December 2007 Archives

A quiet night

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Heading out to the Dave Cave(tm) to check email and then probably up to bed. Tired tonight. I want to wish all of my readers a Happy New Year and best of luck for 2008. 2007 put us through the wringer in more ways than one, we are hoping for a much quieter year in 2008.

Something in the water - Kitsap County

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It seems that a lot of strange things are happening in Kitsap County just south-west of us. I had already written about the Crucified Santa There is also the story of the guy who tried to remove the lugnuts on his tire with a blast from his shotgun. Well, Andrew Binion at the Kitsap Sun is wondering what is happening out there:
When the Going Gets Weird, Kitsap County Turns Pro
Does it feel weirder around here, or is it just me?

Cat burglars leaving expensive video-game systems behind for a few porn magazines and bottles of bubble bath. Santa Claus crucified on a 15-foot cross. A large, naked man freaking out on angel dust and trying to lick the wires of a police Taser.

The simple answer is no. Probably not. Maybe not. Is there any way to tell for sure?

Maybe it just feels that way because the area's poor judgments and compromising moments are written and published.

And with the help of the Internet, stories of Kitsap life are being read, rewritten, commented upon, doubted, interpreted and probed for deeper meaning by a worldwide audience.

The most read story of 2007, by far, is the strange tale of a Southworth man who on Nov. 10 was seriously injured when he tried to remove a stubborn wheel lug nut with a shotgun. It outpaced every other single story � from murder to mayhem to floods � by tens of thousands of page hits, recording an unprecedented 58,876 viewings as of Thursday.

But that's just the people that read the story at
Couple other good stories. Here is the website where they publish their odd news items -- something to check on a regular basis.

Henry Petroski on the Toothpick

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Henry Petroski is an unusual author. A delight to read, he analyzes the engineering and origin of everyday objects and writes about them in a fascinating way. His latest book is about the toothpick, its origins and the various machines that were made to produce them. A short excerpt can be found at The American:
The Glorious Toothpick
The plain wooden toothpick is among the sim�plest of manufactured things. It consists of a single part, made of a single material, and is intended for a single purpose, from which it takes its name. But simple things do not necessarily come easily, and the story of the mass-produced toothpick is one of preparation, inspiration, invention, marketing, competition, success and failure in a global econ�omy, and changing social customs and cultural values. In short, the story of the toothpick is a par�adigm for American manufacturing.

Early wooden toothpicks were found objects, each fashioned ad hoc from a broken twig or stalk with a pointed end. Often, the other end of the twig was chewed until its fibers separated to form a primitive toothbrush called a chew-stick. Some cultures, like the Japanese, developed rigid rules about how such sticks were held and used.

In medieval Portugal, a cottage industry developed to produce straightforward hand�made toothpicks, and these splints of orange�wood gained a reputation for being the best in the world. Toothpicks made in the Portuguese tra�dition were common in Brazil in the mid-19th century when Charles Forster, an American work�ing in the import-export trade, found them being crafted and used by natives there. It was a time when the manufacture of just about everything was becoming mechanized in America, and Forster believed that toothpicks could be mass-produced in New England at a cost that would allow them even to be exported to Brazil and compete with the handmade kind.
An interesting read -- I'll have to pick up the book from the Library; have always made a point to read his work.
Hat tip to Instapundit for this link to a horrible story and the beginnings of a resolution:
Anti-Military Lawyer Damages Marine's Car on Eve of Deployment
This ought to make your blood boil. And this Marine should receive a commendation for not kicking the living crap out of the guy...seriously.

Marine Sgt Mike McNulty is on activation orders to Iraq (second tour). On December 1st, 2007, Mike went to visit a friend in Chicago before deploying to say goodbye. In order to get to his friend's residence, and keep in mind that Chicago is a myriad of diagonal and one-way streets, the front entrance (right way) to the one-way street was blocked. Mike, being a Marine, overcame and adapted by driving around the block to the other end of the street and backing up all the way to his friend's place.

While saying goodbye, at about 11am, he noticed a man leaning up against his car. Mike left his friend's apartment and caught the man keying his car on multiple sides.

After caught in the process, the man told Mike, "you think you can do whatever you want with Department of Defense license plates and tags". (In Illinois you can purchase veteran, Marine, or medal plates. Mike has Illinois Marine Corps license plates.) During the exchange, he made additional anti-military comments.
The story gets worse -- the damage to his car is enough to make this a Felony and the lawyer gets all slimy and tries to bargain and weasel out of it, knowing that Sgt. McNulty is shipping out soon. Where the story turns good is in the comments section. Some people from Chicago are offering to follow through in a legal manner, the guys office info is posted online (and the website is offline). There are links to people like this: Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission and the Bar Association and other organizations. That guy is toast and it couldn't happen to a nicer person. There is nothing wrong with expressing your opinions but to willfully cause damage in such a cowardly and harmful way is beneath contempt. This man is scum (and that is insulting a lot of really great scum!)
You want the low monthly payment and the dealership can give it to you. What they aren't explaining to you well enough is that the longer the term on the loan, the less is being paid into the principal and more is being paid into the interest ($$$ for the lender and dealership) A great article at the LA Times about the repercussions of this kind of deal:
New cars that are fully loaded � with debt
When Jennifer and Bobby Post traded in their 2001 Chevy Suburban last year for a shiny new Ford F-350 turbo diesel with an extended cab, it seemed like a great deal. Even though they still owed $9,500 on their SUV after the trade-in value, they didn't have to put a penny down.

The dealership, near the Posts' home in Victorville, made it easy; it just added the old debt to the price of the new truck and gave the couple a seven-year, $44,276 loan.

The Posts were a little worried about taking on such a long obligation, but they couldn't pass up a monthly payment under $700. Now they're having regrets.

"I didn't realize how much debt was in it," said Jennifer Post, who has since moved with her family to Iowa. Now, she'd like to get rid of the truck but can't, because there's so much debt that she'd literally have to pay someone to take it off her hands.
One of the things that I liked about Jen when we were dating was that she was very careful with money. I am too -- we own a 2002 Subaru that is paid for. I have an 1998 Dodge truck that is paid for. We don't get the latest and greatest of things but our house is paid for. We have credit cards but use them only when needed (buying airplane tickets, etc... and when a measure of protection is needed (buying from an overseas vendor)) and then, they are paid off that next month if possible, next few months if not. A bit more from the article:
Americans haven't just been taking out risky mortgages for homes in the last few years; they've also been signing larger automobile loans for significantly longer terms than they used to.

As a result, people are slipping into a perpetual cycle of automobile debt that experts think could lead to a new credit crunch extending from dealerships to driveways and all the way to Wall Street.
At the same time, the amount of money drivers owe on their cars is soaring. In October, the average amount financed hit $30,738, up $3,500 in just a year and nearly 40% in the last decade, according to the Fed. More troubling, today's average car owner owes $4,221 more than the vehicle is worth at the time it's sold -- up from $3,529 in 2002, according to industry analyst Edmunds.
One more:
Cindy Gerhardt has rolled over so much debt on successive vehicle purchases -- five in three years -- that she now owes almost $43,000 on two trucks worth no more than $29,000 and, she says, perhaps as little as $22,000.

Faced with car payments that exceed her monthly mortgage, she tried to trade in the pair for a single vehicle. But with so much unpaid principal on the vehicle loans, the only offer she got from the dealer was to trade in one truck on yet another new vehicle -- and increase her debt by another $25,000.

"It's our own fault that we traded in vehicles so many times, but we never thought it would get to this," said Gerhardt, a secretary who lives with her husband and two children in Clinton, Okla. She recently tried to refinance her mortgage, she said, but was declined because her car payments were too high. "Not one dealer ever said this was a problem. Ever. I never had a dealership say no."
Are people just getting more and more stupid about money and personal responsibility these days or is there something else at work here? My vote is with stupidity...

An unusual (and sweet) eBay auction

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From Gazette:
Quebec man sells snowbank on EBay for $3,550
A Quebec man has sold the "magnificent" two-metre-high snowbank in front of his home on EBay for $3,550, less than two weeks after putting it up for sale - to a buyer who plans to use it for a snowball fight with his family.

But first the snow salesman had to endure a media storm, a flurry of bids and a winning offer that turned out to be a hoax.

The proceeds will go to Operation Enfant Soleil, a Quebec charity that supports children's hospitals in the province.

"I'm very happy," Michel Levesque said Saturday night from his home just north of Montreal. "Especially after the day I had today."

The winning bidder, Claude Fraser, said he and his family bought the snowbank because they make an annual donation to a charity and hadn't decided on one for this year.
No problem with having a little fun with your charitable donation. Very cool as I have quite a few of these in our pasture right now. (firing up eBay)

An alternative to the iPod

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Nice little iPod clone for $57.50 for the 4GB version Check it out at MP4 Nation Video as well as audio, built in mike for voice recording and an FM Radio. Looks like a sweet little unit.

The Quality of Electricity

Interesting link (hat tip Insty) to Les Jones who links to this page at the US EPA: How clean is the electricity I use? - Power Profiler From the site:
In the United States, electricity is generated in many different ways, with a wide variation in environmental impact. Electricity generation from the combustion of fossil fuels contributes toward unhealthy air quality, acid rain, and global climate change.

Many electricity customers can choose their provider of electricity or can purchase green power from their utility. In fact, you might now have the option of choosing cleaner, more environmentally friendly sources of energy.

