Wednesday, December 19, 2012


The Cassini team created this composite from over 60 images filtered from infrared, red, and violet ranges:

It Could Be Worse!

Via reader Jim M.:
But not everyone is as lucky as I am...

The economy is so bad that I got a pre-declined credit card in the mail.

I ordered a burger at McDonald's, and the kid behind the counter asked, "Can you afford fries with that?"

CEO's are now playing miniature golf.

If the bank returns your check marked "Insufficient Funds," you have to call them and ask if they mean you or them.

Hot Wheels and Matchbox stocks are trading higher than GM.

McDonald's is selling the 1/4 'ouncer'.

Parents in Beverly Hills and Malibu are firing their nannies and learning their children's names.

A truckload of Americans was caught sneaking into Mexico.

Dick Cheney took his stockbroker hunting.

Motel Six won't leave the light on anymore.

The Mafia is laying off judges.

BP Oil laid off 25 Congressmen.

Congress says they are looking into the Bernard Madoff scandal. Oh Great! The guy who made $50 Billion disappear is being investigated by the people who made $1.5 Trillion disappear!

And, finally...

I was so depressed last night thinking about the economy, wars, jobs, my savings, Social Security, retirement funds, and our bleak future, that I called the Suicide Lifeline and was connected to a call center inPakistan. When I told them I was suicidal, they got all excited and asked if I could drive a truck.

An Oldie-But-Goodie Nerdly Christmas Artifact...

I first ran into this many years ago, when working for Xscribe (a now-defunct company that made computerized stenographic systems for court reporters).  I have no idea when or where it originated.  It's a takeoff on the famous poem Twas the Night Before Christmas:

Twas the nocturnal segment of the diurnal period preceding the annual yuletide celebration. And throughout our place of residence, kinetic activity was not in evidence among the possessors of this potential, including that species of domestic rodent known as mus musclus. Hosiery was meticulously suspended from the forward edge of the wood-burning caloric apparatus, pursuant to our anticipatory pleasure regarding an eminent visitation from an eccentric philanthropist among whose folkloric appellations is the honorific title of St. Nicholas.

The prepubescent siblings, comfortably ensconced in their respective accommodations or repose, were experiencing subconscious visual hallucinations of variegated fruit confections moving rhythmically through their cerebrums. My conjugal partner and I, attired in our nocturnal head coverings, were about to take slumberous advantage of the hibernal darkness when upon the avenaceous exterior portion of the grounds there ascended such a cacophony of dissonance that I felt compelled to arise with alactrity from my place of repose for the purpose of ascertaining the precise source thereof.

Fastening to the casement, I forthwith opened the barriers sealing this fenestration, noting thereupon that the lunar brilliance without, reflected as it was on the surface of a recent crystalline precipitation, might be said to rival that of the solar merdidan itself; thus permitting my incredulous optical sensory organs to behold a miniature airborne runnered conveyance drawn by eight diminutive specimens of the genus ragifer. Piloted by a minuscule aged chauffeur so ebullient and nimble that it became instantly apparent to me that he was indeed our anticipated caller. With his ungulate motive power traveling at what may have been more vertigiuous velocity than patriotionalar predators, he vodiferated loudly, exuelled breath musically through contracted lasia, and addressed each of the octet by his or her respected cognonen; Now Dasher, now Dancer, et al. Guiding them to the uppermost exterior level of our abode, through which structured could readily distinguish the concatenations of each of the 32 cloven pedal extremities.

As I retracted my cranium from its erstwhile location, and was performing a 180-degree pivot, our distinguished visitant achieved, with utmost celerity in animal pelts soiled by the ebon residue from oxidations of carboniferous fuels which had accumulated on the walls thereof. His resemblance to a street vendor I attributed largely to the planthora of assorted playthings which he bore exorsally in commodious cloth receptacle.

His orbs were scintillant with reflected luminosity, while his submaxillary dermal indentations gave every evidence of exgaging amiability. The capillaries of his molar regions and nasal appurtenance were engorged with blood which suffused the suboutaneous layers, the former approximating the coloration of albion's floral embelem, the latter that of the prunus avium, or sweet cherry. His amusing sub- and superalabials resembled nothing so much as a common loop knot, and their amdent hirscule facial adornment appeared like small, tabular and columnar crystals of frozen water.

