Saturday, August 31, 2013

Quote of the Day...

Mark Steyn, writing at NRO about Obama's planned intervention in Syria.  The lead:
I see the Obama “reset” is going so swimmingly that the president is now threatening to go to war against a dictator who gassed his own people. Don’t worry, this isn’t anything like the dictator who gassed his own people that the discredited warmonger Bush spent 2002 and early 2003 staggering ever more punchily around the country inveighing against. The 2003 dictator who gassed his own people was the leader of the Baath Party of Iraq. The 2013 dictator who gassed his own people is the leader of the Baath Party of Syria. Whole other ball of wax. The administration’s ingenious plan is to lose this war in far less time than we usually take. In the unimprovable formulation of an unnamed official speaking to the Los Angeles Times, the White House is carefully calibrating a military action “just muscular enough not to get mocked.”
Go read the whole thing.

My father had a semi-serious solution for all these problems in the Middle East: use our nuclear arsenal to turn the entire Middle East into glass.  Then start over.  There are days when I think my father may have been wiser – and perhaps more serious – than I thought at the time...

What the Hell is Happening to My Country, Part 49,931...

Here are two examples of jack-booted bureaucrats trampling the faces of U.S. citizens:

And then there's this: a liberal writer (and former lawyer) penning an article in which she asserts that sex between a teacher and a student shouldn't be a crime at all.  Jazz Shaw (writing at Hot Air) has an excellent retort.

An Annular Eclipse of the Sun...

Down on the surface of Mars, the Curiosity rover looked up to see a beautiful annular eclipse of the sun by the Martian moon Phobos. You can easily see that Phobos is not spherical – it's shaped more like a potato than a ball...

Oh, If Only...

Via my mom:

Friday, August 30, 2013


Imagine a thick steel sphere whose interior is just 6 feet (2 meters) in diameter.  Imagine shoehorning yourself, a companion, and a whole bunch of equipment into this tiny space.  Then imagine that steel sphere is attached to a submarine.  You're floating just a few feet under the surface when something goes horribly wrong, and your now-broken submarine breaks free of the cable holding it near the surface and it plunges toward the bottom, about 1/3 of a mile (1,580 feet, or 480 meters) below.  As your steel sphere – the only thing keeping you alive – rushes down at speeds reaching 40 mph (60 k/h).  You have almost a minute to prepare yourself before it his the bottom, but when it does hit all hell breaks loose.  Your submarine embeds itself in a shallow gully on the bottom.  Equipment and supplies are all over the place, but you and your companion survive.  You have oxygen sufficient for just 72 hours of life, but basically everything else about your submarine is broken.  There's no way you can do anything at all that could get you back to the ocean surface.  What do you do now?

This really happened forty years ago, in August 1973.  I remember it well, especially the timing (just a couple of weeks after the last U.S. combat activity in the Vietnam War).  The plight of the two men trapped deep underwater made news headlines all around the world.  After an international effort got the right equipment and men to the scene, the helpless submariners were rescued.  When they were finally back on the surface and cracked their hatch, they had just 12 minutes of oxygen left.  It was that close.  I know that Hollywood would have made it 12 seconds, but in real life...that is really, really close to the edge.  The photo at right was taken just after a raft picked them up from their sphere...

Under the Ice...

Bigger than the Grand Canyon, this one was just discovered under Greenland's icecap:

We're a long way from knowing even our own planet very well.  Other planets (and even more so other stars) we've just barely scratched the surface.  Literally...

SlightlyLoony's Links...

This is the inaugaral post of a new series: SilghtlyLoony's Links.  They can be on any topic, are not necessarily safe for work, and might induce uncontrollable laughter or chuckling.  Or they might piss you off.


For Parkinson's sufferers: a stabilized spoon.  Seriously.

Turns out you can infer the value Obamacare places on your life.

Maybe that's how we are now (Peggy Noonan).

Version control for writers or groups of writers.

Mars may have enabled the creation of life on Earth.

Back Home...

I returned home last night from my trip to Virgina to visit my folks.  It's always good to get back home after a trip, and the more trips I make, the more true that is...

Debbie had a difficult day yesterday: our oldest cat (Pana, at right) had reached the point where it was time to say good bye, and Debbie had to both make the decision and act on it in my absence.  Tough for her, but she did it.  We've waited too long for some of other other animals, and have regretted it for years afterward; she was determined not to let that happen again.  And she didn't.  Little Pana was between 22 and 24 years old, a small all-black cat that was likely part Turkish (because he liked to play in water) that we rescued when he was quite young.  He had a long, happy, and safe life in our home...

This morning I did all my usual chores, then fired up our Kubota diesel tractor for another one: digging a grave for little Pana.  I was surprised when the tractor fired right up, as I hadn't started it for over a year.  But start it did, on the first turn of the starter.  Then I lifted the front bucket and the rear backhoe bucket and started moving toward the grave site.  Moments later I was swarmed with yellow-jackets, especially on my right hand.

They were in full “defend the nest” mode, stinging away as fast as they could.  I got stung quite a few times on my right hand and arm, twice above my right eye, and several times on my back and rear end.  Ouch!  I jumped off the tractor, leaving it running, and ran far enough away to escape the horde of angry yellow-jackets, then killed all the ones still stinging me.

The last time I had something like that happen to me was when I was a child – as an adult, I've only had one or two stings at a time.  I was worried what sort of reaction I might have to so many stings, but now (two hours later) all I have is some localized swelling.  My hand is by far the worst, but I expect it to go down within a few hours.  I've taken Benadryl and iced the hand; all the advice I can find on the web says those are really all I need to do.  Then wait :)

I found the reason why those yellow-jackets were so mad at me: they had constructed a nest under the left rear tractor tire.  When I moved the tractor, I ripped the roof right off their nest.  If some monster came along and ripped the roof off my house, I'd be pissed off, too.  I'd probably let him have it with my “stinger” (in my case, a semi-automatic 12 gauge shotgun).  Tonight, assuming it gets cool enough to slow the yellow-jackets down, I will destroy their nest.

I don't think I'll leave my tractor parked quite such a long time again :)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Ah, Those Irishmen – Such Romantics!

Via my mom:
At the Irish wedding reception the disc jockey yelled:

"All married men please stand next to the one person who has made your life worth living!"

The bartender was almost crushed to death.

Flying Pig Moment...

Is the New York Times finally getting it?

Good Times...

You're a cow.  You've been in the barn all winter, but now it's spring and the pastures are full of tasty green grass.  The farmer comes to let you out to pasture for the first time:

Monday, August 26, 2013

From the Mt. Vernon, Texas News...

Forwarded by reader Simi L. I don't know if this is for real, but...I really don't care. By the way, put down your drink and swallow before reading this...

Diamond D's brothel began construction on an expansion of their building to increase their ever-growing business. In response, the local Baptist Church started a campaign to block the business from expanding – with morning, afternoon, and evening prayer sessions at their church.

Work on Diamond D's progressed right up until the week before the grand reopening when lightning struck the whorehouse and burned it to the ground!

After the cat-house was burned to the ground by the lightning strike, the church folks were rather smug in their outlook, bragging about "the power of prayer."

