” part just means some memory (a place to store information) that can be read, but not written (modified, erased, etc.).  However, they can be programmed one time.  You could think of them as being analagous to a printed book – you can read the information in the book, but you can't actually change what's been printed on the page, once it's been printed.

This sort of memory is essential in virtually every electronics design that includes a computer, and in many other areas as well.  I designed a lot of electronic gadgets that included a finite state machine, and these often included a ROM as well.  EPROMs, like the 1702A (at right) and it's many descendants, were an enormous improvement over the previous forms of ROMs – you could erase and reprogram them (like being able to magically erase a printed book and replace the text with text of your choice).  If you're an engineer developing a design of some sort, you might go through many cycles of design/build/test during the course of finishing a product, and the EPROM made it easy to do that.

The 1702A EPROM was the first of these I'd ever run into.  I first started using it in the mid-'70s, and it was a huge improvement over previous ROM technology.  The way you erased one of these EPROMs is to shine a very bright, short-wave ultraviolet light through the clear window for an hour or so.  We bought specially little light-tight boxes to do this in, as the short-wave ultraviolet light is dangerous for people.  When I first heard about these things, I thought the idea very odd – no other electronic device I'd ever heard of worked with UV light.  But the convenience was undeniable.

Today the idea of a UV-erasable EPROM seems quite quaint.  EEPROMs (Electrically-Eraseable Read-Only Memory) have completely taken over.  These ROMs require That's what's in your USB memory stick, or your Solid-State Disk.  The laptop I'm writing this on has a 512GB SSD – that's an EEPROM with 4,398,046,511,104 bits of information in it.  The 1702A held 2,048 bits, roughly 2 billionths as much information as my laptop's SSD.  But what came before EPROMs?

The first kind of ROM that I ever ran into personally was built from a matrix of capacitors made from a double-sided printed circuit board.  Once side of the board had a series of parallel lines etched in one direction, while the other side had orthoganal parallel lines (at 90° direction).  Each intersection of lines from the two sides represented one bit of information.  To make a “1”, there was a small, square pad of copper on both sides of that intersection.  These pads formed a tiny capacitor, and appropriate electronics could detect these.  That first ROM I saw had 16 lines on each side of the circuit board, making 256 intersections – so it was a 256 bit (or 32 byte) ROM.  It was most definitely not eraseable – nor was it programmable.  The only way you could change the value of this ROM was to manufacture a new one from scratch!  The electronics that “read” that ROM was roughly the size of a shoebox, and quite unreliable – I spent many hours “tuning” those darned things back in the early '70s, on U.S. Navy cryptographic equipment.

The next kind of ROM I saw was used as the “bootstrap” (a small, simple program that loaded a bigger, more complex program) for the 642-A and 642-B computers I worked on, again in the U.S. Navy in the early '70s.  This ROM was made with a “plug-board” – essentially a big connector with some of the pins wired together.  Each pair of pins wired together was a single “1” bit, and each pair of pins not wired together was a “0” bit.  This particular ROM had 32 words of information, with each word being 30 bits long – so 960 bits all together.  This was implemented with four connectors, each having 480 pins (that's a big connector!).  This ROM was programmable – with a really skinny pair of pliers and a magnifying glass, you could plug or unplug wires to change bits from “1” to “0” and vice versa.  Just once I had to do this, when a field modification came out.  I remember that it took me several days of quite painstaking work to change the bootstrap programs for all four of the affected computers on my ship.

When I first started doing digital design work in the mid '70s, there was a kind of PROM (programmable, but not eraseable) available at fairly low cost.  These were little integrated circuits (chips, or ICs) that you could program by blowing microscopic little fuses that were actually constructed of silicon on the chip.  One did this with a PROM “programmer” – a little electronic gadget that you “talked” to through a serial port.  These parts were readily available with up to a few thousand bits, and in the smaller sizes were fairly economical.  Still, in each design/build/test cycle you'd have to throw the old one away and “burn” a new one – a process that was not only potentially expensive, but was annoyingly slow.  The 1702A EPROM was an enormous improvement over that, and really quite revolutionized the way that I did my design work, as I no longer had to worry much about either the cost or the time of the ROM in a design/build/test cycle...

