Friday, January 31, 2014

We're up in Utah...

We're up in Utah...  Smithfield, to be exact.  For an inhabitant of Southern California, the scene outside our cabin (at right) is highly abnormal :)

Yesterday's drive should have taken us about 12 hours, but it ended up being closer to 15 hours.  First, we got caught behind a pileup on the I-215, and blew about an hour and a half scooting around that.  Then when we got all the way up to Nephi, Utah, we ran into a stretch of I-15 that was completely closed – and that involved a 30 mile detour on country roads in a snowstorm while temperatures hovered at the freezing mark.  What fun!  The snowy landscapes were fun for us to see, though...

On the way through St. George, UT, we decided to stop for some ice cream.  Purely by accident, we stumbled onto Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, where we both had a chocolate malt.  Yum!

Today we're going to relax and rest a bit, get a feel for what winter up here is really like, and start our explorations...

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Lea...

Lea...  We're at the veterinary hospital with her right now, waiting until her first treatment is finished and we can take her home.

First, some good news: the two most likely places for canine melanoma (the kind of cancer she has) to metastasize outside the mouth are the lymph nodes and the lungs.  The first order of business here today was some more sophisticated diagnostics to assess that, and ... she's clear on both fronts.  No sign of any movement of the cancer outside her mouth.

After consulting with the oncologist here, we decided to opt for radiation treatment to the areas of her head where there are likely some cancerous cells remaining after the surgery.  The side effects of such localized radiation treatments are minimal, and we don't think they're likely to impact Lea's quality of life in any significant way.  The most likely outcome of this treatment is that we'll have three to six months more with Lea in good shape ... which is probably not much different than we'd have had even if she was disease-free, given her age.

The oncologist (Dr. Burke) was great at giving us straight answers to our questions, and at providing advice and recommendations.  We never felt any pressure to take any particular route, but we felt well-informed to make a good decision.

Debbie had a great idea for this visit: she brought Lea's favorite blanket, the one she spends most nights lying on.  Lea is normally very nervous at the vet, trembling in fear – but not today.  She even fell asleep a few times while we were waiting...

For now, we just wait for her to come out of that first treatment...

Beautiful X-rays...

Beautiful X-rays...  Plant and animal X-rays, partially colorized, as art...

Our economic future...

Our economic future...  There's a big debate amongst economists these days about the long term effects of technology – especially automation – on the economy.  This topic arises often in discussions of income inequality and high unemployment (especially with respect to low employment ratios).  The debate boils down to this: when automation replaces human workers, what happens to those workers?

Many former formerly manual jobs have already been subsumed by automation.  Many, many industrial robots are at work in factories all over the world, though they are mostly invisible to people.  I've been surprised how many people have no idea these robots exist.  But lesser examples abound.  If you'd like to see an example, take a close look inside your local McDonald's restaurant someday.  Those coffee cups are filled automatically, including sugar and cream.  The fries are lifted out of the deep fat automatically, just at the perfect time.  In fact, a typical McDonald's has several dozen automated production machines – all replacing a formerly human job.

What has economists debating this now is that we're on the cusp of a lot more such automation, and it's going to start getting a lot more visible to people.  Jobs that people tend to think of as not possible to automate are, in fact, going to be automated.  Here's one example.  Some others that seem likely: truck drivers, mail delivery, and farming – all of which have simply enormous economic efficiencies to be gained, and all of which are in the development pipeline.  Not research pipeline, mind you – engineers are working on these products right now, to be delivered within a year or two.  Some of them, especially in farming, are actually being delivered right now – there's a good chance that the last apple you ate was picked by machine, for instance.

So what do the apple-pickers do after a machine takes over their job?  One camp argues that they will all be able to find jobs such as maintaining or building the robots, after sufficient training.  Another camp basically says they're screwed; once automation takes all the jobs that don't require creativity, there will be nothing left for them to do – and there either won't be enough creative jobs, or they won't be capable of doing them.

The first position sounds unreasonably optimistic to me.  If 100,000 postal workers are displaced by Googlebots, are they all going to find work oiling and polishing their robot overlords?  The economics of that wouldn't work at all, and experience with modern technology would lead one to conclude that the reliability will more resemble that of a 2014 Toyota than a 1935 Ford.  And would those postal workers get retrained to work in a creative field?  I don't know what your experience with postal workers has been, but on average the ones I've met would have a hard time creating a ham sandwich.  I can't see them building the next great iPhone app.

So I'm a bit pessimistic about this, in the sense that I don't see all these people finding satisfying, productive employment.  And that sounds like a big problem to me – because what's the alternative?  A huge welfare state supported by a creative minority and a robot majority?  That would be a very different kind of society than the one I grew up in.  How could all those people find fulfillment and happiness?  I associate those things with useful work, but clearly not everybody does.  Are we going to build a brave new world where the majority of people are content and happy to be living off the productive work of a creative majority?  How would such a society work?  And in particular, how would a representative democracy work, when the majority are the takers?

I don't have any real answers to these questions.  They're just topics for me to worry about.  Anybody have any good answers?

Pacific Crest Trail...

Pacific Crest Trail ... in just six minutes...

Light blogging alert...

Light blogging alert...  I expect to be on the road for the next two weeks, with uncertain Internet access.  Tweets will be easier than blog posts, so you may see more activity from me there than on the blog...

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Photo of the day...

Photo of the day...  It's my blog, I can have two if I want to!  Via TwistedSifter...

What a government shutdown should look like...

What a government shutdown should look like...  Via my lovely bride:


Arizona cowboy whisperer...

Arizona cowboy whisperer...  Via reader Simi L., who says “This is one of my three all-time favorite jokes!!”...
Cowboy: 'That your dog?'Indian: 'Yep.'
Cowboy: 'Mind if I speak to him?'
Indian: 'Dog no talk.'
Cowboy: 'Hey dog, how's it going?'
Dog: 'Doin' all right.'
Indian: (Look of shock!)
Cowboy: 'Is this Indian your owner?' (pointing at the Indian...)
Dog: 'Yep.'
Cowboy: 'How's he treating you?'
Dog: 'Real good. He walks me twice a day, feeds me great food and takes me to the lake once a week to play.'
Indian: (Look of total disbelief)
Cowboy: 'Mind if I talk to your horse?'
Indian: 'Horse no talk.'
Cowboy: 'Hey horse, how's it going?'
Horse: 'Cool.'
Indian: (Extreme look of shock!)
Cowboy: 'Is this your owner?' (Pointing to the Indian...)
Horse: 'Yep.'
Cowboy: 'How's he treating you?'
Horse: 'Pretty good, thanks for asking, he rides me, brushes me down often and keeps me in a lean-to to protect me from the weather.'
Indian: (Look of total amazement)
Cowboy: 'Mind if I talk to your sheep?'
Indian: 'Sheep lie.'

