Saturday, October 15, 2005

Plus Shipping and Handling

I boxed up and mailed my server to my new apartment today. The cable and wiring alone weighed 10 lbs., so this was a Project a little larger than I was expecting. I took the big pieces, i.e. the server and monitors, along with a large box containing the external stroage and the aforementioned box of copper to the UPS store this afternoon. I had no real expectation for the cost, but the figure of merit floating in my head as $150 or so.

UPS guy: I have to pack the server if you want insurance.
Me: Okay.
(I had mailed a server to Geoff some years back, packed it myself, didn't insure it and, you guessed it, it arrived busted. I do not want go through that again with my heavily modded home system)
UPS: How much do you want to insure it for?
Me (calculating replacement value to self. Server cost $1500, memory + mods $500 or so... ): About $2000
UPS [looks at chart]: hmmm... for that much, they will only ship 2-day air.
Me: Okay.
UPS: What about the Monitors?
Me (replacement cost: $800 each): $1000
UPS: ok..
Me (to self:shit, out loud): Each.
UPS: [takes second look at monitors]: Okay. Now this box of drives, how do you want to ship that?
Me: I want it all together. Wires too.
UPS: Okay. Do you want to bother insuraning the drives?
Me (6 300Gig drives X $400 each =):yes, $2500
UPS: You don't have gold wires or anything do you?
Me (thinking): Noooooo...... ... No.
UPS: Okay. verify this, this and this address.
Me: Okay (verifies). What's the total?
UPS (adding ... adding ... adding): Hold on, that can't be right. (throws away tape, starts over.)
Me (to self): uh-oh..
UPS: ... ... (looks at tape).. oooooooookay. That's $825.46
Me (agape, jaw swinging freely in the breeze)
UPS: Sir?
Me (mental calculation of replacement cost of system: Server+monitors+drives + content = $9000+ ... shit! How did that happen? ... This is less than 10% of the value of the system. ... shit.): Go for it.
UPS: Yes sir! Cash or card?
Me(handing over MSFT AMEX): card.
UPS (rings up): Here you go sir! It should be there Wednesday.
Me: For 800 bucks you ought to have a host of seraphim personally fly it to my office.
UPS (without missing a beat): Yes sir, but we can't get them to work Sundays. Union Rules.
Me (Oh, is THAT my place? I'd better go stand there): hahahahhahahahahahahahhaha touche!

And that's how UPS got $825.46 to move my modded server to Redmond and where I learned a Valuable Lesson in the wit and snarkiness of UPS countervolken.

All Four Horsemen, and Their Little Dog Too

I was reading this Bill Mahr monologue (very mildly amusing) , got to the end and was just stunned at his guest list:

I want to thank my terrific panel: Salman Rushdie, Ben Affleck, Andrew Sullivan, Kayla Williams and Ann Coulter

AS, Salman Rushdie and Ann Coulter??!!???

I have to find a tape of this show.

Birth Snark

I'm catching up on stuff after a few busy days at work and while I pack up. So when I took a look at Slate this morning, the first article I read was Dana Stevens' on the Scientology Birth Plan.

Yes, of course the plan is total crap, but she does a great job summing it up into one line:

Apparently pretending to all concerned that pushing a human being out your coochie is not only painless, but downright relaxing, will "save both the sanity of the mother and the child and safeguard the home to which they will go."

I was in the room when my son was born. I have no idea at all why any rational woman would ever want a second child. If I were her, I'd fill the damnable portal with cement, cover it with the Seal of Solomon and chop my husband's dick off for good measure. "silence" isn't in it.

Read the rest of the article, it's pretty funny.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Farting Elves - 12 Days Of Christmas

There are exactly 3 people on this planet for whom this is funny and at least two of them read this blog.

It's the First Day of School for Aspiring Vatican Exorcists

Oh yes, they are serious.

"There is no doubt that the devil is intervening more in the life of man these days," Father Paolo Scarafoni told the students, most of them priests who want to learn how to tackle the demon if they should ever encounter him.
"Not all of you will become exorcists but it is indispensable that every priest knows how to discern between demonic possession and psychological problems," he said.
The four-month course, called "Exorcism and the Prayer of Liberation," is being offered for the second year by Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University on Rome's outskirts.
The about 120 students from around the world will hear lectures on topics such as the pastoral, spiritual, theological, liturgical, medical, legal and criminological aspects of Satanism and demonic possession.

The parallels here between the Catholic and Scientology Churches' approaches to neurology and psychology are just too obvious to list.

Further down in the article though, there is something practical and useful:

"When confronted with a physical aspect of Satan, your only real hope of victory lies in rolling a natural 20", says Father Scarafoni

Shit Sandwich Suprisingly Tasty; I Give It A B+



While this looks like something I might have invented, I can only imagine the dubious looks and shocked outrage if I had proposed this to any of my friends or relatives.

"You want to put a fire where?"

via boing boing

Photoshop Phriday

It's PP over at Something Awful and today's theme is "Game Crossovers"

I laughed out loud at the Halo take-off (scroll down).

The American Programmer and the Science Advantage

Back in the early '90s I was a software engineer for a company that made FEA products for the manufacturing, automotive and airline industries. I was fresh out of grad school with no formal software engineering training, but I'd been programming since I was 13 and managed to land a job. I was no great shakes as a programmer (I'm no great shakes at any kind of real engineering, mechanical, chemical or software.) and realized after a few years that I wasn't going to be happy with it. So I moved into a different aspect of development, quality assurance (it turned out I had slightly more talent for this and enjoyed it immensely) where I worked until I moved into management.

Ed Yourdon wrote a book back then called The Decline and Fall of the American Programmer, basically saying that America had about 10 years before companies started shipping their software development needs overseas. At the time, it seemed unlikely, but obviously he was right.

Freedman today suggests that the governement may finally have decided that cutting all the science out of the ciriculum may not have have been smart (and may not have producded the army of god-fearing theocrats the policy was intended to generate -Ed).

