Sunday, June 30, 2013

Quote of the Day...

From Jay Lehr, writing in the Wall Street Journal (via reader Simi L.):
After decades of federal subsidies—almost $24 billion according to a recent estimate by former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm—nowhere in the United States, or anywhere else, has an array of wind turbines replaced a single conventional power plant. Nowhere.
And the left wants the same government that brought us this debacle to run our health care.  It's easy to predict (but very sad) that at some point, our Obamacare bureaucrats will most likely spend billions on something most of us would immediately recognize as snake oil.  Homeopathic “medicine” is a good candidate...

“Sothrun” Humor...

Via reader Jim M.:
Florida

A Florida senior citizen drove his brand new Corvette convertible out of the dealership. Taking off down the road, he pushed it to 80 mph, Enjoying the wind blowing through what little hair he had left. "Amazing," he thought as he flew down I-95, pushing the pedal even more.

Looking in his rear view mirror, he saw a Florida State Trooper, blue lights flashing and siren blaring. He floored it to 100 mph, then 110, Then 120. Suddenly he thought, "What am I doing? I'm too old for this!"  And pulled over to await the trooper's arrival.

Pulling in behind him, the trooper got out of his vehicle and walked up to the Corvette. He looked at his watch, then said, "Sir, my shift ends in 30 minutes. Today is Friday. If you can give me a new reason for speeding -- a reason I've never before heard -- I'll let you go."

The old gentleman paused then said: "Three years ago, my wife ran off with a Florida State Trooper. I thought you were bringing her back.

"Have a good day, Sir," replied the trooper.


Georgia

The owner of a golf course in Georgia was confused about paying an invoice, so he decided to ask his secretary for some mathematical help.

He called her into his office and said, "Y'all graduated from the University of Georgia and I need some help. If I wuz to give yew $20,000, minus 14%, how much would you take off?"

The secretary thought a moment, and then replied, "Everthang but my earrings."


Louisiana

A senior citizen in Louisiana was overheard saying ... "When the end of the world comes, I hope to be in Louisiana ."  When asked why, he replied, "I'd rather be in Louisiana 'cause everythang happens in Louisiana 20 years later than in the rest of the world."


Mississippi

The young man from Mississippi came running into the store and said to his buddy, "Bubba, somebody just stole your pickup truck from the parking lot!"

Bubba replied, "Did y'all see who it was?"

The young man answered, "I couldn't tell, but I got the license number."


South Carolina

A man in South Carolina had a flat tire, pulled off on the side of the road, and proceeded to put a bouquet of flowers in front of the car and one behind it. Then he got back in the car to wait.  A passerby studied the scene as he drove by, and was so curious he turned around and went back. He asked the fellow what the problem was.

The man replied, "I got a flat tahr."

The passerby asked, "But what's with the flowers?"

The man responded, "When you break down they tell you to put flares in the front and flares in the back. I never did understand it neither."


Tennessee

A Tennessee State trooper pulled over a pickup on I-65. The trooper asked, "Got any ID?"

The driver replied, "Bout whut?"


Texas

The Sheriff pulled up next to the guy unloading garbage out of his pick-up into the ditch. The Sheriff asked, "Why are you dumping garbage in the ditch? Don't you see that sign right over your head."
"Yep," he replied. "That's why I'm dumpin' it here, 'cause it says: 'Fine For Dumping Garbage.' "


Y'all kin say whut y'all want 'about the South,
But y'all never heard o' nobody retirin' an' movin' North.

Hyperion...

Hyperion, moon of Saturn.  From Cassini, via APOD, of course:


Peak Oil...

Not in Texas!


More on the amazing growth of crude oil production in Texas.

They're Not Going To...

Claire Berlinski is the author of my favorite biography of Margaret Thatcher: There Is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters.  She's also an investigative journalist, and lives in Istanbul, Turkey – just four blocks from Taksim Square, the epicenter of the current disturbances there.  As you might expect, she's been reporting in mainstream media – with the unique perspective of an alien long-time resident of Turkey.  In the latest piece I've read, her concluding paragraphs:
According to legend, when the great historian Robert Conquest was asked if he wanted to rename the updated edition of The Great Terror, his history of the Stalinist purges, he replied, “How about, I Told You So, You F***ing Fools.”

And that’s what I’m saying now to every single lazy journalist and policy wonk, professional sycophant, diplomat and idiot pundit who’s never so much as visited this place, the duly-funded social scientists and craven Western politicians and everyone else who for years swallowed Erdo─čan’s nonsense and helped to manufacture the fantasy that Turkey was getting more and more democratic by the day.

Only months ago, not an hour went by without some dimwit churning out an article about the economic and the reformist wonders of the AKP and its newly-emerged Anatolian middle class, the magnificent result of the AKP’s mix of moderately-Islamist daddy-state, fiscal discipline and free-market economic policies. One of the best performers of its kind in the world, a model for every Arab who felt like springing, the blossoming of Turkey’s open society, proof that Islam and democracy can mix just fine. Now, I have no idea if Islam and democracy can mix just fine. Maybe they can, maybe they can’t. But I can tell you one thing for sure: authoritarianism and democracy can’t mix just fine. And this was just obvious, blindingly obvious, years ago.

I have no idea what will come next, now that things that have been overwhelmingly apparent for the past decade are finally getting attention and coverage in English. But this I do know: There are real people here. They are not pawns to be moved about on a geopolitical chess board. They are not subjects for fashionable tales told by people climbing up the greasy pole of their careers in the West. They could use some honesty from the rest of the world, because they’re sure not going to get it from their government or their media and they know it. So if you had any part in creating this situation, whether by cheering the rise of this authoritarian government or promoting the fantasy of Turkey’s advanced democracy and this nonsense about it being a model Muslim nation, go look at those photos of the kids with no eyes. Then get down on your knees and ask God to forgive you—because those kids, they’re not going to.
Read the whole thing...

Who Knew?


Ducks, Meet Water...

Via reader Simi L., this delightful video of some “hoarded” ducks who meet water for the first time in their lives, as adult birds:

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Battle of Gettysburg...

In a nicely done interactive infographic...

A New Discovery...

It's amazing just how big this world of ours is – big enough that archaeologists continue to make major discoveries in still-remote places.  Announced yesterday: the discovery of an untouched, intact pre-Inca tomb in Peru...

D-Wave Processor Validated...

Scientists at USC have validated that the D-Wave “Vesuvius” processor chip is in fact operating as a quantum computing device.

That's not the same as saying that they have fully functional quantum computer, ready to rock and roll (and solve all those pesky traveling salesman problems)...

Friday, June 28, 2013

Be Careful What You Say on Facebook...

Or you might end up in jail...

Isn't it great living in a country with free speech?

Don't Buy Bottled Water in Charlottesville, Virginia...

