Thursday, February 28, 2013

Death to the Patent Trolls?

The advent of “patent troll” companies has seriously perverted the already-perverted world of intellectual property law.  These companies acquire portfolios of patents (or the rights to those patents) with the intent to prosecute companies alleged to be infringing them.  The key word there is “alleged”.  Patent trolls are frequently accused (almost certainly accurately) of bringing actions that they are sure to lose – because they know that the accused companies will often (most of the time, in fact) pay a settlement just to make the lawsuit go away.

Many have noted that the patent trolls are enabled by a feature of American law: that the winner of a lawsuit like this still pays their own legal expenses.  Under English law, the loser pays for both sides legal expenses.  This “loser pays” system greatly discourages frivolous lawsuits, as the side with a good defense is willing to pay for that defense, knowing that if they win the other side is going to pay the entire expense.

Now that same “loser pays” system is being proposed for the U.S. – but only for suits brought by patent trolls.  Defining a patent troll is trickier than it might appear.  Here's an article about the proposed bill, and here's the EFF's statement of support for it...

Visualizing Formerly Invisible Motion (and More)...

Through a technique dubbed “Eulerian magnification”, computer scientists are getting better at producing stunning, informative visualizations.  The video tells the story, and there are more details in the accompanying storyThis search will show you many more videos produced via Eulerian magnification.  What an awesome new tool!

World's Nerdiest Marriage Proposal?

I was skeptical until I read it.  This is one physicist's written marriage proposal to another physicist.  Partial clip below; click on the link to read the whole thing.  Awesome!


For nearly 20 years now, “Siggy” (more formally, “Eight Sigmas”) has been a big part of our life.  We purchased this stock '96 Toyota LandCruiser in 1995 using some of the money we made from our stock options after Stac's IPO.  We had to order it (and wait several months to get it!) because we wanted the four-wheeling features that were then available (most especially the differential locks) from Toyota. 

Siggy was our ride on many adventures throughout the Western U.S.  It took us in safety and comfort on freeways and on extremely rugged back-country roads.  Perhaps the most challenging thing we ever did with Siggy was a wonderful vacation in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado (where we're going again this summer).  With Debbie, my dad, and two dogs (Mo'i and Lea) we roamed all over those mountains – never meeting a trail we couldn't take, and never feeling the least at risk.

But poor Siggy is now too old and decrepit to safely take us into the back-country any more.  With nearly 300,000 miles on it (with never a major repair!), the engine is now on its last legs.  Replacing the engine would be quite expensive, and the rest of the vehicle is worn as well.  Really the entire drive train should be replaced, and that just didn't seem practical.  So last week we researched all our options and chose a new ride: a 2013 Toyota FJ Cruiser, bright orange and white.  This time we're not going to keep it a stock vehicle – we bought a very basic model (just the off-roading package) and we're going to add aftermarket gear to make it a really capable and safe off-road vehicle.

I drove Siggy to the dealer (in El Cajon) to meet its fate as a trade-in.  It was a sad drive; Siggy is just chock full of wonderful memories for us.  I shed a few tears, and at one point almost turned around to take it back home.  But what would we do with an old, beat-up LandCruiser?  In the end, I decided I'd hope that somebody on a tight budget would buy Siggy and fix it all up in a labor of love.  I hope that's what happens, anyway...

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Asperatus Clouds...

...over New Zealand.  Via APOD, of course.

Economics 101, with Humor...

A good primer on the absurdities of the sequestration hysteria:

Challenging Authorities...

Very interesting montage of individual Americans challenging checkpoint authorities...

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Coronal Rain on the Sun...

The Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the photos used to make this movie last summer.  When you play the video below, you're seeing things about 360 times faster than they actually occurred – ten hours of actual events seen in about four minutes.  Via APOD, of course...

Do-It-Yourself Weapons of the Syrian Rebels...

This web site has a lot of photos like the one at right, showing the surprisingly sophisticated improvised weapons being put together by the Syrian rebels.  Armored vehicles, artillery shells, rockets, remote-controlled machine guns, “technicals”, and more – somehow not what came to mind when I saw the title.  I'll have to revise my preconceived notions of the capabilities of your average Syrian young man...

Cool Stop-Motion Short Film...

Very cool little film.  Watching this reminded me of the old Nick Park flicks (esp. Wallace and Grommit).  On this one, I wonder how they managed to keep all those positions so accurately...

Monday, February 25, 2013

Hmmm... Looks Like We're Not Running Out of Oil...

Every year a new round of hydrocarbon doomsayers predicts the imminent exhaustion of the planet's supply of crude oil – and the U.S. supply even earlier.  Every year reality proves them wrong.  Someday, of course, the doomsayers will be right – but it looks like someday is a good many years away...

Awesome Castings of Ant Nests...

Retired entomologist Walter Tschinkel from Florida makes these ant casts from aluminum.  See video below for details on how he does it.  Awesome!

Sunday, February 24, 2013


John L. runs a site called RightPosters, featuring lots of posters designed to appeal (so far as I can tell:) to anyone who is not a liberal or progressive.  The example at right combines one of my favorite Churchill quotes with a great photo of him.  John wrote me to ask if I'd consider linking to him, and after looking over his offerings I'm more than happy to do so.  I haven't purchased anything from his site, so if any of my readers happen to have experience with it, please let me know...

Diaphananthe pellucida...

This African orchid via BPOD, of course...


M51, the “Whirlpool Galaxy”, as seen by the Hubble Telescope.  Full resolution version here.  Via APOD, of course...

20 Reasons for Democrats to be Embarrassed...

This list of epic fails by the Democratic Party and its members is good fodder for anyone who isn't a liberal or progressive.  An example:
The American Protective League and The Palmer Raids (1919-1921): Under the leadership of Woodrow Wilson, criticizing the government became a crime and a fascist organization, the American Protective League was formed to spy on and even arrest fellow Americans for being insufficiently loyal to the government. More than 100,000 Americans were arrested, with less than 1% of them ever being found guilty of any kind of crime. 
On the other hand, coming up with an equivalently damning list of epic fails for the Republicans shouldn't be very difficult, either.  Neither party has the epic fail monopoly.

