13 November 2006

Another One of "Those Questions"

*poof* <appear>

What in the world is the evolutionary advantage of citrus fruits growing in nice, bite-sized, easily separable internal segments?


24 October 2006

Interesting Read

Very busy lately with TA-ing and research and Japanese, so little posty.

Anyways, here's something interesting to read.

28 September 2006

An Inconvenient Comparison

Many are probably aware of Al Gore's movie about global warming, An Inconvenient Truth. In all fairness, I've not seen it yet, but I've read a moderate number of the arguments on either side of global warming. I've also been a student in a highly technical field for several (ack) years. It's an unfortunate fact that data can say different things depending on how one interprets it; even statistics can be unreliable, as the conclusions that come out of statistical analysis can change depending on the assumptions one makes going into said analysis.

In addition, a lot of scientific conclusions are drawn not just on interpretation of data already collected, but also on mathematical simulations and models that are constructed to try to describe how the system of interest behaves. These models are intrinsically even more malleable than data analysis...sometimes the constants that go into the equations (gravity, coefficients of friction, viscosities, densities, etc.) aren't known very precisely, and in many cases the equations governing the behavior of the system are nonlinear, which has important ramifications.

One of the first posts I made on this blog was eponymous- I went on for a bit about chaos. Unstable, nonlinear differential equations can lead to chaotic behavior in a variety of systems. One relevant hallmark of chaotic behavior is that small changes in the structure of the system at one point in time can have dramatic effects at some point later in time (e.g., the 'Butterfly Effect').

This dependence on small variations is, in theory, not all that terrible a problem. The difficulty enters, however, when you consider that these equations are nonlinear, and in general nonlinear equations can't be solved analytically - they have to be handled numerically, which means computers. Now... computers work in binary, and they have a limited number of digits that they can store in a given number at one time. So, to the computer, a curve that starts at x=1.001 is the same as one starting from x=1.0010000000000000000001. But, in a chaotic system, even that slight difference could balloon into a dramatic departure as you go forward in time. Thus, our predictive capabilities in chaotic systems are, in general, quite poor.

Weather is a highly nonlinear and chaotic system. One doesn't have to observe the weatherman's (attempts at) predictions for very long to realize that they're not always right. Storms disperse instead of dumping predicted feet of snow (unless you live in Buffalo), cold snaps come instead of balmy spring days, etc. Climate modeling, which is (to my understanding) somewhat easier than weather prediction, has some of the same problems, though by averaging temperatures (and precipitation and etc.) over longer periods of time you smooth out a lot of the jagged variations that you have to deal with in weather prediction. You still have a number of variables that you have to make guesses about—sometimes those guesses are fairly easy to make accurately, other times there's very little information to work from. And, because the system is sooo sensitive to the variations in these values, your results depend heavily on the values you choose.

So. Global warming. I can get behind the idea that a lot of the climate modeling that's being done predicts massive global temperature increases, oceans rising by feet per year, melting of permafrost, glaciers receding, Antarctica evaporating, etc. However, I would posit (with no way of actually demonstrating it) that if you take those exact same climate models and use different, but still reasonable, values of the input parameters, you could also predict a scenario where human CO2 emissions cause a minor to negligible variation in the natural up-and-down rhythm of global climate conditions.

Basically, don't take either side as gospel. The doomsayers are probably using values at one extreme of the spectrum; the everything-is-finers are probably using those at the other end. I expect the actual impact lies somewhere in the middle: we're affecting things, but not in the apocalyptic fashion that so many people are so hyped up about.

Now, the comparison. I've poked around on the blog of former Harvard geology professor (I think, I couldn't find an actual title on his CV), who recently posted on this same topic, but in regard to the hype twenty years ago about the threat of nuclear winter from hypothesized moderate use of tactical nukes and how it compares to the global warming debate today:

Climate modelers must often rely on educated guesses, but stringing together dozens of ‘what ifs?' as Sagan’s cohort did , runs a fatal risk of the ‘Garbage In, Gospel Out ‘ syndrome In the original ‘nuclear winter’ model this meant glossing over thirty nuclear war ‘scenario’ variables , using ‘worst case ‘ values for the lot of them . In practice, Sagan ended up telling a systems programmer to simply turn off the sun off like a light bulb, and leave it that way for a Biblical forty days and forty nights. Whereupon the temperature of the model’s featureless, ocean-less, 1-dimensional Planet Earth plummeted to forty below zero.


