Saturday, November 29, 2008

I'm Just Glad It's Over

Well apparently, UO trounced OSU. Words cannot express the depths of my indifference.

And judging by the crowd around the bar at the other end of the block from my favorite coffee shop, (and the number of people carrying 18-packs and 30-packs, often in duplicate) the statement on a shirt I've seen around holds true: Win or Lose... We all Booze!

Yeah. No Kidding.

Persistence of Vision

If you look at an object fixedly, your eyes and mind will try to blank it out. One of the classic examples is the color-opposites of the US flag. After staring at the yellow, green and black image for 30 seconds or so, then switching to a white field, you'll see the image briefly as Red, White and Blue. Now I'm guessing (and it is only a guess) that this is evolutionarily beneficial in that it draws our attention away from things that are static (unthreatening) and to things that are changing (potentially threatening). Images that move in a repetitive manner can also give rise to this. With color, there might be a chemical basis in the eye; with movement, it seems to me it must be a perceptual (mind) phenomenon, so I'm not sure the two aspects of this are really considered the same.

I first saw this as a cut out from Omni Magazine in the late '70's. You took the image and put it on a turntable, and stared at the spindle for 30 seconds to a minute. Yeah, ancient technology, but it still works even in our electronic era. (When the spirals quit spiraling, look at something that has details, not a blank, uncluttered area) Whooooaaaaa! Far out, Dude!

Sunset Three-Way

Get your mind out of the gutter! I had read yesterday that Jupiter and Venus were in alignment about sunset- I went out and looked, but it was too cloudy. Today however we had some pretty nice weather- light clouds in the morning, burning off in the afternoon, nearly 60 degrees. Despite all the drunken revelry, it was a nice day. A few minutes ago I went outside to smoke and looked west to see if I could spot the planets- no luck. I walked down the street to see if I could get a better view around the buildings and trees- no luck. So a bit of a mental shrug. Turned around and... POW! They're further to the south than I thought, and man are they bright! Spectacular! I wouldn't have seen them if I hadn't walked North, and (from my perspective) got them above the roofline of the buildings across the street.

But wait! There's More! The astronomical deliciousness gets better: over the next couple of days (Nov. 30, Dec. 1- links from spaceweather page at the top), the waxing crescent moon will pass near these two planets- after the sun, these are the three brightest objects in the sky. Should be quite a show- go out after sunset and look SW. Hope our weather holds out for the next couple of days! Hmm... looks like maybe tomorrow, but rain Monday.

Well, That Could've Been Handled Better

A couple of other folks here at my favorite coffee shop have mentioned that I would enjoy FailBlog. Yup. I went to that site a while ago, and found all sorts of stuff that made me laugh. Following is a sample...
fail owned pwned pictures
see more pwn and owned pictures
That's not so much a "Fail" as a Brilliant Marketing Strategy in a congenitally stupid society educated by such "distinguished" institutions as the one below:
fail owned pwned pictures
see more pwn and owned pictures
Ahhh... the joys of Microsoft. There was a contest a few years back to submit the best oxymoron (internally contradictory statement or phrase- a minimalist pardox); the winner was "Microsoft Works." One computer magazine I read in the mid '90's had a list of great list of (fake) dialogue-box statements. The one I've always remembered is "press any key to continue, or any other key to quit" Not sure whether the following is real or not, but that in itself says an awful lot about the kind of quality I expect from Microsoft.
fail owned pwned pictures
see more pwn and owned pictures
And they have videos too! This should be filed under Physics: Inertia: Consequences of.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Oops. Missed This Contest.

Firedoglake, one of the politiblogs that I haven't unsubscribed to, announced a contest, ummm... (looking it up), about two weeks ago to come up with a title for Shrub's autobiography (which incidentally, I hear, publishers are encouraging him to postpone... seems they don't see a market for it [I'm not finding backup info on this, though I thought I saw a number of articles; may be mistaken here]).

I missed the announcement, but I did find the results entertaining:
The winner:
-- argo0 -- You Can Fool Enough of the People Some of the Time
The runners-up:
-- diablesseblu: Mendacity of Dope
-- Hugh: A History of the American Steal Industry
-- JimWhite: Dude, Where’s My Surplus?
-- demi: Strings Attached
And here's some other entries I particularly liked, some more than the above:
-- Badwater: Catapultin’ the Propaganda
-- sdfStu: Heckuva Job, Me
-- barbara: Laws Are for Sissies
-- sdfStu: Curious George Eats A Pretzel
-- druidbros: Bush and Dick: How We All Got Screwed
-- Gnome de Plume: How I Saved Amurica from Itself
-- Hugh: Preventive War: The Coloring Book
-- PursuitofHappiness: None Dare Call It Reason
-- pitchforksandtorches: The Holey Babble - my Foolish Talk from the Old
Testicle through the New Internets
-- bonkers: War and Fleece

These are just a few of many, many listed. Click over for more... which are your favorites? I suppose I should try to come up with a couple... let's see...