But late last week 'Big Jugs' Jill Diamond, the owner/madam, sued the church, the preacher and the entire congregation on the grounds that the church ... "was ultimately responsible for the demise of her building and her business -- either through direct or indirect divine actions or means."

In its reply to the court, the church vehemently and voraciously denied any and all responsibility or any connection to the building's demise.

The crusty old judge read through the plaintiff's complaint and the defendant's reply, and at the opening hearing he commented, "I don't know how the hell I'm going to decide this case, but it appears from the paperwork, that we now have a whorehouse owner who staunchly believes in the power of prayer, and an entire church congregation that thinks it's all bullshit."

Quote of the Day...

By Oren Hazi:
This is how we lose our rights. Not overnight in one fell swoop, but gradually, after getting worn down again and again, and after hundreds of mini-panic-attacks, and with ever-ratcheting procedural changes that effectively invalidate the assurances and safeguards that we're given. I give up. The terrorists have won.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Sometimes... simply doesn't know what to say!

How To Demolish a Hotel, Las Vegas Style...

This happened 6 years ago, but I just saw it:

Friday, August 23, 2013

I'm So Depressed...

The Filthy Filner saga is over.  No more reliable morning entertainment for me!

Light Blogging Alert...

I'm getting on a plane this morning, bound for Richmond, Virginia to visit my folks.  I'll be back in about a week.  Meantime, blogging will be intermittent at best...

They're All Bozos... the White House...

A Nation of Sullen Paranoids...

That's the title of an excellent piece by Peggy Noonan, and a quote from an unnamed Senator...

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Tweet of the Day...

What could I possibly add to this?


I first started reading about sprites (aka “red lightning”) just a few years ago.  Now I'm starting to see good photos of these spectacular natural phenomena, like the one below.  I'd love to see one of these myself!

What the Hell is Happening to My Country, Part 49,930...

Just when I thought we might be reaching the end of the scandalous disclosures about the NSA, I read about this new outrage.
Federal bureaucrats and elected officials.
Some assembly required.

Let's Hope...

...that this becomes reality.

Filner: Settlement?

The media is reporting that some kind of settlement – details to be private until sometime after Friday – has been agreed with Filthy Filner.  The media seem to be presuming that the settlement includes Filthy's resignation, but at the same time (so far as I can tell) the settlement includes just one of his victims (the one at the center of the suit against the city).  So I'm still holding out hope that resignation is not included, and that the Filthy entertainment will go on...

You Know the Teacher was a Guy!

Via my mom:
Students in an advanced Biology class were taking their mid-term exam. The last question was, 'Name seven advantages of Mother's Milk.' The question was worth 70 points or none at all.

One student, in particular, was hard put to think of seven advantages However, he wrote:

1) It is perfect formula for the child.
2) It provides immunity against several diseases.
3) It is always the right temperature.
4) It is inexpensive.
5) It bonds the child to mother, and vice versa.
6) It is always available as needed.

And then the student was stuck. Finally, in desperation, just before the bell rang indicating the end of the test, he wrote:

7) It comes in two attractive containers and it's high enough off the ground where the cat can't get it.

He got an A.

Kilroy Was Here...

Any American (and many others) who lived through World War II will instantly recognize the image at right.  Though the war was before I was born, I've become very familiar with this image through my reading of history – the “Kilroy was here” tag and cartoon crop up time and again.  I've read about it in the U.S., in the European theater, and in the Pacific theater.  It's in many novels and essays of the era.  It's a World War II meme, one that somehow propagated throughout the world, wherever Americans went, without the help of the Internet.  I've never seen a good explanation for where the phrase came from, though I've read several conflicting accounts.

Yesterday my cousin Mike D. forwarded a plausible sounding explanation for the origin of the “Kilroy was here” meme (I've pasted it below).  This prompted me to go look, for the first time in probably 20 years, to see what was known about it.

First, of course, I googled the phrase – and got almost 400,000 hits.  The place you'd expect to see this were all represented: Wikipedia, Snopes, and of course The Straight Dope.  There was also a link to a “Legends” page on a site named (with a terrifyingly bad home page!).

I can't say that it looks like consensus amongst these sources, though there certainly is a generally consistent mention of James J. Kilroy, as in the story my cousin forwarded.  There are many differences in the details, though.

I suspect we'll never know for sure how it got started.

Here's what my cousin Mike forwarded:
He is engraved in stone in the National War Memorial in Washington, DC- back in a small alcove where very few people have seen it. For the WWII generation, this will bring back memories. For you younger folks, it's a bit of trivia that is a part of our American history. Anyone born in 1913 to about 1950, is familiar with Kilroy. No one knew why he was so well known- but everybody seemed to get into it.

So who was Kilroy?

In 1946 the American Transit Association, through its radio program, "Speak to America ," sponsored a nationwide contest to find the real Kilroy, offering a prize of a real trolley car to the person who could prove himself to be the genuine article. Almost 40 men stepped forward to make that claim, but only James Kilroy from Halifax, Massachusetts, had evidence of his identity.

'Kilroy' was a 46-year old shipyard worker during the war who worked as a checker at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy. His job was to go around and check on the number of rivets completed. Riveters were on piecework and got paid by the rivet. He would count a block of rivets and put a check mark in semi-waxed lumber chalk, so the rivets wouldn't be counted twice. When Kilroy went off duty, the riveters would erase the mark.

Later on, an off-shift inspector would come through and count the rivets a second time, resulting in double pay for the riveters.

One day Kilroy's boss called him into his office. The foreman was upset about all the wages being paid to riveters, and asked him to investigate. It was then he realized what had been going on. The tight spaces he had to crawl in to check the rivets didn't lend themselves to lugging around a paint can and brush, so Kilroy decided to stick with the waxy chalk. He continued to put his check mark on each job he inspected, but added 'KILROY WAS HERE' in king-sized letters next to the check, and eventually added the sketch of the chap with the long nose peering over the fence and that became part of the Kilroy message.

Once he did that, the riveters stopped trying to wipe away his marks. Ordinarily the rivets and chalk marks would have been covered up with paint. With the war on, however, ships were leaving the Quincy Yard so fast that there wasn't time to paint them. As a result, Kilroy's inspection "trademark" was seen by thousands of servicemen who boarded the troopships the yard produced.

His message apparently rang a bell with the servicemen, because they picked it up and spread it all over Europe and the South Pacific.

Before war's end, "Kilroy" had been here, there, and everywhere on the long hauls to Berlin and Tokyo . To the troops outbound in those ships, however, he was a complete mystery; all they knew for sure was that someone named Kilroy had "been there first." As a joke, U.S. servicemen began placing the graffiti wherever they landed, claiming it was already there when they arrived.

Kilroy became the U.S. super-GI who had always "already been" wherever GIs went. It became a challenge to place the logo in the most unlikely places imaginable (it is said to be atop Mt. Everest , the Statue of Liberty , the underside of the Arc de Triomphe, and even scrawled in the dust on the moon.

As the war went on, the legend grew. Underwater demolition teams routinely sneaked ashore on Japanese-held islands in the Pacific to map the terrain for coming invasions by U.S. troops (and thus, presumably, were the first GI's there). On one occasion, however, they reported seeing enemy troops painting over the Kilroy logo!