The cops may attack and arrest you...

My parents live near Charlottesville, but I don't think they buy bottled water.  So I think they're safe...

A Win for All of Us...

Bruce Schneier has joined the Board of Directors of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

We all win with this one...

Sea Level Change...

Measuring sea level change is difficult even with the best of modern instruments.  Figuring out the sea level thousands of years ago is even harder.

We think of the rocks that form the sea bed and continents as hard, solid, stable things.  In fact they are not – over geological time scales, the rocks move, sometimes a lot.  I got a first-hand look at this on the Baltic islands of Estonia, especially Saremaa and Hiumaa.  These islands are rising out of the sea, growing a little higher and bigger each year.  If you lived there, you'd probably thing that meant the sea level was declining – that's what it looks like to you, standing on “solid” ground.  But in fact, the limestone that makes up those islands is slowing rising – and in this case, geologists know exactly why.  During the last Ice Age, an enormous mass of ice on the land pressed it down, displacing magma deep under the crust.  After the Ice Age ended (and the ice all melted), that weight was lifted – and the land is slowly resuming its natural level.  Geologists estimate that for the next 100,000 to 400,000 years, the land will continue to slowly rise.  And residents will probably still think the sea is receding :)

A Win for Free Markets...

Tesla Motors had a big win this week – on something that in a supposedly capitalistic, free-market state should have been a no-brainer.  Tesla is now allowed to sell cars in North Carolina, direct from the factory to consumers with no car dealer involved.  Crony capitalism just suffered a blow.  Let's hope there are many more...

Thursday, June 27, 2013

What's So Special?

About the number “2”, I mean.  Why should marriage be limited to just 2 people? 

Now that the Supreme Court has broadened the definition of marriage to include gay couples, by what logic would they defend a limit to just 2 people?  Polygamy supporters are overjoyed by the two decisions this week, with good reason.

I fully expect to see not only legal polygamy in the U.S. within my lifetime, but also legalized inter-species marriages.  Why not marry your dog, horse, or goat?  Where in the Constitution can you construe something preventing that?

I'm not the only one wondering these things...

Oh, Well...

It might have been a wonderful trip, that vacation that Debbie and I were planning to take to the U.K. one of these fine days.  There are so many beautiful places there that I'd like to share with her.

But it looks like I may be banned from entering the U.K...

An Excellent Rant...

From a politician, about Obama.  An Irish politician:

Flying Pig Moment...

...wherein I agree with Barney Frank.

I never thought I'd write that sentence!

The subject is drug legalization.  He and I are on the same page. 

Scary, isn't it?

Memory Lane...

I remember this ad, which ran in one of the computer hobbyist magazines in the late '70s (probably Byte).  I remember thinking how amazingly inexpensive that system was.  Just a couple of years prior, I had purchased a used, broken Memorex 630 for $10,000.  I spent a month or so troubleshooting and fixing that thing, and ended up with a washing-machine sized 10 MB hard disk (5MB fixed, 5MB removable).  I had to build a computer to interface with it.

And IMSAI was selling a complete system with a miniature “Winchester” hard disk for just $6,000.  Cheap!

An Old Marine Gets a Job Interview...

Reader Larry E. passes along a little Marine humor:
Job Interview

Personnel Manager: "What is your greatest weakness ?"

Old Marine: "Honesty"

Personnel Manager: "I don't think honesty is a weakness !"

Old Marine: "I don't give a crap what you think"
There's one problem with this story: there's no way that old Marine said “crap”!

I've hired a few ex-Marines, and the interviews I had with some of them rank as both the most interesting and most entertaining I've ever had.  This reads as entirely plausible to me :)

Simple!

You know that sexual harassment/sexual assault scandal that's got the military falling all over themselves with politically correct (literally) initiatives, like banning all the Playboy magazines?  Well, it turns out the answer to the problem was amazingly simple!

The Air Force discovered this simple solution.  All they had to do was put teal-colored robes on their students, and like magic the problem disappears.  They're sure of it.

Via former Air Force member, reader, friend, former colleague, and Idaho real estate mogul Doug S., who comments: “Stop the world, I want to get off!”

As a former Navy enlisted man, I have a lot of trouble wrapping my brain around these changes, and also the idea of women serving on ships.  Now don't get me wrong, I'd have loved having women on the ship I served on – what I'm having trouble imagining is the women handling it.  The average age of the sailors on the USS Long Beach, in the '70s when I served on it, must have been around 24 or 25 – and all male, of course.  These young, testosterone-drenched men wandered about the ocean with no contact with women for up to months at a time (the USS Long Beach was nuclear-powered, and the brass loved to show off how long we could stay at sea). 

The ship was chock-a-block full of pornography; anything from lingerie photos to hard core 8mm movies (no streaming Internet video back then :).  Then when we finally did pull into a port somewhere – anywhere – the local version of “sailor town” was waiting for us.  On the surface, the sailor towns consisted of two things: sources of alcohol (in whatever form you preferred) and sources of sex (in whatever form you preferred).  Dig a little deeper, and you'd find sources of drugs (anything at all) and other illicit, er, entertainments. 

I once served on “hard hat” Shore Patrol (the Navy's military police) in Olongapo, Philippines for six months; it was just such a sailor town, perhaps the largest in the world at the time (this was during the Vietnam War, and Olongapo was just outside the gates of the Subic Bay Navy base, one of the largest bases in the world).  I can tell you from personal experience and observation that the vast majority of the thousands of sailors who visited Olongapo every night – officers and enlisted – had just two objectives for their visit: to get plastered and to get laid, not necessarily in that order.  And Olongapo was there with hundreds of bars and thousands of willing girls to help them meet those objectives – and to separate them from as many of those lovely U.S. dollars as they could.

So I wonder...

Has human nature somehow fundamentally changed since I was in my 20s, in the '70s?  Have young men evolved into some new, higher order of being, in which the desire for sex is not so...urgent?  What happens when one of the new “co-ed” ships hits port in a place like, say, Hong Kong?  Where once legions of rental girls lined up to hawk their attributes to the sailors, what's there now?  Soda and ice cream trucks?  Or are there rental boys for the female sailors? 

Inquiring minds want to know :)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Mark on Nigel...

Mark Steyn – one of my favorite political commentators – talks about Nigel Farage – one of my favorite politicians.  Read the whole thing.

Weird personal note: my father was a nurseryman and horticulturalist for many years.  In the '50s and '60s, he specialized in American Holly, and patented several varieties (as did his father before him).  One of his patented varieties was named “Farage”.  I have no idea why my dad chose that particular name, which at the time didn't appear in any English dictionary.

Update: my mom tells me that Farage was not one of my dad's varieties, but instead is attributed to Miss Elizabeth White (doesn't that sound very old fashioned now, saying “Miss”?), from the Pine Barrens of New Jersey...