Power Profiler will:
  • Determine your power grid region based on your ZIP code and electric utility
  • Compare the fuel mix and air emissions rates of the electricity in your region to the national average
  • Determine the air emissions impacts of electricity use in your home or business

Power Profiler is very easy to use and takes about 5 minutes. To start, all you need is your ZIP code.
Very cool! Here is the result for the Pacific Northwest area (Bellingham)
Click for full-size Image
Wish that we used more Nuclear but happy to see that our dependence on Coal is lower than the national average and that we are utilizing so much Hydro.
We know about Iraq buying French and Russian munitions after the weapons embargo was placed. We know about the top-level corruption at the United Nations (Kofi Annan and his son Kojo) concerning the Oil for Food program. Now, news is coming out about a British Pharmaceutical company and another Pharmaceutical company that is a joint venture between Sweden and England. From the UK The Press Association:
Drug firms face Iraq bribes probe
Pharmaceutical companies GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca have been asked to hand over documents to the Serious Fraud Office as part of its investigation into bribes allegedly paid to Saddam Hussein's deposed Iraqi regime.

The SFO is investigating possible breaches of the oil-for-food sanctions in place against the Middle Eastern country.

The investigation was triggered by a damning United Nations report which listed more than 2,200 companies worldwide that may have been linked to bribery or "kickbacks" to Iraq.

GSK and AstraZeneca have denied any wrongdoing and said they were co-operating fully with the SFO.

The programme was supposed to allow the Iraqi government to sell limited amounts of oil to buy foreign food and medicines.

But Paul Volcker, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, said in his 2005 report for the UN that it had become corrupt as Saddam Hussein's regime demanded payments from foreign companies in return for lucrative contracts.

The investigation, which could take years and is expected to cost around �22 million, has been predicted to become one of the biggest undertaken by the SFO.
heh... One by one, the coalition is mopping up the 'insurgents' and on the home front, one by one, people are turning over the rocks and weeding out the corruption they find there. The Oil for Food program is long over but it's repercussions are still going strong. Obligatory links: GlaxoSmithKline (wiki) and AstraZeneca (wiki)

Knowing one's boundaries - Nancy Pelosi edition

Little news item from Reuters:
U.S.' Pelosi questions Pakistan's Bhutto probe
Washington should address "troubling questions" about Pakistan's probe of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto's assassination and its cooperation in fighting terrorism before extending any more aid, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Saturday.

Pelosi called for an international investigation into the Dec. 27 assassination of Bhutto, which Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's government has blamed on al Qaeda.

Bhutto's party dismissed the government account, saying Musharraf's administration, a close ally in U.S. President George W. Bush's war against terrorism, was trying to cover up its failure to protect her.
Since when did she join the State Department? It's alright to have a personal interest in matters like this but to be dictating matters of policy and action for a Foreign Nation is not in her job description... And how is Pelosi doing on those promises she made when she got elected to her post as Speaker - click here and find out. No wonder their popular approval rating is below that of President Bush.
Stuart's main website is here: Stuart Bruce Not that evident is a link to his collection of TLA's or Three Letter Acronyms. He has found all possible combinations of three letters -- 17,576 He is also working on Four Letter Acronyms and has 150,923 so far which is 33.02% of all available combinations. Heh...
The Seattle Times has a nice investigative piece on a Port Townsend company that decided, rather than prosper with superior technology, they chose instead to prosper using a lobbyist and some cash. Here is an excerpt from the article:
Congressional ties bankroll area company
Not long after Nelson Ludlow and his wife started a technology business in Port Townsend with money scraped together from friends, family and retirement accounts, they spent precious dollars in an unlikely way:

They hired a lobbyist and started giving to a congressional campaign fund.

The lobbying paid off. Soon, an $800,000 earmark for the Ludlows was tucked into a 2003 spending bill, giving their tiny startup, Mobilisa, a no-bid contract to provide Internet service on Puget Sound ferries.

Mobilisa is one of a new breed of companies sustained by lawmakers handing them government contracts through line-item appropriations known as earmarks.

These companies make their sales pitch not to experts in places like the Pentagon but to lawmakers and their staff in the halls of Congress. The startups rely on dollars from taxpayers rather than from venture capitalists who demand a cut of profits. All the while, company executives usually give campaign donations to lawmakers.

Nelson Ludlow and his wife, Bonnie, have donated generously in the past five years, giving $11,500 to U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and nearly $20,000 to U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton.

At the same time, the Ludlows have mastered the earmark game. Since 2003, Murray and Dicks have favored Mobilisa with at least nine earmarks worth $20.3 million.
Must be some very cool high-tech stuff if they had that much funding:
In July 2002, Murray announced she was sponsoring an earmark for Mobilisa to set up free Internet access for ferry passengers.

The $800,000 federal grant Murray got for the Washington State Ferries came with strings attached: The state had to put up an additional $200,000 and was instructed to award a sole-source contract to Mobilisa, despite its meager track record.

"We were told by the federal government what to do with that particular contract," said Tami Grant, a contract manager at the Washington Department of Transportation.

The Internet service on the ferries was free. And the initial feedback was good. But an independent review, paid for by the grant, found slow download speeds and lost connections were common over the water.

Murray got Mobilisa another $1 million earmark in 2006. Ultimately, the federal government paid more than $200 for each of the 8,000 passengers who the state agency said tried the free service.
And Mobilisa lost in 2006 when the state did a round of competitive bidding. They are also involved in military security:
Mobilisa, for example, sells a bar-code scanner to swipe ID badges at security gates on military bases. The off-the-shelf Motorola scanner retails for about $3,000. Yet Mobilisa sells the same handheld device to the government for nearly $7,000.
Mobilisa's biggest success has come in creating a system to check the ID badges of people entering military bases. In 2005, Dicks got the company a $4 million earmark to research and implement an ID-check system. Mobilisa focused its research on reading driver's licenses, a technology that other companies were already selling.

By then, however, the Defense Department was issuing expensive "smart" cards, which are difficult to counterfeit and store biometric information, such as fingerprint images. The cards are intended to offer the highest level of security.

Mobilisa used an off-the-shelf bar-code scanner to build its system, a technology that industry sources say fails to read the advanced security features embedded in a chip in the Defense Department cards.

"When you've got a chip card available, using a bar code is living a little bit in the past," said Neville Pattinson, vice president of government affairs for Gemalto, a multinational smart-card company that is not a Mobilisa competitor. "If they chose to use bar codes as a convenience, that's fine. But they should be aware of the risk of fraud."
Christ on a Corn Dog -- it's our tax dollars at work, supporting a couple people's banal mediocrity. They come out with systems that rely on old technology and in the case of the ferry system, "slow download speeds and lost connections were common". Cripes -- Motorola makes an internet access point with typical distances of five to ten miles, a couple access points and you would have complete coverage. (Their Canopy system - excellent products!) Why screw around with transponders on buoys when for about $10K per access point (not counting the structure it's mounted on), you can get a really fast connection (quoted spec is 14MBPS - by comparison, a T-1 line is 1.544 MBPS) As for sticking with the bar-code scanners when "smart cards" were already deployed, that is the hallmark of a Clueless Dip-shit Manager. Mobilisa's website is here: Mobilisa And BTW, when the 2008 elections roll around, that was U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. and U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks that need to be defeated for supporting this kind of stupidity and waste. And to close, I know that you should not try to implement the bleeding edge technologies when rolling out something large but still, using tech that is several generations older than the current Commercial-Off-The-Shelf technology is indefensible and downright idiotic...

Unclear on the concept - visiting the Police

Meet Alabama residents Chavis Sanders, 22, and David Bailey, 24. About two months previous, Chavis was busted for drug distribution and $1,200 in cash was confiscated. He and his buddy David decided to drive to the Police station to ask about getting it back. Chavis also wanted to check on the status of a domestic violence case against him. Let's go to the Mobile Alabama Press-Register:
Two arrested at city police headquarters
Two men were arrested Friday morning by Prichard police after the men arrived at police headquarters in a stolen car with a small bag of marijuana plainly visible on the car's center console, authorities said.

Prichard police Maj. Marvin Whitfield said he and other officers detected the strong odor of marijuana when one of the men rolled down one of the car's windows and opened a door.

"We couldn't believe it," Whitfield said. "I've been doing police work for about 20 years, and I never knew of anybody bringing a half-pound of marijuana and a gun to a police station in a stolen car."

The major said some of the high-grade marijuana and a semiautomatic pistol were found under the driver's seat of the 2007 Chrysler PT Cruiser.

"It was real potent, and you could smell it," Whitfield said of the marijuana. "The car window was down initially. And when the driver got out of the car, you could detect the potent odor of it."

Nona Simmons, spokeswoman for the Police Department, identified the driver as Chavis Sanders, 22, of the Whistler community and the passenger as David Bailey, 24, of Mobile.

Whitfield said he had not determined when the car was stolen or from what area of Mobile it was stolen. Almost $1,000 in cash was confiscated from Sanders on Friday, he said.

The major said Prichard police arrested Sanders about two months ago on a drug distribution charge and confiscated $1,200 from him.

Sanders had returned to police headquarters Friday morning in hopes of getting the money back and to check the status of a domestic violence case pending against him, the major said.
Looks like the gene pool needs some more Clorox

One very pissed off Trekkie

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From Slashdot:
Trekkie Sues Christie's for Fradulent Props
Token_Internet_Girl passed us a link to an MSNBC article on a very disappointed Star Trek fan. Mr. Moustakis of NJ bought a poker visor he thought was worn by Data in Next Generation at a Christie's auction for some $6,000. When he brought it to a convention to have it signed, actor Brent Spiner explained that he'd already sold the well-known visor in a personal sale; like Senator Vreenak, Moustakis had been given a fake.
"Christie's spokesman Rik Pike stood behind the authenticity of the auction and said the disgruntled buyer's case had no merit. The lawsuit, filed in state court in Manhattan, demands millions of dollars in punitive damages and a refund for the visor and two other items Moustakis bought at the 2006 auction."
Christie's should have done a bit more research -- the provenance of this would certainly be easy to check; a couple phone calls. I'd be doing the lawsuit routs too if this was me...
A nice write-up in the Rolling Stone about the recent tendency to compress the daylights out of today's music to make it sound 'louder'. Only problem is that you loose all of the subtleties.
The Death of High Fidelity
In the age of MP3s, sound quality is worse than ever

David Bendeth, a producer who works with rock bands like Hawthorne Heights and Paramore, knows that the albums he makes are often played through tiny computer speakers by fans who are busy surfing the Internet. So he's not surprised when record labels ask the mastering engineers who work on his CDs to crank up the sound levels so high that even the soft parts sound loud.