In 1945, an outhouse was built for the exclusive use of Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill at the Potsdam conference. Its' first occupant was Stalin, who emerged and asked his aide (in Russian), "Who is Kilroy?"

To help prove his authenticity in 1946, James Kilroy brought along officials from the shipyard and some of the riveters. He won the trolley car, which he gave to his nine children as a Christmas gift and set it up as a playhouse in the Kilroy yard in Halifax, Massachusetts.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Balance and Concentration...

Watch this all the way to the end for a surprise.  Via my mom:

On 95% Certainty...

Reader, friend, and former colleague Doug W. pointed out the image below (from Watts Up With That?), saying: “The image is stunningly effective, in my opinion.”

I agree.

The image is showing two carefully selected sections of the global average temperature record most frequently cited by the IPCC (Hadley CRUT3).  Each section is for 50 years.  One of them shows the period of time where the IPCC claims “with 95% certainly” to see the effects of anthropogenic (caused by mankind) global warming.  The other shows undisturbed nature.

Which one is which?  Can you confidently point to one and say “That's it!  That shows mankind's influence on global temperatures for sure!”

You really can't see much of a difference at all, much less one that would give you a high degree of confidence in your answer!

FYI: The one on the left is 1957 - 2008; the one one the right is 1895 - 1946.

A Surface Nuisance...

George Carlin with a great monologue on a topic frequently seen here...

So Sad...

The Filthy Filner saga is winding down.  Sniff, sniff...

How Government Thinks...

In California, anyway.  Five years ago, the state government passed legislation offering tax credits for investors in certain kinds of small businesses.  Recently, the California Supreme Court ruled those tax credits unconstitutional.  Now the state's Franchise Tax Board (the tax collectors) are assessing back taxes retroactively for all five years, to those claiming the tax credits.  And not just back taxes – interest and penalties, too.

No individual or business could ever get away with an obviously unfair practice like that.  Only the government...

The asylum really is being run by the lunatics...

Oh, Goody...

With the current trajectory of the NSA snooping news stories, one could be excused for being credulous about some of the tin foil hat crowd's conspiracy theories...

Sometimes Science Gets It Wrong the First Time...

But often it gets it right.  It can be interesting and fun to watch the process of science changing its mind, and more so the earlier you can catch the process.  I first ran into this with the great plate tectonics debate in geology; that had begun shortly before I was born, and really wasn't over for another 30 years or so, when plate tectonics became nearly universally accepted as the process that shapes the earth's surface.

I just read a piece of science news that strikes me as possibly, just possibly, the beginnings of another such change.  Most likely it will turn out to be nothing - but there's a chance that it's the beginning of a big change in cosmology (and physics).  I'm fascinated that the mathematics of the current theory of the universe's expansion is basically the same as the mathematics of the alternative explanation being put forth.  There have been quite a few discoveries in science that started with just such an observation...

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sempra Buys a Bazillion Solar Panels...

Reader and friend Simon M. passes along this news about Sempra (our local electric utility) buying 1.1 million solar panels; there's more detail here.  Simon suspects lower prices and subsidies are at work.

Well, solar cell prices certainly have come down, rather dramatically.  And there are subsidies involved.  But incentives aren't what's driving this purchase: it's mandates.  Specifically, the California Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) – which, amongst other things, mandates that 33% of all energy supplied by power utilities come from renewable sources by the year 2020.  This is what's known to the bureaucracy as an “unconditional mandate”, which means exactly what it sounds like.  The utilities must provide that percentage of power via renewable sources regardless of the cost, regardless of the reliability, regardless of the impact on utility rates, regardless of any reason to use conventional power.  Sempra is reacting to that mandate.

A third of all power coming from renewable sources is an incredibly high fraction to achieve in such a short term, especially given that it takes up to 20 years to build new power plants in California (note that the Copper Mountain project is in Nevada!).  Some large organizations (can you say Google?) have given up on building solar power plants in California because of the lengthy and risky approval process.  As Sempra and other utilities noted at the time, this could only be achieved by spending huge amounts of money in capital investment – and that investment money is going to come from the rate-payers (that is, the folks like you and I who buy power from Sempra).  This need to finance capital is why the power from Sempra's all-PV Copper Mountain facility will cost significantly more than power from conventional plants.  Oh, and the rate-payers also get to pay for the costs of Sempra disentangling themselves from contractual commitments already made for future conventional plants, too.

This is one of the issues that's driving us out of California – in this case, a piece of regulatory madness that's guaranteed to drive up electricity costs, but not guaranteed to deliver any tangible benefit (all that political rhetoric notwithstanding)...

Sounds Perfectly Logical to Me...

But then, I'm a male.

Reader and friend Simon M. sent along this little story, which he says is perfectly logical to all males:
A wife asks her husband, "Could you please go shopping for me and buy one carton of milk, and if they have avocados, get 6."

A short time later the husband comes back with 6 cartons of milk.

The wife asks him, "Why did you buy 6 cartons of milk?"

He replied, "They had avocados."
Well, with a sample space of one (me), the assertion proved true.  The implication is that the story wouldn't seem logical to a female.  Debbie and I were at dinner when I received this email, so I read the story to her.  She said that it made no sense at all – she'd ask the same question as the wife in the story.


If you try this yourself, please report the results in the comments!

Filthy Filner: It Looks Like the End Is Near. Dang It!

The one-man entertainment bonanza known as Filthy Filner looks like he's winding down.  There are numerous reports that he is negotiating for a “graceful exit” from his job as Mayor of San Diego.  Thought in the context of Filthy, I'm not entirely sure what a graceful exit would look like...

If Filthy won't go on his own, the City Council and City Attorney are cooking up other ways to get rid of him, and (as I noted on Sunday) the recall effort is finally underway.  One way or t'other, it looks like my most reliable source of morning entertainment is coming to an end.  Dang.

I did spot one thing in the Filthy news that shocked me more than any other Filthy revelation to date: there was a demonstration yesterday by Filthy supporters.  Over at Hot Air, the blogger AllahPundit pretty much sums up my own reaction:
Still, I feel the only solution now is nuking the city from orbit. Just to be sure.
Yup.  Just get the power setting right, will you?  I live well outside the area enclosing any Filthy supporters...

What the Hell is Happening to My Country, Part 49,929...

In Arlington, Texas, a small farmer was suspected of some “crimes”:
…authorities had cited the Garden of Eden in recent weeks for code violations, including “grass that was too tall, bushes growing too close to the street, a couch and piano in the yard, chopped wood that was not properly stacked, a piece of siding that was missing from the side of the house, and generally unclean premises”...
Sounds like a very annoying neighbor, doesn't it?

Now what do you suppose the authorities decided to do about it?  Send a code inspection guy to knock on their door and discuss the issue?


The authorities started “a massive police action last week that included aerial surveillance, a SWAT raid and a 10-hour search.”

This is the kind of story I expect to come out of some place like Mynamar or North Korea.  But Texas?  Last time I checked, Texas was still a member of the United States.  You know, that place sometimes called “Land of the Free”?

What the hell is happening to my country?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Quote of the Day...

