Archive for December, 2008

Defense of Marriage

December 21, 2008 6 comments

Imagine you got married, unwrapped all the gifts, moved in with your sweetheart, changed all your insurance papers, and subscribed to a daily newspaper.  Then over the breakfast table, you open the paper and find out that a bunch of people think you have the wrong kind of plumbing, and want to use the power of the state to forcibly un-marry you and your spouse.  Your marriage is under attack, and there’s a chance they might actually pull it off!

Think about what that would be like.  A bad dream?  More like a nightmare, and it’s happening right now in California, as supporters of Prop8, after having said they wouldn’t, have filed a brief seeking to erase existing gay marriages in the golden state. 

I am stumped at how anyone could be so heartless toward their fellow persons.  How?  How can they say; “We don’t like your kind of marriage so you have to be un-married.”  What darkness inhabits their hearts masquerading as kind religion? 

California attorney general Gerry Brown says Prop8 is unconstitutional and they’ll have to force him from office before he’ll force married couples to give up their rights to the pursuit of happiness.  You can help by sending him a brief message of support using his online contact form.  And consider writing the AG of your own state as well.  I have written Lisa Madigan, even though she is busy cleaning up the mess Rod Blagojevich has left all over the place here in Illinois.


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Rachael Maddow and Spencer Ackerman examine the legacy

December 20, 2008 2 comments

Somebody’s mission was accomplished all right, but it was Osama Bin Laden.

(h/t Ed Brayton)

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Obama is making solid choices, UPDATE

December 19, 2008 5 comments

If you have not been under a rock, you know that Obama stepped in a steaming pile with his request to have purpose-driven wanker Rick Warren give the invocation at his inauguration.  People who care about gay rights, reproductive rights, AIDS, and preventing wars are all, shall we say, less than pleased.  Pissed, actually, and with good reason.

Obama may paying a debt to Warren, who after all did help him get elected president.  One thing about Obama is that he can be in the presence of people he disagrees with, and still keep his own compass needle pointed in the right direction.  This is something our current CIC cannot do, which may be why he seems to prefer surrounding himself with yes-men. 

I am confused by the report that the Rev. Joseph Lowrey will deliver the benediction.  Not that Lowry isn’t a wonderful choice – he is – but I looked up the difference between an invocation and a benediction and I’m still fuzzy on it. Is it like the difference between the little stubby fork and the long skinny fork at a formal place setting? Feel free to explain in the comments if you know.  Anyway, Lowry is a civil-rights giant, and Warren is a flea, a religious pop star.  That will be very clear when the two of them share a stage.

Switch to infrared, though, and look through this little fog-bank to the presidency on the other side; Obama has been making some terrific choices for policy positions that really matter. The more I read about each of these individuals, the more impressed I am by Obama’s commitment to getting people who know what the hell they’re doing into positions where they can do some good.  I’ll update this list as new information comes in:

  • John Holdren, Science Advisor.  HUGE background in science policy.
  • Jane Lubchenco, actual marine biologist, for head of NOAA.
  • Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor.  Read her bio – she has actual experience with the deep issues of labor related to the economy, environment, energy, and ethnicity. She’s the e-secretary of Labor.  Read what Councils for Occupational Safety & Health are saying about her.
  • Stephen Chu, Energy secretary.  With apologies to Sarah Palin, Chu is a REAL expert on energy.
  • I totally fail to understand why Obama picked Ken Salazar for secretary of the interior. 
  • And keeping Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense.  Gates is no lightweight.  I also have a hunch that he has wanted to close Guantanamo all along, and he has ordered up a plan to do just that.  Cheney is apparently in recession along with the Bush economy.
  • Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, has experience wrestling with urban school problems.  This choice is not as stellar as the others, because there ARE no stellar choices for SecEd.  Most important is that Duncan is not an ideologue in any direction.  What makes me think he’s a good choice?  He’s the first high-level ed leader who seems to have hit upon the idea of tracking how students are doing after high school, and correlating it with what was going on in the schools they went to.  This is the experimental approach, which is the only way to find the path out of where we are now.

Folks, government is like business: you have to do it well to get a good result.  Put in ideologues who ignore experimental results, and you’ll get, well, the Bush administration.  We are in a deep hole and it’s about damn time we got some grown-ups behind the wheel again.

UPDATE: I’ve placed Obama’s address about the appointment below the fold.

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Ice, baby, Ice!

December 19, 2008 3 comments

11:30 pm: It’s 29 degrees f outside, and raining.  Meaning there must be a temperature layer or something close to the ground.  They are expecting 3/4 inches of ice coating everything by morning.  That is a HELL of a lot of tonnage, man.

I covered both cars with tarps.  Looks like that was a good move.

Right now there’s no wind at all, which is good. If it picks up later, we will lose power.  Remains to be seen what closings there will be tomorrow.  I’m off to bed.


  • 12:30 am – I was just awakened by the characteristic buzzing noise of electrical arcing and the house was shaken by a nearby electrical explosion.  We still have power though. 

