Sunday, September 30, 2012

Deep Thoughts...

...from my mom:
I was engaged in some deep thinking on a range of topics.

At one point I considered this age old question: Which is more painful? giving birth, or getting kicked in the nuts?

Women say that giving birth is more painful. Way more painful.

After more deep thinking, I came up with a different answer. I think that getting kicked in the nuts is more painful than giving birth. Here is why I think that.

A year or so after giving birth, a woman might say, "It might be nice to have another child."

But you never hear a guy say, "It might be nice to have another kick in the nuts."
I can't fault her logic :-)

The Libya Deception...

I'd like to think that this sort of behavior by the American leadership would be absolutely unthinkable.  Unfortunately, here in the real world, it is all too common.

I'm as outraged as anyone by the Obama administration's behavior with respect to the attack on the embassy in Benghazi – but I won't pretend that this is a particularly egregious example of the abuse of power by a President of either party.  It's more like a continuation of a pattern of such behavior that roughly keeps pace with the size, wealth, and power of the Federal government.

In other words, the more that's at stake for those with their greasy paws on the levers of power, the more it gets abused.  Naturally ... as that is how a significant subset of our fellow humans behave when we let them get away with it.  Listen, and weep for your country.  And remember all this when you vote in November...

Geek Stuff: Bit-Twiddling Hacks...

A nice collection from Sean Anderson, with C code examples...

Saturday, September 29, 2012


This is my first attempt, ever, at writing lyrics to a song.  Sing to the tune of John Lennon's Imagine:

Imagine there's Nobama
It's easy if you try
No healthcare taxes
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living in freedom

Imagine Nobamacare
It isn't hard to do
No looming death panels
And doctors too
Imagine all the people living life in health

You, you may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the trillions in debt will be done

Imagine no Democrats
I wonder if you can
No progressives any more
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the unions closing up their shops

You, you may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be a lot more fun

U.S. Patent & Trademark Office Fail...

I suspect this started as a joke.  Steven Olson applied for a patent on a method for swinging on a swing.  The patent appears to be quite narrow, covering only swings suspended from horizontal tree limbs, and swinging from side-to-side, “Tarzan style”.  I'd imagine that Mr. Olson had no expectation that the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office would actually approve and issue his patent.  But they did!

I think we need some reforms in the USPTO...

This Is How You Do It, Folks...

If you own and iPhone (as I do), and you upgraded to IOS6 (as I did), you've probably already had first hand experience with the massive screw-up otherwise known as “Apple Maps”.  My own first experience matches that of many other people: just to try it out, I set it up to give me directions on how to get to work.  Within a mile it was trying to send me down a 20 mile long four-wheel drive only dirt road – one that I know has several locked gates across it.  Virtually everyone who's tried to use the app reports similarly hideous results.  The geek media's talking heads have been howling for days.

Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, responded yesterday with a letter to Apple's customers.  Here's the lead:
To our customers,

At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers. With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.
No weasel words, no finger-pointing – just a straight-up and direct apology, along with a commitment to fix it.  Go read the whole thing if you'd like to see how a real class act deals with their mistake.

Kudos, Mr. Cook.  I wish we saw our leaders (business, political, or of any other flavor) exhibit more of exactly this willingness to take responsibility. I'll survive with Google Maps.  When Apple comes out with an upgrade for Apple Maps, I'll try it again.

Skewed Polling...

Charlie Martin has a great post on how polls get so badly skewed – especially as election day draws near.  Anyone who believes that the polls are an effort to measure the facts is in for a rude surprise.  The real purpose of the polls is to discourage people from voting – specifically, conservative people.  And it works so well the liberal media keeps it coming, year after year...

Friday, September 28, 2012

Poster of the Day...

Romney's 47%, Personified...

I've never seen the entitlement mentality better exemplified:

The Women of the Right...

Many observers over the years (including your intrepid blogger) have noted that if there were a beauty contest between the women of the left vs. the women of the right, the latter would win – and not by a small margin, either.  The unabashedly objectifying video below is typical of these observations.  Said observers have been called cads, misogynists, idiots, and worse.

Now science has come to our rescue:
"Female politicians with stereotypically feminine facial features are more likely to be Republican than Democrat, and the correlation increases the more conservative the lawmaker's voting record," said lead author Colleen M. Carpinella, a UCLA graduate student in psychology.

The researchers also found the opposite to be true: Female politicians with less stereotypically feminine facial features were more likely to be Democrats, and the more liberal their voting record, the greater the distance the politician's appearance strayed from stereotypical gender norms.

In fact, the relationship is so strong that politically uninformed undergraduates were able to determine the political affiliation of the representatives with an overall accuracy rate that exceeded chance, and the accuracy of those predications increased in direct relation to the lawmaker's proximity to feminine norms.
There you have it. Science has proven the accuracy of what our eyes are telling us: hot female politicians are more likely to be conservative than liberal.

I'd like to see that study extended to Libertarian women.  From my own observations, I suspect they'd win the contest hands-down...

Libya Deception: the Timeline...

Glenn Kessler, writing at The Washington Post, has done a fine job of assembling a timeline of the administration's statements about the attack on our embassy in Benghazi and the murder of four of our citizens (including our Ambassador to Libya).

It's becoming increasingly obvious that the administration's statements – most especially those in the first few days after the attack – are outright lies.  We can't know for certain what motivated them, but Occam's Razor says that the simplest explanation is the most likely, to wit: Obama (aka “Killer of Bin Laden”) didn't want to admit to a terrorist attack on his watch, as that demonstrate the ineffectiveness of his Middle East policy in a way that even the most addled citizen would recognize.

As more details emerge, the Obama administration's conduct in Libya looks less and less defensible, and more and more like a bunch of starry-eyed naifs wandering around amidst men with weapons and deadly intent.  It reminds me a bit of the hippies who traveled to North Vietnam in the early '70s, believing that if only they could smoke a joint with Ho Chi Minh the war could be ended immediately.