As seen on the “Book of Face”, via The Smallest Minority:
Obama wants Catholic institutions to provide birth control and abortions.  Does this mean he will force Muslims to serve alcohol and bacon?

NSA Spying Linkfest...

Zero Hedge has an enormous collection of links about the NSA spying “petty scandal”.  It's informative, but depressing...

Obama Cashes a Check...

Via my mom:
President Obama walks into a local bank in Chicago to cash a check. He is surrounded by Secret Service agents. As he approaches the cashier he says, "Good morning Ma'am, could you please cash this check for me?"

Cashier: "It would be my pleasure sir. Could you please show me your ID?"

Obama: "Truthfully, I did not bring my ID with me as I didn't think there was any need to. I am President Barack Obama, the President of the United States of AMERICA !!!!"

Cashier: "Yes sir, I know who you are, but with all the regulations and monitoring of the banks because of 9/11, impostors, forgers, money laundering, and bad mortgage underwriting not to mention requirements of the Dodd/Frank legislation, etc., I must insist on seeing ID."

Obama: “Just ask anyone here at the bank who I am and they will tell you. Everybody knows who I am."

Cashier: "I am sorry Mr. President but these are the bank rules and I must follow them."

Obama: "I am urging you, please, to cash this check. I need to buy a gift for Michelle for Valentine’s Day"

Cashier: "Look Mr. President, here is an example of what we can do. One day, Tiger Woods came into one of our bank branches without ID. To prove he was Tiger Woods he pulled out his putter and made a beautiful shot across the bank into a coffee cup. With that shot we knew him to be Tiger Woods and cashed his check.  Another time, Andre Agassi came into the same place without ID. He pulled out his tennis racquet and made a fabulous shot where as the tennis ball landed in a coffee cup. With that shot we cashed his check.  So, Mr. President, what can you do to prove that it is you, and only you, as the President of the United States?"

Obama: Obama stands there thinking, and thinking, and finally says, "Honestly, my mind is a total blank...there is nothing that comes to my mind. I can't think of a single thing. I have absolutely no idea what to do and I don’t have a clue.”

Cashier: "Will that be large or small bills, Mr. President?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

U.S. Population Changes Over Time...

This is a fascinating animated graph by Bill McBride at Calculated Risk.  Amongst other things, it makes obvious the reasons for the current and future insolvency of the Social Security system.  Way back when, before FDR, there were vastly more people of working age than of retirement age.  Today, not so much.  In the future, even less.

Of course there are many other repercussions of the demographic changes as well.  For instance, think what it means for healthcare costs, or number of doctors needed per capita, or economic growth, or any of dozens of other topics.

Study this for a while and you'll understand a lot about the dynamics that are affecting this country.  It might also make you rethink opposition to immigration (the vast majority of immigrants are under 30 years old)...

Sex Offenders...

Instapundit notes that the slide show of child sex offenders on this page (at the end of the article's text) is dominated by women.  He's wondering why schools are sometimes reluctant to hire male teachers.

Me?  I'm wondering where these women were when I was in high school...

What the Hell is Happening to My Country, Part 49,928...

The federal government now seems to be channeling the Mafia...

We thought we needed to leave California to escape big (and incompetent) government.  Now I'm wondering if we were thinking broadly enough...

Quotes of the Day...

These quotes are all from a single article, and mostly what makes them notable is who said them.  Read the quotes first, then click on the link to see who said them – and read the whole piece:
If Americans are worried about money in politics, there is no larger concern than the Clintons, who are cosseted in a world where rich people endlessly scratch the backs of rich people.

I never thought I’d have to read the words Ira Magaziner again. But the man who helped Hillary torpedo her own health care plan is back.

You never hear about problems with Jimmy Carter’s foundation; he just quietly goes around the world eradicating Guinea worm disease. But Magaziner continues to be a Gyro Gearloose, the inept inventor of Donald Duck’s Duckburg.

Clintonworld is a galaxy where personal enrichment and political advancement blend seamlessly, and where a cast of jarringly familiar characters pad their pockets every which way to Sunday.

Until Harry Truman wrote his memoirs, the ex-president struggled on an Army pension of $112.56 a month. “I could never lend myself to any transaction, however respectable,” he said, “that would commercialize on the prestige and dignity of the office of the presidency.” So quaint, Packer wrote, observing, “The top of American life has become a very cozy and lucrative place, where the social capital of who you are and who you know brings unimaginable returns.” 

The Clintons want to do big worthy things, but they also want to squeeze money from rich people wherever they live on planet Earth, insatiably gobbling up cash for politics and charity and themselves from the same incestuous swirl. 
Ouch! Who dumped on the Clintons?  Hint: it's someone whom you'd expect would be leaping upon the Hillary bandwagon right about now, winding up for 2016...

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Smoke in Lawson Valley...

Update at 3:20 pm: the smoke has mostly cleared now.  We believe the fire at I-8 and Los Coches was the source of the smoke.

Original post: Just went outside to fire up the grill, and immediately noticed the strong smell of smoke.  In a broad smear to the WNW of our home there is moderately thick smoke.

The CalFire twitter site notes a fire in La Cresta, near I-8 and Los Coches; that may be the source.  The Lyons Peak cameras on HPWREN aren't telling me anything.

Please leave a comment if you have more information...

Big Brother...

Mark Steyn: Idiot Big Brother...

What the Hell is Happening to My Country, Part 49,927...

From the Weekly Standard, Matt Labash writing about the “Brony” phenomenon:
But Bronies represent a novel variation on the theme: Like so many American men, they wish to be forever suspended in childhood. Except this time, they want to be 6-year-old girls. Bronies have, in fact, come to embody what pop sociologists call the New Sincerity Movement. The thinking goes that the smirky ironic detachment of recent decades—​pretending to embrace low-culture totems for laughs​—​has grown stale. Now that the Internet has fragmented the culture into a million pieces, helping every maladjusted shut-in to realize his natural level of eccentricity, the only way for a self-respecting hipster or a Zuckerbergian alpha-nerd (the tribe that now runs the world) to distinguish himself is to enthuse over his enthusiasms without detachment or apology. Even if that means grown men writing Twilight Sparkle fan fiction or cutting bad electronica songs with titles like, “I Might Be a Brony.” You might find it funny, but they’re not joking.
Read the whole thing, then weep for my country...

“You Ignorant Slut!”

Said the AGW skeptic to the credulous warmist:


Via my mom:

I've had days like that...

The Life of a Parcel...

In one short video, with the boring bits mercifully edited out:

Three-Shear Image Rotation...

Nick Berry has the best explication of three-shear image rotation I've ever seen – something any programmer could understand...

Orbital Mechanics Primer...

Just in case you're planning to launch your own satellite...


My mom recently sent me the snapshot at right, with someone catching McDonald's in an apparent admission.  I'm sure most people who have eaten at McDonald's would smile and chuckle.

But it reminded me of a surprise Debbie and I got a few months ago.  I've forgotten the context, but somehow we were on the road, headed home late at night, and hungry.  We didn't want to take the time for a sit-down meal, and the only fast food places we knew were closed.  So we decided to grab a burger or something at McDonald's.

