Archive for November, 2005

Oh, crap… (ocean currents edition)

November 30, 2005 1 comment

Following close on the heels of news that atmospheric CO2 levels are at a 650,000-year high, comes this cheerful little tidbit:

“The ocean current that gives western Europe its relatively balmy climate is stuttering, raising fears that it might fail entirely and plunge the continent into a mini ice age.

The dramatic finding comes from a study of ocean circulation in the North Atlantic, which found a 30% reduction in the warm currents that carry water north from the Gulf Stream…
- New Scientist, Failing ocean current raises fears of mini ice-age

Global warming is real, as evidenced by the huge reduction in arctic ice coverage.  But it may have amplifying and paradoxical effects as the thermal and salinity-balance of ocean currents changes from melting ice.

Bill O’Reilly, well, he’s just an overheated idiot

November 30, 2005 3 comments

Watching Bill O’Reilly talking-points memo this evening, he was mad at a Florida newspaper that blasphemed (or so he thought) the Virgin Mary.

The newspaper printed an editorial which took the side of a teacher in a Catholic grade school who was fired for being pregnant and unmarried.  They concluded by asking if Jesus would have fired the woman, noting; “…after all, His own mother once found herself pregnant and unmarried.”

“How could they insult Mary like that?!” demanded O’Reilly.  “And the elite media didn’t even cover it!  If they’d insulted Islam, it would have been front-page news!”  He went on to say the paper was either anti-Christian or ignorant of Christian doctrine, and that “…either is unacceptable – don’t buy their paper.”

Calm down, Bill.

Even stipulating Catholic doctrine1 that Mary never had sexual intercourse, wasn’t she nonetheless pregnant – and unmarried – at one time?  Isn’t that the reason Joseph was planning to dump her, until an angel told him she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit?  Only a select few were aware of the highly unusual circumstances of her pregnancy.  Does it not seem likely that she related the experience to her extraordinary Son?

It is right in the Bible, and once again I wonder why the wingnuts apparently need an atheist to explain their own religion to them.

It is all part of O’Reilly’s big campaign to “save Christmas.”  You know, because those awful secularists at the ACLU want to stamp out Christmas and he has to save it.  Never mind that the ACLU has defended many a religious display, and only tries to stop tax-funded and government-sanctioned religious expression where it violates the First Amendment.  But I guess that wouldn’t play well to the “persecuted Christian” mentality Bill O’Reilly is trying to foster among his enormous audience.


  1. I’m not buying any of that doctrine for a second; I think she got pregnant the same way anyone does.  But that story line is the same either way; she was (1) pregnant, and (2) unmarried.
Categories: Religion

“Dell” room air filtration system

November 28, 2005 6 comments

Middle-son’s room is in our basement, and while he was away a clogged downspout caused some water to leak in.  The room is hardly tidy, and a lot of paper got wet.  I cleaned up as much of it as my lungs could stand, then promptly forgot about it until it was time for him to visit.  Unfortunately the room now had a serious air-quality problem.

Another marathon cleaning session brought the room to the brink of habitability, but the smell of mold still permeated the air.  What to do?

Big room air “filtration systems” were $200, and didn’t impress me as moving that much air:

  1. Start with a Dell computer box from recycle bin

  2. Cut open one side, leaving narrow flanges for taping to air filter
  3. Cut round opening for 115V Nidec Alpha V fan cannibalized from old mainframe (I have several of these; don’t you?)
  4. Mount fan in exhaust position (blowing out from box interior), and wire with cord from discarded vacuum cleaner (on curb, trash-day)
  5. Seal 3M Filtrete Ultimate filter ($15) in place with duct tape, in orientation for airflow into box
  6. Total cost, $15 and ten feet of duct tape.  Plug in and enjoy clean air. 

The Alpha V fan moves 105 CFM, which in a room with about 1,300 ft3 works out to a filtered air-change about every 13 minutes.  Of course, it isn’t that simple due to turbulence but still it’s good circulation.  After it had been running 4 hours, the room no longer smelled like mold, so I’d say it did the job OK. 

Middle-son left it running during his whole visit, and took it home with him when he left.  Guess I’ll build another one and keep it running down there.  After all, he is planning to visit again over Christmas.  :-)

If you don’t have an old mainframe cooling fan, a cheap clip-on fan would work too.