Photo of the day...

Photo of the day...  Via Smithsonian...

Monday, January 27, 2014

Lea...

Lea...  Just got back from another vet visit, and this time all the results are hopeful sounding.  X-rays of her lungs show no visible tumors.  Dr. C. did a fine needle aspiration of one of her lymph nodes, and there's not visible sign of malignancy there (though the slides are now out for cytology).  Next step: appointment with an oncologist on Wednesday morning.

Lea continues to look and behave like a completely well, but slightly ancient dog.  We took off her “cone of shame” this morning, and she's very happy about that...

Earthquakes: not just a California thing...

Earthquakes: not just a California thing...  The redder the area on the map at right, the higher the risk of hazardous earthquakes

I knew about the New Madrid (Missouri) area being a risk, and also the Yellowstone hot spot – but South Carolina?  That was a complete surprise to me...

Cats: 1 Toilet Paper: 0...

Cats: 1  Toilet Paper: 0...  Imagine sharing your home with seven of these vicious monsters!  I'm living that dream...

Schumer: use the IRS to stomp on the Tea Party...

Schumer: use the IRS to stomp on the Tea Party...  Progressives really, really don't like the Tea Party – and I'm taking this as a measure of just how frightened those entitled progressives are at the very thought that someone, somewhere, might want a little more of that American dream: freedom.

What a knucklehead!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Cartography has advanced a bit...

Cartography has advanced a bit...  Here's Mercator's original map of the Arctic.  Much of it is simply made up...

Martian dirt...

Martian dirt...  Curiosity is peering intently at this patch of dirt, using its MAHLI (Martian Hand Lens Imager).  No word yet on why scientists are interested in this particular dirt.

The image is a “focus merge” product, using several images merged to create a greater depth of field than is possible by purely optical means...

Surface of the sun...

Surface of the sun ... in ultraviolet light.  Via APOD, of course.

Surreal Ukraine...

Surreal Ukraine...  Catapults, Molotov cocktails, fireworks, and a wide assortment of homemade weapons.  The opposition seems very determined; the government forces overwhelmingly superior – but the opposition isn't fighting conventionally at all.  Yesterday came the first signs of political capitulation, when President Viktor Yanukovych offered the position of Prime Minister to one of the opposition's leader, Arseniy Yatsenyuk.  Mr. Yatsenyuk has not accepted the offer, and he says protests will continue.  It seems clear that the opposition is looking for victory, not compromise.

This blog is reporting from the front lines in Kyev (Kiev), and includes many photos.

I visited Kiev about 15 years ago on a business trip; the company I was working for was considering opening a software development branch there.  We ended up deciding against it, mainly because of concern for the political stability.  Looks like that was a good call, though it took a long time to get to this state...

The economy sucks!

The economy sucks!
The economy has been getting worse since That One took office.
Today I received a pre-declined credit card.
Exxon-Mobil had to lay off 25 Congressmen.
Angelina Jolie is now adopting children from America.
Motel Six won’t leave the light on anymore.
A picture is now only worth about 200 words.
They renamed Wall Street to “Wal-Mart Street.”

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Lost dog...

Lost dog...  Reader and fellow Jamulian Steve K. reports seeing a lost dog near the intersection of Lyons Valley Road and Jamul Highlands Road.  Steve reports that he has a collar and tag, but won't let him get close enough to snag him.

If this might be your dog, please get down there and get this poor fellow to a safe place!

Rosetta animation...

Rosetta animation...  The Rosetta team at ESA has put up a gorgeous animation of the entire Rosetta mission.  It's a huge web application that takes a while to download, so be patient.  It's worth it!  You can manipulate a slider to show the incredibly complex orbit they used to reach the comet in a fuel-efficient way, boomeranging around several planets.  Be sure to use the little i icon to get directions, and just below that there's a speaker icon you can click to mute the music...

Pater: Excitement with Jello...

Pater: Excitement with Jello...  My brother Scott wrote today's story about my dad.  This is the first of several such stories he has sent to me.
Excitement with Jello

While I was a teenager, Mother Dear was cooking a special dinner. She pulled a large bowl of red jello out of the fridge and set it on the kitchen table. Pater watched with obvious delight as the stuff wiggled all around in the bowl. He commented out loud to everyone in the kitchen about how it was moving around as if it were alive.

“I wonder what it would look like if I dropped something in it ?” he asked excitedly.

Then he ran to the refrigerator and rummaged around looking for that something.  He found a hard boiled egg and when back at the table pulled out a chair, leaped up on to it and then with an insane grin on his face he hovered over top of the bowl of jello.   With his tongue playing over his lips and showing intent concentration he held the egg up high and then let it go ... splat – right on target into the middle of the jello.  It wobbled like mad.

“Neat!” he shouted. “Let's do it again!”

Not realizing or not caring that some visitors showed up at the door he once more let the egg go with precision aim and once more he shouted with glee as the egg created waves of jiggling shiny color which for some reason was high quality entertainment.  The adults that were just let in stared at Pater with worry, disbelief and shock.  They had a look on their faces that read something like...

“Should we call the men in the white coats ?”
“Are we at the right place?”
“Maybe we better get out of here – this guy might be dangerous!”
I don't remember this specific incident myself, but I remember many others like it.  Dropping an egg onto Jello to watch the interesting visual result was entirely consistent with my dad's character and behavior.  And he certainly wouldn't give a hoot if there was a disapproving or worried observer :)

Notes: “Mother Dear” is a family nickname for my mom.  “Pater” is a nickname the family gave my dad.

Nemophila maculata...

Nemophila maculata...  Via BPOD, of course...

On that Google outage...

On that Google outage...  The interwebs are filled with the rantings of people either raging at Google or poking fun at Google for their 30 to 60 minute outage last night.  Google has explained it in a blog post, and apologized to its users.

Me?  I continue to be astounded at the reliability that Google (and a few others, notably Amazon) have been able to achieve for applications at that scale.  I've worked in that world a bit – my last job was with ServiceNow, a company with a moderate scale cloud application, but certainly not nearly the scale of, say, GMail.  Add to that reliability the fact that Google supplies GMail to personal users for free (that is, no direct charge), and you've got something really quite remarkable.

Could they do better on reliability?  Certainly, though not by much – Google's uptime record isn't all that far from perfect.  Do they deserve rage or mocking?  I don't think so...

Friday, January 24, 2014

Lea...

