Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Eastern Europe?

The Economist has some ideas about naming the various bits of Europe.  My favorite: “Solvent Europe”, which Estonia is part of...

The World She's A-Changing...

The newspaper business' traditional business model was a fairly simple one: you created a newspaper with content that people found compelling, and you sold advertising space in that newspaper to businesses who wanted to reach the people reading your newspaper.  In most cases, it didn't really matter if people actually bought your newspaper, as the revenue from advertising absolutely dwarfed the subscription revenue.  In fact, it was common for all the subscription revenue to go to third-party distribution services (e.g., the paperboy and his supply chain) and not to the newspaper at all.

The advent of online advertising (can you spell Google?) and the concurrent decline in newspaper readership has drastically changed all this.  Now comes word that in the first quarter of this year, the group of newspapers whose flagship is the New York Times has passed a significant milestone: they now make more money from subscriptions than they do from advertising.  This change is almost entirely due to declining advertising revenuel; subscription revenue (including online subscription revenue) has inched up but slightly.  This is the brave new business world the newspapers are trying – and largely failing – to navigate.  Much gnashing of teeth occurs amongst the progressivati over this.  Personally, I just take some satisfaction in the fact that the marketplace is working...

Awesome: Ferrofluids in Motion...

Reminder: the Seven Minutes of Curiousity...

This coming Sunday night is when Curiousity faces its seven minutes of terror as it lands on Mars.  I'll be staying up (very late for me!) to watch the coverage...

Mr. Watts is On a Roll!

Anthony Watts is a prominent anthropogenic global warming skeptic, and his web site Watts Up With That is a prime source of information for the larger community of skeptics.  Mr. Watts just released (on Sunday) a scientific study that brilliantly copies the style of another study just released on Saturday by a non-skeptic.  By using the same methods already widely accepted in the climate science community, Mr. Watts makes it impossible for them to simply dismiss his work as some amateur, funded-by-Koch “junk science”.  And indeed, Mr. Watts' study is already being widely reported in the lamestream media.  The climate community won't like his paper's results, though: he shows, very convincingly, that over half of the warming shown in the accepted studies comes from measurement error and not actual warming.  Once you remove the measurement error, the warming is solidly in the range of what's explainable by ordinary climatic variation.

Opinion polls have been showing a trend toward increasing skepticism of anthropogenic global warming amongst ordinary citizens worldwide.  In most countries the skeptics now outnumber the “believers” (though in most cases the “don't knows” outnumber skeptics and believers combined).  The wide press coverage of Mr. Watts' paper should help accelerate that trend – especially because it skewers one of the most often-cited foundations of the IPCC reports: the historical temperature records.  Nice work, Mr. Watts...

LBJ Orders Some Slacks...

Lyndon Baines Johnson (aka “LBJ”) was the U.S. president in the years I was a teenager (1963 - 1969).  In my memory he's closely associated with the rise of the welfare state, the Vietnam war, corrupt politics, and his use of the space program for publicity.  While it wasn't so obvious at the time, when our news was filtered by Democrat-friendly news media, history's hindsight has made it very clear that LBJ was a salty character.  Private recordings catch him using language I only learned once I joined the U.S. Navy, and amongst his intimates he was famous for his rough, “earthy” verbal manner.

Here's a recording of LBJ ordering some slacks from the Haggar company in Texas.  It's a great illustration of LBJ's natural manner, and nicely animated in the video:

Monday, July 30, 2012

That's For Sure!

Via my mom:

Doctor Says...

Via my mom, who says a doctor friend sent it to her:
When I was young my intent was to go to medical school.  The entrance exam included several questions that would determine eligibility.  One of the questions was “Rearrange the letters ‘P N E S I’ to spell out an important part of the human body that is more useful when erect.”  Those of us who spelled ‘SPINE’ became doctors.  The rest ended up in Congress...


Eyjafjallajökull is the Icelandic volcano that erupted in 2010, disrupting air traffic and spewing immense amounts of ash, carbon dioxide, and sulphuric acid into the atmosphere.  The appearance of the eruption is magnificently captured in this photo – from APOD, of course.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Toyota Sequoia: 0, Grizzly Bear: 1...

They think that the juvenile male grizzly opened the door of this Toyota Sequoia while looking for food.  Then he crawled in, and the door shut (probably blown closed by the wind), trapping the poor fellow inside.  This did not make our grizzly bear happy, and he made his displeasure quite clear.  To the Toyota Sequoia, that is.

Much more here and here...

Your Morning Awesome...

New RNC Ad...

How Many Guns in the United States?

This question came to me as I was pondering the consequences of a disarmed citizenry.  It occurred to me that I had no idea how many people had how many guns.  Most people I know here in the San Diego area do not own a gun, and probably wouldn't under just about any circumstance.  It's far easier to get illicit drugs here than it is a concealed carry permit, so I know there aren't too many citizens packing heat on the street.  So I did a little research, and came up with a Wikipedia article on the guns per capita (by country), and this Washington Post article with gun ownership rates per household (by state).

If you accept the 88.8 per 100 residents gun ownership rate for the U.S., then there are roughly 275 million privately-owned guns in the U.S.  That's a lot of guns, and personally I find that very comforting.  I suspect that number only includes legally owned guns, so it's probably on the low side.

The households with guns rate varies widely by state, from 3.8% of Washington, D.C. households to 59.7% of Wyoming households.  In California, the rate is 21.3% – and in Idaho (where it's likely we're headed) the rate is 55.3%.  It's easy to pick out the strong correlation between the lefty states and low gun ownership rates, and vice versa.

If this year's elections keep us on the train to Progressive hell, I think the likelihood of Greek-style “youth riots” in our cities goes up dramatically.  If and when that happens, I want to be far from any big city, and surrounded by solid citizens with guns.  I love the mountains of San Diego County...but they don't meet these criteria...

Two Economic Leading Indicators...

...and both are pointing down, strongly.  Dang.  Looks like we might not be headed for a recovery just yet...

Sunday Morning Sex Education Class...

How to Stop a Massacre...

Via my mom, and totally self-explanatory:

The New York Times Offers a Solution...