Climate models are what you make of them- they can serve equally as real scientific tools or political toys.” Nuclear winter” began with a premise uncontroversial as CO2’s ability to trap heat, Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen’s observation that it tends to be cooler in the shade, even of a mushroom cloud. But environmental artists hired by Sagan turned Crutzen’s Ambio article “Twilight at Noon” into a dark vision of a frozen planet. To climatologists who understood the devilish details, Sagan’s model-based-- and biased-- megahype was an unfunny joke, played at the expense of their credibility on the eve of the global warming debate.

So. What it really comes down to is, "[t]he best kept secret of the Science Wars is how little both sides know." Yes, global warming is something worth paying attention to. Whether it's worth imposing emissions restrictions that would make a fair chunk of energy and industrial production totally economically infeasible... that depends on the simulations, and there are as many interpretations of those as there are people to interpret them. Makes it something of a tough call...

04 September 2006

I'll Be TA-ing This Semester

I'm also reading through the archives of PhD Comics.

Ahhh, the funny!

(Tho, I'm TA-ing a grad class, so I won't be able to be that mean... ;-)

02 September 2006


Posted Friday on QandO Blog.

In all fairness, the pork database blocked by Sen. Stevens's (R-AK) secret hold has a higher public profile (I believe, at least) than the transparency-in-contracting bill blocked by Sen Byrd (D-WV). (Actually, I personally hadn't yet heard of the latter bill.) Still, it's demonstrably inappropriate to politicize the blockage of legislation of this type, seeing as how party affiliation has far less to do with the obstructions than does an apparent desire to keep one's spending under wraps.

30 August 2006

"MIT's Inconvenient Scientist"

In the Boston Globe today:

Speech codes are rare in the industrialized, Western democracies. In Germany and Austria, for instance, it is forbidden to proselytize Nazi ideology or trivialize the Holocaust. Given those countries' recent histories, that is a restraint on free expression we can live with.

More curious are our own taboos on the subject of global warming. I sat in a roomful of journalists 10 years ago while Stanford climatologist Stephen Schneider lectured us on a big problem in our profession: soliciting opposing points of view. In the debate over climate change, Schneider said, there simply was no legitimate opposing view to the scientific consensus that man - made carbon emissions drive global warming. To suggest or report otherwise, he said, was irresponsible.


Here's the kind of information the ``scientific consensus" types don't want you to read. MIT's Alfred P. Sloan professor of meteorology Richard Lindzen recently complained about the ``shrill alarmism" of Gore's movie ``An Inconvenient Truth." Lindzen acknowledges that global warming is real, and he acknowledges that increased carbon emissions might be causing the warming -- but they also might not.

Read the whole thing... it won't convince anybody one way or the other on the question of global warming, but if nothing else it might raise some doubts in folks who are fanatically dedicated to one argument or the other. It really supports the idea I've had for quite some time, that CO2 emissions probably do contribute to climate change, but it's hard to tell the extent of their effect on the environment. Basically, the uncertainty in the climatological measurements is such that at one end of the spectrum, fossil fuels will kill the earth, but at the other, they're all but completely innocuous. Fits right in with the 'one can make statistics say just about anything one wants' idea.

(H/T: Power Line)

29 August 2006

A 'Secret Hold,' Eh?

[Hooh! I'm not dead! :-p]

So. Roundabouts two months ago I posted on a bill being introduced in the Senate that would make publicly available a searchable database of all government spending. I was concerned, though, that those involved in spending that money might not be keen on having people seeing how and on what they're doing that spending. I'll quote myself here, if I may:

I suppose the only problem is that it has to go far in Congress in order to get implemented... :-P Dunno how keen a lot of them are going to be on voting for something that will put a lot of scrutiny on their pet pork projects.

Aaaaand, wouldn't ya know. An as-yet unnamed senator has placed a 'secret hold' on this bill, essentially locking the legislation in the proverbial (or maybe not, I dunno) cabinet for as long as they choose. Shocking! However, the folks at Porkbusters are doing their best to ferret out who it is, here. In conjunction with a couple of other sites, they've contacted as many senators as possible and asked them if they're responsible for the hold. As of this post, there are seven senators who've not denied responsibility for the hold. (Of course, one of the deniers could easily have been lying through his/her teeth, but that would be DUMMMBBB...) Hafta say, it'll be interesting to see what happens when the culprit is finally revealed.