You'll Never Guess What This Is...

Check out the nice, modern tourist facility at right.  It's a theme park.  For Hezbollah, in Lebanon. Featuring blown-up Israeli tanks and other war paraphernalia.  Along with a theater spouting anti-Israeli propaganda (including the ludicrous claim that Israel has fallen).

The outstanding Middle Eastern journalist Michael Totten visited there, so we don't have to...

Someone Please Tell Me This Is A Joke!

New Yorkers can't be this stupid!

OpenWeatherMap...

It's a new one to me.  Looks interesting...

Corporate States of America...

For each of the 50 states, Steve Lovelace picked a company based in that state and that he thought best represented that state.  For the states I know best, his choices look good.  Here's the result:


More on the D-Wave Quantum Computer...

Via Scientific American...a magazine I stopped subscribing to several years ago (and several years later than I should have) when its oh-so-politically-correct ways started getting in the way of its science reporting, and I lost faith in its credibility...

Amazing Photo...

Check this out:


Looks like four photos stitched together, right?  Wrong...it's a single photo!

Geography Lesson...

Via reader Jim M.:
The Geography of a Woman

Between 18 and 22, a woman is like Africa. Half discovered, half wild, fertile and naturally Beautiful!

Between 23 and 30, a woman is like Europe. Well developed and open to trade, especially for someone of real value.

Between 31 and 35, a woman is like Spain, very hot, relaxed and convinced of her own beauty.

Between 36 and 40, a woman is like Greece, gently aging but still a warm and desirable place to visit.

Between 41 and 50, a woman is like Great Britain, with a glorious and all conquering past.

Between 51 and 60, a woman is like Israel, has been through war, doesn't make the same mistakes twice, takes care of business.

Between 61 and 70, a woman is like Canada, self-preserving, but open to meeting new people.

After 70, she becomes Tibet, wildly beautiful, with a mysterious past and the wisdom of the ages. An adventurous spirit and a thirst for spiritual knowledge.


The Geography of a Man

Between 1 and 80, a man is like Iran: ruled by a pair of nuts.

Welcome...

Via reader Jim M., who lives in New Mexico:


Every American Had It...

The use of past tense here is very sad:


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

FJ Cruiser: Pull-Pal Test...

If you're offroading and you get stuck somehow, there are two basic tools for “self recovery” (aka “getting yourself out of a mess”): the Hi-Lift jack and an electric winch.  We'll be carrying both with our FJ. 

The jack is easy to understand, and works anywhere.  Basically, you use the jack to lift whatever wheel is stuck, and fill in underneath it with dirt, gravel, or rocks – whatever is handy.  You can also use a hi-lift jack for other things, including (if properly rigged) as a short-throw winch.  But “lift and fill” under a free-spinning wheel is the most common use.

The winch probably looks about as easy at first blush (and of course, much less actual work, since it's powered by electricity).  And in truth, it is easy, with one very large caveat: that there is a tree or other good anchor point within reach of your winch (in our case, we have 100' of winch rope and 200' of extension rope).  In some areas, that's not a problem at all – if you're offroading in Maine, there's probably always a nice big tree within 25' of you.  Out west, though, things are often quite different – you may be in the desert (with no trees), in the high desert (with only small trees), or above timberline (with no trees).  What do you attach your winch rope to in areas like that?

The traditional approach is to dig a hole 4' to 6' deep, dismount your spare tire, attach your winch rope to the spare tire, and bury it.  That works, but it's a lot of work – especially in the hard-scrabble soils full of rocks that are very common in the West.  Our yard is a great example.  It's made of soil that is primarily decomposed granite.  In the summertime, it's hard as the proverbial rock – you quite literally have to use a jackhammer to get more than a foot or so deep.  I'd really hate to have to bury my spare tire in my yard in the summer!

I don't know the history of the Pull Pal, so I'm not sure who to thank for this clever invention.  I do know that it works, because yesterday I tested ours out, in our yard (which is hard as a rock right now).  With almost no work at all, I was able to winch our FJ up a 15% dirt slope with all four tires locked.  I can't measure the force required to move it like that, but I suspect it's around 4,000 pounds.  My winch's anchor point was the Pull Pal, which I just set on top of the soil and pulled it in.  Bottom line: it worked flawlessly, and with far less physical effort than I expected.

Here are a few photos I took during the test:

About halfway through the test, under tension.  You can see the small furrow at the top where the spade part of the Pull Pal dug itself in.  The spade is about a foot underground at this point.  The winch rope looks much thicker than it really is, because the last few feet of it are covered with a thick Dacron sleeve to protect the rope. 

Close-up of the spade section, still while under tension.  I was surprised how short the travel was while the Pull Pal was digging itself in – only about 3 feet.  I was even more surprised how shallow it was when it could take the full tension on the line.

After finishing, I pulled the Pull Pal out (just pulled backwards and it came right out).  The spade part comes right off so the whole thing can fold up flat for storage.  The soil I tested with here is entirely typical of what you'd find on many offroad tracks in our area.

Monday, June 24, 2013

NGC 2936...

Aka the “Porpoise Galaxy”.  Via APOD, of course:


Scary Sentence of the Day...

In a piece by Alex Hern, writing in the New Statesman:
Now, redistribution is already, prima facie, one of the absolute best things a government can do.
The term “redistribution”, here, means “take money from some people, and give it to others”. 

That sentence is not being taken out of context – go read the article if you doubt me.

This is a very baldly stated version of a central tenet of Progressivism (and many other flavors of socialism): that the state should take money from some people, and give that money to others.

It's bad enough to know that a significant fraction of our body politic believes that stealing from the wealthy and handing that money over to the less wealthy is a justifiable – and even good – thing to do.  Note that this “redistribution” really isn't from the rich to the poor, as many Progressives would style it.  Not unless you consider people making $75k a year to be rich, and anyone making less than $40k a year to be poor – because, roughly speaking, that's how our current redistribution system (primarily income taxes and earned income tax credits) is set up.  But to call such as system one of the “absolute best” things that government can do...now that's scary.

Reading things like that causes me to hear those drums again.  Those drums of doom...

Quantum Mechanism of Photosynthesis Worked Out...

The amazingly high efficiency of photosynthesis was long unexplainable by ordinary chemistry.  A few years ago, scientists concluded that a “room temperature” quantum-mechanical system must be responsible.  Now researchers have figured out the actual mechanism, and it's even more amazing than they'd expected it to be.  If a similar system can be constructed for man-made solar power systems, we're going to see some mighty awesome solar panels!

Unbearably Romantic...

Via my mom:
The middle-aged couple had finally learned how to send and receive texts on their cell phones.  The wife, being a romantic at heart, decided one day that she'd send her husband a text while she was out of the house having coffee with a friend.

