Archive for May, 2007

Geology of Eastern Washington

May 20, 2007 2 comments

As a kid living in the very area described by the article, I climbed cliffs all over the place and generally grooved on the complex geology of the area.  Turns out it’s a lot more complex than I realized at the time, and Archy describes why in Looking for drowned mammoths.  (the glacial flood would have been really cool to watch… from a safe vantage point, which would not include the present location of Vantage, Washington where I did a lot of my climbing)

From Blog around the clock

Categories: Nature, observations

Arguing the crazy

May 19, 2007 15 comments

Jonah Goldberg writes in the National Review that the Democratic party is One Crazy Party:

Most fair-minded readers will no doubt take me at my word when I say that a majority of Democrats in this country are out of their gourds.

He’s referring to a Rasmussen poll that found 35% of Democrats believe George Bush knew about 9/11 in advance – a clearly nutty idea popular with certain conspiracy buffs. 

So, one in three Democrats believe that Bush was in on it somehow, and a majority of Democrats either believe that Bush knew about the attacks in advance or can’t quite make up their minds.

There are only three ways to respond to this finding: It’s absolutely true, in which case the paranoid style of American liberalism has reached a fevered crescendo. Or, option B, it’s not true, and we can stop paying attention to these kinds of polls. Or there’s option C — it’s a little of both.

My vote is for C. But before we get there, we should work through the ramifications of A and B…

And then goes on to say that the Democratic party has a problem in that it covers for its crazy contingent, and that the party should stop calling itself “reality-based” until it deals with those crazies.  I wonder – what are we supposed to do; poll them and put up a list of people who can’t call themselves Democrats anymore? You can read the whole thing to see if I’m being fair to Goldberg.  But I sent him an email that said essentially this:

Dear Mr. Goldberg: You think some Democrats are crazy because Rosie O’D thinks Bush knew about 9/11?  Man, you don’t even want to start comparing crazies.  A big chunk of the Republican party thinks gays caused 9/11, to say nothing of the ones who think the Earth is 6,000 years old, or the ones who think mankind can put gigatonnes of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere every year without affecting the climate.  Or the ones who ignore the near-unanimity of studies that show “abstinence-only” doesn’t work.  And of course the ones who thought we could shoot our way into a clan-dominated culture and still be welcomed as liberators.

Nobody brings the crazy like the Republicans.

But that last statement is a little unfair of me.  It is in the nature of political parties, especially in a two-party system, to pander to the most votes possible – even crazy votes.  I really ought to direct my arguments at mainstream leaders in the party, not the fringe who believe all the crazy things I mentioned.  A good standard, for instance, might be only to bother arguing against things that the Republican President and his personal friends believe, and leave the fringe out of it.

Oh, wait…

Categories: Politics

Science Friday: climate special

May 18, 2007 7 comments

This has been a week to find really interesting articles about climate – except for one that I found several weeks ago and have been waiting for an occasion to post:

  1. With the passing of Jerry Falwell, it is worth noting that Evangelicals split on global warming – a schism for which Falwell himself bears quite some responsibility.  After all in the Christian legend, sustainable stewardship of the Earth was the very first instruction of God to man, right before “stay away from that tree”.

  2. Given the amount of denialist misinformation there is floating around on climate issues, I’m thrilled to see New Scientist magazine has a compendium of answers to global warming myths in “Climate Change: a guide for the perplexed”.  Useful enough that I’m putting it in my permanent science links in the sidebar.
  3. The South Polar Ocean has stopped absorbing carbon dioxide, forty years ahead of the time predicted by various climate models.  For anyone still unclear on the concept, this is a bad thing even if you are pleased by flaws in climate models.
  4. For a good example of why we need to present the case as clearly as possible in a way that will be accessable, look no further than Senator James Inhofe spewing the same old FUD on climate as if a political agenda were the same thing as truth.  It’s painful to watch, but instructive.
  5. One common climate canard is that “it was warmer during the time of the dinosaurs”.  Which has exactly nada to do with how things are today, and the Climate Blog explains why. (From LCA)
  6. …speaking of whom, Don at Life Cycle Analysis features a documentary movie, The Plough That Broke The Plains about the North American high plains and the dust bowl.  The 1936 style is slower, more measured, and far less polemical than the documentaries that are made today – which is interesting in itself.
  7. And while this isn’t really a climate link, Deep Sea News reports explorers have found a half-billion dollars in colonial-era gold and silver coins, 17 tons worth.  Be sure to check out the picture – wow.  What can I say, but “Yarrgh!  Shivver me timbers!!!  But in a painfully predictable move, a lawsuit has been filed by Spain, claiming “Yarrgh!  The booty be ours!

‘Til next week, which will be either neurology frontiers or astronomy (because I’ve been running into a lot of cool articles on both).  Unless I can figure out a way to combine the two. ;-)


  • Just to make things interesting, one source of ambiguity in the data and early climate models is that global warming effects are partially masked by global dimming, which (due to particulate matter in the atmosphere from incomplete fossil fuel combustion) reduces the sunlight reaching the ground.  Thing is, fuel-saving jet engine design results in less particulate matter high in the atmosphere,  which is a good thing and all… except then the dimming effect reduces and the greenhouse-warming effect slingshots.  The embedded video in the link is sensationalistic media stuff but the article also has a Wiki link that is very good. 

