Sunday, March 31, 2013

How Liberals Look to Conservatives or Libertarians...

The liberals could, of course, come up with own version of these.  The cartoons nicely illustrate the yawning gulf between liberal positions (and, presumably, the thinking behind them) and those of conservatives or libertarians – to whom these liberal/progressive positions simply make no sense at all...

Via my mom:



Saturday, March 30, 2013

Freedom in the 50 States...

Here's a fascinating interactive infographic exploring different aspects of freedom in all 50 states, from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University:


Utah sure looks good compared with California...

You Decide...

I stumbled across this list of “body hacks”.  Are they for real, or BS?  You decide...
Cure a Tickling Throat
When you were 9, playing your armpit was a cool trick. Now, as an adult, you can still appreciate a good body-based feat, especially if it serves as a health remedy. Take that tickle in your throat: It's not worth gagging over. Here's a better way to scratch your itch: Scratch your ear. "When the nerves in the ear are stimulated, it creates a reflex in the throat that can cause a muscle spasm," says Scott Schaffer, M.D., president of an ear, nose, and throat specialty center in Gibbsboro, New Jersey. "This spasm relieves the tickle."

Experience Supersonic Hearing
If you're stuck chatting up a mumbler at a cocktail party, lean in with your right ear. It's better than your left at following the rapid rhythms of speech, according to researchers at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. If, on the other hand, you're trying to identify that song playing softly in the elevator, turn your left ear toward the sound. The left ear is better at picking up music tones.

Overcome Your Most Primal Urge
Need to pee? No bathroom nearby? Fantasize about Jessica Simpson. Thinking about sex preoccupies your brain, so you won't feel as much discomfort, says Larry Lipshultz, M.D., chief of male reproductive medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine. For best results, try Simpson's "These Boots Are Made for Walking" video.

Feel No Pain
German researchers have discovered that coughing during an injection can lessen the pain of the needle stick. According to Taras Usichenko, author of a study on the phenomenon, the trick causes a sudden, temporary rise in pressure in the chest and spinal canal, inhibiting the pain-conducting structures of the spinal cord.

Clear Your Stuffed Nose
Forget Sudafed. Here's an easier, quicker, and cheaper remedy to relieve sinus pressure: Alternate thrusting your tongue against the roof of your mouth, then pressing between your eyebrows with one finger. This causes the vomer bone, which runs through the nasal passages to the mouth, to rock back and forth, says Lisa DeStefano, D.O., an assistant professor at the Michigan State University college of osteopathic medicine. The motion loosens congestion; after 20 seconds, you'll feel your sinuses start to drain.

Fight Fire Without Water
Worried those wings will repeat on you tonight? Try this preventive remedy: "Sleep on your left side," says Anthony A. Starpoli, M.D., a New York City gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at New York Medical College. Studies have shown that patients who sleep on their left sides are less likely to suffer from acid reflux. The esophagus and stomach connect at an angle. When you sleep on your right, the stomach is higher than the esophagus, allowing food and stomach acid to slide up your throat. When you're on your left, the stomach is lower than the esophagus, so gravity's in your favor.

Cure Your Toothache
Just rub ice on the back of your hand, on the V-shaped webbed area between your thumb and index finger. A Canadian study found that this technique reduces toothache pain by as much as 50 percent compared with using no ice. The nerve pathways at the base of that V stimulate an area of the brain that blocks pain signals from the face and hands.

Make Burns Disappear
When you accidentally singe your finger on the stove, clean the skin and apply light pressure with the finger pads of your unmarred hand. Ice will relieve your pain more quickly, Dr. DeStefano says, but since the natual method brings the burned skin back to a normal temperature, the skin is less likely to blister.

Stop the World from Spinning
One too many drinks left you dizzy? Ah, luckily there's a remedy. Put your hand on something stable. The part of your ear responsible for balance—the cupula—floats in a fluid of the same density as blood. "As alcohol dilutes blood in the cupula, the cupula becomes less dense and rises," says Dr. Schaffer. This confuses your brain. The tactile input from a stable object gives the brain a second opinion, and you feel more in balance. Because the nerves in the hand are so sensitive, this works better than the conventional foot-on-the-floor wisdom.

Unstitch Your Side
If you're like most people, when you run, you exhale as your right foot hits the ground. This puts downward pressure on your liver (which lives on your right side), which then tugs at the diaphragm and creates a side stitch, according to The Doctors Book of Home Remedies for Men. The fix: Exhale as your left foot strikes the ground.

Stanch Blood with One Finger
Pinching your nose and leaning back is a great way to stop a nosebleed—if you don't mind choking on your own O positive. A more civil approach: Put some cotton on your upper gums—just behind that small dent below your nose—and press against it, hard. "Most bleeds come from the front of the septum, the cartilage wall that divides the nose," says Peter Desmarais, M.D., an ear, nose, and throat specialist at Entabeni Hospital, in Durban, South Africa. "Pressing here helps stop them."

Make Your Heart Stand Still
Trying to quell first-date jitters? Blow on your thumb. The vagus nerve, which governs heart rate, can be controlled through breathing, says Ben Abo, an emergency medical-services specialist at the University of Pittsburgh. It'll get your heart rate back to normal.

Thaw Your Brain
Too much Chipwich too fast will freeze the brains of lesser men. As for you, press your tongue flat against the roof of your mouth, covering as much as you can. "Since the nerves in the roof of your mouth get extremely cold, your body thinks your brain is freezing, too," says Abo. "In compensating, it overheats, causing an ice-cream headache." The more pressure you apply to the roof of your mouth, the faster your headache will subside.

Prevent Near-Sightedness
Poor distance vision is rarely caused by genetics, says Anne Barber, O.D., an optometrist in Tacoma, Washington. "It's usually caused by near-point stress." In other words, staring at your computer screen for too long. So flex your way to 20/20 vision. Every few hours during the day, close your eyes, tense your body, take a deep breath, and, after a few seconds, release your breath and muscles at the same time. Tightening and releasing muscles such as the biceps and glutes can trick involuntary muscles—like the eyes—into relaxing as well.

Wake the Dead
If your hand falls asleep while you're driving or sitting in an odd position, rock your head from side to side. It'll painlessly banish your pins and needles in less than a minute, says Dr. DeStefano. A tingly hand or arm is often the result of compression in the bundle of nerves in your neck; loosening your neck muscles releases the pressure. Compressed nerves lower in the body govern the feet, so don't let your sleeping dogs lie. Stand up and walk around.

Impress Your Friends
Next time you're at a party, try this trick: Have a person hold one arm straight out to the side, palm down, and instruct him to maintain this position. Then place two fingers on his wrist and push down. He'll resist. Now have him put one foot on a surface that's a half inch higher (a few magazines) and repeat. This time his arm will cave like the French. By misaligning his hips, you've offset his spine, says Rachel Cosgrove, C.S.C.S., co-owner of Results Fitness, in Santa Clarita, California. Your brain senses that the spine is vulnerable, so it shuts down the body's ability to resist.

Breathe Underwater
If you're dying to retrieve that quarter from the bottom of the pool, take several short breaths first—essentially, hyperventilate. When you're underwater, it's not a lack of oxygen that makes you desperate for a breath; it's the buildup of carbon dioxide, which makes your blood acidic, which signals your brain that somethin' ain't right. "When you hyperventilate, the influx of oxygen lowers blood acidity," says Jonathan Armbruster, Ph.D., an associate professor of biology at Auburn University. "This tricks your brain into thinking it has more oxygen." It'll buy you up to 10 seconds.