She texted:

If you are sleeping, send me your dreams.

If you are laughing, send me your smile.

If you are eating, send me a bite.

If you are drinking, send me a sip.

If you are crying, send me your tears.

I love you.

The husband, being a no-nonsense sort of guy, texted back:

I'm on the toilet. Please advise.

(Brings a tear to the eye, doesn't it?)

Birds of Paradise...

Awesome:

Where Has Your Blogger Been?

Several readers wrote over the weekend, wondering where the hell I was.  One even asked if I was ok.

Yes, I'm fine :)  Debbie and I were on a stake-out – trying to trap a mother cat and six kittens (about six weeks old) living underneath the old barracks at the former Naval Training Center, down near the San Diego Airport.  Debbie goes there frequently for dog agility meets, and one of her friends told her about the family of feral cats there.  She organized a trapper from the Feral Cat Coalition, and our vet (the wonderful Dr. Christine Wilson) agreed to find homes for them (she does this sort of thing all the time) if we could get them.  The trapper caught the mother cat on Friday, then Debbie and I manned the traps late Friday night and all day Saturday and Sunday.  We caught three of the kittens; three are still left.  Debbie will be down there again today to try and catch the remaining three...

One Reason I'm Not Visiting Russia Anytime Soon...

In a former life, when I was employed by Stac Electronics, Previo, or FutureTrade, I visited Russia a dozen or so times (mostly St. Petersburg, but also Moscow and Vladivostok).  I've even driven there a few times, once with a friend (driving from Tallinn, Estonia to St. Petersburg, Russia) and once on my own (making a grand circuit from Helsinki, Finland north and east through Murmansk and St. Petersburg, Russia, and then back to Tallinn, Estonia).  Since my visits there, Putin has cemented power in his thugocracy and I'm no longer comfortable with personal security there.  But there's another reason why I'm not going there, and especially not driving there:


We have our share of bad drivers here in the U.S.; I see them every time I drive somewhere. But I've been to some places where the drivers are far worse; Russia, Costa Rica, Thailand, and the Phillipines are amongst those places. There's a reckless disregard for life and limb in those places that is amazingly pervasive – so much so that you'd think evolution would take care of this problem within a generation or so...

Friday, June 21, 2013

Orca Tries to Communicate...

...with an outboard motor.  Passed along by friend, reader, Idaho real estate mogul, and former colleague Doug S., whom I worry about sometimes :)

Though I Really Don't Like to Talk About It...

...I hail from New Jersey.  These days, I avoid it as much as possible, and I sincerely hope that I never have to go there again.  But having grown up in New Jersey, I have the background to truly appreciate this map:


Home Depot Has This Stuff Right Now...

If There Were More Ads Like This...

...I might watch a little more television!

The Way the Ratting of Your Friend Experience Should Be!

Terrific radio ad from the NorthStar Ford franchise in Alberta, Canada:

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Wat?

Courtesy of friend, reader, and former colleague Doug S., this lovely little example of geek humor.  It appears to be a presentation by Gary Bernhardt at CodeMash 2012.

Wildlife Photos...

A great collection from a National Geographic competition.  Here's one of them:


The Wind in Their Ears...

A video for dog lovers:

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

CyberWar?

Bruce Schneier has a fascinating opinion piece up on, of all places, CNN.  A teaser:
That's the key question: How much of what the United States is currently doing is an act of war by international definitions? Already we're accusing China of penetrating our systems in order to map "military capabilities that could be exploited during a crisis." What PPD-20 and Snowden describe is much worse, and certainly China, and other countries, are doing the same.

All of this mapping of vulnerabilities and keeping them secret for offensive use makes the Internet less secure, and these pre-targeted, ready-to-unleash cyberweapons are destabalizing forces on international relationships. Rooting around other countries' networks, analyzing vulnerabilities, creating back doors, and leaving logic bombs could easily be construed as an act of war. And all it takes is one over-achieving national leader for this all to tumble into actual war.

It's time to stop the madness. Yes, our military needs to invest in cyberwar capabilities, but we also need international rules of cyberwar, more transparency from our own government on what we are and are not doing, international cooperation between governments and viable cyberweapons treaties. Yes, these are difficult. Yes, it's a long slow process. Yes, there won't be international consensus, certainly not in the beginning. But even with all of those problems, it's a better path to go down than the one we're on now.

New York's New Subway Lines...

They are under construction, and this site has some very cool photos of it:


Your Morning Refresher...


I'd never heard of Elbert Guillory before. He's a state senator from Louisiana.  As I watched this video, I felt like jumping up and cheering – and finding the address where I can send this man a donation.

Oh, more like this, please!!!

Oh, ok, here's another:

Government Efficiency...

Do you harbor some lingering belief that government is the most efficient way to get big jobs done?  This story should cure you of that mental illness.

The outline:
  • The federal government has long had a “Lifeline” program that provides free phone service to poor people.  This program is paid for by a charge on your phone bill.
  • The program originally provided free land lines, but was recently extended to provide free mobile phones (the notorious “ObamaPhone” that was the subject of a viral YouTube video last year).
  • Mobile phone retailers make money by giving away these free mobile phones.  They're supposed to follow federal guidelines about who gets the phones, but there's no enforcement and the financial incentive is for them to give more away, not fewer.
  • People approach the phone retailers, tell them that they're going to resell (“flip”) the phone to raise money for drugs, shoes, whatever, and the retailers still give them the phones.
Personally, I find this completely unsurprising.  Of course that's what happens; it's almost as if someone designed the program like that.

A business, operating with profit motive, would never behave in such a stupid and inefficient way with our tax dollars.  Only the government has that capacity.

Something for you to think about...  When you think of the tax dollars that you pay to both the federal government and the state government, what percentage of that do you think is utterly wasted (like above)? 

For the federal government, I'm guessing around 50% or 60%.  For the state (California), I'm thinking more like 70% or 80%...

Beauty on the Wing...

Reader, friend, and former colleague Doug S. passes along this site with beautiful photography.  The photographer is Karim Nafatni, a Dubai-based A320 commercial airliner pilot.  Many of his photographs (like the one at right) are taken from the cockpit of the airplane he's flying.  There's a story about him, and he has a web site with lots of photos.  Some gorgeous stuff here...

Quote of the Day...

Goes to Niall Ferguson, one of my favorite authors, writing in today's Wall Street Journal ($?):
Tocqueville would not recognize America today. Indeed, so completely has associational life collapsed, and so enormously has the state grown, that he would be forced to conclude that, at some point between 1833 and 2013, France must have conquered the United States.
Later in the piece, he has one of my favorite Tocqueville quotes, and a great conclusion:
Tocqueville also foresaw exactly how this regulatory state would suffocate the spirit of free enterprise: "It rarely forces one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one's acting; it does not destroy, it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes, and finally reduces [the] nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd."