Fortunately, two senators, Lamar Alexander and Jeff Bingaman, asked the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine to form a bipartisan study group to produce just such a list, which was released on Wednesday in a report called "Rising Above the Gathering Storm."
The report's key recommendations? Nothing fancy. Charles Vest, the former president of M.I.T., summed them up: "We need to get back to basic blocking and tackling" - educating more Americans in the skills needed for 21st-century jobs.
Among the top priorities, the report says, should be these:

(1) Annually recruiting 10,000 science and math teachers by awarding four-year merit-based scholarships, to be paid back through five years of K-12 public school teaching. (We have too many unqualified science and math teachers.)
I think this is a good idea. Most (but not all) of the math or science teachers I had were terrible at the subject. They didn't study it in school and were forced to teach it as punishment for whatever political failure was in vouge at the school . I became a scientist in spite of most of them, not becuase of them (with 2 exceptions)

(2) Strengthening the math and science skills of 250,000 other teachers through extracurricular programs.

This is a waste of time. Just fire them.

(3) Creating opportunities and incentives for many more middle school and high school students to take advanced math and science courses, by offering, among other things, $100 mini-scholarships for success in exams, and creating more specialty math-and-science schools.

Incentives are good, although I'm not certain this is the right one. Still, it's a start.

(4) Increasing federal investment in long-term basic research by 10 percent a year over the next seven years.

Again, incentives are good.
(5) Annually providing research grants of $500,000 each, payable over five years, to 200 of America's most outstanding young researchers.

I'm not sure how you will figure out who these people are given the disparate topics.

(6) Creating a new Advanced Research Projects Agency in the Energy Department to support "creative out-of-the-box transformational energy research that industry by itself cannot or will not support and in which risk may be high, but success would provide dramatic benefits for the nation."

A new DARPA would be a great thing.

(7) Granting automatic one-year visa extensions to foreign students in the U.S. who receive doctorates in science, engineering or math so they can seek employment here, and creating 5,000 National Science Foundation-administered graduate fellowships to increase the number of U.S. citizens earning doctoral degrees in fields of "national need." (See the rest at

This is the heart of the problem. It's a little depressing it's last on the list but basically, we've been shipping our knowledge overseas and getting nothing back. I was 3rd in my class in grad school and, compared to the foreign students over in physics, I looked like a high schooler. While my friends and I would moan about doing half a dozen problems out of Jackson's MHD book, the foreign students did them all. And I mean all. If they were professors here, I'd bet my last dollar science and math standards would be on their way up.

The risk is that the US will become the France of the 21st Century. A has-been global power more obsessed with preserving language and former cultural victories and progressing to the 22nd.

New, Seattle Address

My new physical address as of Monday:

2201 4th Ave #500
Seattle, WA 98121

(206) 728-6210

I am literally down the block from the Space Needle.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


Some still wonder why I don't trust the President or believe what he says.

At the WH Press breifing today:

Scott McClellan got asked whether the teleconference the president had with troops in Tikrit was scripted. Here's what he said ...
QUESTION: How were they selected, and are their comments to the president pre-screened, any questions or anything...
QUESTION: Not at all?
MCCLELLAN: This is a back-and-forth.


I was listening to NPR this evening and on "All Things Considered" they played a sizeable chunk of the rehearsal where Alison Barber gives very specific instructions to the troops about what to do in case Bush goes off script. She then goes through a list of questions Bush is going to ask and rehearses the answers with the troops, coaching them along the way. You can listen to the entire rehearsal or read transcripts here.How did she know what Bush was going to ask if Bush and his cronies (Mclellan included) weren't involved? It seems as though Mclellan and the administration are caught up in another lie and I think this staged event is tantamount to Goebbels-level propaganda. Maybe I'm wrong, but an event this scripted and passed off as candid seems like nothing but a ruse for the American people.

When Clinton lied I was equally upset. Can this type of behvaior really be the norm for Presidents? If so, it's a damning indictment of the country as a whole.

Something Mildly Clever

I woke up in the middle of the night last night and couldn't manage to fall back asleep, so I started thinking about how I would prove the Four Color Theorem. (This is one of many little tricks I use to disctract myself from whatever is really bothering me and keeping me awake. It almost never works, but if I am going to be up I might as well think about something like this or Fermat's Last Theorem or non-orientable surface integrals or something like that).
(Yeah, I'm weird like this.)

I started by trying to divide up an arbitrary map using Poincare Maps. I quickly decided I didn't remember enough about Poincare Maps to have any chance with this. :(

Unfortunately, it didn't put me to sleep either.

So then I thought about Euler networks and tried to figure out if I could figure out the Euler characteristic of simple maps and expand outwards. I pondered this for about an hour, decided I couldn't get to fewer than 5 colors and finally fell asleep.

In looking up the wiki on poisson distributions below, I remembered my problem last night and try to see if there was any merit to what I was trying.

Is seems there was. :)
(although I was not as concise as the wiki version)

It's a little reassuring to know that the brain worms haven't gotten everything yet.

The Statistics of Small Numbers

Dr. Nick makes an insightful observation

I’ve noticed for this blog anyway, if a post is going to get commented upon, it will be commented upon the first day it appears, and generally not thereafter. I wonder if this is true for blogs in general? I think it might be.
Yes. One might even expect a … wait for it… power law to apply, somehow?

I think it's more like a Poisson Distribution or, in cases where the numbers aren't so small, a Cauchy or even full-bore Guassian.

Wonkette makes a similar observation in a different context

The Huffington Post yelped, almost Drudge-style, "NBC/WSJ Poll: 2% Of African-Americans Give President Bush A Positive Rating," with the helpful modifier, "UNBELIEVABLE..." And, indeed, it is. For a good reason: It's not exactly true. While two percent grabs headlines and make Tim Russert all wriggly ("Only 2 percent -- 2 percent!" as he spurted last night), the more significant number is buried in report. Dug up by Dan Froomkin, it's this: Out of 807 surveyed for the poll, only 89 were black. As Froomkin puts it, "there is a considerable margin or error." Our statistics are rusty, but it seems like it could be high as +/- 10 percent. Sure, there's a possibility that Bush has a -8% approval ratings from blacks. Or maybe Kanye West should investigate whether NBC/WSJ care about what black people really think.

Civilization IV release Notes

Finally! Civ IV is ready for the streets! Release notes from Sid Meier.