Andy Warhol, and why I’ll never understand modern art

May 17, 2007 6 comments

I heard somewhere that the country of Holland had once based its entire economy on tulips.  Then one day, someone said; “Wait a minute!  They’re nice and everything, but they’re only flowers!”  And starting on that day entire fortunes were ruined, companies went into receivership, and the economy took a long time to recover.

It won’t be the whole economy by any stretch, but there’s bound to be wailing and gnashing of teeth the day after someone with the right credentials says; “Wait a minute: any art student can do better than Warhol!  There’s no need to pay $71m for a crummy painting of a wrecked car!

Here’s more.

Categories: Art

Hunting mosquitoes and Linux

May 16, 2007 2 comments

A lovely evening, cool and clear with the scent of spring in the air.  Perfect for working out in the back yard!  And the mosquitoes thought so, too.

Or not, as West Nile virus has come to the county early this year along with hoards of thirsty mosquitoes.  I hope I have some immunity to WNV after that thing a few years ago when the whole town was full of dead birds from it, and I got inexplicably soooo sick… Man, that was awful.  Which naturally fills my head with thoughts of revenge, Monty Python style!

In other news, I just got done using SUSE for a month, so I installed Ubuntu 7.04 on my laptop today.  So far, so good.  It picked up the wireless with no troubles, and seems to be working without a glitch.  Only problem I’ve encountered is some of the program icons are nowhere to be found.  For example, to start OpenOffice Draw, you type in oodraw in a command window… no icon for it.  I much prefer OpenOffice Draw to MS Publisher, to the extent that I even use it on Windows machines… but on Linux it seems to run more smoothly.

I will likely be trying to figure out how to get XnView for Windows to run in Linux, along with Notepad++ … two applications I don’t like to live without.

When I write my Linux review (along the lines of the Mac OS review I did earlier) I will discuss both SUSE and Ubuntu.

Categories: Geeky

Jerry Falwell has died

May 15, 2007 20 comments

…and I’m trying not to cheer, but he was such a jerk.  One might not think that as an infidel I would care what happens to Christianity but it is a large part of the culture in which I live, and he was a corrupting influence on that faith with his constant powermongering and politicizing.

As so often happens, ***Dave has one of the more insightful and cooler-headed posts on the passing. 

Update: I don’t think Christopher Hitchins liked him at all.

Categories: Religion

Ockham was all wet (or at least those who paraphrased him were)

May 14, 2007 1 comment

That William of Ockham was really onto something, right?  His famous statement, “entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity” has been paraphrased into one of the most-quoted heuristics in history:

“All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one.”

…and stretched even further as:

“Among competing explanations, the simplest is most likely true”

Except… not so much.  Distorted variations of Ockham’s Razor have been used as an anti-intellectual blunt instrument in more arguments than I care to count.  And he was writing about theology, where even simplicity is no guarantee of… anything.  In nature itself, intractable complexity is the rule.  Not a moment too soon, Chris Chatham at Developing Intelligence deconstructs the famous friar in Occam’s razor has a double edge.

Albert Einstein updated the saying this way: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler.”

UPDATE: Not content to “kick a sacred cow of science” only once, Chris kicks parsimony a second time today with Failures of Reductionism? Level of Analysis Problems in Cognitive Neuroscience.  And the main reason I’m linking these two very interesting articles here is so I can find them again.  The two posts make a good answer to the glazed-eyes disavowal of natural complexity that is denialism.

Categories: observations

Sometimes nagging doubts are the best kind

May 13, 2007 2 comments

I was almost done with this bike when I thought; “That crankset seems a bit rough.  I better repack those bearings.”  It was the ancient kind that uses an axle, bearings, and cups instead of a simple axle/bearing cartridge that just screws into the frame.

The axle cones were blown.  Where there should have been a shiny bearing-track were pitted regions that foretold broken bearings and failure. 

This was specially annoying because, in an ill-advised attempt to clean up the garage, I threw out a bunch of old bike parts last year.  One of those parts was a Tagaki crankset assembly identical to the one I now held in my hand.  I had thought; “When am I ever going to need one of these?”

Well, now, for instance.  “The lesson is, never throw anything out,” my son said.  (Unfortunately, this is the de facto policy of our household, which is the reason there’s so very little space in such a large house)

MrsDoF and I had lunch at Wendy’s, and then we checked a trash pile where I’d seen a bike old enough to have that kind of crank – it was gone.  We pulled into the driveway and I said “Goose chase”.  Or rather, Goose-egg.

Except…  hmm… while I might throw out a cheap crankset, it wouldn’t be like me to throw out the axle.  After all, an axle takes up hardly any space at all.  And axle cones fail even when the cups themselves are OK; it’s just where the force of operation is most concentrated.  In fact, I probably would have tossed that axle into my parts bucket.  And being heavy, it would find its way to the bottom!

Which it did.  Now all I need to do is go buy two bearing races (cheap) and the bike is ready.  :coolsmirk: