Sunday, January 31, 2016
So ... I had to go fish the jumper cables out of the garage, run Debbie's truck over to the barn (over the unplowed inch to two inches of fresh snow), and park it nose-to-nose with the tractor. Then I had to figure out how to open the tractor's “hood” so I could get to the battery. Luckily that turned out to be easy. I hooked up the cables and started up the tractor, then put the truck back, the cables away, and finally I could go plow.
I got surprised right away by a layer of ice that developed somehow, right against the pavement. In a couple of places it was almost an inch thick, but most places it was only about a quarter of that. I plowed the entire driveway but still couldn't actually see the pavement! Fortunately the sunshine took care of that problem in just a few hours.
Then I shoveled off the walkway again, and salted it to get rid of the ice (it was there, too; not just on the pavement). I've got four foot high piles of snow now on both sides of that walkway...
In both Lebanon and to a lesser extent in Sri Lanka, the terrorist organizations took advantage of religious beliefs that honored extreme sacrifice. Added to this was exploitation of economic and political grievances, thus making the suicide attackers into heroic characters. In addition, families of the suicide volunteers received generous (by local standards) economic rewards. Until in 2003 families of Palestinian suicide bombers receive up to $33,000 (from various sources, mainly Iraq and Saudi Arabia). Financial incentives like this have become common and the Palestinian government now pays them out of foreign aid cash.Assuming that's true (and I've found StrategyPage to be a reliable source), this is simply appalling. The vast majority of foreign aid that Palestine receives comes from the U.S., either directly or indirectly through the U.N. and other aid organizations. So ... U.S. tax dollars are paying rewards to the families of suicide bombers.
You'd think I'd be cynical enough to be unsurprised by this, but I guess I need to work on my cynicism some more because this did surprise me. As I sat here and festered, I started thinking about all the things our government does that anger me, and ... I understood a little better what a powerful current Trump is tying into. I don't like the idea of Trump-as-President, but I absolutely love the idea of tipping over the apple-cart on the current people running the government...
Despite having (a relatively mild case of) Raynaud's disease, with the right apparel I'm not having much trouble. The one exception: my hands. I still don't have a great solution for keeping my hands comfortable while still allowing me to work with some semblance of dexterity. My best answers today are (a) a pair of electrically heated gloves (designed for motorcyclists), and (b) a pair of well-insulated mittens combined with chemical heaters. My fingers still get painful in the gloves if it's cold enough, and of course in the mittens my dexterity is quite impaired. Still searching for a good answer for that!
The insulated boots I got earlier this year have proven to be a great answer for my cold feet. Yesterday afternoon I was outside for about four hours, including an hour in a near-blizzard condition, and my feet (and legs) were comfortable the whole time...
Saturday, January 30, 2016
Then I headed over (on the tractor) to our neighbor, Nick and Maria S. They have a long driveway and told me they had nobody arranged to plow them out, so I volunteered. On the drive over (about 2 miles on a 15 MPH tractor), it started to snow. By the time I got to their house, it was a full-on blizzard, with visibility down to 100' or so. I plowed them out as best I could see, and headed home.
I was frozen and soaked by the time I got back in the house, so I jumped right into a nice, hot shower. Fifteen minutes later, there was an inch of fresh snow on the ground – and it's still coming down hard.
Plowing the driveway this time was a much different experience than usual. Normally the only challenge is to scrape every square inch while marshaling all the snow off to the side. It's sort of a management problem: not taking too big a bite, having the blade angled right, etc. This time there was a completely different challenge: how to get the vast quantity of snow herded off to some place available to put it. There was a lot of snow to put somewhere! Next time we have a deep snowfall, I'm going to try starting out with the loader bucket, and use that to move the bulk of the snow off to some good place for a pile. Then I'll use the blade to finish it off nicely...
So I ran out to my shop, found a piece of scrap OSB (chip board), and sawed it up into two 5' x 20" pieces. Then I shoveled all the snow out from around the casement (this is while the roof was dumping more on me!), shoveled out most of the snow inside the casement, and covered it with those two pieces of OSB. It looks like it will hold, and it definitely removed the immediate threat. We're keeping an eye on the other casements, too, but so far none of them are getting large amounts of snow in them. I know not why.