I. Added Civilizations:
The Polish: Long have these hardy people existed in the unfavorable location between Germany and Russia, and have been overlooked as a major player in European history. Although much was destroyed in WWII, these proud people have outlasted the worst conditions and persevered with nothing more than potatoes and polka music. They are even America's third biggest ally right now in the fight against terror in Iraq. That tells you something!Special Unit: Polka band. Replaces the archer. This unit has a special attack that can lower the culture of any city it enters.Leaders: King Paskiewicz (seductive, warlike), John Paul II (religious, seafaring).

II. New Technologies
News Entertainment: Decreases war weariness via propaganda and confusion. Once you unlock this technology you may produce the special unit Bill O'Reilly. The unit may be used in an unhappy city by clouding the truth with unabashed lying and magic tricks.Prerequisites: Fascism, Television

Latin Pop Music: The discovery of this technology gives you the ability to generate a new form of happiness in the guise of festive Latin pop. It allows you to build the Latin pop radio station, making two citizens happy in your city. The downside is that you lose two production from the illegal immigrant influx.Prerequisites: The Tango, Radar


There is also a new Citizen type: the Blogger, which increases pollution.

I Still Think of You, Jim Henson

Very touching.

Hat tip to Lee

Blog Errors

I'm having trouble with the blog this morning, it's chopping out text from postings. Appologies if I make even less sense than usual.


Trying to post this a 5th time:

Good Article in the SeattlePI on the effect of anti trust legislation.

Then there's the question of who antitrust law is supposed to benefit -- competitors or consumers. Proponents of the former argue that maintaining multiple competitors, especially in the face of a large, dominant player, is essential to protecting the latter. Others argue that near-monopoly companies (such as Microsoft and PC operating systems) are not necessarily detrimental to consumers, and if there's no proof consumers are being harmed, there's no basis for legal intervention.

The continuing antitrust fights involving Microsoft have raised a third point of contention: Whether bankruptcy law can move fast enough to deal with realities of the technology marketplace. The judgments and settlements in the government's antitrust cases seemed to be resolving yesterday's disputes tomorrow; by the case's conclusion the original point was moot.
If anything, the Microsoft-RealNetworks settlement announced earlier this week demonstrates how unresolved those first two debates are. Those who question the need for antitrust law won't find much to dissuade them from the belief that such suits are merely grabs for money, publicity or protection. Those who insist antitrust law doesn't go far enough will see just another example of Microsoft settling because it has the cash to make troublesome suits go away.

One of the best books on the law and econometrics of antitrust legislation is Richard Posner's. Definitely worth reading.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Joys of Atheism

done excellently.

Theists often write and speak of the wonders and happiness their religion provides, citing miracles, doing good works for others, and security in the belief that they’ll ascend into a place called Heaven when their lives end. I have no doubts they’re sincere, and if this is what truly makes them happy, then it’s a good choice for them.


A common misconception that many theists labor under is the belief that the only kind people are those who follow a particular god or religion. To this, any atheist or freethinker with common sense will no doubt reply ‘rubbish.’ British philosopher Bertrand Russell, a well-known secularist himself, made the following statement in his essay ‘The Faith of a Rationalist:’ “Men tend to have the beliefs that suit their passions. Cruel men believe in a cruel god and use their belief to excuse cruelty. Only kindly men believe in a kindly god, and they would be kindly in any case.” In other words, one doesn’t have to believe in a god to be a kind person. Many atrocities in past history have clearly demonstrated that religion and kindness were worlds apart.


Anyone who has voluntarily left Catholicism and other conservative faiths will no doubt cite lack of freedom to make individual choices as one of their chief reasons for seeking a different path. I was no exception. In my personal experience, there was no pleasure in being told that I would have to remain celibate until marriage, even if for some reason I chose never to marry. I didn’t see the point of having the church decide the circumstances under which I could have sex, whether it be as a single or married person. I thought it both absurd and intrusive that a church had the arrogance to tell me I should never use certain kinds of birth control to prevent pregnancy. Or that I couldn’t indulge in certain sexual acts that avoided pregnancy altogether.
Since I valued my freedom more than observing the arbitrary and cruel rules of Catholicism, secularism was by far the better choice.

Open Letters to George Bush

Dear George

Econometrics is the contemporary reincarnation of Medieval Scholasticism. The only difference is that where the Scholastics carried on long disputations over how many angels could fit on the head of a pin, econometricists carry on long disputations over equations of regression that explain the constant relationships between multiple magnitudes in the economic domain. In both cases, superstition is concealed beneath a gauze of pseudo science. As with any superstition, if enough people believe it, it is true.

But, let us disregard all the pooh-bahs of complex theoretical formulas. The complexity doesn’t exist that can’t be reduced to a simple wisp of a thread even you can understand.

There are intelligent people I know who beleive the bolded part about science as well.

Excellent Use of Media Training 101

Superlative. I'd give John an "A" if he were in my media class.

I got this email from a news/spam email list I signed up for a few years ago. John Blair is a DJ at NY City's Roxy nightclub. The Roxy is a little "tired" and out of fashion.

Hi there, Mark! The rumor is NOT TRUE!!!!
MADONNA IS NOT PERFORMING at the ROXY!We've been bombarded with questions from all of you who read a posting on yahoo stating that Madonna is performing at the Roxy on Oct 22. While we live for Madonna and our doors are always open to her, please help us spread the word: MADONNA IS NOT PERFORMING at the Roxy!

John: Madonna is not playing at the Roxy
Public: Madonna is at the Roxy! Let's go!

Good Quote

"Nothing conveys the feeling of infinity as much as stupidity does." (Motto of Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald)

also (and lesser)
Thaurloteion: why must linux discs not work well?
Toast171: Becuase you must be a level 12 Cleric to cast them my son.

Role Reversal

During the Clinton Administration, with taxes and deficits going down, welfare recipients working and a burgeoning government surplus, I used to kid my democratic freinds by saying, "Clinton is the best Republican President never elected". This republicanism, more than any other single thing, is what the GOP hated most about him becuase he stole a lot of their issues and got them done.