We need an adult in the White House.

Remember that when you vote in November...

Curiosity: An Ancient Stream Bed on Mars...

The Curiosity rover made a major discovery this week: a section of ancient rock that is unambiguously an ancient stream bed.  This sort of “alluvial fan” structure is very common on Earth – so common that geologists even know how to estimate the speed and depth of water flow from the stream bed's composition.

What's the significance of finding an ancient stream bed?  Mainly this: liquid water is one of the prerequisites for life-as-we-know-it to exist.  It's the only prerequisite not previously proven to exist on Mars.  Now we know that all the prerequisites have been met.  That doesn't mean we know that life did exist on Mars (or that it still does) – it just means that now we know for sure that it is possible that it did.  And that, of course, is just life-as-we-know-it.  It's entirely possible that some completely different form of life existed (or exists) on Mars.  The challenge there will be to figure out how to look for it.  That has been the subject of many a fine science fiction yarn...

Thursday, September 27, 2012

I'm Tired...

I ran across this piece from an email that incorrectly attributed it to the actor Robert David Hall.  It was actually written by Robert A. Hall, formerly a Massachusetts state senator and a Marine Corp veteran.  According to Snopes, it's also been attributed (wrongly) to Bill Cosby.  Ah, the delights of the Internet!

The message here is one that I'm sure resonates with many people who aren't lefties...
I'm 63 and I'm Tired
by Robert A. Hall

I'm 63. Except for one semester in college when jobs were scarce and a six-month period when I was between jobs, but job-hunting every day, I've worked hard since I was 18. Despite some health challenges, I still put in 50-hour weeks, and haven't called in sick in seven or eight years. I make a good salary, but I didn't inherit my job or my income, and I worked to get where I am. Given the economy, there's no retirement in sight, and I'm tired. Very tired.

I'm tired of being told that I have to "spread the wealth" to people who don't have my work ethic. I'm tired of being told the government will take the money I earned, by force if necessary, and give it to people too lazy to earn it.

I'm tired of being told that I have to pay more taxes to "keep people in their homes." Sure, if they lost their jobs or got sick, I'm willing to help. But if they bought Mc Mansions at three times the price of our paid-off, $250,000 condo, on one-third of my salary, then let the left-wing Congress-critters who passed Fannie and Freddie and the Community Reinvestment Act that created the bubble help them with their own money.

I'm tired of being told how bad America is by left-wing millionaires like Michael Moore, George Soros and Hollywood Entertainers who live in luxury because of the opportunities America offers. In thirty years, if they get their way, the United States will have the economy of Zimbabwe , the freedom of the press of China the crime and violence of Mexico , the tolerance for Christian people of Iran , and the freedom of speech of Venezuela ..

I'm tired of being told that Islam is a "Religion of Peace," when every day I can read dozens of stories of Muslim men killing their sisters, wives and daughters for their family "honor"; of Muslims rioting over some slight offense; of Muslims murdering Christian and Jews because they aren't "believers"; of Muslims burning schools for girls; of Muslims stoning teenage rape victims to death for "adultery"; of Muslims mutilating the genitals of little girls; all in the name of Allah, because the Qur'an and Shari’s law tells them to.

I'm tired of being told that "race doesn't matter" in the post-racial world of Obama, when it's all that matters in affirmative action jobs, lower college admission and graduation standards for minorities (harming them the most), government contract set-asides, tolerance for the ghetto culture of violence and fatherless children that hurts minorities more than anyone, and in the appointment of U.S. Senators from Illinois.

I think it's very cool that we have a black president and that a black child is doing her homework at the desk where Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation. I just wish the black president was Condi Rice, or someone who believes more in freedom and the individual and less arrogantly of an all-knowing government.

I'm tired of being told that out of "tolerance for other cultures" we must let Saudi Arabia use our oil money to fund mosques and madras Islamic schools to preach hate in America , while no American group is allowed to fund a church, synagogue or religious school in Saudi Arabia to teach love and tolerance.

I'm tired of being told I must lower my living standard to fight global warming, which no one is allowed to debate. My wife and I live in a two-bedroom apartment and carpool together five miles to our jobs. We also own a three-bedroom condo where our daughter and granddaughter live. Our carbon footprint is about 5% of Al Gore's, and if you're greener than Gore, you're green enough.

I'm tired of being told that drug addicts have a disease, and I must help support and treat them, and pay for the damage they do. Did a giant germ rush out of a dark alley, grab them, and stuff white powder up their noses while they tried to fight it off? I don't think Gay people choose to be Gay, but I #@*# sure think druggies chose to take drugs. And I'm tired of harassment from cool people treating me like a freak when I tell them I never tried marijuana.

I'm tired of illegal aliens being called "undocumented workers," especially the ones who aren't working, but are living on welfare or crime. What's next? Calling drug dealers, "Undocumented Pharmacists"? And, no, I'm not against Hispanics. Most of them are Catholic, and it's been a few hundred years since Catholics wanted to kill me for my religion. I'm willing to fast track for citizenship any Hispanic person, who can speak English, doesn't have a criminal record and who is self-supporting without family on welfare, or who serves honorably for three years in our military.... Those are the citizens we need.

I'm tired of latte liberals and journalists, who would never wear the uniform of the Republic themselves, or let their entitlement-handicapped kids near a recruiting station, trashing our military. They and their kids can sit at home, never having to make split-second decisions under life and death circumstances, and bad mouth better people than themselves. Do bad things happen in war? You bet. Do our troops sometimes misbehave? Sure. Does this compare with the atrocities that were the policy of our enemies for the last fifty years and still are? Not even close. So here's the deal. I'll let myself be subjected to all the humiliation and abuse that was heaped on terrorists at Abu Ghraib or Gitmo, and the critics can let themselves be subject to captivity by the Muslims, who tortured and beheaded Daniel Pearl in Pakistan, or the Muslims who tortured and murdered Marine Lt. Col. William Higgins in Lebanon, or the Muslims who ran the blood-spattered Al Qaeda torture rooms our troops found in Iraq, or the Muslims who cut off the heads of schoolgirls in Indonesia, because the girls were Christian. Then we'll compare notes. British and American soldiers are the only troops in history that civilians came to for help and handouts, instead of hiding from in fear.