Read Minds
Your own! "If you're giving a speech the next day, review it before falling asleep," says Candi Heimgartner, an instructor of biological sciences at the University of Idaho. Since most memory consolidation happens during sleep, anything you read right before bed is more likely to be encoded as long-term memory.

Friday, March 29, 2013

He Fooled Everyone...

Remember this winter when a photograph of a New York City cop who bought a $100 pair of boots for a homeless guy went viral?  The cop was (appropriately) lauded, and everybody felt great about it.  Barefoot in the winter, the homeless guy was now well-equipped.

But...

The “homeless guy” was a fake.  The cop didn't know it, but this guy was running a scam, pretending to be a homeless guy while raking in over $100k tax-free dollars a year from generous New Yorkers.  He also has dozens of pairs of shoes donated by Good Samaritans like the cop, all stored in his (rather nice) apartment.

Sigh...

FJ Mods: Wheels and Tires...

This was a simple modification, exchanging the factory alloy wheels (vulnerable to shattering if smacked hard on a rock) and street tires for steel wheels and offroad tires.  We got these wheels and these tires, and we're quite happy with both.  The puncture-resistant Kevlar sidewalls and tread design are a perfect combination for what we're going to be doing offroad, and the silica rubber is superior on wet surfaces. 

FJ Mods: Ravelco...

Yesterday I finished the most difficult modification I've done yet: installation of a Ravelco theft prevention device (photo at right).  If you've never heard of Ravelco, don't feel bad – I'd never heard of it either until very recently.

For years now, I've known that automobile burglar alarms were almost completely ineffective as a theft deterrent.  Insurance companies keep wonderful statistics on such things, and these statistics don't lie: cars equipped with burglar alarms are actually more likely to be stolen than those without.  The actuaries are certain that counter-intuitive result is a sampling bias problem – desirable cars are (of course!) more likely to have a burglar alarm installed.  But here's the statistic that tells you burglar alarms don't work: there is no statistically significant difference between the theft rates for any particular car model and year for those with or without burglar alarms.  None. Zip. Nada.

So how do you keep your car from being stolen?  LoJack will help you recover it once it has been stolen, but what if you'd like to avoid the theft in the first place?  Currently the best theft deterrents are “immobilizers” – devices that keep a thief from operating your car.  Immobilizers won't stop a really determined thief who loads your ride onto a tow truck and makes off with it, but they will stop the more typical thief who's going to hot-wire the ignition and drive away.

Immobilizers work by disabling some vital part of your car's electronics, most commonly some combination of starter motor, ignition, fuel pump, fuel injectors, or automatic transmission control.  Nearly all immobilizers are wired under the dashboard, which makes them vulnerable to a knowledgeable thief who wants to disable them.  YouTube and many web sites have videos that teach you how to hot-wire immobilizer-equipped cars, with examples from many makes and models (especially the factory-supplied immobilizers).  Clever people figure out the method, then people with questionable motivations publish the videos showing the techniques.  Yikes!

Enterprising and knowledgeable car owners often install “kill switches” in a hidden location.  These kill switches do the same thing a commercial immobilizer does (interrupting some vital electronics), but in a simpler and non-standard way.  The non-standard part makes it harder for the thief; the simpler part makes it easier: if a thief crawls under the dash and spots the kill switch or its wires, he knows exactly what to do to defeat the kill switch.

The Ravelco folks had a very simple idea about how to make a more effective “kill switch”.  Then they added some clever bits to make it harder to defeat.  The result is a ridiculously simple device, with nothing to go wrong, that's remarkably hard to defeat.  It's also hard to install :)

The simple idea is this: the Ravelco socket (at right, above) is installed somewhere inside your car.  In my case I installed it in a hidden location that's very easy to get to.  That socket has 16 pins, but only five of them are connected to the five wires that extend from the back of the socket: two pairs and a ground wire.  The Ravelco plug (at left, above) has a matching set of 16 pins, but only four pins are wired up (two pairs of pins are wired together).  Both the socket and the plug have their wiring embedded in the hard molded plastic; you can't look at it to see which wires are wired to which pins. 

Each of the pairs of wires is connected to some vital electronic system in such a way that when the plug is removed that electronic system is disabled.  In my case I wired them into the ignition power circuit and the fuel injector power circuit.  With the plug removed, you can crank the engine over but it won't start: there's no fuel and there's no spark.  With the plug installed, the fuel injectors and ignition gets power, and the car runs fine.

If a thief is faced with the empty Ravelco socket and wants to make a brute force attack, here's what he's up against.  If you do the math, there are over a half million permutations of the wiring arrangement.  Every Ravelco is wired differently, so the thief, on average, would have to try a quarter million different jumper arrangements before he found the one that worked.  It's actually not quite that good, as the pin connected to ground can be found easily with an ohmmeter, but still the thief would need to try over 100,000 jumper arrangements.  Each jumper arrangement would take at least 5 seconds to insert and test - so we're talking about almost a week of 24-hour-a-day testing to find the answer.  Brute force isn't going to work :)

Here's where the extra clever bits on the Ravelco come into play.  First, the wires coming out the back of the plug are inside a flexible steel sheath, which extends all the way to the firewall (where the wires go through a hole into the engine compartment).  It would be very difficult indeed for a thief working inside your car to extract those wires and try shorting various wires together.  With just five wires, the number of combinations to test is considerable smaller: just ten.

So the thief would have to open your engine compartment, find the right wires (if you've ever looked inside a modern engine, you know that even that step is challenging – there are a lot of wires in there!), and then try shorting them together in various combinations.  However, there's a problem there: some combinations are likely to blow a fuse.  Once you blow the fuse, none of the combinations will work.  So to maximize his chances of success, the thief needs to follow those wires to their destination so he can figure out on the first try which wires need to be shorted together.

Ravelco goes to great lengths to tell you to hide those wires deep inside big cable harnesses.  That's what makes it difficult to install, but it also adds a tremendous degree of difficulty for the thief.  In my case the wires are buried inside three feet of cable harness, traversing four junctions in the process.  The thief would have no choice but to laboriously follow those wires to where they connect with factory wires, all without interrupting any other wires.  With all the right tools and perfect knowledge, I'd guess that would take about an hour.  What thief would work under the hood of your car for an hour?

Simple idea, clever implementation.  I recommend it.  Ravelco's business arrangements are clever, too.  Usually it costs $500 to $750 to get a Ravelco installed.  There are about $10 worth of parts in it, so that's a lot of profit margin!  The reason they can maintain this is that they won't sell you the parts directly – only dealers can buy the parts, and the dealers are contractually obligated to provide the Ravelco installed.  That installation is where they make their money.  I was lucky enough to find a brand-new Ravelco on eBay.  I bought it from some enterprising fellow who bought the assets of a failed Ravelco dealer, including his inventory of brand-new Ravelcos.  As I write this, there are still quite a few available.  I paid $50, and then was able to make an installation the way I wanted to, with the maximum amount of buried wires.  I've read stories of much poorer dealer installations; they, of course, are motivated to reduce the time they spend on the installation.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Forget Reservoirs and Power Grids...

After 9/11 there was a surplus of crazy talk about the vulnerability (and need to protect) public infrastructure like water reservoirs (easily poisoned, the thinking was) and electrical power grids (remote high-tension lines are vulnerable).  Fortunately the level of this crazy talk has dropped significantly upon the realization of two things: (1) protecting all this infrastructure was completely impossible (it's too darned big and distributed), and (2) it really isn't as vulnerable as it seems (there's lots of redundancy built in).

This news story about divers trying to sever an Internet cable feeding Egypt got me to thinking about the vulnerability of the Internet to terrorists.  Those Internet cables, which I've written about before, are vulnerable to attack and (if severed) could have large economic impacts.  Furthermore, the routers that terminate those cables are potentially vulnerable to attack over the Internet itself (hacking, in other words). 