Meanwhile, some photos from around the place to entertain you. If I didn't keep thinking about the work it's going to take to dig us out, I'd be entranced by the beauty of it. The first photo shows our sidewalk after I shoveled off the first 8" or so. In the fifth photo you can see the juncos that just don't care that I'm standing right next to them – they want that food! The last is the same balcony shot I took just a few hours ago – look at all this white stuff!
This time the source wasn't nearly so obvious. We cleaned up the water with mops; the total was about two quarts. That's far too much for a cat to be the source under even the wildest set of assumptions. It's even too much for a water bowl to have been the source. The kitties were puzzled as well; it was not the water feature of their dreams. So we were mystified as we cleaned up, until Debbie spotted some water on a casement window sill. Ah, ha! That had to be the source. But how? The bottom of the casement well had no water. Where did the water come from? How did it get through the window?
Some inspection and thought unveiled the answer. If water came through the casement opening at an angle (as it would if the wind was blowing from the east), then the rain would strike the casement window pane. Then it would run down and into the sill that the window slides in. That sill has a drain to the outside, but it's a small hole – heavy rain could easily overwhelm it. In that case, water would overflow and some of it would run down the inside of the sill, into the cattery. That must have been what happened. It was rainy and windy last night.
I'm going to call that a mystery solved. We've been in the house nearly two years now, and this is the first time anything like that happened. Let's hope it remains a rare occurrence!
Unfortunately, Briffa and associates have never set out ex ante criteria for site inclusion/exclusion, resulting in Briffa regional reconstructions seeming more like Calvinball than science, as discussed in many CA posts. However, remarkably, D’Arrigo et al 2009 (though not noticed at the time) had admitted earlier that year to doing exactly what Briffa had denied: the ex post selection of sites in order to obtain a preconceived result (a reconstruction that went up in the 20th century).Do read the whole thing. It's wonderful and satisfying to see a competent observer applying actual science techniques and skepticism. Plus, a Calvin and Hobbes reference!
Meanwhile, Debbie has a kitten. If you know her, you can probably imagine just how heartbroken she is about this :) Photos will be forthcoming...
The most recent descent into date madness that I took was about 12 years ago, when I was working for a company doing electronic stock and option trading. They had customers located all over the world, in a total of 28 different time zones. The development team was getting all twisted up in the problem of converting dates and times from one time zone to another. Our programming environment (Java) had a standard way of doing this (a “library”), but it always seemed to be missing a few of the time zones we needed. The problem was that time zones changed frequently. Mistakes in the time zone conversions could be very expensive for us, so it was worth considerable effort to get right. I ended up writing a replacement for the standard Java library that we could keep up to date ourselves. I was amazed how complex this seemingly simple problem was, especially when it dawned on me that I had to track not only the current time zones (that was bad enough!) but also the entire history of time zones. Sheesh!
Way back in the '80s I had a consulting job that involved writing code for a different kind of date and time conversion. This time it was a university who needed a way to figure out the relative timing of events in the past, back to around 500 BC. The challenge was that people in different places used to keep entirely different calendars, and these calendars independently changed over time. When someone in Italy wrote a date of (say) February 12, 1204, that wouldn't necessarily have been the same date in (say) Denmark; there it might be December 29, 1203. One of the big challenges to understanding those differences was that the whole concept of a country was quite fluid back then :) Even worse, in some places the researchers cared about, the calendars they used were completely different – not the Julian calendars invented by the Romans, but totally different calendars generally controlled in quite an arbitrary and capricious manner by religious authorities.
That was a really challenging programming problem. Coming up with a model that could handle all these things wasn't too hard, but gathering the information required to fully implement that model was. I ended up getting a grad student assigned to me as my helper, and her only job was to go get answers for me. I'd ask her a question like “When did Amsterdam switch over to the Gregorian calendar?”, and she'd go off to get the answer. In the end, the solution was more a database and less a bunch of code.