Let History be the Judge
How to Strengthen Democracy by Ignoring Votes and Polls
Just Like Ronnie: Dazed, Confused and Indifferent
and of course, this one is just too obvious: The End of an Error

Shoot, that took just a couple of minutes; I do wish I'd caught this before the results came out. Do you have a good one? Leave it in the comments- this is fun!

'Tis the Season to be Noisy

Every year, in late September, the college students return and reclaim Corvallis. I enjoy nearly all of them one-on-one, but in large groups, especially if they've been drinking (and yes, I'm thinking specifically about you, Greek people), they are disruptive, noisy and rude. For example, taking the dumpster from our apartment building, pushing it around in the street at 3:00 in the morning, screaming "Beep, Beep!"for five minutes, then leaving it there, would be considered by most to be unneighborly.

So every year, starting in late September, I start looking forward to Thanksgiving weekend: four days of uninterupted peace and quiet.

But somehow I've managed to live in Corvallis for more than 28 years without realizing that the Civil War Game (UO vs. OSU) is held each Thanksgiving weekend. And every other year, it's held in Corvallis. It's going to be noisy tomorrow. Call it the Mud Bowl, call it the Toilet Bowl- there's a reason Oregonians name their teams after prey animals.

Still, I did get two days of uninterupted peace and quiet.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Sum the Costs...

...of the following (in inflation-adjusted dollars):

  • Louisiana Purchase
  • The New Deal
  • Marshall Plan
  • Korean War
  • Vietnam War
  • Moon Shot
  • S&L Crisis
  • Iraq War
  • All-time NASA Budget
...and compare it to the (current estimate of the) cost of the 2008 Bailout.(Full Size Here, Original Source) Wouldn't the cost of the Moon Shot (by which I'm assuming we mean the Saturn Program) be a part of NASA's all-time budget? Of course, I'm nit-picking, but what the heck, nits are in season and they're tasty. Aside from the obvious- the jaw dropping amount of money we're talking about here- I was also surprised to see how close the Iraq costs were to the Vietnam cost.

And, Washington, if you happen to read this, even though I've lost a lot of weight this past couple of years, you should know that I'm too big to fail too.

Morons International

And here I've been thinking the US had the global monopoly (USA! Nmber One!) Saw this a while back and recovered it as I was going through some old stuff; it's even worse than I'd remembered.
My brother-in-law went through security at Auckland domestic airport and witnessed a passenger having to fish out her nail scissors from her handbag and leave them behind. He went through security and then boarded his plane. After being seated he could smell petrol. He knew you shouldn't be able to smell petrol on a plane, because planes don't use petrol. The smell got worse and eventually he got the attention of one of the flight attendants. They started to look around to see where it was coming from. They found in the overhead compartment a chainsaw in a bag that was leaking petrol into the compartment. His plane was delayed as the owner was identified and the chainsaw removed and put with the main luggage. The owner of the chainsaw said security had stopped him but had let him through because it wasn't one of the things on their list to confiscate.
So gasoline (petrol) is a flammable liquid that you are not, under any circumstance, allowed to bring aboard an airplane. Unless, of course, you're carrying it in a chainsaw. But watch out for those nail scissors. (From Here)

Post-Turkey Exercise

Ur doin it rite:

Ur doin it rong:

Take a walk after dinner, Y'all! Hope it's a Great One!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Why Do You 'Spose the Oceans are Salty?

You've probably heard that one of the items delivered to the International Space Station (ISS) was a machine designed to recycle water... specifically, urine. Now this is a surprisingly complex task, considering that the recovered water needs to meet... ummm... fairly demanding standards of quality. That is, the astronauts will be drinking the machine's output.

On one hand, though we tend not to think about it, we all do this. But we have natural systems that take care of the processes for us: evaporation, condensation, precipitation, uptake of nitrates and other compounds by bacteria, filtration by natural sediments, flocculation by various electrochemical processes, and destruction of potentially pathogenic organisms by phages, to name a few. We also have processing plants that remove most of the undesirable materials in our sewage before we release it into the environment. Finally, we have enough inhabitable volume that we can entertain the illusion of an "open," unlimited system. The earth system is, in fact, for all intents and purposes, closed, and the vast bulk of what we consume- eating, drinking, breathing- has been through countless other organisms over the course of eath's history. But on the ISS, the inhabitable space is very limited; there is no room for illusions, let alone a functioning ecosystem that can cycle materials such that the output of each component matches and meets the needs for input by another component. It's wonderous to consider that we live in a world where this is so- but on the ISS, they need to have a machine that takes care of this.