Now, 10 years later, we sadly have the exact opposite. Whereas Clinton took the best of the republican ideas and made them his, the current President has taken the worst of the democrat’s ideas and succeded in bringing them home.
For example, Nick Gillespie in Reason notes:

Over the past two weeks, I've written or co-written a couple of things about how George W. Bush outspent Lyndon Baines Johnson in his first four budgets. To recap: When it comes to inflation-adjusted increases in discretionary spending (comprising most defense and nonentitlement spending), Dubya beats LBJ like Sam Houston beat Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto.
The gap becomes even bigger when you stretch the comparisons out to the first five years of each prez's budgets. Here are numbers for all recent presidents who oversaw at least five budgets prepared by American Enterprise Institute analyst Veronique de Rugy. All are based on Office of Management and Budget and all are adjusted for inflation. The Bush figure for fiscal year 2005 is based on OMB midsession review numbers; the figure for fiscal year 2006 is based on the OMB midsession review of the budget Bush submitted earlier this year (if anything, the final figures will be higher than his provisional budget):

First Five Years, Percentage Changes in Real Discretionary Spending

LBJ: 25.2%
Nixon: -16.5%
Reagan: 11.9%
Clinton: -8.2%
Bush: 35.2%

Read 'em and weep.
Posted by Nick Gillespie at October 12, 2005 11:15 AM

Well, at least we know Iraq isn't a nuclear threat anymore! That was money well spent.


I've never seen a serious public document refer to anyone by "Miss" in decades. Technically correct, I though this went out of style quite a while back, at least when refering to anyone over the age of 18.

Was Miss Miers’ corporate practice primarily transactional (contract writing and negotiations) or was it primarily litigation? How many of her cases involved constitutional issues? What were the issues? Did Miss Miers do most of the research and writing herself? Has she argued constitutional issues before a court? How many times? In what courts? In how many did she prevail? Are there any published opinions? If so, what are the case names and citations?

To which of the Founders was Miss Miers referring in her acceptance statement, and why?

What did Miss Miers mean when she promised to keep our judicial system strong and what would she do to accomplish that commitment?

Does Miss Miers believe that the Declaration of Independence is important to understanding the U.S. Constitution?

What do the style books say?
The American Heritage® Book of English Usage says:

Many of us think of Ms. or Ms as a very recent invention of the women’s movement, but in fact the term was first suggested as a convenience to writers of business letters by such publications as the Bulletin of the American Business Writing Association (1951) and The Simplified Letter, issued by the National Office Management Association (1952). Along with many others, champions of women’s rights saw the virtues of the term and soon advocated its use in more general contexts, as is evidenced by the founding of Ms. magazine in 1972.
1 The form Ms. or Ms is now widely used in both professional and social contexts. Thus the term stands as a highly successful language reform—probably because people value its usefulness. As a courtesy title, Ms. serves exactly the same function as Mr. does for men, and like Mr. it may be used with a last name alone or with a full name: Ms. Pemberton; Ms. Miriam E. Pemberton.
2 Using Ms. obviates the need for the guesswork involved in figuring out whether to address someone as Mrs. or Miss: you can’t go wrong with Ms. Whether the woman you are addressing is married or unmarried, has changed her name or not, Ms. is always correct. And the beauty of Ms. is that this information becomes irrelevant, as it should be—and as it has always been for men.
3 Of course, some women may indicate that they prefer to use the title Miss or Mrs., and in these cases it only makes sense to follow their wishes.

So it could be her wish to be called Miss.

What's Wiki say?

Miss can be used in direct address to a woman, for example, May I help you, miss? Some women consider this disrespectful and prefer ma'am. In the United Kingdom, Miss is often used to address female teachers without using their name, regardless of marital status.

Miss was formerly the default title for a businesswoman. It was (and to some extent remains) also a default title for celebrities, such as actresses. (The poet
Dorothy Parker was often referred to as Miss Parker, even though Parker was the name of her first husband and she herself preferred Mrs. Parker.)

Another notable use of Miss is as the title of a
beauty queen, such as Miss America, Miss World, or Miss Congeniality.

So the choices seem to be preferred (possible), a teacher (no), a businesswoman (seems a stretch) or a beauty queen (unknown, but maybe we'll find out during the confirmation hearings).


A Good List, But not Long Enough

A listing at amazon on Atheism and Morality.

Interesting, if a bit old. if I were 20 or so I might get het-up about it.

One interesting insight here:
To my mind what the authors come close to proving (in the most painstaking fashion) is that the usual definitions of God are inadequate, thereby allowing one to derive contradictions from those definitions, contradictions that prove that God, defined in such and such a way, cannot exist. For example (and several of the contributors use variations on this theme), God cannot be all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-benevolent since there exists the palpable presence of evil in the world. Actually the editors break this down more finely and throw out three categories of "disproofs" which might be called, (1) the argument to disproof from definition; (2) the argument to disproof from evil; and (3) the argument to disproof from doctrine. In the latter, what is demonstrated is that a particular formulation of God is inconsistent with a particular religious doctrine, demonstrating that THAT God cannot exist.

The astute reader will note that all three categories rest on demonstrating a disconnect between definitions. What the various authors are trying to do is NOT to prove that God does not exist, rather that it is impossible to define God in such a way that contradictions do not arise. As the editors point out in their introduction, the real task here is to show that God is a logical impossibility, and therefore, like a square circle, cannot exist.

Basically, it comes down to the simple truism, any god which can be defined cannot exist without contadicting facts observable in the universe. Since (almost) all religions depend on defining a god and embuing it with moral authority, those religions are based on something which does not exist. It doesn't mean their moral logic is necessarily wrong, it just isn't proven by their assumptions about their gods.
Hence agnogisticism or atheism.

If you're a Christian already, it won't convince you of anything since you've already made peace with the contradictions. For the rest of us, it's an interesting academic argument.

Chinese Astronauts

The Chinese are running their second space mission in as many years. Way to go guys!

The pair of Chinese astronauts in orbit about 350 km above the Earth said they were "feeling well" and everything is normal.
A senior official has just declared the success of China's second manned space mission.

"Normal" is the most used term during the half hour since the launch Wednesday morning in the dialogue between the control centers in Beijing and remote Gobi Desert Jiuquan and the spacemen in space.

They reported to the doctor on the ground that they are well and physical conditions are good.

They were even comfortably flipping and reading flight books, proving that they felt at ease and more comfortable than Yang Liwei, the first Chinese into space who said he felt strong tremor about 120 seconds after liftoff.

White House Civil War?