Can anyone imagine a list of “epic successes” for either party?  I think it would be quite difficult to get 20 serious candidates for such a list...


Well, yesterday, a little teensy one, and quite a long way away.  What makes this one interesting is that the seismometer in our house captured it (see below).

USGS says that the earthquake occurred on 2/23 at 04:40:14 UTC.  Our seismometer shows the first burst of primary wave at 04:40:33 – 19 seconds later.  The location of the earthquake (USGS) is 109 kilometers from our house, yielding an average primary wave speed of 5.75 km/s, well within norms for primary waves.  By collecting lots of data like this, for many earthquakes and from many locations, USGS is building up a huge dataset that will let them learn a great deal about the composition of the earth's crust in the areas where they have good coverage (Southern California is one of them)...

Results: Oh-Oh...

Reader Simi L. sent me a link to a brand-new episode of Roadrunner vs. Wile E. Coyote, with modern computer graphics.  That led me to several others, and a few good laughs this morning:

Political Correctness in Our Military...

Reader and friend Doug S. (who is a U.S. Air Force veteran) passed this link along.  This is the sort of thing that started the German military along the path to its current “toothless tiger” status.  It's also what happens when an entrenched bureaucracy tackles a problem: common sense and pragmatism are thrown out the window; mindless rules and perverse incentives rule.

I hear the drums of doom.  They don't sound so very far away...


Retronaut is a fascinating site full of old things, like the British WWII recruiting poster at right...

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Interpolation Tricks...

Some of these are new to me, though I was well aware of the peculiar usefulness of the range 0..1.  I particularly like “smoothstep”...

Flying Pigs Moment...

A famous report, the darling of the progressive obliviots, employee of a famously left-wing newspaper, writes an article declaring straight up that Obama is lying about the origins of sequestration.

Bob Woodward in the Washington Post.

What the hell is going on?

Graph of Doom...

Alternative title: Graph of Greece-in-the-Making.

Many surveys and polls have shown that a majority of the U.S. voters believe that the federal government should cut spending.  The Pew Research Center decided to do a survey to see what specific kinds of spending the voters would support cutting.

Answer: none.

Lemme get this straight: the voters want to cut spending generally, but there are no specific kinds of spending – not even one category that a majority of voters agree should be cut.

Mind you, this is mathematically possible.  If every voter only supported cuts in a single expense category, then if 5% of voters supported cuts in any given category we'd get results like this.  So it's not necessarily the case that any (much less all) voters are being insincere here.  It could be, and likely is, simply that we all have different ideas about where the cuts should occur.

I can only think of one solution for that: cut everything.  Hey...doesn't that sound a lot like the (to be dreaded) sequestration?

The real problem caused by this phenomenon is political: any politician driven primarily by self-interest (that would be all of them) is going to find it very hard to support real cuts in (say) agriculture – because most of his or her voters are going to think that's wrong, and remember that at the next election.  Consensus fails in this situation; ideology and leadership are needed.  I don't know where we're going to find them...

Thatcher Quotes...

Here's a nice collection of Margaret Thatcher quotes.  Like the Reagan quotes I linked a few days ago, this one also contains several I'd not seen before, including this gem on political consensus:
To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies. So it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects.
Oh, Maggie, that's exactly what's wrong with political consensus, in just a few words.  Perfect...

And here's one of my all-time favorite Thatcher quotes, which I've heard many times before:
We should back the workers, not the shirkers.
You hear that, CongressCritters?

World's Cutest Frog...

Via Althouse:

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Pick Up...

Via my lovely bride, who got it from her friend Marsha Y.:

Thursday, February 21, 2013 – Password Fail...

You'd think a financial institution that managed billions of dollars of its customers' money would pay especially good attention to online security.

You would be wrong, at least in the case of

My ex-employer set up Fidelity accounts for employees to handle things like stock options, employee stock purchase plans (ESPP), 401(k) plans, etc.  It's a nice benefit.  But I ran into something there that is a great example of a really bad password implementation.

When you create a password at, the site will tell you that it must meet these criteria:
  • Use 6 to 12 letters and/or numbers
  • Do not use one entire piece of personally identifiable information such as your Social Security number, telephone number, or date of birth. Instead, alter or disguise it (e.g., Jane212Smith)
  • Do not use more than 5 instances of a single number or letter, or easily recognized sequences (e.g., 12345 or 11111)
  • Do not use symbols, punctuation marks, or spaces (e.g., #,@, /, *, -.)
This is already much weaker than one would expect of such an institution.  The first and last rules are enforced.  The second rule clearly cannot be automatically enforced.  I'm not sure if the third rule is enforced, though it could be.

These rules make it sound as though there are 62 possible characters (a-z, A-Z, and 0-9) for each password character position.  With a 6 to 12 character password allowable, there would be 62^6 + 62^7 + ... 62^12 possible passwords, which works out to about 3.3 x 10^21 (or smaller if the third rule is enforced).  That's a big number, but it could be much larger, if only would eliminate the last rule.

However, I discovered today that the situation is actually far worse than it looks. asks for your password if you call them – they have you enter it via the touch-tone keypad on your phone.  That means, for example, that if your password's first character is "5", "j", "J", "k", "K", "l", or "L", you press the "5" key.  That means that's passwords are really composed of nothing but the digits 0-9.

I have verified this.  My actual password is comprised of both letters and numbers.  I converted all the letters to the touch-tone keypad equivalent digit, and entered my password as all numbers – and it worked just fine.

That means that the number of possible passwords is much smaller than even's inadequate password criteria would suggest: 10^6 + 10^7 + .. + 10^12, which works out to about 1.1 x 10^11.  For the math-challenged amongst my readers, that's over 10 billion times weaker.

Epic fail,  Epic fail.  Shame should be upon your countenance...

Whose Side Are You On?

Evan Todd is a survivor of the Columbine massacre, and he objects to Obama's gun control initiatives.  In an open letter to Obama, he asks: “Whose side are you on?” Here's the letter in its entirety:
Mr. President,

As a student who was shot and wounded during the Columbine massacre, I have a few thoughts on the current gun debate. In regards to your gun control initiatives:

Universal Background Checks

First, a universal background check will have many devastating effects. It will arguably have the opposite impact of what you propose. If adopted, criminals will know that they can not pass a background check legally, so they will resort to other avenues. With the conditions being set by this initiative, it will create a large black market for weapons and will support more criminal activity and funnel additional money into the hands of thugs, criminals, and people who will do harm to American citizens.

