Monday, February 29, 2016

Where can you get a good dinner near Logan?

Where can you get a good dinner near Logan?  This post is aimed at giving some information to our fellow dog people who will be attending the 2016 Field Spaniel Society of America National Specialty show, which will be at the Cache County Fairgrounds in Logan in May.

All of the restaurants we talk about here are marked on this map.

You won't have any trouble finding a great place to eat dinner in Logan!

For a fancy, classy dinner close by the fairgrounds, you won't do better than Le Nonne.  It's an upscale Italian restaurant frequented by people more full of themselves than most locals, and comes complete with oh-so-pretentious waiters and pricey wine – but the food really is outstanding and the atmosphere more like you'd find in a big city joint.

Jack's Wood-Fired Oven is one of our favorite haunts.  Outstanding pizza and a selection of beer are what they're most known for, but we'd rank their soups amongst the best in the area – and their lemon cake dessert is terrific.

The Elements is within an easy walk of the fairgrounds, and is another place with a bit more class and atmosphere than usual for our area.  We've found their menu a bit hit-and-miss, and variable from visit to visit – but still generally quite good.  Their flavored lemonades (raspberry and mango!) are a favorite of ours, and they serve alcohol.  Unusually for Logan, they're open on Mondays.

If you're looking for a place with laughter and free-flowing margaritas, Cafe Sabor is a Mexican restaurant (though if you're from Southern California or some other place overflowing with “real” Mexican restaurants, you might question that description :)  The food isn't always particularly authentic, but it's tasty (especially after a margarita or three!) and plentiful.

For famously friendly service, belly-stuffing comfort food, and traditional diner fare, Angie's is the place to go.  It's a little further away, but well worth it.  It really lives up to its motto: “Where the locals eat”  They do!

A slightly more exotic venue can be found at Thai House, a newly-opened restaurant just a few blocks from the fairground.  It's decent Thai food in a nice setting, a bit pricier than we expected (restaurant prices around here are generally quite low).  We suspect that the one time we went (just a few weeks ago) they were still getting their kinks ironed out – the Yelp reviews at the link are a star or two better than we'd have given it.

Last on our list, but certainly not the least: a local institution, the Maddox Ranch House.  I've only listed it last because it's not in Logan at all – it's 25 miles to the southwest, in Perry.  But ... if you're craving top-notch beef, then this is a restaurant you have got to find a way to get to.  They raise their own beef cattle, which is probably all you need to know.  Yes, it really is that good!  I'm told their lamb, fish, and chicken are also excellent – but I've never gotten past the beef menu...

This...

This ... made my day :)  You really, really need to watch this one all the way through...

Think about it...

Think about it...  Via reader Simi L., who gave me a good belly laugh with this one and a few others:


Beautiful photos...

Beautiful photos ... like the one at right.  Some of these I know are photoshopped, others I know are real.  Many I've never seen before.  All of them are gloriously beautiful.  Via my pistol-packing mama...

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Why I no longer subscribe to Scientific American...

Why I no longer subscribe to Scientific American...  This is an excerpt from a piece by the scientist  Dr. Tim Ball (personal web site), writing on Watts Up With That?
There was a time when Scientific American (SA) occupied a unique niche on the newsstands. It was a magazine about science for the public. It was genuine science usually written by scientists, not a popular pseudo-science magazine like all the others. It was interesting because most people did not understand much of what was written. People that knew about the topic realized it was a very broad overview, but realized it was for public consumption. They published fascinating articles drawing issues to public attention without political bias. Three I recall that were valuable in the climate debate were; John Eddy’s article on the missing sunspots; Stommel and Stommel’s piece on 1816, the year with no summer; and an early article about the influence on ocean temperature measurements of the switch from leather to metal buckets and then engine intakes.

Now, SA is a sensationalist, biased, apologist outlet for the IPCC global warming science. It appears the transition was driven, even before the full impact of the internet, by declining sales. Now, in my opinion, SA is no different from any of the other pseudo-science sensationalist magazines. Coincident with the shift was a decline in contributions from scientists and an increase in articles by professional (?) journalists. With climate articles, the majority came from scientists directly involved in the IPCC deception. Doom and gloom and sensationalism sells and even better if it fits the political bias of those involved in producing the magazine.
It's also why I won't be renewing my subscription to Science News, which I've subscribed to since the '70s.  The sad truth is that these days I find better science reporting and analysis on blogs than in professionally edited magazines.  The truth stands a much better chance of emerging from those who write from interest than it does from those who write for the commercial opportunity.  It's a different example of the same thing that's happened to newspapers and magazines reporting on politics...

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  Slept in late this morning – didn't wake up until 6 am, though I did get up around 2 am to let Mo'i out.  Our old guy is almost 17 years old now, and still doing ok.  We've got him on antibiotics now, because we discovered that he had a urinary tract infection – and those seem to be making a difference.  He's actually going walkabout around the back yard now, which he hasn't been doing for several months.  Yesterday at his dinner time he was jumping up on my leg to get at the food; apparently his arthritis isn't bothering him as much, either.  Maybe the warmer temps?  That old fellow is on antibiotics, arthritis pain meds, high blood pressure meds, and thyroid meds.  The difference before and after meds is still completely amazing to us – a year ago we thought he wasn't long for this world; he looked terrible and clearly felt terrible.  Once we got the meds figured out, he's still with us, and doing just fine.

Had Debbie's patented baked Ora King salmon yesterday.  Damn, that is fine fish!  This morning she made another chocolate sheet cake.  Just what we need lying about the house :)

Saturday, February 27, 2016

On Trump...

On Trump...  A good piece by Eliot Cohen, writing at The American Interest.  An excerpt:
Moral rot.

Politicians have, since ancient Greece, lied, pandered, and whored. They have taken bribes, connived, and perjured themselves. But in recent times—in the United States, at any rate—there has never been any politician quite as openly debased and debauched as Donald Trump. Truman and Nixon could be vulgar, but they kept the cuss words for private use. Presidents have chewed out journalists, but which of them would have suggested that an elegant and intelligent woman asking a reasonable question was dripping menstrual blood? LBJ, Kennedy, and Clinton could all treat women as commodities to be used for their pleasure, but none went on the radio with the likes of Howard Stern to discuss the women they had bedded and the finer points of their anatomies. All politicians like the sound of their own names, but Roosevelt named the greatest dam in the United States after his defeated predecessor, Herbert Hoover. Can one doubt what Trump would have christened it?Roosevelt named the greatest dam in the United States after his defeated predecessor, Herbert Hoover. Can one doubt what Trump would have christened it?
Do go read the whole thing...

Headline of the day...

Headline of the day...
Meerkat expert cleared of assaulting monkey trainer in love spat over llama-keeper
I'm not quite sure how one could top that one!

On the other hand...

On the other hand ... this one from my pistol-packing mama I understand completely!
An old priest lay dying in a hospital. He had served the people of the nation’s capital for many years.

He motioned for the nurse to come near.

“Yes father?” said the nurse.

“I would really like to see Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama before I die” whispered the priest.

“I will see what I can do” said the nurse.

The nurse sent the request to Washington and waited for a response.

Soon an answer came back; Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would be delighted to visit the priest.

As they were driven to the hospital Hillary commented to Obama “I don’t know why this old priest wants to see us, but it certainly will help our images and may even help my election prospects”.