Speculation, more like Kremlinology, on the whereabouts and activities of VP Cheney.

At first, there was just speculation. Earlier in September, Nora Ephron wondered aloud on the Huffington Post why Cheney had been absent from the initial days of the Katrina fiasco. She speculated there was lingering resentment from the incident in May of this year when a private plane strayed too close to the White House: Cheney was rushed to a bunker while a bicycling Bush wasn't informed, even though his wife was in the White House at the time, Ephron compared Cheney to "the dog that did not bark" and wrote:
So I can only suppose that something has gone wrong. Could the President be irritated that Cheney helped con him into Iraq? Oh, all right, probably not. Could Cheney – and not just his aides -- possibly be involved in the Valerie Plame episode? Is Cheney not speaking to Karl Rove? Does the airplane/bicycle incident figure into this in any way?

A few days later, Jeralyn Merritt over at TalkLeft moved the story from the land of speculation into the arena of gossip. Cheney had told a friend that he was tired of Bush's screw-ups:
A few months ago, I heard of a lunch conversation that Cheney had with a political type in Wyoming. I have no idea if it's true or not, but it makes some sense. Here's the tale:
Cheney has been getting tired of being called upon to fix Bush's mistakes. Cheney said Bush is almost incapable of making any decision. He waffles and waffles. Then, once he makes a decision, he refuses to change it. Because of his born-again faith, he says "It's in the hands of G-d now" and washes his hands of it. Then Cheney is called in to repair the damage.
If this story is even remotely true, this may have been the final straw for Cheney, and he decided to let Bush try to wiggle his way out of his Katrina inaction on his own.

Probably not. I can't see Cheney throwing the whole GOP overboard just to make a point, but it is an amusing theory.

The Queen of Snark

I've decided I finally understand Maureen Dowd. I've been looking at her as a commentator, or a writer or a journalist and she's really not matched my definition of any of those jobs.

I get it now though, she's a comedienne!

Her take on the contents of Harriet's papers, should any be released from the Administration, based on the birthday greetings which have so far been released is at least funny in concept.

August 2001 "Thank you so much for letting me bundle up and drag away the brush that you cut down today. And if I might add, Sir, I've never seen a man wield the nippers so judiciously. It was awesome! You are the best brush cutter ever!!"

September 2001 "I found out today that you handed down a decision for the White House mess to offer three different kinds of jelly with its P.B.&J. sandwiches. Sweet!! As you know, I'm the only member of the staff who eats three meals a day in the mess. Now I get to have a different type of jelly at every meal! The mess is blessed to have a president who cares so much. I know I'm probably just flattering myself, but I like to think that you are thinking of me, also. (Smile.)
"P.S. Can you believe Condi cares more about W.M.D.'s than P.B.&J.'s?"

well, concept, if not execution.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Plumeria, Keane

Google knows everything. It is the frontal lobes of the emerging planetary conciousness.

Jim and I got a plant 2 years ago in Hawaii. When we got it, it was just a cutting about 7" long. Green, with no distinguishing marks. 2 years later, it's 4 feet tall, has three branches and really unusual, white 5 petal flowers. It's clearly some kind of tree. I'm more than a little worried it wont survive the trip to Redmond, so I wanted to know what it was, in case I have to replace it.

Google: hawaii 5 petal flower tree white

Keane Plumeria

Cheap, not-quite to Orbit

Of my friends from grad school, John Spitzak and I am the only ones left without a satellite of our own. :( To be fair, Lori Allen lost her first one (WIRE) into the ocean, but is doing well with SIRTF.

OTOH, we may not be quite out of the running.
(also via boing boing)

"Launching a small satellite carrying a telescope into orbit costs around $100 million," says Boggs, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics. "But for about $1 million, a balloon can get you above 99 percent of the atmosphere. So balloon flights are great for testing out new instruments that may eventually go up in space."
The telescope was built at UC Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory where Boggs specializes in gamma ray astronomy. The rays are of such high energy that they can travel incredibly long distances to give us glimpses of phenomena in the deepest regions of space.
"Gamma ray astrophysics is the study of some of the most exotic things our universe has to offer, like matter falling into the edge of a black hole or the surface of neutron stars," Boggs says.

As an undergrad I worked for Gordon Garmire on AXAF. One of the things he had us do was design Wolter type I, X-ray telescopes. I wonder if there is something that could be thrown together with a 5-Mpx CCD, some scrap steel and a car battery?

UFO Sightings: September 2005

A good use of Google Maps.
(hat tip to boing boing)

I wonder if you could do the same thing with sightings of Jesus.

... or does the existance of one preclude the existance of the other?

Redmond Schedule

Friday: Moving Consultant
Monday 17th: Move to Temp Housing
Friday 28th: Return to Pack
Monday 31st: Movers come and take stuff to redmond Storage
Monday 7th: Week in Lahey Clinic for brain stuff
Monday 15th: Start house shopping!

Book Review: Eragon, Eldest /The Runes of the Earth

Eragon/Eldest by Christopher Paolini

Lots of hype about Eragon and later about Eldest, written by first time novelist Christopher Paolini when he was a teen. I didn't have a lot of expectations and he didn't fail to meet them. Eragon starts off pretty rough in terms of writing, but picks up a little as the novel progresses and he finds and falls into a style. Almost all the elements are stolen from other novels but woven into a story of his choosing. I've never read any of the Dragonriders of Pern books but subtracting away the Tolikien, Terry Brooks and Terry Goodkind from Eragon, I can guess from the remains what it's about (People riding Dragons I'm guessing). Don't get me wrong, it's a charming story that has some unique elements of it's own and it's impressive, but it's definitely in the young-adult fantasy camp. Eldest is a more of the same, but a little more complicated, the writing is a little better, plot is slightly more complicated and there is at least one Blazing Saddles joke which I laughed at.
Not bad and I'll probably stick in for the third book as Paolini finds his own voice. Right now I view him as a kind of reverse Goodkind (whose novels get progressively worse as time goes on).