In most of the developed world there is sufficient redundancy in these cables that it would be very difficult for an attacker to cause serious economic harm.  For instance, New York City has dozens of Internet “feeds” connecting it to the rest of the Internet.  Taking out all those feeds at once would be exceedingly difficult.

In some other parts of the world (like Egypt), this is not true – there may only be a few (sometimes even just one!) Internet feed connecting an entire region to the Internet.  If a terrorist organization were to take out those feeds, that region would likely suffer considerable damage.  Very little international business today is conducted without the use of the Internet.  Even simple things, such as buying bulk loads of spices from Madagascar, often rely on the Internet for the marketing, sales, negotiation, funds transfer, and coordination of the purchase.  In those places, I would think the Internet cable would be a prime target for the bad guys...

Red State Success...

Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore have a piece in today's Wall Street Journal ($) that delves into the quite evident differences in economic success between red (Republican) and blue (Democratic) states.  If you've been paying attention to this at all, there's not much news in here (though there are a few interesting observations I hadn't heard before).  If you haven't been paying attention to the differences between the various states, it's a great (and very short) primer on the topic.

Every time I think about these obvious differences, I wonder the same thing to myself: how is it possible that voters keep voting for the politicians who have inflicted economic disaster upon them?  The best theory I know of to explain it is the “low information voter” theory – the idea that most voters really don't have any rational basis for their vote; they just vote for whomever “feels” better to them.

Then I just get sad...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The 12 Most Controversial Math Problems...

Upon seeing this headline, I clicked to see what I thought would be an article on problems that challenged mathematicians, but that's not at all what this article is about.  Instead, it's about math problems that challenge ordinary people's understanding – and it's quite well explained and illustrated.  About half of these problems are some I'd run across before as brain teasers; the other half were new to me.  All were interesting and illuminating.  Recommended reading!

Nuts to Them...

So says Mark Steyn, on the occasion of a particularly galling ruling by the Canadian Supreme Court.  Mr. Steyn has a short piece on the ruling, with this conclusion:
...In Canada, the law denies "the right to say his piece" to the likes of Bill Whatcott, a man who believes that homosexuals are sinners and in need of God's grace and forgiveness, but it has no objection to those who think homosexuals are evil and should be put to death. Mr. Philips need never fear the scrutiny of the "human rights" commission, or the cost of ten-year legal battles.

No homosexual needs the state's protection from Bill Whatcott. But all of us need protection from nitwit jurists blithely sacrificing core Western liberties to ideological compliance. It's not about Left vs. Right, gay vs. straight, religious vs. secular; it's about free vs. unfree. And on that most profound question, Canada's supreme court is on the wrong side. Nuts to them.
But do go read the whole thing...

Go 1.1...

A new release of Google's Go programming language...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Dragon Dreams...

It looks likely that giant aeroships will sail the skies again, in the not too distant future...

I'm Not Going to Africa...

...because they're suffering from a rash of genital theft:
Reports of genital theft have spread like an epidemic across West and Central Africa over the past two decades, in tandem with what appears to be a general resurgence of witchcraft on the continent. Anthropologists have explained this rise as a response to an increasingly mystifying and capricious global economy. Which is to say that when the workings of capital are as genuinely obscure as they are in today’s Africa, proceeding behind a veil of complexity and corruption, rumors of “occult economies”—often involving a trade in human organs—offer a less mystifying explanation for the radical disparities in wealth on display.

Biden Blooper...

I guess that headline is a bit redundant, eh?  A few days ago, Joe Biden amused many knowledgeable about guns – and infuriated many of the female members of that cohort.  Now there's a short video demonstrating where these reactions came from:


We have a semi-automatic 12 gauge shotgun with a seven shell magazine.  When loaded with magnum shells and shooting repeatedly, that thing will practically knock me down (and I'm not exactly a lightweight).  It leaves big bruises on my shoulder.  It would take an unusually strong woman to comfortably handle that weapon...

Race Needs This...

Race is our young border collie, who is obsessed with chasing anything roughly round that you might throw.  Pine cones, tennis balls, styrofoam packing material, it doesn't matter.  Our arms get tired of throwing long before he gets tired of retrieving.  This machine, scaled up for outdoor use and 200' throws, would be perfect for him:

Monday, March 25, 2013

Venn Diagram of Irrational Nonsense...

Awesome.


Let's Hear it for Weirdos!

I take some pride in being weird – a weirdo.  I've long proclaimed that being normal is boring.  This morning I read a great blog post by Michael Lazerow that ends with this:
Weirdos don’t see anything as impossible. Anything is possible. Just give us enough time.

Weirdos are contrarians. They think differently and act even more differently. Normals try to fit in. Weirdos stick out without really trying.

Weirdos aren’t driven by money. Money is a destination. Weirdos are all about the journey.

Weirdos don’t care what others think. They only care THAT they think and want to change HOW they think.

Weirdos come in all shapes and sizes, colors and countries. And they're not new to the tech industry, or industry in general.

Weirdos thought it made sense to get on the Mayflower from England to settle in a new land.

Weirdos thought we should get rid of slavery.

Weirdos insisted that women should also have a vote.

The world would suck if it weren’t for weirdos.

Instead of trying to get our kids to fit in, we should help them celebrate why they are different.

Let’s start to teach kids to embrace weird. Weird is good.

And let’s not stop until weird is normal.
A high-Q resonance here...

Strange Programming Language Features...

Fascinating thread on StackExchange, if you're of a geekly bent...

Mandatory School Subject: Chess...

The little country of Armenia has made the study of chess a required subject in its public schools.  There seem to be two objectives: grooming chess masters (to make Armenia a chess powerhouse), and training young minds to think.

Where and when I grew up (New Jersey, in the '50s and '60s), chess was popular.  We had no actual chess classes, but we did have a chess club that offered instruction, and it was easy to get matches at any level.  I was a semi-serious player in junior high school, active in the schools chess club; less so before and after that.  I do believe that having an enjoyable pastime that required intellectual discipline and active thought was helpful in developing my mind.  I can't say it was all chess, though, as I had several such pastimes.  More important to me at the time was my interest in designing electronic systems.  Later – specifically, while teaching myself how to program in the '70s – I remember noting that the process of designing and writing programs “felt” a lot like the process of seriously playing chess.  There's the body of practical experience to learn from, elements of strategy and tactics in the design, and even the notion of sequential execution (that is, the way chess moves occur in a specific order is analogous to the way computers execute instructions one after the other).  On occasion, I've even thought of programming as involving an active opponent :)

I can't help but wonder what the results of this experiment will be...

Sunday, March 24, 2013

FJ Cruiser Dual Battery Mod...

I just completed installing a secondary battery system in our FJ Cruiser.  There are lots of reasons to have a dual battery system, but from my perspective the most important one is simple: redundancy.  I don't want to have to hike out from somewhere deep in the boondocks just because I stupidly ran down my battery.  If I have to hike out, I want it to be for a good reason!  :)

In addition to simple redundancy, though, the second battery provides more current when it's needed.  In our case, we have several things that can draw deeply on battery capacity, including a winch and a 2 kilowatt inverter.

My dual battery installation was a “kit”: the Dirty Parts dual battery kit for FJ Cruisers.  This kit comes with everything you need to put a dual battery system in, most especially the mechanical mount – that's something I had zero desire to fabricate myself.  It also comes with the electrical parts, a pre-built cable harness, a gigantic relay, and all the heavy-gauge wire you'll need, already cut, stripped, and lugged.  I also got the optional rocker switch upgrade, as I wanted to mount the switch in one of the empty switch positions in our FJ (and there are lots of these!).  If you want to install a dual battery system in your FJ, I think you'd be absolutely crazy not to get this kit.  It's very well done, the end result looks professional, and Larry at Dirty Parts is right there when you need help (as I did): I was too stupid to figure out how a support bracket was supposed to be installed.  I queried Larry by email, and he very patiently wrote a lengthy reply, explaining in sufficient detail that even a mechanical zero like myself could figure it out.