Lea...  We just heard from our vet with the biopsy results, and it's all bad.  Damn.  She told us it's a “hot” (meaning aggressive) melanoma, the worst case.  We need more diagnostics to figure what our options are, so she goes back on Monday for lung X-rays and biopsy on her lymph nodes.  If the melanoma has already spread out of her mouth, there are no good treatment options.  If it's still contained to her mouth, radiation therapy is a possibility – but even that depends on how much further the melanoma has spread.  There's a good chance that our best option is palliative care, and that only while it still makes sense.

We've got some tough choices ahead for our old girl...

This is one bad-ass beetle!

This is one bad-ass beetle!  I thought I was being put on at first – I'd never heard of a “Bombardier Beetle” before, and it sounded like something Hollywood invented.  But Wikipedia says they're real (and we all know that Wikipedia never lies!), and according to this blog, the animated GIF at right is also for real.

And they're in California!  This paper about their spray mechanism mentions that they captured some of their study subjects in California.

Further googling shows that creationists have fixed on these guys as supposed examples of something that couldn't possibly have evolved.

So...holy smokin' beetle, Batman!

Disney's “Let It Go” in 25 languages...

Disney's “Let It Go” in 25 languages... The world is getting smaller every day...

My readers of a certain age may remember a phenomenon called “pen pals” – surely dead and gone in these days of email, texts, FaceTime, and Skype.  I had several pen pals as a kid, arranged through a service advertising in the back of a magazine.  I remember one in Thailand, and another in France, and I remember well how exotic both of those locales seemed.  Now they're just another place, just a little further away than places in the U.S.

According to Wikipedia, pen pals are still alive and well, though perhaps a little retro.  They also mention the Flat Stanley project, which I've participated in twice.  That's really a lot different than a pen pal, though...

Soft tyranny...

Soft tyranny...  Dan Mitchell has come up with an objective way to measure the “soft tyranny” of individual U.S. states.  It's summarized in the resulting chart at right (click to embiggen).  California is #49.  Yikes!

I loved the first comment, from “Ned”:
Please don’t publish this data again.

I’m from Massachusetts and I don’t want our legislators to know they are not the worst!

Ukraine protests...

Ukraine protests...  Things are getting pretty crazy over there.  Somebody clever has started turning fireworks into weapons.

The nominal cause of this latest outbreak of protests was the Ukrainian president's (Viktor Yanukovych) refusal to sign a cooperation pact with the European Union, couple with signing a cooperation pact with Russia.  I suspect the root cause is actually much deeper: the population grew up under the Soviet Union's thugocracy, and they don't want to move back to that (which is the general direction Putin's Russia is moving).  Much more coverage here...

Supernova in M82...

Supernova in M82...  Via APOD, of course.  Glorious full resolution version.

Geek: is Julia the right girl for the cowboy coder?

Geek: is Julia the right girl for the cowboy coder?  Evan Miller thinks so:
The problem with most programming languages is they're designed by language geeks, who tend to worry about things that I don't much care for. Safety, type systems, homoiconicity, and so forth. I'm sure these things are great, but when I'm messing around with a new project for fun, my two concerns are 1) making it work and 2) making it fast. For me, code is like a car. It's a means to an end. The "expressiveness" of a piece of code is about as important to me as the "expressiveness" of a catalytic converter.

This approach to programming is often (derisively) called cowboy coding. I don't think a cowboy is quite the right image, because a cowboy must take frequent breaks due to the physical limitations of his horse. A better aspirational image is an obsessed scientist who spends weeks in the laboratory and emerges, bleary-eyed, exhausted, and wan, with an ingenious new contraption that possibly causes a fire on first use.
While I have a keen interest in programming languages, I do share Evan's view of languages being primarily a tool to get something done.  I've never looked at Julia, but after reading Evan's post I think I'll add it to my list of retirement projects...

Repeat after me: correlation is not causation...

Repeat after me: correlation is not causation...  Just the other day, researchers from Princeton announced the imminent demise of Facebook, based on metadata gleaned from Google.  Today, Mike Develin (a data scientist from Facebook) used the same technique to “prove” that Princeton University is about to run out of students, and we're all about to run out of air.  Well played, Mike :)

Ok, That One has lost another admirer...

Ok, That One has lost another admirer...  Peggy Noonan comes full circle with her column this week.  Her conclusion:
You know when we will know America is starting to come back? When some day the sergeant at arms bellows: "Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States" and the camera shows a bubble of suits and one person emerges from the pack and walks into the chamber and you're watching at home and you find yourself—against everything you know, against all the accumulated knowledge of the past—interested. It'll take you aback when you realize you're interested in what he'll say! And the members won't just be enacting, they'll be leaning forward to hear.

And the president will speak, and what he says will be pertinent to the problems of the United States of America. And thoughtful. And he'll offer ideas, and you'll think: "Hey, that sounds right."

That is when you'll know America just might come back.

Until then, as John Dickerson just put it: Barack Obama, Inaction Figure.

Zzzzzzz. 
Ouch!

Fore-edge paintings...


Fore-edge paintings...  More here.  Way back in the '60s, I briefly had a job assembling electronic coffee pots for airlines.  One of my co-workers there brought in a paperback erotic novel, and it had one of these paintings on its edge (well, in its case, more likely a print).  You can probably imagine what sort of image it was :)  I'm pretty sure that was a newly-published book, so these things were made at least up to the '60s.  I've never seen one since...

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Steyn-a-lanche!

Steyn-a-lanche!  Debbie and I just went out to dinner.  When I came home, I had an email saying my blog traffic had increased.  I went and checked, and it was over 10 times normal traffic for the day – and virtually all of it was coming from one place and in the last hour: Mark Steyn's site, where he put a link to this post on his front page.

My poor little blog has never seen anything like this before.  I don't know how long it will stay there, but while it does, a whole bunch of people are finding out what slightly loony is all about.  Thanks for the link, Mr. Steyn - awesome!

Mark Steyn is crazy or something...

Mark Steyn is crazy or something...  You may remember the ludicrous defamation suit brought by Professor Michael “Hockey Stick” Mann brought last year against Steyn, the National Review, and sundry others.  One of the alleged defamatory writings was by Steyn, published in the National Review, and as you might expect, Steyn was being defended by the National Review's legal team.

Here's where things get a little strange.  On January 8th, Steyn severed his defense from the National Review, for reasons he briefly explains here.  Yesterday, he filed a motion – one that some quite respectable lawyers don't think too much of.  Steyn is defending himself, and he's not an attorney (though he is perhaps more familiar with the legal system than most non-lawyers).

Apart from the wisdom of his move, Steyn has set the table for something potentially very entertaining and enlightening: discovery on Mann's research.  The general wisdom seems to be that Mann is completely out of his mind for putting himself in a position where this discovery was a possibility.  Yesterday, the judge in the case denied the defendants' motion for dismissal, and he lifted the stay on discovery in the case.