I remember one problem the researchers were wrestling with that they never did come up with a satisfactory answer for. The problem arose when interpreting the writings of someone in the past who was writing about events in an area not local to them. For example, an Englishman might write about the purchase of a ship from Amsterdam, saying something like “I bought this ship for 4,000 guineas, and it was delivered on March 17, 1366.” The problem is which March 17, 1366 was he talking about: London's or Amsterdam's? Because they weren't the same. Most likely they'll never figure that one out :)
Anyway, I've spent a lot more programming time dealing with issues like this than I ever thought I would. The problem of dates and times keeps recurring, and I'm not sure that will ever end. For instance, there's a debate currently underway about leap-seconds, and whatever the answer turns out to be, software will have to be written to deal with it...
The version with the laser flying nearby the space rock makes sense to me: the laser is basically collecting sunlight (with a solar panel array) and turning it into a high energy beam of light that vaporizes parts of the rock's surface, acting like a small (and terribly designed!) rocket to “push” the rock the other way.
The version with the laser flying in Earth orbit sounds like fantasy to me, mainly because of the implausibly “tight” beam divergence that would be required. “Beam divergence” is one of the measures of the quality of a laser. It's a function of both the laser itself and the optics the beam is passed through. The “optics” part gets very tricky with high power laser beams, as the optics inevitably absorb some of the energy from the laser. Even if the absorbed fraction is very small, the optics get very hot – and that heat can only be gotten rid of in space by re-radiating it. That's hard. But even if you ignore the heat problem, the quality of the laser and optics required is almost unimaginably high. I think the people proposing this are smoking something they shouldn't oughtta be...
The image at right show the weather radar picture as of about 4 am this morning. The winds are blowing almost directly from the west, so most of that “blue blob” (the snow storm) has yet to hit us. The forecast for today has been revised; they're now saying 3 to 5 inches of snow today, with the snow lasting into this evening. That means a storm total of 5 to 7 inches.
Looks like my Sunday morning chores will include plowing the driveway and clearing the sidewalk!
So after I show them this chart, I tell the whiners that if they are going to have an emotional reaction when they watch the indices every day, then they shouldn't be investing in the stock market at all. They should instead invest in something less visibly volatile, with a risk/return trade-off they can live with. If they can find such a thing – these days the stock market is hard to beat on that score...
Friday, January 29, 2016
Let me tell you the worst thing about the climate change scam. It’s not the lies, not bullying, not the perversion of the scientific method, not the establishment cover-ups, not the needless scaremongering, not the wasted money, not the nannying overregulation, not the destroyed wildlife and ruined countryside, not the stymied economic growth — bad though all these things are. No one what really sticks in the craw is that the people making money out of it are the scum of the earth....you just have to read the whole thing!
I just love the premise of a hedge fund dedicated to making money from the failures of the warmists...
But his endlessly convenient opinion shifts, on the very core issues his supporters care most about, ought also to signal that Donald Trump doesn’t care about you, either. He’s against outsourcing and immigration as long as that’s getting him votes. But if he can find a different coalition, he’ll happily abandon the current one in a flash. As he’ll need to, if he gets the nomination, and starts looking at the electoral math to take the general. Trump may set the land-speed record for a full 180, and his supporters will have little right to complain, given that his newfound attachment to conservative issues – including the ones he hammers most – is obviously weak and opportunistic.It takes very little cynicism (I, for one, have more than the required minimum) to believe that her paragraph applies to nearly all politicians.
Thursday, January 28, 2016
There are many reasons why I'm uninterested in skiing. The possibility of a tumble like this ... is now on that list :)
Winter sports in general, including the various kinds of skiing, are a really big deal around here. Snowmobiling is probably the most popular, but snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and downhill skiing all have lots of participation. None of them have appeal to me, and only partly because it involves being outside in uncomfortably cold conditions.