Long time readers know that periodically I rail on about the sorry state of math and science education in the U.S.  One of my oft-expressed worries is the rather evident superiority of the schooling of so many kids from other countries.  I have personal experience in this regard with the kids from Estonian and Russian school systems.

Now the New York Times (in the person of Andrew Hacker, an emeritus professor of Political Science at Queen's College, and frequently quoted by the same crowd that quotes Noam Chomsky – in other words, he's a far-left “Progressive”) offers us a simple solution: get rid of algebra.  In other words, if a subject is “too hard” for American students, the answer is to get rid of the subject.  To quote the good professor:
Instead of investing so much of our academic energy in a subject that blocks further attainment for much of our population, I propose that we start thinking about alternatives. Thus mathematics teachers at every level could create exciting courses in what I call “citizen statistics.” This would not be a backdoor version of algebra, as in the Advanced Placement syllabus. Nor would it focus on equations used by scholars when they write for one another. Instead, it would familiarize students with the kinds of numbers that describe and delineate our personal and public lives.

It could, for example, teach students how the Consumer Price Index is computed, what is included and how each item in the index is weighted — and include discussion about which items should be included and what weights they should be given.
So instead of teaching them one of the most basic mathematics skills, we should instead teach them how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide (the only arithmetic necessary to understand the CPI).

It's illuminating to see the liberal mind at work.  Depressing, but illuminating...

Cartoon of the Day: Redaction...

Today's Day-by-Day cartoon is excellent. A clip:

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Progamming Jargon...

This is definitely geek humor; everyone else can just skip it.  Most of these were new to me.  There were quite a few that made instant sense to me, and a lot more than were funny.  Here's but one example of the latter:

27. Mad Girlfriend Bug

When you see something strange happening, but the software is telling you everything is fine.

Saturday Morning Palate Cleanser...

A duck rescue.  Well done!

U-550 Found...

The U-550 was a type IXC/40 German U-boat, commissioned on July 28, 1943 and sunk about 70 miles off the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts on April 16, 1944 – less than 9 months later.  A dozen of the U-550's crew were rescued by the USS Joyce, one of the three ships that sank the U-boat.  The photo at right was taken during the fight that led to the U-550's sinking. 

Evidence suggests that several crewman (number unknown) survived after the U-boat sank and hit the ocean bottom, and then were able to escape using the standard breathing apparatus designed for that purpose.  These crewman appear to have survived for some time at sea, but then died – most likely from some combination of exposure, thirst, and hunger.

The wreck of the U-550 has now been foundIt's exact location has not yet been divulged, but it's within reach of expert divers.  Modern diving technology has made it much easier to reach deep wrecks, though it's still a very dangerous thing to do.  I suspect there will be some salvage efforts, though probably amateur, since (so far as I'm aware) there is nothing aboard the U-550 with the monetary or historical value that would justify professional salvage.

Holmes Claiming Amnesia...

Plus he's whining about the prison food.

From a legal perspective, does amnesia make it impossible to convict someone?  Is that actually a means to get off?  And is it possible to prove or disprove amnesia?  Here's a discussion, but I have no idea if the answers are authoritative or accurate...

Obama Built This, Too...

And there will be a whole lot more like this.  From the news article in the Indianapolis Business Journal:
Cook Medical Inc. had been planning to open five new manufacturing plants over the next five years in small communities around the Midwest, including Indiana, but has shelved those plans because of the hit it will take from a new U.S. tax on medical devices.

The Bloomington-based medical device maker estimates it will pay between $20 million and $30 million once the tax takes effect in January, Pete Yonkman, executive vice president of strategic business units at Cook Medical, said this week.

The 2.3-percent tax on sales of all medical devices was created as part of President Obama’s 2010 health reform law to help pay for its expansion of health insurance coverage to as many as 30 million more Americans. The tax is projected to raised about $2.9 billion per year.
From the perspective of a medical device manufacturer like Cook, the new tax imposed by ObamaCare is a clear message: take your manufacturing offshore, where you'll get lower labor costs and no punitive tax.  Exactly what we need in the middle of a recession, right?

Remember this when you vote in November...

Obama Built That!

Screen capture of FoxNews front page yesterday. Pretty much says it, eh?

Via my mom:

Friday, July 27, 2012

Bear Rescue...

Nicely done!

Sven and Ole...

Via my mom:
Two Minnesota engineers were standing at the base of a flagpole, looking up.  A woman walks by asks what they were doing.

“Ve're supposed to find da height of dis flagpole,” said Sven, “but ve don't haff a ladder.”

The woman took a wrench from her purse, loosened a couple of bolts, and laid the pole down on the ground. Then she took a tape measure from her pocketbook, took a measurement, announced, “Twenty one feet, six inches,” and walked away.

Ole shook his head and laughed. “Ain't dat just like a voman! Ve ask fer da height and she gives us da length!”

Sven and Ole have since quit their engineering jobs and are currently serving in the United States Senate.

Oh, Sorry...

Via my mom:
Handicapped Parking at Sears

Today I had to go to Sears. As I approached the entrance, I noticed a driver looking for a parking space. I flagged the driver and pointed out a handicapped parking space that was open and available.

The driver looked puzzled, rolled down her window and said, “I'm not handicapped!”

Well, as you can imagine, my face was red! “Oh, I'm sorry” I said, “I saw your Obama sticker and just assumed...”

She gave me the finger and yelled some nasty names at me.

Boy! Some people - and when you're just trying to help them out!

George Lakoff...

“You didn't build that!” has been much in the news recently.  But where did Obama's idea actually come from?  James Taranto, writing at the Wall Street Journal, tracked down this text, which may well have started the whole thing:
There is no such thing as a self-made man. Every businessman has used the vast American infrastructure, which the taxpayers paid for, to make his money. He did not make his money alone. He used taxpayer infrastructure. He got rich on what other taxpayers had paid for: the banking system, the Federal Reserve, the Treasury and Commerce Departments, and the judicial system, where nine-tenths of cases involve corporate law. These taxpayer investments support companies and wealthy investors. There are no self-made men! The wealthy have gotten rich using what previous taxpayers have paid for. They owe the taxpayers of this country a great deal and should be paying it back.
Those words were written by George Lakoff. Read about Mr. Lakoff, and then enjoy the spectacle of Mr. Taranto ripping him to shreds...

Tritonia crocata

From Botany Photo of the Day, of course:

50 Shades of Grey: the Geek Edition...

1. rgb(39,39,39) => #272727
2. rgb(40,40,40) => #282828
3. rgb(41,41,41) => #292929
4. rgb(43,43,43) => #2b2b2b
5. rgb(44,44,44) => #2c2c2c
6. rgb(46,46,46) => #2e2e2e
See 'em all at Geeks are Sexy...

I'm not even gonna try to explain this to the non-geeks :-)

You Are in the Hands of the Phillistines...

You'll never guess who wrote this letter:
My dear son,

I am appalled, even horrified, that you have adopted Classics as a major. As a matter of fact, I almost puked on the way home today. I suppose that I am old-fashioned enough to believe that the purpose of an education is to enable one to develop a community of interest with his fellow men, to learn to know them, and to learn how to get along with them. In order to do this, of course, he must learn what motivates them, and how to impel them to be pleased with his objectives and desires.

I am a practical man, and for the life of me I cannot possibly understand why you should wish to speak Greek. With whom will you communicate in Greek? I have read, in recent years, the deliberations of Plato and Aristotle, and was interested to learn that the old bastards had minds which worked very similarly to the way our minds work today. I was amazed that they had so much time for deliberating and thinking, and was interested in the kind of civilization that would permit such useless deliberation. Then I got to thinking that it wasn't so amazing—after all they thought like we did because my Hereford cows today are very similar to those ten or twenty generations ago. I am amazed that you would adopt Plato and Aristotle as a vocation for several months when it might make pleasant and enjoyable reading to you in your leisure time as relaxation at a later date. For the life of me I cannot understand why you should be vitally interested in informing yourself about the influences of the Classics on English literature. It is not necessary for you to know how to make a gun in order to know how to use it. It would seem to me that it would be enough to learn English literature without going into what influence this or that ancient mythology might have upon it. As for Greek literature, the history of the Roman and Greek churches, and the art of those eras, it would seem to me that you would be much better off by learning something about contemporary literature and writings and things that might have some meaning to you with the people with whom you are to associate.

These subjects might give you a community of interest with an isolated few impractical dreamers, and a select group of college professors. God forbid!

It would seem to me that what you wish to do is to establish a community of interest with as many people as you possibly can. With people who are moving, who are doing things, and who have an interesting, not a decadent, outlook.

I suppose everybody has to be a snob of some sort, and I suppose you will feel that you are distinguishing yourself from the herd by becoming a Classical snob. I can see you drifting into a bar, belting down a few, turning around to the guy on the stool next to you—a contemporary billboard baron form Podunk, Iowa—and saying, "Well, what do you think about old Leonidas?" Your friend, the billboard baron, will turn to you and say, "Leonidas who?" You will turn to him and say, "Why Leonidas, the prominent Greek of the Twelfth Century." He will, in turn, say to you, "Well, who in the hell was he?" You will say, "Oh, you don't know about Leonidas?" and dismiss him, and not discuss anything else with him the rest of the evening. He will feel that he is a clodhopper from Podunk, Iowa. I suppose this will make you both happy, and as a result of it, you will wind up buying his billboard plant.

There is no question but this type of useless information will distinguish you, set you apart from the doers of the world. If I leave you enough money, you can retire to an ivory tower, and contemplate for the rest of your days the influence that the hieroglyphics of prehistoric man had upon the writings of William Faulkner. Incidentally, he was a contemporary of mine in Mississippi. We speak the same language—whores, sluts, strong words, and strong deeds.

It isn't really important what I think. It's important what you wish to do with your life. I just wish I could feel that the influence of those oddball professors and the ivory towers were developing you into the kind of a man we can both be proud of. I am quite sure that we both will be pleased and delighted when I introduce you to some friend of mine and say, "This is my son. He speaks Greek."

I had dinner during the Christmas holidays with an efficiency expert, an economic adviser to the nation of India, on the Board of Directors of Regents at Harvard University, who owns some 80,000 acres of valuable timber land down here, among his other assets. His son and his family were visiting him. He introduced me to his son, and then apologetically said, "He is a theoretical mathematician. I don't even know what he is talking about. He lives in a different world." After a little while I got to talking to his son, and the only thing he would talk to me about was about his work. I didn't know what he was talking about either so I left early.

If you are going to stay on at Brown, and be a professor of Classics, the courses you have adopted will suit you for a lifetime association with Gale Noyes. Perhaps he will even teach you to make jelly. In my opinion, it won't do much to help you learn to get along with people in this world. I think you are rapidly becoming a jackass, and the sooner you get out of that filthy atmosphere, the better it will suit me.

Oh, I know everybody says that a college education is a must. Well, I console myslef by saying that everybody said the world was square, except Columbus. You go ahead and go with the world, and I'll go it alone.

I hope I am right. You are in the hands of the Philistines, and dammit, I sent you there. I am sorry.


Read all about it.  Awesome!

The Jerry Sandusky of Climate Change?

Mark Steyn has a piece at the National Review that makes an interesting point: Penn State has been much in the news because of it's institutional cover-up of Jerry Sandusky's multiple child molestations.  Guess who else works for Penn State?  Why, Michael Mann – he of the infamous hockey-stick climate warming graph – works there as well!  As Mr. Steyn says:
If an institution is prepared to cover up systemic statutory rape of minors, what won’t it cover up? Whether or not he’s “the Jerry Sandusky of climate change”, he remains the Michael Mann of climate change, in part because his “investigation” by a deeply corrupt administration was a joke.
Read the whole thing...

Truman and the Atomic Bomb...

President Harry Truman's decision to use atomic bombs against Japan (on Hiroshima and Nagasaki) is, in some quarters at least, a very controversial one.  Post-war “progressive” thinkers (especially) and also some just plain nut cases have called his decision everything from “morally bankrupt” to “a conspiracy against Stalin”.  In my own reading of history, it seems clear to me that Truman made the right call – even from the perspective of the Japanese people, more of whom would have died in an American invasion than did from the atomic bombs.

However, understanding all this with any kind of clarity presupposes a fairly deep reading of the period's history – something that's never going to happen for most people.  The alternative, for most people, is to assume that what they hear in their history courses (if they even have any such courses!) is correct – and a large majority of college-level history courses are teaching that Truman screwed up, making America the moral villains and earning the contempt of the world.

An easily-digestable and concise stating of the case for the wisdom of Truman's choice would be useful.  This video comes as close as anything I've ever seen:

Scientists, Dreaming of Space Missions...

...and every one of them wants a robotic mission, not a manned mission.

I don't suppose the politicians will listen to them, but it surely would be nice if they did...

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Press “1” for English...

Via my mom:
Over five thousand years ago, Moses said to the children of Israel, "Pick up your shovels, mount your asses and camels, and I will lead you to the Promised Land."
Nearly 75 years ago, (when Welfare was introduced) Roosevelt said, "Lay down your shovels, sit on your asses, and light up a Camel, this is the Promised Land."

Today, Congress has stolen your shovel, taxed your asses, raised the price of Camels and mortgaged the Promised Land!

I was so depressed last night thinking about Health Care Plans, the economy, the wars, lost jobs, savings, Social Security, retirement funds, etc. ... that I called a Suicide Hotline.

I had to press 1 for English.

I was connected to a call center in Pakistan. I told them I was suicidal. They got excited and asked if I could drive a truck.

We're screwed...

ObamaCare Supporters: Please Consider This...

Tim Cavanaugh, writing at Reason magazine, has an excellent column on the failures of the light rail system introduced into Los Angeles over the last decade.  It's a story of the abject failure of top-down bureaucratic policy that completely ignores market forces.  The short version: after spending billions of taxpayer dollars, the results are (a) less mass transit available to the poor people who need it the most, and (b) more congestion on Los Angeles streets.  Read Mr. Cavanaugh's column to see how government failed so completely, and why a market-driven solution would have succeeded.

You may well ask why my post's title mentions ObamaCare.  What does the transit system have to do with health care?

Nothing, of course.  But what is relevant is that ObamaCare explicitly moves much of the control of our health care system to a huge federal bureaucracy.  The same bureaucracy that brought us the U.S. Post Office, guided the Los Angeles mass transit debacle, and a long string of other disastrous failures – and damned few notable successes. 

Why would anyone, even a rabid Obama supporter, want their health care controlled by people with such a wonderful record of expensive failures?  Why would anyone believe that this time things will be different, and the federal bureaucracy will magically become competent?  Ask the poor people of Los Angeles how happy they are with their shiny new mass transit system – and their greatly reduced cheap bus system.  Then ask yourself how happy you're likely to be with a bunch of overpaid, can't-be-fired, incompetent bozo bureaucrats deciding which treatment you're allowed to have, and when you can have it, the next time you badly need medical attention...

Obama Regrets...

Cute.  I hope this is an oft-repeated scene...

It's Going to be an Interesting Election Cycle...

Original Film from the Battle of Midway Island...

Color film, directed by the already-famous director John Ford.  Somehow, despite my interest in all things WWII, I'd never seen this before:

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Florida One...

Via my mom, this mini-documentary about the manufacture of a Boeing 737 for Southwest Airlines:

2012 Election Bumper Snickers...

Via reader Jim M.  I believe I detect a pattern here...

A Grinch? Really?

Imagine you're the parent of a little girl, four years old, who's been diagnosed with leukemia – then treated, gone into remission, and has no traces of the disease left.  Then suppose you're contacted by the Make-A-Wish foundation – a charity that gives dreams-come-true trips or experiences to children with life-threatening illnesses, especially when those families can't afford to do it themselves.  What do you do?

This is exactly what happened to William May and his daughter McKenna.  Mr. May decided to block the gift from Make-A-Wish, so the money could be available for a child who was actually sick.  McKenna's mother is unhappy about this decision, and is now collecting donations on her own to fund the trip.  And now the New York Post has weighed in, calling Mr. May a “Grinch”.

I have several reactions to this story.  The first one is to admire Mr. May's honesty and morality, and to applaud him for the wonderful lesson he's teaching his daughter.  The second is to wonder what on earth this story is doing in the public domain – it seems to me that this is the family's business alone, and the Post should butt out...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Obama's Opaque “Transparency”...

Via my mom:

The Wisdom of Mothers...

Via reader Jim M.:
No matter our age, we can probably all relate to this one:

I Owe My Mother .....

1. My mother taught me TO APPRECIATE A JOB WELL DONE
"If you're going to kill each other, do it outside.. I just finished cleaning."

2. My mother taught me RELIGION.
"You better pray that will come out of the carpet."

3. My mother taught me about TIME TRAVEL.
"If you don't straighten up, I'm going to knock you into the middle of next week!"

4. My mother taught me LOGIC.
"Because I said so, that's why."

5. My mother taught me MORE LOGIC .
"If you fall out of that swing and break your neck, you're not going to the store with me."

6. My mother taught me FORESIGHT.
"Make sure you wear clean underwear, in case you're in an accident."

7. My mother taught me IRONY.
"Keep crying, and I'll give you something to cry about."

8. My mother taught me about the science of OSMOSIS .
"Shut your mouth and eat your supper."

9. My mother taught me about CONTORTIONISM..
"Will you look at that dirt on the back of your neck!"

10.My mother taught me about STAMINA ..
"You'll sit there until all that spinach is gone."

11.My mother taught me about WEATHER.
"This room of yours looks as if a tornado went through it."

12.My mother taught me about HYPOCRISY.
"If I told you once, I've told you a million times. Don't exaggerate!"

13.My mother taught me the CIRCLE OF LIFE.
"I brought you into this world, and I can take you out.."

14.My mother taught me about BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION.
"Stop acting like your father!"

15.My mother taught me about ENVY.
"There are millions of less fortunate children in this world who don't have wonderful parents like you do."

16.My mother taught me about ANTICIPATION.
"Just wait until we get home."

17.My mother taught me about RECEIVING*.
"You are going to get it when you get home!"

18.My mother taught me MEDICAL SCIENCE.
"If you don't stop crossing your eyes, they are going to get stuck that way."

19.My mother taught me ESP.
"Put your sweater on; don't you think I know when you are cold?"

20.My mother taught me HUMOR.
"When that lawn mower cuts off your toes, don't come running to me."

21.My mother taught me HOW TO BECOME AN ADULT .
"If you don't eat your vegetables, you'll never grow up."

22.My mother taught me GENETICS.
"You're just like your father."

23.My mother taught me about my ROOTS.
"Shut that door behind you. Do you think you were born in a barn?"

24.My mother taught me WISDOM.
"When you get to be my age, you'll understand."

25.My mother taught me about JUSTICE.
"One day you'll have kids, and I hope they turn out just like you!"

Boudreaux Gets a Job...

Via reader Jim M.:
Down in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, Boudreaux gets a job with BP helping with the cleanup.

He reports for work and is told to speak to a supervisor about his assignment.

He finds the man and asks, "What it is I suppose to do?"

The supervisor tells him to go to the animal shelter and clean the pelicans.

Two hours later, Boudreaux comes up to the supervisor and says, "Okay. Dey all cleaned. You want I should cook some rice to go wid em?"

Views from Space...

A time-lapse movie made entirely of single-frame photos taken from the ISS:

I Built That...

Scott Brown isn't most conservative's (or libertarian's) idea of a perfect politician.  But he does get some things right:

Oh, Great...

The Obama administration wants to make it easier for those who owe money on student loans to avoid repayment.  Guess who would be on the hook for them?  Yep.  You and me, and all the other tax-payers.

Remember this when you vote in November, would you, please?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Walk or Run?

If you get caught in the rain without an umbrella, is it better to walk or run to a dry place?

This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer – but physicists have finally done it.

It's About Time!

It looks like scientific publishing is about to undergo a revolution, and it will probably look a lot like what arXiv has done to physics...

Starting Early...

One of the Cornett boys, from Leatherwood, Kentucky in 1964. 

One hopes this is not happening today, especially in America...

Via Shorpy...

I Built This...

I don't think Obama has heard the end of this...

Just Sayin'...



New Jersey.

Just sayin'...

Apollo 11 in Photos...

Those of us who have reached a certain age are likely to remember one thing about the eventful summer of 1969 above all others: Apollo 11.

I was nearly 17 that summer, and for the days (which seemed like months!) of the mission, I was completely consumed with it.  There was no Internet back then, and the TV news only had an hour or so per day of actual content.  My best source was the BBC News from London, which I picked up on a ham radio receiver.  The BBC had a flock of reporters on the story, all over the world; they did an amazing job of in-depth reporting, making the American news look just plain amateur by comparison.

For me, the most tension-filled moment of the mission is the one captured in the image above: the Lunar Module's ascent and rendezvous with the Command Module in lunar orbit.  Three men, a quarter million miles from home, meeting up in the unbelievable vastness of outer space.  It seemed such an unlikely feat, and yet they not only pulled it off, they made it look easy.

By the way, there was a slide rule along on that mission – and it was used :-)

The Atlantic has a nice collection of Apollo 11 photos...


Via reader and colleague Doug S., this little story about the Marine Corps' response to PETA demonstrations outside the Marine base at Camp Pendleton (just north of San Diego).  PETA is protesting the Marine's use of the terms “leatherneck” and “wooly-pully”.  Most of us would just shake our heads in amusement at PETA's antics – and hope the demonstration would escalate to one of PETA's trademark nude protests.  The Marines, however, responded in a slightly different manner:
PETA protesters turned to what they called their only defense. Using out-of-tune acoustic guitars, the crowd sang songs of animal triumph over human oppression.

Both civilian and military police worked together to break up the melee because no one could stand the horrible PETA music any longer.

Peace talks have started, with top Marine brass explaining that leather hasn’t been used around the neck of a Marines uniform since long before PETA existed. Former CENTCOM Commander General James Mattis also joined in the discussion, saying that the protestors “should just go fuck themselves.”
We San Diegans are very fond of our Marines, for many reasons. One of those reasons is the Marines propensity for straight talking.

You tell 'em, General Mattis!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fire Information – UPDATED...

It's time for my annual fire information page update.

Cameras are a primary source for ground truth when there's a local and active fire.  We learned the hard way in 2007 that local news sources are, for the most part, completely useless for “tactical” needs – if you're trying to find out about current fire location, current road closures, current escape routes, etc., these sources are just too slow.  Fortunately for us here in San Diego County, UCSD's HPWREN system has a network of cameras at over a dozen sites.  The images from these cameras are updated every two minutes, and they've got date/time stamps right in them – so you can be certain that the information you're viewing is current.  The main HPWREN camera site and a mirror site are both available.  I recommend getting familiar with the cameras most relevant to your location (for example, for us it's the cameras on Lyons Peak), and familiar with tools like Google Earth that will help you identify the landmarks you see in the HPWREN images.  During the 2007 fires, we found these cameras to be the single best tool available to us – we used them to plan our evacuation route, and we used them to track the fire's approach to our home (which, thankfully, it never reached).

There are other very useful web sites as well.  Here are three that I found useful during the 2007 fires:

California Department of Forestry: CAL FIRE Incidents

U.S. Deparment of the Interior/Department of Agriculture: GeoMAC

U.S. Department of Agriculture: Fire Data Web Services

If any of you know about other useful web sites, tools, or information sources, please let me know about them so I can share them with everyone...

UPDATED: There's a small fire (at least for now) over near Sycuan Casino, last reported at 20 acres and good progress being made controlling it.  In the course of researching this, I came across a new resource:

CAL FIRE twitter  (who knew?)

Also, here's the CAL FIRE San Diego County fire information number (only active duing major incidents): 619/590-3160

The IRS and the Black Market...

Suppose you inherited something that was once worth a lot of money, but now cannot be legally sold.  How should the IRS assess inheritance tax on that?

Well, the new owners say (of course!) that since it cannot be sold, it's fair market value is zero, so there is no tax.

The IRS says “Give us $29 million, right now!”

The whole story...

This is going to court, of course.  Care to bet on who wins?

I think most people would agree that here is a clear-cut case of theft (well, attempted theft, for the moment) disguised as taxes.  So far as I'm concerned, all taxation is theft if I didn't agree to it, but when I say things like that people just look at me like I'm crazy :-)

The Two-Egg Problem...

Examined in detail in a most geekly fashion.  Great geekly stuff!

Don't Take That Tone With Me, Fat Boy...

It's really, really hard to excerpt one of Iowahawk's satirical masterpieces.  This one – You Didn't Build That – is easier than most:
Then the economy heard the sound of the Lord Govt returning from vay-cay with the demigovts Osha and Tarp and Irs. It was the cool of the day, and they were hiding their profits from the Lord Govt among the trees of the garden. 26 But the Lord Govt called to the manufacturer, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid, so I sought a tax shelter.”

And Govt said, “Who told you that your profits were yours? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from? ”

The man said, “The retailer made me —she has a thing for serpents.”

Then the Lord Govt said to the retailer, “What is this you have done?”

And she said to the Lord Govt, “Don't take that tone with me, fat boy. And why should I give you my profits?”
Iowahawk made my morning. Go read the whole thing; it's not that long...

Explaining Physics to Turnips...

The inimitable Rachel Lucas, on the Italian press' reaction to the Aurora shootings.  Great stuff, as always...

I Certainly Could Do That...

Today's Dilbert strip is one that just about any corporate software developer will find wryly amusing:

My search for relevance marches on...

Amongst Scott Adams many talents is a gift for staying in touch with the geekdom he no longer is immersed in...

Saturday, July 21, 2012

I'll Bet He's Still Laughing!

A Parable...

Via my mom:
Once there was a little boy who lived in the country.

The family had to use an outhouse, and the little boy hated it because it was so hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter and stank all the time.

The outhouse was sitting on the bank of a creek and the boy was determined that one day he would push that old outhouse straight into the creek.

One day after a spring rain, the creek was swollen so the little boy decided today was the day to push the outhouse into the creek.

He found a large stick and started pushing. Finally, the outhouse toppled into the creek and floated away.

That night his dad told him they were going to the woodshed after supper. Knowing that meant a spanking, the little boy asked why. The dad replied, "Someone pushed the outhouse into the creek today.It was you, wasn't it son?" The boy answered it was.

Then he thought a moment and said, "Dad, I read in school today that George Washington chopped down a cherry tree and didn't get into trouble because he told the truth."

The dad replied, "Well, son, George Washington's father wasn't in the cherry tree..."

Well, That's Different...

Opening scene from HBO's new series The Newsroom. It's not exactly parroting the usual “Progressive” narrative:

Even Worse Than We Thought...

Many California state parks were permanently closed this year because there was no money in the budget to fund them.  Really what that means is that some politician decided that other things (say, the high-speed train to nowhere) was a more important priority.  This kind of brain-diseased budget prioritization is reason enough to leave California for some saner locale.

But today we learned that it's even worse than we thought.  The state parks system was sitting on $54 million in surplus funds while they were closing parks.  We also learned that they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a secret vacation buyout program.

Some assembly required.

Self-Extincting Ideologies...

I have nothing to add to the discussion on the terribly sad events in Aurora, Colorado yesterday.  I will make one observation, though, on a related phenomenon that just floors me.  Every time there is an act of mass violence carried out using guns, there are (loud) cries from the Progressives of the world (Mayor “Nanny” Bloomberg, I'm looking at you!) for gun control.  Usually they mean that in an absolutist sense: they would like to completely remove the right of U.S. citizens to bear arms.  In other words, their reaction to the illegal use of guns is to outlaw guns altogether.

There are two parts of this reaction that I have trouble wrapping my brain around.

The first part is this: if someone is already willing to do something as vile (not to mention illegal) as murder, why on earth does anyone in their right mind think that making the purchase of guns illegal would deter them?  There is much evidence that it would not, starting with the many murders with guns committed in areas where guns are illegal (both in the U.S. and outside the U.S.).

The second part is this: how could anyone believe that we're better off – by any measure at all – having our citizens be disarmed in the face of those willing to commit violence? 

Ideologies that promote gun control are, I think, self-extincting.  If they ever come to power, those with (illegal) guns will make sure that doesn't last long...

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Gathering Storm...

Feral Communists...

Another excellent Afterburner from Bill Whittle.  It contains the phrase in the title, which tickled my fancy :-)

Crypto vs. Rubber Hose...

Hristo Bojinov of Stanford has come up with a way to thwart a “rubber hose” attack that tries to force an individual to give up a password.  No, it's not training in pain tolerance – it's a different way to authenticate.

The basic idea is that you can learn subconciously (in fact, this is the way we learn most things), without even realizing that you've learned something.  Passwords are not like this; those we very conciously learn (memorize). 

The new technique involves learning how to play a special game.  In the process of doing this, you learn – subconciously – a 30 character password made up of just six characters.  This is a very secure password.  If someone asked you to recite it, you wouldn't be able to do it – not even if they gave you the rubber hose treatment, and not even if you wanted to give them the password.  You are not concious of it at all.  To actually authenticate yourself to a computer, you have to play a round of their game.  In doing so, you demonstrate to the computer that subconciously you really do know the password.

You might ask yourself (I certainly did) “But how does this help with the rubber hose attack?  The trained authenticator could still be forced to play the little game!”  The authors of the paper assert that there must be a “liveness test” – in other words, you can't use their method for remote authentication, but rather only for authentication when physically present at the system you're trying to authenticate to.  Presumably someone would then notice if you were being beaten with the rubber hose.  There are some problems with that, as there are ways to coerce people that don't require the coercer to be physically present with the coerced (for example, your spouse or child could be held hostage until you authenticate).  Worse, I think, is that if you subject a password authentication system to a liveness test, then its security is enhanced in the same way.  In other words, it seems to me that a large part of the benefit of this new system is derived from the liveness test, rather than the method itself. 

But all that carping aside, there are some genuinely interesting security ideas in here.  How practical they are is another matter altogether, but the general notion of using subconcious memory strikes me as worth exploring.

Authentication to a computer system is a really tough problem, far harder than most people realize.  It's the basis for many of the kinds of computer security that average people run into every day (like, say, access to your bank account) – and yet we are still lacking good, secure, reliable solutions.  Passwords are by far the most common approach, and they are demonstrably feeble.  Biometric authentication (fingerprints, iris patterns, etc.) are stronger, but are defeatable and less reliable than most people consider acceptable.  So I'm always interested in anything that might improve the situation...

This Is Just Wrong...

The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) zealously protects its use of the word “Olympic” – if it finds another business trying to associate itself with the Olympic Games without having paid a license fee, it goes after them for trademark infringement.  That's fine, as stated.  The problem here is this: the word “Olympic” has multiple meanings.  It's the name of several mountains or mountain ranges around the world, and it's closely associated with many things Greek.

Now the USOC has successfully forced the owner of the Olympic Gyros to change the name of his business30 years after the business was founded, and despite the rather obvious fact that the “Olympic” in “Olympic Gryos” refers to things Greek, and not the Olympic Games.

For shame, USOC, for shame – for even trying to do this.  And what the hell has happened to our legal system that the USOC could prevail in this travesty?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Fun With “You Didn't Build That!”

Obama's epic gaffe has already provided the fodder for a lot of humor.  From the inimitable Iowahawk (at right), to a mocking web site, to user-provided mocking, to the definitive poster collection, the Intertubes have really gotten into the spirit of this.

Then of course there's the oh-so-revealing epic gaffe itself, here for your admiration and cherishing (about 1:40 into the video)...

It's Going to be an Interesting Election Season...

Quite possibly the best Romney ad yet:

Hope and Change, Proverb Edition...

Via Jim M.  Old, obsolete proverb:
Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and … you feed him for a lifetime.
New proverb, inspired by Obama's hope and change:
Give a man a welfare check, a cell phone, food stamps, section 8 housing, Medicaid, 100 weeks of unemployment checks, a 40-ounce malt liquor, needles, drugs, contraceptives, and designer Air Jordan shoes … and he will vote Democrat for a lifetime.

Some Political Cartoons for Your Morning...

Via my lovely bride:

Awesome Photos...

Via my mom and reader Simi L., on the same day!  Lots more at the link.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Hole in Mars...

Via APOD, of course.  Follow the link to get more explanation, but the short story is that there's some kind of a cavity at the bottom of this crater.  Reminds me of an antlion's trap – but that hole at the bottom is over 100' across, so that would be one heck of an antlion!

Geek Help Wanted...

Here's a flood-fill algorithm, implemented on canvas in JavaScript, that exhibits behavior the author can't explain.  He's looking for help understanding why his algorithm behaves as it does.  Any takers?  I haven't looked at it yet myself, but I'm fascinated by the visible behavior – it looks quite organic...

Prime Patterns...

Here's an interesting algorithmically-generated graphical pattern that highlights prime numbers.  I'd love to see this expanded to larger numbers, to see what the pattern looks like...

LOST Goes Down to Defeat...

To my delight – and suprise – the Law Of the Sea Treaty (LOST) went down to defeat in the U.S. Senate yesterday.  John Yoo celebrates:
But those interested in national sovereignty were a bit more concerned about the rules of navigation, where it is really the power of the U.S. Navy, rather than parchment barriers, that keep the sea lanes open to all. Conservatives also opposed the treaty's creation of a new international bureaucracy that would give out property rights to the seabed, collect taxes, and redistribute income (and technology) to poorer countries. It was a welfare state for the oceans.
Read the whole thing...

How Far Will They Go?

After viewing this video, I can only think of two explanations.  Either:
1) Those treats are really, really good
– or –
2) The fact that Australians spend their lives upside-down really does have significant negative effects on brain function

You decide:

Obama Is Driving Her Insane...

Rachel Lucas, on Obama's fatuous and progressive (but I repeat myself) tax comments:
Also throughout the speech, Obama kept talking about how maintaining the current tax rates for the rich would “cost” the government money. This idiotic verbal and rhetorical construction drives me insane. It is like my teenage niece saying it is “costing” her money if I don’t send cash on her birthday. But, she’d never say that or even think that, because she doesn’t feel entitled to my money since I am not her mommy. Amazing how a 15-year-old girl can see reality more clearly than 50% of the American electorate.
Also, she continues her Paul Ryan crush...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Quote of the Day...

Today's quote is from an unnamed “senior Democrat” on the topic of the coming “tax cliff” – the expiration at the end of 2012 of the Bush tax cuts.  Recall that last year the Democrats and the Republicans passed yet another funding extension bill, but this one included an incentive for the two to compromise on a real funding bill: the “sequestration” that would automatically impose big cuts in defense and other discretionary spending if the two sides didn't agree.

They did not agree.  Sequestration is looming (at the end of this year).

There's the context.  Here's the quote from our unnamed “senior Democrat”:
“We structured the sequester in a way that would be more comfortable for us than for Republicans.”
The Democrats are expecting that the Republicans will just roll over and give up when threatened with across-the-board cuts to the Defense Department's budget.

And they may be right.

It's things like this that bring on the doom mood...

What He Said...

Yesterday I watched with dismay and disgust Obama's comments dismissing the achievements of entrepreneurs.  Today I read about Paul Ryan's reaction, including this excerpt:
His comments seem to derive from a naive vision of a government-centered society and a government-directed economy. It stems from an idea that the nucleus of society and the economy is government not the people. … It is antithetical to the American idea. We believe in free communities, and this is a statist attack on free communities. … As all of his big government spending programs fail to restore jobs and growth.
I couldn't find a complete transcript or video of the talk this excerpt was taken from.  But he's speaking for me here...

Monday, July 16, 2012

How Obamacare Will Screw You...

Why does this have the ring of truth about it???