We hadn't looked at a McDonald's menu in years and years – and really didn't expect to do so ever again.  I saw couple of things on the menu that sounded appealing: a chicken-and-bacon wrap, and a mango-pineapple smoothie.  So I ordered them.

They were quite good.  Surprise!

I've had that same combination a couple of times since then, and I still have the same reaction: a convenient and inexpensive treat on the road.

Now, mind you, I don't think the wrap and smoothie are the best in the world.  I'd prefer more have more dark chicken meat, a bit more bacon, and the smoothie not quite so sweet.  But for the modest price and consistent quality, I'd say it was quite a bargain.

So to my own surprise, I'm now an occasional patron of McDonald's...

Elvis Has Left the Building...

So to speak...

Friday, August 16, 2013

Obamacare: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Jack-booted Obamacare thugs will be knocking down the doors of servicemen's homes, along with many others.

George Orwell: “Told ya!”

California: You Will Earn 3% on Your Retirement Savings...

If I were still employed by a small business in California, this would really piss me off – the nanny state telling me that it knows how to save for my retirement better than I do.  The proof is their guaranteed rate of return: a whopping 3%. 

Oh, vey.

We gotta get out of here...

California, a Hacker's Best Friend...

What could possibly go wrong?

Watts vs. Mann: My Money is on Watts...

Mr. Watts notes a recent paper that examines the dendochronology (tree ring interpretation) data that much of Mann's notorious “hockey stick” is based on.  A layman's summary: Mann's interpretation is faulty, and is faulty in a way that exaggerates (or possibly even creates) the hockey stick.

Oh, Mann!

I'm Indebted to Snowden...

Without his disclosures, I wouldn't have believed my government would do this...

U-2 and Area 51 Info Declassified...

This ought to keep the tin foil hat brigades up for a few nights...

Thirty Two Years Ago...

Debbie and I were married on this day in 1981 – 32 years ago.  Despite years of experience, she's still putting up with me :)

Today we celebrated in a very low-key way.  First we journeyed over our local back roads to Pine Valley, where we had a fish sandwich and fries at Frosty Burger (best fast food in the known universe).  The fries were absolutely perfect.  Then we drove up a Forest Service road that leads from just west of Pine Valley up to the Sunrise Highway north of Mt. Laguna.  The first part of this road is paved, but we turned off the pavement onto a 4WD road that stays downhill and west of the Mt. Laguna massif (which runs roughly north/south). 

There wasn't a lot of wildlife to see there today, though we did get a brief glimpse of a male Western tanager – just his back as he flew across the road below us.  We don't often come out this way in the summertime, as it's very hot and dry – and the wildflowers are long gone.  Except there was one wildflower there in abundance, a new one to me even after all these years (first photo below).  The mountain mahogany were prime, and very abundant.  And in one particular spot we ran across lots of a plant we don't know bearing red berries. 

Despite the lack of exciting scenery, it was still a very pleasant drive.  When we hit the Sunrise Highway, we looped back around to Cuyamaca Park and into the Stonewall Mine road, hoping for some deer – and we did see one.  Just one :)

Now we're back home, did the chores, and we're just chilling out for the rest of the day...

BTW, the photos below were all taken with a tiny little pocket camera: a Nikon CoolPix S4300.  I got this camera for my mom, and I'm learning how to use it – so that I can show her while I'm visiting next week.  It's been quite a few years since I've last used a pocket camera.  They've come a long, long way – both in capability and in ease of use.  Also, the automation is remarkably good.  I'm deliberately using only the full auto mode, as I'm pretty sure my mom will use only them.  I'm finding that the camera nearly always does exactly what I want it to do. 

The touch screen on the back allows a feature I've never used before, but have already fallen in love with: while you're viewing the scene you want to take a photo of, you can touch the part you want exposed correctly and focused on – and the camera just does it.  For example, you might compose a photo with someone's face in the lower left corner, and a distant scene in the rest of the frame.  By simply touching the person's face on the screen, you're telling the camera to focus there, adjust the exposure to suit the face's illumination, and take the photo.  One touch does all that.  Nice!

The mystery flower that we've never seen before because we don't venture onto Mt. Laguna in the summer.  The flowers are about dime-sized.

Mountain mahogany seeds.

Close up of the mountain mahogany seeds (zoomed to telephoto, shooting from about 3 feet away).

The obligatory FJ shot!

Mystery berries...

Curiosity: Occultation...

Curiosity recently took a sequence of images of the Martian moon Phobos occulting its sister moon Deimos.  Phobos is physically larger than Deimos, and is in a lower orbit, so its apparent size from the surface of Mars is much larger.  The good folks at JPL took this sequence of images and made a movie out of them:

Put Down Your Hot Morning Beverage...

...and go read these actual product reviews on Amazon.  There are some very funny and clever people out there.  Here's a sample:

Spambot of the Day...

Introducing a new feature on this blog: Spambot of the Day (see this Wikipedia article if you're new to the delights of spambots).  The particular flavor of spambot that typically plagues bloggers is the “comment spambot”.  These unethical marketing tools post fake comments on blogs, typically containing a link to a web site they're advertising, or a hacker's trap site trying to trick you in to downloading something you shouldn't.

Google's Blogger (the blogging platform this blog runs on) is pretty good at catching these spambot postings.  Most of them never become visible to me, which is much better than a few years ago – back then, on a typical day I might see 30 or 40 of them.  The main reason I have comment moderation turned on for my blog is to catch these things and delete them. 

Usually the text of the comment the spambot is posting has been either just gibberish, or some random text copied from a news story or some such thing.  Recently, however, the spambots are doing something clever: they know that comment moderation is catching them, so they try flattering the blogger – to trick the blogger into accepting a comment that's actually spam.  Some of these are quite funny, once you realize what they are.

Hence my new feature.  When I see a good one come by, I'll post it as Spambot of the Day.

I like reading your current well written articles. I totally cherished each and every little bit of it. I have you bookmarked your website to be able to check out the new material in the future.
Nice try, spambot!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Filthy Filner: Another Day, Another Assaulted Woman Comes Forward – Plus, Bonus Video!

Yet another (I've now lost count, but it must be approaching 20) woman comes forward, alleging Filthy made unwanted advances upon her.  This time, it's a 67 year old great-grandmother, and part-time city worker.

Good grief.  Pass the popcorn, please.


Message from Mom...

My mom sends lots of humorous things my way.  Sometimes I post them on my blog.  Sometimes I wonder what she's trying to tell me.  This morning she sent me this:
Now men ... men are like a fine wine.  They begin as grapes, and it's up to women to stomp the shit out of them until they turn into something acceptable to have dinner with.
I'm wondering what she's trying to tell me by sending this to me.  Is she taking credit for stomping me as a child (implying that the results were acceptable)?  Or is she telling me that I need to find a women to stomp me (implying my wife isn't getting the job done)?

I just don't know...

The Jewish Quarterback...

Another good one from Jim M. – laugh and cry:
The coach had put together the perfect team for the Chicago Bears. The only thing that was missing was a good quarterback. He had scouted all the colleges and even the Canadian and European Leagues, but he couldn't find a ringer who could ensure a Super Bowl win.

Then one night while watching CNN he saw a war-zone scene in the West Bank. In one corner of the background, he spotted a young Israeli soldier with a truly incredible arm. He threw a hand-grenade straight into a 15th story window 100 yards away.