Second, universal background checks will create a huge bureaucracy that will cost an enormous amount of tax payers dollars and will straddle us with more debt. We cannot afford it now, let alone create another function of government that will have a huge monthly bill attached to it.

Third, is a universal background check system possible without universal gun registration? If so, please define it for us. Universal registration can easily be used for universal confiscation. I am not at all implying that you, sir, would try such a measure, but we do need to think about our actions through the lens of time.

It is not impossible to think that a tyrant, to the likes of Mao, Castro, Che, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, and others, could possibly rise to power in America. It could be five, ten, twenty, or one hundred years from now — but future generations have the natural right to protect themselves from tyrannical government just as much as we currently do. It is safe to assume that this liberty that our forefathers secured has been a thorn in the side of would-be tyrants ever since the Second Amendment was adopted.

Ban on Military-Style Assault Weapons

The evidence is very clear pertaining to the inadequacies of the assault weapons ban. It had little to no effect when it was in place from 1994 until 2004. It was during this time that I personally witnessed two fellow students murder twelve of my classmates and one teacher. The assault weapons ban did not deter these two murderers, nor did the other thirty-something laws that they broke.

Gun ownership is at an all time high. And although tragedies like Columbine and Newtown are exploited by ideologues and special-interest lobbying groups, crime is at an all time low. The people have spoken. Gun store shelves have been emptied. Gun shows are breaking attendance records. Gun manufacturers are sold out and back ordered. Shortages on ammo and firearms are countrywide. The American people have spoken and are telling you that our Second Amendment shall not be infringed.

10-Round Limit for Magazines

Virginia Tech was the site of the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. Seung-Hui Cho used two of the smallest caliber hand guns manufactured and a handful of ten round magazines. There are no substantial facts that prove that limited magazines would make any difference at all.
Second, this is just another law that endangers law-abiding citizens. I’ve heard you ask, “why does someone need 30 bullets to kill a deer?”

Let me ask you this: Why would you prefer criminals to have the ability to out-gun law-abiding citizens? Under this policy, criminals will still have their 30-round magazines, but the average American will not. Whose side are you on?

Lastly, when did they government get into the business of regulating “needs?” This is yet another example of government overreaching and straying from its intended purpose.

Selling to Criminals

Mr. President, these are your words: “And finally, Congress needs to help, rather than hinder, law enforcement as it does its job. We should get tougher on people who buy guns with the express purpose of turning around and selling them to criminals. And we should severely punish anybody who helps them do this.”

Why don’t we start with Eric Holder and thoroughly investigate the Fast and Furious program?

Furthermore, the vast majority of these mass murderers bought their weapons legally and jumped through all the hoops — because they were determined to murder. Adding more hoops and red tape will not stop these types of people. It doesn’t now — so what makes you think it will in the future? Criminals who cannot buy guns legally just resort to the black market.

Criminals and murderers will always find a way.

Critical Examination

Mr. President, in theory, your initiatives and proposals sound warm and fuzzy — but in reality they are far from what we need. Your initiatives seem to punish law-abiding American citizens and enable the murderers, thugs, and other lowlifes who wish to do harm to others.

Let me be clear: These ideas are the worst possible initiatives if you seriously care about saving lives and also upholding your oath of office. There is no dictate, law, or regulation that will stop bad things from happening — and you know that. Yet you continue to push the rhetoric. Why?

You said, “If we can save just one person it is worth it.” Well here are a few ideas that will save more that one individual:

First, forget all of your current initiatives and 23 purposed executive orders. They will do nothing more than impede law-abiding citizens and breach the intent of the Constitution. Each initiative steals freedom, grants more power to an already-overreaching government, and empowers and enables criminals to run amok.

Second, press Congress to repeal the “Gun Free Zone Act.” Don’t allow America’s teachers and students to be endangered one-day more. These parents and teachers have the natural right to defend themselves and not be looked at as criminals. There is no reason teachers must disarm themselves to perform their jobs. There is also no reason a parent or volunteer should be disarmed when they cross the school line.

This is your chance to correct history and restore liberty. This simple act of restoring freedom will deter would-be murderers and for those who try, they will be met with resistance.

Mr. President, do the right thing, restore freedom, and save lives. Show the American people that you stand with them and not with thugs and criminals.


Severely Concerned Citizen, Evan M. Todd

The End Times Are Nigh, Part 99,232...

In a single story, we get several pieces of evidence:
  • Today's college students apparently need instruction on ... masturbation.
  • Allegheny College (a liberal arts school in Meadville, Pennsylvania) is stepping up to solve the problem.
  • The course is being conducted in the college's chapel.
You just can't make this stuff up...

Corruption, California-Style...

Via CoyoteBlog, this post from SLO Leaks:
Like me, [Steve Blank] is in the high tech industry. Like me, he has started several high tech companies....

After Steve sold his last startup company he applied for a permit to build a house in the California Coastal Zone in 2000. And, just like me, Steve’s land use permit was appealed to the California Coastal Commission. The reason for the appeal was “sensitive habitat” issues. (I don’t have any sensitive habitat issues because my proposed house is in the middle of a field of non-native weeds.)

Unlike me, Steve’s appeal to the Coastal Commission went pretty smoothly. He had his hearing in only 8 months – start to finish. It has taken me a year and a half, after waiting a year and a half for SLO County to issue the permit in the first place. And there were no onerous “Special Conditions” imposed on Steve by either San Mateo County or the Coastal Commission.

Here is the list of “Special Conditions” that the Coastal staff wants to impose on me.

Superficially Steve’s house and my house are similar. I have a main house and a barn on 37 acres, Steve has a main house, two barns, and a farm labor house. But Steve’s house is 15,780 sq. ft., with a swimming pool, and a 2,500 sq. ft. barn, and another 3,040 sq. ft. barn 31 ft. high, and a 1240 sq. ft. farm labor house all on 261 acres. So Steve’s house is around 3 times larger than my proposed house (and much taller). Steve also got to have a fence and there was no requirement for public access. And Steve was able to build his house to look anyway he wanted. No “rural agricultural theme” architecture for Steve, that’s for sure. Steve can also plant in his yard pretty much any damn thing he wants.

