Archive for February, 2006

Doh!  Missed one!

February 25, 2006 13 comments

You Passed 8th Grade Math

Congratulations, you got 9/10 correct!

It’s really depressing if I can’t get ten 8th-grade math questions correct in a row.  Worse that the error I made was one of nomenclature. (From Pharyngula)

Categories: Uncategorized

Open Thread Weekend: a few starter topics

February 24, 2006 9 comments

I wonder if Adlai Stevenson was thinking of the Palestinians when he coined the aphorism: “Power corrupts, and lack of power corrupts absolutely”?  Their recent democratic choice of a Hamas-led parliament has everyone mad at them.  But their marginal status all these years was fertile ground for the growth of Hamas.

Dispatches reports on Not getting it, German style:  David Irving, British holocaust denier, has been sentenced to 3 years in German prison for denying the holocaust, setting a poor example to Muslims around the world who are enraged by cartoons and don’t get what ‘free speech’ is all about. (See also: Michael Shermer OpEd) Personally I’d rather see Irving shown a fool than made a martyr. 

In a related development, the mayor of London has discovered the importance of free speech in a big way, having been suspended for an offhand remark about a Jewish journalist.  In defiance of custom, he has refused to apologize for his remarks.  Let’s hope that is the beginning of a trend; I’m tired of wondering what the hell a ‘forced apology’ means anyway.

John Roberts and Samuel Alito will decide this week on a challenge from a Michigan developer to the Clean Water Act.  If the scope of the act is limited, most of the waterways which enjoy federal protection from pollution will fall to state regulation, with very mixed results.  The Bush Administration is backing the current regulatory structure, however, noting that despite the ire of people who speculate on wetlands, water does run downhill.

The South Dakota legislature has passed a bill banning abortion, soon to land on the governor’s desk.  The obvious intention is to spark a Supreme Court challenge.  By the time it gets to the court, Bush may have appointed another justice or two; we might see Roe overturned and right-wing pols will face the awful choice of living up to their anti-abortion promises or exposing themselves as cowardly political opportunists.  That should be fun to watch. 

CNN Reports: Another one bites the dust as a $12.5m study fails to discover any efficacy to glucosamine/condroitin that people take for arthritis pain.  Well, that’s a relief.  I’ve tried it in the past and couldn’t tell much difference.  I wondered; was I doing something wrong?  Apparently I was not.

There’s more, a whole lot more.  Sometime this weekend I hope to write about Cohen’s anti-algebra OpEd, too.  I don’t understand how anyone living on Earth ever gets bored…

Oh, speaking of Michael Shermer, he’s filling in for James Randi, who is recovering from heart surgery.  This week he explains how a secular world view is really pretty straightforward, after all, in What I believe, science and the power of humanity

Categories: Uncategorized

My doctor’s hobby

February 22, 2006 4 comments

Yesterday I met with my – what do they call them? – “primary care physician” who is supposed to be the gatekeeper for all my health care decisions.  In his examining room, I waited, studying the decorations.

He is apparently very fond of golf.  There were two expensively framed pictures of impossible golf holes at exotic locations in Arizona and Hawaii; one was emblazoned with an inspirational saying from Arnold Palmer.  The room was festooned with other golf memorabilia.

Golf is a perfectly fine sport, I suppose; the Western equivalent to Zen archery.  In golf, success depends on a meditative state of mind; your brain needs to be producing alpha waves or something.  In the words of that sage, it “challenges the spirit while confounding the intellect”.

But I think I’d like a doctor whose hobby is cryptography or computer security-system hacking, or some other neurotically analytical compulsion.  I want a doctor who is kept awake by unsolved problems; who goes over the details in his mind and searches databases for connections others might miss.  This because I want the doctor to do what I cannot do; distinguish phantom pain from signals of actual disease.

There are several varieties of chronic pain, such as damage to a specific nerve or group of nerves following an accident.  Mine seems to be random: the ‘pain circuits’ are a bit scrambled. One doctor said, ‘migratory fascitis’ and another said, ‘fibromyalgia’. When there is an actual problem, I often feel it in some unrelated spot, and more commonly, I feel pain where nothing’s wrong at all.  So I usually ignore it, making the decision of when to go to the doctor a bit tricky.