Obama agreed it was a good thing.

When they arrived at the priest’s room the priest took Hillary’s hand in his right hand and Obama’s hand in his left hand.  There was silence and a look of serenity on the old priest’s face.

Finally Obama spoke “Father of all people you could have chosen, why did you chose us to be with you at this time when your end is so near?”

The old priest slowly replied “I have always tried to pattern my life and behavior after our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

“Amen” said Hillary.

“Amen” said Obama.

The old priest continued “Jesus Christ our savior died between two lying thieving bastards and I would like to do the same.”

My mom sends me things...

My mom sends me things ... and I'm not always sure how to interpret them.  Like this one, for example:
Mama taught her well! You've got to love this little girl. What a woman she'll make.

A teacher asked her class, "What do you want out of life?" A little girl in the back row raised her hand and said, "All I want out of life is four little animals, just like my Mom always says".

The teacher asked, "Really and what four little animals would that be?"The little girl said, "A mink on my back, a jaguar in the garage, a tiger in the bed and a jackass to pay for all of it.

The teacher got a coughing fit and had to leave the room.

Northern Pluto...

Northern Pluto...  This is just awesome – a composite photo of Pluto, made from dozens of photos taken by the New Horizons robotic explorer during it's fly-by of Pluto last July.  The photos are still being downloaded from the spacecraft; the last of them won't be received until later this year.  Via APOD, of course.  Magnificent full resolution version (3477 × 2143 pixels) here...

Friday, February 26, 2016

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  We had a late lunch yesterday at one of our favorite haunts: Jack's Wood-fired Oven.  The soup and pizza, were (as usual) delicious.  They had a new dessert, and after hearing it described we decided to try it.  They call it “zeppoti”, and so far as I can tell that's a name they made up.  No matter – it's great!  They take a bit of pizza dough, stretch it, slather on some Nutella, fold it over, bake it, sprinkle it with a little powdered sugar, and voila!  Zeppoti, which we disappeared quite quickly!  How could it be bad if it has Nutella on it?

Then we had an extra surprise: when I went to pay for the meal, the waitress brought us a check for $5 (the price of the dessert).  When I called her on the mistake, she said that our meal had already been paid for!  On walking into the restaurant, we were greeted by Lawrence W., the fellow who sold me my tractor nearly two years ago.  Turns out he bought our lunch and never said a word to us about it.  I've no idea why he did this, but it sure was a pleasant surprise!

Afterwards we went out to Hardware Ranch on our usual wildlife hunting excursion.  We saw plenty of deer and elk, but no moose.  On the dammed pond upstream from the Hyrum power station we saw three smallish swans feeding.  Beautiful birds, they were...

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  Yesterday Debbie made us a new dish.  She's on a roll with these things!  This time it was a pasta dish, spaghetti tossed with lemon, parsley, asparagus, mushrooms, bacon, cheese, a little cream, and a little olive oil.  It was great!

The snow is starting to melt all over the valley.  Patches of our yard and our fields are now snow-free.  Mud season is upon us shortly :)

One of our neighbor has three bright kids, 11, 13, and 14 years old, who are all very interested in math and programming.  I'm going to start tutoring them next Saturday, and they seem to be pretty excited about this.  If that enthusiasm is maintained, this could be an interesting experience for both of us.  If not ... I'm prepared to call it off, though their mom (Maria) will be very disappointed if I do...

This morning we put together a kit, a DVD rack.  Debbie just finished organizing them all onto the new shelves, and she's quite pleased with the result.  I got a good laugh from one piece of that kit: a black marker pen packaged with a slip of paper explaining that it was for touching up scratches, etc.  It said that the furniture industry called this “deluxing”, and that this was a deluxing pen that we should save.  I figured that was some PR fluff on their part, but I Googled it – and it really is a furniture industry term!

This is exactly...

This is exactly ... what many of my Estonian friends are afraid of:
If push ever came to shove, we would sell the Estonians to Vladimir Putin for 30 counterfeit rubles and a mess of beet soup. And we would throw in the rest of the Baltic states for good measure.
Read the whole (excellent) piece...

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Is there a skier...

Is there a skier ... who can tell me if this video is for real?  Because it seems impossible (in the violating-laws-of-physics sense) to me...

Claire Berlinski...

Claire Berlinski ... seems to share my sense of doom.  Read the comment threads...

Quote of the day...

Quote of the day...  This time from Nick Gillespie, writing at Reason:
It's easy to be cynical about this (and to be frankly terrified of a Trump presidency), but Trump is the least cynical politician in the 2016 race.
That “least cynical politician” is a fascinating measure, isn't it?

An igniting match...

An igniting match ... in super-slow-motion closeup.  You'll want to full-screen this one...

Farming is a dangerous occupation...

Farming is a dangerous occupation ... much more so than most urban folks realize.  Yesterday evening that fact struck us here: a young man was killed in an accident at Rosehill Dairy, just 3 miles north of us (and the source of the milk we drink every day)...

Rosetta's final days...

Rosetta's final days ... should be utterly fascinating.  I can hardly wait!

The reign of Moore's Law...

The reign of Moore's Law ... may be about to end.  Or not; the end of Moore's Law has been predicted a few hundred times before, too :)

But suppose for a moment that it does end, that we really have reached the end of IC density increases.  The linked article talks about other things that will almost certainly be explored to keep improving computers.  One possibility I personally find intriguing: it may become more important again – like it was up until roughly 1990 – for programmers to know how to write efficient programs.

At the moment, the need for algorithmic efficiency has been nearly wiped out by the rapidly growing power of computers.  The exceptions are relatively few and far between.  When I started programming back in the '70s, the exact opposite was true – nearly every program needed to be written in a very efficient way, as the constraints of computer speed and limited memory were quite severe.

Maybe the pendulum will start to swing back the other way again...

Things I'd never heard of, part 9,442...

Things I'd never heard of, part 9,442...  There's a thing called an “escape room”, and they're all over the world.  There's even several near us.  They're a big, profitable business

The ones near us charge around $20 for the privilege of being locked in a room with a dozen or so strangers.  You have 90 minutes to collectively try to solve the puzzles and riddles in the room that will allow you to escape.  If you fail in that amount of time, they just let you out.  That's it – that's the entire “entertainment”.

I'm afraid this is (yet another) one of those things that I will never understand.  Why on earth would I pay $20 for something like that, when (for example) $20 worth of gas will take me to a wonderful place in nature, or when $20 each will buy Debbie and I a great meal at a local restaurant, or when $20 will buy me several great books, or when I can learn anything I want to learn for free on the Internet.  I just don't get it...

It's 2016...

It's 2016 ... and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) just now approved a rear-view mirror that uses cameras.  And they only approved it because it was a combined mirror/camera.

Let's get one thing out of the way right at the start: cameras and video screens readily available for at least the last ten years are unequivocally superior to a plain glass mirror.  They have wider fields of view, they're unaffected by the placement of windows or interior obstructions, they see better in both low and high light situations.  In addition to those safety considerations, they eliminate the safety problem (to pedestrians) and aerodynamic problems of external mirrors.  They're better in every way.

But car companies are not allowed to build them into cars.  Not allowed.

You can add one to your own car if you'd like, though.  No problem with that.