Actually, according to the post on the Corner that linked me over to TPMmuckraker, "within 72 hours the Senate leader reveals who the senator is to the bill's sponsor." While this doesn't mean that the name is automatically released to the public, I expect that the sponsors of the bill will have little reason to keep quiet on the culprit's name, and we'll get to watch the ensuing fireworks.

I'll say it again, I really like the idea of this bill. Here's hoping that this hold gets cleared up and the thing flies through!

Update, 10:30PM: Oop, make that five senators who've not directly denied responsibility. The plot thickens!

01 August 2006

Today's Real Life Comic


Either you get it, or you don't. Explanation would take far too long.

29 July 2006

'Vintage' California Panoramic

View thusly the first in a hopefully long series of panoramic shots taken by my humble Canon PowerShot A75:

(Half-size version here)

This shot (ok, technically these shots) were taken just outside the store/wine tasting building on the grounds of the Viansa Winery in Sonoma, CA. Presumably the vineyard area in the foreground belongs to Viansa; once you get further out, I have no idea who the land belongs to. Regardless, this was one of three wineries that I visited with Megan Fox whilst wine tasting around Sonoma on 2-July-06. (Incidentally, the other two we visited were Cline Cellars and the Schug Carneros Estate. Also incidentally, the wine tasting excursion was part of my broader summer '06 trip to CA—look for pictures of the trip showing up soon....) I have to say, literally every wine that we tried was excellent... some were better than others, of course, but a couple were outright fantastic! Despite most of them being >$20/bottle, I was still quite sorry that I was flying home, and thus would've had a very hard time lugging a couple of cases back with me. :-p The good(?) news is, apparently Trader Joe's might be a distributor for all of them (I know they are for Cline, at least), and so I could possibly find it here! Probably at a painful markup, but hey... at least I have a good starting point when I'm looking for a really excellent wine!

In terms of the origins of the panorama itself, the A75 has a specific mode on it for taking such panoramic pictures—it actually shows you part of the previous picture to better enable you to line up the current chunk of scenery you're shooting. Then, once all of the pictures are taken, you pull 'em down to the computer (where they're very conveniently named in sequence) and assemble them with an application called, appropriately, "PhotoStitch".

Within PhotoStitch, there are two ways of assembling the images: one is called 'Normal,' which is how this panorama was constructed, which actually 'bends' the pictures slightly to make as horizontal a picture as possible. (You'll notice that the vines running horizontally across the foreground of the image, which in reality fall in a straight line, appear curved in the image.) While this isn't too distracting in a scenery shot like this, if there were objects in view that obviously are supposed to be straight (say, buildings) it would be pretty goofy looking (or possibly very cool looking, dunno). So, there's also a 'Wide' mode, which tries to maintain straight lines in the final panorama. This'll only work if you have only a couple of pictures (~three or fewer), otherwise the distortion on the sides of the final image becomes too nasty to make it worthwhile.

So. <shrug> I think that this is a really sweet feature, now that I've used it properly (I've tried using it before, but dumbly never used the PhotoStitch app... might have to revisit some of the old panorama attempts), and will be seizing every opportunity to use it. 'Cause I mean, really... how cool is it to see a wide expanse of awesomely beautiful countryside like that, huh? :-)

("H/T": Canon)

28 July 2006

Dude! Star Dude! 'Sup!

You will now check out Dude Studios and subsequently be entertained (click 'Cartoons' in the menu bar).

That is all.

24 July 2006


I think this pretty effectively sums up my mindset as to how I think the current conflict in Lebanon and Israel needs to play out. Obviously, the injury, death, and destruction are awful, and it would be better if it weren't happening (or weren't necessary), but if we (the nations of the West) don't put our collective foot down somewhere to stop Islamist aggression, we'll just fold underneath it and be overrun. Not today, not tomorrow... but eventually.... Diplomacy is ineffective as a persuasive tool—unambiguous displays of force and/or power are ultimately the only effective means of deterrence.