Categories: Safety & Health

Thanksgiving Open Thread

November 24, 2005 11 comments

No meaningful insights on Thanksgiving today – that’s been pretty much covered by others.  Right now I am sitting on my ass, blogging away ten feet from MrsDoF who is industriously producing a fabulous array of culinary wonders for us to enjoy later.  For the past two nights I have had the incomparable delight of hearing two of my sons together, bantering in the kitchen as middle-son is visiting from Urbana.

I’m in a very good mood right now.  Lots to be thankful for.

Also, two of my friends have new blogs!  Here, check them out:

Have a Wee Dram.  WeeDram and I go back quite a long way, with some shared adventures.  Expect photos and technical discussions about optics and classic 35mm cameras, plus occasional reflections on life and goals.

Notes From The Terminal Ward, “Redeeming creation one byte at a time”.  This is a good friend from work, whose current issue is about managing your personal information (including what you don’t or shouldn’t want to be public).  Expect to see posts on Information Technology and on a Christian world view.  I am looking forward to his review of Chronicles of Narnia.

Finally, check out this collection of war quotes at Joe Irvin’s Blog.  I don’t know Joe, but he is an Illinois journalist who is moving into my “regular visits” category.  Here is a sample from the post:

  • “Great is the guilt of an unnecessary war”.
    - John Quincy Adams

  • “Criticism in time of war is essential to the maintenance of any kind of democratic government.”
    - Robert Taft
  • “All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.”
    - George Orwell from “Homage to Catalonia,” Orwell’s 1936 eyewitness account of the Spanish Civil War.

There’s lots more, and plenty to think about from the minds of great men whose experience grants their words serious legitimacy.  Check it out.

Oh yeah, I forgot… this is an open thread.  Feel free to comment even on unrelated subjects.

Categories: Blogging, Geeky

Damn, I’d like a cigarette

November 24, 2005 3 comments

Last night we went to see George Clooney’s Good Night, And Good Luck.  I liked the movie, but this won’t be one of those well-crafted movie reviews with a beginning, a middle, and an end.  Instead, here’s a bunch of unrelated bullet points:

  • David Strathairn did an incredible job channeling E.R. Murrow.  I have heard Murrow tapes before and he was spot-on.

  • Yes, the movie was something of a political sermon, but it was pretty good in spite of that.  Outstanding acting, great story, etc.
  • They didn’t use an actor for McCarthy, just file footage.  That was a good move, but some test screeners apparently said “the actor playing McCarthy was over-acting.” 
  • Ann Coulter has been on a rampage to reconstruct McCarthy’s legacy; he was a hero was going after real Commie spies, and was destroyed by… (wait for it…) Liberals!.
  • The screenplay used Murrow’s actual words.  This was a good move.  I cannot imagine George Clooney or Grant Heslov having anything more eloquent to say than Murrow.
  • Ray Wise’s performance as Don Hollenbeck was just amazing.  His portrayal of a man smiling through pain was so good I’m worried about him now. 
  • The film did a reasonable job of noting that McCarthy was already in trouble when Murrow went after him.  At the end where Murrow’s show was cut way back, that part was not accurate.
  • Yes, everyone smoked back then.  If you have never smoked, you should know why people do it: nicotine is one of the very best neurostimulants (in the sense of improving function without side effects), it had all the support of any socially-approved drug-use, and in moments of quiet reflection, rising smoke is fascinating and beautiful.  And if done with style, it looks cool.
  • Dianne Reeves provided a jazz background for the movie that often charmingly moved into the foreground.  She has a new album out which MrsDoF intends to purchase.
  • I sure wish we had an Edward R. Murrow in television now.  Unfortunately the medium has pretty much become what he said it would; just entertainment, not living up to its potential.
  • Note to Hollywood producers in the 21st century: if you make a Black and White movie that is supposed to take place in the 1940’s or ‘50’s, watch some old B&W movies first.  Their focus wasn’t just sharp; typically it was exact.  The camera men and lighting directors didn’t go for fuzzy.  (I know it wasn’t the theater projector because there were a couple random moments of accidental sharp focus on a subject)


Categories: Movies, Reviews

Boycott Xerox, says environmental group

November 22, 2005 3 comments

I saw this sticker on a lamp pole yesterday.  It’s from a radical environmental group that wants to boycott Xerox because they use a lot of paper that comes from clear-cut foresting.