Friday, June 22, 2012

Obama at the Bat...

Oh, it's going to be an interesting election season!

Hotel Astoria...

...in St. Petersburg, Russia.  About 10 years ago, I stayed here on two separate business trips, visiting a software development subsidiary of the U.S. company that I worked for.

The hotel was gorgeous, and ridiculously luxurious (though this was very adequately reflected in the room rate).  I greatly enjoyed walking around the nearby parts of the city, especially the almost adjacent large park and the naval museum.  In the latter, within minutes of my arrival staff had identified me as American, had someone out to interview me, and (most surprising to me) after getting my name they quickly identified me as a former U.S. Navy member – right down to my “rate” (my job), rank, and major duty stations.

But the most vivid memory I have of these two trips where I stayed at the Astoria was is this: the disjoint between the luxury of my lodgings and the shabbiness of our subsidiary's offices.  This was only exacerbated by my discovery (through conversations with our employees there) that our workers thought of our office building as rather grand and even a bit ostentatious.  For the couple of weeks (between the two trips) that I stayed there, I found this daily context switch between the hotel and the office very strange indeed...

89 Cliches...

Anyone who has worked with executives of the MBA variety has almost certainly run into at least a few of the cliche-spouting ignoramus variety.  These folks have risen to positions of power, sometimes as the executive in charge of hundreds or even thousands of employees.  Working with one of these people, if you're not one of them, can be highly entertaining.  It can also be awesomely frustrating, as you try to get something done but find the path to achievement blocked by an immovable boulder of ignorance.

The “cliche-spouting” seems to be more than a pattern – it's a practically infallible “tell”, a signal that raises the hackles of anyone experienced in the ways of the pointy-haired boss.  If that describes you, then you'll find this article very funny.  At least at first.  After that, you may (like me) find yourself reminded of unhappy and frustrating past experience.  For me, painful memories of a past boss (a CEO) came right to mind, in which I re-experienced things I'd rather not have re-experienced.  You were warned :-)

Ctrl – Alt – Delete!


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Power Excitement...

We had a bit of an unusual occurrence here today: SDG&E needed to replace a utility pole, and they did it with a helicopter.  The pole in question was an old wooden pole carrying a “pole pig” (one of the big, cylindrical things you see on lots of poles out in the sticks; the things weigh about 250 pounds).  This particular one supplies the 120VAC to my neighbor's house, but it's actually located within our property line (on an SDG&E easement) – but nowhere near any roads.  It is a hard-to-access piece of dense chaparral.  The SDG&E workers could barely hike to the old pole; they weren't too excited at the thought of carting a new one up there, with a new pole pig, and then hauling the old pole pig out.

You can see them working on the first step above right: they're disconnecting the old pole pig.  After they did that, they lowered it to the ground.  But they didn't start on this until they'd disconnected power from my neighbor's house – and unfortunately for us, that meant our power went off as well.  Apparently they had already dug the hole for the new pole, because just after they finished this step, they started the fun part with the helicopter.  At left you can see the helicopter “parked” and being rigged up to the new steel pole.  This is about a quarter mile from my house.  The bottom of the new pole is toward the right side of the photo, with some men working on it.  In the background, between the helicopter and the pole, you can see the new pole pig all ready to be hauled up there.  A little to the left of that, you can see a red gadget of some kind.  I only figured out what that was after watching them work.  Once the helicopter had dropped the new pole into the hole, the pilot dipped it a few feet to put some slack in the cable holding the pole, then triggered something that caused that red gadget to disconnect from the pole.  It was very slick; just left a loop of cable attached to the pole, and the helicopter was free to depart.

Once the pole was all rigged to the helicopter, I walked back up to my yard to watch the action.  Shortly after I got back, the helicopter roared up from where it was parked, dangling the big steel pole beneath it (at right).  On the way to the new pole's location, they went right over my head, about 50 feet above me.  This was mildly disconcerting :-)

Then the pilot swooped over and down, and dropped it right in the hole with a minimum of fuss (at left).  A couple of men on the ground guided it in, but the pilot was darned close right from the start.  I clocked it: it was 2 minutes, 40 seconds from the time the pilot flew over my head until the time he disconnected from the pole and left.

Once the pole was in the ground, there was still more work for the helicopter.  The next step was to haul that nice, shiny new pole pig up to the new pole to install it.  After that, the helicopter hauled the old pole pig back down to the SDG&E trucks.  Then the helicopter's work was done, and the pilot flew off into the sunset.  Well, not really, but you know what I mean.  Speaking of the pilot, in the photo below (taken as he was lowering the pole) you can see him leaning quite a long way out of his window.  This is all so he could see directly below him.  If you know anything about flying a helicopter, you'll know that it takes two hands to fly one: on your left is the collective, and between your legs is the cyclic.  To hover generally takes constant manipulation of both.  It's a mystery to me how that pilot was able to fly while hanging halfway out the cockpit window!

But the rest of the SDG&E crew wasn't nearly finished yet.  They had to move all the wires (both power and telephone) from the old pole to the new one.  Then they had to connect the new pole pig.  Finally, last step: they had to go back to a different pole (this one was reachable by truck) and reconnect power to my neighbor and us.  Total time for the job: 5 hours, 34 minutes. 

One more mystery remains for me.  The crew was up on the new pole working away within a few minutes of the helicopter dropping it off.  Normally for a pole like that you'd need some concrete poured around it – and you'd have to wait for it to cure.  No waiting here!  I'm wondering what magic they used to make that pole safe and secure in such a hurry...

Awesome Glasses...


Lamestream Media Hypocrisy...

This time from the lamestream leader (the New York Times), nicely caught and laid out by Mollie Hemingway...

The Radiation Problem...

A strange twist on a subject I've blogged about before: the problem of hard radiation exposure on any manned space mission beyond the near-Earth environment.  This involves reality TV shows, Mars, and Snooki...

Asteroid Caught on Video...

Astronomers at the InfraRed Telescope Facility in Hawai'i captured this video of a small asteroid that passed quite close to the Earth just a couple of days ago:

Do You Know...

...where the word “hello” came from?

The Most Arrogant Man in the World...

The interesting, hardball campaign commercials have already started, long before the election...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Democratic Party: a New Symbol...

Via my mom:
The Democratic Party today announced that it is changing its symbol from the donkey to a condom because it more accurately reflects the Party's political stance.

A condom allows for inflation, halts production, destroys the next generation, protects a bunch of dicks, and gives you a sense of security while you're actually being screwed!

Damn, it just doesn't get more accurate than that!

A Little Too Close for Comfort...

Years ago, my friend Jim B. and I climbed up the side of an active vent (Pu'u O'o) of the Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawai'i.  It was a cinder cone about 800' high, with a bubbling lake of lava in the crater at its peak.  Standing on the edge of that cinder cone, looking down at the lake perhaps 300' below us was a very memorable – and crazy scary – experience.  I'm glad to have done it, but I don't think I'd do it again.

The scientist in this video is in a whole 'nother category of crazy:

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Listen Up, Obama!


Awesome Morning Sky...

I took the dogs out for their morning walk about about 3:30 am.  The sky was very dark and clear, and moonless.  Even before my eyes accommodated to the darkness I could see bright stars on black sky, so I knew it was going to be good.

We walked slowly down the driveway, the dogs all behaving normally.  Got down to the gate and I looked up for the first time – what an eyeful!  The Milky Way was spectacular, a nearly due-north to due-south band across the celestial “bowl” – bright and full of texture.  There were even a few places where I thought I saw some color.  The stars were so numerous and so steady that some of the constellations I know well were difficult to pick out of the “clutter”.  The relative humidity is sitting at around 40%, so it's not dryness that's making the sky so clear – I'm assuming its the absence of pollution, probably because the wind is from the east (where our desert is) this morning.

The dogs, as usual, couldn't care less about this morning's awesome skies.  Race gamboled after his precious pine cones (lots of green ones on the trees for later this year!), and the three brown dogs were fully engaged in slurping up every trace of smell that might lie on the ground.  All four looked very happy; tails wagging, energetic bounding from one adventure to the next.  They love their morning walks...

Japanese Maple...

National Geographic's Photo of the Month:


Speechless...

...that's me, after viewing this:

Monday, June 18, 2012

Satire in Music, Presidential Leaks Edition...

Unusually well done:

Two More Race Runs...

...from this weekend's competition, here and here (sorry, not embeddable).

She Nailed It...

...quite literally.  The art below is made with nails...


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Quote of the Day...

George Orwell, who must have time-traveled to 2012, gone back in disgust, and said this:
Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.

Nancy Pelosi...

There are many things Nancy Pelosi doesn't have control over these days.  Amongst them, apparently, is her daughter.  Via my mom:

Pollination...

Via Simon M.:

Race Is Competing Again This Weekend...

Debbie and Race are competing down at NTC this weekend.  Yesterday's runs are here and here (I can't embed these videos).  He's still green – screwed up the weave poles on both runs and dropped a jump pole.  Debbie is still working out how to handle a nuclear-powered rocket ship.  The important point: he's completing the courses in half the nominal time...

I Was Feeling So Hopeful About November...

...and then I watched this:

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Friday, June 15, 2012

Memorable Words...Some of Them, Anyway...

Via reader Doug S.:


Watching the Odometer...

Are you one of those people who watchs your car's odometer roll over from 9,999 to 10,000, etc.?  If so, you'll enjoy this letter to the London Times (June 17, 1978):
Sir,

It is not only dates that make nice patterns of numbers. Some years ago I was bringing a Destroyer home from the Far East and was required to report my position twice a day.

One evening, I saw that we would be passing close to where the Greenwich Meridian cuts the Equator so arranged to arrive there dead on midnight. Once there I altered course to due North and stopped engines so my position signal read:

At 0000 my position Latitude 00°00′N, Longitude 00°00′E. Course 000°. Speed 0.

I had considered saying I was Nowhere but thought (probably correctly) that Their Lordships would not be amused.

Yours faithfully,

Claud Dicken
The green arrow on the map at right shows the point Mr. Dicken took his destroyer to...

Who Benefits from the Recent Avalanche of Security Breaches?

In recent months there has been a veritable avalanche of security leaks – deliberate leaks of classified information from various places in the federal government.  These leaks, one fears, have shut down valuable sources of intelligence information – and in a few cases, may have put lives at risk (or worse).

The Obama administration recently appointed to special prosecutors to track down and squash these leaks.  Nobody seems to expect these prosecutors to actually accomplish anything; almost universally the body politic sees these as a sop to the ignorant masses and a way for Obama to be seen as taking command of the situation.

Why would this be seen so universally as a charade?  Peggy Noonan puts her finger on it exactly.  Anybody looking at the situation, including the pajama-clad blogging masses, can see one fact plain as day: the beneficiary of these leaks is, without exception, Barack Obama.  Faced with such a clear pattern, you don't have to be very cynical to suspect political, self-serving shenanigans are at work – or to believe that the appointment of the special prosecutors is a cynical charade designed to appease an ignorant public.  Also, unfortunately, one can be forgiven for suspecting that the charade will work...

Why Governments Fail...

A private business whose product is rejected by consumer generally has but two choices: fix the product or go out of business.  A government, on the other hand, generally finds it easier to tell the consumer to STFU.

Rope.
Tree.
Politician.
Some assembly required.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Top Ten Hacked LinkedIn Passwords...

You've probably heard that millions of LinkedIn password hashes were hacked recently.  Investigators and hackers went right to work on cracking those hashes, and the results are starting to come in.  In particular, the most common hashes have been cracked, and here are the top ten in order, starting with the most common:
link, 1234, work, god, job, 12345, angel, the, ilove, sex
Not exactly a creative bunch!  Several of those I might have guessed within a few minutes.  Probably within a few hours I'd have guessed them all.  I can imagine that many people wouldn't feel particularly concerned about the security of their LinkedIn account – it's not like a bank account or something.  But still – with passwords that weak, there's really not much reason to have a password at all!  And it wouldn't take much effort to do much better...

Crotalus ruber...

Crotalus ruber
Otherwise known as the red diamond rattlesnake, the most common species where we live (in the mountains of San Diego County).  I had a slightly unusual experience involving Crotalus ruber yesterday.  The photo at right is not mine, but it looks very much like the rattlesnakes we see most often here.

Rattlesnakes are quite common out here in the summertime.  They need fairly warm weather in order to be active (a consequence of being cold-blooded animals).  From roughly May through October it's not at all unusual for us to find rattlesnakes in our yard.  During the warmest months (July through September) they're most common.  We know they're not particularly dangerous to us, but they certainly are to the two cats we have that live in an outdoor cattery, and to our four dogs.  We keep our dogs vaccinated against the rattlesnake toxin, which mainly buys us time to get a dog (if bitten) to a veterinarian for treatment.  We've never had one of our dogs bitten.

Debbie and I have gotten pretty good at spotting rattlesnakes (they don't always make their signature noise!) and at removing them as a threat to our animals.  Our approaches, though, are completely different: Debbie uses a sharpened hoe to chop them into pieces; I capture them with a snake-stick and relocate them to Cleveland National Forest.  This reflects our different understandings of rattlesnakes: Debbie perceives them as evil incarnate, I see them as an important part of our ecosystem (but not in my yard!).

But back to yesterday...  I was working from home, and around 11 am I wandered out to our living room to watch the orioles feed for a minute.  I heard what sounded sort of like a continuous rattlesnake rattle, but it didn't sound quite right (had an odd sort of warbling going on), and it never stopped (normally the rattling is frequently broken by periods of silence).  From inside the living room, all I could tell about the location was that it was somewhere in the direction of our outdoor cattery.

I ran outside, grabbed the snake-stick from its hanger, and got a five-gallon covered pail.  Then I (carefully!) went out to the cattery.  The first thing I saw was Koa and Kama (the two outdoor kitties) standing right in the middle of their cattery, wide-eyed and carefully watching something to the south side.  They were fine.  I walked around to the south side of the cattery, looking for the rattlesnake – which was still making that odd-sounding rattle.  Usually the rattling lets me locate the snake immediately, but this time I was having trouble – the rattling didn't seem to come from a definite place.  Suddenly the sound changed: it sounded like what we usually hear, and it was coming from a definite location.  WTF?  I spotted the rattlesnake, curled up just outside the cattery.  But then the sound changed again.  By this time I was a little closer, and I figured out what was going on – there were two rattlesnakes there! 

One of them (the one that had been silent) was only about 4 feet away from me.  Their coloring makes them very hard to spot in our soil, and this one was no exception.  It was also curled up just outside the cattery, near the southeast corner.  I picked it up with the snake-stick, at which point it uncurled and I could see that it was a fairly large adult, just under 3 feet long.  After depositing him (not happy at all!) into the pail, I went back and got the other one.  It was bigger – close to 4 feet long – and much thicker.  Into the pail with it!  I closed the lid and tied it down well (wouldn't want it to come open in the truck!), then we took a trip together to a nearby stretch of Cleveland National Forest with no homes anywhere nearby.  There I let them go, and they slithered off in opposite directions, still rattling away like mad.

Two rattlesnakes in the same place at the same time.  That's a first for me...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Nigel Farage...

I could listen to this U.K. politician all day.  Until, that is, I remember that we, tragically, have no politicians quite like him.



Odd factoid: Nigel's last name is the same as the name of a horticultural variety of Ilex opaca (American holly) that my father used to grow and sell on the nursery that I grew up on...

Post Turtle...

Via reader Jim M.:
While suturing a cut on the hand of a 75 year old rancher, whose hand was caught in the squeeze gate while working cattle, the doctor struck up a conversation with the old man.
Eventually the topic got around to Obama and his role as our president.

The old rancher said, 'Well, ya know, Obama is a 'Post Turtle''.

Not being familiar with the term, the doctor asked him, what a 'post turtle' was.

The old rancher said, 'When you're driving down a country road and you come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, that's a 'post turtle'.

The old rancher saw the puzzled look on the doctor's face so he continued to explain. "You know he didn't get up there by himself, he doesn't belong up there, he doesn't know what to do while he's up there, he's elevated beyond his ability to function, and you just Wonder what kind of dumb ass put him up there to begin with."

Strange...


Your Grace...

The Right Reverend Michael Langrish, Bishop of Exeter, is not very happy about the adverse public reaction to his idea for raising money for his churches.  He wanted to profit from the erection of a couple of those huge wind turbines.  He expressed his surprise and unhappiness recently in a letter to his congregations.  James Delingpole has responded to him in an open letter.  A sample:
What surprised me about your letter was that a man intelligent enough to have gained two degrees (one from Cambridge) and canny enough to have risen to the not totally immodest heights of the Bishopric of Exeter should yet be puzzled as to why his flock might object to having a hideous pair of bat-chomping, bird-slicing eco-crucifixes plonked next to their tranquil North Devon villages.
You will definitely want to go read the whole thing. But put down your morning beverage first...

Cheap, Accurate Magnetic Field Sensor...

...that uses a drop of orange paint as the sensor medium.  Seriously.  Coming soon to a Digi-Key or Mouser near you...

The “Tax” Americans Don't Seem to Know About...

Are you an American citizen?  If so, did you know that we pay about 50% more for our sugar than the rest of the world does?  The reason we do this is so that the federal government can deliver $1.4B in annual subsidies to less than 5,000 sugar cane and sugar beet growers.  That's an average of $280K annually to each and every one of those growers (though the actual distribution is far less even than that – some growers get tens of millions a year). 

For the first time in decades, there's a realistic chance that this piece of obvious corruption will be voted down.  Write your congresscritters...

Avoiding Life's Top 12 “Black Swans”...

The term “Black Swans” comes from Nassim Taleb (and if you haven't read his books, I recommend them highly).  He uses the term mainly in a financial context, to describe unpredictable events that can upset an investment strategy – but the same idea permeates almost anything we do that tries to predict the future (especially if using statistics).

Doug McGruff takes that idea and applies it to life in general, in particular, to surviving.  He's come up with the “top 12” ways to avoid the most common life Black Swans – the things that are most likely to kill you.  A sample:
1. Drive the biggest vehicle you can afford to drive. Your greatest risk of death comes from a motor vehicle accident. Despite all the data from the government on crash test safety, I can say unequivocally that in a 2-car accident, the person in the larger car always fairs better. Force=Mass x Acceleration. The vehicle with larger mass imparts the greater force. Also, purchase the newest large vehicle that you can afford. Crumple zones in newer cars can expand deceleration time from 30 milliseconds to 90 milliseconds which decreases deceleration forces by a factor of 3. I am not a believer in global warming or man’s contribution to it, but if you are and you want to do your part by driving a Smart Car or a Prius you should be commended for potentially standing by your convictions with your life. Also, if your midlife crisis plans include a motorcycle or sports car, realize that you might resolve your midlife crisis by avoiding old age all together. It goes without saying to wear your seatbelts, and you should be engulfed by as many air bags as possible. If we were truly rational about risk, all seat belts would be 5-point restraints and we would wear helmets while driving.
I'm doing pretty well against his list. I drive a great, bit Toyota Tundra pickup (and so does my wife).  No 5-point restraints, but...he's got me thinking about that, especially when I have to drive during rush hour...

Apparently I'm Not Very Smart...

...because I solved all these little puzzles.  Dang. 

Humility: 1  Self-Esteem: 0

On That Idea for a European Union...

Rachel Lucas (an American currently living in Italy) has a post on current events in the European Union/EuroZone.  She concludes:
That idea of a real political union among the countries over here is borderline absurd. They’re too different, period. I cannot remotely imagine it happening, and the only way it can or will happen is if the Germans are in charge of it. It should be fun to watch this play out…I guess.

Meanwhile I’m buying more canned corn and re-teaching myself how to light a fire from scratch.
The rest of her post is even funnier, but I couldn't find a small quote that made sense out of context. Just take a couple minutes to go read the whole thing...

No-Ice, not De-Ice...

What if you could prevent ice from forming in the first place, say, on airplane wings, ship's superstructures, or on pipes?  Then you wouldn't need to use chemicals or manual labor to get rid of the ice – it simply wouldn't form in the first place.  Well, shortly we may be able to do just that!

The Humble Broom: A History...

Something I never stumbled across before: the Shakers were responsible for the flat broom design that's ubiquitous today.  I'd seen drawings of old fashioned brooms that were round in cross-section, but I'd never imagined that the Shakers were responsible for that design improvement – not so very long ago.  On that count and several others, the history of the humble broom is more interesting than I'd expected...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Our Best Friends...

Via my mom:
An old cowboy was riding his trusty horse followed by his faithful dog along an unfamiliar road.

The man was enjoying the new scenery, when he suddenly remembered dying, and realized that the dog beside him had been dead for years, as had his horse.

Confused, he wondered what was happening, and where the trail was leading them.

After a while, they came to a high, white stone wall that looked like fine marble. At the top of a long hill, it was broken by a tall arch topped by a golden letter "H" that glowed in the sunlight.

Standing before it, he saw a magnificent gate in the arch that looked like mother-of-pearl, and the street that led to the gate looked like gold.

He rode toward the gate, and as he got closer, he saw a man at a desk to one side. Parched and tired out by his journey, he called out, 'Excuse me, where are we?'

'This is Heaven, sir,' the man answered.

'Wow! Would you happen to have some water?' the man asked.

'Of course, sir. Come right in, and I'll have some ice water brought right up.'

As the gate began to open, the cowboy asked, 'Can I bring my partners, too?'

'I'm sorry, sir, but we don't accept pets.'

The cowboy thought for a moment, then turned back to the road and continued riding, his dog trotting by his side.

After another long ride, at the top of another hill, he came to a dirt road leading through a ranch gate that looked as if it had never been closed. As he approached the gate, he saw a man inside, leaning against a tree and reading a book.

'Excuse me,' he called to the man. 'Do you have any water?'

'Sure, there's a pump right over there. Help yourself.'

'How about my friends here?' the traveler gestured to the dog and his horse.

'Of course! They look thirsty, too,' said the man.

The trio went through the gate, and sure enough, there was an old-fashioned hand pump with buckets beside it. The traveler filled a cup and the buckets with wonderfully cool water and took a long drink, as did his horse and dog.

When they were full, he walked back to the man who was still standing by the tree. 'What do you call this place?' the traveler asked.

'This is Heaven,' he answered.

'That's confusing,' the traveler said. 'The man down the road said that was Heaven, too.'

'Oh, you mean the place with the glitzy, gold street and fake pearly gates? That's hell.'

'Doesn't it, make you angry when they use your name, like that?'

'Not at all. Actually, we're happy they screen out the folks who would leave their best friends behind.'

Breakfast With the Family...

Via my mom:



Obama's Big Problem...

I suspect that this is the main reason why Obama finds his re-election for a second term ... challenging.

EPA Fraud...

You've probably seen those claims about all-electric vehicles getting 75, 90, or more “miles per gallon”.  Where do those numbers come from?  Are they actually meaningful?

Short answer: No.

Ode to Trader Joe's...

The anti-Whole Foods...

Why Delaware?