I'm tired of people telling me that their party has a corner on virtue and the other party has a corner on corruption. Read the papers; bums are bipartisan. And I'm tired of people telling me we need bipartisanship. I live in Illinois , where the "Illinois Combine" of Democrats has worked to loot the public for years. Not to mention the tax cheats in Obama's cabinet.

I'm tired of hearing wealthy athletes, entertainers and politicians of both parties talking about innocent mistakes, stupid mistakes or youthful mistakes, when we all know they think their only mistake was getting caught.. I'm tired of people with a sense of entitlement, rich or poor.

Speaking of poor, I'm tired of hearing people with air-conditioned homes, color TVs and two cars called poor. The majority of Americans didn't have that in 1970, but we didn't know we were "poor." The poverty pimps have to keep changing the definition of poor to keep the dollars flowing.

I'm real tired of people who don't take responsibility for their lives and actions. I'm tired of hearing them blame the government, or discrimination or big-whatever for their problems.

Yes, I'm tired. But I'm also glad to be 63. Because, mostly, I'm not going to have to see the world these people are making. I'm just sorry for my granddaughter.

From Obama's Lips to Your Ears...

Via my lovely bride.  Remember these when you vote in November:

1.      "But I think it is an imperfect document, and I think it is a document that reflects some deep flaws in American culture, the Colonial culture nascent at that time."- Illinois State Senator Obama during a panel discussion about the U.S. Constitution that aired on Chicago's WBEZ-FM on Sept. 6, 2001. Do you agree that the Constitution is an imperfect document?

2.      "The truth is that right after 9/11 I had a [U.S. Flag] pin.  Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we're talking about the Iraq war, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security." - Senator Obama explaining why he refuses to wear a U.S. flag pin on his lapel during an interview with KCRG-TV in Cedar Rapids in Oct 2007. What was the President really protesting?  Was the President ashamed of our Patriotism or our American ideals that our flag stands for?

3.     "At least we can let doctors know - and your mom know - that you know what, maybe this isn't going to help.  Maybe you're better off, uhh, not having the surgery, but, uhh, taking the painkiller." - President Obama responding to a question from audience member Jane Sturm about whether or not the government is the right place to make judgments on healthcare procedures during an ABC news sponsored Q&A on healthcare in June 2009.Do you want a government bureaucrat to determine which procedure your mother, father, husband or wife receives?

4.      "We can't drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times ... and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK.  That's not leadership. That's not going to happen."- Senator Obama at a campaign speech in Portland, OR at Waterfront Park in May 2008. Should our liberties be determined by what other countries think?

5.      "It's because you have an obligation to yourself. Because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation." -Senator Obama speaking at a Wesleyan University graduation ceremony in May 2008. Do you agree with the President?

6.      "Well, Charlie, what I've said is that I would look at raising the capital gains tax for purposes of fairness." -Senator Obama responding to Charlie Gibson as moderator in an April 2008 debate with Hillary Clinton. If you want to downsize your home after owning it and paying off your mortgage after 30 years, should it be fair for the government to tax more from you because of fairness?

7.      "The market will take care of everything, they tell us. If we just cut more regulations and cut more taxes -- especially for the wealthy -- our economy will grow stronger. Sure, they say, there will be winners and losers.  But if the winners do really well, then jobs and prosperity will eventually trickle down to everybody else.  And, they argue, even if prosperity doesn't trickle down, well, that's the price of liberty.  Now, it's a simple theory. And we have to admit; it's one that speaks to our rugged individualism and our healthy skepticism of too much government.  That's in America's DNA.  And that theory fits well on a bumper sticker.  But here's the problem: It doesn't work. It has never worked."- President Obama speaking about the economy to a group in Kansas on Dec 6th, 2011 at Osawatomie High School. Do you agree that the "success" of the last four years proves the previous 200 plus years wrong?

8.      "On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it's important for him [Vladimir] to give me space.  This is my last election.  After my election I have more flexibility." - President Obama speaking to Russian President Medvedev after a joint press conference in Seoul, Korea without realizing there was an open microphone in Mar 2012.After raiding Medicare for over $500 million dollars for ObamaCare, delaying Medicare price increases until after the election, and the request to delay missile defense, what else is the President delaying until after his re-election?

9. "If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you've got a business - you didn't build that.  Somebody else made that happen." - President Obama during a campaign speech at a Roanoke, Virginia fire station in July 2012. Since 35% of Generation America members are self-employed or own their own business, who do you think built their businesses? 


Truth: Obama's Biggest Opponent...

Karl Rove in the Wall Street Journal with an interesting take on Obama...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Israel Must Be Eliminated...

That headline, of course, is taken from Ahmadinejad's speech yesterday to the United Nation's General Assembly – that most disgusting and corrupt waste of space, oxygen, and energy on the planet.

The revolutionary government of Iran in general, and its president Ahmadinejad in particular, remind me very strongly of Hitler and Nazi Germany just before the onset of WWII.  Their shared hatred of Jews isn't even the main point of correlation there (though it is both striking and curious).  The correlation that concerns me most is how those two countries were able to accumuate frightening power that represents an existential threat to world peace, all while the rest of the world did nothing effective about it.

Today's Wall Street Journal ($) contains two interesting commentary pieces on exactly this subject (here and here).

But what we really need, of course, is a credible counterpoint to Iran.  Not just words, which is really the only thing the world has on offer at the moment.  We need credible actions.  That is, of course, exactly what the world needed before Hitler started invading other countries.  Never happened.  It probably won't happen now, either.  There is one big difference between Hitler and Ahmadinejad, though: the latter will likely soon have nuclear weapons to threaten us with.