It annoys me when the doctor says; ‘Wait and see’, because, to paraphrase Thomas Sowell, by the time I go to a doctor I have already waited and already seen.  I want him to tell me definitively if I have a problem or if I should indefinitely go on ignoring whatever brought me in that day.

Some other time I will write about pain and the role it plays in my life, but for now I’m just bitching about doctors.

Categories: Uncategorized

Cheerio mods

February 19, 2006 4 comments

I like Cheerios a lot, really cold with milk and honey on them.  Last night, I put the plain Cheerios into the bowl and set it in the freezer.  Then this morning I added fresh strawberries, some walnuts, some dried cranberries, and a little honey.  Alongside the bowl (not shown) is a huge cup of piping hot unsweetened Red Rose tea.  (Today started with tea and went to coffee.  Some days start with coffee and go to tea)

Categories: Uncategorized

Hunting with Dick Cheney

February 18, 2006 2 comments

When I was a kid learning to shoot, my dad made me adhere to the same safety rules whether I was handling a BB gun or a 12 guage loaded with buckshot.  Infraction of any of them meant no shooting for quite a while.

I never became much of a marksman but I did gain an appreciation for gun safety.  And when I heard that VP Cheney had shot a man by accident, I could hear my departed father’s voice telling me; “Accidents do not just happen, they are caused.”  He would not accept excuses where firearms were involved.

In the week following, I’ve seen Fox News spin the whole episode like a ballerina, and various liberals try to say it was emblematic of the Bush administration’s arrogance of power, or something. The main lesson I got from it was; “Don’t go hunting with Dick Cheney”.

But I did learn something about his unintended target, Harry Whittington.  Turns out ol’ Harry is a really interesting guy.  Sure, he’s a Texas Republican or he wouldn’t be hunting with the Veep.  But he’s also the ‘go-to guy’ on prison reform in Texas.  Here’s Molly Ivins:

Not that I accuse Harry Whittington of being an actual liberal—only by Texas Republican standards, and that sets the bar about the height of a matchbook. Nevertheless, Whittington is seriously civilized, particularly on the issues of crime, punishment and prisons. He served on both the Texas Board of Corrections and on the bonding authority that builds prisons. As he has often said, prisons do not curb crime, they are hothouses for crime: “Prisons are to crime what greenhouses are to plants.”

In the day, whenever there was an especially bad case of new-ignoramus-in-the-legislature—a “lock ‘em all up and throw away the key” type—the senior members used to send the prison-happy, tuff-on-crime neophyte to see Harry Whittington, a Republican after all, for a little basic education on the cost of prisons.

When Whittington was the chairman of Texas Public Finance Authority, he had a devastating set of numbers on the demand for more, more, more prison beds. As Whittington was wont to point out, the only thing prisons are good for is segregating violent people from the rest of society, and most of them belong in psychiatric hospitals to begin with. The severity of sentences has no effect on crime. 
Molly Ivins: The buck stops… where?

A Republican advocate of prison reform?  That is interesting stuff, and now that I’ve heard of Whittington, I plan to learn more about his stats on prisons.  But there’s something else interesting here, something about Molly Ivins’ character, in the way she goes on to say that there’s basically no political significance in Cheney’s hunting accident.

I’ve heard Ivins in person and liked her a lot.  Sure, she’s deadly smart, and funny, but she also recognizes her opponents’ virtues.  Without pulling any punches, she finds value in people she disagrees with whenever she can.  I have seen her apologize profusely – in print – for errors of fact, and she tries to balance the real-world consequences of politics without being consumed by it.  These attributes distinguish her from Coulter, Malkin, or O’Reilly, who, as Will Rogers said, “divide the world into two groups”. 

There are plenty of substantive things to wrestle with in politics; it’s not like we’ll run out of things to talk about if we pass up opportunities to inflate non-issues into “big stories”.

Categories: Politics

Bush - the new definition of conservative

February 18, 2006 1 comment

Great post on Unclaimed Territory about our president’s role as the new definition of ‘conservative’:

People who self-identify as “conservatives” and have always been considered to be conservatives become liberal heathens the moment they dissent, even on the most non-ideological grounds, from a Bush decree. That’s because “conservatism” is now a term used to describe personal loyalty to the leader (just as “liberal” is used to describe disloyalty to that leader), and no longer refers to a set of beliefs about government. Link

The terms ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ have never had much meaning but now they just mean “who you march behind”.  For those of us who don’t like to march, these are lean times indeed.  Republican Kool-Aid has its Democratic counterpart, and neither makes a healthy drink. This would be a good article to forward to anyone who self-identifies as either ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ and seems to take delivery on the whole package.