He threw another hand-grenade 75 yards away, right into a chimney.


Then he threw another at a passing car going 90 mph.


"I've got to get this guy!" Coach said to himself. "He has the perfect arm!"

So, he brings him to the States and teaches him the great game of football. And the Bears go on to win the Super Bowl.

The young man is hailed as the great hero of football, and when the coach asks him what he wants, all the young man wants is to call his mother.

"Mom," he says into the phone, "I just won the Super Bowl!"

"I don't want to talk to you, the old woman says. "You are not my son!"

"I don't think you understand, Mother," the young man pleads. "I've won the greatest sporting event in the world.  I'm here among thousands of my adoring fans."

"No! Let me tell you!" his mother retorts. "At this very moment, there are gunshots all around us. The neighborhood is a pile of rubble. Your two brothers were beaten within an inch of their lives last week, and I have to keep your sister in the house so she doesn't get raped!"

The old lady pauses, and then tearfully says, "I will never forgive you for making us move to Chicago!!!!
The homicide rate in Chicago is 15.2 per year, per 100,000 people.  In Israel, it's 2.4.  His mother has good reason to be afraid...


Passed along by reader Jim M.:
One day a man decided to retire...

He booked himself on a Caribbean cruise and proceeded to have the
time of his life, that is, until the ship sank.

He soon found himself on an island with no other people, no supplies, nothing, only bananas and coconuts.

After about four months, he is lying on the beach one day when the most gorgeous woman he has ever seen rows up to the shore.

In disbelief, he asks, "Where did you come from? How did you get here?"

She replies, "I rowed over from the other side of the island where I landed when my cruise ship sank."

"Amazing," he notes. "You were really lucky to have a row boat wash up with you."

"Oh, this thing?" explains the woman. "I made the boat out of some raw material I found on the island. The oars were whittled from gum tree branches. I wove the bottom from palm tree branches, and the sides and stern came from a Eucalyptus tree."

"But, where did you get the tools?"

"Oh, that was no problem," replied the woman. "On the south side of the island, a very unusual stratum of alluvial rock is exposed. I found that if I fired it to a certain temperature in my kiln, it melted into ductile iron and I used that to make tools and used the tools to make the hardware."

The guy is stunned.

"Let's row over to my place," she says "and I'll give you a tour." So, after a short time of rowing, she soon docks the boat at a small wharf. As the man
looks to shore, he nearly falls off the boat. Before him is a long stone walk leading to a Cabin and tree house.

While the woman ties up the row boat with an expertly woven hemp rope, the man can only stare ahead, dumb struck. As they walk into the house, she says casually, "It's not much, but I call it home. Please sit down."

"Would you like a drink?" "No! No thank you," the man blurts out, still dazed.  "I can't take another drop of coconut juice."

"Oh it's not coconut juice," winks the woman. "I have a still. How would you like a Tropical Spritz?"

Trying to hide his continued amazement, the man accepts, and they sit down on her couch to talk. After they exchange their individual survival stories, the woman announces, "I'm going to slip into something more comfortable. Would you like to take a shower and shave? There's a razor in the bathroom cabinet upstairs."

No longer questioning anything, the man goes upstairs into the bathroom. There, in the cabinet is a razor made from a piece of tortoise bone. Two shells honed to a hollow ground edge are fastened on to its end inside a swivel mechanism.

"This woman is amazing," he muses. "What's next?" When he returns, she greets him wearing nothing but some small flowers on tiny vines, each strategically positioned, she smelled faintly of gardenias. She then beckons for him to sit down next to her.

"Tell me," she begins suggestively, slithering closer to him, "We've both been out here for many months. You must have been lonely. When was the last time you played around? She stares into his eyes.

He can't believe what he's hearing. "You mean..." he swallows excitedly as tears start to form in his eyes, "You've built a Golf Course?"
This does not describe my retirement priorities :)

Flash Floods...

What they actually look like:

I've only seen two flash floods in my entire life, both entirely by accident – I wasn't chasing them like these guys.  Both the flash floods I saw looked much like this, though the character of the brush was a bit different (being Southern Californian chaparral).  They aren't at all like the flash floods of Hollywood or many western novels – there's no 50 foot high wall of water that appears without warning.

On the other hand, if you do something stupid like, say, parking your RV in the wash and going to sleep – you're likely to get quite a rude surprise!  In one of the flash floods I witnessed, exactly this happened.  I saw the RV being washed along the by the torrent, flipping over and over.  About 15 minutes after the RV went by, the owners (a young couple) came huffing up, trying to catch up with it.  They managed to get out of the RV before the flood tipped it over, but getting to shore was touch-and-go.  They were both quite scared.  I gave them a ride, first down to where their RV was still tumbling along, now beaten almost beyond recognition.  It was a total loss.  Then I gave them a ride into the town of Ocotillo, where they parked themselves in an air-conditioned business and awaited help from relatives.

Quote of the Day...

This is a long one, but choice: Matt Walsh writes an apology letter to President Obama, tongue planted very firmly in cheek.  The lead:
Dear President Obama,

I’m reaching out to you as a friend. I know you must be deeply hurting after what happened at the Missouri State Fair. Sure, you probably try to avoid watching the news while you’re on vacation, but I’m sure the pilot who airlifted your dog to your rental mansion in Martha’s Vineyard probably caught you up to speed (that guy is such a chatterbox). Your jaw must have hit the floor when you heard the news: A rodeo clown in Missouri poked fun at you. Yeah, I know, almost impossible to believe. The gall! The gumption! The racism! Don’t worry, the entire country erupted in outrage, Democrats and Republicans issued statements of condemnation, and now the offending clown has been banned for life from the Missouri State Fair. There will likely be “action taken” against the Missouri Rodeo Clown Association, and I do hope justice is visited upon them swiftly. I think we’re all a little sick of the Missouri Rodeo Clown Association causing trouble. It’s something new every week with those freakin’ guys. 
You most definitely want to read the whole thing.

What a thin skin our narcissist-in-chief has!

On July 4th, 1776... old were the Founding Fathers?  These ages surprised me greatly – somehow, in all my history reading, I'd never quite grasped this:

Marquis de Lafayette18
James Monroe18
Gilbert Stuart20
Aaron Burr20
Alexander Hamilton21
Betsy Ross24
James Madison25
Thomas Jefferson33
John Adams40
Paul Revere41
George Washington44
Samuel Adams53
Benjamin Franklin70

I'd always imagined this group being roughly contemporaries – and I'd certainly never registered just how young some of the key thinkers were.  That list makes me feel...humbled...

Grasshopper Hops Sideways...

carSpaceX's test vehicle, dubbed “Grasshopper”, makes a test flight that adds a new maneuver: a lateral move away from, and then back to, the launch pad:

SpaceX seems to be carefully pushing their test vehicle along, trying one or two new things on each flight.  Their budgets are a tiny fraction of NASA's budget for rocket development, and yet they've arguably accomplished much more than NASA has managed, and in a very short time.  If they can figure out how to make money from the private sector, there's a lot of potential there – but that is a mighty big “if”. 