A Tale of Two Doctors...

Via reader Jim M.:
A Tale Of Two Doctors

Two patients limp into two different medical clinics with the same complaint. Both have trouble walking and appear to require hip surgery.

The FIRST patient is examined within the hour, is x-rayed the same day and has a time booked for surgery the following week.

The SECOND sees his family doctor after waiting 3 weeks for an appointment, then waits 8 weeks to see a specialist, then gets an x-ray, which isn't reviewed for another week and finally has his surgery scheduled for 6 months from then pending the review boards decision on his age and remaining value to society.

Why the different treatment for the two patients?

The FIRST is a Golden Retriever taken to a vet.

The SECOND is a Senior Citizen on Obama care...

In November if He and his Czars get another term, we'll all have to find a good vet.

We're in good shape – we have a great vet already...

Letter from a Soldier in Afghanistan...

Michael Yon has published (with permission) a letter from a soldier in Afghanistan to his father.  Yon (by email) said that he has verified its authenticity.  Assuming it's all true (and I'm afraid that's all too plausible), this is a damning revelation of a failure of our political leadership.  That means Obama, of course.  I reproduce it in its entirety, trusting that Mr. Yon's intent is to spread this word as far and wide as he can.

I am fed up. I cannot believe the lack of attention the recent changes in this war is receiving by the media or the country. I think I saw one thing on CNN about the following subject, but I had to dig extensively to find it. The purpose of this letter is to let you know of the garbage that our soldiers are going through right now. With this knowledge, I hope that you take action by writing your congressmen.

First, because of the recent green on blue incidents or "insider threats" as the new buzz phrase dictates, all coalition forces in Afghanistan have completely stopped partnering with the ANA, AUP, and ALP in order to prevent the death of anymore CF casualties by ANSF or Taliban disguised as them. This is also greatly spurred by President Karzi's indifferent attitude and lack of action to take measures to prevent further insider attacks.

Second, because of this massive change in policy (and complete change in mission) all U.S. forces are forbidden to actively patrol their AO and are to remain on their respective COPs/FOBs. There are only a few exceptions to this rule and they all pertain to "hardening" highway 1 in our AO. We have received orders that clearly state that all CF will no longer be allowed to drop air to ground munitions within the country of Afghanistan. This preempts Karzi's announcement that will be made shortly that states the above mentioned order, making it a tactical directive that he is ordering.

To the first point: Our mission in Afghanistan is to partner with the ANSF on all levels. Now the policy makers are telling us that we are not allowed to do that and further more we are to take immediate measures to secure ourselves from the ANSF that are co-located with us. So the question now becomes, what is our mission? Furthermore, the implication is that we have absolutely no reason to still be in this country if we are not partnering with the ANSF. So why are we here?

To the second point: I don't think that the American citizens would be happy if they knew that their soldiers were being prohibited from defending themselves in any way because of politically driven orders, but that is precisely what is happening in this war right now even as I write this letter. The soldiers of the U.S. never engage the enemy unless we know that we have will always have the tactical advantage in defending ourselves, that advantage is the use of close air support and air weapons team. To take those weapons away from us is to level the playing field for the enemy and thus exposing our soldiers to more danger. In the school house they teach us that the minimum ratio that we are to engage the enemy with, is a 3:1 ratio. In other words, we have the highest probability of winning because we don’t fight fair. The sound tactical principles behind this teaching have saved lives. The very presence of aircraft over our foot patrols has also saved lives and now our chain of command is being told by our political leadership that this is now not allowed. If we are not partnering with the ANSF and we are not actively patrolling to prevent our enemies from massing their attacks on our COP and we can’t drop a bomb on the enemy that we have positively identified, than what the hell are we doing here?

Give us a mission or send us home. I honestly have no preference on what the politicians decide, as long as they just make a decision. Of course this will be a terrible inconvenience on the current elections so I am sure we will be forgotten, which really does not seem to be too different for how things have been going for the last eleven years.

Do not buy into what the some media outlets have already said about this. Casually saying that this is a frequent occurrence is false, and is an attempt to downplay the major ramifications for these decisions. We have never been so restricted in defending ourselves as we have now. This is not just a stand down. The other implication of this decision is that we will perhaps never regain our relationship with the ANA after we have executed these measures to protect ourselves from them. Essentially, we have left them to die as we watch from our high-tech cameras and UAVs. They will not forget this and I fear the relationship will never be the same.

I love you very much Dad and I don’t want you to worry about me any more than you already are, but I also know that this has to be brought up, someone has to say something about this. It is wrong to keep this hidden away while American soldiers are under constant threat of death and dying. I don’t care if you send this letter directly, this needs to be known.

Your son,

[In Afghanistan]

If You're in the Newspaper Business...'s time to be looking for another job.  The graph below shows the most abrupt decline of an entire major industry I've ever heard of:

Monkeyflower and Sea Blush...

From Botany Photo of the Day, of course:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Monday, September 24, 2012

Don't Mess with Texas!

Via my mom:

Curiosity: Mars, Up Close and Personal...

 Here's an image from the Mars Hand Lens Imager, a camera designed to work just like a geologist's hand-held lens.  You're seeing the surface of Mars here as if seen through a lens like Sherlock Holmes used.

Awesome stuff!

Ambrym Volcano...

This video is awesome.  The two guys in it are completely insane:

Here's Geoff Mackley's web site, and here's a map showing where the Ambrym Volcano is in the world:

View Larger Map

Suicide is Now the Leading Cause of Injury Mortality...

That's the attention-grabbing headline.  The phrase “injury mortality” distinguishes death from injury of any kind from death by disease of any kind.  Deaths by disease still greatly exceed deaths by injury.