OTOH, I also read Donaldson's The Runes of the Earth, the Last Chronicals of Thomas Covenant. I know, I know, how can Donaldson possibly ride the corpse of the Unbeliever for not just one more, but four more novels? Why would I even look at this, especially after the unreadable "Gap into Mediocrity" series (there are only so many forced rape scenes even I can stomach)? Donaldson can write. Long, ropey sentences which occasionally twist enough to lose their meaning until a paragraph or two later. The man can really write and the book, at least so far, has the least amount of rape and torture I've read in a Donaldson book. I can't say I enjoyed it, but when book 2 comes out next year I will likely have it delivered to my door in it's plain, brown wrapper.

Good News for Procreators!

It seems the public found it's limit in what it's willing to tolerate from the government-knows-best crowd.

Ind. lawmaker withdraws permission-to-procreate bill
Following a public outcry, an Indiana state legislator has pulled back for further study a piece of proposed legislation that would have sharply limited the use of assisted reproduction medical technologies by married couples, and banned them for everyone else. "State Sen. Patricia Miller, R-Indianapolis, issued a one-sentence statement this afternoon saying: 'The issue has become more complex than anticipated and will be withdrawn from consideration by the Health Finance Commission.' ... Under her proposal, couples who need assistance to become pregnant -- such as through intrauterine insemination; the use of donor eggs, embryos and sperm; in vitro fertilization, embryo transfer or other medical means -- would have to be married to each other. In addition, married couples who needed donor sperm and eggs to become pregnant would be required to go through the same rigorous assessment process of their fitness to be parents as do people who adopt a child." (Mary Beth Schneider, "Legislator drops controversial plan", Indianapolis Star,
Oct. 5).

Peter Jackson's "Halo"

Jackson is going to make the Halo movie.


Peter Jackson, who directed of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the upcoming remake of King Kong, will serve as executive producer of the upcoming film based on Microsoft's blockbuster Halo video game, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Jackson's wife and partner Fran Walsh, who served as writer and producer on his previous films, will co-executive-produce under the team's WingNut films banner. Jackson's New Zealand-based Weta companies will also provide creatures, miniatures and visual effects for the production.

Universal Pictures and 20th Century Fox, the companies behind the project, hope to be in production in the spring with an eye toward a summer 2007 release, the trade paper reported. Prior to Jackson's involvement, Microsoft hired Alex Garland (28 Days Later) to write the screenplay and will have its own consultants on the production, along with the game's developer, Bungie Studios. An announcement about the film's director is expected soon.

View From "The World"

As a follow up to the "Palm" visibl from the moon, Dan adds, The World.


One of the sales teams asked this morning about the Black-Scholes algorithm.
"It's just the Heat Transfer Equation applied to options pricing..." and I realized this was another great example of 19th century physics winning a 20th century Nobel Prize in Economics.

As I said, there is a lot of great ideas that transfer over from Physics to Economics.

Update: I should always check Wiki first. They do a version of Heat Transfer which one can simplifiy into Black-Scholes pretty clearly.

How to Liven Up a Party

Tell folks about the actual history of the institution of marriage. This has never failed to start a shouting match at even the most relaxed gathering.

From Reason:

Statistically speaking, Coontz observes, the most "traditional" form of marriage is not "one man, one woman" but "one man, as many women as he can afford." Many Native American groups cared about diversity of gender in marriage rather than of biological sex: A couple had to comprise one person doing "man's work" and one person doing "woman's work," regardless of what their genitals looked like. The unique Na people in southwestern China live not in couples but in sibling clusters, with groups of brothers and sisters collaboratively raising the children conceived by the women during evening rendezvous with visitors.

What's most striking, however, is the panoply of purposes marriage has served at different times and in different places, even when Coontz focuses on the more familiar one-on-one heterosexual union.

Among early hunter-gatherer bands, the trading of members to other bands as spouses was, above all, a means of establishing networks of trade and economic cooperation. Once each group had members with loyalties and ties to both, barter became a safer bet. As Claude Lévi-Strauss put it, the "reciprocity which is the basis of marriage is not established between men and women, but between men by means of women, who are merely the occasion of this relationship."

Try it, it's fun. I have put the occasional Mormon into an apoplectic fit with this.

Separation of School and State

Okay, I'm convinced.

When schools are run by the government, the details of ninth-grade biology classes, the propriety of patriotic rituals, and every other educational issue—ranging from how to teach math and reading to the contents of vending machines—becomes a political issue. Even when the arguments don't end up in court, they generate acrimony and resentment that could be avoided if education were entirely a private matter.
I'm not suggesting that parents would be completely satisfied with their children's schools if the government got out of the education business. No doubt they would always find something to complain about. But if they were not compelled to pay for government-run schools, they would be in a better position to choose schools that reflected their values and preferences, and the compromises they made would be voluntary, instead of terms imposed by the winning side of a political battle.

Good Advice to the Dems from Karl Rove

Not that they listen to folks like this. One problems the Dems have involves their current leadership and the patronage system that sprung up in the '70s. The DNC has been run like a Union shop for decades, requiring massive amounts of "time served" before candidates can be taken seriously for higher office. This makes itself painfully obvious in their presidential choices, starting with Mondale (remember Fritz?) and continuing to Automaton John Kerry. It's why many in the Dem base fear a Hillary nomination in 2008.

OTOH, they can't say they aren't getting good adivce from the trenches:

Coalition building is not easy, especially if you're used to listening only to special interests with specific points of view (hint). Coalitions worthy of majorities in this country require more than just the ability to placate and patronize (another hint)... they require deep research into understanding what each segment in the coalition wants, and remaining open to a broad set of desires. The key is then to employ deft communication and negotiation skills to prioritize these wants without giving that nasty disenfranchising aftertaste.

Monday, October 10, 2005

"Visible from the Moon"

Palm Island Resort, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, is featured in this image photographed by Expedition 10 Commander Leroy Chiao from the International Space Station. The resort is under construction on reclaimed land silhouetted against the dark waters of Dubai’s Persian Gulf coast. Advertised as "being visible from the Moon," this man-made palm-shaped structure displays 17 huge fronds framed by a 12-kilometer protective barrier. When completed, the resort will sport 2,000 villas, 40 luxury hotels, shopping centers, cinemas, and other facilities. When completed, the resort is expected to support a population of approximately 500,000 people. Image Credit: NASA

BPD: Yeah, a crime in progress? Take a number...