Right now, 100% of their revenue comes from NASA contracts.  I'm glad to see the cost reduction this affords NASA, but I'd much rather just shut down the manned space program at NASA – that would save a lot more money...

A Peek Inside North Korea...

Michael Malice is an American writer who was born in the Soviet Union, but came to the U.S. at the age of 2.  He visited North Korea as a tourist, partly on a quest to see a land that might give him a sense of what life in the Soviet Union was like for his parents.

He wrote about his week in North Korea for Reason.  He has some fascinating, sober, and insightful observations about the people there; well worth reading.  I continue to be impressed with the quality of the writing in Reason - one of only two magazines that I still subscribe to (the other is Science News).

A lot of observers who claim to be much better informed about what's going on inside of North Korea are convinced that the government there is about to collapse.  Nobody can be precise on the timing, of course – but the consensus seems to be that the intersection of a better-informed public (mainly through smuggled devices giving them access to Chinese media) and a disintegrating state apparatus (mainly because of its inability to pay, or even feed, its minions) makes a collapse inevitable.

That can't happen soon enough for the suffering people of North Korea.  But when the collapse does come, it will pose large problems for South Korea, and to a lesser extent, China.  South Korea will be in the same position as West Germany in 1991 – but with an even greater economic disparity, and with the enormous disadvantage of a relatively poorly educated and brainwashed North Korean population.  China will inevitably be taking in refugees and probably supplying humanitarian aid.  Even worse for them, however, will be losing the useful thorn in the West's side that North Korea has been for them...

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

40 Maps to Understand the World...

Well, some aspects of the world, anyway :)  It is a fascinating collection of maps, visualizing all sorts of things I'd never have thought of visualizing.  Like this one:

One thing I learned from this is that I'm not even close to the national average consumption for the U.S. – I'd better get to work on that!  Assuming the U.S. average is about 8 liters of alcohol a year, that works out to 3/4 ounce of pure alcohol.  My consumption is nearly entirely in wine, so that works out to about 6 ounces a day.  That doesn't sound like much, but I actually only have wine a couple times a week – which means I'd have to drink about 20 ounces of wine at a sitting.  Yikes!  That would knock me for a loop!

I'm not surprised by the large Russian consumption.  I saw an awful lot of vodka when I was there, and witnessed people drinking in amounts and at rates that I'd have thought were fatal.  But France and England?  I wouldn't have guessed that their alcohol consumption was on a par with Russia's...

What the Hell is Happening to My Country, Part 49,926a...

Kimberley Strassel has an update on the story I posted a few days ago, about an ethanol mandate exemption being secretly granted to a single refinery.  At the time, we didn't know which refinery got the exemption, nor why it was granted.  Now we know the refinery (a small refinery in Louisiana), but we still don't know why.  However, knowing the refinery allows all sorts of investigation and speculation, which Ms. Strassel has done.  It has the stench of crony capitalism at work...

Open Content...

I hope this is the start of something big...

The Getty Museum announced its “open content” program, and released hundreds of high resolution images into the public domain.  You can browse the released images on a rather nicely done web page.  The preceding link will show you all the open content digital images of paintings by Rubens of the natural world.  It's easy to change those filter settings to whatever you'd like to see.  If you click on the title of any image shown here, you'll get a page that lets you download it, in awesomely high resolution.

Bravo, Getty Museum!

Browser Wars Update...

I just saw this at The Economist, and it took me by surprise:

The chart starts with Chrome's release in 2008.  In just four years, Chrome went from nothing to being the dominant web browser.  Firefox's popularity didn't change all that much.  Internet Explorer went from dominance to a distant second place, falling at almost exactly a linear rate.

Chrome and Firefox are open on my desktop all day long.  I like Chrome better for some web sites (especially Google's :), and I like Firefox better for handling tabs (which I use extensively).  Internet Explorer is not allowed on my computer :)  I do occasionally use Safari, though mainly that's for testing web applications.

Anyway, the rapid rise of Chrome caught be by surprise.  I had no sense of that happening at all.  I went to my blog's statistics and looked at browser share, and sure enough, Chrome is on top – followed, though, by Safari and Firefox (apparently an unusually high percentage of my readers are on Macs).  Internet Explorer is missing in action.

There's an interesting map of browser dominance by country at the link...

Organize for Action FAIL...

Organize for Action is the child of Obama's permanent campaign, and claims “millions” of members.  Yesterday they called for a rally in Georgetown (on the outskirts of Washington D.C.) to agitate for Congressional action on anthropogenic global warming.

Nobody showed up.

Not one single person.


Filthy Filner: It's Come to This...

This sign is on display at all San Diego City Hooter's locations:

Now I know that the Hooter's folks are just taking advantage of the Filner situation to garner some positive publicity for themselves.  But, still...

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Book Review...

I've just finished reading The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code, by Margalit Fox.  It's the story of the decoding of Linear B script, which was much more of an accomplishment than many today remember.  The first clay tablets bearing Linear B script were discovered in the late 1800s, and the form of the tablets made it crystal clear that Linear B was a script.  Prior to that, objects were found with Linear B script on them (especially seals), but nobody recognized the odd symbols as a script; they were thought to be merely decoration.

For over 50 years after the tablets were discovered – until Michael Ventris' key breakthrough in 1953 – nobody knew how to interpret the Linear B script.  For most of that period, even the kind of script Linear B was (alphabetic, syllabic, or logographic) was unknown.  And for that entire period, the language that the script was recording was unknown.

I first read about Linear B something like thirty years ago, and I've long wanted to learn more about how it was decoded.  On the face of it, the problem seemed insurmountable to me: an unknown script, recording an unknown language, and no equivalent of the Rosetta Stone to help.  How in the world could someone decode that?

Like many such achievements, the decipherment involved several people, much cleverness, and had several breakthrough “Ah ha!” moments.  One of the main players (Alice Kober) got little contemporaneous credit.  There were amateurs, professionals, and academic hobbyists.  At least one curmudgeon was present.  There was a borderline lunatic, much obsession, and a possible suicide.  And of course there were academic rivalries and jealousies, and abuse of power.  In other words, it's a pretty typical story of science, with lots of human interest.

I was quite satisfied with the book, especially for telling the stories of all the players in what appears to be an even and fair-minded way.  I wish it had a bit more detail about how the decipherment was accomplished, but there is enough there to give the reader the basic idea without too much work.

Recommended for anyone interested in the history of science, or in ancient languages...

Geek Nostalgia...

Update: Mere minutes after I published this, reader, friend, and former colleague Doug W. wrote to say: “Sorry to out-geek you, but no way is this equation (from your blog today) correct.”  Out-geek me he did – and he caught a typo.  I've now fixed it (the pi / 2 term on the left)...

Long ago – before, I'm afraid, many of my readers were born – I was given the task of writing a “program library” that calculated a particular set of functions to a specified accuracy within a specified amount of (computational) time.  These included trigonometric functions, logarithmic functions, and a few others.

Initially I looked at Taylor series that converged on the functions I needed.  These are series with an infinite number of terms, each of which is trivially related to the terms preceding.  In other words, they're easy to compute.  It quickly became obvious, though, that the Taylor series converged too slowly to be useful for my problem – the computers I was writing the program for (Univac CP-642Bs) were just too slow.