Over the past decade and a half, a revolution in recording technology has changed the way albums are produced, mixed and mastered � almost always for the worse. "They make it loud to get [listeners'] attention," Bendeth says. Engineers do that by applying dynamic range compression, which reduces the difference between the loudest and softest sounds in a song. Like many of his peers, Bendeth believes that relying too much on this effect can obscure sonic detail, rob music of its emotional power and leave listeners with what engineers call ear fatigue. "I think most everything is mastered a little too loud," Bendeth says. "The industry decided that it's a volume contest."

Producers and engineers call this "the loudness war," and it has changed the way almost every new pop and rock album sounds. But volume isn't the only issue. Computer programs like Pro Tools, which let audio engineers manipulate sound the way a word processor edits text, make musicians sound unnaturally perfect. And today's listeners consume an increasing amount of music on MP3, which eliminates much of the data from the original CD file and can leave music sounding tinny or hollow. "With all the technical innovation, music sounds worse," says Steely Dan's Donald Fagen, who has made what are considered some of the best-sounding records of all time. "God is in the details. But there are no details anymore."
A fascinating look at a real problem with contemporary music. We have the Cowboy Junkies recent remake of the Trinity Sessions on the player right now and it is awesome -- a broad palate of sound, not a constant roar.
Check out Baby Toupees They are about $20 each - here is their Bob model:

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation

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Was tracking down some background on Paris Hilton's grandfather changing the terms of his will and how Paris is now scheduled to only get a couple million rather than the $60M or so she was counting on. The foundation looks like a good one: The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation Good to see the money go toward these causes than to white trash.

Gearing up for 2008

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2008 is destined to be a big year. After all, it is the International Year of the Potato:
Why potato?
The celebration of the International Year of the Potato (IYP) will raise awareness of the importance of the potato - and of agriculture in general - in addressing issues of global concern, including hunger, poverty and threats to the environment.

Over the next two decades, the world's population is expected to grow on average by more than 100 million people a year. More than 95 percent of that increase will occur in the developing countries, where pressure on land and water is already intense. A key challenge facing the international community is, therefore, to ensure food security for present and future generations, while protecting the natural resource base on which we all depend. The potato will be an important part of efforts to meet those challenges...

Potatoes are grown worldwide
The potato has been consumed in the Andes for about 8 000 years. Taken by the Spanish to Europe in the 16th century, it quickly spread across the globe: today potatoes are grown on an estimated 195 000 sq km, or 75 000 square miles, of farmland, from China's Yunnan plateau and the subtropical lowlands of India, to Java's equatorial highlands and the steppes of Ukraine. In terms of sheer quantity harvested, the humble potato tuber is the world's No. 4 food crop, with production in 2006 of almost 315 million tonnes (about 347 million US tons). More than half of that total was harvested in developing countries.

Potatoes feed the hungry
The potato should be a major component in strategies aimed at providing nutritious food for the poor and hungry. It is ideally suited to places where land is limited and labour is abundant, conditions that characterize much of the developing world. The potato produces more nutritious food more quickly, on less land, and in harsher climates than any other major crop - up to 85 percent of the plant is edible human food, compared to around 50% in cereals.
Cool beans er. potatoes...

The wisdom of the Left - Tsunami Aid

Color me Not Surprised...

From The Australian:

Tsunami aid 'spent on politics'
Three years after Australians donated $400 million to rebuild Asian lives devastated by the 2004 tsunami, aid groups are under attack for spending much of the money on social and political engineering.

A survey by The Australian of the contributions by non-government organisations to the relief effort found the donations had been spent on politically correct projects promoting left-wing Western values over traditional Asian culture.

The activities - listed as tsunami relief - include a "travelling Oxfam gender justice show" in Indonesia to change rural male attitudes towards women.

Another Oxfam project, reminiscent of the ACTU's Your Rights at Work campaign, instructs Thai workers in Australian-style industrial activism and encourages them to set up trade unions.

A World Vision tsunami relief project in the Indonesian province of Aceh includes a lobbying campaign to advance land reform to promote gender equity, as well as educating women in "democratic processes" and encouraging them to enter politics.

Also in Aceh, the Catholic aid group Caritas funds an Islamic learning centre to promote "the importance of the Koran". This is seen as recognition of the importance of Islam in a province that has been the scene of a long-running and bloody independence struggle against the secular central Government.

What a bunch of self-centered ponces. Going ham-handed into a completely different culture and telling the people who have suffered a life-changing disaster how they should be altering their way of life. Makes me re-think any donations to Oxfam -- used to think that they did good work...

Crap - it was bound to happen but still...

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Benazir Bhutto was murdered this morning. From CNN:
Benazir Bhutto assassinated
Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated Thursday outside a large gathering of her supporters where a suicide bomber also killed at least 14, doctors and a spokesman for her party said.

While Bhutto appeared to have died from bullet wounds, it was not immediately clear if she was shot or if her wounds were caused by bomb shrapnel.

President Pervez Musharraf held an emergency meeting in the hours after the death, according to state media.

Police warned citizens to stay home as they expected rioting to break out in city streets in reaction to the death.

Police sources told CNN the bomber, who was riding a motorcycle, blew himself up near Bhutto's vehicle.

Bhutto was rushed to Rawalpindi General Hospital -- less than two miles from the bombing scene -- where doctors pronounced her dead.

Former Pakistan government spokesman Tariq Azim Khan said while it appeared Bhutto was shot, it was unclear if the bullet wounds to her head and neck were caused by a shooting or if it was shrapnel from the bomb.

Bhutto's husband issued a statement from his home in Dubai saying, "All I can say is we're devastated, it's a total shock."
Religion of Peace indeed... UPDATE: More here: NDTV.COM Thoughts from writers at the National Review

WTF??? - going beyond your average tattoo

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Getting a tattoo of a good looking busty lady is not that uncommon. (On someone's calf in this case)

Giving it silicone breast implants is. From Blame It On The Voices:

Silicone implants for tattoo boobs
If you really wanna impress with your tattoo, here's what you gotta do:

The entry continues with pictures of the procedure and the result. Part of me is saying: Waaaay to go Dude! Part of me is saying: Like what were you thinking?

Schadenfreude - Paris Hilton department

He had talked about it before, here and here.

Last July, Paris Hilton's grandfather, Barron Hilton threatened to take her inheritance away and then relented a day later.

Well, about six months later, he has gone back to his original idea with a very nice twist...

From Yahoo News/Reuters:

Paris loses out: Hilton fortune pledged to charity
Hotel heiress Paris Hilton's potential inheritance dramatically diminished after her grandfather Barron Hilton announced plans on Wednesday to donate 97 percent of his $2.3 billion fortune to charity.

That wealth includes $1.2 billion Barron Hilton stands to earn from both the recent sale of Hilton Hotels Corp. -- started by his father Conrad in 1919 when he bought a small hotel in Cisco, Texas -- and pending sale of the world's biggest casino company, Harrah's Entertainment Inc.

That money will be placed in a charitable trust that will eventually benefit the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, raising its total value to about $4.5 billion, the foundation said in a statement.

Barron Hilton, chairman of the foundation, intends "to contribute 97 percent of his entire net worth, estimated today at $2.3 billion, including the created trusts, at whatever value it is at the time of his passing," the foundation said.

Paris Hilton was not immediately available for comment on her grandfather's plans for his fortune.

No shit Sherlock!

Jerry Oppenheimer, who profiled the Hilton family in his 2006 book "House of Hilton," has said Barron Hilton is embarrassed by the behavior of his socialite granddaughter Paris and believes it has sullied the family name.

Putting the money into the foundation is wonderful -- from the article:

The foundation supports projects that provide clean water in Africa, education for blind children, and housing for the mentally ill. Its aims, based on Conrad Hilton's will, are "to relieve the suffering, the distressed and the destitute."

A bit more:

Conrad Hilton established the foundation in 1944 and when he died in 1979 left virtually all of his fortune -- including, according to media reports at the time, a 27 percent controlling stake in Hilton Hotels -- to the charity.

But Barron Hilton challenged the will and after a nearly decade-long legal struggle reached an out-of-court settlement to split ownership of the shares with the foundation in 1988, The New York Times reported.

To think that she might actually have to get a job... Heh...

She makes a decent chunk of change by appearing at parties and such but now that she is no longer the naughty billionaire heiress but only the trailer-trash bitch with a couple million bucks, I am betting that her social cachet will plummet and she will be doing Supermarket Grand Openings in a year or two. In Gary, Indiana.

We do not stand alone, we are all connected to the web of life and in the greatest sense, we are truly responsible for the results of our own actions.

The goal is to recognize this truth before a Supermarket in Gary, Indiana makes you an offer that you cannot refuse...

From Irons in the Fire:
Anti Gunner- "What shortcoming are you Gun Nuts trying to compensate for?"

Pro Gunner- "I am compensating for the fact that I can't throw a rock at 1000 feet per second."
And not just any science lab, a science lab that says this on its website:
Research Interests:
The overall objective of research in our laboratory is to understand the biochemical and molecular mechanisms that underlie the interactions of marine animals with their chemical environment. Our general approach is to examine these mechanisms from a comparative/evolutionary perspective
Meet Nathaniel Abraham -- from Wired Magazine:
Creationist Biologist Says Civil Rights Violated by Employer's Insistence on Evolution
In some areas of science, accepting evolution isn't necessary to do your job. But that's not the case when your job involves studying evolution.