Wow!  Time to stock up on popcorn, folks.  And we wish Mr. Steyn all the best on this.  While we worry about the (considerable) gamble he's taking, we can't help but admire the cojones he's putting on display...

Il Silenzio...

Il Silenzio... This song (Il Silenzio) is often mistaken as a version of Taps, but it's actually not relatedHere the trumpet part is performed by Melissa Venema (just 13 years old at the time of this 2008 performance!); the violin part is performed by AndrĂ© Rieu.  Via my mom...

At 13 years old, to have the ability to play music worthy of the gods – can you even imagine it?  I cannot...

Geek: pencil-and-paper strain sensor...

Geek: pencil-and-paper strain sensor...  This is very clever engineering work.  I wonder how durable such a sensor would be?  And how repeatably they could be made?  Whatever the answers, it's a fascinating insight by these students, and ingenious as hell...

Strange and provoking imagery...

Strange and provoking imagery...  By George Christakis.  The example at right is by no means representative (other than in its unconventionality) – there are all kinds of different things in this collection: some funny, some nightmare-inducing, all interesting...

A fox says “What?”

A fox says “What?”  Twisted Sifter...

Wendy Davis vs. Greg Abbot...

Wendy Davis vs. Greg Abbot...  If you're wondering what that whole story is about, you won't do better than Neo-Neocon's excellent analysis.  Her conclusion:
Davis’ supporter Matt Angle may have thought he was writing about Abbott, but he inadvertently described Davis and her entourage instead when he wrote that the “attacks are a malicious expression of fear.” Exactly. The attacks on Abbot are not just malicious and fearful: they are stupid and despicable.
One of the commenters on that post pointed me to this, from Don Surber:
Cue the Association in a re-write of "Windy."

Who's speakin' out to mock paraplegics?
Saying that one is running scared
Who gave away both of her daughters?
Everyone knows it's Wendy

Who's ripping out pages in her bio?
Lyin’ at everybody she sees
Who filibusters to capture a headline?
Everyone knows it's Wendy

And Wendy has pink tennis shoes
And speaks with the sound of lies
And Wendy married money
Then dumped her kids (then dumped her kids)
Then dumped her kids (then dumped her kids)

[Flute music interval]

Who's speakin' out to mock paraplegics?
Saying that one is running scared
Who gave away both of her daughters?
Everyone knows it's Wendy
Who's ripping out pages in her bio?
Lyin’ at everybody she sees
Who filibusters to capture a headline?
Everyone knows it's Wendy
Her actions are pretty evil, even for a lying liberal lady.

EVIL.
One gets the impression that Don is not overly impressed by liberals :)

Dogs are different than cats...

Dogs are different than cats...  And the differences are nicely summed up in this video...

Lea update...

Lea update...  She's home from surgery, and doing fine post-surgery.  Our vet (the wonderful Dr. C.) is expecting the biopsy results to show that the growth she removed was a melanoma, probably of a nasty variety.  We are steeled for bad news on this front, but hoping for better.  We won't know for sure until Friday or Saturday.  If it is melanoma, treatment would be fairly radical surgery in her mouth, and we're not sure what the chance of recurrence are.  She's an old dog, so anything “radical” is going to mean we have some very difficult choices to make...

Curiosity's tracks on Mars...

Curiosity's tracks on Mars...  In the photo at right, taken from orbit by the MRO spacecraft in orbit around Mars, shows the tracks of the Curiosity rover as it traveled from the left side (near the bottom) to the right side (near the top).  It's easier to see on the full resolution version...

California leads the way...

California leads the way ... to driving gun makers to stop selling in the state.  The new “micro-stamping” requirements for semi-automatic handguns has Smith & Wesson deciding to stop selling to the California market, joining Sturm, Ruger, and others.  The problem is that the new California requirement is tremendously expensive to manufacturers, requiring a custom part for each and every weapon.  Furthermore, the intent of the regulation (to allow every bullet casing to be unambiguously tied to the gun that fired it) is easily defeated by any bad guys.  So the net effect of this regulation is to drastically increase the cost of the weapons while having no effect on public safety.  This is almost certainly what the regulators actually intended, being progressive wackos from California...

Fireflies in the forest...

Fireflies in the forest...  Beautiful time-lapse photography by Japanese photographer Tsuneaki Hiramatsu...

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Driftwood horses...

Driftwood horses...  Beautiful sculptures by James Doran-Webb

My brother Scott makes driftwood sculptures, too...

Memories...

Memories...  My dad and I once stood in a grove of giant sequoias, looking up at a scene much like this.  My camera didn't have a wide enough lens to capture it, to my regret.  This photographer did it beautifully...

Not adding up...

Not adding up...  ObamaCare's primary purpose was to reduce the number of Americans who had no healthcare insurance.  In that goal it has completely failed.  Just one of the indications of failure is this simple fact: far fewer uninsured people signed up for ObamaCare than were expected to.  Megan McArdle digs into the reasons why, concluding with this:
That leaves us with two possibilities: First, would-be applicants may simply be waiting until March. They’ve gone without insurance a long time; why not wait a few more months and save on premiums?

The second possibility is more troubling: There may be something seriously wrong with our understanding of who the uninsured are, and what they are willing and able to buy in the way of insurance. I don’t know exactly what the fault may be in our understanding. But if the numbers stay this low, I’d say we need to reassess the state of our knowledge about the uninsured -- and the vast program we created to cover them.
The comments, as ever on her site, are quite interesting, and occasionally entertaining...

A Russian photographic talent...

A Russian photographic talent...  I was entranced by the simple beauty of these photographs (just one example at right).  The photographer is Elena Shumilova, who first took up photography in 2012 to document the lives of her two children as they grew up on their family farm in Russia, in a small town near Moscow.  Her Flickr collection is here, and more information here...

Worried dog parents...

Worried dog parents...  Yesterday Debbie noticed a growth on the inside of Lea's mouth (Lea is our oldest field spaniel, over 16 years old now).  This morning we took her down to see the vet, and the verdict is that (a) it must come off, pronto, and (b) it is likely some form of a cancer.  She'll be operated on today, and then we await the biopsy results.

I really hate this waiting part...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Twits on Tweeter...

Twits on Tweeter...  Or something like that.  On the advice of a friend, I'm going to start posting some of the very short topics on Twitter instead of on my blog.  It will be an interesting experiment at the least, and who knows – maybe it will actually be useful!  My Twitter handle is @SlightlyLoony1...

In the womb...

In the womb...  A dolphin, and more at the link...

Take a ride in the back seat of an RAF Typhoon...