If you're wondering why there are switches, wires, and relays involved with a dual battery installation (don't you just strap them in parallel?), here's what's going on.  When the relay is not energized, the secondary battery is disconnected from the FJ's electrical system.  This is the mode I'd be running in if I wanted the battery as a backup (presuming I was bright enough to make sure it was charged!).  When the relay is energized, the secondary battery is connected in parallel with the primary battery, providing all the extra oomph you might need.

So what energizes the relay?  That's where the switch comes in.  It has three positions, which I'll call “stock”, “emergency”, and “normal”.  In stock mode, the secondary battery is disconnected and the system behaves exactly as a stock FJ would.  This is how I'd run when I want the secondary battery as backup.  In normal mode, the relay is energized from the ignition circuit, which means (until the relay operates) the primary battery must have enough power to operate the relay.  In emergency mode, the relay is energized from the secondary battery – so even if the primary battery is completely dead, you can still use the secondary battery to do something important, like start the engine.

This is the first “major” mod I've made to the FJ, and it turned into quite a learning exercise.  The most interesting thing I learned was how to take apart the dashboard (so I could run wires to the switch, which is in the center console).  This is much easier than I expected, but it's very tricky – I don't know if I'd ever have figured it out (or had the courage to try!) if it wasn't for the vast amount of information and experience available on the web.  I was able to find other people who had done everything I needed to do, often with photos and detailed guides.  The web is a wonderful place!  I also had to make several modifications to the standard kit, mainly so that I could install the switch in an empty position on the center console.  The biggest modification there was some Dremel tool work on the back of the switch panel, to make the standard panel switch (supplied in the Dirty Parts kit) fit.  The end result is very nice, but I was a bit worried along the way, as bits of melted plastic flew out of my Dremel tool's cutting disc – this mod was not reversible :)

One big mod down, a whole bunch to go!  So far I've mounted a BajaRack with a 7" light bar, mounts for gas cans, Pull-Pal, Hi-Lift jack, shovel, and axe, and a ladder to get up to the roof, a Boztec CB antenna mount (no CB yet, though!), and now the dual battery setup.  Next up: replacing the stock alloy wheels and street tires with steel wheels and offroad tires...


“Port Winston” Mulberry Found!

If you're a student of 20th century history, you probably know all about the vital role of the “Mulberry harbours” in the Allied invasion of Europe in WWII.  After the invasion the Mulberry harbors were largely demolished, though a few pieces remain above water off “Gold Beach” in Normandy. 

Now scientists from the United Kingdom, using sophisticated sonar systems, have located the remains of the “Port Winston” Mulberry harbor, some just 15 feet underwater.

In my travels around Europe (including Eastern Europe), one of the most surprising things to me was just how little directly visible evidence of WWII remains.  After my readings of history, and given how recent WWII was, I fully expected to see direct evidence of it all over the place.  Here's a great example of what I mean – these Mulberry harbours were enormous constructs of concrete and steel, and yet they were completely lost for 69 years!  When I visited Normandy roughly 20 years ago, I was shocked to discover that very little of the massive Nazi defensive works remain, and those only because they were preserved as a monument.  Even in the former Soviet Union it's hard to find remnants, though there are more there than in the West.  For example, on the southwest tip of the island of Saremaa (in the Baltic Sea), there is a largely untouched concrete defensive works, quite large, still remaining – and there are some efforts to preserve what's left.  Most of the iron and steel components of this works have been scavenged, but the concrete bunkers remain.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Curiosity is Back Online!

Hip hip hooray! 

Curiosity has been offline for several weeks, after a software glitch (and possibly a memory failure; reports vary).  The photo at right was returned amongst the first new batch since the glitch first occurred.  It's very nice to see that!  In just over a week, Curiosity (and all of Mars) will be on the opposite side of the Sun from Earth, so for a few weeks after that it will be “radio silence” for all the robotic explorers orbiting and sitting on the surface of Mars.  Let's hope they all wake back up successfully when Mars is out of occlusion!

We Aren't the World...

Experiments in psychology and sociology are plagued by uncontrolled (and perhaps uncontrollable) variables and difficulties in replication.  For any engineer or scientist used to the somewhat firmer ground of the “hard” sciences, this makes investigations into human behavior seem like something other than science and closer to opinion.  It doesn't help that facets of these softer sciences that are believed to be true are routinely and frequently overturned. 

On that theme, here's an article exploring one of the more recent such overturnings.  My main reactions after reading this: (1) don't believe anything is actually “known” in those fields, and (2) I'm sure glad my own areas of interest aren't quite so ambiguous and difficult to measure – my oscilloscope and voltmeter work every time, with perfectly repeatable results :)

Magellanic Cloud, in Infrared...

Via APOD, of course (full resolution here)...


Picking CPU Registers...

On many CPU architectures, especially older ones, there are a relatively small number (sometimes only two or three!) of CPU registers.  Modern CPUs are sometimes much more symmetric with respect to register set architecture.  If you're an assembly language programmer, you know all about registers.  If you're not, you can think of them as particularly fast memory locations that machine-level computer instructions can access directly (that is, without having a memory address).

This characteristic of a small number of registers wasn't limited to microprocessors; all the early “mainframe” and “mini” computers were built the same way.  The first mainframe computer I worked with was a Univac CP-642A, and if I remember correctly it had just four registers: A, Q, I, and the program counter.  All of the subsequent mainframes and minis I worked with were also machines with limited register sets, with some of the most modern of them having a couple dozen registers.  Similarly, all the early single-chip microcomputers I worked with had very limited register sets as well.  The TI 99000 attempted to move a lot of register functionality into memory locations, but even it had over a dozen specialized registers.

All of these machines with limited register sets shared another characteristic: to various degrees the registers were specialized.  One register might have special capabilities for increment and decrement.  Another might be specially usable as an index into memory.  Another might be part of double-precision multiply and divide operands.  Or perhaps a couple of registers might have a special “swap” capability.  This sort of thing was quite normal in those early CPUs, and the special register set capabilities were directly reflected in the machine-level instruction sets.

William Swanson has a nice article up exploring the Intel 8086 register set architecture in quite a bit of detail.  It's a specific case of this more general design characteristic.  Reading this brought back a lot of memories, both from the distant past :) and more recently, with PIC single-chip systems...

Massive Construction Underneath New York...

The Atlantic has a great article up about the massive construction project currently underway, mainly deep underground in New York City.  It's been going on for over five years already, and it's truly enormous in scale – yet most people have never heard about it, and most New York residents have never seen any evidence of it.

Being a government project, of course it's massively over-budget and behind schedule.  It would be fabulously shocking if not :)

I'm not a fan of big cities in general, and New York is amongst my least favorite.  But the sheer scale of this civil engineering project leaves even me with my jaw dropped.  Lots more photos at the link; the one below is a custom (and massive!) tunnel-boring machine built for the project.


Unfit for Work...

NPR has an article posted digging into the phenomenon of skyrocketing employment disability rates in the U.S.  There are lots of interesting nuggets in the article, like the infographic below showing how the kinds of disabilities being claimed have changed over 50 years.  Read the facts, and come to your own conclusions about the causes.  Remember that the source is NPR: sources are likely filtered, and opinions carefully vetted to fit the progressive world view.  I'll offer one additional caution: most of the things being measured are not well-isolated metrics.  For example, the infographic below is almost certainly colored by the progress of medicine in that same period - so, for instance, the lower rate of claims for respiratory diseases is probably caused (at least partly) by advances in respiratory medicine, and not at all by behavioral changes...