(H/T: Big Lizards)

09 July 2006

Etching Far More Than A Sketch

Observe. (Click 'Enter', then 'Gallery.') This is truly amazing artwork... I can't even imagine the precision involved in retracing curved lines 3+ times in order to get sharp, dark lines. I suppose Etch from Toy Story puts this guy to shame in terms of speed, but I think that Etch has nothing on this guy in terms of detail. Guess the guys at Pixar just weren't ambitious enough... ;-)

Incidentally, something of interest to Firefly fans out there: Joss Whedon was one of four writers on the original Toy Story... no wonder it was so freakin' good, eh?

(H/T: By the Way...)

03 July 2006

Traceable Political Money Is A Good Thing

Captain Ed points out an early initiative in Congress that would create a database of a significant portion of total government spending and make that information available online for all to peruse:

WASHINGTON, July 2 — Exasperated by his party's failure to cut government spending, Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, is seeking cyberhelp.

Mr. Coburn wants to create a public database, searchable over the Internet, that would list most government contracts and grants — exposing hundreds of billions in annual spending to instant desktop view.

Type in "Halliburton," the military contractor, or "Sierra Club," the environmental group, for example, and a search engine would show all the federal money they receive. A search for the terms "Alaska" and "bridges" would expose a certain $223 million span to Gravina Island (population 50) that critics call the "Bridge to Nowhere."

While advocating for openness, Mr. Coburn is also placing a philosophical bet that the more the public learns about federal spending, the less it will want.

Personally, I think this is a fantastic idea. While I probably wouldn't use such a tool all that much myself, I expect that those blogs that I read whose proprietors have far more time to dedicate than I would frequently reference information from that database. I would think that both sides of the political aisle would agree that spending is out of control, and I feel that Coburn's contention that "[s]unshine's the best thing we've got to control waste, fraud and abuse" is right on target. The NY Times would be spending their time much more fruitfully if they dug into the way that money is being spent domestically—what programs it's going towards, how much is being wasted in the process, etc.—than exposing efforts to trace terrorism financing, for example.

As Captain Ed describes, there's support for this proposition on both sides of the aisle:

[NY Times writer Jason] DeParle notes the differing motivations of the Right and Left in supporting this initiative. Conservatives see this as a shaming mechanism that will shrink government through public outrage. Liberals see it as a way to demonstrate the good works that government programs perform and to get more funding for them. Both of these are honorable motivations and both represent excellent reasons to have this data at the fingertips of every taxpayer in America. After all, we want to know which dollars work for us and which don't. If we have a program that actually does more good than harm, then we can have those facts established when we debate its funding level. If we see the money disappearing with little or no return on the investment, we can either halt the program or get everyone responsible for it replaced with people who will perform better.

Bipartisan agreement is fairly rare, so hopefully this idea will go far in Congress. I suppose the only problem is that it has to go far in Congress in order to get implemented... :-P Dunno how keen a lot of them are going to be on voting for something that will put a lot of scrutiny on their pet pork projects.

Regardless, I'd also like to see this idea expanded to include donations and other contributions to political campaigns. I'm thoroughly fed up with all of the goofy campaign finance laws that have come on the books in the last however many years, as no matter how many holes Congress tries to plug with laws like McCain-Feingold, candidates and donors will still find ways to work around the system. Modifying Coburn's quote a bit, "[s]unshine's the best thing we've got" to keep campaign financing on the up-and-up. In my mind, rather than trying to strictly limit what kinds of money can be given to a campaign, there should be practically no limits whatsoever on campaign donations, but every campaign should be required to keep and publish a detailed statement of every penny received from every donor, as well as a detailed budget of expenditures. Internal costs like overhead and wages/salaries wouldn't need to be itemized, but anything that goes towards informing the public (TV/radio advertising, trail campaigning, and the like) should be itemized in exquisite detail. One clause I would want to include in the law, though, would be to require that every "informing the public" item would be required to provide, say, the top two or three contributors to that candidate's (or proposition's) campaign, so that those who might not have ready access to (or interest in) the detailed financing information would still be informed as to the source of the funding for the advertising.

This approach obviously has limitations that need to be worked out, and I've not thought everything through carefully. One problem that presents itself immediately is that it would be easy to give money in the guise of a cover corporation or organization, and thus camouflaging the ultimate source. The solution to this would be for each political organization to be required to publish a report describing the contributions and contributors. I guess now that I think about it, perhaps this sort of information already exists and is being collected, but I just don't know about it. <shrug> Still, I think the most effective way of keeping campaign financing honest is to make the sources and destinations of the money as transparent as possible... wrangling around with who can and can't give to what candidate/cause is ultimately useless in trying to control political money.