Even if you believed (which I do not) that a government bureaucracy should be regulating something like a rear-view mirror ... it's still unconscionable that the NHTSA is taking so long to approve these thingsIf anything, they should have mandated rear (and side) view cameras years ago.  It's as though some government agency required the use of vacuum tubes in radios, or vinyl records for your music.

Man, I really loathe big government.  It blocks progress in so many stupid and costly ways...

Another taxpayer-funded boondoggle...

Another taxpayer-funded boondoggle ... that's biased towards progressives.  No surprise, really: the National Endowment for the Arts spends (in recent years) around $150 million of taxpayer money annually.  Some of this goes to art with a political message, and that message is overwhelmingly progressive – definitely not conservative and not libertarian.

Outrageous?  Yes.  Should we fix it?  Yes.  How?  By ending taxpayer subsidies of art!  I don't really care that the art has a progressive bias.  What I care about is that I'm helping pay for it!  Nobody asked me if I wanted to do that, but if they did, the answer would be loud and clear: no!  That would be true even if the art being subsidized had a message near and dear to me, because I don't believe that even one taxpayer dollar should go to something that certainly isn't an essential communal service...

What it's like to be an introvert...

What it's like to be an introvert...  Here's another site exploring what it's like to be an introvert, this time with some nifty drawings (like the one at right).

Ever since I discovered what an introvert really is, and that I was one, I've been fascinated by the impacts of introversion vs. extroversion.  I was in a profession (engineering) where introverts have a distinct intellectual advantage, and yet the management of engineering organizations is dominated by extroverts – a situation that's bound to cause friction (and it does!).

Perhaps the most obvious example of this is the movement toward “open offices” (cubicles) for engineering teams – something only an extrovert could love, and that's guaranteed to lower an introvert's productivity.  Extroverts were positive that open offices would improve the productivity of engineering teams, but ... not so much (as engineering teams are, generally, dominated by introverts).  What's most interesting to me about this is how the extrovert proponents of open offices just don't get it.  It is – I think perhaps literally – beyond their ken.

My last employer was a great example of this.  The founder is a brilliant engineer and a flaming extrovert, and he was certain that having engineers work together in shared spaces was one of the keys to engineering creativity and productivity.  Nothing I (or anyone else) could say would dissuade him from this.  I'm not sure he still holds this belief, though, as it must be true that the results are discouraging for him...

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Curiosity, near and far...

Curiosity, near and far...  A couple of photos from today's dump of raw photos taken by Curiosity.  At left, a view into the distance – and at right, an extreme closeup of an interesting rock...

Things I didn't know...

Things I didn't know...  I use IntelliJ IDEA, from Jetbrains, as my Java and JavaScript development environment.  I've been using it for years, since (I think) 2003.  I started using it at the recommendation of a friend, and immediately liked it better than its main competitors (all of which I was familiar with).  Later, when I worked for ServiceNow for seven years, I used their standard IDE, which was Eclipse – but still used IntelliJ IDEA for my personal projects.  Since I retired, I've switched back to only IntelliJ IDEA.   

During all that time I've thought of IntelliJ IDEA as a sort of edge product, one of those things that a few borderline nut cases like, while everyone else uses the perfectly good (and free!) Eclipse.  I had no idea that IntelliJ IDEA, along with Jetbrains other products, have been gobbling the IDE space up.  I'm very glad to hear it, though – their products are first rate, the community is great, and they just keep making it better all the time (as the linked article points out).

Endorsed!

I had the chance to meet some of the Jetbrains folks a few years ago.  Their development center (or at least, one of them) is in St. Petersburg, Russia, and their offices were near by those of a company I worked for at the time.  When I wrote and told them I'd be in town, they invited me down to their offices for a visit.  I had a grand time talking with some of their developers.  Since it was Russia, of course we also had vodka and chocolate :)

Zipf's Law holds...

Zipf's Law holds...  Zipf's Law is one of those observed mathematical relationships that is surprising because it's so simple – and because there's no mechanism to explain it.  I first ran into it when studying cryptography in the Navy, back in the '70s.  Basically, Zipf's law says that in any given text, the most common word will appear twice as often as the second most common word, three times as often as the third most common, and so on.  If you're trying to decrypt the bad guy's messages, and the bad guys used an old-fashioned cipher or code, knowing the way that words (and letters) are distributed can help.  That's much less true with modern ciphers, though.

Anyway, I remember thinking at the time that Zipf's Law was too simple to be for real.  I imagined that it was an artifact of military messages, because of the strange, passive voice filled, stilted, and acronym-stuffed prose the military favored.  Turns out that's not the case – in a recent test against the entire text held by the Gutenberg Project, Zipf's Law largely still holds.  How bizarre!

Collectivization...

Collectivization...  Friend, former colleague, and fellow retiree Doug W. passed along this quote:
Back in the 1930s we were told we must collectivize the nation because the people were so poor. Now we are told we must collectivize the nation because the people are so rich.

  – William F. Buckley, Jr.
It's been a long time since I last saw that, and pondered on it. There is much truth there, condensed into a very small number of words.

When I was first reading about current events (late '60s, early '70s), the word “collective” had very negative connotations for any Americans who didn't identify as Communist.  These days one doesn't hear the word very often, but we are collectivizing, steadily.  Our healthcare system is heading quickly toward a “single payer” system – and that fits the definition of a collective perfectly.  The discussion about “minimum income” – which in some countries is very close to becoming the law of the land (I'm looking at you, Finland and Switzerland!) – is a move toward collectivization.  For me, at least, calling single-payer healthcare collectivized healthcare makes it sound much worse, and more threatening.  I wonder if that's true for younger people, those who likely have no idea what a collectivized Soviet farm was like?

It's been almost ten years since Buckley died, and proponents of liberty still have no intellectual support to replace him.  We sure could use a new Buckley right about now.  Can you imagine what his quips on The Donald, The Hillary, and The Bern might be like?

Fish and chips excellence...

Fish and chips excellence...  We needed to go to Ogden yesterday.  If you're not familiar with Ogden, it's a fair-sized city about 30 miles north of Salt Lake City, and about 30 miles south of us.  As we were there in the early afternoon, we decided to try a restaurant we'd not been to before.  We used Yelp to pick it: the best-rated place in Ogden that was open on Monday (most restaurants here close Sundays and Mondays).  The place we chose is called Sea Bears Ogden Fish House.  All we knew when we walked in is that Yelpers liked the place.  We had no idea what a treat we were in for!

The inside is clean and homey, with inviting decor and low lighting.  We were greeted by the male half of the couple who owns the place, fully outfitted in traditional Scottish costume, including a kilt.  Within a few minutes of conversation we discovered that his whole family works there, they're politically very compatible with us, and his wife (the cook and waitress) usually is packing heat (open carry), though she wasn't yesterday – and if you don't like that, they'll gladly tell you about some other places you can get a good meal.  Their sons also work there, though we didn't see them and I don't know what they do.

We ordered cod (they also have halibut, albeit at a higher price), and I asked for sweet potato fries instead of traditional chips.  I also ordered a crab cake (at $3 I could hardly resist!), and raspberry lemonade.  When our orders arrived, they also had cole slaw, which I didn't even realize was included.