I love the scenic attractions of snowy and icy places – particularly streams and ponds. They look just as beautiful to me when viewed from inside a toasty warm car, perhaps with a few short walks to explore particular things. But hours on a noisy snowmobile, or puffing and panting on snowshoes or skis? Along with the risk of falls, avalanches, and prolong exposure to the cold? Not so much appeal for me :)
I don't think so. It's a laudable incremental advance in an area that computers (including artificial intelligence) are very good at: games with a constrained context and rules. By “constrained context” I mean that in order to play the game of Go (or most other games), you don't need to know anything beyond the rules of the game.
That's very different, for example, than holding a conversation with someone. In any randomly chosen human conversation, you'll find that in order to have that conversation the people involved must share an enormous amount of context. For example, if we were talking politics, you'd have to know the names of the politicians involved, something about their beliefs and pronouncements, what offices they were running for, who the voters were ... I could go on for a long time like that.
It's not that I think Google's accomplishment is unimpressive – it's very impressive, in the same way that being the first to walk on the moon is impressive. But ... it's less a fundamental advance and more an incremental improvement. I'd be much more impressed if someone rolled out a computer that could talk with me in a natural way on even some limited topic. As I've said before, I'm skeptical that such a thing will ever happen through digital computers as we know them today. Want some evidence for my skepticism? Spend a few minutes trying to ask some questions of Siri, Cortana, or Alexa (the voice enabled “digital assistants” from Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon, respectively). Are they helpful? Sometimes. Are they amusing? Most definitely. Do they seem like a human assistant? Hell, no. Not even close.
So ... congratulations, Google! But I'm still skeptical about the breadth of artificial intelligence's utility, and I still cringe when I hear people equate today's artificial intelligence with human intelligence. Those two concepts – today, at least – aren't in the same category...
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
We also saw a moose browsing alongside Blacksmith Fork River. After watching him for a little while, we realized that its left rear leg was badly injured. It's still able to stumble around, but I'm pretty sure it couldn't run. We're hoping it survives, but it looks pretty bad.
After the drive, we headed to Le Nonne for dinner. Once again we had a delicious meal. We shared a burrata appetizer (below, left) and then I had an entree of Alaskan Snow Crab ravioli (below, right). Wonderful! Debbie had bow-tie pasta with salmon, also wonderful.
The food was most enjoyable, but the service ... not so much. We had a waiter who was obviously of the opinion that one cannot possibly be too pretentious. One example: he noticed that I wasn't using the straw he'd placed on the table, so he asked “Will we be using our straw tonight?” I was sore tempted to tell him where “we” could shove that straw. But I was good; I didn't do that :) That experience had us both talking (after we'd left the restaurant) about how nice it was to live in a pretension-free zone. Well, nearly so, anyway. People here are, in general, about as down-to-earth as they could be. That general absence of pretension makes displays of it (as we experienced last night) stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.
We'll be going back to Le Nonne ... but most likely not as soon as we would if the staff were (a lot) less pretentious. We've noted that a good fraction of Le Nonne's customers seem to be faculty and staff at Utah State University; the high levels of pretension may play better with that crowd :)
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Nic is about 11 years old, and has little experience with power tools (or tools in general, for that matter), so this is a good choice for its simplicity and relative safety, too. We gave him a bit of instruction on the proper use of the saw, and let him practice on a piece of scrap wood. He did fine during practice, and his “real” cuts on the block of pine that came with his kit were darned near perfect.
Zac is a couple years older, and a lot more confident (though not necessarily justifiably :) than Nic. His design was also much simpler, and he cut his block without any issues at all.
I'm hoping Alan will share some photos with me; if he does I'll post them. He is a photographer and web designer by trade, and his camera was clicking away like mad all evening :)
We've never been a perfect example of the rule of law here. Corruption is a big problem, though it's subtler and less widespread here than in many other places. The rich and powerful can always find ways to use their money or their influence to help themselves or those they favor. Nevertheless, it's generally true here that if someone breaks the law, they're going to be charged, prosecuted, and convicted by a jury.