01 July 2006

Strikes Me As Awfully 'Regional'...

Iranian fighters captured after fighting Iraqi forces near Baghdad (via Reuters):

Iraqi and U.S. troops battled Shi'ite militiamen in a village northeast of Baghdad on Thursday, and witnesses and police said U.S. helicopters bombed orchards to flush out gunmen hiding there.

Iraqi security officials said Iranian fighters had been captured in the fighting, in which a sniper shot dead the commander of an Iraqi quick reaction force and two of his men. They did not say how the Iranians had been identified.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but this rather seems to indicate that the Iraqi insurgency isn't so much a purely domestic concern, notwithstanding the fact that the recently-neutralized Abu Musab al-Zarqawi hailed from Jordan, which is, as far as I'm aware, outside Iraq. Pardon me for saying so, but anybody that tries to claim that other powers in the region aren't meddling within Iraq should really yank their heads back out of the sand... As Sachi at Big Lizards points out:

[T]he Iranian deception is coming unraveled. With every passing month, it becomes clearer that Iran is directly trying to seize control of the Shiite areas of Iraq... and harder for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei to pretend otherwise, even to "impartial" European observers.

Sachi also points out a hole in the Reuters story as pertains to the method(s) used to identify the Iranian fighers:

Uh... perhaps because they spoke Arabic with a Persian accent and were carrying Iranian identification cards? Really, doesn't Reuters suspect that Iraqi Arabs can identify Persians in their midst? They really are very different in language, culture, and even food.

The burgeoning democracy in Iraq poses one of the greatest possible threats to the autocratic/mullahcratic governments (the latter term having been invented, I believe by Michael Ledeen at National Review—dunno if this link is the first instance or not) in the region: a first-hand example to the populations of Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia that it's possible to go from being under the oppressive thumb of a totalitarian government to having the purple thumbs of a democratic vote. Thus, these nations have a huge stake in seeing the Iraqi people fail and are putting (what I presume to be) a huge amount of effort into attempts to destabilize Iraq. In the end, I don't believe they will succeed—I expect Iraq will settle over time into a functional (inasmuch as democracy actually seems to "get things done") nation, making significant material contributions to the world stage, both ideologically and economically.

I don't know that the Iraqi example alone will ultimately result in the exchange of surrounding governments for democracies, but it certainly will have some effect, ostensibly positive (from our perspective). And, whatever the actual consequences and repercussions, a more democratic Middle East, while perhaps never being on swimmingly good terms with us or with Israel, is (I suspect) far less likely to be a breeding ground for violence directed our way.

And that, AFAIC (as far as I'm concerned), is a good thing.

(H/T: Captain's Quarters)

13 June 2006

Content Disclaimer, Etc.

I suppose perhaps I should've put something like this up awhile ago... dunno. Anyways, I'll just state a few things here just in case issues arise:

  1. All viewpoints, opinions, blatherations, angry retorts, etc. posted on this blog are the sole product of my (perhaps swamp-feverish) brain and no one else's, save where noted. Material posted here does not represent the views of any organization with which I might happen to be associated.

  2. Everything stated here is my position, my opinion, my belief, etc. If you don't like it, get your own blog and counterpost. I encourage comments (please, comment!), but reserve the right to halt discussion or delete comments that I find inappropriate or distasteful. Again, if you don't like it, get your own blog.

  3. I welcome comments from folks that disagree with me. If people do start leaving significant numbers of comments, the last thing I want is to only hear from people who agree with me. Healthy, reasoned debate can only increase knowledge and understanding, even if it doesn't end with all parties in agreement. Still, keep the previous point firmly in mind when commenting.

  4. I label myself as conservative, and I am a Christian. However, my views may or may not jive with your expectations of what those two labels mean. Also, I will be arguing from a certain set of assumptions—if something I say doesn't quite make sense, please ask for clarification, I won't mind. A common base of knowledge and assumptions is important in debating stuff.

A couple of points relating to matters of religion and faith:

  1. I don't consider myself a member of a specific denomination ("non-denominational", I call it) and therefore my views probably don't cleave to any particular doctrine. When (not if—it will happen) I post on matters of religion or faith, as above please ask for clarification on stances and assumptions so as to avoid misinterpretation.