The Boston Globe reported last week that biologist Nathaniel Abraham is suing the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, one of the world's foremost marine research centers.
A bit more:
Only after he was hired did Abraham mention that he didn't believe in evolution and didn't want to work on evolution-related research. Hahn asked Abraham to resign. He left in December 2004.

Abraham took his case to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, which ruled against him in April of this year. His new lawsuit, filed in federal district court on November 30, claims violation of his rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and asks for $500,000 in damages.
What a maroon! And where is he now? He is an Associate Professor at Liberty University. Liberty University? Founded in 1971 by Jerry Falwell Currently run by one son and another son is "Executive Vice President for Spiritual Affairs"

Christmas in Iraq

Gateway Pundit has been covering the celebration of Christmas in Iraq:

Merry Christmas -- 2007
Eyes are on Iraq this year and thankful that there is reconciliation and a peace movement on the streets today.

Shiite tribal leaders attended Christmas Mass in Iraq today.
2,000 people crowded the Mar Eliya Church in Baghdad today.

Shiite tribal leaders attend Christmas mass
at an Assyrian orthodox church
in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2007.

Gateway links to this report from Breitbart:

Muslim clerics - both Sunni and Shiite - also attended the service in a sign of unity. "May Iraq be safe every year, and may our Christian brothers be safe every year," Shiite cleric Hadi al-Jazail told AP Television News outside the church. "We came to celebrate with them and to reassure them."

Wonderful news! Signing off for now; and to all, a good night...

Merry Christmas and have a very Happy New year!

Happy Birthday - John Conway

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John Conway turns 70 on 12/26 Who He you ask? Lubo� Motl has a nice biography - the guy has been busy and is involved in a lot of different areas. A polymath and a genius.
John Conway: 70th birthday
John Horton Conway, a famous English mathematician, was born exactly 70 years ago, on 12/26/1937. Congratulations! He has contributed great things to game theory and algorithmics, group theory, geometry (classification of polychora), knot theory (applications of skein relations that led to knot polynomials), and theoretical physics.
A few of the things he has worked with:
"Game of Life" and other fun things for adult children

Conway's inventions in recreational mathematics and his popularization pieces and books are far too numerous to enumerate here. He can calculate the day of the week in two seconds or so, using his Doomsday Al Gore Rhythm. Also, Conway's "Game of Life" remains the most popular cellular automaton.
And a little bit on his Free will theorem
The free will theorem is a very cute sharpened reformulation of the hidden variables no-go theorems that can be phrased in the following way:
If experimenters have free will, then so do elementary particles.

Because this statement may sound too entertaining, let me emphasize that it is not a caricature of the theorem. They actually prove nothing else than the exact, most obvious interpretation of the sentence above.
And a couple other good ones. Conway is one of those people who crop up every so often to make the world interesting and to shake things up a bit for complacent scholars... We need more people like him!

Fighting fraud - eBay goes to Romania

Curious story from the LA Times:

EBay goes far to fight fraud -- all the way to Romania
The country is the top source of organized scams on the auction site. The company has sent over equipment and a team to help the authorities there.

RAMNICU VALCEA, ROMANIA -- This small industrial center in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains is not Albena Spasova's favorite destination. Driving the twisting highway makes her ill. Once she arrives, danger lurks.

U.S. Secret Service agents escort her, for her safety. Over the last two years, they have kept watch on dozens of trips, some lasting weeks, others months, as she has spent long days foraging through case files with local police and long nights holed up in one of the town's few hotels, with her windows locked.

"You don't know who to trust there. You can't use the hotel phone line. When you step outside, you can spot the local hackers in their cars, circling around," said Spasova, 33. "The Secret Service agents always book my accommodation and make sure I'm in a room next to them."

Ramnicu Valcea is an improbable capital of anything, but this obscure town is a global center of Internet and credit card fraud. And Spasova is an accomplished online fraud buster, helping to take down cyber-crime gangs across Romania. She isn't an FBI agent, though, nor a Romanian police officer.

Spasova works for EBay.

No one, it turns out, does Internet auction fraud like the Romanians. Bulgarians specialize in intellectual property theft; Ukraine is a leader in online credit card crime; the Russians have a profitable niche in Internet dating fraud.

But when it comes to online auctions, particularly for big-ticket items such as cars that can yield $5,000 a scam, Romanians own the game. Romanian police estimate that cyber-crime is now a multimillion-dollar national industry, as important to organized criminals here as drug smuggling or human trafficking.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, ranks Romania fifth in its table of naughty nations. But most experts agree that doesn't give Romanian criminals their due. Much of the cash being made on auction fraud reported as originating in the U.S., Canada, Britain, Spain or Italy is actually being picked up in those countries by Romanian money mules. An EBay fraud ring busted last year in Chicago, for example, has been traced to Pitesti, Romania.

Interestingly enough, Romania is also home to some stellar anti-virus and computer security products. BitDefender is one example.

I am on several internet forums for various topics and there is always the occasional post about someone trying to sell an expensive item in eBay and getting a fishy offer for it -- a cashiers check with a courier picking up the item. The few times these transactions have completed, the bank notifies the seller a week or so later that the cashiers check was a forgery and the seller is S.O.L. for the money and the item.

A wonderful dinner

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The Beef was roasted and the shrimp were devoured. Plates were cleaned and a good time was had by all. It is snowing now, about an inch or two accumulation so very much a White Christmas. Dishes are in the dishwasher, just took Dad home and now am surfing for a bit, finishing off a bottle of wine and feeling very full and mellow...

Such a peach - Kim Jong-Il

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I cannot understand why people don't like him. From Yahoo/AFP:
N Korean leader even fixes TVs for beloved troops: state media
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il has such "paternal love" for his troops that he even checks the TV reception and room temperature in their barracks, state media said Monday.

"Today, the soldiers of the Korean People's Army revere and follow leader Kim Jong-Il rather as their father than as the supreme commander," said a eulogy carried by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) to mark the 16th anniversary of Kim's assuming the top command.

Kim paid scrupulous attention to the needs of his soldiers, "showing them warmer affection than their own parents would," it said.

The agency cited his actions in fixing the TV reception for a women's unit located in a deep valley; encouraging sketching by the troops; replacing threadbare winter uniforms; and even checking the room temperature and water quality while inspecting bedrooms and bathhouses.

"Immeasurable is the warmth of his parental love for the soldiers," KCNA added.
Meanwhile, the nation is without sufficient food, water or power. The elite live very well while the poor starve. The government makes its money by counterfeiting US currency and munitions sales to terrorist nations and groups. They did set off a nuke and although it was more of a dud than a sauces, who knows about the second one.
Nice people...

Google Trends on this day

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Thanks to Gerard Vanderleun for this link to Google Trends Google Trends monitors what people are searching for on Google and presents the top ten:
Click for full-size image.
C'mon folks - a little planning is called for... I love that Microsoft's Zune is number four with a search on how to set it up. Must be really intuitive and easy to use...

And to all, a good night...

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Going out to the Dave Cave(tm) to work on some stuff and then, calling it an early evening. We are having my Dad and one of our neighbors over for a roast beef dinner tomorrow. Shrimp Cocktail, Salad, the Beef, oven roasted Parsnips and some wonderful Chocolate Mousse Cakes that a local baker does. Now that the Mt. Baker Ski Area has opened, things have been really busy at the store so it will be great to have a day off tomorrow. To all of you, Have a Fantastic Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Pulling the tail of a sleeping Lion

Not generally a good thing to do. Bill Whittle... Well, I'll just let Bill set this up for you:
A few nights ago, just before bedtime, I was swimming a final blog lap for the day and came upon an entry at my friend Rand Simberg�s blog, Transterrestrial Musings. It was a simple comment about Mike Huckabee�s plan to be �energy free by 2017.� Rand was merely pointing out that a commenter had made the coveted Simpsons Nerd / Physics Nerd / Political Nerd trifecta: �In this campaign we obey the laws of thermodynamics!�

Ha-ha! And now a quick scan of the comments before off to bed�

�and I find the following � apropos of precisely nothing � nasty little cut-and-paste slash job:
Have you considered the possibility yet that you might be ignorant American redneck hillbilly fascists?

Analysis of these seven regimes reveals fourteen common threads that link them in recognizable patterns of national behavior and abuse of power. These basic characteristics are more prevalent and intense in some regimes than in others, but they all share at least some level of similarity.

1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism. From the prominent displays of flags and bunting to the ubiquitous lapel pins, the fervor to show patriotic nationalism, both on the part of the regime itself and of citizens caught up in its frenzy, was always obvious. Catchy slogans, pride in the military, and demands for unity were common themes in expressing this nationalism. It was usually coupled with a suspicion of things foreign that often bordered on xenophobia.

2. Disdain for the importance of human rights. The regimes themselves viewed human rights as of little value and a hindrance to realizing the objectives of the ruling elite. Through clever use of propaganda, the population was brought to accept these human rights abuses by marginalizing, even demonizing, those being targeted. When abuse was egregious, the tactic was to use secrecy, denial, and disinformation.

3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause. The most significant common thread among these regimes was the use of scapegoating as a means to divert the people�s attention from other problems, to shift blame for failures, and to channel frustration in controlled directions. The methods of choice�relentless propaganda and disinformation�were usually effective. Often the regimes would incite �spontaneous� acts against the target scapegoats, usually communists, socialists, liberals, Jews, ethnic and racial minorities, traditional national enemies, members of other religions, secularists, homosexuals, and �terrorists.� Active opponents of these regimes were inevitably labeled as terrorists and dealt with accordingly.
The poster's cut-and-paste screed (came from here actually)went on for a while. Bill decided to reply:
Now I see this sort of nonsense all the time. But for some reason, the sheer inappropriateness of it � the random, smug, bastardousity of it just got to me. I am somewhat ashamed to say it woke my inner Balrog:


And so, despite the lateness of the hour, I responded on the fly and wrote this (with three or four additional sentences added this evening):
Carl Sagan, when responding in detail to the obvious lunacy in Velikovsky�s WORLDS IN COLLISION thesis, said that doing so �sharpened the mind for useful work."