That last step – conviction by a jury – is subject to various kinds of manipulation, though. Lawyers for defendants will try mightily to influence the jurors decision-making process, even if the conclusion desired doesn't follow the law. There's even a name for this: jury nullification. It's very controversial amongst legal academics, as it is an overt violation of the rule of law. Jury nullification has a long history, many proponents, and some of its historical outcomes would be widely seen today as acceptable and even desirable. And yet ... it's a clear violation of our vaunted rule of law.
Life is complicated :)
I don't have a clear position on the idea of jury nullification. Both sides of the argument have compelling points, both pro and con.
Friend and former colleague Tim B. passed along an article detailing a current attempt at jury nullification (though the article doesn't mention that!). Anyone who believes that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is about to bake the planet will most likely find this effort laudable. Those of us who (like me) think that AGW is a gigantic fraud will likely find this to be a lamentable potential lapse in the rule of law.
I hate the idea that a mob of AGW supporters could stop completely legal development of energy resources. But I'm not ready to condemn jury nullification...
Monday, January 25, 2016
Sunday, January 24, 2016
Staring at this raises all sorts of questions for me, mainly because that sand looks so very much like sand I might find here on Earth. Here, we understand a lot about how such sands form. All of the processes I know of involve water: the freezing ices of winter (expanding in cracks to break rocks up), the erosion of particles in flowing water, or the pounding waters of the sea (which break up rocks by pounding them). How did this sand happen on Mars? Is there some mechanism that involves only atmospheric gases that created them? Or is this good evidence of the presence of water?
I had the chance to meet (and talk with) Ed on two occasions, both times at conferences. Once was in the early '80s, when my then-employer sent me to a conference put on by Roger Oech; the other in the early '90s at Comdex. At that first conference, I had lunch with him, and we share some memories of the early days of microcomputing. Even then, both of us were surprised at how quickly microcomputers were ramping up – and neither of us had any clue that those days were but the beginning.
Ed's book sticks in my mind mostly for one thing it accomplished: teaching this young geek why the spaghetti code (the only kind I'd ever written to that point, with jumps sprinkled randomly throughout) was a bad idea, and how it could be better done. I still remember the conflict I felt then, between the rigor and beauty of structured programming and the need for performance optimizations. I really didn't understand, then, that the low performance microcomputers of the day would shortly be antiques, and that the cost of a few extra computer instructions would soon be zero for all practical purposes. It seems downright silly today to assert that it might be necessary to write some unstructured code to get the performance we needed, but back then it was quite a normal thing. It still happens today, but on increasingly rare occasions...
Saturday, January 23, 2016
I do remember reading a science fiction story in which the author postulated the end of civilization after a space junk cascade took out all the communications satellites, which many nations interpreted as an act of war by some enemy. The result was a world war that reduced us all to Stone Age level. Considering that I read the story in the '60s, that author seems ... prescient...
The social sciences are becoming indistinguishable from the JIR...
Many years ago I visited the Kitt Peak Observatory, mostly to get a glimpse of the McMath-Pierce solar telescope, still the largest instrument of its kind. I remember flipping through a book of some of the photos it took – revolutionary at the time. Today they seem primitive by comparison with the SDO's product. Nevertheless, the McMath-Pierce telescope is still in active use; it's size and ability to change sensors keep it useful...
Friday, January 22, 2016
COSTELLO: I want to talk about the unemployment rate in America .Yup, I'd say Costello got it. Now if only American voters would get it...
ABBOTT: Good Subject. Terrible Times. It’s 5.6%.
COSTELLO: That many people are out of work?
ABBOTT: No, that’s 23%.
COSTELLO: You just said 5.6%.
ABBOTT: 5.6% Unemployed.
COSTELLO: Right 5.6% out of work.
ABBOTT: No, that’s 23%.
COSTELLO: Okay, so it’s 23% unemployed.
ABBOTT: No, that’s 5.6%.
COSTELLO: WAIT A MINUTE. Is it 5.6% or 23%?
ABBOTT: 5.6% are unemployed. 23% are out of work.
COSTELLO: If you are out of work you are unemployed.
ABBOTT: No, Obama said you can’t count the “Out of Work” as the unemployed. You have to look for work to be unemployed.
COSTELLO: BUT THEY ARE OUT OF WORK!!!