Take a ride in the back seat of an RAF Typhoon...  You'll definitely want to go full screen for this one!

Through fire and water...

Through fire and water...  The Prime Minister of Canada (Stephen Harper) isn't well known to most Americans, which is a shame – because he would be a great role model for many of our politicians.  Here's the conclusion of the speech he gave to the Israeli Knesset yesterday:
Ladies and gentlemen, let me conclude with this thought. I believe the story of Israel is a great example to the world. It is a story, essentially, of a people whose response to suffering has been to move beyond resentment and build a most extraordinary society. A vibrant democracy, a freedom-loving country with an independent and rights-affirming judiciary. An innovative, world-leading "start-up" nation.

You have taken the collective memory of death and persecution to build an optimistic, forward-looking society, one that so values life you will sometimes release a thousand criminals and terrorists to save one of your own.

In the democratic family of nations, Israel represents values which our government takes as articles of faith and principles to drive our national life.
And therefore through fire and water, Canada will stand with you.
Do read the whole thing – it's an excellent speech, full of truths that That One doesn't seem to understand...

No lobsters?

No lobsters?  That settles it: I'm not moving to Cuba.  Well, Cuba wasn't on my list of possible destinations anyway...

Michael Totten (one of my favorite independent journalists) visited Cuba, and is writing articles based on his travels there.  Here's an excerpt from his latest post:
Castro’s checkpoints are there to ensure nobody has too much or the wrong kind of food.

Police officers pull over cars and search the trunk for meat, lobsters, and shrimp. They also search passenger bags on city busses in Havana. Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote about it sarcastically in her book, Havana Real. “Buses are stopped in the middle of the street and bags inspected to see if we are carrying some cheese, a lobster, or some dangerous shrimp hidden among our personal belongings.”

If they find a side of beef in the trunk, so I’m told, you’ll go to prison for five years if you tell the police where you got it and ten years if you don’t.

No one is allowed to have lobsters in Cuba. You can’t buy them in stores, and they sure as hell aren’t available on anyone’s ration card. They’re strictly reserved for tourist restaurants owned by the state. Kids will sometimes pull them out of the ocean and sell them on the black market, but I was warned in no uncertain terms not to buy one. I stayed in hotels and couldn’t cook my own food anyway. And what was I supposed to do, stash a live lobster in my backpack?

What happens to JamulBlog...

What happens to JamulBlog ... when we escape from California?  Several people have asked me about this – JamulBlog is, after all, named for the place where we live. 

The answer is that I will stop posting to JamulBlog, but will keep it in place.  My new posts will go on a new blog that I am currently constructing.  I'm moving to a new blogging host (Ghost) – much more flexible than my old host (Blogger).  It will take me a while, at least a few weeks, to get that new blog configured – and for me to learn how to use it.  The new blog's name will not be specific to where we live, so I'll likely be switching over to it before we actually leave California...

Ramblings of a retired mind...

Ramblings of a retired mind...  Via my lovely bride:
I was thinking about how a status symbol of today is those cell phones that everyone has clipped onto their belt or purse. I can't afford one. So, I'm wearing my garage door opener.

I also made a cover for my hearing aid and now I have what they Call blue teeth, I think.

You know, I spent a fortune on deodorant before I realized that people didn't like me anyway.

I thought about making a fitness movie for folks my age, and call it 'Pumping Rust'.

I've gotten that dreaded furniture disease. That's when your chest is falling into your drawers!

When people see a cat's litter box, they always say, 'Oh, have you got a cat?' Just once I want to say, 'No, it's for company!'

Employment application blanks always ask who is to be notified in case of an emergency. I think you should write, 'A Good Doctor'!

I was thinking about how people seem to read the Bible a whole lot more as they get older. Then, it dawned on me. They were cramming for their finals.

A penny saved is a government oversight.

The older you get, the tougher it is to lose weight, because by then your body and your fat have gotten to be really good friends.

The easiest way to find something lost around the house is to buy a replacement.

He who hesitates is probably right.

Did you ever notice: The Roman Numerals for forty (40) are XL.

If you can smile when things go wrong, you have someone in mind to blame.

The sole purpose of a child's middle name is so he can tell when he's really in trouble..

Did you ever notice: When you put the 2 words 'The' and 'IRS' together it spells 'Theirs...'

Aging: Eventually you will reach a point when you stop lying about your age and start bragging about it.

Some people try to turn back their odometers. Not me, I want people to know 'why' I look this way. I've traveled a long way and some of the roads weren't paved.

When you are dissatisfied and would like to go back to your youth, think of Algebra.

One of the many things no one tells you about aging is that it is such a nice change from being young. Ah, being young is beautiful, but being old is comfortable.

Monday, January 20, 2014

What the fashionable young men will be wearing...

What the fashionable young men will be wearing...  At least, according to London's Fashion Week.

Judging from some of the comments there, many folks are surprised to see this.  I see it as a natural, predictable result of the feminization of Western society. 

Ugh.  Now wait for a moment while I go take a shower and take an emergency dose of Cabernet...

What kind of food has all this junk in it?

What kind of food has all this junk in it?


An egg, that's what.  A plain old ordinary egg.  Lots more on his blog.

Reminds me of the dihydrogen monoxide scares (see here for much more)...

I don't know the story behind this...

I don't know the story behind this...  But the results are awesome.  More photos like this at the photographer's Imgur site, and some discussion on his blog...

That One speaks...

That One speaks...
(2014-01-20) — In a holiday ceremony to commemorate the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President Obama spoke of the “fairly significant role” Dr. King played in the run up to his own historic presidency, but humbly downplayed potential talk of an Obama national holiday.
Sounds ... completely plausible, doesn't it?  But it's ScrappleFace...

Rosetta is awake!

Rosetta is awake!  After almost three years of hibernation, the Rosetta spacecraft today woke itself up and reported back to Earth.  The mission's controllers (photo at right) were rather happy about that :)

It will likely be a few days before the controllers have determined Rosetta's state of health, but ... an awful lot of things had to work correctly simply to get the signal they got, right on time, this morning.  There's every reason to be optimistic about the spacecraft's status...

Class warfare in San Francisco?

Class warfare in San Francisco?  The Googlers and their ilk are raising the cost of living in San Francisco, and the natives don't like it very much...

An open source, free hike information site...

An open source, free hike information site...  This has promise, but it needs a lot more content to be very useful...

Amazon gets even more awesome...

Amazon gets even more awesome...  Now they're talking about starting the process of delivering a package before you order it!  They've filed for a patent on the idea of using your past orders – or even your searches – to predict that you're going to buy something, and then they preemptively ship to your area so that delivery would be faster than you expect.