  2. I have my views on things. You have yours. I'm not about to try to cram what I think down your throat. If you don't like what I say, please don't take it as me trying to tell all y'all what to do. Anything I say in this area will be my opinions on what I think it would be best for people to do. If you don't want to do it, or think it's best to do it a different way, post a comment saying why. Start discussion. Discussion good.

Also, generally speaking, I would really be pleased if this turned out to be a forum for discussion, even if it never really got beyond my circle of friends and acquaintances. I like hashing out issues, trying to think through things. I invite and welcome any and all readers to participate in discussion. Also, I'll do my best to post more than once a month, but... dunno how well that'll shake out. :-)

Finally, the title of the blog will continue to apply. Expect posts on a variety of random stuff, perhaps entertaining, perhaps interesting, perhaps neither. If nothing else, I'll be amused by it...


22 May 2006

Some Light Late-Night Entertainment

Observe, Sunday's Foxtrot. (Strip from 21 May 2006; online strip expires 4 Jun 2006, if this link leads to an error page)

Observe, a link to a Morse code translator. (Java required)

Observe that the combination of these two leads to one staying awake even further beyond one's ostensible bedtime. Shocking!

14 May 2006

April... Er, May Showers

So... it's been raining for basically two days straight now. Now, aside from the jaunts to and from church this morning, this hasn't really affected me very much. However, there are some people that it's going to affect rather severely. From a weather.com severe weather report:



I mean... 15 inches?! That corresponds to something like twelve feet of snow, pound for pound! Even more remarkable than that, from the NOAA's Weather Reports (select "Record Event Report", "Boston Logan", "Most Recent", and hit 'Go'):

840 PM EDT SUN MAY 14 2006




I mean... three times the previous rainfall record for May 14th? And this report is from 8:40 tonight; it's now almost 11, and rain has been falling steadily all evening. I doubt it'll hit four inches here, but still... this is crazy!

Update (5/15/06 3:45PM): Looks like quite a few people further north in New England have been affected by significant flooding and states of emergency have been declared in MA, NH, and ME. For those of you who pray, these folks could definitely use it.

06 May 2006

Eat Right, Perhaps Stay Healthy... Shocking!

From CNN.com, emphasis mine:

A Mediterranean-style diet that appears to cut the risk of heart disease also may help protect against Alzheimer's disease, a new study suggests.

People who followed the diet were up to 40 percent less likely than those who largely avoided it to develop Alzheimer's during the course of the research, scientists reported.


The diet he tested includes eating lots of vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereals and fish, while limiting intake of meat and dairy products, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol and emphasizing monounsaturated fats, such as in olive oil, over saturated fats. Previous research has suggested that such an approach can reduce the risk of heart disease.


The idea that a heart-healthy diet could also help fight Alzheimer's fits in with growing evidence that "the kinds of things we associate with being bad for our heart turn out to be bad for our brain," said Dr. Marilyn Albert, a Johns Hopkins neurology professor and spokeswoman for the Alzheimer's Association. The list includes high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, smoking and uncontrolled diabetes, she said.

As I understand it, a food science revolution occurred back in the early-middle part of the 1900's (or whenever it was, I welcome corrections on this) where scientists decided that purifying the known beneficial compounds (starch, vitamins, etc.) and making foods containing only those compounds. While this seemed to make good sense at the time, it seems that whole, unprocessed foods are inevitably better for you than refined ones. Thus, even if one doesn't eat outright unhealthy foods like donuts and fries all the time, avoiding vegetables, fruits, and whole grains likely results in deficiencies in a variety of important compounds, many of which we probably don't even know about yet. "An apple a day keeps the doctor away," indeed.

Just something to 'ruminate' on, as it were... ;-)

28 April 2006

How To Vacuum Your Cat

... the video instructions.

(Linked from comments in this post @Whatever)

27 April 2006

Wii Are Very Confident of Our Market Share

Still not quite sure what I think about this...

(Link via Wired.com)

24 April 2006

Hiatus Breaker

So, I'm back. Maybe. I sorta fasted on current events for Lent, which made for a nice low-stress month (yes, I know the last post was in January, leave me alone ^_^), along with a concurrent break in blog posting. <shrug> So, maybe things will start appearing here again, maybe not. Regardless, here's a link to a site with a lot of cute little games for you to play.