Friday, March 22, 2013

Rustic, Do-It-Yourself Vibe...

An excellent satire on how the left thinks about guns...

Clever Designs...

And some of them even look useful!  I recommend muting to avoid the awful background tracks.  Via reader Simi L...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Battery Problem Solution?

The “battery problem” refers to the currently poor methods we have available to store electrical energy.  In particular, either by weight or by volume, current batteries (the best electrical energy storage today) cannot store nearly as much energy as hydrocarbon fuels (e.g., gasoline).  The battery problem is the main technological barrier to wind and solar power, and to replacing gasoline powered cars with electric cars. 

The battery problem is a very hard one; so hard that despite billions of dollars invested in research, the very best solutions are still only incrementally better than the batteries used in the late 1800s.

Here's some very early research into an alternative storage mechanism, one that stores electricity as nuclear energy (rather than chemical energy, like current batteries).  This is theoretical work at this point; not even to the proof-of-concept stage – but it stands out to me because it's a fundamentally different approach that promises energy densities far higher than even hydrocarbon fuels can achieve.  That would most definitely solve the battery problem, and would make hydrocarbon fuels looks sort of silly...

Boston Molasses Disaster...

I happened across this in my morning reading, entirely by accident.  On January 15th, 1919, an enormous molasses storage tank burst, spewing 2.5 million gallons of molasses into the streets of a Boston neighborhood.  This created an 8 to 15 foot high wave of molasses, moving at about 35 miles per hour.  It killed 21 people and injured over 150 more; there was a large amount of property damaged (including buildings and railroad).

And I thought I knew my U.S. history fairly well!

Accomplishment is So 1900s!

Way back in the Paleozoic era, when I was going to grade school, the kids who actually accomplished something – whether in academic studies, shop course, or athletics – were recognized in little ceremonies held in the school auditorium.  Those students were lauded for their accomplishments, and quite overtly held up to the less-accomplished others as examples to emulate.  The celebrations were sincere, and the accomplishments real.

That was then.

These days, grade schools seem to be going out of their way to devalue actual accomplishment.  I see two approaches, sometimes taken at the same time. 

One approach is to celebrate everyone, whether accomplished or not.  One common manifestation of that around here are the bumper stickers parents proudly put on their car, proclaiming “My child was student of the month at XXX” (where XXX is some school).  If you drive around any community here, you'll see the same bumper sticker on lots of cars – far more cars than there are months in the year.  I'm not sure how they hand these bumper stickers out, but it sure as hell isn't one per school per month!

Then there's the opposite approach, in the news today: just stop celebrating accomplishment altogether.  We wouldn't want the poor, under-achieving little darlings to feel bad about under-achieving, would we?  It might not be their fault, after all.

What absolute crap.

We're teaching our kids that you don't need to actually accomplish anything in order to succeed.  This isn't exactly preparing them for any corner of the real world that I've seen (except maybe the Post Office or the DMV).  The real world that I know demands actual accomplishment and performance.  Businesses are reluctant to fork over wages and benefits for people that don't actually get things done.

I hear the pealing of the bell of doom...

A Great Moment...

Snopes has identified this as a true story written by Kent Nerburn while he was a taxi driver in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Below is the heart of the story; there's a longer version at the Snopes link...
I arrived at the address and honked the horn. After waiting a few minutes I walked to the door and knocked.. 'Just a minute', answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor.

After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 90's stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940's movie.

By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets.

There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.

'Would you carry my bag out to the car?' she said. I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman.

She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb.

She kept thanking me for my kindness. 'It's nothing', I told her.. 'I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother treated'.

'Oh, you're such a good boy', she said. When we got in the cab, she gave me an address and then asked, 'Could you drive through downtown?'

'It's not the shortest way,' I answered quickly.

'Oh, I don't mind,' she said. 'I'm in no hurry. I'm on my way to a hospice'.

I looked in the rear-view mirror. Her eyes were glistening. 'I don't have any family left,' she continued in a soft voice.. 'The doctor says I don't have very long.' I quietly reached over and shut off the meter.

'What route would you like me to take?' I asked.

For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator.

We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl.

Sometimes she'd ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.

As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, 'I'm tired. Let's go now'.

We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico.

Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her.

I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair.

'How much do I owe you?' she asked, reaching into her purse.

'Nothing,' I said

'You have to make a living,' she answered.

'There are other passengers,' I responded.

Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held onto me tightly..

'You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,' she said. 'Thank you.'

I squeezed her hand, and then walked into the dim morning light. Behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life.

I didn't pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly lost in thought. For the rest of that day, I could hardly talk. What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?

On a quick review, I don't think that I have done anything more important in my life.

We're conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments.

But great moments often catch us unaware - beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.

Slightly Used F-1 Engines Recovered...

Readers of a certain age may remember the gigantic Saturn V rockets that launched the Apollo missions to the moon.  If you were fascinated by those missions (as I was), you might also remember that the Saturn V's first stage was powered by five F-1 liquid fuel rocket engines.  These incredible rocket engines used liquid oxygen (LOX) for their oxidizer, and kerosene (RP-1) for their fuel.  Throttled up, each of these engines consumed over 40,000 gallons of LOX and RP-1 per minute (almost 700 gallons per second), while generating 1.5 million pounds of thrust.  They are the most powerful rocket engines every flown by any country.

The F-1 engines have to be on anybody's list of the most amazing machines mankind has ever built.

There's one sad element of the F-1's story, though.  Every one that ever flew is at the bottom of the sea.  After blasting off from Cape Canaveral, burning for about three minutes, and seeing the second stage separate and head to orbit – the first stage and its F-1 engines fell in a roughly parabolic curve until they splashed into the Atlantic Ocean.

But now two of them have been recovered, in a technological feat of an entirely different kind.  Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) operating three miles under the ocean's surface have located, dug out, and retrieved two of the used F-1 engines.  The expedition that pulled this off was financed by Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon).  The video below is from that expedition:

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How Could They Be So Stupid???

Megan McArdle explains why countries seem to repeatedly make utterly foolish economic and financial policy decisions.  The doom approaches, apparently inevitably.  Politics are (of course!) the problem...

Flying Pig Moment...

Generally speaking, you can count on pablum from the “tame conservative” David Brooks in his commentary published by the progressive podium afforded by the New York Times.  But check out this lead:
There is a statue outside the Federal Trade Commission of a powerful, rambunctious horse being reined in by an extremely muscular man. This used to be a metaphor for liberalism. The horse was capitalism. The man was government, which was needed sometimes to restrain capitalism’s excesses.

Today, liberalism seems to have changed. Today, many progressives seem to believe that government is the horse, the source of growth, job creation and prosperity. Capitalism is just a feeding trough that government can use to fuel its expansion.
...and then go read the whole thing.  Definitely a flying pig moment!  I expect poor Mr. Brooks may be fired at any moment...

Quote of the Day...

From Mark Steyn:
...in Britain, in Canada, in Australia (which is to say in some of the oldest free societies on earth and among the very few developed nations that did not succumb to the mid-20th century totalitarian fevers), it is now received wisdom that state power is required to “balance” free speech with competing societal interests as determined by regulatory bureaucrats.
Scary stuff, especially when it's easy to see that this trend has already started here (most especially in our universities)...

Magnificent Chickens...

When I first visited this site, my internal comment was ... “Really?”