I don�t really have the time to do this correctly, but just as something to do over a milk and cookie before bed:

American, have you considered the possibility you might be a f**king idiot?

1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism. During WWII, �Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism� were indeed common in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan. They were identically common in the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union. If patriotic displays are the sign of fascism and anti-fascism equally, then it seems to me you have proven nothing.

2. Disdain for the importance of human rights. Nowhere on the planet is there greater legal protection of individual rights than in ignorant redneck hillbilly fascist America. The Bill of Rights, with its iron-clad protections against self-incrimination and double-jeopardy (not to mention the writ of habeas corpus and the presumption of innocence), have never been matched in human history. And these protections are being strengthened, rather than weakened over time, as confessional protections and Miranda rights clearly show.

3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause. Two concepts; let�s take them separately. Identification of Enemies: Al Qaeda was identified � rather slyly on our part � by the fact that they flew airplanes into Manhattan and Washington and then took credit for it. If that does not clear your bar as a realistic and accurate measure of a real � not imaginary � enemy, then you fail the Reasonable Man test. This will comes as more of a shock to you than it does to us. Second, a �scapegoat� is used to focus the rage of a group or individual on another to make up for slights and humiliations. It is the refuge of a loser� such as humiliated Germany in the 20�s and 30�s. The United States, you museum-grade idiot, is the most successful society in history: not just economically and militarily (as if that wasn�t enough) but also as the undisputed leader in science and technology, the arts, music, film and overall cultural influence. There has never been a people less in need of a scapegoat than Americans. YOU, however, are a loser. And your search for a scapegoat is rather pathetically unraveling.
Bill proceeds to demolish each line-item of this persons 14 points and then closes with this excellent observation and idea:
Now I only copy this exchange here for one reason:

Many people hear or read something like �american�s� rant and think that because it is structured and literate there must be something to it. How many college students today, when presented with such nonsense, would read it and think that they are approaching the days of a Nazi state?


Damn it! Lots of them would. Why? Because, like the 9/11 conspiracy �troofers,� no one bothers to call these people out. Thinking about this response took half again as long as actually typing it did: which is to say a few minutes. That is because I know how far from reality this diatribe is. These are things I think about every day, and likely, so do you. Realizing from scratch that his point was absurd, the specifics were easy.

We can no longer afford to let this anti-American garbage pass unchallenged. As a kind and secure people, we tend to let a lot of this go under the bridge, but this kind of crap gets more and more traction, and those days I think must come to an end for a while.

Now normally I do not employ personal ridicule, but I was writing in the heat of the moment and I thought it was no less than such a puerile attempt deserved. These people need to be challenged, factually defeated, thrashed, and mocked.

There was a time when common sense was prevalent enough that arguments this absurd would be laughed at on the street. I mean to return to those times, one self-righteous idiot at a time.
Wonderful words and a wonderful solution -- to be mocked burns deeply. It might just prompt these jackasses to actually think (shudder).

Very clever was to raise money for a church.

The Pastor delivers the weekly homily on the Parable of the Talents and then hands each of his 1,700 odd parishioners an envelope with $50 and tells them to double it within seven weeks.

From AOL/AP:

Pastor's Challenge Shocks Congregation
The Rev. Hamilton Coe Throckmorton shivered with anticipation as he gazed at the loot - wads of $50 bills piled high beside boxes of crayons in a Sunday school classroom.

Cautiously, he locked the door. Then he started counting.

It was a balmy Friday evening in September. From several floors below faint melodies drifted up - the choir practicing for Sunday service.

Throckmorton was oblivious. For hours, perched awkwardly on child-sized wooden stools surrounded by biblical murals and children's drawings, the pastor and a handful of coconspirators concentrated on the count.

Forty-thousand dollars. Throckmorton smiled in satisfaction as he stashed the money in a safe.

That Sunday, the 52-year-old minister donned his creamy white robes, swept to the pulpit and delivered one of the most extraordinary sermons of his life.

First he read from the Gospel of Matthew.

"And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his ability."

Then he explained the parable of the talents, which tells of the rich master who entrusts three servants with a sum of money - "talents" - and instructs them to go forth and do good. The master lavishes praise on the two servants who double their money. But he casts into the wilderness the one so afraid to take a risk that he buries his share.

Throckmorton spends up to 20 hours working on his weekly homily, and his clear diction, contemplative message and ringing voice command the church. Gazing down from the pulpit that Sunday, Throckmorton dropped his bombshell.

Like the master, he would entrust each adult with a sum of money - in this case, $50. Church members had seven weeks to find ways to double their money, the proceeds to go toward church missions.

"Live the parable of the talents!" Throckmorton exhorted, as assistants handed out hundreds of red envelops stuffed with crisp $50 bills and stunned church members did quick mental calculations, wondering where all the money had come from. There are about 1,700 in the congregation, though not everyone attends each week.

The cash, Throckmorton explained, was loaned by several anonymous donors.

And it worked:

"There was definitely this tension, this pressure to live up to something," said Hal Maskiell, a 62-year-old retired Navy pilot who spent days trying to figure out how to meet the challenge.

Maskiell's passion is flying a four-seater Cessna 172 Skyhawk over the Cuyahoga County hills. He decided to use his $50 to rent air time from Portage County airport and charge $30 for half-hour rides. Church members eagerly signed up. Maskiell was thrilled to get hours of flying time, and he raised $700.

His girlfriend, Kathy Marous, 55, was far less confident. What talents do I have, she thought dejectedly. She was tempted to give the money back.

And then Marous found an old family recipe for tomato soup, one she hadn't made in 19 years. She remembered how much she had enjoyed the chopping and the cooking and the canning and the smells. With Hal's encouragement Marous dug out her pots. She bought three pecks of tomatoes. Suddenly she was chopping and cooking and canning again. At $5 a jar, she made $180.

Bunch of other stories - one guy sold rides on his Harley, people did crafts -- knitting, origami, one person sold "chicken shares" -- people would pay and receive three dozen eggs and a photo of the hen. The initial count was $38K over the original $40K distributed and money is still trickling in. Sweet story and clever fundraising idea...

A Pig's Tale

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A wonderful story about Chitlin, the pet pig over at Atomic Nerds. Caution - multiple drink alert - it hurts when you snort a decent Merlot out your nose...
Year of the Pig
Michele blogs about expectations of Christmas as being perfect and Rockwellian, versus the reality of something more resembling a wacky Christmas movie.

I never really had any expectations of a Rockwellian Christmas. The few memories I do have of Christmases before my parents� divorce (I was seven) are of imperfect holidays- Grandma was over and she was riding Mom for something, the Christmas tree went over after cats chased each other up it (or I pulled it over), always something. After the divorce, Christmas day was divided between Dad�s house- always fraught, since my stepmother made no bones about hating my guts, and liked to use holidays to underline her contempt- and Mom�s. The bits that weren�t spent under my stepmother�s just-drop-dead glare were imperfect, but nice; presents were opened Christmas morning, then there was hot chocolate, tea, pajamas all day (until I had to go over to Dad�s), and reading whatever looked the most promising out of the books given that year.

Some years are more imperfect than others.

First, a little background: When I was maybe eleven or twelve, for reasons that seem unfathomable to me now, my mother and I thought it would be a fun idea to get a pet pot-bellied pig. They were exotic, they were all the rage, and being the precocious little animal-lover I was, I had read all about how intelligent and social they were. Which indeed they are- the great pig saga was my first introduction to the lesson every pet keeper needs, which is that high intelligence is often a drawback rather than a plus in a pet, and social means a lot of things.

At the time, we were fairly naive when it comes to obtaining animals; we still thought newspaper classifieds were a great way to find a breeder. We used the classifieds and found a breeder in a nearby county, who traveled into town to sell us a piglet. At the time, we had no idea that during the height of the pot-bellied pig craze, it was a common scam tactic for unscrupulous breeders to pass a cross of the small, docile, expensive potbelly and a big, mean, cheap farm pig off as a purebred potbelly to prospective suckers who wouldn�t be able to tell the difference. As the cute little black piglet we brought home that day wound up growing to more than 200 pounds of ornery pork, it is very likely we were the suckers in this scenario.

We named him Chitlin, short for the chitterlings (stewed, boiled, and then maybe fried bits of pig intestine) common in the region of Lousiana my mother grew up in. That we found this hliarious tells you something about my mother and me, and also perhaps explains why Chitlin grew up with a grudge against humanity. As a piglet, like many young animals that undergo a radical personality shift as adults, he was every bit the charming pet we had been led to expect he would be. He was a litterbox-trained housepet who liked to sleep next to the bed, and LOVED to snuggle in a beanbag. He was easily trained, as he�d do anything for food. For about two years, Chitlin was an adored, if unusual, companion.
And things rapidly devolve into chaos. Quite the story!

No posting tonight (except for this one)

Had a fairly busy day at the store today. I want to automate our video rental system -- the previous owners had it all done with 2-part forms and odd little slips of paper. Needless to say, I am computerizing it. I found some excellent software (Video-Vision Plus) for about $500 but getting the 1,600+ disks into it was daunting to say the least. Fortunately, Video-Vision Plus plays nice with another app called Movie Collector and for $199.00, I bought the package including their Movie software as well as their Music CD and Book apps plus the coolest little barcode scanner I have seen in a while. It uses MEMS to direct the laser beam and will store 500 barcodes. I scan a bunch of videos, run upstairs to the office computer, plug it in an hit Search and the software will go to the Collectorz database as well as IMDB, Amazon.US, UK, JP as well as several other DVD databases. It will not only download the movie title, it also gets the actors, director, author, composer, plot synopsis, etc... Even a copy of the cover artwork. Video-Vision imports Movie Collector databases including the cover pics... How cool is that!!! The collector software is really nice, stable and well written. Any of their versions (DVD, CD, Book, Comic, Game, MP3 or Photo is only $39 - well worth it... After work, Jen and I drive into town, kidnapped my Dad and we drove about an hour south to Stanwood, WA, home of "The Lights of Christmas"" They advertised over a Million Lights and I believe that. WOW! $12 to get in, we looked at most of the stuff, had a draft horse carriage ride, had a tractor pulled wagon ride, scritched some goats and sheep and had some of their signature fresh doughnuts with some hot chocolate. All in all, we spent about two hours. We could have spent some more time (didn't see everything) but Dad was getting a bit tired and so were we... The site is a Christian Camp and we were worried that it might be "preachy" but it was not. There were a few signs with relevant quotes from Scripture and Psalms but the words were appropriate to the setting and there was no proselytizing. A really nice vibe for everyone.