If that makes you bleat with frustration, there's still hope.
Do go read the whole thing...

I haven't read Ferguson's new book yet, but I will be reading it soon...

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Morning Walk...

Debbie and I have been regularly walking up the hill alongside our home, almost always early in the morning (so it's not too hot).  It's great physical therapy for her, still recovering from her broken knee.  The chaparral can be very beautiful, and this morning's walk provided a couple examples.

But before we started this morning's walk, I caught our old girl (Lea) asleep on the couch.  At the ancient age of 16 (particularly old for a field spaniel), she spends most of her days in approximately this position.  It takes her a few minutes of movement before her joints work freely, and she doesn't play very often any more.  But every once in a while, she surprises us – as she did last night with me.  I had a Milk Bone for her, and when I held it up out of easy reach, up she went on her two hind legs, as if she was still a puppy!  I gave her an extra Milk Bone after that :)

This morning we took Mo'i along on our walk.  He's 14 – not far behind Lea – but still going strong.  He can easily make the 3 mile round trip walk with us...but by the time we get home, he's visibly dragging a bit.  It's easy to see how much he enjoys these walks.  This morning he was actually pulling me out the front gate, something he rarely does (he's always “lunking” alongside us as we walk, not straining at the leash like Miki or Race).

At left are the seeds of the mountain mahogany (a Cercocarpus, but which one I'm not certain).  Most of the year this is a scruffy looking chaparral shrub, notable mainly because the deer love to eat its leaves.  But for a few weeks in late spring, its hairy, fuzzy seeds put on a beautiful show, especially when back-lit.  This morning, as we looked to the east with the sun just over the horizon, we could see thousands of these mountain mahogany shrubs lit up in the valley below us and on the surrounding hillsides.

At right is the scarlet larkspur (Delphinium cardinale), a chaparral native that is particularly beautiful this year (we presume because of the early rains).  I counted 24 plants in bloom along a 1.5 mile stretch of road (they love road cuts and the edges of open, rocky areas), easily double the density I've ever seen before.

It was a very pleasant walk.

You Can Still Tie Your Shoelaces...

Reader and friend Simon M. passes along this video:


Simon says:  “I just hope Obama doesn't see the video because he'd make it law that we take it.”  Scary thought, that...

Magnetic Memory Breakthrough...

Those geeks of a certain age may remember magnetic bubble memories, which stored data in tiny magnetic domains stored on thin magnetic films.  Flash memory completely overwhelmed it, partly because of the much lower energy requirements (which translates into much higher density) of flash.  Now scientists at MIT has made a surprising advance that might just bring back the bubbles: they've figured out how to reduce the energy required to form and move magnetic bubbles by a factor of at least 10,000

This will likely have an impact in other areas as well, including magnetic disk storage (“hard disks”) and magnetic tape storage.  It isn't clear to me that this discovery will also result in an areal density improvement, something the storage industry is always looking for...

Reversing the Effects of Alzheimer's...

Faster, please...

Military Advance...

Larry E. passes along this bit of jarhead humor:
COPPER COATED MICROCHIP IMPLANT ALLOWS TERRORISTS TO SPEAK TO GOD

The implant is specifically designed to be injected in the forehead.

When properly installed, it will instantly allow the terrorist to speak to God.

It comes in various sizes: Generally from .223 to .50 cal.

The exact size of the implant will be selected by a well-trained and highly skilled technician, who will also make the injection.

No Anesthetic is required.

The implant is likely to be painless.  Side effects, like headaches, nausea, aches or pains are extremely temporary.

Some bleeding or swelling may occur at the injection site.  In most cases, you won't even notice it.

Please enjoy the security we provide for you.

Best regards,




I got to wondering where the term “jarhead” orginated.  There seems to be quite a bit of uncertainty about this.  I found these origins in different places:
  • Former U.S. Marine headwear (hats) looked a bit like jars.
  • The same company that manufactured Mason jars used to manufacture U.S. Marine headwear.
  • The stiff leather encircling the neck, which used to be part of the U.S. Marine uniform (and is the source of the term “leatherneck” made the Marines hold their heads stiffly erect, like jars.
  • The standard U.S. Marine “buzzcut” haircut makes the Marines' heads look like jars.
  • It's a metaphor for the U.S. Marines' heads: hard on the outside, empty on the inside.

Peace Talks?

This headline just showed up in my email (from the WSJ):
U.S., Taliban to Hold Afghan Peace Talks in Doha
Doha is in Qatar.

What instantly flashed to mind were the peace talks with Vietnam, which really were our negotiated withdrawal after losing the war there.  Shortly after our withdrawal there was completed, the state we propped up (South Vietnam) was completely overrun by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army, and South Vietnam disappeared.

I sure hope that's not a portent for the future of Afghanistan...

Sacremento Politicians Beclown Themselves Again...

Now I realize that headline really isn't news.  Our low information, low IQ legislature beclowns itself on a near-daily basis.  But this beclowning is of a particularly delightful variety – the Democrats pulled a fast one on our budget (no news there), and it very well may be that by doing so, they permanently eliminate one of their beloved sources of “revenue”.  That would be a thing of beauty, that would!

NSA and Conversation “Collection”...

Bruce Schneier points out some speculation that the costs of recording all conversations might not be quite as high as he had previously imagined.  It might actually be possible – especially if (as Schneier speculates) the voice calls are run through at speech-to-text conversion first.

Schneier also points to this post at Rubbing Alcoholic, wherein the NSA may have been caught using an unusual definition of the term “to collect”.  In its ordinary meaning, the way you and I might use it, if we say that “phone calls are being collected”, we'd mean that the calls were being recorded somewhere.  But the NSA appears to be using that term to mean something else altogether: to them, to collect a phone call means to listen to the call that had already been recorded (but not, according to them, collected).

That's a semantic construction worthy of Bill Clinton.

One of the commenters on the Rubbing Alcoholic post summed it up nicely:
God dammit, America
Exactly.

Supercell Thunderstorm Over Texas...

Via APOD, of course:

Monday, June 17, 2013

FJ Cruiser: the Never-Ending Platform/Storage...

It's getting much closer to ending!  The air compressor, 2KW inverter, and refrigerator plug are all wired up and tested.  I load-tested the inverter to 1700W without any problem at all.  For the air compressor test, I aired down one tire to 16 pounds, and aired it back up to 33 pounds.  Woo hoo!

But it gets even better.  Over the weekend I stripped all the masking tape from the panels that need both orange and grey deck coating.  I had a minor masking tape disaster - the glue from the masking tape stuck in big gobs to the wood.  I didn't want to chance trying a solvent, so I did it mechanically: I sanded with 220 grit to get rid of the glue.  I went through about 10 sheets of sandpaper real fast, as the masking tape glue quickly gummed up each new sheet.  But I got it all off!