We've already noticed some things getting delivered far faster than we'd think possible, and some of those things are repeat orders for us.  Most recently I noticed this with my tea order.  I've been buying the same tea now for several years; a kilogram about every 10 weeks.  The last time I ordered it was just a couple of weeks ago, and the tea arrived the day after I ordered it – and considering that we live out in the San Diego mountains, that's pretty amazing...

A Texan speaks out...

A Texan speaks out...  Click to embiggen...

Shudankodo...

Shudankodo...  This is a kind of formal synchronized walking, and apparently it's been popular in Japan since 1966.  Search Google for “Shudankodo” or “Japanese synchronized walking” to learn more than you ever wanted to know about it.  If you like this video, there are thousands more like it on YouTube.

I ran across this by accident in my reading this morning, and it reminded me (once again) of the enormous difference a culture makes.  I cannot imagine sitting in a stadium watching something like this for more than about 20 seconds before being bored to the point of tears.  In Japan, there are avid followers of this event that compete for the limited number of tickets available in the arenas where its performed...

WWII monument...

WWII monument...  This is in the Netherlands, and they made it by taking a slice right out of the center of a Nazi bunker.  This site has lots more details, and a video of how they did it.

My US Navy and business travels took me to a lot of places in the world.  I spent quite a bit of time in eastern Europe, and also in southeast Asia.  One constant, virtually everywhere I went, was the presence of abandoned WWII construction.  Most of these leftovers weren't so much monuments as they were expensive and inconvenient to remove – so they just stayed there.  In the Philippines, Thailand, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Finland, Australia, and Slovenia I ran across these derelicts as I traveled through the countryside.  In Estonia, in the '90s and '00s, I actually sought some of them out.  In some cases friends told me about them.  In other cases, books I'd read about WWII told me the locations, and I'd find them with my GPS and the aid of locals.  On Saaremaa (an island in the Baltic Sea that's part of Estonia), I've spent several days exploring WWII fortifications used by both sides to defend the Gulf of Riga.  In Russia, I spent a day exploring the area where the Nazis built a huge gun emplacement to attack St. Petersburg (then Leningrad).  In the Philippines, I spent two days on Corregidor Island, exploring its huge fortifications where the American defenders surrendered to Japanese attackers.  All of this brought home to me just how lucky America has been in the absence of combat on its shores – this sort of war memorial is almost non-existent on our territory (with the USS Arizona monument being a glaring exception).

However, there's another factor at work, too.  Some countries have actively removed most traces of WWII.  This includes America – we built huge numbers of shore defense bunkers and fortifications, as well as submarine and aircraft watch towers (many of reinforced concrete), and virtually all of these have been demolished.  In the U.K., there was even more such construction – and very little of it remains today.  France, Germany, and Italy have removed much of their WWII fortifications, though some has been carefully preserved.  In Estonia, one might stumble upon some WWII remnant anywhere you travel, sometimes in the most unexpected places.  So to some extent, the preservation of the WWII constructions seems to be a function of culture, or perhaps a country's wealth...

The wrong side of the door...

The wrong side of the door...  Mo'i is our oldest male field spaniel.  That's him at right, back in his days as an agility competitor, in 2006.  He's getting old now, and spends most of his time sleeping and eating.  I'm not sure which of those two activities he likes the most :)  And of course, like any dog, he likes his walks.

About a year and a half ago, I replaced the patio door that we normally use to go in and out of our house.  The old door was a sliding glass door.  From the inside of the house, you would slide the door from right to left to open it.  When they figured out that we were going for a walk, the dogs would all jostle for position at the right hand side of that door, eager to be the first out.  They have no idea why they want to be first, mind you – but they're dogs, and they know it's important to be first :)

I replaced that door with one that had a pair of hinged doors, rather than a sliding door.  The doors open from the center, so the right place for the dogs to congregate is at the center of the door, rather than at the right side.  This confused all the dogs at first, but within a few days they figured out the new door, and went to the middle.

Except for Mo'i.  A year and a half after I replaced the door, he's still going to the right side, convinced that the other three dogs are all crazy and that he'll be the first one out.  Every day, 3 or 4 times a day, we go through this drill: three dogs in the middle, and Mo'i on the right.  I open the door, and now there's a door between Mo'i and the opening.  Every time, he has to awkwardly back up, move to his left, and join the other dogs – the last one out the door.  He's done this roughly 2,000 times now, and he still doesn't understand that the center is the place to be.

When he was competing in agility, he earned the moniker “Slo-Mo” for his unhurried pace through the course.  I think we could use that for his learning speed, too :)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Quote of the day...

Quote of the day...  From a post by Daniel Greenfield, writing at Sultan Knish, on academia:
Academia has become an alternate world where human relations exist in a mechanical universe governed entirely by identity politics, where the world is always on the verge of a Green Apocalypse and the only way to make anything work is to route it through the foundational theories of existence. This magical world continually changes in response to new theories bubbling up from trendy publications. The very laws of the universe can be gendered and every historical event can be rewritten by viewing it through the lens of class.

Academia is a magical world where nothing is truly fixed and everything exists on belief. Change the belief and you change the reality. It's a meta-world that has a certain fanciful appeal for intellectuals, but little relevance to the real world where things do not change because the theory does and where outcomes are hard and real and the consequences of a bad theory can mean lives lost.
We have academics (or academic poseurs) running Washington these days...

Mammatus clouds...

Mammatus clouds...  The nicest image of them I've ever seen.  I've only seen well-defined mammatus clouds once in my life, back in the '70s in the Philippines.  Much more at the photographer's site (Mike Hollingshead, professional storm-chaser).

2013 Young Scientist $25,000 prize winner...

2013 Young Scientist $25,000 prize winner...  Very clever indeed.  If this was all done on his own, it's especially impressive for someone his age.  I particularly like the use of salt to increase the water density.

I suspect his invention will only be useful when small barriers need to be erected (mind you, there's a lot of need for those) – even with the salt, the overall density of his bags will be far less than conventional sandbags, and that will limit the depth of seawater that can be held back.  Also, over time his bags will lose salt (when they're wet), as normal diffusion evens out the salinity of the surrounding water and that inside his bags.  So not a perfect replacement for conventional sandbags, but still a useful and clever way to make a better bag for certain uses...

Healthcare.gov security issues...

Healthcare.gov security issues...  More details, from testimony by security expert David Kennedy.  The conclusion:
Closing the hearing, Rep. Chris Collins (R., N.Y.) asked Kennedy if the site is secure today.

“Absolutely not,” he said.
Makes me want to run right out and start putting my personal information into the site...

What is the laziest thing you've ever done?