Jim and I go to the local BPD to report his car stolen. It's 3:50pm. We are the second people there. There is no one at the front desk. A couple of inquiries to passing officers reveal the problem: It's almost 4:00. All the cops are at roll call. Lesson 1: If you are going to commit a crime, do it between 3:50 and 4:20. You'll get a nice head start.

4:20 officer appears at front desk, starts servicing folks at random. There are a dozen people in the queue now, all with some form of stolen car problem.

A middle aged man (not me) walks in and says, "I've just been carjacked! The guy is driving away!"
Officer: "Whoa there. You were what?"
Guy:"Car jacked"
Guy:"Right on Mass Ave"
O:"Where on Mass Ave?"
G:"1650. He's..."
O:"Oh, okay. That's our jurisdiction"
Mark: WTF? our what???
G:"Here's the license plate #. You can still get him if..."
O:"Sir, we don't stop cars. That's not our job. Unless it's illegally parked, then we could catch him"
Mark: "WHAT??"
O:"No. We don't stop cars. So if you'll just get in line, you can get the paperwork and fill it out:
G:"But he's getting away! If you just got on your walkie talkie and ..."
O:"We don't do that sir"
Lesson 2: If you steal a car at gunpoint and the victim is not actually a cop, you have hours to get away. Maybe days.

Lesson 3: We need to start licensing private police forces.

Jim's Car Stolen

Yes, Jim's Jeep was stolen this morning. We got up, did our usual routine, Jim went to go get his car and... 30 minutes later I get a call...
"I can't find my car"
"Hmmm... it's 7:30 on the Second Monday.... you should be okay unless you parked in Bay Village."
"Nope, I didn't."
"call the tow lot"
30 minutes later.
"Nope, no tow lot"
"Okay, I'll drive you around"
30 minutes driving later
"It's not here is it?"
60 minutes later, I am at work, Jim s home. I get a call.
"They found my car"
"good, where was it?"
"Wrapped around a utility pole in Roxbury"
"... oh"
So we go to the police station (2 of them) fill out reports and ... we wait.

Also in AIP

I read this and realized how ridiculous it must sound. If I didn't know what the terms meant, I would just assume it was Star Trek technobable. Poorly written technobable.

Gauge independent approach to chiral symmetry breaking in a strong magnetic field. [hep-ph/0510066 CROSS LISTED] The gauge independence of the dynamical fermion mass generated through chiral symmetry breaking in weakly coupled QED in a strong, constant external magnetic field is critically examined. We show that the bare vertex approximation, in which the vertex corrections are ignored, is a consistent truncation of the Schwinger-Dyson equations in the lowest Landau level approximation. The dynamical fermion mass, obtained as the solution of the truncated Schwinger-Dyson equations evaluated on the fermion mass shell, is shown to be manifestly gauge independent. A comparison to the results obtained in the literature is discussed in detail. By establishing a direct correspondence between the truncated Schwinger-Dyson equations and the two-particle-irreducible effective action truncated at the lowest nontrivial order in the loop expansion as well as in the 1/N_f expansion (N_f is the number of fermion flavors), we argue that in a strong magnetic field the dynamical fermion mass can be reliably calculated in the bare vertex approximation. ePrint arXiv
10 October 2005

When the AIP says Comprehensive, They Mean It!

I was looking for some code to do a numerical simulation of a stellar atmosphere and came across an American Institute of Physics page on Climate Change. It claims to be comprehensive. Skimming through it, I caught a reference that made me believe it:

Young, N.W. (1979). "Responses of Ice Sheets to Environmental Changes." In Sea Level, Ice and Climatic Change. Proceedings of the Symposium... 7-8 December 1979, edited by Ian Allison, pp. 331-60. Washington, DC: International Association of Hydrological Sciences, publication no. 131.
Young, William R. (2000). "The Future of Physical Oceanography." In Fifty Years of Ocean Discovery. National Science Foundation 1950-2000, edited by National Research Council, Ocean Studies Board pp. 165-71. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Zelazny, Roger (1969). Damnation Alley. New York: Putnam.
Zeng, Ning (2003). "Drought in the Sahel." Science 302: 999-1000.
Zeuner, F.E. (1946 [4th ed., 1958]). Dating the Past. London: Methuen.
Ziman, John, Ed. (2000). Technological Innovation as an Evolutionary Process. Cambridge: Cambridge

NP in Economics: Welcome to the 19th Century!

The Nobel Prize in economics was awarded today for work done in game theory. WaPo reports:

Asked to describe game theory, he said "it's the study of how people interact when each person's behavior depends on, or is influenced by, the behavior of others."

It departs from conventional applications of economics which traditionally focus on "consumers and producers who take prices for granted and react to them," he said.

In game theory, he said, "everyone's best choice depends on what others are going to do, whether it's going to war or maneuvering in a traffic jam," he said in a phone interview.

Thus, as he wrote in "Micromotives and Macrobehavior," horn honking in traffic may seem related to a single reason but upon further analysis, "drivers in traffic start honking their horns . . . because someone else honked their horn first. Hearing your car horn, I honk mine, thus encouraging you to honk more insistently. . . . People are responding to an environment that consists of other people responding to their environment," Schelling wrote, "which consists of people responding to an environment of people's responses.

"These situations, in which people's behavior or people's choices depend on the behavior or the choices of other people, are the ones that usually don't permit any simple summation or extrapolation to the aggregates. . . . .We usually have to look at the system of interaction."

His admirers have credited him with giving them a "new way of thinking" about any number of situations. One reviewer called his approach "logic applied to patterns that are recognizable in real life."

In physics, we called this "statistical mechanics" and pretty much plumbed the math for it in the 19th century, although mathematical work in magnetohyrodynamics continues to this day. Economics isn't physics and we have the advantage of large numbers of particles vs. relatively small numbers of human inter-actors. Still, I think every economist should take a year or two of basic physics, just to hurry the process along. There's lots of overlap and I think we could shave a couple of decades off the completion of a Grand Unified Theory of Economics if we made science a stronger part of the economics curriculum.

The reverse is also true, but not just for physicists. I think everyone should take a year of economics.

Okay, so What *Doesn't* The Right like to Legislate?

Welcome to the Brave new World of the Right Wing, please have your "Petition for Parentage" ready or your "Gestational Certificate". Failure to have one or the other could could result in a prision term.