31 January 2006

Another Reason To Buy Used

From CNN.com today:

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - A Michigan environmental group is charging that at least part of the so-called "new car smell" is toxic, and that the interior of an automobile has dangerous levels of various chemicals.

The report, "Toxic at any speed," comes from The Ecology Center, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based group. It reports that PBDEs, used as fire retardants, and phthalates, used primarily to soften PVC plastics, are found in dangerous amounts in dust and windshield film samples.

It called for tougher regulations to phase out the use of the chemicals as well as voluntary moves by the auto manufacturers to stop using the products inside of new vehicles.

It also suggested that car owners take steps to reduce the release and breakdown of these chemicals by using solar reflectors, ventilating car interiors, and parking outside of sunlight whenever possible.

The group says that phthalates are partly responsible for the smell associated with new cars.

Drivers and passengers are exposed to these chemicals through inhalation and contact with dust, according to the group's report.

"These groups of chemicals have been linked to birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity, premature births and early puberty in laboratory animals, among other serious health problems," according to the report.

This report will be very unsurprising to certain of my friends and family; it may be news to others. Regardless, it's something to consider when shopping for new vs. used wheels. I know that, if nothing else, the smell makes me feel pretty gross...

This is yet another example of various technologies that have hidden risks about which the public is relatively ill-informed. Don't even get me started about the way that the pharmaceutical industry sometimes handles testing (and marketing) of its products!

28 January 2006

The Inventor In The Family

I ran across this while, I'll admit, I was searching Google for my own name. From CNET News.com:

Strings stretch and bind. Fluctuations in humidity and string tension cause instrument necks to bow, arch and twist. Something--it is not always clear what--throws string pitch out of whack. Professional players on stage and in recording sessions find themselves twisting tuner knobs between every song and sometimes in the middle of songs.

"It is maddening that we play instruments that do not stay in tune for very long," Mike Marshall, one of the top mandolin and guitar players on the acoustic-music scene, wrote during a recent online discussion on the topic. "This seems a bit insane, considering the fact that we are surrounded by so much incredible technology."

Technology, it turns out, does offer a remedy for tuning problems--at least for those who play electric guitars. Backers and users of an electronic system called the Performer say it offers a big leap beyond the ubiquitous electronic pitch readers that, while reasonably accurate, still require the player to tune manually. It's also seen as a way to let players use the same instrument for a variety of musical purposes.

Those attributes have helped sell the system to rock icons Graham Nash, Jimmy Page and Joe Perry, along with other concert-stage veterans.

With the touch of a button, The Performer is designed to automatically tune open, unfretted strings to whatever notes the player programs into the system's computer. The retuning can happen any time the player has a moment to strum on open strings, even in the middle of a song.

"Now how," you might wonder, "is this at all related to Brian poking around the Internet for mention of himself?" Well, the connection can be found here (emphasis mine):

As it is currently offered, The Performer is designed to readjust the tension on all six strings simultaneously in about five seconds, with the push of a button. A small LCD screen cut into the guitar body displays the note, octave and "cent value" of each string. (A cent is a unit of relative pitch; there are 1,200 cents in one octave). Neil Skinn, the man who developed the system, says the gadget's tuning is accurate to within 2 cents.

And yep, we're related... Neil is my dad's youngest brother. So, I've got an Uncle Inventor! Is it not nifty?


Ok, well, I think it's pretty cool, anyways. :-P

In all seriousness, from what I understand of what's involved in playing a guitar, the ability to automatically retain tuning is powerful enough in and of itself. However, the ability to dynamically retune mid-song seems like something that could lead to all sorts of awesome sounds.

<shrug> I could be wrong. :-)

Regardless, if you or anyone you know plays electric guitar and wants the ability to re-tune automatically, please link 'em to this. I'm sure my uncle wouldn't mind a little word-of-mouth advertising. ;-)

Some additional links:

11 January 2006

Kelo, Norwood, And Ohio Issue #1

I'm sure you all remember the Kelo decision last year regarding eminent domain. In the event that you don't, I've got posts about it. Regardless, Kelo has come to Ohio. Michelle Malkin points to this AP story:

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Joy and Carl Gamble say they just wanted to retire peacefully in the dream home where they've lived for more than 35 years, but the Cincinnati suburb of Norwood had other plans for their property.

