Friday, May 17, 2013

A Most Excellent Wildlife Viewing Evening...

Last night Debbie and I went up to one of our favorite local wildlife viewing spots: the Stonewall Mine Road in Cuyamaca Park, just before dark.  We're still delighting in the return of a substantial deer herd (gone since the 2007 fires), and last night didn't disappoint on that score – we saw at least 50 deer in two different main groups and in several singles and pairs.  We hoped for a bobcat or mountain lion, but alas didn't see one.  We did get a extended great view of a male meadowlark singing his heart out.  What glorious colors on them!

But the highlight of the evening wasn't at Stonewall – it was on the way home.  Debbie, sharp-eyed as always, spotted a hawk silhouetted on a nest with chicks – just 15 feet or so from the road!  I never saw a thing, as I was concentrating on getting the truck safely around the tight corners (this is on the stretch of State 79 between Oakzanita and Descanso town, where the road is very curvy).  I found a place to turn around, and we drove back up to find that nest.  We parked the truck on the road, half on the (narrow) shoulder and turned on the 4-way flashers – and then settled in for a delightful 10 minutes or so watching one hawk parent (we think a red tail, but we couldn't positively ID it) and its two chicks.  The chicks were still mostly white, with a mottled appearance as their first flight feathers were emerging.  There wasn't much action; they seemed sleepy (this was right at dusk) and maybe a little cold.  The parent just stared at us the whole time :)

I've never been this close to a raptor nest with chicks before.  We both had our binoculars with us, so we had a real treat – with the binoculars, were were count-the-feather-barbs close.  Awesome!

One fellow drove by the other way while we were stopped.  He asked if we were ok, and I told him we were watching a hawk's nest.  He said “Nice!” and drove on.  Shortly after we packed up our binoculars and left, though, several cars passed us the other way, and a sheriff's SUV came up behind us.  Our timing was very good :)

We drove home with big silly smiles plastered all over our faces...

Pelargonium tetragonum...

From BPOD, of course:

Quantum Computing Skeptic...

Scott Aaronson doesn't think we're likely to see practical quantum computers anytime soon – if ever.  The rash of recent news concerning the D-Wave company and their claims of working quantum computers drove Scott to comment publicly (for the first time in a while) and even to talk with some reporters.  The reporters all want to know, basically, why he remains skeptical when big businesses (can you spell Google?) and government (uh oh) are spending millions of dollars on D-Wave machines, and have announced spectacular results.  Scott's awesome response:
My reaction, I confess, is simple.  I don’t care—I actually told them this—if the former Pope Benedict has ended his retirement to become D-Wave’s new marketing director.  I don’t care if the Messiah has come to Earth on a flaming chariot, not to usher in an age of peace but simply to spend $10 million on D-Wave’s new Vesuvius chip.  And if you imagine that I’ll ever care about such things, then you obviously don’t know much about me.  I’ll tell you what: if peer pressure is where it’s at, then come to me with the news that Umesh Vazirani, or Greg Kuperberg, or Matthias Troyer is now convinced, based on the latest evidence, that D-Wave’s chip asymptotically outperforms simulated annealing in a fair comparison, and does so because of quantum effects.  Any one such scientist’s considered opinion would mean more to me than 500,000 business deals.
Read his entire post for a (much) more detailed D-Wave takedown...

I don't understand enough about quantum computers to have an informed opinion on their plausibility.  But I have seen hype before, and I have personally witnessed hype completely overwhelming any semblance of reality.  Anybody who lived through the dot-com bubble and was at all observant can say the same thing :)

Cold War Gadgets...

A collection of photos of Cold War KGB (Soviet) gadgets, like the listening device shown below, hidden inside a hollowed-out log:

London in 1927...

This is America?

Sarah Ingram headed the IRS' unit that oversaw tax-exempt organizations up until a short time ago.  She was the boss of that unit when conservative organizations were being targeted for tax-exempt application slowdowns and runarounds, and when conservative organizations and individuals were audited.  She's at the very center of the current scandal, and a completely relevant questions (all as yet unresolved) are:
  • How much did Sarah Hall know, and when did she know it?
  • Did Sarah Hall direct any of the conservative targeting?
  • Did Sarah Hall, directly or indirectly, condone any of the conservative targeting?
  • Should Sarah Hall have had the processes and procedures in place to detect and prevent the conservative targeting?
That last point may sound like a no-brainer, but it's really not – it depends substantially on how the IRS organizes its oversight and audit processes (I'm making the large assumption that they actually have such processes).

Now, given all those questions hanging over Sarah Hall, what's the right thing for the IRS to do with her?  You and I might say she should be put on paid leave while the investigation unfolds.  The IRS says she should be promoted and put in charge of the implementation of the parts of Obamacare that the IRS is responsible for.

That should terrify any American – the possibility exists that an operative devoted to abusing the IRS for political purposes just got placed in charge of access to healthcare for millions of Americans.  If you're not terrified, you might want to play a little connect-the-dots...

As I read this, I felt like I was reading about East Germany or Romania in the '60s – but I double-checked, and that article really is about America in 2013.

I want my country back.

Quote of the Day...

From today's Day-by-Day cartoon (below): don't want to grow up to be like the president, do you?