Automobile accidents have long dominated injury mortality in the U.S., but these deaths have declined greatly over the past couple of decades as safer cars hit the road.  At the same time, suicide rates have increased gradually – partly due to easier access to drugs, partly for reasons not yet understood, and (more recently) partly because of the recession (suicides historically increase during financial hardship).  The reality isn't quite as dramatic as the headline, but it's still bad enough...

The Dark Side of Plea Bargains...

I've never liked the whole idea of plea bargaining, for several reasons.  The aspect that bothers me most is that plea bargaining encourages innocent people to plead guilty, which means the wrong person is being punished and the right person isn't.  Today's Wall Street Journal ($) has a disturbing article about this very phenomenon...

Toom-Cook Multiplication...

Over the years I've written several “math packs” – collections of mathematical functions that can't be performed on the underlying computer's hardware.  Back in the bad old days of 8 bit microcomputers, this even included multiply and divide (the hardware could only add and subtract).  These days most computer hardware can handle 64 bit integer math and double precision IEEE floating point math (including the common transcendentals).  For integer math larger than 64 bits, though, math packs are still the order of the day.

Multiply and divide on integers much larger than the computer's hardware can handle are fairly complex operations.  In all the math packs I've written, the approach taken is the software equivalent of longhand multiplication and division (albeit in binary, not decimal).  This morning I came across an algorithm for multiply that is faster: the Toom-Cook multiplication algorithm.

One of the many fascinating things about the world of software is that new ideas are popping up all the time, even for hoary old algorithms that you might think were so basic they couldn't be improved...

Monkey, Goat, Tightrope, and Cup...

I knew that goats were agile creatures, but I never suspected they could do something like this:

When I see something like this, I'm always left wondering how on earth someone came up with the idea to put on this sort of show.  Who wakes up and says: “Hey, I've got it!  I'll train a goat to walk a tightrope and stand on a cup, while a monkey does a handstand on its head!”  I guess I'm not cut out for a career in show business...

Canada has a Front-Row Seat...

...from which to watch the U.S. go down the drain.  Conrad Black is the author; here's his blistering conclusion:
And now, in an astounding demonstration of national fecklessness, a failed president is running slightly ahead in the polls of a challenger who has a real CV, unlike recent presidents, but who is so politically oafish and plastic, he makes Elmer Fudd seem charismatic. The incumbent has raised the national debt by 50% on what had accumulated in the 220 years of American independence prior to four years ago — that is $17,000 for every man, woman and child in the United States, in just four years. And Mr. Obama’s tocsin is the comprehensive assertion that: “Experts agree that my plan will reduce the deficit by $4-trillion.” These magic 13 words confirm the reduction of the deficit from $1.5-trillion annually to $1.1-trillion annually in the next ten years, in a country that four years ago had a money supply of only $900-billion.

About 70% of the American deficit is “bought” directly or through the banking system by the Treasury’s 100% subsidiary, the Federal Reserve, and the minimal interest paid on it is recycled back through the Federal Reserve to the Treasury, so the cost of borrowing is zero. It is the ultimate Ponzi scheme, the fiscal nirvana of endless, mountainous debt, rendered easily bearable because it doesn’t cost anything. It is a fraud, a mirage. It all possesses the hypnotic allure of the Gotterdammerung — as the Gods ascend to a burning Valhalla. If this administration is re-elected, Canada, as it has for the entire mighty spectacle of the inexorable rise of the United States, will have the ring-side seat for a disaster. Prudent, hesitant Canada, ran 14 federal government surpluses in a row. We are the pigs in the brick house — it isn’t a heroic position, neither daring nor stylish, but Canadians are peering through the portals of their stout solid home, transfixed and astonished.

The fact that Willard M. Romney is still running almost even in the polls despite his demiurgic implausibility as a candidate, afflicted by a one-person pandemic of foot-in-mouth disease, illustrates the concern of the American voters. Either Romney lucks through and numerate sanity starts to return to American public life, or the most self-destructively incompetent regime since James Buchanan brought on the Civil War, will come back and stoke up a truly spectacular inferno that will purify America in a mighty economic Jonestown. There will be no more tugging at a trouser leg from Canada — either a comradely pat on the back, or a neighbourly blast with a fire extinguisher, but this operatic crescendo can’t continue for one more full act.
Now go read the whole thing...

Top Ten Things Obama Should Have Done...

According to Mickey Kaus, one of the few sane Democrats writing on the web...

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Curiosity: At Work, Examining a Tasty Rock...

The Curiosity team is almost finished with the checkout phase.  Meanwhile, on the way to their first “real” science assignment, drove by this interesting-looking rock.  This presented a perfect opportunity to try out some of the instruments on the big arm, and that's what you're seeing here...

You Can't Make This Stuff Up!

Naturally, New Jersey is first with this likely-to-be-growing trend.  They have banned smiling on driver's license photos.  Really!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Uncivil Campaigning...

We often hear complaints that the tone of modern campaigning is outrageously uncivil, surely more so than at any time in the past.  I've read quite a bit of history, including in particular a lot of U.S. history.  Such complaints about campaign incivility sometimes make me laugh out loud, because I've read so much worse.  In fact, I'd say that by historical standards our current campaigns are certainly in the 10% “most civil”, possibly even the top 5%.  Many U.S. histories, especially biographies of past presidents, cite old campaign ads and flyers; some are even reproduced.  But that stuff is hard to get up on the web.

The good folks at Reason have done it for me.  The video below (which I just ran across this morning) is from them, and makes the above point very nicely.  It's also quite funny.  And being the good citizens that they are, they even include their sources.  Enjoy!

You Mormons Need to Get With the Program!

One small excerpt from the inimitable Mark Steyn, writing on the Obama administration's response to the attacks in Libya:
What other entertainments have senior U.S. officials reviewed lately? Last year Hillary Clinton went to see the Broadway musical "Book of Mormon." "We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others"? The Book of Mormon's big showstopper is "Hasa Diga Eebowai," which apparently translates as "F*** You, God." The U.S. Secretary of State stood and cheered.