And the answer is ... “Yes, people really do compete in chicken magnificence”

Oh, my...

No Leadership, No Responsibility, No White House Tours...

From San Diego's own Darrell Issa:

Headphone History...

Who would have guessed that the history of headphones involved polygamy and Nazi direction-finding?

The Anatomy of a (Successful) Click Fraud Scheme...

A fascinating dissection of a successfully executed click fraud scheme that generated millions of dollars for the perpetrator...

Chart.js is Back!

This very useful tool for building client-side charts using JavaScript and the HTML5 canvas element was taken down last week over a copyright issue.  Now it's back up – I'm not sure why, but I'm glad to see it!

Diamonds Are Bullshit!

Most of this story I knew, particularly the '30s-era marketing campaign and artificial supply restriction by De Beers.  Some of the details were new to me, though, and it's nice to have the whole story laid out in one short article...

Backbone.js – 1.0 Released...

Backbone.js is a very popular JavaScript framework, used in many of today's busiest websites.  Today it has it's first official “one point oh” release.  Congratulations!

Emotions on Demand...

This is a little creepy...

Dangerous Sociopaths Take Over Capitol HIll...


Details here...

Submarine Cables...

Today's Internet is very dependent on undersea (submarine) cables that link various parts of the world together.  We can seamlessly link between web sites in various countries only because these cables exist.  Less obvious, but economically perhaps even more importantly, these cables enable many other kinds of communications traffic: email, voice phone, fax, instant messaging, and much, much more.  They are, these days, vital conduits of economic activity – it's hard to imagine any kind of business that isn't dependent on them.

These cables (see diagram at right) are the most concentrated information conduits in the world.  When one of them breaks, the impact is large and immediate.  In some cases around the world, a single submarine cable is the only high-bandwidth link between some region and the rest of the world.  When one of those links breaks, large numbers of people are sawed off from the rest of the world – no web, no email, no phones, just ... crickets.

Here's a nice explanation of all this...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Benghazi Survivors...

Six months ago, our embassy in Benghazi was attacked, and four Americans were killed (including our ambassador to Libya).  There were survivors of this attack, but we haven't heard from them, at all.  Why?

Republicans are accusing the Obama administration of warning these survivors to stay silent, presumably because the story they would tell would be (highly) unfavorable to the Obama administration.  So now the Republicans are proposing “whistleblower” protections be granted to these survivors, so they can tell their stories without fear of retribution.

Doesn't this just make you feel all warm and fuzzy about your government?

Gah!

Electronic Simulation...

...right in your browser.  CircuitLab does schematic capture, AC and DC simulation, and schematic sharing.  Currently it is free, though the site gives notice that they may charge for “premium services” down the road.  A news story recently cited them as having 70,000 active accounts, with a simulation running on average every six seconds.  That's a lot of electronics!

Misconceptions...

Disinhibition...

A couple weeks ago, I didn't know this word.  Now, thanks to some recent family events, I do.  And it got me to thinking...

Inhibitions are actually really important; some kinds, anyway.  Most of us have inhibitions about murdering random strangers, sexually attacking people, stealing, etc.  These inhibitions make human societies work – without them we would live short, nasty lives under constant threat. 

Mostly I think we take these inhibitions for granted.  I know I do.  I expect people to behave in an inhibited way.  Whenever someone behaves in an uninhibited way, we find that shocking. 

What is especially shocking is when someone you know, possibly even someone you love, exhibits uninhibited behavior after a lifetime of normal inhibited behavior.  This is the essence of “disinhibition” – when someone loses the inhibitions they once had.  There are several causes for this, but the most common is dementia or Alzheimer's.  These patients aren't really aware of what's happening to them, but those around them certainly are.

Anyway, this just got me to thinking about how absolutely essential these “normal” inhibitions are.  I never really thought about inhibitions as a positive thing before...

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Revelation...

Two young men watch a childbirth video for the first time.  What could go wrong?

Warning: make sure your alimentary tract is clear of any obstructing liquids or solids before viewing.  We'd had to see you spew your coffee all over your monitor!

Changing Tunes...

The London Daily Mail has been a reliable podium for “warmists” (proponents of anthropogenic global warming) to shout their message to the unwashed masses.  Over the past ten years, it has published thousands of articles sounding the alarm over AGW.

Now it is changing its tune, and rather abruptly.

Probably the publication's managers have just realized that the more sensational story is now the failure of the AGW proponent's models, and the belated justification of of the skeptics.  In other words, stories about the failure of climate science will sell more newspapers than the AGW warnings. 

Still, it's nice to see the lamestream media coming around...

Light Echoes...

Remember V838 Monocerotis?  It was a science sensation in 2002 when it was briefly the brightest star in the Milky Way galaxy.  APOD is featuring a recent Hubble photo of it today, showing the dust clouds that are being lit by the (now) 11 year old sphere of light emitted by V838 Mono back in 2002.  Full resolution version here...


Kids Are Learning to Program, Starting in Second Grade!

In Vietnam.

Any American who has looked at the educational systems in other countries is quite likely to be shocked by their evident superiority in preparing their students to work in the real world.  I've had this experience personally when looking at the educational systems in the former Soviet Union (in particular, in Estonia and St. Petersburg).

Education isn't the only prerequisite to innovation, and America still has a leg up on some of the other requirements (in particular, access to capital).  But all of the factors that once gave America an unbeatable edge are rapidly eroding here – and rapidly growing elsewhere.  I can't help but come to the conclusion that in the not-too-distant future (say, 10 or 20 years), many other parts of the world will out-innovate the United States.  It's hard to imagine how we could turn that around, especially with the ascendancy of “Progressive” politics in the past 20 years or so.

It's very sad for us, but very hopeful for the Vietnams of the world...

For All Those Who Think “It Can't Happen Here!”

How many of us have looked at history (say, of Germany in the 1930s) or recent events (say, of Hugo Chavez's systematic dismantling of representative democracy in Venezuela), and then comforted ourselves by saying “That can't happen here!”  I know I'm guilty of that.

Read this story of government intimidation in Fresno, California.

This is how takeovers start, when the government starts placing itself above the people it governs, and (most especially) when those who are governing start treating themselves as above the law.  When the powerful get away with intimidating the citizenry, it of course only encourages more of this.   These small acts of intimidation are actually very important, much like the early stages of a bacterial infection are very important – they are a warning sign, which, if taken seriously, provide an opportunity to wipe out the infection before it gets completely out of control.

Debbie and I had a conversation yesterday on a related topic.  She keeps reading about efforts to allow Obama to run for a third (and further) terms as president, by somehow repealing or getting around the 22nd Amendment.  My response is two-fold: First, I don't think such a thing is very likely in the U.S.  Second, if it did happen, that would be a clear signal to us to make our home somewhere else...

Angel of Competence...


“Sure, if that makes you feel better.”

Heh...

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Wrong Answer...

Via my lovely bride:


Bugger...

Toyota advertisement from down under...

Mt. Sharp, in Considerable Detail...

Mt. Sharp rises from the floor of Gale Crater on Mars, which is where Curiosity is busy exploring.  NASA just released a panorama of Mt. Sharp, composed of many photos taken months ago.  It shows the huge mountain in quite sharp detail.  The version below (and the full resolution version here) are the color-corrected version, processed to look as though the scene were viewed on earth...


Court Rules Against National Security Letters...

Well, it's about time!

This Ends Well...

...and in entertaining fashion, despite the ominous beginning...

Steve McIntyre Is Back...

...and he's tearing into the ClimateGate 3.0 stuff.  It's great to see him back “on the job!”

Antarctic Ice Extent...

It's setting new records for the high amounts of ice, again (click image to enlarge)...