Steve is pretty proud of his house. A picture of his house is the banner to his web page, which ishere. You can see the front gate of his house here. And this is an overhead view.

Steve Blank is one of the current California Coastal Commissioners.
This is the sort of thing one expects in a third-world country, or Russia, or Chicago.  Not here.

Forbidden History of Taxes...


Internet Jukebox...

Via my mom, this delightful site.  Debbie and I spent a happy hour just listening to the songs we remember from our teenage years, and with some amusement to many of the earlier songs that we'd never heard before...

A Reader's Suggestion...

Larry E. suggests this as a way to celebrate this blog's sixth anniversary:

Now what do you suppose he's trying to tell me?

We Broke the Tomato...

Now they tell us!  Actually, anyone who's tasted a tomato more than thirty years or so ago has long known that tomatoes are “broken” – they used to taste wonderful, now they taste like unflavored polystyrene foam.

But with the scientists' official recognition of the tomato being “broken”, they're going to work on fixing it.

Faster, please.  I would dearly love to be able to buy a tasty tomato in the grocery store!

Yet Another Reason... admire Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

A Rain of Spiders...

For real, in Brazil.  I know quite a few people who would find this phenomenon...less than pleasant.

Candid Animal Photos...

Recent technological advances have made it entirely practical to put up “trap cameras” – automatic cameras that take pictures when they sense an animal is in range.  These digital cameras can be in very remote areas, and store the photos – sometimes for months – before the scientists collect them.  Scientists have been deluged with far more photographs than they've ever had before, leading to all sorts of research opportunities.  Some of them get turned into animated GIFs, like the one at right.  Here are many more...

Oops, Part 3942...

Seems the scientific consensus isn't quite as previously advertised:
Don’t look now, but maybe a scientific consensus exists concerning global warming after all. Only 36 percent of geoscientists and engineers believe that humans are creating a global warming crisis, according to a survey reported in the peer-reviewed Organization Studies. By contrast, a strong majority of the 1,077 respondents believe that nature is the primary cause of recent global warming and/or that future global warming will not be a very serious problem.
That's from an article in Forbes, which by and large has been credulous about anthropogenic global warming.  Read the whole thing...

Abraham Lincoln...

Lincoln is perhaps our most quotable President, and I thought I had read most of the interesting ones.  But here's a site with a lot of Lincoln quotes I had not seen before, such as this gem:
We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others, the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name – liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names – liberty and tyranny.

The Crazy Jeep Dealer...

Our ancient LandCruiser (a '93 with almost 300,000 miles on it) has reached the point where we're afraid to take it on a “serious” four-wheeling expedition.  Our mechanic tells us the engine or transmission could conk out at any moment.  So we're looking around for a new four-wheeling vehicle.

One of the models we decided to look at was the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk, which we'd read some good things about.  Only one dealer in San Diego County had any in stock, a dealer in Poway.  So we went up there to see them. 

The sales guy (a very nice young man named Dwight) really couldn't answer any of my questions about it.  Mainly this was because neither he nor anyone else there knows anything at all about four-wheeling :)  We're not their normal sort of customer.  So I told them, jokingly, that they could answer all my questions if they'd just let me take one of their inventory out four-wheeling on a local road.  I never imagined they'd say “sure” – but they did!

So off we went in a brand-new Trailhawk, with permission to take it off-road.  We went up through Julian (which had about a foot of snow) and down to Banner, then onto the Oriflamme Canyon Road.  We know that road well, and after the rains the day before, it was good and muddy.  We gave that vehicle a very good test :)  When we brought it back to the dealer, it was still all in one piece, but it was no longer clean and shiny :)

We really liked the Trailhawk, and we sat down to talk with the dealer about buying one.  But right away we were stymied.  We insisted on ordering the vehicle configured exactly the way we wanted it – and they insisted on selling us one out of inventory (another dealer's inventory, not theirs).  The one they wanted to sell us wasn't an exact match to what we wanted, so we said “no”, we want to order the right.  Then they told us that the 2013 Trailhawks could no longer be ordered, and that there would be no 2014 Trailhawks.  So we just said “no thanks”, and now we're back to square one on our search.

But we still can scarcely believe that the dealer was crazy enough to let us take their brand-new vehicle out four-wheeling!

That Had to Hurt...

Update: The New York Times reverses itself, in a vindication for Tesla motors.  Kudos to Elon Musk for standing up to the bully!

Original post: John Broder is a New York Times reporter who recently penned a scathing review of a Tesla electric car.  Elon Musk, founder and chairman of Tesla Motors, knew that Broder was lying in his review – because Tesla carefully logged everything Broder did during his test drive.  What Broder actually did, and the results he actually got, don't match the data recorded.  He's lying.

And Elon Musk wants you to know every last detail.

Assuming this is not an elaborate hoax on Tesla's part (and that seems quite unlikely), it's good to see someone stand up to the lamestream media bullies.  I'm unsurprised to discover that the NYT is ok with fabricating a story to make it more sensational – but I suspect a lot of people will be surprised...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


The NOAA forecast for last night (as of the time we went to bed) included 1 to 3 inches of snow at our altitude.  Never happened.  However, we did get close to an inch of rain (about 0.87 inches, to be precise) and a bit of corn kernel sized hail. 

The latter let to an amusing incident on our morning dog walk, which was just at daybreak, during a lull in the rain.  I took all four dogs out on leashes, and is their want in such situations we arrived at a point where two of the dogs (Mo'i and Racer) were synchro-pooping.  There they were, in that awkward-looking dog squat, when suddenly the heavens started dropping that corn kernel sized hail on us.  I had my Aussie bush hat on, so it didn't bother me.  Mo'i never noticed it (this is quite typical of the placid Mr. Mo'i).  But Racer – he was annoyed.  The hail was bouncing off his nose in a way that he didn't appreciate at all, and given his, er, activity he couldn't very well duck his head to avoid it.  So he voiced his displeasure with a few growls, and then started snapping at the descending hail.  He's a very fast dog, so he may well have caught a view hailstones :)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

As You Slide Down the Bannister of Life, Remember:

Via my mom, these words of wisdom from Maxine:
1. Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggert have written an impressive new book. It's called .... 'Ministers Do More Than Lay People'

2. Transvestite: A guy who likes to eat, drink and be Mary.

3. The difference between the Pope and your boss, the Pope only expects you to kiss his ring.

4. My mind works like lightning, one brilliant Flash and it is gone.

5. The only time the world beats a path to Your door is if you're in the bathroom.

6. I hate sex in the movies. Tried it once. The seat folded up, the drink spilled and that ice, well, it really chilled the mood.