  • 1:20 am – I was just awakened by a phone call in which I learn that the roof of my son’s 19th century apartment is leaking severely.
  • The storm stretches from Chicago to St. Louis, and we are smack in the middle.  I’m headed over to son’s apartment with a large trash can to catch water.
  • 2:55 am – The town is in a surreal condition.  Streets are flooded as storm drains are clogged with ice.  Trees and branches down everywhere.  Many areas are dark – no electricity. Snow plows, emergency vehicles, and the occasional idiot are the only vehicles moving.
  • Son’s apartment has water pouring in one section over where his breakfast table had been.  Apparently the roof drains are clogged with ice as adjacent apartments are leaking too.  I remind son and roommate not to stand near the site of the leak for extended periods – these are good roof-collapse conditions. 
  • Our own area still has electricity.  The rain has subsided a little – what is falling is still turning directly into ice on contact.  A light breeze blows through and the neighborhood explodes with the high-pitched sound of cracking ice and the deeper “Tok!” sound of cracking tree branches.  I am torn between a macho-idiot impulse to drive around looking at stuff, and the more sensible drive to get inside.  I compromise with a picture taken from my driveway. That’s my ‘88 Civic in the foreground:

  • 7:30 am – everything is closed.  The air is very still which is a good thing – one really good gust and our whole county would fall over onto power lines.
  • 10:03 am – According to Illinois Power, there are 84 people on our power line who are without electricity – so we feel very fortunate to still have lights, heat, and Internet.  And here’s the obligatory close-up of a maple blossom covered with ice.  I took it, shivering, from my front porch, and it is 12 feet from the lens of my Canon Power-Shot S5-IS:

  • 2:57 pm – it warmed up to 34 degrees f for a while, but not much melting took place.  Now it’s exactly 32 again and the ice is still in place.  The storm has moved on to New England by now.


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NOT Rick freakin’ Warren, OK?

December 17, 2008 4 comments

I’m completely not keen on Obama’s inauguration featuring Rick Warren, of all people.  The guy’s a bigot and a jingoist and has no place on the same stage with anyone with an ounce of justice in their veins. 

How about the Rev. Richard Cizik?

Despite what the Ridiculous Right thinks about him, Obama isn’t particularly idealistic.  He is more of a “ruthless pragmatist”, so he may have something in mind that had not occurred to me.  And to put things in perspective, he made Chu his new energy secretary – a great choice for a position of crucial importance.  We will just have to hold our noses while Warren’s on the stage. And maybe hose it off afterwards.

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Cool phenomenon

December 16, 2008 8 comments

Yesterday my boss and I were trying to untie a 3/4” nylon rope that had been saturated with water and then frozen solid.  (This came under “other duties as assigned” for the computer support staff)  It was about nine degrees out so there wasn’t a lot of flexibility.  One of the things we tried was to cover the knot with a t-shirt soaked in hot water.  The result was a completely rigid, frozen t-shirt that had to be peeled off the knot. 

He tossed the t-shirt on a faucet in the bathroom and we went on with our task.  (Hint: fill a 2-litre bottle with hot water, and keep pouring until the rope thaws.)  Then I went inside to download some coffee.

As I passed the t-shirt-covered faucet, it turned on and then off again.  Normally, you have to put your hands right in front of the sensor and move a little, but I was three feet away.  I tried moving back and forth and sure enough, the sensor was picking up my body heat through a gap in the still-frozen cover.

The faucet may have been made more sensitive by being chilled (CCDs on telescopes are often chilled to improve their signal to noise ratio).  Or more likely the circuit just looks for perturbation in the resistance of the IR sensor.  The enhanced contrast between the icy t-shirt cover and a passer-by was enough to trigger it.

If you do not habitually geek out on how sensor circuits behave, I apologize.  We will return to your regular programming soon.

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You can’t ride all the time

December 16, 2008 1 comment

When it’s just cold, and the streets are dry or only a little icy, riding a bike is pretty easy.  (Ski goggles help a lot.) Ice is slipperier the warmer it is. After an ice storm, unless you have studded tires, forget it.  Riding on a half-inch of snow is easy, but when it gets to two or three inches, it’s a real aerobic workout.  And automobile tire tracks can throw you.

Whenever you ride across a really icy patch, ride straight; you can’t apply very much Δv.  This requires planning ahead so you can make changes in speed or direction after you are back on relatively dry pavement.

And if it’s dark, don’t make automobile drivers guess where you are; they may not make the effort.  Bike lights are cheap and better than ever. says; “There are lots of reasons why riding in the winter is not as crazy as it sounds…”

Categories: bicycling, Geeky

Most delusional statement of the year award

December 15, 2008 8 comments

By now everyone has seen the video of an Egyptian journalist throwing both his shoes at president Bush, while the Secret Service apparently was listening to the Dead Kennedys on their iPods.  But Bush only described the moment as “bizarre” and averred that it probably wasn’t representative of how Iraqis feel generally:

“I don’t think you can take one guy throwing shoes and say this represents a broad movement in Iraq. You can try to do that if you want to. I don’t think it would be accurate. …”

Oh for Pete’s sake, mister president… there are a lot of people in America who would like to lob a shoe at you, let alone in Iraq.  You just don’t get it, do you?  It would be a good idea for you to just stay away from that part of the world from now on, OK?  Next time it might be something a lot worse than a shoe.

But maybe I missed something even more delusional – please make your nominations in the comments!

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Monday Morning Music: On Holiday

December 15, 2008 Comments off

I don’t know much about Punk, but I know what I like:

“I beg to dream and differ from the hollow lies…”


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Love and community

December 14, 2008 1 comment

Clay Shirkey on the clash of community and corporate models of creativity…

A tremendously rich narrative – you don’t need to know anything about software to see other ways to apply it.  (h/t Blog Around The Clock)

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