Hope and Change in Foreign Policy...

Our Secretary of State visited Egypt this weekend, where she was greeted by crowds chanting “Monica, Monica”, and tossing rotten tomatoes.  The so-called Arab Spring has resulted in a freely-elected Islamist government, unresolved tension between the elected government and the corruptocratic military government, and now ... open mocking of our official government representatives.  I'm not arguing that the mocking isn't richly deserved, mind you.  Just noting that the government of hope and change has indeed brought us change – though not of a particularly hopeful looking variety...

What's Wrong with the Federal Government: Chapter 39,743...

Spotted in a news report:
Meanwhile, the Postal Service is on pace to lose billions of dollars this fiscal year, and owes $11 billion, in two separate installments, over the next two and a half months in prepayments for retiree health care.
Subsidizing the U.S. Post Office at levels like this is sort of like passing a gigantic bill that would put 200,000 people back to work making horse-driving buggies.

The news report is all about the Post Office “rescue bill”, and the discussion is laced with the assumption that rescuing the Post Office is a good idea.  I don't know what the hell those politicians are thinking!  Could it be that they're so attached to their “franking” privilege (basically, free stamps) that they're willing to stick it to the rest of us to the tune of tens of billions of dollars per year?  I'll bet none of them have tried to get service at a post office any time recently.

It's high time (and has been for decades now) to privatize the Post Office and let the marketplace sort this mess out...

NGC 4565: the Needle Galaxy...

As seen by the Hubble telescope:

Just in case it's not obvious: this is a spiral galaxy seen edge-on...

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Lovely Evening Drive in the Cuyamacas...

Yesterday evening, just before sunset, Debbie and I took off to do a little wildlife viewing.  We headed for one of our favorite spots: the Stonewall Mine area of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.  Several times over the past few months we've seen herds of deer up there numbering in the dozens.  This is the first year since the 2007 fires that we've seen the deer in numbers up there, so it's a cheerful sign of recovery for us to see them.

At first we were disappointed.  We got to the little valley adjacent to the mine at just about the perfect time: just as the sun was setting.  We saw one deer, just one.  We did see lots of other things, though – turkeys (a dozen or so), and many other birds of the area.  As we were leaving the Stonewall Mine area, we were just a bit disappointed.

That ended just before we reached the main road (state 79), when Debbie spotted a bobcat.  This was the very first bobcat we've seen in Cuyamaca since the 2007 fires – prior to that, we saw them frequently.  This is another very positive sign of recovery in the area; the bobcats wouldn't return until their prey (rodents, mainly) had returned in numbers.  I had two good 15 second or so sightings with binoculars on it; it looked fit and healthy.  In my first sighting it appeared be stalking something uphill of it; in the second it was just walking along.  We were a bit surprised by its color; more reddish-brown than the bobcats we see around our home, which are overall more grey than brown.  It had the trademark spots and stripes, huge feet, ear tufts, and of course the bobbed tail.  A handsome animal, indeed.

Well, that made our evening!  But there was still more on tap for us.  As we drove home, we decided to make a side trip down Japatul Lane.  This gravel road follows the bottom of a small valley, mostly farmed for forage, where we've seen deer before many times.  It was dusk when we got there, just a half hour or so before dark.  Down in the lowest part of the valley, we ran across a herd of 16 deer, including 5 very young fawns (still in spots).  A mile or so away, we spotted a magnificent 7-point stag.  We were able to park and watch the fawns and their mothers for 20 minutes or so, quite near to us.  We loved seeing those fawns...

What a beautiful evening it turned out to be!

Oriole Feeder Hack...

We've been actively feeding our orioles (Bullock's and Hooded, in roughly equal numbers) for several years now.  This year we have more than ever, the children, we're guessing, of several generations of local orioles that have learned where they can get some easy, tasty chow.

The feeders we use are designed to be hung, so we've been hanging them from the same hangers we use for our hummingbird feeders.  In general, we're very happy with these feeders – the orioles like them, plus they have a clever little “bee guard” that's very effective at keeping the bees out while letting the orioles in.  But the feeders have one attribute we don't like: if you wiggle them in the slightest, the liquid food sloshes right out the holes.  The orioles, being fairly large birds, shake the heck out of the feeders when they land and take off.  We've had puddles of oriole food (sugar water, basically) collected under the feeders.  Our suspicion is that more food spills than is eaten.

So this weekend I embarked on a hack of the oriole feeders – and so far, at least, it seems to have worked very well!  The photo above right shows the hack: a 7/8" dowel poking up into a hole in the bottom of the feeder.  This hole was already there, though it wasn't 7/8" in diameter – it was somewhere between 3/4" and 7/8".  I don't think these holes were intended as a mounting mechanism; I think they're there to strengthen the bottom piece of plastic.  I noticed that the holes had three vertical ridges of plastic in them, just 1/32" or so high.  I ground them down with a Dremel tool, and voila! – a 7/8" dowel then fit very nicely.

To make the “L”-shaped dowels, I cut each dowel at 45°, then glued the two pieces to make a 90° angle.  I used a fast-curing epoxy glue, and clamped them overnight.  The clamping was a bit tricky, but I used a simple trick: I nailed a finishing nail into the angled end of each dowel (if you look closely at the photo above, you can see the nail hole just above the bottom).  Then I used a small bar clamp to hold the pieces together – the nails kept the clamp from slipping.  Then all I had left to do was to drill level holes in the post, to hold the dowels – this was made easy by a convenient level built right into my drill.  A little glue, and I was done. 

We've already seen that the rate of oriole food consumption has gone down, while the rate of oriole visits has not.  Success!

While I was taking the photo above, I was joined by a fearless female hummingbird, drinking from a hummingbird feeder just below the oriole feeder I was photographing.  Also, a very frustrated bug landed on the oriole feeder and tried very hard to get in the feeding hole.  It failed completely :-)  As always, click to enlarge any of the photos...

Who Knew?

Kangaroos have evolved a special response to shopping bags:

Yes, I know this can't possibly be for real.  I'll bet they had a lot of fun making this video, while imagining all the Americans who would buy it...