(from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

Categories: Uncategorized

PSA on Cellphones

February 17, 2006 2 comments

AN OPEN LETTER to the person shouting into her cell phone on campus the other day, so that I could understand her conversation perfectly, outdoors, from over fifty feet away…

If you spoke into my ear from two inches away,
I would hear you.

I apologize for shouting, but I wanted to get your attention, as you got mine the other day. Did you know that your cell phone automatically adjusts microphone sensitivity?  You never thought about it before?

I don’t suppose you paid attention in science class when they talked about the ‘inverse square law’?  No?  I’ll spare you the details but the upshot is that you are speaking MUCH louder than necessary into your cell phone.  Please get in the habit of speaking in a normal voice into your phone.  It takes a bit of conscious effort at first, but everyone around will appreciate it.

Please feel free to copy this picture and share with others. 
(Model: MrsDoF)

Categories: Stupidity

Not my brightest moment to be sure…

February 14, 2006 8 comments

Start with a cabinet full of electronic equipment.  Each piece of equipment puts out a certain amount of heat.  When the heat production balances the heat loss of the container (in this case, the cabinet) you have the operating temperature of the cabinet.  It’s a lot like a falling object; think of acceleration due to gravity as analogous to heat production, and air resistance as to heat loss; eventually they balance and you have terminal velocity, or operating temperature respectively.

If the operating temperature of the cabinet is higher than, say, eighty degrees


, you get increased equipment failures.  Manufacturers allow higher temperatures than that in their manuals but in my experience that’s about where you start seeing increased costs.  Since we have 28 of these cabinets, such costs can mount up. Now imagine you are me, and a little bit slow on the draw at times…

The rate of heat loss in the cabinet is a function of airflow and cabinet wall conduction.  You can’t do much about the latter but you can cut holes and install fans to improve the former.  So you take baseline measurements, and build a prototyping vent panel.  Experiment with different arrangements of fans and grilles to suppliment the cabinet’s built-in exhaust fan.  Record your results and when you hit the target temperature, develop your plan and order parts.

But it turns out you have trouble obtaining (at an acceptable price) the Nidec fans you prototyped with, so you try a different fan, one with slightly higher noise rating but easily available.  Too noisy.  You pore over fan specifications, trying to find the right combination of power, flow, noise level, price, and availability.

In all of this you’ve learned more about fans and airflow than you ever thought possible.  You’ve read white papers from fan manufacturers and struggled with the math of obstruction and pressure. 

Then you think; “Doh! Static pressure!”  The exhaust fans you’ve tested compete with the one already in the cabinet, creating a negative static pressure, or partial vacuum.  After all the reading you’ve done, you now realize this has a huge effect on the CFM, or ‘cubic feet per minute’, that a fan can move.

The original fan couldn’t do its job because of static pressure, and the prototype arrangement you rigged up only worked because it was powerful enough to be a brute force solution.  You’ve overlooked the obvious.  Could delivering free airflow in the right place – where the components themselves exhaust their heat – allow the existing cabinet fan to move more air and hit the target temperature?

You remove your prototyping fans and reinstall the panel with only the fan grilles in place.  In essence, you’ve invented “the hole”.

It works.  The resulting operating temperature was 1.5 degrees cooler than any other arrangement you’d tested.

Sometimes finding the right solution can make you feel like a complete idiot.

Categories: Geeky, hardware

Another one bites the dust…

February 14, 2006 1 comment

Our great city leaders have decreed that a large percentage of buildings in our downtown area must go, for new construction in their grand vision.  They want our little town to be ‘world class’, whatever that means.  Entire blocks are going and I’m sure the result will eventually be quite impressive, though I didn’t have a problem with the way it was.


February 14, 2006 2 comments

Roses are red, violets are blue
There!  Glad we got that cleared up!

Or here’s one of my favorites:

Roses are red,
Violets are purple,
Sugar is sweet,
and so’s maple surple.

Heh – and people say I’m too unsophisticated for poetry.  Alas, some people just have a hard time getting into the spirit of the day.

Categories: News