How was it, you ask?  The fish was top notch, one of the five or six best I've ever had (and that includes memorable fish-and-chip experiences in England, Scotland, and Singapore).  Next time I'm going to try the halibut. The sweet potato fries were excellent, not oily at all.  The cole slaw was superb – the perfect blend of sweet and sour, and made with fresh Napa cabbage and carrots that had the dressing applied just before it was served.  The crab cake was ok; nowhere near the best I've had, but certainly edible (and $3!).  The lemonade was real, made right there with fresh lemons and raspberries – awesome!

After polishing off that treat, we joked with the owner that we'd love to have him open a branch in Logan.  To our surprise, he reacted by telling us it was already something they were considering.  It turns out that he and his wife grew up in Logan, and that they're doing well in Ogden and are looking to expand.  Holy cow!  So we've been enlisted to keep our eyes open for an opportunity – especially a disused restaurant that they might be able to lease complete with a kitchen.

Oh, that would be great if they were to open up here!  As things are now, though, they've just added one more reason for us to venture out of Cache Valley now and again...

Monday, February 22, 2016

Fun with numbers...

Fun with numbers...  I just finished writing some software (for the blog server I'm creating) that figures out whether it makes more sense to send a larger image already on the server, or a smaller image made by scaling the larger image down.  Part of doing that required making an estimate of how much computer time it would take to scale down the larger image.  That turns out to be (roughly) proportional to how many pixels on the larger image have to be inspected to create a pixel on the scaled-down image, multiplied by the number of pixels in the scaled-down image.  Got that?  :)

Well, calculating the number of pixels that needed to be inspected turned out to be an interesting problem in geometry and algebra.  It boiled down to this formula:

Where:

   t  is the number of pixels in the target (scaled down) image
   x  is the floor of the ratio of source (big image) to target pixel width
   y  is the same ratio minus x

It took me a while to derive that formula, but to my great satisfaction it did a pretty good job at estimating the time.  In my tests it was particularly good with PNG files, and within 20% or so on JPG – way better than I actually need for my purposes.

I don't often get to play with numbers like this for the sorts of software I write.  When I get the chance, it's fun!  Especially when it works :)

Curiosity is looking at weird rocks...

Curiosity is looking at weird rocks ... on Mars, like the ones at right.  Look closely and you can see some bizarre thin layers, with edges exposed and curling upward (look at the left bottom, or top middle).  What the heck do you suppose those might be?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

What a world we live in (part 63,992)...

What a world we live in (part 63,992)...  For the past few months, I've been playing Scrabble with a new partner, a friend of my sister whom I've never actually met.  She's a computer science and math professor, and we play our Scrabble games over the Internet.  Her name is Jo, and we've played well over 100 games at this point.  I'm ahead in our little competition, but I am in awe of her.  Why?  Well, for starters, English is not her first language.  Jo is Polish.  She grew up in the Soviet Union, lived through its collapse, and somewhere along the line picked enough English to be a respectable Scrabble competitor.  If you know the game, then you know that's pretty amazing!  Then there's Jo's sheer determination -- she keeps right on playing even after getting whipped badly several times in a row.

Yup.  I am in awe...

Update: Jo has corrected me – she did not grow up in the Soviet Union, but rather in Poland.  While we in the West didn't differentiate very much between the actual Soviet Union and its satellite countries, in fact they actually were different questions.  To the citizens of those countries, that's a big distinction!

The “Jersey Way”...

The “Jersey Way”...  Via my pistol-packing, proud New Jerseyan mom:
The Jersey Way

Three contractors are bidding to fix a broken fence at the White House in D.C. – one from New Jersey, another from Tennessee and the third from Florida. They go with a White House official to examine the fence.

How it works:

The Florida contractor, Jonathan, takes out a tape measure and does some measuring, then works some figures with a pencil. "Well", he says, "I figure the job will run about $900: $400 for materials, $400 for my crew and $100 profit for me."

Cletus, the Tennessee contractor also does some measuring and figuring, then says, "I can do the job for $700: $300 for materials, $300 for my crew and $100 profit for me.

Vito from Jersey doesn't measure or figure, but leans over to the White House official and whispers, "$2,700".

The official, incredulous, says, "You didn't even measure like the other guys! How did you come up with such a high figure?"

The New Jersey contractor whispers back, "$1000 for me, $1000 for you, and we hire the guy from Tennessee to fix the fence."

"Done!" replies the government official.
The Jersey Way, indeed. The bad news is that contractors from the other 49 states have also figured this out...

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  Chicken and dumpling soup is a good thing :)  So is chocolate cake!  It's a tea-and-chocolate-cake kind of morning, too.  Although after the political results yesterday, something a little stronger (like 100% ethanol) might be in order...

We ended up getting about 2" of snow, and now we've got another 1 to 3" in the forecast for tomorrow (Monday).  Sigh.

Oh, well.  It's a chance to get some more work done on my blog software, and perhaps to watch a movie with my honey...

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Just yesterday...

Just yesterday ... we were delighted by a weather forecast for ten whole days of no precipitation and above-freezing temperatures.  This morning we got up ... and it's snowing.  Forecast still said no precipitation.  An hour later, there's about two inches of snow on the ground – and suddenly the forecast says 100% chance of snow, about an inch.  Now it's three hours later, and the forecast says 1 - 3 inches.

I'm beginning to think the weather folks here are just making this stuff up, then looking out the window to see what happened...

Friday, February 19, 2016

Nine years old...

Eleven years old ... this blog is, today.  It's our “bloggiversary”!  Eleven years and 12,781 posts (including this one).  I didn't set out to write such a huge amount of stuff, but somehow it happened.  That's about 3.2 posts per day for that entire period!

There's a chocolate cake in the oven right now, and later today we're making chicken and dumplings.  Somehow this seems very appropriate :)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

I find it strangely satisfying...

I find it strangely satisfying ... to find that I still can do some challenging programming.  I've been working for about 50 days now, part time, on some blogging software.  This is a blog server with some specialized features that pander to my own desires, and also that can run several blogs ('cause one blog can't possibly be enough, can it?).

Today I just finished the first user interface component (a sign-in screen).  To make that work, a lot of server infrastructure had to work correctly.  And it did!  For those of you who aren't programmers, user interfaces are fiddly, picky things – and in addition, web user interfaces (which is what I'm doing) are full of quirks and bizarreness.  It's challenging even for the experts, and I am not expert on user interfaces.  So it's very satisfying to prove to myself that I can still do this, even with my vacuum tube nurtured ancient technology brain...

One of these fine days – at least a couple months off yet – I will be hosting all of my blogs on my new self-written server, running from a virtual machine in Amazon's cloud!

Troubling...

Troubling ... this sort of thing is.  But what could be done about it?  Other than shining light on the issue (as Claire Berlinski does in the post linked there), this is a sort of corruption that stays hidden.  You might suspect someone of benefiting from dishonest writings, but how could you possibly know?  And even if you did, what could you do about it?  So far as I know, there's nothing illegal about it...

When I think about...

When I think about ... how political outcomes might be manipulated, these days I consider this the most dangerous – far more so than voting machine manipulation, outright corruption, and so on.  Why?  Because (a) the capability already exists, and (b) it's detectable only through a massive effort, and who would fund that?

I'd be surprised if this isn't already happening.  Not necessarily with Google, but with any influential web site.  It's definitely already happening on sites where it's obvious there's political bias (consider NPR, the New York Times, HotAir, Fox News, etc.).  Where it's dangerous is where you don't think there's bias...