David Byrne on the Music "Business"

Excellent and clear breakdown of the traditional and current music business with explanations of the various types of contracts and how you, as the musician, can get screwed.

From Wired:

David Byrne's Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists - and Megastars
Full disclosure: I used to own a record label. That label, Luaka Bop, still exists, though I'm no longer involved in running it. My last record came out through Nonesuch, a subsidiary of the Warner Music Group empire. I have also released music through indie labels like Thrill Jockey, and I have pressed up CDs and sold them on tour. I tour every few years, and I don't see it as simply a loss leader for CD sales. So I have seen this business from both sides. I've made money, and I've been ripped off. I've had creative freedom, and I've been pressured to make hits. I have dealt with diva behavior from crazy musicians, and I have seen genius records by wonderful artists get completely ignored. I love music. I always will. It saved my life, and I bet I'm not the only one who can say that.

What is called the music business today, however, is not the business of producing music. At some point it became the business of selling CDs in plastic cases, and that business will soon be over. But that's not bad news for music, and it's certainly not bad news for musicians. Indeed, with all the ways to reach an audience, there have never been more opportunities for artists.

And a bit more on "the business of selling CDs in plastic cases"

This was the system that evolved over the past century to market the product, which is to say the container - vinyl, tape, or disc - that carried the music. (Calling the product music is like selling a shopping cart and calling it groceries.)

Like he says, the traditional model has been eclipsed by technology. Where you used to require $15K of session time in a big studio, you can now do the same quality of work with a couple thousand bucks worth of off-the-shelf hardware (microphones, mixer, signal processors, monitor speakers, software) and a decent computer.

The cost to duplicate is minimal - in thousand quantities, you can get bare disks professionally duplicated for well under 50¢/piece and going whole hog with 4-color printed disks, an insert, jewel cases and shrink-wrapped package, you are still only looking at about $1.80 or so.

Set up a My Space page and there you go!

Walking with bears

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It seems that the brown bears in Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula aren't as aggressive as the US Grizzlies. There is a wonderful little photo gallery at English Russia with some of these critters getting along just fine with some humans. Here is one photo:
Hey buddy, you gonna eat that fish? Cute!

Smoking ban - one solution

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There is now a smoking ban in restaurants in Germany. One restaurateur came up with this novel work-around. From Der Spiegel:
Restaurateur Introduces Smoking Hole
A restaurateur in Lower Saxony has refused to be deterred by the state's new ban on smoking in bars and restaurants: He has sawed three holes in the wall so patrons can smoke "outside."

A German restaurateur has come up with a novel solution to a new ban on smoking in restaurants: He has made three holes in the wall of his restaurant so that customers can smoke "outside."

Whatever the bureaucrats can come up with, there is always an inventive mind that can circumvent the new law (but it's for our own good 'ya see...)

Happy Solstice 2007

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Tomorrow will have about three minutes more daylight than today. Living this far north, these things matter... Today's Astronomy Photo of the Day sums it up:
Tyrrhenian Sea and Solstice Sky
Credit & Copyright: Danilo Pivato

Explanation: Today the Solstice occurs at 0608 Universal Time, the Sun reaching its southernmost declination in planet Earth's sky. Of course, the December Solstice marks the beginning of winter in the northern hemisphere and summer in the south. When viewed from northern latitudes, the Sun will make its lowest arc through the sky along the southern horizon. So in the north, the Solstice day has the shortest length of time between sunrise and sunset and fewest hours of daylight. This striking composite image follows the Sun's path through the December Solstice day of 2005 in a beautiful blue sky, looking down the Tyrrhenian Sea coast from Santa Severa toward Fiumicino, Italy. The view covers about 115 degrees in 43 separate, well-planned exposures from sunrise to sunset.
Visit the Astronomy Picture of the Day for a full-sized version of this gorgeous image. Danilo has some other wonderful images on his own website: Danilo Pivato

Michael Jackson - plastic surgery failure

I guess that too much of something can be really bad for you. A few weeks ago, photos of M.J. were circulating around the internet -- he was in the Las Vegas Barnes & Noble shopping with his three kids. He wore large dark glasses, a cape with a hood pulled over his head and lots of bandages on his face. Had he recently had additional surgery? Yes it turns out but for a different reason -- from the UK Daily Mail's Metro website:
Jackson's lips 'burst and collapsed'
The mystery behind the horror pictures of Michael Jackson's bandaged and plastered face has been revealed.

The 49-year-old singer was reportedly forced to have emergency surgery after his five-year-old son accidentally smacked him in the face, bursting and collapsing his lips, a source reveals.

'He was whacked in the face accidentally by his younger son Prince Michael II while playing around and part of Jackson's upper lip collapsed.'

'That mishap led an hysterical' Jacko to make a beeline for the plastic surgeon for a bit of quickie repair work' the insider claims.

At the beginning of week, shocking pictures were floated on the internet showing the 'Bad' singer trying to conceal a mouth smothered in plasters under sunglasses and a hat.
Sheesh - I would hate to think of what the tissue must be like to be that friable. Must have been quite the shock to the kid too - you are playing with daddy and all of a sudden, his face falls apart with the attendant gout of blood.

Unique Nuclear Reactors

An interesting list from the Energy Information Administration. Here is the first entry talking about the first electrical power ever generated by a reactor back in December, 1951:
Unique Reactors

In this ordinary-looking photograph, taken in Idaho in December 1951, the reader is witnessing a technological breakthrough that will change history. The light bulbs are quite ordinary but they rely on the Experimental Breeder Reactor-1 for their source of power. Years later, President Eisenhower will launch the international "Atoms for Peace" program. Idaho's National Energy and Environmental Engineering Lab web site provides a film of the EBR-1 in action.

1951: The EBR-1 and the Four Light Bulbs
Idaho might not be the first State that comes to mind when people think about the atom, but "the Gem of the Mountains" has played a significant role in developing nuclear power for more than 50 years. In 1951, the National Reactor Testing Station (now known as the Idaho National Energy and Environmental Laboratory, or INEEL) used the world's first nuclear-provided electricity to light one of its buildings. The source of the power was the Station's Experimental Breeder Reactor-1 (EBR-1), a unit that continued in service until decommissioned in 1964. More information on the EBR-1, including tours at the museum site, and on the lab's other projects, can be obtained on the INEEL web site.
Nuclear power generation is the single best way to cut CO2 emissions. The fuel is cheap, abundant and the cost of operation is minimal. The waste is radioactive but the technology for safekeeping is available now. Coal ash is more toxic in the long term.

Boat Nerd - the Great Lakes

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Boat Nerd is a wonderful website dedicated to commercial shipping in the Great Lakes. They also cover such things as lighthouses, the history of the various lakes, famous wrecks (think Edmund Fitzgerald). That area has a long history and the Boat Nerd is a great place to spend a lot of time.

Art Conrad.has the right spirit

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From the Kitsap Sun:
Strange Santa Scene Makes Bremerton Man's Comment on Christmas
Santa's keeping watch over a West Bremerton neighborhood in a way that has some offended and everyone else at least a bit curious about the motive.

In the front yard of a house on the 300 block of Olympic Avenue stands a crucifix about 15-feet tall, bearing Santa Claus in place of Jesus.

Jake Tally of Bremerton walked by the display Friday and chuckled, but didn't pretend to understand the message.

"I don't really know what to think. I know it's about God but Santa has nothing to do with it," he said.

Nearby neighbors were mixed with their reviews Friday. One woman said she was offended. Another said she feared how children might respond. One man said he thought perhaps the homeowner was displaying a message about the commercialization of Christmas.

Art Conrad, who owns the home and put up the display, said the commercialization angle is the number one impetus for the display, but he's also making a statement about political correctness. That he finds Santa on a cross a hilarious juxtaposition fits in the list of motives, too.
A bit more:
He created it by stuffing a Santa suit and borrowing the head off a motion-activated Santa that dances and sings Christmas carols.

The headless dancing Santa now carries a knife and sings and dances on Conrad's front porch.

Conrad photographed the crucified Santa and created his own Christmas cards, one with the message, "Santa died for your MasterCard."

"Santa has been perverted from who he started out to be," Conrad said. "Now he's the person being used by corporations to get us to buy more stuff."

Conrad said the second message comes from his belief that people are so afraid of being politically incorrect that they won't do anything because of what other people might think or what the American Civil Liberties Union might do.
Heh -- almost worth driving the couple hours to check it out. Bremerton is a big Navy town - working class but nice.

A matter of Prior Art - traffic waves

Headline News from Exeter University:

Exeter mathematician solves traffic jam mystery
Mathematicians from the University of Exeter have solved the mystery of traffic jams by developing a model to show how major delays occur on our roads, with no apparent cause. Many traffic jams leave drivers baffled as they finally reach the end of a tail-back to find no visible cause for their delay. Now, a team of mathematicians from the Universities of Exeter, Bristol and Budapest, have found the answer and published their findings in leading academic journal Proceedings of the Royal Society.