I’ve seen clear-cut foresting and believe me, it ain’t pretty.  It has a number of environmental faults even when (as is usually the case) you are harvesting a “managed forest” that was planted for the purpose.

But what good would it do to boycott Xerox?  Recycling paper to office standards (and people like nice, clean white paper) isn’t environmentally pretty either, though it makes people feel good.  This is a problem with several technological and legal solutions.

The well-intentioned people at could push for legalization of hemp.  Heck, if it was OK for George Washington to grow it, we should be able to manage the problems that might arise.  Hemp fibre is environmentally much better than wood fibre – and you can even press it (with binding agents) into wall boards and composite beams. 

They could work to improve paperless information technologies.  Mainly what is needed is a tough, lightweight, wireless and cheap display/input technology that will have many of the advantages of paper.  As it happens, Xerox is working on that very thing

Xerox is also working on a technology that could replace paper as portable, renewable reading matter.

The Xerox technology is called Gyricon. It’s composed of a silicon rubber compound with the thickness and flexibility of poster board. The Gyricon sheets contain thousands of plastic balls, black on one side and white on the other, suspended in oil. The balls act as pixels to display images that can be updated much the same way as with a monitor.

The beads are embedded in a large sheet, with each microcapsule suspended in oil to allow the beads to rotate in their orbits, says Robert Sprague, manager of the document hardware lab and electronic paper projects at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center.

Sprague says the paper could be powered by a matrix of transistors, such as those in laptop computer screens. Gyricon, like real paper, uses reflective light, so it would use less electricity.

The earnest protesters could study interface design and storage technologies to make paperless information transfer more useful.  They could write innovative applications for the video iPod, or ways to use cell phones to work with databases.  They could make better screen-preview applications so that less printing could The possibilities are nearly endless.

Or they could just fume about clear-cutting and put a “Boycott Xerox” sticker on a lightpole.


Naturalism Sunday

November 20, 2005 Comments off

Three of my favorite blogs hit themes of rationalism today; all good.

Plenty to scratch that rationalist itch today.

Categories: Geeky

Thumbnail sketch of Charles Darwin

November 20, 2005 3 comments

And here are the artifacts of his life: his tiny single-shot pistol, his magnifying glass and rock hammer—and the Bible that traveled around the world with him, a reminder that before his voyage he had been studying for the ministry. (Indeed, in a letter to his father, who opposed the trip, he listed all the latter’s objections, starting with “disreputable to my character as a clergyman hereafter.” Little did he imagine)…
- MSNBC/Newsweek: Evolution of a scientist

MSNBC delivers a Newsweek article on the life of Charles Darwin; the misunderstood, much-maligned scientist who carried the burden of discovery about our origins to places he feared to tread.  It’s a good article – I clicked on the “Print this” link to read it as I find split-up pages annoying.

From Socialist Swine

Categories: Geeky, History

Mrs DOF is back

November 20, 2005 3 comments

If you have not visited Mrs DOF’s blog, it is the entry into an alternate WimanOnline universe.  She writes about her experiences as a middle-aged woman, stories of her childhood in a steeltown in Ohio, her thoughts about womanhood, raising children, and so forth.  (Just for example, her latest post is about Burning her last nursing bra

Her blog began as a by-request, friends-only e-mail list she called “Dear Ones”.  At one point there were 49 people on the list, right about the time I made the transition from Blogger to pay-for-hosting blog.

“I will make a blog for you,” I said.  (Hey, it’s Decrepit Old Fool for a reason)  She was skeptical, and didn’t want to tackle a learning curve.  Her email letter was working just fine.1

I wanted to learn about Content Management Software, so naturally, I chose to start using the biggest, baddest blogging engine2 of them all – Expression Engine.  Over a year later, I have been too busy to learn it in any depth.  So when MrsDoF complained that her permanent links weren’t working, I started to tease out the problem.  Answer:  I’d set up her blog incorrectly in the first place (big surprise)

In the process of trying to fix it, I broke her blog entirely.  (Think Dagwood Bumstead with his household tools)  At one point it came up as unformatted text; at another, it didn’t come up at all.  Since she has more readers – by far – than I do, this is NOT good…

I wound up changing the DNS settings for her domain, and getting help from Julie at Pmachine hosting to make the secondary domain on my account and straighten out a problem in her path.php file.