What is the laziest thing you've ever done?  One answer submitted to Reddit is epic:
I was once on a US military ship, having breakfast in the wardroom (officers lounge) when the Operations Officer (OPS) walks in. This guy was the definition of NOT a morning person; he's still half asleep, bleary eyed... basically a zombie with a bagel. He sits down across from me to eat his bagel and is just barely conscious. My back is to the outboard side of the ship, and the morning sun is blazing in one of the portholes putting a big bright-ass circle of light right on his barely conscious face. He's squinting and chewing and basically just remembering how to be alive for today. It's painful to watch.

But then zombie-OPS stops chewing, slowly picks up the phone, and dials the bridge. In his well-known I'm-still-totally-asleep voice, he says "heeeey. It's OPS. Could you... shift our barpat... yeah, one six five. Thanks." And puts the phone down. And then he just sits there. Squinting. Waiting.

And then, ever so slowly, I realize that that big blazing spot of sun has begun to slide off the zombie's face and onto the wall behind him. After a moment it clears his face and he blinks slowly a few times and the brilliant beauty of what I've just witnessed begins to overwhelm me. By ordering the bridge to adjust the ship's back-and-forth patrol by about 15 degrees, he's changed our course just enough to reposition the sun off of his face. He's literally just redirected thousands of tons of steel and hundreds of people so that he could get the sun out of his eyes while he eats his bagel. I am in awe.

He slowly picks up his bagel and for a moment I'm terrified at the thought that his own genius may escape him, that he may never appreciate the epic brilliance of his laziness (since he's not going to wake up for another hour). But between his next bites he pauses, looks at me, and gives me the faintest, sly grin, before returning to gnaw slowly on his zombie bagel.
Absolutely awesome. And, speaking as an ex-US Navy sailor: totally plausible...

Colliding spiral galaxies...

Colliding spiral galaxies...  Via APOD, of course.  More info on the two galaxies on Wikipedia.  Full resolution version...


Geek: radians...

Geek: radians...  The concept is completely explained in this 30 second animated GIF.  I remember running into radians for the first time, back in high school, in an incredibly dense paragraph of poorly-written text.  It was years before it dawned on me what a simple concept a radian actually is!  Sure wish I'd had this GIF back then...


Mainstream support for the notion of a donor organ marketplace...

Mainstream support for the notion of a donor organ marketplace...  I'm used to my ideas being considered a bit wacky (ok, very wacky).  I've long believed that a market for donor organs made much more sense (including ethically and morally) than the system we have today, but I know that's a distinctly minority view.  Still, when I see a mainstream intellectual supporting the notion, it cheers me up!

Flying pig moment, warmist edition...

Flying pig moment, warmist edition...  The BBC has been a reliable promoter of AGW (anthropogenic global warming) for years now.  Any skeptical views have simply not appeared there.  So I was absolutely gobsmacked this morning when I read this article, which, amongst other things, says:
During the latter half of the 17th Century, the Sun went through an extremely quiet phase - a period called the Maunder Minimum.

Historical records reveal that sunspots virtually disappeared during this time.
Dr Green says: "There is a very strong hint that the Sun is acting in the same way now as it did in the run-up to the Maunder Minimum."

Mike Lockwood, professor of space environment physics, from the University of Reading, thinks there is a significant chance that the Sun could become increasingly quiet.

An analysis of ice-cores, which hold a long-term record of solar activity, suggests the decline in activity is the fastest that has been seen in 10,000 years.

"It's an unusually rapid decline," explains Prof Lockwood.

Londoners enjoyed frost fairs on the Thames in the 17th Century
"We estimate that within about 40 years or so there is a 10% to 20% - nearer 20% - probability that we'll be back in Maunder Minimum conditions."

The era of solar inactivity in the 17th Century coincided with a period of bitterly cold winters in Europe.

Londoners enjoyed frost fairs on the Thames after it froze over, snow cover across the continent increased, the Baltic Sea iced over - the conditions were so harsh, some describe it as a mini-Ice Age.
I am astounded that such a story made it onto the BBC's site.  I suspect someone will be losing their job over this...

Wake up, Rosetta!

Wake up, Rosetta!  Tomorrow morning, bright and early, the Rosetta spacecraft should wake up after hibernating for over two years.  Assuming it's in good shape, it should rendezvous with, and orbit the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.  You can read all about Rosetta here.  If it's unfamiliar to you, don't feel bad – it was launched almost ten years ago!

Molon labe!

Molon labe!  Reader, friend, former colleague, and mogul-of-everything Doug S. passes along this evidence of 2nd amendment supporters pwning the ATF in their booth at a gun show.  Awesome!

If you're not familiar with the phrase “molon labe”, click the link for the complete story.  It's a famous Greek phrase, now often used by 2nd amendment supporters.  It's a retort to those who would take our weapons, meaning, basically, “Come and take it!”

ATF, of course, is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

In another photo (at the first link above), a chagrined ATF booth-boy is trying to remove the sticker...

North Korea propaganda film...

North Korea propaganda film...  They use the opportunity to destroy the U.S. as motivation when teaching children how to use a protractor.  It's really hard to imagine a society where that sort of thing works, but when you do, it's quite a scary thing...

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Idea of the day...

Idea of the day...  I came across this in a post at Althouse:
The smaller the animals people eat, the poorer the civilization.
What a weird idea!  Is it true?  The idea of correlating food animal size and the wealth of a civilization is a new one to me.  Does it pass the sniff test?  Are there poor civilizations that routinely eat large animals?  Are their rich civilizations that routinely eat small animals? 

Well, I'm a member of a rich civilization.  What animals do I routinely eat?  The list isn't very long: cows, pigs, chickens, and a variety of seafood (some of it quite small, like mussels).  While I wish it were true that the bulk of my food animal consumption was scallops, crab, and lobster, in reality its bigger animals.  I probably eat more chicken (by weight) than any other food animal.  If I was richer, would I eat more beef?  No, I'd eat more seafood.  But what do Americans on average consume?  Answer: chicken, beef, pork, and turkey, in that order.  American seafood consumption is tiny by comparison with any of those.  Doesn't pass the sniff test.

What about a poor civilization?  I don't know much about the diet of poor civilizations, but stories of eating grubs and locusts come immediately to mind in the context of this idea.  A brief investigation on the web led me to several articles like this one, where it's clear that the bulk of the animals hunted are relatively small, with successful hunts of the largest animals being quite rare.  On the other hand, total contribution of insects to the meat diet is tiny.  Doesn't pass the sniff test.

I call bullshit on this idea...

Disaster deadline looming...

Disaster deadline looming...  The Hill is reporting that a document published on a government procurement site gives some of the reasons why the Healthcare.gov contract was switched from CGI to Accenture last week.  One part of the document says that if the back-end build-out isn't finished by mid-March, then ObamaCare could be jeopardized, insurers could be bankrupted, and the entire healthcare system threatened.