Now that's family values!

Republican lawmakers are drafting new legislation that will make marriage a requirement for motherhood in the state of Indiana, including specific criminal penalties for unmarried women who do become pregnant “by means other than sexual intercourse.”
According to a draft of the recommended change in state law, every woman in Indiana seeking to become a mother through assisted reproduction therapy such as in vitro fertilization, sperm donation and egg donation must first file for a “petition for parentage” in their local county probate court.
Only women who are married will be considered for the “gestational certificate” that must be presented to any doctor who facilitates the pregnancy. Further, the “gestational certificate” will only be given to married couples that successfully complete the same screening process currently required by law of adoptive parents.

As the draft of the new law reads now, an intended parent “who knowingly or willingly participates in an artificial reproduction procedure” without court approval, “commits unauthorized reproduction, a Class B misdemeanor.” The criminal charges will be the same for physicians who commit “unauthorized practice of artificial reproduction.”

Wow. This goes in the file for the next time I hear that the Right is all about smaller governement and freedom.

Well Said

A WaPo editorial on the McCain Amendment to the appropriations bill:

Let's be clear: Mr. Bush is proposing to use the first veto of his presidency on a defense bill needed to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan so that he can preserve the prerogative to subject detainees to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. In effect, he threatens to declare to the world his administration's moral bankruptcy.

If we don't stand for things like this, listening to the better angels of our nature, then really the argument with the islamofacists really is only about what flavor of religion we prefer. If democracy and freedom are worth having, they are worth not compromising our morals. It's been known for centuries that torture is very limited in it's ability to cajole useful information from a prisioner and these days we have better, less morally repugnant means of obtaining information.

I don't understand why the President is so stubborn on this, it seems to go against many of the tenents of his faith. Maybe it's a form of the Sunk Cost Fallacy, i.e. we've been doing this and to turn around now and say it was wrong makes the past look worse. Dunno.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Damn! Faint Praise!

Picked this up on Volokh. Not specific to Harriet, but in that vein.

That should win the Roman Hruska award for 2005. (The most damning endorsement possible, without intending to be.)

"Even if he is mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they?"

U.S. Senator Roman Hruska (R-NE) in defense of Harold Carswell's SCOTUS nomination on the charges that he was 'mediocre'.

Carswell's nomination was defeated 51-45.

A Definition of 'Extraordinary' With Which I Was Unfamiliar

From the LA Times

Luskin said Rove had not received a "target letter" — a notice customarily sent to a grand jury witness about to be indicted. He portrayed Rove's additional trip to the grand jury as another sign of extraordinary cooperation from his client and the White House.

So it's extraordinary to testify before a Grand Jury when you've been subpoenaed to do so? I guess if you're an unelected government official and feel that your actions should place you above the law, then it would be an extraordinary act of noblese oblige to grant the legal system some of your precious time.

What an ass.

And Also Brooks

Brooks also has a good article today. He does a much better job of expressing his view when he isn't writing within the GOP talking points o making absurd excuses for the administrations often indefensible behavior. Today he has (at least temporarily) thrown off his shackles and written what he believes and, I agree with it.

I believe in the lost tradition of American politics, the tradition of Hamilton, Lincoln and the Bull Moose. In other words, I believe that social mobility is the core of the American experience. I believe that society should be structured so that as many boys and girls as possible can work, and rise the way young Hamilton and Lincoln did.

If something is going to make American society more fluid and dynamic, then I am for that thing. That's why I love globalization, even while I am aware of its costs. I love the fact that American businesses are going to be improved via competition with Chinese and Indian rivals. I love the fact that to compete we are going to have to reform our lobbyist-written tax code into something flatter and fairer. I love the fact we'll have to make health insurance competitive and portable, so workers can move and companies can thrive.

I can't believe people want to shield America behind the walls of "fair trade agreements." I can't believe some people think we're going to be overrun by those hustling Asians. Americans are the hardest-working people on earth and the most mobile. American manufacturing output is twice China's and it's growing at 4 percent a year.

China isn't going to bury us. It's going to make us better and richer; it's going to open more opportunities than it closes.

Like Alexander Hamilton, I love the dynamism of capitalism. And like Alexander Hamilton, that doesn't mean I hate government. I love government when it lifts people up to compete. I hate government only when it stifles competition and coddles. I hated the old welfare system, which pushed its victims away from work. I love welfare reform, which encourages work. I hate government that directs ever more money to the affluent elderly, but I would love a government that gave poor children savings accounts at birth, which would encourage them to think about the future and understand that their destiny is in their own hands.

There's more, go read it.

Good Friedman Article

Friedman does a good job today talking about the Iraq War and putting some of the pieces into context. If you're on the hard Right, you won't like it because it talks about facts on the WMDs. If you're hard Left you won't like it becuase it fails to indict the Administration for going to war based on it's faulty intelligence.

But if you're in the middle and trying to get an honest idea where we went wrong so it doesn't happen again, it's interesting (although not terribly original).

When the definitive history of the Iraq war is written, future historians will surely want to ask Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush each one big question. To Saddam, the question would be: What were you thinking? If you had no weapons of mass destruction, why did you keep acting as though you did?


But I think Saddam knew how busted and bankrupt his country and army were. Therefore, he never wanted to completely erase the impression that he had W.M.D. Saddam lived in a den of wolves. The hint of W.M.D. was his only deterrent shield left against his neighbors, his enemies at home and the West. (This was alluded to in the Duelfer W.M.D. report.) So he tried to allow just enough U.N. inspections to clear him on W.M.D., while playing just enough cat and mouse with the U.N. to leave the impression that he still had something dangerous in the closet.

The Bush team, and the C.I.A., not only failed to learn that Saddam had no W.M.D., they failed to appreciate how devastated Iraqi society really was. The Bush team, listening largely to exiles who had not lived in Iraq for years, thought that there were much more of an Iraqi middle class and more institutions than actually existed. So Mr. Bush thought taking over Iraq would be easy. That is the only way I can explain his behavior.

This jives with what I've been told by friends of mine who lived or grew-up in Iraq, but had no vested interest in rebuilding, i.e. none of them has a shot at being a Prime Minister or other offical in a new Iraqi governement.