On the other hand, I guess I wouldn't really have wanted to be involved in the development of such a machine. (Warning: language NSFW; hat tip to ScienceBlog)
See more funny videos at Funny or Die

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Oh, By the Way, Which One's Pink?

I like funnies. And puns. This works for me.
From this post, and here's the front. And here's another from the same site that I had almost forgotten; this goes nicely with my "Teach the Controversy" Table of Elements on the sidebar. Not a busy place, and I too often don't get the references, but it's funny when I do.

Formican Architecture

I showed this to a friend, and he wants me to post it. You betcha! The good stuff starts about halfway through- the first part is breathless voice-over that I basically won't tolerate any more. The general gist is that researchers filled an ant colony with concrete, let it set, then excavated the cast. The whole thing reminds me of the alien architecture from the Alien series of movies; the architecture itself has an organic aspect.

Many of the comments are about how horrid scientists are for destroying this colony. Sorry, they're ants. If they were in your house or even in your yard, you wouldn't hesitate to wipe them out. In this case, we come to understand them a little better- which we don't with pest extermination.

Stuff We Take for Granted..., more often than not, pretty amazing, if someone helps us think about it. For example, when was the last time you considered the reading head of your hard drive? Yeah, I don't tend to think a whole lot about it either. However, as I said...

The dimensions of the head are impressive. With a width of less than a hundred nanometers and a thickness of about ten, it flies above the platter at a speed of up to 15,000 RPM, at a height that’s the equivalent of 40 atoms. If you start multiplying these infinitesimally small numbers, you begin to get an idea of their significance. Consider this little comparison: if the read/write head were a Boeing 747, and the hard-disk platter were the surface of the Earth:

*The head would fly at Mach 800 [Mach 1 is the speed of sound- 800 times that]
*At less than one centimeter from the ground
*And count every blade of grass
*Making fewer than 10 unrecoverable counting errors in an area equivalent to all of Ireland.
From here. Amazing. Just. Freaking. Amazing.

Monday, November 24, 2008

MOMMYYYY! Mr. Krugman's Scaring Me Again!

Meant to pass this along Saturday, but catching up with unread stuff, new stuff, and so on... it was a productive weekend in terms of input, but little to show for it on the blog. My brother finds Krugman's columns tedious and simplistic. I'll grant that his columns are repetitive (how many times did he warn about the liquidity trap, and how many times has he now told us that we're in that trap), and aimed at those with a basic, but only basic, understanding of economics. As it happens, that's basically where I am. Furthermore, my brother's philosophical leaning is toward Friedman; Krugman is more a disciple of Keynes. He told me last spring that Keynsian economic thought had basically been discredited- though you wouldn't know it to look at the various "stimulus packages," bailouts, and attempts to shore up credit availability that we've seen since then.

While the column I linked up front is a few days old, the issues are going to be with us for a while. One of the things that I find fascinating about economics is just how much it shares with geology. The fundamentally important ideas are actually pretty simple, but recursive feedbacks create a chaotic system that can look very confusing to someone who hasn't developed an intuitive sense of how the whole thing works (with respect to economics, I'm not there; I have to stop and think about things that initiates gloss over with "Now, obviously...). Another parallel is when someone, an expert, says "this seems likely," you pay attention. When someone says "this is what will happen," my inclination is to dismiss the person as a crank who has no idea of the limitations inherent in the discipline. When Krugman says this is what's happening, and this, this, and this are the likely consequences, it's scary.

Also wanted to pass along Krugman's blog, for those inclined to a bit more meat than one finds in his columns.

Oh. Really?

There's a quiz on "Civic Literacy" that's all the rage out there on the innertubez; I've seen it noted in maybe seven or eight blogs. I expected I would probably do better than average (around 50%), maybe in the 75% range if I was lucky. I got every question right! Now there were several where I could only eliminate one or two answers, then guess between the remaining choices, and a couple more where I was able to eliminate all but the correct answer. But still, this was pretty much a surprise to me. I've always felt like a competent learner, though I've never cared much about "grades." But when test time comes around, I consistently seem to know more than I think I do.

Another interesting point that's made in the discussion of the test and its results: test-takers who claimed to have held elected positions scored consistently and substantially lower than those who haven't held such positions. So how many times did shrub take the test before he finally finished?