Using its power of eminent domain, the city planned to take the neighborhood, which it considers to be deteriorating, and allow a $125 million development of offices and shops to rise in its place.

The two sides took their argument to the state Supreme court on Wednesday in the first challenge of property rights laws to reach a state high court since the U.S. Supreme Court last summer allowed municipalities to seize homes for use by a private developer.

As I understand it, the situation here is much the same as in New London (the city involved in the Kelo case): a private developer wants a certain piece of land to develop commercially, but the current private owners don't wish to sell and leave the land. So, the developer asked the city of Norwood to take the land by eminent domain and sell it to them. Per Kelo, increased tax revenues represent the putative 'public benefit' through which the city of Norwood could validly apply eminent domain.

Along with various others, I find it stupefying (and mildly terrifying) that local governments have been given a big SCOTUS thumbs-up to the ability to arbitrarily take property from a private entity and hand it over to another private entity. As I've written before, that capability has a strong whiff of socialism about it, and I'm not at all keen on that idea. I think that transactions like those disputed in Kelo and the various Norwood cases should be handled in an entirely capitalistic fashion: if the company wants the land, then they should have to buy it from the current owners at a price named by the owners. If the developer isn't willing to pay that or the current owners aren't willing to sell, too bad. If the developer wants land that the current owner is really attached to, then they need to factor the (possibly exorbitant) cost of getting that land into their initial cost estimates of the proposed project involving that land. Simple as that.

The previous point aside, the thing that really worries me is this: in the most recent November elections, Ohio voters passed Issue #1, which was an amendment to the Ohio Constitution geared towards spurring industrial, commercial, and research development in Ohio. Now, I'll grant that on the surface this really is a pretty good thing... I mean, developing those things is generally a smart plan. Most of the complaints I heard about Issue #1 centered around the proposed source of funding for this development: the text in sections three through five allows for bonds to be issued to pay for it, which basically means development now, debt later. Definitely a valid concern. However, in a vein more germane to this post, sections two and six speak to issues related to eminent domain (emphasis mine):

This proposed amendment would:


2. Declare that local government public infrastructure, and financial assistance for research and development and development of sites and facilities in Ohio for and in support of industry, commerce and distribution (all referred to together as “development purposes”) are public purposes.


6. Authorize the General Assembly to pass laws providing for its implementation, including laws providing procedures for issuing obligations, ensuring the accountability of all state funding provided for development purposes, restricting or limiting the taking by eminent domain of private property for disposition to private sector entities for research and development and the development of sites and facilities, and for the implementation of the research and development purposes to benefit people and businesses otherwise qualified for the receipt of funding in all areas of Ohio, including economically disadvantaged business and individuals in all areas of the state, including by the use Ohio products, materials, services and labor to the extent practicable.

So. The wording in section two is somewhat vague, but it could either mean that development for commercial, industrial, or research purposes is a 'public purpose,' or that funding for such development is a 'public purpose.' In either case, though, it's readily arguable that seizing, for examble, part of East Cleveland by eminent domain and handing it over to, say, Case Western Reserve University or University Hospitals to build, say, a new cancer research center would be perfectly acceptable because, look! It's RESEARCH!! That's a public purpose! Wheee!!!

"But wait!" you say. "Didn't section six restrict such takings?" Nope! Because section six doesn't actually restrict takings by eminent domain, it just gives the Ohio General Assembly the power to make law restricting (or not) the applicability of eminent domain in these sorts of situations. It provides no real protection to Ohio property owners.

So. Private ownership of property in Ohio is protected by the whims of officials at both the local and state level of government. Dunno about you, but I feel safer already.

10 January 2006

I Probably Shouldn't Link To This...

... as I fear that I'm opening a biiiig can of worms (knowing my friends). :-P

So, look here. And read the disclaimer all the way through. And take it seriously I am totally not kidding.

Normal laser pointers are (I believe) Class I; the ones being sold on the site above are Class IIIb, and:

The beam from a class IIIb laser can cause serious or even permanent eye damage and the blink reflex is not quick enough to prevent this damage.

(Laser classes are described here.)

Fun, eh? Now you know why I probably shouldn't have linked to this. :-P