Then I re-masked – with new rolls of masking tape! – to do the rubberized deck coating, a light grey in color.  The masking was easy enough.  Next came a two-part resin-based primer.  Once I mixed this, I had 90 minutes to work – and they weren't kidding!  About 100 minutes after I started (and finished, thankfully) painting, the remaining paint in the can turned hard as a rock.  The primer was kind of weird.  It had the viscosity of water, very thin stuff.  It went on as a beautiful bright white – but within 5 minutes of application, it turned water clear.  Weird stuff!  Once that was on, I roughly sanded it (per directions) with 60 grit sandpaper, then cleaned it off.

Finally I was ready for the rubberized deck coating.  This stuff I got from Cabela's, and it's a water-based paint that dries rubbery, and contains “crumbs” of rubber to add to the effect.  It's water-proof, oil-proof, dirt-proof – perfect for the surface of a platform that will hold two rowdy dogs.  This stuff was really odd to paint.  First, it was quite thick, like blue cheese salad dressing.  Second, the rubber crumbs kept sinking in the can, so I had to mix it every few minutes.  The first coat went on very thick, maybe a tenth inch (that's a lot for paint!).  It dried kind of like mud dries sometimes, with cracks between solid sections that averaged maybe 1/2" in diameter.  But I'd read about this online and wasn't worried; the second coat would fill in those cracks.  And indeed it did, as you can see in the photos below.  As I write this, I've just finished putting on the second coat, and the coating is looking very nice indeed.

So the platform's interior is done.  Well, the complicated stuff, anyway.  And the paint will be dry tomorrow morning.  That means it's time to assemble the final pieces of the platform.  It sure took a long time to get to this point...

The photo dump:

With the wiring complete, it's time to install the (200 amp!) fuse so I can test the inverter, air compressor, and refrigerator outlet...

Looking almost straight down at the rear of the port side of the platform, showing the air compressor and (blue arrow) the air outlet port and (purple arrow) air compressor switch.

First time I've ever used a socket wrench to install a fuse!

Parts with two coats of rubberized deck coating on, baking in the sun...

A close-up of one of the rubberized parts; you can see the rough texture of this stuff, perfect for providing doggie traction...

The Wagan 2KW inverter, installed on the starboard side of the platform...

Four outlets right behind the center console.  These are all GFI'd...

Looking down at the port side, rear of the platform compartment.  The air compressor (blue arrow) sends air to the back end of the port (yellow arrow).  The air compressor switch (red arrow) controls the air compressor relay back on the wiring panel.  The rear panel has it's own set of four outlets (also GFI'd), and you can see the junction box that holds them (green arrow)...

Back side of the inverter.  You can just make out the two 0 gauge DC wires connecting into it (dead center in the photo).  At left is the back of the refrigerator's DC outlet...

Think the IRS is Bad Now? Just Wait...

Senator Orrin Hatch, writing in the Wall Street Journal ($):
Under the Affordable Care Act, premium subsidies—tax credits in ObamaCare designed to defray the cost of purchasing health insurance—will go to some seven million tax filers and flow to households earning as much as $94,000 a year. The credits are both advanceable and refundable, meaning the IRS will pay them first and verify the claims for them later, what some call "pay and chase."

Refundable tax credits are essentially a form of spending through the tax code, something the IRS has struggled to administer for years with other programs. That's why it's not far-fetched to say that these premium credits will go to a lot of people inappropriately, and that we can expect to see a lot of erroneous and fraudulent payments.

Look at the Earned Income Tax Credit. Whether you like this refundable credit or not, the Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration reported in April that improper payments account for 21% to 25% of total EITC payments in 2012. Take the percentage of improper EITC payments and apply it to the approximate $1 trillion we'll spend on ObamaCare premium credits in the decade beginning 2014. The math shows that we could see between $210 billion and $250 billion distributed to those who shouldn't get it—because the IRS has no system in place to verify reported household income.

Put all the potential fraud and improper payments with these credits on top of the already soaring budget for the premium subsidies and we're headed for a disaster.
This speaks to something that puzzles me deeply about advocates of big government (i.e., Progressives and Liberals).  Anyone who experiences the joys of “service” at the DMV, or at the U.S. Post Office surely must at least have doubts about the efficiency and efficacy of government-run enterprises.  Anyone who has ever been in the U.S. military can regale you with endless tales of waste and mismanagement.  I was once part of a large working party on a Navy ship that had the job of taking a brand-new, never-used spare computer and throwing it over the side of the ship in a deep part of the Pacific.  Why would we do such a stupid thing?  Because the budgetary rules determined next year's funding level by this year's spending.  One way to spend a bunch of money: throw an expensive (roughly $300k) computer over the side!  That's your government bureaucracy at work.

I think the solution is more radical than what Senator Hatch proposes, though: the entire income tax system should be rethought from scratch, with an emphasis on simplicity and transparency.  Little Estonia is an inspiring example with its flat tax...

Tired of Voting for Rats?

This question strikes right to the heart of a perennial dilemma for me: in most elective offices, there isn't any candidate whom I want to vote for.  They're all rats!

In Mexico, the problem of rat candidacy is arguably even worse than in the U.S., and the people there are consequently perhaps even more frustrated than we are.  Sergio Chamorro, of Mexico City, had an inspired solution: he's running Morris, his cat, as the anti-rat candidate.  And his solution has in turn inspired others in Mexico to put up their own pets and farm animals as candidates.

Think about it.  Which sounds better to you?  A Congress populated by the likes of Pelosi, Reid, Graham, McCain, and Feinstein – or by Fido and Fluffy?  I know which makes me feel safer!

Time to Reexamine Our Government's Structure...

Jay Cost:
The Declaration of Independence vested all sovereign power in the people alone, while the Constitution established a government to manage that power in a republican fashion. While the people still swear fealty to the founding ideals, they have not put much thought recently into the problems the Founders tackled. As society has become more complex, the government has, too; Americans have not reexamined the structure of government, in an age in which it accounts for more than 20 percent of the national economy, to ensure it still reflects the republican spirit. In fact, there has not been a serious public discussion about the organization of the bureaucracy since the 1880s, even as it has doubled in size many times over. And so today, it is a vast enterprise of millions of workers, with precious little oversight from the people’s elected representatives.
Read the whole thing...

40 Powerful Photos...

A collection of 40 of the most powerful photographic images ever taken (according to who, I'm not sure :).  Many of these are famous, like the one at right; most of them I'd agree are very powerful indeed...

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day, Fathers...

I can't be with my father today, and even if I was with him, most likely he wouldn't know me.  He's suffering from age-related memory loss, and only occasionally recognizes even close family members.