7. It used to be only death and taxes.  Now, of course, there's shipping and handling, too.

8. A husband is someone who, after taking the trash out, gives the impression that he just cleaned the whole house.

9. My next house will have no kitchen - just vending machines and a large trash can.

10. Definition of a teenager? God's punishment ... for enjoying sex.

Crime Watch...

Passed along by friend, former colleague, and reader Doug S.  I think we can guess where he stands on gun control:

Six Years...

Today is my blog's sixth anniversary - six years ago today I started contributing my fair share of junk, chaos, cat videos, and political hand-wringing to the web.

Feels a bit like I should celebrate, but how exactly does one celebrate a “bloggiversary”?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Legal Question...

Via my lovely bride, who asks:

Is this statuetory rape?  Or just a moosdemeanor?

The Ten Guiltiest Dogs on the Internet...

Via my lovely bride:

British Mini-Cooper Ad...

Via my mom:

I'm Going to Try for a Fifth Time...

One of the things on my retirement to-do list is to try (for the fifth time) to learn to play a musical interest.  I love to listen to music, and have always envied those who could create it.  Starting when I was quite young I've tried a recorder, a harmonica, a flute, and a guitar.  To call my attempts disastrous would be overly kind.  I never even learned how to read music. 

Now I have (or will have :) the time to devote to this.  Once again I'm looking around to choose an instrument.  Purely accidentally last night I ran into a video of an instrument that I had never seen or heard of before: an ocarina, which comes in many varieties.  As I read about them, they look like a good choice for a beginner – and they sound a lot like one of my favorite of all instruments, the flute.  Here are a couple of videos of ocarina music I ran across (there are many more on YouTube):

Alcohol Consumption Around the Globe...

Click on the map at right to see a larger one, or here to see the full-sized original version.  I would only have guessed one of the worst guzzlers: Ireland.  The other three bad boys: Hungary, Moldova, and Uganda.  On the other end of the spectrum (low consumption) was another big surprise for me: Ecuador.  That's so surprising that it makes me wonder if the data has a problem.  Vietnam is also very low, which I also find surprising.  Europe in general drinks much more than Japan, the U.S., or China; no surprise for me there :)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Harmonica at Carnegie Hall...

Via my mom:

A Handy Method...

A Romanian auto body mechanic at work:

Translated, the video's uploader said:
A handy method, which does not know any difference between the original and new paint.
All righty then...

Proof Positive...

Californians elected Nancy Pelosi to the House of Representatives multiple times, continuously since 1987.  Most recently, 85.1% of her district voted for her.

Frequently Ms. Pelosi does something to add to my sense of wonder at her election.  The fact that Californians (in San Francisco) continue to elect Ms. Pelosi is proof positive of something.  I'm not entirely sure what it's proving, but I'm absolutely positive it's something bad.

Now she's done it again.  Consider this statement she made on Valentine's Day, on the subject of a proposed cut in Congressional pay:
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday that she opposes a cut in congressional pay because it would diminish the dignity of lawmakers' jobs.

"I don't think we should do it; I think we should respect the work we do," Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol. "I think it's necessary for us to have the dignity of the job that we have rewarded."
You likely already know that Ms. Pelosi is one of the wealthiest members of Congress (her net worth is about $58 million, primarily through her husband).  She keeps getting re-elected.  She was the House Majority leader, and is now the House Minority leader.  You'd be forgiven for thinking “She must have something on the ball!”

Then you read her statement.

You try to parse her statement.

You try to figure out what it's even attempting to say.

You have to conclude she's an idiot.

What else could explain her apparently belief in the dignity of a member of Congress – the most despised politicians in America? 

Or her belief (if my attempt to parse her sentence is on the mark) that members of Congress deserve some kind of reward?

She's an embarrassing idiot, or better, an obliviot.  And my fellow Californians keep re-electing her, every two years.  That definitely proves something.  And reinforces my already firmly settled inclination to get the hell out of Dodge...

Another Benefit of Growing Up on a Farm?

A few years ago scientists observed something interesting: people who grew up on a farm had a much lower incidence of allergies and asthma.  They speculated that rolling around in the dirt, exposure to animals, etc. exercised the farm kid's immune systems from an early age, and that delivered a lifelong benefit.  Back in the '80s, scientists discovered (to their vast surprise!) that peptic ulcers weren't primarily caused by stress, but rather by a bacterial infection of the stomach.  However, most people carrying this bacteria don't develop ulcers; their immune systems fight it off.

Now scientists have discovered a link (not proved causal yet) between the lack of certain “good” intestinal bacteria and autism.  We get “infected” with these intestinal bacteria through things we ingest (eat).  We like to think that we ingest only our food, but any parent can tell you that kids will ingest all sorts of non-food items.  For farm kids, that includes things of a much wider variety than the typical city kid.  Scientists studying autism have noted that the incidence amongst farm kids is significant lower.  Which leads me, naturally, to speculate that the farm kids' wider, er, ingestive range increases the chances that they'll be infected with the good intestinal bacteria – and therefore have a lower propensity to autism.

Wouldn't that be interesting if autism turned out to be as easy to deal with as peptic ulcers turned out to be?

Russian Dash-Cams...

When the meter flashed across Russian skies yesterday, its passage was captured by dozens of dashboard cameras (dash-cams) mounted in the cars of ordinary citizens.  If that meteor had flashed across American skies, I doubt there would be even one such video – I don't believe I know anyone with a dash-cam.  So why are they so apparently common in Russia?