Clenched firmly between his incisors was smoking piece whose gray fumes, forming a tenuous ellipse about his occiput, were suggestive of a decorative seasonal circlet of holly. His visage was wider than it was high, and when he waxed audibly mirthful, his corpulent abdominal region undulated in the manner of impectinated fruit syrup in a hemispherical container. He was as short, neither more nor less than an obese, jocund, multigenarian gnome, the optical perception of whom rendered me visible frolicsome despite every effort to refrain from so being. By rapidly lowering and then elevating one eyelid and rotating his head slightly to one side he indicated that trepidation on my part was groundless.

Without utterance and with dispatch, he commenced filling the aforementioned hosiery with various of the aforementioned articles of merchandise extracted from his aforementioned previously dorsally transported cloth receptacle. Upon completion of his task, he executed an abrupt aboutface, placed a singular manual digit in lateral juxtaposition to his olfactory organ, inclined his cranium forward in a gesture of leave taking, and forthwith effected his egress by renegotiating (in reverse) the smoke passage. He then propelled himself in a short vector onto his conveyance, directed a musical expulsion of air through his contracted oral sphincter to the antlered quadrupeds among the seed-bearing portions of a common weed. But I overheard his parting exclamation, audible immediately prior to his vehiculation beyond the limits of visibility:


How to Choose a Bottle of Wine...

Some seasonal advice, via reader, friend, and colleague Doug S. (full resolution):

Why Obama Won: a Parable...

This was sent to me in an email, allegedly a true story from a classroom in Nashville, Tennessee.  I'm doubtful of its provenance, so I'll call it a parable instead of a report:
The most eye-opening civics lesson I ever had was while teaching 3rd grade. The last Presidential election was heating up and some of the children showed an interest. I decided we would have an election for a class president. We would choose our nominees. They would make a campaign speech and the class would vote. To simplify the process, candidates were nominated by other class members. We discussed what kinds of characteristics these students should have. We got many nominations and from those, Jamie and Olivia were picked to run for the top spot.

The class had done a great job in their selections. Both candidates were good kids.

I thought Jamie might have an advantage because he got lots of parental support.

I had never seen Olivia's mother.

The day arrived when they were to make their speeches.

Jamie went first.

He had specific ideas about how to make our class a better place.  He ended by promising to do his very best.

Everyone applauded and he sat down.

Now it was Olivia's turn to speak.

Her speech was concise. She said, "If you will vote for me, I will give you ice cream."  She sat down.

The class went wild. "Yes! Yes! We want ice cream."

She surely would say more. She did not have to.

A discussion followed. How did she plan to pay for the ice cream? She wasn't sure.  But no one pursued that question. They took her at her word.

Would her parents buy it or would the class pay for it?  She didn't know.

The class really didn't care. All they were thinking about was ice cream.

Jamie was forgotten. Olivia won by a landslide.

Every time Barack Obama opened his mouth he offered ice cream and 51.4 % of the people reacted like nine year olds.

They want ice cream.

The other 48.6% percent know they're going to have to feed the cow and clean up the mess.

Decoy Spider...

Weird things happen in the Amazon, like this one: a tiny little spider making a much bigger fake spider from bits of dead leaves and other trash – then “animating” it, apparently to fool would-be predators into thinking twice about tangling with this apparently menacing monster spider.  It seems to be a newly discovered spider species, too...

Visualized: Pythagorean Theorem...

This is just awesome – the Pythagorean Theorem in a beautiful and intuitive visualization (a demonstration, really)!

A Bad Budget Deal...

That's the title of this Wall Street Journal ($) piece, and here's its intro:
It's clear by now that the budget talks are drifting in a drearily familiar Washington direction: Tax and spending increases now, in return for the promise of spending cuts and tax and entitlement reform later. This is a bad deal for everyone except the politicians who want more money to spend.
Well, yes.  Drearily familiar it is.  Depressingly familiar.  They conclude:
Mr. Boehner is certainly in a tough spot, with tax rates set to rise on January 1 if Congress fails to act. His fellow Republicans haven't helped by whining about their lack of "leverage" and publicly negotiating with themselves over the terms of their tax surrender.