Greener, We Are...

Fascinating talk about the fact that the Earth is getting greener (more vegetation), and why...

Friday, March 15, 2013

Palate Cleanser...

Just watch it already...

Mystery Malware “Warhead”...

The Trojan named “Gauss” has a mysterious encrypted warhead whose purpose has not yet been deciphered.  But security folks think it's likely something awesome – the cyber-spying equivalent of a nuke...

Non-Transitive Dice...

With ordinary cubic (six-sided) dice, each side has a different number of dots on it, from 1 to 6.  If you roll two ordinary dice in competition, over the long term the two dice will be exactly tied.

But it is possible to construct dice with other numbers on them.  For example, imagine three dice with numbers as follows:

   Die A: 1:1:1:1:1:1
   Die B: 2:2:2:2:2:2
   Die C: 3:3:3:3:3:3

Now these would certainly be boring dice to play with!  But consider this: if the dice A & B were competing, B would always win.  If dice B & C were competing, C would always win.  If dice A & C were competing, C would always win.  These dice exhibit transitive behavior: B beats A, and C beats B, therefore C beats A.

Now consider this set of dice:

   Die A: 3:3:3:3:3:6
   Die B: 2:2:2:5:5:5
   Die C: 1:4:4:4:4:4

In this case, A will beat B, and B will beat C.  You might say to yourself “Therefore A will beat C” – but if you did, you would be wrong, because C will beat A!

Read all about this and other interesting properties of Grimes' Dice...

Vannevar Bush's “Memex”...

Some historians credit Bush's Memex as the original idea that spawned the Internet's World Wide Web, and other computerized knowledge bases...

Kiiking...

Estonia has several interesting sports that either originated there, or were popularized there.  Kiiking, for example (watch video below).  Or wife carrying.  Or sauna rallying.  Or beer swilling.  I could go on...

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Singing the MacBook Pro Blues...

Update:

Fixed (at least with initial tests).  Apple has released an update that appears to fix the problem.  It was a firmware issue in the System Management Controller (SMC).


Original Post:

Late last year, I purchased a shiny new 15" Retina MacBook Pro for my own personal use.  I love this machine!  It's very small and light, but has plenty of RAM, storage, CPU power, and battery life.  It also connects (with just two cables, including power, thanks to Thunderbolt) to a suite of peripherals that would be part of a programmer's high-end desktop machine.  It's a thing of geekly beauty.

But it has a flaw.

The MacBook Pros are usually completely silent, but it has somewhat noisy fans that will kick on when things get too warm internally.  I've been using MacBook Pros for almost six years, and I'm very familiar with this phenomenon.  In all my prior experience, the fans kicking in – especially if they kick in at high speed – has always meant the same thing: the CPU is working really hard, so the CPU chip got hot.

Not this time.

Debbie (who works in the same small office that I do) have often noticed the fans kicking up at very surprising times.  Every single time that I've checked the CPU is almost unloaded, and the CPU temperature is near room temperature.  I had no idea why the fans were kicking on.

Yesterday, out of idle curiosity, I googled the issue and immediately found this very active thread.

Oh, my.

I am not alone – lots of people are having this exact issue.  Furthermore, one enterprising fellow found a completely repeatable diagnostic: if you play a particular song on iTunes, at about 2 minutes into the song the fans will kick up high, then drop slightly, then kick up high again and stay there.

So of course I ran this diagnostic on my machine.  It matched the above observations precisely.  How weird!

But it gets even better.  With enough people reporting, a pattern becomes clear: only MacBook Pros made after late 2012 and equipped with a SanDisk SSD are having this problem.  Those with a Samsung SSD do not.

As usual with any open forum on the Internet, the posters are a mixture of certifiably insane, over-the-top inflammatory, sensible, despondent, smart, idiotic, and amusing.  Apple's response so far is distinctly unimpressive and very disappointing.

Here's hoping Apple gets their act together and fixes the problem, or otherwise makes it right...

Climategate 3.0...

Mr. FOIA (pseudonym of the person who released the original Climategate data dump) has dropped the other shoe – he (or she?) has released the password to the mysterious encrypted file included in the original Climategate dump.  There has been much speculation about what's in the file; now we're all going to know.  The password was released only to a group of people whom Mr. FOIA judged to be appropriate, for reasons only he (or she) knows.  Here are some posts from various and sundry folks on the topic.

Anthony Watts
James Delingpole
Bishop Hill
Steve McIntyre
Jo Nova

The next few weeks ought to be interesting...

Education...

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you've heard me railing about the poor quality of our public education system.  If this topic is of interest to you, you need to read Sarah Hoyt's story.  Just go read it...

Rachel Takes Bloomberg to the Woodshed...

Ah, Rachel.  She's not happy about Bloomberg's nanny-state silliness.  Here's the beginning of her (patent pending) rant:
...The point is that you can’t demand we see you as a grown adult if you’re perfectly happy for low-IQ, power-hungry bureaucrats to tell you what to do, to help you protect you from yourself as though you are a 3-year-old who just shit himself and needs to run to the potty to change his Pull-Ups.

Some questions you might want to let roll around in your mind between trips to the bathroom:

If the government is right to limit the size of certain sugary soft drinks that you may purchase – for your own good – why is it not right to limit the total amount of food you may purchase? Please be specific in your answer. Eating too much leads to obesity and its harmful effects just as well as drinking 20 ounces of Pepsi. Surely, then, you support a prohibition against consuming more than survival-level calories per day...
You most definitely want to go read the whole thing...

A Forest Year...

Chinese Traders in Africa...in the 1400s...

Scientists have uncovered a 600 year old Chinese coin on an island off the coast of Kenya, in eastern Africa.  Many folks have speculated that Chinese traders made it to east Africa before European explorers did.  This looks like pretty good evidence for that speculation...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Primo on Politics...

Rachel Lucas' new dog Primo comments on politics:


Rachel calls this “mellow” – I say “cogent commentary” :)

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do...

This article about breaking up with an old car instantly resonated with Debbie and I.  We recently traded in our old '96 LandCruiser – which we named “Siggy” (after the “8SIGMAS” on its plate).  So many wonderful memories in that car; so many hours of companionship provided...

How's That War on Drugs Going?

The green line shows what we're spending, per capita, on the war on drugs.  The blue line shows the drug use, per capita, over the same period.  Chart is by Matt Groff.



What a stunning success!

Yes, that was tongue-in-cheek.  Sure wish we hadn't wasted those billions of dollars...

Curiosity: Life-Friendly Environment on Mars...

Curiosity has finished analyzing the rock powder its drill produced a few weeks ago.  The results show that ancient Mars had all the right attributes to sustain life.  They're not claiming (not yet, anyway) proof that life actually did exist there; just that it could have...

15:1 Server Reduction...

Applications running at any significant scale typically execute on clusters of servers.  These clusters are composed, generally, from multiple similar servers.  These servers share the overall load of the app, allowing many more concurrent users than could ever run on a single server.  You could think of the clerks in the grocery store checkout as a human equivalent.  Having multiple servers also provides an arbitrary degree of redundancy, so that if one or more servers fail for any reason, the working servers remaining can pick up the load.  Building big clusters (if big enough, often called “server farms”) is the brute force way to scale up almost any modern web application.  It's the standard, “out-of-the-box” way to scale up to large loads; it's what everybody does.

Well, almost everybody.

Depending on the business model of the application in question, the cost of the additional servers may be significant.  In other words, if your application doesn't make a lot more money than the servers cost, you're going to care about that server cost.  How can you reduce the number of servers required to handle the load?

The answer to that is very specific to the precise nature of each application.  There are several general approaches one can take, ranging from the traditional iterative bottleneck identification-and-destruction technique to the raze-and-rebuild technique.