ABBOTT: No, you miss his point.
COSTELLO: What point?
ABBOTT: Someone who doesn’t look for work can’t be counted with those who look for work. It wouldn’t be fair.
COSTELLO: To whom?
ABBOTT: The unemployed.
COSTELLO: But ALL of them are out of work.
ABBOTT: No, the unemployed are actively looking for work. Those who are out of work gave up looking and if you give up, you are no longer in the ranks of the unemployed.
COSTELLO: So if you’re off the unemployment roles that would count as less unemployment?
ABBOTT: Unemployment would go down. Absolutely!
COSTELLO: The unemployment just goes down because you don’t look for work?
ABBOTT: Absolutely it goes down. That’s how it gets to 5.6%. Otherwise it would be 23%.
COSTELLO: Wait, I got a question for you. That means there are two ways to bring down the unemployment number?
ABBOTT: Two ways is correct.
COSTELLO: Unemployment can go down if someone gets a job?
COSTELLO: And unemployment can also go down if you stop looking for a job?
COSTELLO: So there are two ways to bring unemployment down, and the easier of the two is to have people stop looking for work.
ABBOTT: Now you’re thinking like a Democrat.
COSTELLO: I don’t even know what the hell I just said!
ABBOTT: Now you’re thinking like Hilary.
Our dinner was spectacular – Debbie's baked salmon (Ora King, of course), Brussels sprouts (quartered, tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and baked), and scalloped potatoes (a truly evil recipe with half-and-half, Gruyere cheese, and the wonderful bacon we get here). My brother Scott was here with us, and it was fun to hear his moans and groans of gustatory pleasure. Even the dogs got to share a bit, with scraps and enthusiastic plate-licking :)
Afterwards we played cards, our family standard game of “Oh, Shit!” When trying to find the rules just now, I discovered that there are a bazillion variations on this game – we may have to try some :). In any case, it was a pleasant and companionable way to spend a few hours together.
When it was time to end our evening, we poured a cup of tea into Scott to get him alert enough to drive safely back to his cabin. Somehow I'm sure that when he got back to his house, he (briefly) contemplated putting his leftovers package into the refrigerator, and then simply ate it all...
Thursday, January 21, 2016
That's quite amazing to me. And depressing. Though if you're a Democrat and you think your only alternative it The Bernie...
I suspect the benefits for such a tunnel would be primarily for the Finns, who by virtue of their geography are relatively isolated from the rest of Europe. That tunnel would give them direct access to all of Europe by rail, which is much less expensive than air travel. Of course, it would also do the reverse: give all of Europe direct rail access to Finland. One likely consequence of that I personally find unfortunate: there will be many more people traveling to the relatively isolated (and very beautiful) hinterlands of Finland...
Why did that science community take the humbler approach, and the climatologists their fervently preachy approach? The answer seems obvious: money. There's no grant money riding on any particular answer from archaeology and anthropology. Climatologists, on the other hand, know their grant money derives from fear of global warming. It's conspicuously true that the (relatively few) dissenting voices in that community are almost entirely immune to this grant money influence, because of tenure, impending retirement, independent resources, etc.
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
I'm not saying that there has been no progress made in understanding software design or architecture, and I'm certainly not saying that the state of software design and architecture hasn't progressed. They have, and in major ways. Teams of programmers today routinely build systems that are vastly larger and more complex than anything built even 10 years ago. But I am saying that most of this progress has been made through developments other than those major software design fads. We don't build large, complex systems today because of (say) object-oriented programming. Mostly, I think, we can build them today because we have far better tools available (true in no small part to the open software movement), and on better programming languages.
And then there's the programming languages, which could quite reasonably be thought of as just another tool. It's almost impossible to overstate the impact of the sheer power of a language like Java (and I'm including both its standard libraries and the host of open source libraries readily available for it) compared with the assembly language environment I programmed with back in the '70s. I can quite literally code things in minutes in Java that would have taken months in assembly language back in those days.
So is object-oriented programming dead? Nah, not really. But it's not all that important, either...