One search on Google and I had the answer.  In a word: evidence.  An excerpt:
In Russia, everyone should have a camera on their dashboard. It’s better than keeping a lead pipe under your seat for protection (but you might still want that lead pipe).

The conditions of Russian roads are perilous, with insane gridlock in cities and gigantic ditches, endless swamps and severe wintry emptiness on the backroads and highways. Then there are large, lawless areas you don’t just ride into, the police with a penchant for extortion and deeply frustrated drivers who want to smash your face.

Psychopaths are abundant on Russian roads. You best not cut anyone off or undertake some other type of maneuver that might inconvenience the 200-pound, six-foot-five brawling children you see on YouTube hopping out of their SUVs with their dukes up. They will go ballistic in a snap, drive in front of you, brake suddenly, block you off, jump out and run towards your vehicle. Next thing you start getting punches in your face because your didn’t roll up your windows, or getting pulled out of the car and beaten because you didn’t lock the doors.

These fights happen all the time and you can’t really press charges. Point to your broken nose or smashed windows all you want. The Russian courts don’t like verbal claims. They do, however, like to send people to jail for battery and property destruction if there’s definite video proof. That is why there’s a new, growing crop of dash-cam videos featuring would-be face-beaters backing away to the shouts of “You’re on camera, fucker! I’m calling the cops!”

Dash-cam footage is the only real way to substantiate your claims in the court of law. Forget witnesses. Hit and runs are very common and insurance companies notoriously specialize in denying claims. Two-way insurance coverage is very expensive and almost completely unavailable for vehicles over ten years old–the drivers can only get basic liability. Get into a minor or major accident and expect the other party to lie to the police or better yet, flee after rear-ending you. Since your insurance won’t pay unless the offender is found and sued, you’ll see dash-cam videos of post hit and run pursuits for plate numbers.
I've visited Russia dozens of times on work-related trips, but somehow I'd never run across this little facet.  Perhaps its a very recent development, though, as the cost of dash-cams has come down a lot in the past few years (there are many under $100 on Amazon now).  Knowing Russia reasonably well, I can confidently predict that there is a thriving market in fake dash-cams there :)

Floating Hell?

The news this morning is full of stories like this one, with passengers on the Carnival Triumph calling it a “floating hell” over the past five days since a fire disabled the ship.  One passenger (as of this morning) has already filed a lawsuit over the experience.

I read three or four stories in an attempt to understand exactly what was so “hellish” about this cruise.  It appears to me that at their very worst, conditions on the Carnival Triumph were considerably better than conditions at their very best on the USS Long Beach, the U.S. Navy ship that I served four years on.

Now mind you, I'm not saying that I think the Carnival cruise lines are blameless (on this question I really have no idea).  I believe those passengers are fully entitled to compensation for their ruined vacations.

But “hell ship”?


If conditions had really been as awful as the news reports of returning passengers imply, then there would be numerous passengers in the hospital (or the morgue).  Instead, the passengers are going home, safe and sound.  Uncomfortable?  I'm sure.  Unpleasant?  Quite likely.  Hellish?  I don't think so.

Buck up, Americans.  You're making us look like coddled sissies to the rest of the world...

Friday, February 15, 2013

UPDATED: Meteorite Over Russia...

Update: video of the meteorite crater, via reader and friend Doug S.:

Original post:

Early this morning (our time), a meteorite fell to Earth near Chelyabinsk, Russia:

View Larger Map

News reports are conflicting, with some saying it's entirely a natural phenomenon and others saying the meteorite was struck by a defensive anti-missile missile.  I'm a little skeptical of the latter, based on nothing more than my personal observations about the general state of readiness of the Russian military (poor would be an upgrade).

Many Russians have dashboard cameras running all the time in their cars, and some of these captured interesting views of the phenomenon.  Also, as usual, surveillance cameras also caught some views.  Here are three compilations I found on YouTube:

The Doorbell...

Via my lovely bride.  This video won $2,000 in a contest sponsored by PowerLine blog back in August of 2011.  They chose it as the best short video dramatizing the federal debt crisis.  It's just as valid a warning today, given that the electorate last year decided four more years of BHO was what the doctor ordered...

The Centrifuge Brain Project...

I bring you the strange:

How to Be Happy While the World Goes to Hell...

Ran across this yesterday; listened to it this morning.  It's nearly an hour long, and is an interesting rant by a conservative.  I learned several things while listening.  Probably the most striking thing I heard was a conservative advising you to live in the now – don't bother saving for retirement, because the government is going to take it anyway.  Not the usual advice from a financial conservative :)

Some rude language (not very much, actually)...

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Saying Goodbye to Mother...

Via my lovely bride:
We were dressed and ready to go out for the New Years Eve Party. We turned on a night light, turned the answering machine on, covered our pet parakeet, and put the cat in the backyard.

We phoned the local cab company and requested a taxi. The taxi arrived, and we opened the front door to leave the house.

As we walked out the door, the cat we had put out in the yard, scoots back into the house. We didn't want the cat shut in the house because she always tries to eat the bird.

My wife goes on out to the taxi, while I went back inside to get the cat. The cat runs upstairs, with me in hot pursuit. Waiting in the cab, my wife doesn't want the driver to know that the house will be empty for the night. So, she explains to the taxi driver that I will be out soon, “He's just going upstairs to say goodbye to my mother.”

A few minutes later, I get into the cab. “Sorry I took so long,” I said, as we drove away. “That stupid bitch was hiding under the bed. I had to poke her ass with a coat hanger to get her to come out! She tried to take off, so I grabbed her by the neck. Then, I had to wrap her in a blanket to keep her from scratching me. But it worked! I hauled her fat ass downstairs and threw her out into the back yard!”

The cab driver hit a parked car.

This Works...

A few days ago I posted this helpful hint, along with a bunch of others.  I decided to try this one myself, as I'd fought our kitchen garbage bag a few thousand times before.

I didn't drill holes, but rather cut triangular holes with my pocket knife.  Took all of 15 or 20 seconds. 

Worked like a champ!  The bag comes right out now, no battling at all...

Why Does This Sound So Plausible?

Via my mom:
An engineer dies and reports to hell.