Why does Secretary Clinton regard "F*** You, God" as a fun toe-tapper for all the family but "F***, You Allah" as "disgusting and reprehensible"? The obvious answer is that, if you sing the latter, you'll find a far more motivated crowd waiting for you at the stage door. So the "Leader of the Free World" and "the most powerful man in the world" (to revive two cobwebbed phrases nobody seems to apply anymore to the president of the United States) is telling the planet that the way to ensure your beliefs command his "respect" is to be willing to burn and bomb and kill. You Mormons need to get with the program.
I long for the day when I can be proud of my president again, instead of disgusted.  But in the interval, I'm very glad to have Mark Steyn around to make me laugh...

Quote of the Day...

Spoken by Dorothy Woods.  She's the widow of Ty Woods, one of the ex-SEALs killed in Libya last week along with Chris Stevens, our Ambassador to Libya.  She said this during her eulogy to her husband, as reported by Froggy on Blackfive:
We sleep safely only because of the Ty Woods who place themselves in harm's way on our behalf. I am grateful every day for their existence. And I am greatly moved to see the evidence of the strong support Ty received from his proud wife...

Romney's Tax Returns...

Megan McArdle speaks for me on this issue with finer prose than I could muster.

It surely is wonderful to see her blogging again.

But reading the comments on her post makes me want to go find another country to live in...

Thomas Jefferson, Revisited...

An excellent article in the Smithsonian, summarizing a lot of newly discovered or revealed information about Thomas Jefferson.  Most of this country's founding fathers have had their histories surrounded by a protective cocoon built by misguided historians trying to preserve the heroic narrative I learned in grade school.  Our founding fathers were all too human, though.  Personally, I would rather know the truth about them, as it is generally far more plausible and always provides far more understanding than the too-good-to-be-true historic gruel we've been dealt.  In recent years more and more such revelations have occurred, and I welcome them all. 

I like my history served up black; no cream or sugar please.

Efficient Health Care Markets...

There's a fascinating article in the WSJ($) today that profiles a company that delivers top-notch health care to those who can afford it. The company is Private Health Management, and its CEO is Leslie Michelson. They don't actually deliver the health care themselves – rather, they match up each patient's needs with the absolutely best health care that can be found anywhere in the world for them.  It is an attempt to address the opacity of today's U.S. health care marketplace.  Mr. Michelson has dreams of delivering that services to the masses, not just the ultra-rich.  The conclusion of the article resonates with me:
Americans, says Mr. Michelson, are "extremely good at buying things." But they don't know how to buy health care, and his company can help by giving them the tools they need. "The entire engine of American consumerism is missing in health care. What a preposterous thing."
Preposterous, indeed.  I am fascinated by the ideas underlying this company.  I also want to channel Glenn Reynolds and say: faster, please.

Creepy and Depressing...

I can't help it; that's how the election “tea leaves” are looking to me.

First: the creepy.  Check out the “Obama version” of the U.S. flag at right.  That flag is for sale on the official Obama web site.  There are only 250 of them (it's a limited edition print), so the listing may disappear at any time – so I've preserved a screen shot of the entire store screen, just in case someone doesn't believe it.

What's creepy about it?  Look how the Obama “O” logo is replacing the standard field of stars for each state.  It's sending a message to me, a creepy message: ”Replace the states with Obama!”  And those red stripes – five of them – look like streaks of blood from the fingers of someone's hand.  Shivers...

And here's another creepy thing: official Obama spokeswoman Jessica Alba asks people to pledge allegiance not to the United States of America – but rather to Barack Obama.  She even asks people to take pictures of themselves with their hands over their hearts (as when you pledge allegiance), like the one at left.  It's way too much like the personality cults of Mao, Stalin, or the various NoKo leaders...

Well, all of that certainly wasn't calculated to make me feel good.  I couldn't help thinking that Romney was running against a new version of Mao, but with competent PR people (and, thankfully, minus the violence).  And I'm not the only one noticing this...

As I drank my morning tea, pondering the above, it suddenly occurred to me that a fixture of previous election reporting – the Iowa Electronic Markets – was conspicuously missing from what I've been reading for the 2012 elections.  If you're not familiar with the Iowa Electronic Markets, it's a futures market (all accessed via the web) where you can purchase “contracts” for all sorts of things.  Essentially it's a legal way to place a bet on some particular outcome.  It's run by the University of Iowa's School of Business, and it's the best of the efforts attempting to “crowdsource” judgment about future events.

Of relevance here, you can purchase a contract that pays based on the outcome of the 2012 presidential election.  The way these contracts work is quite simple.  In the 2012 presidential election “Winner Takes All” contracts (the most popular by far), you can buy one of two contracts: either a contract that says the Democratic nominee (Obama) will win the popular vote, or a contract that says the Republican nominee (Romney) will win the popular vote.  Each contract pays $1 after the election if the candidate whose contract you bought wins the popular vote, or nothing if he didn't.  Where it gets interesting is how much you have to pay to buy one of those contracts today.  Someone is selling you that contract, and they will set the price based on how likely think it is that they will have to pay out that $1 in the end.  The graph at right shows you the price of those contracts over time; blue for the Democrat winning, red for the Republican winning.

If you're not used to interpreting these graphs, this may not be conveying much to you.  Here's the short interpretation: if you're an Obama supporter, this graph tells you that the wisdom of the marketplace is that Obama is very likely to win the popular vote (I wrote that carefully, for reasons I enlarge upon below).  That graph tells me that right now it would cost me about $0.75 to buy a contract for Obama, and about $0.25 for a Romney contract.  The price for a Romney contract is low for a very simple reason: the person selling that contract doesn't think it's very likely that he'll have to pay off.  The thing that's powerful about a system like the Iowa Electronic Markets is that you're seeing the cumulative judgment of many thousands of people.  It's precisely the same dynamic that's at work on the options markets, or the commodities futures market.  It's as close as you can get to an actual measurement of the probability of a future event like the outcome of a presidential election.  The Iowa Electronic Markets have a good track record – not perfect, but good – in their predictions of political outcomes.  What they're saying right now is that Obama is a 3:1 favorite in the election.  Obummer...