Why is Delaware the state that most companies chose to incorporate in?  Here's a little history...

The F-35 Figher Is Doing OK...

I don't know much about the F-35 fighter program, but most of what I've read about it are negative lamestream media stories wailing about its cost overruns.  This is an interesting counterpoint...

Emily: the Anti-Julia...

This is excellent:

Monday, June 11, 2012

Paw de Deux...

From Frankie T., this video of pure catness:

Castro's Daughter Endorses Obama...

Mary Anastasia O'Grady has a piece this morning in the Wall Street Journal, talking about Ms. Castro's endorsement of Obama (for reelection).  The Obama administration recently granted a visa to Ms. Castro so she could travel to San Francisco to make a speech about homosexual rights.  Given our current relations with Cuba, and their holding of American citizen Alan Gross, the Obama's administration's willingness to accommodate Ms. Castro seems pretty odd.  Ms. O'Grady concludes:
This is the kind of thing that makes U.S. presidents look weak in the eyes of tyrants and that seems to be the way Ms. Castro likes it. If Mr. Obama had more backing from Americans, she speculated in her CNN interview, U.S.-Cuba relations could be "as good or better than we had under President Carter." And isn't every American just pining for the good old days of Carter foreign policy?
That's a very nice touch of sarcasm, Ms. O'Grady.  Carter-style foreign policy...just what we need!

If I Ever Go Live Where It Snows...

...then I gotta get me some of these!

Hmmmm?

Why do we say hmmm?

Transit of Venus...

A nice video compilation of observations of the recent transit of Venus, made by various scientific instruments operated by NASA.  More than anything I've seen recently, this video brings home just how much our solar observing capabilities have improved in just the past few years.  Most of the differences in the various views you'll see have to do with what wavelengths of light are being observed.  From APOD, of course – and when you click over there, don't miss the links to other photos of the transit.  Some of them are amazing!

OMG: Chinese Dogs...

I don't know what to say to this – the animals aren't actually being hurt, but still...this just seems wrong on some profound level.  Debbie likes to put funny hats and reindeer antlers, etc., on our dogs – funny-looking, to be sure, but I have the same basic reaction to both that and these Chinese dogs.  Via my mom, who for some reason thought I should see this.  Of course, now that I have...it can't be unseen...

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Manslater...

It's about frickin' time someone invented this!

You Are Not Special...

What a refreshing message for high school graduates!  Over the past twenty years or so, I've run into so many young Americans who really could have used this message.  Really what they needed was to have been raised and educated in a manner consistent with this message – as so many young people outside America are.

Several readers sent me links to transcripts of this speech, but I was holding out for the video.  In this day and age, one can be pretty much certain that something like this would be videotaped.  Turns out I had four separate videos to choose from :-)

Posner Smacks Down Apple and Google...

... and disses the U.S. patent system while he's at it.  From a news report:
A U.S. judge yesterday threw aside a much-anticipated trial between Apple and Google-owned Motorola Mobility over smartphone patents. The decision and a blog comment by the same judge could prove to be a watershed moment for a U.S. patent system that has spiraled out of control.

In his remarkable ruling, U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Posner stated that there was no point in holding a trial because it was apparent that neither side could show they had been harmed by the other’s patent infringement. He said he was inclined to dismiss the case with prejudice — meaning the parties can’t come back to fight over the same patents — and that he would enter a more formal opinion confirming this next week.
There's more in this blog post by Posner, in which he calls the patent system “dysfunctional”.  Well, yes it is – but we haven't often seen insider, influential people like Posner admitting that.  Might we actually do something about it?  What a lovely thought!

Piano History...

This isn't what you think – just watch and enjoy Victor Borge's performance.  There are only a few notes played in this entire video...

Miki...

Miki is one of our dogs that Debbie is currently running in agility competitions (the other is Race, our Border Collie).  The photo at right is of Miki exiting a tunnel obstacle in a recent competition.  Click on it and check out his expression.  What do you suppose is going through his little dogly brain at that moment?

It worries me :-)