What to do?  I did a lot of reading at libraries – first the San Francisco City library, then the technical library on the Navy base I was stationed at (Mare Island).  In the Navy's library I accidentally ran across a slim volume titled Approximations for Digital Computers, by Cecil Hastings.  As the preceding link shows, this book is well represented on the web even today (including free PDF and eBook downloads), despite it's 1954 publication date.

The book was a revelation for me, and a direct solution to my problem.  It contained numerous finite (and usually quite short!) polynomials that approximated most of the functions I needed, usually to better than the accuracy I needed.  Even better, for each of the approximations an error curve was included – and that could be directly used to improve the approximation even further.  Best of all, the first half of the book explains exactly how these approximations were created – so I could create my own approximations for the few that Hastings didn't already do.

Just as an example, here's the Hastings approximation for sin(x) that produces sines accurate to better than 1 part in 10-7:, for angle in radians, -1 <= x <= 1:

sin((pi/2)x) = 1.57079631847x - 0.64596371106x3 +
             0.07968967928x5 - 0.00467376557x7 + 0.00015148419x9

If you're a programmer, you'll see the beauty of that approximation right away. First of all, it's a finite series – no iteration to reduce errors is needed.  You just compute the five terms and add them up, and bada bing, bada boom, you've got your answer.  Second of all, the computation is easy – even for the ancient computers I was working with.

With that little book, and a couple weeks of work, I successfully implemented that programming library.  About a week after I delivered it (this would have been in 1973), a full Commander whom I didn't know dragged me out of a cryptography class and into a meeting with several Captains and a Rear Admiral.  At the time, I was a lowly E-5 (Petty Officer Second Class, in Navy parlance).  I had very little experience with officers of any rank, and absolutely none with this level.  I was terrified, and in spite of their best efforts,  only slightly put at ease by their smiles and evident good will.

This group of scary people told me why they'd dragged me up there.  They had given this problem (of writing that library) to two companies who had failed to deliver a usable result after more than a year of effort.  The second company declared it impossible.  The officers decided to give it to the school as a classroom exercise, thinking that it would make a good challenge to humble students upon.  The instructors, thinking it was for real, gave it to three of their best pupils, myself included – but as an assignment, not a challenge.  We all thought we had to deliver, or suffer some dire consequence.  The worst possible consequence was really, really bad – students flunking out of this school were sent to another school at Mare Island: the “swift boat” school, whose graduates went on patrols on Vietnam's rivers, and suffered the highest casualty rate of any of the U.S. Armed Forces.

So when those officers got back a piece of code after just three weeks that claimed to solve the problem, they were skeptical.  They tested it, and found that it exceeded both their accuracy specification and (especially) their performance specification.  They did find a couple of little bugs, but they were obviously just little bugs, not major fails.   So they dragged me out of class to explain to them just what magic I was using.

I happened to have the Hastings book with me, so I just whipped it out and showed them.  To say they were stunned – especially after I told them where I found the book – would be a major understatement.  Now they knew I wasn't a magician, but just a stubborn guy familiar with libraries :)

The best part of all, for me, was that they wanted to deploy this code as part of an upgrade to the Navy Tactical Data System (NTDS) – actual production code being used on our warships.  They pulled me out of class for two months (I just dropped back in on the next class cycle), and I worked with a hotshot Lt. Cmdr programmer and two Univac contractors to get my code tested and “production ready”.  That was the very first piece of production code I ever wrote, and I still get a warm feeling when I remember producing the master tape (for that was how we distributed code back then :)

Every few years since then, I've searched for a copy of Hastings' book.  Last time was probably ten years ago, when I bid on eBay for a copy – and lost, to someone willing to pay $200 for it.  A couple weeks ago I looked again – and found several copies available through Amazon's used book sources.  I ordered one that was in good condition, paying just $12 (including shipping!).  Today it arrived.

The copy I had used in 1973 was library-bound; the one I just received had the publisher's binding and the slip cover on it – so I didn't recognize the cover at all.  But the inside of the book – oh, my, that brought back good memories in a hurry.  Skimming Chapter 5, on Chebyshev polynomials, immediately brought back the sense of excitement, and even of adventure, that I felt on first reading this chapter.  I knew then even less mathematics than I do today, and that chapter was quite challenging for me to understand.  But once I did understand it, woo hoo!  “Revelatory” is the right word.

Awesome geek nostalgia moment!!!

Transgender Children...

California Governor Gerry “Moonbeam” Brown has signed into law a bill (AB-1266) protecting transgender children enrolled in public schools.  Provisions in the bill allow transgender children to choose which gender's restrooms and locker rooms they will use, and choose which gender sports teams they'll participate in.

What does this actually mean?

The bill uses the term “gender identity”, which I found several definitions for out on the web – similar, but not identical.  The basic notion is that your gender identity is that gender that you deeply feel you are – even if that's different than your physical gender.  I couldn't find anything that defined (under California law) how one gets a particular gender identity under the law.  It could be that you simply declare it, or it could be that you have to have a psychiatric professional certify it.  I have no idea.

There really are people out there whose gender identity is different than their actual physical gender – transgendered people.  I've known two in my life.  The first was born a man (and that's how I first new him), but who thought of himself as a woman.  “Robert” became “Robin” while (s)he was an employee of mine.  That was quite an experience, on many levels.  The other was a person born as a woman (coincidentally, “Robin”) who thought of herself as a man.  She became “Al” several years before I first met him.  In this case, Al was an employee of the company I was CEO of, and I had another male employee who complained about Al's inappropriate advances.  Yes, transgender people can also be gay, as I got a quick education on.

I relate the preceding mainly to illustrate through my own experience that transgender people exist.  I have no doubt, personally, of the reality of this condition.  I also have no doubt that some transgender children exist, and in this day and age, they might well be recognized at a young age. 

So I don't doubt the sincerity of the bill's authors, nor the reality of the issue they address.

But I, like many others, am worried about the bill's imposition of potentially very uncomfortable situations on young people who already have enough social challenges.  Again like many others, I worry about its potential for abuse.

First the uncomfortable situations.  Imagine a 16 year old person who is physically male, but identifies as female.  That person, under AB-1266, has the right to choose to use the girl's restrooms and the girls locker room.  I suspect that even in these “enlightened”  times, there are still girls of high school age who are uncomfortable in the presence of nude men, and who would be uncomfortable being nude in the presence of a man (nude or not).  Basically this bill says “tough” to those girls (or the boys in an opposite situation, though the discomfort potential there is admittedly far lower :). 

Then there's the potential for abuse.  This mainly rests upon the requirements imposed by California law on establishing gender identity.  If those requirements are very loose – say, simply the declaration of the student – then it doesn't take much imagination to contrive situations where a horny and curious boy (that would be all of them) establishes gender identity as a girl and thereby gains admittance to about 80% of all teenage boy sexual fantasies.  Because I couldn't find the rules by which one establishes gender identity (under the law), I can't assess the probability of abuse.  I can imagine a fairly “tight” set of rules that would make it difficult for abuse to occur, but this is California; there's no telling what those idiots in Sacramento have actually done.  They probably don't know themselves!