We think they have more leverage than they believe if they are willing to fight on taxes into next year. But if they're not, at least they shouldn't associate themselves with a deal that increases spending and taxes with little or nothing tangible in return.

Let Mr. Obama own the tax increase and its measly 7.5% annual reduction in a $1.1 trillion deficit. Let the sequester take effect as planned, which at least means some spending restraint. Then engage Mr. Obama next year in trench warfare over spending and the debt limit as voters figure out that soaking the rich doesn't begin to solve the problem. A bad budget deal is worse than no deal at all.
They're saying that going over the cliff is better than the deal Obama and Boehner seem to be homing in on.  In past posts, I've agreed with that sentiment.  Nothing has happened to change my views on that, though I can't say I'm all that enthusiastic about the prospect (as it will affect my financial situation rather directly!).  Not so reader and friend Larry E., who writes me:
Yes, I'm actually hoping for Congress to fail to act. I'm rooting for going ff the so called "fiscal cliff" No, I don't want to go off slowly, tentatively, I want to take a giant leap.

Every deal I've heard about involves kicking the can down the road once again. The latest seems to be raising the debt ceiling for two years, increasing taxes and... incredulously, increasing spending! Not even just increases in existing programs but 10s of billions for NEW spending. We haven't had a Federal budget in how long? And CA just fakes it every year.

Any delay, any "deal" will not only push the problem down the road once again, but clearly Congress and the President are hoping for a miracle, another dot com or housing boom, to bail them out as happened for Clinton and essentially bailed out California. If, by some miracle that does happen, what will be the result? They will once again be emboldened, speaking of how they "balanced" the budget when the reality is that the next collapse will just be worse as at each one, spending up even more dramatically and therefore debt and obligations even dramatically higher.

I've had it. I want to get it over with. I will vote for every proposition, every ridiculous bond measure, every new program and every bit of new spending to help hasten the day. A new high speed rail that serves no purpose and will cost 50 times the original estimate? You bet. Solar panels to cover the desert. Absolutely and toss in some wind generators too. No matter it wouldn't be enough to power a city fleet of Chevy Volts, no, do it anyway.

Yachts for every teacher, police officer and firefighter.... they are all heroes after all and no amount of money is enough to reward them. Lets just keep throwing at them. Hey, maybe it we increase education spending to... lets say... a million/year per student... we'll be able to raise expectations for graduation from eight grade reading to... ninth grade level. Lets shoot high. and hey, while we are at it.... lets go for a 50% graduation rate.... no... that just crazy talk.

No matter how important the job it is an unsustainable system that adds more and more long term obligations and doesn't add the capability to pay for it. Why, in a terrible economy with revenues down and unemployment up, would our politicians continue to add new programs, new long term obligations, new boondoggles? Because out and out bribery is legal. Or maybe, like me, they just want to get it over with?

I wish very much that there had been no stimulus bills. They amounted to nothing more than political slush funds and at best kept things limping along without solving any issues. Kicking that can down the road and rewarding a bunch of criminals and any "deal" will amount to the same.

Lets just do this thing.
Now that's what I'd call an enthusiastic endorsement of sequestration! And also an American who's basically given up on America – and who thinks that the shock of full-on progressivism might wake up our citizens. I wish I could be confident of that, as then I'd share Larry's enthusiasm for this course...

Carol of the Bells, at Work...

Just enjoy it:

Optical Poem...

Here's an interesting attempt to visualize music, in this case Liszt's Second Hungarian Rhapsody.  Watch it, then read below about why it's so surprising:

What's the big deal?  This: Oskar Fischinger made this film in 1937, before we had computers and software that made such things relatively easy to produce.  He did it with little bits of paper hanging on invisible wires, and stop-motion photography.  In other words, this took an enormous amount of incredibly tedious work to put together...