Holy crap!  Somebody is worried, if language like that worms its way into a procurement document...

The Hill includes this quote from the document:
“There is limited time to build this functionality and failure to deliver…by mid-March 2014 will result in financial harm to the government,” the document says.
If this functionality is not complete by mid-March 2014, the government could make erroneous payments to providers and insurers.  Additionally, without a Financial Management platform that accounts for enrollments and associated program costs that integrates with the existing CMS Accounting platform, the entire healthcare reform program is jeopardized.
This sounds even worse than what I had imagined...

Gloves for sushi chefs...

Gloves for sushi chefs...  Baylen Linnekin, writing at Reason, has a good discussion on this crazy new California law which I posted about a few days ago.

Debbie and I had sushi a few days ago, and we noted that the sushi chef was ignoring the new law...

Lunchly bliss in Jamul...

Lunchly bliss in Jamul...  Just made this, and ate it.  You should be envious:
  1. Roast (or grill) some chicken thighs; let them cool overnight in the fridge.
  2. Skin them and peel away any fat pockets; feed the skin and fat to your dogs.
  3. Pull all the meat from the bone; put the bones somewhere the cats can't find them.
  4. Dice the meat into pea-sized chunks.
  5. Add about 2 teaspoons of mayonnaise (and not that abomination called “Miracle Whip”) to the chicken meat. 
  6. Crush about a teaspoon of quality dried tarragon leaf in a fine-meshed sieve, and sift it onto the meat and mayonnaise.  Discard the remaining stems.
  7. Mix the meat, mayonnaise, and tarragon thoroughly.
  8. Very lightly toast two slices of frozen Dudley's Irish Potato bread.  There should be just a touch of very light brown on the surface of the toast.
  9. Spread the meat mixture on the bread to make a sandwich.
I don't think a sandwich gets any better than this...


This is very cute...

This is very cute...  A little girl goes with her daddy to meet her daddy's identical twin brother for the first time...

Drought emergency...

Drought emergency...  Our governor finally decides to call it...

Geek: interesting and useful data structures...

Geek: interesting and useful data structures ... that aren't so well known.  This was fascinating for me to go through, for two reasons.  First, most of these weren't known to me at all, or were things I'd run into only in passing before (example: Cuckoo hash tables).  Others, though, were very well known to me – but really, only because I happen to have worked in areas that used them (examples: Huffman trees and Bloom filters).  I imagine that almost anyone who's worked in software for a number of years would have the same results.  One might actually be able to use this as a crude metric of overall software development experience (or age :).  In any case, it was an odd feeling to see a bunch of things I was familiar with called “lesser known”!

The ethics of incarceration...

The ethics of incarceration...  Sometimes these things can get quite difficult.  This is a real story.  A criminal is convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to 14 years in a state penitentiary.  He develops heart disease that can only be treated with a heart transplant.  The heart transplant costs about a million dollars.  Should the taxpayers pay for his heart transplant?  And, even more difficult: should a criminal get a scarce transplantable organ when that bumps a non-criminal to a later slot (and puts them at risk of death)?

In the real world (well, if you consider California to be part of the real world), this actually happened – and the state's Department of Corrections decided to go ahead with the transplant.  There were non-criminals on the transplant list who were good matches for the donor heart.

If you think you've worked out the ethics of those considerations, try this variant: suppose the medical treatment in question were for a non-fatal condition.  Say, for instance, surgery to correct a limp.  If you came to a different conclusion on that, precisely how would you draw the distinctions between the two?

I'm going to add this to my (long) list of reasons to be suspect about the entire idea of punitive incarceration.  It strikes me as being one of those human inventions (like socialism, including its “progressive” variants) that demonstrably doesn't work and needs to be eliminated.  It's the sort of thing that makes me look fondly at societal banishment, such as the old English system of “transportation”.  At least we got America and Australia out of that!

Scott Walker...

Scott Walker...  This post (at Ace's place), along with the links in it, is the most interesting stuff I've read yet about Scott Walker (governor of Wisconsin, and often-mentioned prospect for Republican presidential nominee in 2016).  There's a lot to like there...

Ball lightning, captured at last!

Ball lightning, captured at last!  People have reported seeing ball lightning many times, dating back for centuries – but until now, nobody had ever captured it on film.  Now a group of Chinese researchers has captured ball lightning on video – and they had a spectrograph working at the same time!  This fortunate accident has already led to some interesting insights about the origin of ball lightning (dirt is involved :).  Unfortunately the video itself hasn't yet been released (or at least, it's hidden well enough that I couldn't find it)...

Geek: an open-source text on operating systems...

Geek: an open-source text on operating systems...  I've only read a few pieces of this, but what I have read looks pretty good ... and free is hard to beat!

Geek: Internet of things is getting easier all the time...

Geek: Internet of things is getting easier all the time...  There's nothing particularly revolutionary about this product (called Spark).  It's just another evolutionary entry in the rapidly-evolving “Internet of Things” front.  In a tiny device (roughly the size of your thumb) you get all the things at left (click to embiggen).  For $39.  Anyone with even minimal hardware and software skills can use one of these devices to build their own Internet-connected member of the Internet of Things.  Something much like this, for example, forms the heart of the Nest thermostat, or the General Electric “smart fridge”.

We live in amazing times...

Martian mystery...

Martian mystery...  Well, intriguing at the very least.  The two photos at right show the same spot on Mars, just in front of the Opportunity rover.  The left photo was taken 12 Martian days (called “sols”) earlier than the right photo.  Right in the middle, you can see a rock on the right photo that wasn't there 12 sols earlier.

NASA will send Opportunity over to examine the rock.  It's interesting no matter how it got there, because it's upside-down now, showing a fresh face that will allow some new science investigations.  The leading candidate explanation is that the rock (which is about the size of your fist) was “tiddly-winked” to it's new location by Opportunity's movements.  Another candidate explanation – more exciting, to be sure – is that a meteorite struck the surface of Mars and threw up some debris, one piece of which just happened to land smack in front of Opportunity.

As I read the article linked above, I was thinking to myself “Ah, the loony UFO wackos must be having a field day with this!”  A quick Google search proved me right.  One enterprising loony (Scott Waring, writing at UFO Sightings Daily) enlarged the rock to get the photo at left.  Then he wrote:
I enlarged the object and it seems to be an odd shaped creature of some sort. In the enlargement you can also see that its sort of a square shape, but its center is pushed downward. It would be cool if this was some kind of crab-like creature.
I don't know what sort of creatures Scott runs around with, but where I come from, crabs didn't look much like that at all :)