But my memory is still working well, and today I'm remembering some of the many trips he and I took together.  Our destination was always some beautiful part of the U.S.: Mt. Lassen National Park, the Big Sur coastline, the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, Hawai'i, etc.  Searching for interesting and beautiful plants and wildflowers was always part of the plan.  Those trips, usually a week or two long, were nonstop father/son talkathons.  Subjects ranged all over the map, but the ones that I found most interesting were recollections of his WWII experiences, the history of our family, and his perceptions of how the world worked (very different than mine!). 

I cherish those trips, and I am oh so grateful that I was able to find the time and money to take them while he still could.  Through them, I was able to spend many weeks of quality time with my dad while we were both adults, even though we live over 2,000 miles apart.  I've made many bad choices in my life, but the choice to make those trips wasn't one of them...

I know you can't read this, dad, nor would it make sense to you even if you could.  But “Happy Father's Day!” anyway.  Your son is thinking of you today...

Et Tu, West Virginia?

Jared Marcum is a 14 year old eighth grader from West Virginia.  In April, he wore the T-shirt at right to school.  It's an NRA shirt promoting gun rights protection.

He got into an argument with a teacher who didn't like the shirt, was charged with obstructing the education process and obstructing an officer, was arrested and suspended.  That's bad enough, especially when you find out that the officer doesn't even allege that any threats were made.

But now it gets even worse: Jared is facing prosecution, with the possibility of a $500 fine and a year in jail.

This is just plain crazy.  A kid wears a perfectly legal, non-obscene T-shirt to school – and he could end up in jail?  What the hell is happening to my country?!?!  Jared should be celebrated for his willingness to stand up for his beliefs – a quintessentially American behavior – not persecuted.

Suddenly, I hear drums in the distance.  The drums of doom...

Best Two-Word Description of the Federal Government Evah!!

Via the inimitable Mark Steyn, in an excellent post:
Bozo Leviathan
Excellent, Mr. Steyn.  Just...excellent.

On The Iranian Presidential Election...

Paul Mirengoff (at PowerLine) has a very short post that sums up my reaction very nicely:
THE LESSER OF SEVERAL EXCREMENTS

The AP reports that Hasan Rowhani has declared the winner of Iran’s presidential vote. Rowhani reportedly gained 50.7 percent of the vote, thereby avoiding a run-off.

AP describes Rowhani as a “moderate cleric.” But I prefer the description provided by an Iranian friend of my wife. She calls Rowhani “shit, power two” (i.e. squared) as opposed to his opponents who are shit, power three or four.
Perfect.

Just When You Think We Must Have Reached Peak Scandal...

...another scandalous shoe drops.  Usually on a Friday afternoon, too, so the media won't pay so much attention.

This Friday's bombshell: the NSA admits that it can listen to phone calls of U.S. citizens without a warrant.  Furthermore, it's easy to arrange: any authorized NSA agent (of which there are thousands) simply decides he or she wants to listen to a call, and they do it.  That's it.

Somewhere, George Orwell is smirking...

Dear NSA...

Zombie sends the NSA an email:
To: doesn’t_matter@you’ll_read_this_regardless_of_the_address.com

From: zombie@z0mbietime.com


Dear NSA,

Constitution Allah Ackbar Tea Party bomb abortion patriot gun IRS Islam dog whistle Obama prayer tax surveillance.

There. Now that I’ve gotten your attention, can we have a chat?

If you have any pull with the American Psychiatric Association, could you please recommend to them that the psychological state formerly known as “paranoia” should be no longer defined as a mental illness? Asylums all across the country are filled with people whose only neurosis is the vague feeling that they are being spied on or followed by unseen powerful enemies. But now we know that everyone is being spied on every time they pick up the phone, buy something, use the Internet, or walk around in public — so it turns out that these “paranoid” patients aren’t delusional after all. It seems rather unfair to lock us them up and classify us them as crazy if our vague feelings of being stalked by the government turned out to be true.

To make sure you get this message, may I also say 9/11 Eric Holder birth certificate Bill Ayers drone Orwell Anonymous leak.

And in conclusion, just in case your algorithm has gotten overloaded, I’d like to not mention my private, personal opinions about the Second Amendment, Fourth Amendment, and Ninth Amendment (and you really don’t want to know what I think about the Sixteenth Amendment). For more information, please read the Fifth Amendment.

Thank you.

— zombie

PS — Tell the IRS that the best times for for my upcoming audit are Tuesdays and Thursdays, but unannounced visits from the EPA, FBI, OSHA or ATF would be more convenient on Monday afternoons or Wednesday mornings. And, needless to say, you can eavesdrop any ol’ time.
I hope the Zombie doesn't mind the copy - no excerpt made any sense.

Quote of the Day...

Sarah Palin, on the U.S. getting involved in the Syrian civil war:
Let Allah sort it out.
Oh, Sarah, please run for some national office. Please?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

FJ Cruiser: The Platform Assembly Begins...

The orange paint is dry on the platform parts, so I've now assembled (in the FJ) the structural components.  The lid and doors still have to be painted with rubberized decking material, so they're not installed yet.  Once I had the structural components installed, I could mount the air compressor and inverter, and start all the associated wiring and plumbing (for the air compressor).  That's now well underway, as you can see in today's photo dump:

The 2000 watt inverter can draw up to 300 amps (at 12 volts) while handling peak loads.  This means I need a 300 amp Class T “slo blo” fuse, and these fuses are not small.  The fuse is mounted inside the engine compartment, close to the batteries, but there wasn't any convenient place to mount it.  So I fabricated this aluminum plate, tapping holes in it to mount the fuse holder, and drilling holes to match three existing threaded holes on the port front fender well...

The cables to handle 300 amps are massive – 0 gauge cable.  The copper part of these cables is 3/8" in diameter and made from over 1,000 tiny diameter wires, so despite the thickness they are still very flexible – key for easy routing.  The insulation is 1/8" thick, so overall the cables are 5/8" in diameter.  When Debbie first saw them in the truck, she asked me what the “hoses” were for.  That's how big they are!  As you can see, the terminations for this cable are equally massive...

Here's the fuse block installed and wired.  The fuse block is at the right bottom of the photo, with a clear plastic cover installed over the place where the fuse itself goes (it's not installed yet).  You can see the edge of the aluminum plate I fabricated.  The white oval shows where the two 300 amp cables penetrate the firewall (the top one is +12, the bottom is ground).  These enter the passenger cab just above the driver's left big toe.  From there I routed the two cables up into the dashboard, across to the center, down into the center console, and then out the back of the center console.  At that point they enter the platform I'm building...

Here's the first part of the wiring inside the platform that I've completed.  The photo shows the area on the port side of the platform, between the port rib and the port side of the FJ.  The orange panel on the left of the photo is the rear side of the forward rib.  The arrows point to various components:
purple: air compressor motor
yellow: cover for +12V distribution block, milled from a piece of oak
red: ground distribution block, milled from a piece of brass (identical to +12)
blue: air compressor motor relay
gray: fuse block (with plenty of room for expansion!)