The team developed a mathematical model to show the impact of unexpected events such as a lorry pulling out of its lane on a dual carriageway. Their model revealed that slowing down below a critical speed when reacting to such an event, a driver would force the car behind to slow down further and the next car back to reduce its speed further still. The result of this is that several miles back, cars would finally grind to a halt, with drivers oblivious to the reason for their delay. The model predicts that this is a very typical scenario on a busy highway (above 10-15 vehicles per km). The jam moves backwards through the traffic creating a so-called "backward travelling wave", which drivers may encounter many miles upstream, several minutes after it was triggered.

Dr Gabor Orosz of the University of Exeter's School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics, said: "As many of us prepare to travel long distances to see family and friends over Christmas, we're likely to experience the frustration of getting stuck in a traffic jam that seems to have no cause. Our model shows that overreaction of a single driver can have enormous impact on the rest of the traffic, leading to massive delays."

Drivers and policy-makers have not previously known why jams like this occur, though many have put it down to the sheer volume of traffic. While this clearly plays a part in this new theory, the main issue is around the smoothness of traffic flow. According to the model, heavy traffic will not automatically lead to congestion but can be smooth-flowing. This model takes into account the time-delay in drivers' reactions, which lead to drivers braking more heavily than would have been necessary had they identified and reacted to a problem ahead a second earlier.

Dr. Orosz' staff website is here, personal website here. Related article in Science Daily. One slight problem... Nine years ago, Bill Beaty, Seattle scientist and Geek Extraordinaire published this articleon his website analyzing the problem of traffic waves, showing the reason for their formation and showing an incredibly simple cure for them:


I live in Seattle and my two daily commutes last about 45 minutes. (That's when I'm lucky; sometimes it's more like two hours each.) This has given me an immense amount of time for watching the interesting patterns in the cars. Boredom led me to fantasize about the traffic being like a flowing liquid, with cars acting as giant water molecules. Over many months I slowly realized that this was not just a fantasy. Why had I never noticed all the "traffic fluid dynamics" out there? Once my brain became sensitized to it, I started seeing quite a variety of interesting things occurring. Eventually I started using my car to poke at the flowing traffic. Observation eventually leads to experimentation, no? There are amazing things you can do as an "amateur traffic dynamicist." You can drive like an "anti-rubbernecker" and erase slowdowns created by other drivers. But first, some basic phenomena.

A bit more directly addressing the spontaneous formation of these waves.

These sorts of travelling waves are common during heavy traffic conditions. An accident isn't needed to create them, sometimes they are caused by near-misses, by people cutting each other off, by merging lanes at a construction site, or simply by extra cars entering from an on-ramp. In traffic engineering lingo, they can be caused by "incidents" on the highway. A single "rubbernecker" could cause one by momentarily stopping to look at something interesting. Whenever you slow way down in order to merge across a lane to get to your upcoming exit, YOU could create one.

Sometimes the traffic waves have have no real cause at all. They appear because tiny random motions can trigger large results. They are like sand ripples and sand dunes, and they just build up for no clear reason. They are like ocean waves caused by the steady breeze, or like the waves which move along a flapping flag. They just "emerge" spontaneously from the writheing lines of traffic. In the science of Nonlinear Dynamics this is called an EMERGENT PHENOMENON."

This is rather odd as a Google Search for traffic wave (singular) turns up over 700,000 hits and Bill's site is number three and number four on the ranking. A search for traffic waves (plural) turns up over 170,000 hits and Bill's is number one and two on the ranking with additional links to his site starting around number ten. Surely a little research could have turned up this perfect example of Prior Art.

A sad irony

From the Chicago Tribune/AP:
Roofing company billionaire dies after falling through roof
The 91st richest man in the U.S., a roofing company billionaire, has died after falling through his home garage's roof, local authorities said Friday.

Ken Hendricks, 66, was checking on construction on the roof over his garage at his home in the town of Rock Thursday night when he fell through, Rock County Sheriff's Department commander Troy Knudson said. He suffered massive head injuries, according to his company, ABC Supply Co.

Hendricks' wife called authorities and attempted CPR on her husband, he said. Hendricks was taken first to a Beloit hospital and then transferred to Rockford Memorial Hospital in Winnebago County, Illinois.

He was pronounced dead there early Friday morning, Winnebago County coroner Sue Fiduccia said. An autopsy is planned for Friday.
The ABC Supply web page is here. Sad story...
With twits like Rowan Williams running the show, it's not exactly rocket science to see that it's being overrun by Muslims. A slow war but a war none the less. Another article at The Telegraph:
Mohammed to overtake Jack as favourite name
Mohammed is on track to become the most popular boys' name in England and Wales by next year.

The name was second only to Jack in 2007, which has been top for the last 13 years.

But there were just 385 more children called Jack and because of the high birth rate among Muslim families, the name is set to become the most popular boy's name by next year.

While Mohammed is in 17th place, its position would be number two if all 14 variant spellings of the name were taken into account.

While 6,772 boys were called Jack, 6,387 were called Mohammed or a variant.
A lot of these people are good people but the Wahabbists, the power-hungry theocrats who foment terror and oppression are following the prophet of Satan. Our great friends the English are turning a cultural blind eye toward this reality and things are going to get a lot worse everywhere before they get better. Why is it that each War is the "War to end all wars" - sometimes we are such stupid creatures it's amazing that we exist at all...
Dr. Rowan Williams should be truly ashamed of himself. From The Telegraph:
Archbishop says nativity 'a legend'
The Archbishop of Canterbury said yesterday that the Christmas story of the Three Wise Men was nothing but a 'legend'.

Dr Rowan Williams has claimed there was little evidence that the Magi even existed and there was certainly nothing to prove there were three of them or that they were kings.

He said the only reference to the wise men from the East was in Matthew's gospel and the details were very vague.

Dr Williams said: "Matthew's gospel says they are astrologers, wise men, priests from somewhere outside the Roman Empire, that's all we're really told. It works quite well as legend."

The Archbishop went on to dispel other details of the Christmas story, adding that there were probably no asses or oxen in the stable.

He argued that Christmas cards which showed the Virgin Mary cradling the baby Jesus, flanked by shepherds and wise men, were misleading. As for the scenes that depicted snow falling in Bethlehem, the Archbishop said the chance of this was "very unlikely".
Christ on a corn dog -- next, this twit will be saying that the tooth fairy doesn't exist and that Santa is a myth too. Of course the events of the nativity can never be known, they are mysteries. Each of the elements of the nativity story is a metaphor for part of the spiritual journey and together, they form a very touching story. What is his next utterance, how next will he try to destroy the beauty of this religion. A big tip of the hat to Maggie's Farm for the link and one of the commenters there echos my thoughts exactly:
It is another example of how liberalism has infected Christianity. The Bible has a name for men like the Archbishop-false teacher! Scripture implies that false teachers and prophets will be judged more harshly. My question is how can men like him not see that? Aren't they the least bit concerned that they may in fact be teaching false doctrine? Of course the Bible warns about that also.
So true...
A bit of a brew-ha-ha at the Clinton campaign headquarters. From ABC News:
Clinton Launches Obama Attack Web Sites
Clinton Campaign Registered Names of Two Web Sites to Attack Ill. Senator

ABC News has learned that the campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., has registered the names of two Web sites with the express goal of attacking her chief rival, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

It's the first time this election cycle a presidential campaign has launched a Web site with the express purpose of of launching serious criticisms on a rival. and are domains hosted by the same IP address as official Clinton Web sites, such, which was launched with much fanfare this week.

The Clinton campaign intends to use these new Web sites to paint Obama as cowardly.
You think that someone at their IT department would have had the basic sense to use a different ISP to host this site... Sheesh! A few seconds with whois and it's patently obvious who is behind this.

Eating Gluten Free

A percentage of the population are unable to digest the gluten found in Wheat, Rye and Barley grains. Symptoms include lower GI tract distress and diarrhea. (here and here) At the store, we already carry a lot of gluten free foods but I am looking for more sources for pre-made products like breads and cereals. I found a very good site: Don Wiss He also maintains the Gluten Free Links website as well as a links to vendors that is very useful.

Live from Dibble, Oklahoma

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WTF? From Dallas/Fort Worth NBC5:
Woman Ticketed After Goats Caught Mating
DIBBLE, Okla. -- Some "goats gone wild" are the talk of a small Oklahoma town.

A woman received two tickets after her goats were caught mating and relieving themselves on her own yard.

City law said it is illegal for any two animals to have sex in public within Dibble city limits.

It's also against law for them to relieve themselves in public even if the animal is fenced in on private land.

The owner was shocked when she heard the charges.

�I kind of thought if anyone was caught having sex in public, it could have been me,� Carol Medenhall said.

The woman fought the tickets and won partially because she didn't know she lived within city limits.

Her land was recently annexed by the city, located south of Oklahoma City, but she claims no one told her.
Nanny state-ism gone overboard... You can have stock but they can't be animals.
You think that they could have made this little 'issue' go away... From the NY Post:

Hillary Rodham Clinton's youngest sibling is a deadbeat dad who owes tens of thousands of dollars in child support to his politically connected ex, The Post has learned.

In a disclosure that could prove embarrassing for his sister, Anthony Rodham has stiffed his former wife, Nicole Boxer, out of $75,000 in child support, as well as $55,000 in alimony, a source close to the case said.

Including interest and various fees and expenses, the presidential candidate's brother now owes Boxer - the daughter of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) - more than $158,000, the source said.

The revelation that Rodham is delinquent with his payments won't be a welcome development for Hillary Clinton, coming as the too-close-to-call battle for the Democratic presidential nomination reaches a fevered pitch and with the first votes to be cast in Iowa in exactly two weeks.
As Senator Clinton's campaign softly implodes. Couldn't happen to a nicer family... When the United States of America does elect its first Female President, it will not be such a controlling harpy.

How the mighty have fallen. A set of photos from Abandoned but not Forgotten of the headquarters of SUN Microsystems.

Here are three photos starting with a before from the 1980's:




Many more at the site...