The reason I made a point of being careful to qualify the WTA market as being based on the popular vote outcome is this: it is possible for a candidate to win the electoral college (and therefore the election) while losing the popular vote.  This actually happened in 2000 with Bush vs. Gore – Bush won the electoral college vote (and therefore the election), but Al Gore actually won the popular vote.  That's an artifact of our Constitutionally prescribed presidential voting process, and not evidence of George W. Bush cheating somehow.  This artifact drives a lot about how presidential campaigning works.  All of this is discussed in some detail in this nicely done article.  Only three times in U.S. history has a candidate won the popular vote but lost the election.  It could happen again this time, but it's not very likely.  So the WTA results, even though based on popular vote and not electoral college, are still a reasonably good proxy for the election's outcome.

The Iowa Electronic Markets presidential WTA results should be (and probably are) ringing all sorts of alarm bells at Team Romney, and be a reason for the Team Obama folks to be sleeping peacefully at night.  They are not a good omen, most especially the way they're trending (and with a steep slope, too!).  They are not cause for despair – not yet, anyway.  It's still six weeks until the elections, and much can happen in that interval.  But if Team Romney wants to win, they'd better start upping their game, 'cause the tea leaves are not saying cheerful things from their perspective...

Friday, September 21, 2012

State Income Tax Distortions...

I heard a radio news report of this phenomenon, and did a little digging to see what the heck they were talking about.  The sources for this all suffer from a severe progressive/socialist bias, but on this issue I think they've struck something that ought to be a problem for people of any political persuasion.

Here's the basic idea that some genius politician came up with (I've no idea what the original source for this notion was).  Let's say you're a state politician in New Jersey.  A large company – say, General Electric – is planning to build a large plant that brings 2,000 direct jobs with it, and even more indirect jobs to support it and its employees.  You (the politician) want to persuade General Electric to locate that plant in New Jersey, but you don't want to give even the appearance of spending tax dollars to do it, because that will alienate the voters.  Here's the sly trick: you tell the company that you will give them a special deal – a tax credit equal to the income tax withheld for all its employees.

Here's how that might work.  General Electric, with the new plant's 2,000 employees, might withhold and pay an average of $3,500 per year, per employee for New Jersey state income taxes.  With 2,000 employees, that works out to $7 million per year – not chump change, for sure.  With the special deal, however, General Electric gets a tasty $7 million dollar check from the state, exactly offsetting the employee income tax they paid.  That's really just a bookkeeping trick, though – what really happened is that General Electric's 2,000 employees paid state income taxes to General Electric instead of to the state.  The companies that receive this credit aren't even required to tell their employees about it, and of course they don't.

A video primer:

Much more on this here and here.

There are several things very wrong with this practice.  The one that offends me the most is the opaque expenditure of tax-payer dollars. By making it a tax credit instead of an appropriation, the politicians have carefully disguised this expenditure.  It is effective, too, for most tax payers – even those tax payers who actually pay attention to such things.  I had no idea this practice existed until yesterday, and apparently it has existed for over a decade.  There are other big problems as well: the government is picking winners and losers (always, always a problem), only large and well-connected companies will ever get this sweetheard deal, and it presents large and very obvious opportunities for Russian-style political corruption (which I have no doubt has already happened, and frequently).

The politicians promote this program as if it was a job creator, but of course it is no such thing.  The jobs involved will be created somewhere, just not in the state that doesn't offer such a deal.  The politicians also claim this program is free, but it obviously is not.  If New Jersey gives General Electric a $7 million check, either there's $7 million less to spend on other programs, or the state has to raise $7 million from other tax payers.  It is not free in any sense of that word.

Finally, there is an unintended consequence that is becoming a big problem in the earliest states to adopt this idea (and will be an increasing problem as the others “catch up”): companies who already are in the state are now threatening to leave these states unless they too get this special deal.  States are caving into this “job blackmail” for fear of the political consequences.  In these increasingly common cases, enormous tax credits are being granted to companies already located in a state – and all because they were originally offered to bring new companies in.

This is a corrupt practice with a veneer of legality poorly glued on.  It's also a great example of the kind of political rot that occurs in any government the longer it's been in existence.  Many political theorists have postulated that all systems of government have a natural lifespan that has never been exceeded, basically because the accumulation of this political rot eventually causes the government to become completely ineffective at its most important jobs.  When I learn about things like this happening in America, my thoughts immediately go to these theorists...because it looks like damned good evidence that they are correct.

Doom is not a particularly pleasant thought for a Friday morning...

The Obama You Don't Know...

Interesting article in the Washington Examiner that calls into question 10 elements of the Obama story.  It's good reading if you aren't an Obama fan.  I doubt it will shake any believer's foundation, though...

My Dog: the Paradox....

The Oatmeal has long been one of my favorite humor sites, but somehow I missed this particular strip.  James C. (a friend and colleague) passed this along to me yesterday.  At right is just two frames out of a much longer strip.  If you're a dog owner or dog lover, this is required viewing – but make sure you've swallowed your morning beverage and set down your cup before reading it.

Also for dog lovers, this awesome compendium of dog-related words and phrases

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Poor Kitties...

Most of these kitties are most definitely not having fun, but Debbie and I laughed like hell anyway.  Via my lovely bride:

This Sure Looks Like Fun!

Via my mom:

13 Years Old...

Goosebumps. Awesome.  She looks like a 13 year old, but she certainly doesn't sound like one!

Fire Tornado...

Via my mom:

Merit Pay for Teachers...

The way we compensate teachers in most jurisdictions today has always struck me as a priori idiotic.  The notion that increases in compensation derive only from how long you've spent in a job is clearly not a recipe for extracting maximum performance from employees.  Unions, on the other hand, absolutely love it – because it means they can tell every person who joins the union that their performance will not be measured.  All they have to do is stay on the job (and the union will also make that a near-certainty) and they'll have a lifetime of raises.  How well they do their job has nothing to do with whether they get raises. 