Around Our Yard...

While working outside yesterday, this tarantula hawk (a large wasp) landed on my arm.  I took its picture after it finished resting and set off again on its quest for a tarantula.  This is the third time this has happened to me over the years we've lived out here, and it's a thrill each time.  First there's the sense of danger: the sting of the tarantula hawk is rated as the second most painful sting in the world (on the Schmidt sting pain index).  Entomologist Justin Schmidt, the creator of that index, describes the tarantula hawk's sting as “Blinding, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath.”  Yes, he's actually experienced it.  Then there's the tarantula hawk's appearance: its body is an iridescent deep blue, and its wings are a shimmering orange.  Then you think about its lifestyle: the large female wasps spend their adult lives hunting for a tarantula spider (yes, we have them here), which they sting, paralyzing it – after which they lay their eggs in it.  The wasp eggs hatch inside the tarantula and the hungry little wasps then consume the entire thing.  It's thrilling to have one of these land on your arm!

The acacia in our yard just started blooming.  Various parts of it will be in bloom for the next few weeks.  These blooms are large enough to be attractive even at a distance, but up close they're much better...

And our “Desert Museum” palo verde tree just keeps getting better.  There are more flowers on it now than we've ever seen before, and the yellow carpet of fallen blossoms below it keeps getting thicker.  The tree swarms with honey bees, bumble bees, and hummingbirds.  Awesome!

Why Is Gay Pornography So Popular in Pakistan?

Fascinating.

Tap It: The NSA Slow Jam...

From Reason, this is a very funny spoof.  My favorite line: “Everybody come quick - a straw man has been killed!”:

Of Burgers, Bikinis, and ObamaCare...

How can you resist a headline like that?  Here's the sub:
Andy Puzder, the man who revived Carl's Jr., explains why he's not expanding in California and how the Affordable Care Act is hurting employment. Expect to order with an iPad.
You should definitely read the whole thing...

One Awesome Young Lady...

Can you even imagine doing this as an adult, let alone at age 11?  I can't...

The Flow of Mistrust...

Richard Fernandez analyzes the current NSA scandals, and concludes:
For this reason the current crisis of trust in tech cannot be dispelled without resort to a political solution, just as the question of trusting the USAF with nukes cannot be severed from the question of whether those in charge of the Air Force daily dream of nuking America or not. The Administration is part of the problem. Though they pretend it is not, the quality of their character is relevant. In fact, the doubts over that quality are the central element in this crisis of trust. It spreading the contagion of mistrust into the system. The vector of doubt doesn’t go from Tech to the Administration. It goes from the Administration to Tech.
Read the whole thing; it's excellent.

The IMF Has Some Advice for the U.S...

Friend and reader Simon M. passes this along, with the comment “Good grief, Charlie Brown!”  Basically, the IMF is worried about the U.S. economy (the source of most of its funding), and wants us to undo sequestration, spend more money, collect more taxes, continue the massive “quantitative easing”, and cut entitlements.

I detect a little self-interest in this advice :)

Notice to Older Employees...

My mom spotted this somewhere (didn't say where) and passed it along:
Due to the current financial situation caused by the slowdown in the economy, Congress has decided to implement a scheme to put workers of 50 years of age and above on early, mandatory retirement, thus creating jobs and reducing unemployment.

This scheme will be known as RAPE (Retire Aged People Early).

Persons selected to be RAPED can apply to Congress to be considered for the SHAFT program (Special Help After Forced Termination).

Persons who have been RAPED and SHAFTED will be reviewed under the SCREW program (System Covering Retired-Early Workers).

A person may be RAPED once, SHAFTED twice and SCREWED as many times as Congress deems appropriate.

Persons who have been RAPED could get AIDS (Additional Income for Dependents & Spouse) or HERPES (Half Earnings for Retired Personnel Early Severance).

Obviously persons who have AIDS or HERPES will not be SHAFTED or SCREWED any further by Congress.

Persons who are not RAPED and are staying on will receive as much SHIT (Special High Intensity Training) as possible.Congress has always prided themselves on the amount of SHIT they give our citizens.

Should you feel that you do not receive enough SHIT, please bring this to the attention of your Congressman, who has been trained to give you all the SHIT you can handle.

Sincerely,
The Committee for Economic Value of Individual Lives (E.V.I.L.)

PS - Due to recent budget cuts and the rising cost of electricity, gas and oil, as well as current market conditions, the Light at the End of the Tunnel has been turned off.
They turned off the light at the end of the tunnel?  Oh, noz!

New Fire Monitoring Tool...

Completely by accident I just discovered a marvelous new tool for monitoring wildfires on the web.  It's the “WunderMap” from Wunderunderground, the weather information site I've preferred for years.  I've even been using this map for a year or so, without realizing that it had a fire information layer!  Here's a screenshot showing a current fire near Beaumont, California:


There's a lot of information on this map!  First, the orange blob is the latest officially reported fire perimeter.  This information is usually a day or two old, sometimes (especially on smaller fires) even more.  Then there's the triangle icon – click on that and you'll get basic information about the fire, and sometimes links to more information.  In the upper right you can see little fire symbols – these are “hits” from low-resolution fire-detecting satellites (using infrared scanners).  That information is generally only a few hours old at most.  This lets us infer that this fire is burning toward the northeast.  Finally, there's topographic information and roads – letting you see what sort of country is being burned through. 

All of this information was available previously, but not all in one place like this.  Wonderful job, WunderMap!

To see this fire information yourself, got to the link above and then click on the layer control.  Scroll down through the list of layers and you'll see the control for for fire information (off by default, which is why I never realized it was there!):


There's one more thing worth paying attention to – the little “settings” gear to the right of “Active Fires”:

Here you get to choose what information about active fires you want displayed.  Note the satellite choice: the North American Satellites choice gives you higher resolution and more frequent coverage, but North America only.  The MODIS choice gives you coverage of the entire globe, but with lower resolution and less frequent updates.

Awesome tool!

California Doom...

Here's the text of California Assembly Bill 1266, passed along by friend, reader, and Idaho real estate mogul Doug S. (I think he enjoys laughing at the sufferings of the denizens of his former abode).  The bill has already passed in the Assembly and is currently awaiting action in the Senate.  The key bit is in Section 1, amending Section 221.5 of the education code to include:
(f) A pupil shall be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.
So...a high school boy who claims identification as female must be allowed to join a girl's sports team, must be allowed to use the girl's locker room, and must be allowed to use the girl's restrooms.

What could possibly go wrong with that?

Doom.  Doom.  Doom.  The sounds of the drums beat ever closer...