In the latter category is this: figuring out that you made a poor choice of programming language, and rewriting your entire application from scratch in a new language.  In our real-world equivalent, it's as if you replaced the ordinary checkout clerks with supermen who worked many times more quickly.  That's what these folks did, moving from Ruby to Go – and their reward was a reduction from 30 busy servers to 2 idling servers (and only 2 in order to provide redundancy!).

As one of the commenters points out, probably moving from Ruby is the important part of the exercise – most likely nearly any choice of a “normal” programming language (C, C++, Java, Erlang, etc.) would have achieved similar gains.  The author, however, makes some interesting points about Go – to me, most especially concerning its support for concurrency...

Where and When Did “+” and “-” Originate?

Much more recently than I would have guessed!

Cheap, Simple, Small, Safe Nuclear Power...

Molten-salt fission reactor technology sounds compelling to me, the more so every new time I read about it.  In a rational world (that would be some other planet, most likely in some other space-time continuum), environmentalists would be demanding the use of technology like this in place of coal- or gas-fired electrical generation.  I've only seen them railing in mostly mindless opposition, though...

Lakes Entertainment, Cleaning Up the Mess Edition...

Lakes Entertainment has posted its 2012 Q4 and Y results, which prominently features the wind-up of it's agreement with the Jamul Indian Tribe.  There no real news here, just an opportunity for some schadenfreude and satisfaction...

How I Wish Congress (or Obama) Behaved...

This brilliant clip lampoons Congress and Obama for ratcheting up the national debt – and it does so in a way that absolutely anyone can comprehend.  The facial expressions of the banker eloquently convey the reactions that any fiscal conservative would wish that Congress and the executive branch would have when asked to raise the debt limit.  I know, I know, it isn't going to happen.  But I can still hope, can't I?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Swiss Drums...

Drums like you've never seen them before, trust me:

Quote of the Day...

From Mark Steyn, during his substitute stint on the Rush Limbaugh show yesterday.  I didn't hear this, but I wish I had:
You’re doomed, America.  You’re done for. No society can survive this level of stupidity. The school counselor is available to meet with any students who are traumatized by hearing reports of some guy four grades below them who nibbles a Pop Tart into a gun-like shape. I’ve never subscribed to this whole greatest generation thing, you know. But you look at those guys, they weren’t much older than the kids from the school. A lot of them were like 17, 18 years old. And they’re storming out of these transport ships in the churning waters of the English Channel and the North Sea, and they’re landing on the beaches of Normandy. And they're getting out of these, and they are storming up the beaches and they’re taking German gunfire and all the rest.

Do you think if you raised people so that you make a school counselor to available to them in cased they’ve been traumatized by someone who was nibbled a Pop Tart into the shape of a gun — do you think if they’re ever called upon to get out those ships and the storm the beaches of Normandy, do you think they’re going to be up to that? ‘Oh no look, the Germans, they’re all holding Pop Tarts! AAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!’ No society can survive this level of stupidity. These small things are not small. They tell you a lot about the institutionalized stupidity of our institutions.
I share Mr. Steyn's sense of foreboding, though I am somewhat consoled by the fact that our most excellent warriors in service today somehow managed to emerge from a situation not much better than the Pop Tart affair.  The majority of our warriors come from the southern half of our country, where the culture hasn't deteriorated quite so much.  At least in places...

Earthquake!

Yesterday at 9:56:06 Pacific time there was a magnitude 4.7 earthquake near Anza, California.  There were also a number of smaller quakes both before and after the big one.  I was outside walking our dogs when the shaking hit our house about 15 seconds later, and I never felt a thing (see seismograph below, from the seismometer in our house).  I did hear a neighbor's dog start howling mournfully at exactly the time the quake hit us, no doubt reacting to it.  The epicenter is about 77 km (44 miles) from our house, implying a seismic wave propagation speed of around 5 km/second, as expected.

Debbie was inside our house at the time, and she reports audible rumbling just before the main shock hit.  That is exactly what the seismograph shows, with smaller accelerations for about 10 seconds before the “big” secondary wave hit us at 9:56:31 (note that the seismograph is in UTC time, 7 hours later than Pacific time).


Monday, March 11, 2013

Unhappy Collisions with Scientific Realities...

Sam Harris has an excellent piece about how it feels when a cherished belief collides with reality as understood by science.  In particular he offers this up as a way for non-believers to understand how it feels to a religious person when science contradicts their faith.  Even without that context, I think it's a great example for anyone who doesn't like (or doesn't believe) what science has discovered.  Here's a snippet from his piece:
On a cold night, most people consider a well-tended fire to be one of the more wholesome pleasures that humanity has produced. A fire, burning safely within the confines of a fireplace or a woodstove, is a visible and tangible source of comfort to us. We love everything about it: the warmth, the beauty of its flames, and—unless one is allergic to smoke—the smell that it imparts to the surrounding air.

I am sorry to say that if you feel this way about a wood fire, you are not only wrong but dangerously misguided. I mean to seriously convince you of this—so you can consider it in part a public service announcement—but please keep in mind that I am drawing an analogy. I want you to be sensitive to how you feel, and to notice the resistance you begin to muster as you consider what I have to say.

Because wood is among the most natural substances on earth, and its use as a fuel is universal, most people imagine that burning wood must be a perfectly benign thing to do. Breathing winter air scented by wood smoke seems utterly unlike puffing on a cigarette or inhaling the exhaust from a passing truck. But this is an illusion.

Here is what we know from a scientific point of view: There is no amount of wood smoke that is good to breathe. It is at least as bad for you as cigarette smoke, and probably much worse. (One study found it to be 30 times more potent a carcinogen.) The smoke from an ordinary wood fire contains hundreds of compounds known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic, teratogenic, and irritating to the respiratory system. Most of the particles generated by burning wood are smaller than one micron—a size believed to be most damaging to our lungs. In fact, these particles are so fine that they can evade our mucociliary defenses and travel directly into the bloodstream, posing a risk to the heart. Particles this size also resist gravitational settling, remaining airborne for weeks at a time. 
Mr. Harris leaves unanswered a related question: how does one decide which science is valid, and should guide one's beliefs?  It would be unscientific to accept all published science results on faith :)   The best approach I know is to read and educate oneself about an area of science that is of interest, then make up your own mind based on the evidence you can see and judge.  What most definitely doesn't work is to read the opinions of others and go with the majority...

Green Cars...

Many people are attracted to either all-electric or hybrid cars because they believe they are helping the environment by doing so – they are “green” cars.  There are other reasons as well, but for many buyers of “green” cars, their green-ness is the major factor.

However, when you take into account the additional carbon footprint and other pollutants produced in the manufacture of both hybrid and all-electric cars, and the indirect carbon footprint and pollution increase from all-electric cars (because they're recharged with electricity produced most often in a non-nuclear power plant), then they don't look quite so green.  Over the average lifetime of a green car, both the carbon footprint and the pollution are worse than the average gasoline-powered car – and there's nothing on the horizon that would change that.  Massive conversion of power plants to nuclear or fusion power would help a lot, but that's not very likely.  Massive conversion to wind or solar doesn't work because there is no known way to store power produced during the daytime for use at night.  Lithium mining is notoriously polluting and energy intensive, but no replacement technology for lithium-ion batteries is even in the laboratory, much less in production.

None of this information is a secret, nor is it hidden or hard to access.  Do a little googling and you can find all you want.  Green cars are a myth (albeit a popular myth!).  They really should be called brown cars.

Bjorn Lomberg (of The Skeptical Environmentalist fame) has a nice summary of this in today's Wall Street Journal)...