Pretty soon, the engineer gets dissatisfied with the level of comfort in hell, and starts designing and building improvements. After a while, they've got air conditioning and flushing toilets and escalators, and the engineer is a pretty popular guy.

One day God calls Satan up on the telephone and says with a sneer, "So, how's it going down there in hell?"

Satan replies, "Hey things are going great. We've got air conditioning and flushing toilets and escalators, and there's no telling what this engineer is going to come up with next."

God replies, "What??? You've got an engineer? That's a mistake -- he should never have gotten down there; send him up here."

Satan says, "No way. I like having an engineer on the staff, and I'm keeping him."

God says, "Send him back up here or I'll sue."

Satan laughs uproariously and answers, "Yeah, right. And just where are you going to get a lawyer?"

Conservatives, Liberals – They Really Are Different...

An excerpt from this ScienceDaily article:
In a prior experiment, participants had their brain activity measured as they played a simple gambling game. Dr. Schreiber and his UC San Diego collaborators were able to look up the political party registration of the participants in public records. Using this new analysis of 82 people who performed the gambling task, the academics showed that Republicans and Democrats do not differ in the risks they take. However, there were striking differences in the participants' brain activity during the risk-taking task.

Democrats showed significantly greater activity in the left insula, a region associated with social and self-awareness. Meanwhile Republicans showed significantly greater activity in the right amygdala, a region involved in the body's fight-or-flight system. These results suggest that liberals and conservatives engage different cognitive processes when they think about risk.

In fact, brain activity in these two regions alone can be used to predict whether a person is a Democrat or Republican with 82.9% accuracy. By comparison, the longstanding traditional model in political science, which uses the party affiliation of a person's mother and father to predict the child's affiliation, is only accurate about 69.5% of the time. And another model based on the differences in brain structure distinguishes liberals from conservatives with only 71.6% accuracy.
I wonder how libertarians and other politically independent people measure up in this regard?

And am I the only one who finds this sort of investigation reminiscent of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four or Asimov's psychohistory?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

UI Widgets...

...for visualizing time series data...

Trash Problems...

In Antarctica and on Mt. Everest.  There are times when I don't care for my fellow humans very much.

At least on Mt. Everest they're attempting to do something about it.  There's still a lot more that needs to be done, though...

Disposable Penis...

I find this...disturbing...on several levels...


I haven't actually tried one of these, but I think I'm going to.  In the summer it's fairly common for us to have yellow-jacket wasps sneak into the house.  This thing looks like it would be ideal for combating those, and easy for Debbie to use (she's a good shot!)...

Orion's Great Nebula – in Infrared...

Image captured by the WISE satellite.  Via APOD, of course.  Full resolution here.

Passwords Are Not the Bottleneck...

Fascinating paper by a pair of Microsoft researchers, arguing that the poor technical merits of passwords on web-based financial accounts really aren't the problem to tackle.  I learned all sorts of things about the “business” of stealing passwords on reading this paper...


Rachel Lucas, on Primo and his new jacket.  A snippet from His shivers broke my will:
He’s a dog, and thus he went nuts for the snow. He snorkled it like I’ve never seen a dog do before, I mean he shoved his snout through it while running and then flung it from the top if his snout into the air and then made a freaky laughing kind of sound. It was like he was on acid at Woodstock. He frolicked and pranced and had an especially good time kicking it up behind him after pooping, such a good time that he then wandered around the park kicking it up even though he hadn’t pooped further. Times like these I really wish I had a newer iPhone so I could take video.

Oh and yes, I did pop the collar on his little jacket. Don’t judge me. It was snowing and his neck needed extra coverage, and also, it makes me laugh.
My mornings just wouldn't be the same without a dose of Rachel Lucas. I sure am glad she's started blogging again...

I Can't Help Myself...

I was raised to believe it is wrong to laugh at the misfortunes of others (even while they laughed at ours).  But watching this video...I just can't help myself.

I also can't help thinking that I'm probably seeing evolution in action:

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

You Know You Live in a Country Run by Idiots...

Via neighbor and reader Marisa S.:
You know you live in a country run by idiots... When smoking Pot is legal and widely accepted But smoking tobacco is treated like a criminal offense.

You know you live in a Country run by idiots if.... You can get arrested for expired tags on your car but not for being in the country illegally.

You know you live in a Country run by idiots if... Your government believes that the best way to eradicate trillions of dollars of debt is to spend trillions more of our money.

You know you live in a Country run by idiots if... A seven year old boy can be thrown out of school for calling his teacher "cute" but hosting a sexual exploration or diversity class in grade school is perfectly acceptable.

You know you live in a Country run by idiots if... The Supreme Court of the United States can rule that lower courts cannot display the 10 Commandments in their courtroom, while sitting in front of a display of the 10 Commandments.

You know you live in a Country run by idiots if... Children are forcibly removed from parents who appropriately discipline them while children of "underprivileged" drug addicts are left to rot in filth infested cesspools.

You know you live in a Country run by idiots if... Working class Americans pay for their own health care (and the health care of everyone else) while unmarried women are free to have child after child on the "State's" dime while never being held responsible for their own choices.

You know you live in a Country run by idiots if... Hard work and success are rewarded with higher taxes and government intrusion, while slothful, lazy behavior is rewarded with EBT cards, WIC checks, Medicaid and subsidized housing, and free cell phones.

You know you live in a Country run by idiots if... The government's plan for getting people back to work is to provide 99 weeks of unemployment checks (to not work).

You know you live in a Country run by idiots if... Being self-sufficient is considered a threat to the government.

You know you live in a Country run by idiots if... Politicians think that stripping away the amendments to the constitution is really protecting the rights of the people.

You know you live in a Country run by idiots if... The rights of the Government come before the rights of the individual.

You know you live in a Country run by idiots if... Parents believe the State is responsible for providing for their children.

You know you live in a Country run by idiots if... You can write a post like this just by reading the news headlines.

You know you live in a Country run by idiots if... Being stripped of the ability to defend yourself makes you "safe".

You know you live in a Country run by idiots if.... You have to have your parents signature to go on a school field trip but not to get an abortion.

You know you live in a Country run by idiots if... An 80 year old woman can be stripped searched by the TSA but a Muslim woman in a burka is only subject to having her neck and head searched.