Now it works.  Cool.

Which gives me the bug to address a dissatisfaction with my own domain name.  I’ve been using the online pseudonym “Decrepit Old Fool” for a long time – mainly as a joke, and I plan to continue doing that (so people won’t know my real name is George Wiman).  But “” isn’t that easy to type – or spell – and I’m getting tired of typing it.  And anyway I liked the name of my old blog, the Ballpoint Sketch. 

But the Sketch was on Blogger, which was often frustratingly slow.  So why didn’t I just make the new domain; “”?

I dunno.  Just didn’t think of it, I guess.  But there’s no reason the Decrepit Old Fool can’t do a Ballpoint Sketch.  It just doesn’t have to be on blogger.  So I’m starting to look at migrating my blog over to that name.  There are issues of linkage and continuity to be worked out, and in the meantime I’ll come to understand Expression Engine a lot better.  But it won’t happen tomorrow.


  1. The ever-technophobic MrsDoF now tosses off HTML tags to friends like it was part of her elementary-school penmanship class.

  2. Expression Engine isn’t just blogging software – you could run a large corporate or institutional website with it, and it would save thousands of man-hours updating content across the company.  But it also does blogs.  This is like commuting to work in a Humvee.  Several of my favorite blogs were on EE which definitely influenced my choice.
  3. I also considered WordPress, and now that a good friend of mine on campus uses it, I can see that it’s a really strong alternative to EE.  There’s a good chance that WordPress will grow across the campus as departments find out what you can do with it.  And the price doesn’t hurt.
Categories: Blogging, Geeky

A popular conceit of moral superiority

November 17, 2005 6 comments

” Heshu Yones, a West London teen, fought off her father for a frantic 15 minutes. She ran from room to room in her family home one Saturday afternoon until he cornered her in a dingy bathroom, held her over the tub and slit her throat.

The father, a onetime Kurdish freedom fighter from Iraq, told authorities that his only daughter had to die. The 16-year-old had sullied the family name, he said, by dating without his permission.”
- Chicago Tribune special report; For family honor, she had to die (free registration may be required)(AP photos shown)

The story goes on to describe how some 5,000 women are killed for honor worldwide in exclusively patriarchal societies.  More examples are given – including one in which a woman was shot by her teenaged brother because “she lacked morals”. In many families, the brother is chosen to carry out the killing. 

It is the cover story in today’s Chicago Tribune because Europe, with its growing immigrant Muslim population, is becoming aware of traditions that had previously been literally foreign to them.  Certainly where there are killings, there are many more beatings, and many more who simply live in fear.  The killings, like the top of an iceberg, reveal the presence of a much larger phenomenon.

And how superior we all feel about it.  How can those foreigners be so cruel towards their women?  How oppressive they are!  How backward!

Then I read how religious objections may keep women from receiving a vaccine that will prevent HPV, a common virus that causes cervical cancer.

“In the US, for instance, religious groups are gearing up to oppose vaccination, despite a survey showing 80 per cent of parents favour vaccinating their daughters. “Abstinence is the best way to prevent HPV,” says Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council, a leading Christian lobby group that has made much of the fact that, because it can spread by skin contact, condoms are not as effective against HPV as they are against other viruses such as HIV.”
New Scientist: Will cancer vaccine get to all women?

I have not generally referred to the James Dobson and Pat Robertson wing of American religion as “Taliban” but it really isn’t that far fetched.  4,600 women a year die in the US from cervical cancer.  It is a lingering, painful, debilitating, agonizing death; and where there are deaths, there are many more whose lives are forever changed by surgery and chemotherapy.  Is it possible that anyone would really risk such a death for their precious child, on the hypothetical chance that being immune might allow looser sexual morals?

When I was a little boy, my mother told me seriously that “they don’t value life over there like we do here”.  She was repeating a common stereotype of third-world societies where religious leaders control every aspect of life.  Like all stereotypes, it contains some truth and a lot of distortion. 

But there is another stereotype, unfortunately not untrue, of Americans; as people who like to flatter ourselves as being morally superior.  No wonder documentarians and commenters who hold up a mirror to our society are scorned… we just don’t want to think about it.  And the high moral dudgeon of today’s Pharisees rings hollow as they accuse “liberals” of immorality.

Categories: News