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Tim Cook is right on this one...

Tim Cook is right on this one...  We really, really don't want the government to be able to get access to our devices.  Smartphone owners, for the most part, have no idea how much information is on their phones.  The phones know where you've been, what calls or messages you've received and sent, possibly intimate photos and video, and (depending on the apps installed) may also know every key you've pressed, every web site you've visited, and even may record your conversations!  It's no surprise that the government would like to have access to that.  There's also no doubt that having access will help them convict guilt people.  The problems start arising when you consider how it could be used to help convict innocent people (as every new law enforcement technology has done), and how it will be misused and abused.

I read an example not long ago of such misuse, but I couldn't find the article.  The gist of it was this: a woman was murdered in a brothel, in Mexico.  The woman was a famous celebrity of some sort, and there was enormous pressure to find the murderer.  The police started examining the smart phones of anyone they arrested, looking at the GPS records in the phone to see if they'd been at the right place, at the right time to have committed the murder.  A few weeks after the murder, they stopped a businessman for speeding – and after examining his phone, determined that he'd driven by the brothel at the right time. That evidence was presented to the jury, and he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.  What the jury was not told was that he had driven by at 70 MPH!  The story I read was of his appeal, and of the fight this man is going through to have that latter bit of information presented to the appeal jury.  That's the sort of thing one can look forward to if the government has easy access to the trove of information in smart phones...

The New York Times, of all places, has a reasonably balanced overview of the issue.  There's much more, all over the web, ranging over the entire spectrum of possible responses...

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Fire in Paradise...

Fire in Paradise...  In our furnace, that is.  Our newly repaired furnace!

The experience reminds us once again of why we love living here.  We had two new furnaces installed in May 2014 to replace the aged ones that came with the house.  The fellow who advised me and did the work – Ryan Osborn, owner of Leading Edge Heating and Air Conditioning (435-994-0666) – recommended a Carrier model and installed them.  He did a great job, cleaning up some shoddy work done on the original furnaces – plus he helped me repair an irrigation riser that I knocked off with my lawn mower (the first of several, alas).

Now fast forward to last week, nearly two years after he installed them.  We had a problem with the downstairs furnace, so I gave him a call.  He instantly accepted responsibility and promised (and delivered) quick action.  Four visits later, plus a trip for his sidekick Joe down to Ogden to pick up parts, they had the problem (which was a weird one, naturally) diagnosed, with the parts covered under warranty.  Today he's going to preemptively order (and later install) the same parts for our other (identical) furnace.  I'm currently trying to figure out how to pay them something for their time, but so far he's not letting me.

This is so different than our normal experience in California – and yet here it's so normal that it is the expectation.  Honesty and hard work are the norm here, and it's still hard for us to get used to that after 40 years in the very different culture of California...

Amazing...

Amazing ... plus, pretty girls, for the double win!

Interesting piece...

Interesting piece ... by a scientist (physicist) and writer named Tom Hartsfield.  He takes no sides in the AGW “wars”, but looks at climate science and is appalled by what he sees.  The perspective he outlines in this article is very close to what Freeman Dyson observes, and that appears to be the source of Dyson's AGW skepticism...

I can identify with this!

I can identify with this!  I have always hated neckties.  Jeans and buttoned, loose-neck, short-sleeve cotton shirts, that's my “uniform”  these days...

Canada has a national treasure...

Canada has a national treasure ... named Steve McIntyre.  There should be a way to honor this man for his sober, level-headed analyses of the data that allegedly supports AGW.  He's done it again – no surprise there – and his article is yet another example of why he's been such a mainstay for the AGW skeptics.

I couldn't help but smile at his understated-but-still-devastating conclusion, starting with this paragraph:
The RCS technique used in the LW2005 MXD chronology eliminated high medieval values as a tautology of their method, not as a property of the data.  The Icefields data provides equal (or greater) justification for MXD RCS chronologies with elevated medieval values.
“…a tautology of their method...” indeed.  Translated into language I might use, this says: “The LW2005 MXD chronology is bullshit!” – but he says it much more politely (and with better support) than I ever could.  Do read the whole thing, and carefully – it's yet another Steve McIntyre masterpiece...

A map...

A map ... of Pluto's geology.  What a time we live in!  Pluto was just a smudge on a photographic plate when I was a kid, and now we have a map of its macro geologic features.  There's an article and a high resolution version...

Monday, February 15, 2016

Konani, bringer of cat toy terror...

Konani, bringer of cat toy terror...

Stuffed, I am...

Stuffed, I am...  We just finished our early lunch, feasting on Debbie's latest delight: a chicken casserole featuring (lots of) poblano pepper, corn tortillas, mozzarella cheese, cilantro, sour cream, butter, and mushrooms.  Poblano peppers, if you don't know them, are a real culinary delight.  They're often called “pasilla” peppers in U.S. stores, but they're really poblanos.  If you like green (“Bell”) peppers but don't like the spiciness of jalapenos and the like, that the poblano pepper might be your new best recipe friend.  It's got way more flavor than a green pepper, but none of the spiciness of a jalapeno...

This is Debbie's second pass at this recipe, and this one was way better for some reason.  We know from the first go-round that this dish freezes very nicely, so we've now got some more “instant meals” for our freezer.  Man, this was good!  At left below is the casserole moments after emerging triumphant from the oven; at right is my pig bowl (and somehow I ate the entire thing!)...


Oh, look what Curiosity found now!

Oh, look what Curiosity found now!  If you look closely at that photo, you'll see two little “craters” in the sand, each with what looks like a BB nearby.  I found this in today's MAHLI raw photo dump, so there's no explanation attached.

I'll speculate a bit.  My guess is that those are solidified drops of molten rock, splashed out from some (relatively nearby) impact crater where a meteor struck the Martian surface.  The fact that the little sand “craters” haven't filled in suggests that this happened fairly recently...

Really?

Really?  Michael Brooks is a physicist (Ph.D. in quantum physics from the University of Sussex in England), and a noted science writer.  He's also written a novel (which I didn't know about until I read his Wikipedia page this morning).  The New Scientist is currently running an article by him, which includes this:
How can this be so, when honesty is supposedly such an essential attribute? Because it gets the job done. Raymond De Vries at the University of Michigan and colleagues have argued that data manipulation based on intuition of what a result should look like is “normal misbehaviour”. They see such common misbehaviours as having “a useful and irreplaceable role” in science. Why? Because of “the ambiguities and everyday demands of scientific research”.

In other words, data isn’t often as clean as you would like. According to Frederick Grinnell, an ethicist at the University of Texas, intuition is “an important, and perhaps in the end a researcher’s best, guide to distinguishing between data and noise”. Sometimes you just know that data point was an anomaly to be ignored.

Should we do something to make science more virtuous? Probably not.
In brief, he's arguing that it's just fine for scientists to cook and cherry-pick their data (which is, in large part, where any “evidence” for AGW comes from).  A scientist is arguing that honesty in science isn't essential.

The entire edifice of science is built upon the notion of seeking the truth about nature, whether it comports with our preconceived ideas or not.  Honesty in the process is utterly essential, and rooting out dishonesty is one of the hallmarks of science (though sometimes it takes a lot longer than one would hope!).  If Brooks' ideas here were to become the norm, it's easy to see that what we think of today as science would degenerate into something like ... what climatology and social sciences are today.  It's appalling that Brooks (apparently) believes otherwise.  I can only hope that he was drunk when he wrote this...