You know you live in a Country run by idiots if... Using the "N" word is considered "hate speech" but writing and singing songs about raping women and killing cops is considered "art".

She ends her email to me with this wonderful quote from Henry Ford, which was new to me:
Any man who thinks he can be happy and prosperous by letting the Government take care of him; better take a closer look at the American Indian.
Oh, ain't that the truth, sister!

Oops: Obamacare Strikes in California...

From the Los Angeles Times:
As the state moves to expand healthcare coverage to millions of Californians under President Obama's healthcare law, it faces a major obstacle: There aren't enough doctors to treat a crush of newly insured patients.

Some lawmakers want to fill the gap by redefining who can provide healthcare.

They are working on proposals that would allow physician assistants to treat more patients and nurse practitioners to set up independent practices. Pharmacists and optometrists could act as primary care providers, diagnosing and managing some chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and high-blood pressure.

"We're going to be mandating that every single person in this state have insurance," said state Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), chairman of the Senate Health Committee and leader of the effort to expand professional boundaries. "What good is it if they are going to have a health insurance card but no access to doctors?"

Hernandez's proposed changes, which would dramatically shake up the medical establishment in California, have set off a turf war with physicians that could contribute to the success or failure of the federal Affordable Care Act in California.
Great. Nobody could have foreseen this, say the liberals. The trouble with with that assertion is that a whole bunch of people did foresee this, including your humble blogger.  It's Economics 101, folks: make a valuable good or service (like healthcare) available to everybody with no (or almost no) incremental cost, and shortages will promptly ensue.

If this doesn't make sense to you, try this simple thought exercise: imagine that you could go to the car dealer and have your choice of (a) a used, beat-up 1954 VW bug, or (b) a brand-new Mercedes CL65, and all you have to pay is a $25 “co-pay”?  Which would you choose – the beater worth a hundred dollars or so, or the $200,000+ Mercedes?  I know I'd be leaving with the Mercedes.  Healthcare under Obamacare works the same way: anybody can have whatever healthcare they want, for (at most) a modest co-pay.  Surprise, surprise, surprise – the demand for great healthcare is going up!

Free markets do a marvelous, organic job of scarce resource allocation...

Digitized Manuscripts Online...

The British Library has a growing collection of digitized manuscripts online.  These are all done with modern high-resolution scanners, yielding beautiful results, as in this detail from a medieval bestiary below:

You're Not Really a Handyman Until...

Via my mom.  I can't do this:

Wow! Wait a Minute...

I just received this email from LinkedIn:

Really?  Top 5%?!?  Why on earth would that be? 

But then I did the math: 5% of 200,000,000 members means I'm one of 10,000,000 in that same top 5%.  Somehow that doesn't seem quite so special :)

Now I'm trying to figure out why LinkedIn thought they should send me this mail.  It doesn't ask for anything – ah, yes it does.  When I click on the Read More button, I end up on a page asking me to share this on social media.

Which I'm doing, sort of.  But probably not in the way they wanted me to :)

The Simple Pencil...

The animation below is made from the famous essay by Leonard Reed: I, Pencil.  The lead:
I am a lead pencil—the ordinary wooden pencil familiar to all boys and girls and adults who can read and write.

Writing is both my vocation and my avocation; that’s all I do.

You may wonder why I should write a genealogy. Well, to begin with, my story is interesting. And, next, I am a mystery —more so than a tree or a sunset or even a flash of lightning. But, sadly, I am taken for granted by those who use me, as if I were a mere incident and without background. This supercilious attitude relegates me to the level of the commonplace. This is a species of the grievous error in which mankind cannot too long persist without peril. For, the wise G. K. Chesterton observed, “We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.”

I, Pencil, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe, a claim I shall attempt to prove. In fact, if you can understand me—no, that’s too much to ask of anyone—if you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing. I have a profound lesson to teach. And I can teach this lesson better than can an automobile or an airplane or a mechanical dishwasher because—well, because I am seemingly so simple.

Simple? Yet, not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me. This sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Especially when it is realized that there are about one and one-half billion of my kind produced in the U.S.A. each year.

Pick me up and look me over. What do you see? Not much meets the eye—there’s some wood, lacquer, the printed labeling, graphite lead, a bit of metal, and an eraser.
It's a great introduction to the wonders of capitalism, and most especially the organic development of products.  It's also a great primer on the complexity of the modern world, which most of us completely ignore most of the time.  Capitalism and free markets are really the greatest wonder of the world...

Seeing this reminds me of one of my favorite books on engineering, which also uses the lowly pencil as its protagonist: The Pencil, by Henry Petroski.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Origin of Pad Thai...

Pad thai noodles are a favorite of mine.  I think of them as quintessentially Thai food, and I've rarely met one that I didn't like.  But I was very surprised to read the story of their (recent!) origin, which starts with this:
Pad Thai is the most misunderstood noodle. Its best incarnations are difficult to find outside of Thailand, even as the basic ingredients are now readily available abroad. I think back to the Pad Thais of my childhood, freshly made at a Bangkok street stall and packaged to go in banana leaves and a newspaper outer layer. A good Pad Thai slowly reveals itself: sweetness with bursts of salty and tart, depending on what is being bitten—preserved radishes, dried prawns, and bits of peanut or omelet. Here in the U.S., Pad Thai usually arrives a pile of noodles plated in a puddle of oil. Many taste as sweet as a lollipop and come stained red by ketchup.

Yet it’s not entirely fair to complain about the authenticity of Pad Thai. It’s the noodle that’s the most Thai, and at the same time, the least. Before the 1940s, Pad Thai didn’t exist as a common dish. Its birth and popularity came out of the nationalist campaign of Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsongkram, one of the revolutionary figures who in 1932 pushed Thailand out of an absolute monarchy and into a Game of Thrones-style democracy, where coups and counter-coups have become the norm.
Go read the whole thing!  And let me know if you figure out how to pronounce that guy's name :)

Two Feet of Snow...

Don't blame me!  Blame my mom – she sent this to me!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Database of JavaScript Libraries...

Looks pretty handy if you're a JavaScript jockey...

Helpful Household Hints...

Via my lovely bride (click to enlarge):