That's just stupid.  Anyone who thinks otherwise must be, at their core, a socialist – a believer in a political system that has proved a failure in every single attempt ever made to implement it, and that has killed more humans than anything else humanity has ever done.  Call me an extremist if you must, but to me this is one of the most dangerous notions mankind has ever surfaced – and that's not for lack of competition!

A completely separate question, and one that I find very interesting, is just what kind of merit pay actually works to improve performance.  Megan McArdle has some thoughts on this.  It's a question that I'm very familiar with, as it's one that any manager in a business setting deals with as a routine part of their job.  I've spent much of the past 40 years (more, actually, dang it) as a manager at some level.  Designing compensation systems that extract maximum performance from employees has been a key part of every one of those jobs.  Teachers aren't any different in this respect than any other employees (though they, of course, argue that they're special and unique).  Every kind of employee I've ever worked with (and I've worked with many), and every corporate and contemporaneous societal culture changes the shape of what kind of merit pay works.  Individual people vary greatly in terms of what motivates them – when it's feasible to design individual compensation plans, that's going to get you the best result.  Generally speaking, though, any organization with more than a dozen or so individuals is too big for that to really work.

Over time, managers have come up with a bazillion different ways to deliver merit pay.  In my industry (software), most of the time merit pay is delivered in the form of stock options (or more recently, stock grants) and quarter's end (or year's end) cash bonuses.  Nearly every company I've ever worked with has done a poor job of managing these programs, from one particular perspective: ensuring that the money spent actually delivers improved performance.  It's hard to make these things work well, and the differences between individuals' motivations makes it challenging to find a “one size fits all” system that actually works on average.

Yesterday I heard about yet another bonus scheme.  It was the first time I'd heard of it, but it's not a new idea. This time the scheme was applied to teachers, with markedly positive results (measured by their students' performance).  That's a very interesting result.  Here's an article on that study, which relies on a psychological principle that I have heard of, called “loss aversion”.  If you're a leader who motivates people as part of your job, this is fascinating stuff.  To me, it is fascinating from a completely different perspective: it puts the lie to the long-time union contention that no merit pay system will affect teacher performance.  It turns out (and of course this is no surprise to me) that teachers are people, too – and just like any other person, if you design a compensation system that rewards better performance in a way that is meaningful to them, you will get (wait for it!)...better performance!

For the children, of course.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The 47%...

Romney's remarks about the 47% who do not pay (Federal) income tax has been much in the news recently.  I've wailed about this myself.  The graph at right nicely illustrates the issue (from this article).  When I first entered the workforce (in the late '60s), only about 12% of the workforce paid zero taxes.  At my first paid job (as a dishwasher/busboy at Howard Johnson's on the NJ Turnpike), I was paid minimum wage (then $0.85/hour for teenage workers, and $1.25/hour for adults).  I paid taxes out of those wages, enough taxes to thoroughly piss me off.

But Megan McArdle (writing at her new home with The Daily Beast) writes some uncomfortable truth.  Uncomfortable for conservatives, that is.  As she points out, the reason so many people don't pay Federal income tax is that Congress has started using the tax code to promote social policy, by picking winners and losers.  The winners (those paying less tax or getting credits) are those who follow the supported social policy – and many of those policies are those supported and promoted by conservatives.  In the chart above, the numbers don't lie: for the most part, the massive increases in the percentage of the workforce paying zero Federal taxes have occurred in Republican administrations.

Ms. McArdle strikes directly to the right problem: the use of the tax code to support social policy.  She supports this use of the tax code; I (and many others) do not.  The only way to eliminate all this picking of winners and losers would be to completely flatten the income tax – one rate, charged on all income over a threshold level, with zero exemptions, deductions, or credits.

Now if I can only live long enough to see this happen...

xkcd is Awesome Today...

Make sure you try dragging the lower image around...

Animated Optical Illusions...

I've posted something similar before, but this one is even better:

One Sentence...

This is awesome – everything you need to know about Obamacare, in a single sentence (and under two minutes)...

The All American, a B-17...

This particular B-17 survived a mid-air collision with a German fighter over the docks of Tunis.  Amazingly the pilot managed to land the badly-damaged aircraft, and not a single crew member was injured at all.

I'd never heard this story before.  Read all about it...


There's a new puppy at our house: Boomer, a five month old male Border Collie.  He's not ours, though – he belongs to an Australian couple (Brent and Francisca M.) from Queensland.  They asked Debbie to do “foundation training” on him, to get him ready for an agility competition career.  This was arranged by the breeder, the same one we got our Border Collie (Race) from.  We'll be keeping Boomer until next February; then he'll be making the long flight to Australia.

Boomer is recovering from surgery to repair an injury he got a few weeks ago.  He has some convalescing to do before he's ready for aggressive training.  That's clearly not his opinion, though – he's a ball of fire, ready to start playing with anything and everything right now.

He's getting along great with our four dogs, though our dogs are showing signs of a little jealousy over the attention Boomer is getting.  The cats are another story – Boomer thinks they are just the greatest toys evah!  We've got some training to do on that front :-)

It's fun having a puppy in the house again...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

They Walk Amongst Us...

Long-time readers may recall my previous posts on the Unarians (search for “Unarius” in the search bar at upper right).  There hasn't been much news on them in recent years, but they just popped up again – this time because a “weird news” journalist was being profiled, and this was one of his favorite stories.  In that story is a great slide show (one photo below) of the Unarian Cadillac, which is intended to welcome the UFOs when they land.  In Lawson Valley, where I live.  Seriously, that's what these folks believe!

I drive by their property every once in a while (it's off Montiel Truck Trail), just to make sure the Bug Eyed Monsters haven't landed.  Nothing but coyotes so far...