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Two minutes of kitten...

Two minutes of kitten...  This is little Konani (that appears to be the name that he's stuck with), on one of his “outings” to our office.  He's still in isolation for a few more days, until we're positive he doesn't have any disease that we don't want to expose our cattery cats to...

Dogs discovering snow...

Dogs discovering snow...  Via my lovely Valentine...

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  Our downstairs heater (we have a separate one for the second floor) is giving us trouble.  It keeps shutting down, with its indicator light showing a code 31.  We're not alone in this; the number of hits on a search are staggering.  The house got down to 60°F overnight; a little uncomfortable but certainly not an emergency.  I tried all the obvious things from the troubleshooting tips I found online, but got nowhere.  Tomorrow we'll have our heating guy out here, and he's great – one way or the other, we'll get it fixed.

We civilized people sure do like our creature comforts :)

Take a gander at the photo of Mo'i, at right.  Can you guess what our weather is like?

Our forecast says 1 to 3 inches of that white stuff today, but with above-freezing temperatures.  We'll see what that really turns out to be.  Meanwhile, at left is the current radar picture (as of 7:35 am).

Yesterday Debbie made us a wonderful midday meal: her signature baked Ora King salmon in dilled mayonnaise, accompanied by roast vegetables (Brussels sprouts, parsnips, and carrots).  You can see the veggies at left in the “before” photo, and the completed dinner on the right.  Sorry y'all weren't here to share with us!


Yesterday evening, just before it got dark, I caught the scene at right.  From our perspective on the valley floor, the sun had set, behind the Wellsville Mountains.  But the peaks of the Wasatch Mountains to our east were still in sunshine, albeit disappearing fast.  I managed to catch this about 90 seconds before the last light on the peaks was gone...

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says...

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says ... that Obamacare costs will rise by 60% over the next decade.  In other words, the Obamacare skeptics were right all along when they predicted that Obamacare would increase the cost of healthcare, not decrease it as Obama and his mincing minions promised.  No surprise to anyone who's been paying even the least bit of attention to the debate – and especially not a surprise to anyone paying their own insurance costs!

Get some Kleenex...

Get some Kleenex ... and watch this...

Friday, February 12, 2016

Do you like persimmons?

Do you like persimmons?  If you do, try Trader Joe's unsweetened, unsulfured dried California persimmons.  They are hands-down the best I've ever had.  They actually taste like persimmons!

Nic Lewis...

Nic Lewis ... writing at Climate Audit, demolishes another Thermageddonist paper...

Music video in weightlessness...

Music video in weightlessness...  Pretty darned cool!  This was done inside an aircraft flying a parabolic arc.  I'm amazed how long they can keep that up!

I have a dream!

I have a dream!  Via my pistol-packing, woodpecker-sighting mama...

Why do people go to emergency rooms?

Why do people go to emergency rooms?  Man, there were a lot of surprises in here for me, starting with #1...

Sawed off in Paradise...

Sawed off in Paradise...  For about three hours this morning, we were cut off from the Internet  (“sawed off” in IT lingo).  Quite a bit of my morning routine revolves around the Internet (mainly email, Twitter, and news), so this was quite ... unsettling ... for me :)

The views outside our windows were quite beautiful this morning.  At right is the view to the north, toward our friend and neighbor Tim D.  I particularly liked the way the mountains looked, filtered through the haze.  Not ten minutes after I took this photo, that fog bank you can see in the background came down and engulfed us.  Now we're living in a sea of gray, with visibility down to under 100'.

Now I'm going to go catch up on things, as we have the Internet back.  Yay!

Oh, yes...

Oh, yes...  A thousand times yes!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A rimey morning in Paradise...

A rimey morning in Paradise...  It's cold this morning, but it's also foggy.  That combination means that rime is forming on any surface that's below freezing.  Since it was well below freezing (air temperature) last night, that means just about everything is covered with rime, some so thickly that it looks almost like it snowed.  Some photos from around our yard:


Like all the photos I've taken in the past few months, these were taken with an unmodified iPhone 6s Plus using the built-in camera app.  As usual, the only processing I've done is color-correction (for white balance) – for some reason, my iPhone wants to make outdoor shots have a bluish cast...

Paradise Porcupine ponders...

Paradise Porcupine ponders...  That's Porcupine Reservoir, which we took a short drive up to last night.  We'd heard from a fellow wildlife gawker that the road up to the reservoir had been plowed, and that there were elk to be seen up there.  Well, we got to the reservoir, but no further than the north edge of the dam – and that road had not been plowed.  Furthermore, we saw just one cow elk on the entire trip.

On the other hand, we saw quite a few deer, and a bald eagle soaring overhead.  And lots of beautiful winter scenery:


Sneezes...

Sneezes...  More than you ever wanted to know, or (especially) see...

They're counting on you being stupid...

They're counting on you being stupid...  The American political parties, I mean.  There's a form of corruption that is, so far as I'm aware, uniquely American.  The two major organized political parties in the U.S. (the Democrats and the Republicans, if you've just emerged from under a rock) both have a vested interest in not letting you (the American voter) select the candidates that you want in the Presidential primaries.  They have two main methods of taking this power away from you:
  1. The power of the “Party Purse”.
  2. Superdelegates.
The parties have other tools as well, some of which you can read about here.  If you do, you will likely emerge disillusioned about the state of democracy in the U.S.  Short version: your vote isn't as important as you think it is, despite the parties' attempts to convince you otherwise.

The “Party Purse” is easy enough to understand.  The two parties collect a lot of money through campaign contributions.  This money gets spent in various ways.  Some of it promotes the party in a way that is not specific to any candidate.  Most of it is eventually spent in support of a single candidate, though the means may be slightly subtle.  For instance, if the Republican party were to spend money on ads promoting one particular point of view on, say, immigration – that will be seen as supporting some candidates and not others.

The superdelegate system, on the other hand, is something the parties (especially the Democratic Party) would rather you didn't know about.  Certainly they don't go around bragging about it, and the media says remarkably little about it.  However, consider this: in the primary election just held in New Hampshire, Sanders took 60% of the vote, and Hillary less than 40%.  So Sanders should have 50% more delegates than Hillary, right?  Wrong.  Hillary has the same number as Sanders, because of superdelegates – party insiders – choosing her, despite the votes of New Hampshire party members.  The theory is, you see, that the superdelegates know better than the voters.  That's American democracy in action, folks.

What's the answer for the corruptions of the American two-party system?  Every once in a great while, a new political party emerges – when the voters have had enough, and want better.  That last happened with the emergence of the Republican party in the 1850s, and their first big success with the election of Abraham Lincoln.  It's been too long now – 160 years! – and the corruptions of incumbent power have long been a problem.  It's long past time for us to have another ballot box revolution, though I don't see one anywhere in the predictable future.

Maybe we need the equivalent of term limits for political parties :)

    Things we have never seen before...

    Things we have never seen before...   The image at right is a screenshot I captured from APOD at 2:55 am this morning.  They're teasing us!  But I think it's also a tell – an announcement of failure from LIGO could hardly be construed as “exciting”, but success certainly would.  On this flimsy premise, I'm assuming that LIGO is going to announce that they have conclusively observed gravitational waves.

    For those of you who aren't followers of physics and cosmology discoveries :)...  This is a big deal, confirmation of a theory that originated with Einstein that has stood unproven for decades, despite many, many previous attempts to do so.  Physicists have spent their entire career trying – and failing – to actually observe gravitational waves...

    Wednesday, February 10, 2016

    First page!

    First page!  I had a bit of a milestone here today, in my current programming efforts.  I'm calling it “first page”, which is a bit like the “first light” that astronomers talk about when they first look through a new telescope.  In my case, it's the first page served up by the blog server software that I'm writing.  The screenshot at right preserves it for posterity, or something :)

    I got hung up today on a silly, stupid problem that took me an inordinately long time to track down.  It came on a piece of Java code like this:
    Integer x = test() ? 0 : null;
    When that code executed, and the function test() returned false, it generated a NullPointerException.  Can you guess what the problem was?  It turns out to be the zero!  Apparently the type of the result of a conditional expression is determined by the first operand after the "?".  In this case, that's an int – so when test() returned false the program ended up trying to assign null to an int, and of course that isn't going to work all that well.  I'm a little surprised that the result was a NullPointerException instead of some more illuminating exception, but whatever.  All I had to do to fix the problem was to change the zero to either new Integer(0) or (Integer) 0.  After that change, all was well.  I'm not the first to run into this problem, of course.

    I'm very glad to have that stupid little bug behind me!

    Paradise ponders...

    Paradise ponders...  We had a lovely excursion up to Hardware Ranch late yesterday afternoon, after a great lunch at Jack's.  We both had their Teres Major pizza, which is made from a beef cut (teres major) I'd never heard of before.  Debbie had peppadew peppers with hers, and I had roasted red peppers.  Yum!

    Our excursion was a memorable outing for several reasons, but most especially because we had four moose sightings – by far the most moose we've ever seen on one day!  One of them was an injured bull that we've spotted a couple times before, quite close to where we saw him yesterday.  His left rear leg (or foot, we're not sure) has something wrong with it; you can see him avoiding putting any weight on it.  Despite the crippling injury, he seems to be getting enough to eat, and otherwise he looks like he's in good shape.  We were only 40' or so from him, so we had a great viewing.  The other three moose were partway up the side of the mountain to the south of Blacksmith Fork River.  I've never seen moose foraging so far from water before; a couple of them were at least a quarter mile up that mountain.  All three of them were munching away on the already-struggling deciduous bushes that grow on those steep slopes, probably some sort of scrub oak.

    Another memorable sighting was an American Dipper, like the one at right (not my photo), doing his little bobbing thing in the creek not 30' from our parked truck.  He didn't seem to mind the fact that there was ice all along the edges of the creek, or that the water was 32.0001°F (at most!).

    We also saw about 12 bazillion deer, littering the canyon's bottoms and sides.  It was really kind of crazy how many deer there were.  Then there were the elk – about 10 bazillion of them.  Most of the elk were in the fenced enclosure up at Hardware Ranch, but we also saw some outside the enclosures, ranging the hills.  Once again we saw the group of bull elk on the hills just outside of Hyrum, right at the mouth of Blacksmith Fork Canyon.  Awesome!

    Why would you vote Democrat?

    Why would you vote Democrat?  An oldie-but-goodie, via my lovely bride.  It's fake, of course, but still entertaining (if you're not a Democrat :):
    Ten reasons to vote Democrat by Letterman

    #10. I vote Democrat because I love the fact that I can now marry whatever I want. I've decided to marry my German Shepherd.

    #9. I vote Democrat because I believe oil companies' profits of 4% on a gallon of gas are obscene, but the government taxing the same gallon at 15% isn't.

    #8. I vote Democrat because I believe the government will do a better job of spending the money I earn than I would.

    #7. I vote Democrat because Freedom of Speech is fine as long as nobody is offended by it.

    #6. I vote Democrat because I'm way too irresponsible to own a gun, and I know that my local police are all I need to protect me from murderers and thieves. I am also thankful that we have a 911 service that gets police to your home in order to identify your body after a home invasion.

    #5. I vote Democrat because I'm not concerned about millions of babies being aborted so long as we keep all death row inmates alive and comfy.

    #4. I vote Democrat because I think illegal aliens have a right to free health care, education, and Social Security benefits, and we should take away Social Security from those who paid into it.

    #3. I vote Democrat because I believe that businesses should not be allowed to make profits for themselves. They need to break even and give the rest away to the government for redistribution as the Democrat Party sees fit.

    #2. I vote Democrat because I believe liberal judges need to rewrite the Constitution every few days to suit fringe kooks who would never get their agendas past the voters.

    #1 reason I vote Democrat is because I think it's better to pay $billions$ for oil to people who hate us, but not drill our own because it might upset some endangered beetle, gopher, or fish here in America. We don't care about the beetles, gophers, or fish in those other countries.

    Remember when Nancy Pelosi said, "We have to pass Obamacare, to find out what's in it."  A physician called into a radio show and said: "That's the definition of a stool sample."

    "The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits"… Albert Einstein

    The perils of a connected world...

    The perils of a connected world...  This story is about a GPS glitch that caused some GPS satellite clocks to broadcast a time that was 13 microseconds (that's millionths of a second) off.  That doesn't sound like much, but it's more than enough to cause major errors in GPS' major function (locating oneself on the planet).  That 13 microsecond error translates into a (roughly) three mile location error, if the broken satellite was one of three you're using.  The problem is less awful if your receiver is using more satellites, as is most often the case.

    But ... that's only the beginning of the problem.  GPS satellites contain an atomic clock that keeps time accurate to billionths of a second (actually much better than that in the current generation of satellites).  Each satellite is broadcasting the time it has, continuously.  The position of each satellite is known to a fantastic degree of precision.  If you know the time that the satellite thinks it is (which it's broadcasting), and exactly where the satellite is (easy to get), then you can put a receiver anywhere on earth and use that to keep time that's almost as accurate as the clock on the satellite itself.  That receiver and the necessary electronics and software are (currently, at least) far less expensive than having your own atomic clock.  Because of that, systems on earth that require extremely precise timekeeping often rely on the GPS satellites as their time source.

    I know of two such systems, but I'm sure there are more. 

    First there's the global network of cell phones.  I won't go into the technical details here (that's a whole post on its own!), but here's a site that explains how cell phones work if you want to know.  The main point I want to make here is that the cell phone systems are utterly dependent on incredibly accurate time keeping – and they depend on the GPS satellites for that time.  That 13 microsecond error would translate directly into cell phones failing.

    Then there's the global electronic trading systems, especially those for stocks, options, and currency exchange (probably others as well, but those are the ones I know well).  The exchanges for these electronic trading depend on knowing the exact order that trades take place.  That may seem like a trivial problem, but it's not – because (a) there are sometimes many thousands of trades occurring in a single second, and (b) the trades can originate anywhere in the world, (c) multiple exchanges that are simultaneously open must synchronize their trades perfectly.  The system can recover if an error occurs (and they sometimes do), but the process of “unwinding” erroneous transactions is expensive and painful, so the exchanges go to great lengths to avoid such problems in the first place.  Key to that is requiring a very high precision to the timekeeping used by all the components of that system.  That required precision has increased over the years, and it's now at the point where only atomic clocks can provide it.  Once again, that means a dependency on GPS clocks (except for a few big organizations that have sprung for their very own atomic clock). 

    So when the GPS clocks suffer from a problem like the one described in the article, the consequences can be far more serious than you might expect!

    Maybe it's not such a bad thing...

    Maybe it's not such a bad thing ... that our trip to Hawai'i got delayed.  Yikes!

    Tuesday, February 9, 2016

    Supernova 2015F...

    Supernova 2015F...  Awesome series of photos turned into a movie, courtesy of a South Korean observatory using an Australian telescope.  Via APOD, of course...

    It's hard to wrap one's brain around the scale of this thing, but ... I sure wouldn't want to be anywhere within a few light-years of that thing when it blew!

    Curioser and Curiosity...

    Curioser and Curiosity...  The Mars rover has found another fascinating rock.  I'm guessing this is an inclusion of salts formed by water evaporation.   Look at the upper left side, partly obscured by soil (click to embiggen)...

    A walk though the morning's political headlines...

    A walk though the morning's political headlines ... neither inclines me to be proud of my country's political process, nor to be more engaged in it:

    Trump calls Cruz a “pussy”  Classy, isn't he?

    Hillary to shake up her campaign staff  Her poor showing can't be her fault!

    Bloomberg eying a run for President  Because we need another old white guy!

    Jeb! would eliminate Citizens United  Because conservatives hate free speech!

    Sheesh...

    Artur Fischer, RIP...

    Artur Fischer, RIP...  You have almost certainly used some of this man's 1,000+ inventions.  I've used many of themHe died on January 27th, at his home in Germany, at the age of 96...

    I did a lot of work on things like this...

    I did a lot of work on things like this ... back in the early 2000s, when I worked for an electronic stock and options company.  “Algorithmic trading” was just coming into its own back then, and some companies were making a lot of money with some relatively simple algorithms.  For instance, “pairs trading” was a common strategy.  The notion behind it was very simple: by examining historical stock pricing data, someone would identify a pair of stocks where the price on one of the pair (call it "AAA") change before the price on the other (call it "BBB") changed, and in a predictable way.  In that case, you could write a program that watched the price of "AAA", and automatically bought or sold "BBB" on the assumption that it's price would change sometime later.

    We built a pairs trading platform, and sold it as a service to hedge fund traders.  It didn't take us long to observe a problem: soon after someone started using a particular pair of stocks, the correlation between the pair's prices would decline and disappear.  Why?  With some investigation, it was obvious: other people would soon start using the same pair, and after that, the market erased any benefit (when lots of people see such a correlation, the price automatically gets adjusted by market forces to eliminate the benefit – it gets “priced into” the trailing stock).  How did these other people know to trade in the pair?  That's also easy: with a simple algorithm like pairs trading, you can figure it out from the trades that someone makes – and those trades are public information.

    So our CEO decided that what we needed was an algorithmic trading platform that used an algorithm so complex that nobody could reverse-engineer it.  Personally, I thought that was crazy – with all the trading data available, it seemed really unlikely that such an algorithm existed.  I thought a more sustainable route was an algorithmic trading platform that depended on something more reliable: that computers are always going to be faster than humans.  We had a series of contentious management meetings on the subject, with the result that we sent off to build that complex algorithm platform.  Shortly afterwards I was laid off.  I have no idea if my skepticism was even part of why I was laid off. 

    I note with some belated satisfaction, however, that the high-speed trading is in fact the way the industry has gone – albeit with far more fanaticism than I'd ever have thought.  For instance, there are now point-to-point radio links in place between traders and the markets in New York (and similarly in other parts of the world).  These links exploit the tiny advantage in the speed of electronic communications that a straight-line route has over the traditional wired route.  That tiny advantage justifies many millions of dollars in cost to set up those radio links.  Amazing!

    You may have seen this story...

    You may have seen this story...  A hacker published (on Sunday) the names and other information about 20,000 FBI agents.  When I first read the very superficial and (of course!) breathless news reports, I had two immediate questions:
    1. Are there really 20,000 FBI agents?  That seems like an awfully big number.
    2. Did the hacker get this information by exploiting technology vulnerabilities, or some other way?
    The first question turned out to be easy.  The FBI says it employs roughly 35,000 people, and this estimate from the son of an agent estimates that 21,000 of them are “Special Agents”.  So, yeah, it seems likely that there really are that many of them.  Sheesh.  My own math: their average salary is around $100k, so the FBI Special Agent payroll is something like $2 billion a year.  By the time you add benefits, expenses, office space, cars, training, guns, ammunition, etc., it's likely something like $4 billion a year.  I wonder what benefit U.S. citizens get for that expenditure?  That's not a complaint, I'm really wondering.  I don't actually know what the FBI does that would justify that magnitude of expense.  That's a lot of money!  Do they really need that many Special Agents?

    The second question is answered by this article.  Assuming that information is accurate and complete (and I feel foolish even considering that, given it's sourced by a news organization), the information was obtained by good old-fashioned Kevin Mitnick-style “social engineering”.  The hacker tricked someone into giving him access to a classified account.  No special technical knowledge required.  This is very often the case – the very best, most perfectly maintained security technology can easily be bypassed if a hacker can trick an authorized user into letting him in.

    Not long ago I read a version of this social engineering that involved something else altogether: a way to steal valuable cars.  It seems a gang of car thieves realized that customers of a restaurant with valet service were voluntarily handing the keys of their cars to the valets.  So they paid the real valets at a fancy Boston restaurant to take a night off – and they paid them very well.  Then the car thieves too the place of the real valets, and parked customer's cars for about an hour.  Then they simply drove off with the eight most valuable customer's cars, using the keys that the customers handed them.  At the time the news story I read was written, they had not been caught.

    Often the social engineering approaches that succeed at hacking into things like those FBI records are just as plausible as that car example.  Most of the time, if you poke into the details, you'll come away thinking “That could have happened to me!”  It doesn't take particularly stupid or foolish people to be tricked...

    Well, this is encouraging...

    Well, this is encouraging...  Note, though, that it's not happening inside our school system...

    That moment...

    That moment ... when you realize that you didn't know how to use that object you've been using for 40 years.  This happened to me a couple days ago, when I got frustrated (for about the 40,000th time) that my moccasin-style slipper fell off my foot.  I've been wearing this style of slipper for something like 40 years now; sometimes when I buy one they fit well – snugly enough to stay on my feet.  Most of the time, though, they were too loose.  The heel would slip off my foot as I walked.

    I'd often wondered why nearly all of these slippers had that decorative shoelace in front.  So far as I could tell, the only thing it was good for was entertaining cats (and that it was very good for!).  But this time I got to looking closely at that shoelace, and noticed that it wrapped all the way around the opening for my foot.  Somehow in all these years I'd never noticed that.  I thought it was just sewn into the front top of the slipper, a useless decoration. 

    So I tried an experiment: I yanked hard on those laces and ... it made the foot opening smaller.  In fact, with just a little trial-and-error I was able to adjust the opening to precisely the right size to keep the slipper both comfortable and secure. 

    Dang.

    I could have done that on the 30 or so other pairs of slippers I've owned.  And I never knew it...

    Now we'll see if I can remember this little lesson :)