Up early

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Normally a night-person but have an early appointment in town 45 minutes away. Arrrggghhh...

Upcoming movies for 2008

Looks like it will be a fun year to spend at the movies. From First Showing:

Why 2008 Will Be An Awesome Year For Movies
In August of last year we ran a controversial look at 43 reasons why 2007 would be a great year for movies. Now that 2007 has nearly come and gone and almost all of those 43 movies have been released, it's time to look ahead at 2008. The last 12 months have played a major part in building the hype for most of the movies mentioned and I can now say that 2008 looks way more appealing at this moment than 2007 did at the same time last year. This could be the year that we see revolutionary new changes in Hollywood, not only as the Writers Strike ends but as we encounter films like Cloverfield, Speed Racer, and The Dark Knight. Let's take look at 54 reasons why 2008 will be an awesome year for movies and an even better year than 2007.

Some of them look really intriguing:

Burn After Reading
Release Date: Late 2008
Director: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen (O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Ladykillers, No Country for Old Men)
Starring: George Clooney, John Malkovich, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton
Synopsis: A disk containing the memoirs of a CIA agent ends up in the hands of two unscrupulous gym employees who attempt to sell it.
The Hype: After directing one of 2007's most critically acclaimed movies, No Country for Old Men, the Coen's are already back finishing up Burn After Reading, and it seems like it could be another brilliant film.

A curious case of adoption

The odds are amazing. From Grand Rapids, MI comes this story of a son finding his birth-mother:

Adopted son finds birth mom at his workplace
For years, Steve Flaig, a delivery truck driver at the Lowe's store on Plainfield Avenue, had searched for his birth mother.

He found her working the cash register at the front of the store.

For several months, he and Christine Tallady had known each other casually as co-workers. Last Friday they met for the first time as mother and son.

"I have a complete family now, all my kids," said Tallady, who has two younger children. "It's a perfect time of year. It's the best Christmas present ever."

For Flaig, it was the reunion he had dreamed of for much of his 22 years. He had always known he was adopted, and his parents, Pat and Lois Flaig, who raised him since his birth, supported his decision to search for his birth mother.

It was a tough decision for Tallady, unmarried at the time, to give him up when he was born on Oct. 5, 1985, but "I wasn't ready to be a mother," she said.

She left the adoption record open, figuring he might want to contact her someday, and she often thought of him, particularly on his birthday. But life went on. She got married, had two more kids.

Four years ago, when Flaig turned 18, he asked DA Blodgett for Children, the agency that arranged his adoption, for his background information. A couple of months later, it came, including his birth mother's name.

He searched the Internet for her address and came up empty. In October, around the time of his 22nd birthday, he took out the paperwork from DA Blodgett and realized he had been spelling his mother's surname wrong as "Talladay." He typed "Tallady" into a search engine and came up with an address on West River Drive less than a mile from the Lowe's store.

He mentioned it to his boss, and she said, "You mean Chris Tallady, who works here?" He was stunned.

"I was like, there's no possible way," he said. "It's just such a bizarre situation."

He had been working at Lowe's for two years. She was hired in April as head cashier.

How they met (DA Blodgett is the adoption agency):

Last Wednesday, on his day off, Flaig happened to be driving past the DA Blodgett offices. He decided to stop in and tell them of his find. An employee there volunteered to call Tallady for him.

Tallady, 45, was surprised to get the call at Lowe's. How did the DA Blodgett people know where she worked?

"The first thing that crossed my mind is something was wrong with him," she said. Was he sick? Did he need a blood transfusion?

"And then she said, 'Christine, he works with you,'" Tallady recalled. "It was a shock. I started crying. I figured he would call me sometime, but not like this."

She sobbed a lot that day, tears of joy. Flaig called her later that day, and last Friday the two, who until then had occasionally said "hi" as coworkers do, met at the Cheers Good Time Saloon near the store. They hugged, sat and talked for 2 1/2 hours.

What a great story...

Yaaaayyyyy!!! The Hobbitses are coming back...

From The One Ring:

Academy Award-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson; Harry Sloan, Chairman and CEO, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. (MGM); Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne, Co-Chairmen and Co-CEOs of New Line Cinema have jointly announced today that they have entered into the following series of agreements:
* MGM and New Line will co-finance and co-distribute two films, The Hobbit and a sequel to The Hobbit. New Line will distribute in North America and MGM will distribute internationally.

* Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh will serve as Executive Producers of two films based on The Hobbit. New Line will manage the production of the films, which will be shot simultaneously.

* Peter Jackson and New Line have settled all litigation relating to the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) Trilogy.

Said Peter Jackson, "I'm very pleased that we've been able to put our differences behind us, so that we may begin a new chapter with our old friends at New Line. The Lord of the Rings is a legacy we proudly share with Bob and Michael, and together, we share that legacy with millions of loyal fans all over the world. We are delighted to continue our journey through Middle Earth. I also want to thank Harry Sloan and our new friends at MGM for helping us find the common ground necessary to continue that journey."

"Peter Jackson has proven himself as the filmmaker who can bring the extraordinary imagination of Tolkien to life and we full heartedly agree with the fans worldwide who know he should be making The Hobbit," said Sloan, MGM's Chairman and CEO. "Now that we are all in agreement on The Hobbit, we can focus on assembling the production team that will capture this phenomenal tale on film."

Very cool!!!

A very happy birthday indeed to this wonderful toolkit for quick and dirty programming. From Wired:

Dec. 18, 1987: Perl Simplifies the Labyrinth That Is Programming Language
1987: The first version of the Perl programming language is released.

Perl was the brainchild of Larry Wall, a programmer at Unisys, who borrowed from existing languages, especially C, to create a general-purpose language intended originally to simplify text manipulation. Through constant upgrading Perl is now used for practically everything else as well, including all aspects of web development, system administration and networking.

Perl went through a rapid series of upgrades -- less than seven years elapsed between versions 1.0 and 5.0 -- before the language was fully mature. Even at that, Perl 5 has been continuously tinkered with since 1994, with many additional features keeping Perl at the forefront of programming languages.

Wall designed Perl to reflect the realities of modern computer programming. As the cost of hardware was dropping and computers became a central feature of everyday life, the cost of programmers soared. Perl's relative simplicity and flexibility helps wring the maximum amount of efficiency out of these highly skilled -- and highly paid -- individuals.

Although the name Perl is sometimes said to stand for "Practical Extraction and Report Language," its actual origin is not so colorless: Wall originally intended to call his language Pearl, a reference to the Parable of the Pearl from the Gospel of Matthew. But a programming language called Pearl already existed, so Wall dropped the a to avoid confusion.

The Wired article is based on this Wikipedia entry. My personal programming language is solder and copper wire -- I am not a software person but I have to say, Perl is really useful when I need something quick and dirty. A very good and well thought out language...

A most excellent prank

Bidding is at $185 now otherwise I'd go for it... From eBay:

Drive Someone Insane with Postcards
When you care enough to send the very bewildering.

You are bidding on a rare chance to traumatize a treasured friend or relative with baffling, mind-numbing, mystery correspondence from abroad.

Here is the arrangement:

I will be spending the Christmas holiday in Poland in a tiny village that has one church with no bell because angry Germans stole it. Aside from vodka, there is not a lot for me to do.

During the course of my holiday I will send three postcards to one person of your choosing.

These postcards will be rant-ravingly insane, yet they will be peppered with unmistakable personal details about the addressee. Details you will provide me.

The postcards will not be coherently signed, leaving your mark confused, guessing wildly, crying out in anguish.

"How do I know this person? And how does he know I had a ferret named Goliath?"

Heh - awesome idea!

Minimal posting tonight

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Was in town all day today running errands. Working on some web stuff tonight. Posting (if at all) will be thin on the ground tonight...

Heh - A cautionary tale about One Billion

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From Roy J. Tellason:
A billion...

A billion is a difficult number to comprehend:

A billion seconds ago it was 1959.

A billion minutes ago Jesus was alive.

A billion hours ago our ancestors were living in the Stone Age.

A billion days ago no-one walked on two feet on earth.

A billion dollars ago was only 8 hours and 20 minutes, at the rate our government spends it.
The guy does have a point here... (and the numbers are from September, 2007)

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown

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Worked for King Henry the Fourth, works today. Thanks to ΛΕΟΝΙΔΑΣ posing on Francis W. Porretto's Eternity Road, we find that Chavez had a very good reason for not trying to game the election. His head. On a platter. By the Military.
Venezuela Redux
A confirmation of previous reports of the events of the Venezuelan referendum on Hugo Ch�vez' proposed constitutional changes was published today in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo. The article is in Spanish but a good synopsis is presented here as well as a complete translation here. It confirms that in fact Hugo intended to steal the election but was notified by Fidel Castro that the Venezuelan military was mobilizing for a coup d' �tat in such an eventuality.
According to El Mundo, the G-2, Castro's intelligence service who handles Hugo Chavez's personal security, informed Cuban dictator Fidel Castro that several of Venezuela's army units were getting ready to act if Chavez refused to accept the results, as he was initially trying to do.

The G-2 told Castro that there were troop movements in several key armed forces garrisons, including the 41 Armored Brigade in Maracay and the El Libertador air base.

According to high Venezuelan government officials who spoke anonymously with El Mundo, Castro called Chavez after midnight, Venezuela time, to let him know what the G-2 knew and to let him know that if he didn't accept the results, the Venezuelan armed forces were going to get rid of him.
Nice to know that Hugo has the brains to listen when Castro says no. I can only imagine the destabilization in Venezuela if there were a Military Coup. There is so much money there and none of it is getting down to the people...

Damn it - Geometry department

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Solve for 'X' Document your work (step by step). Drawing is not to scale. And no Trig, you must use Geometry, you cannot use any Trig functions!
Got it from here: World's Hardest Easy Geometry Problem
Using only elementary geometry, determine angle x. Provide a step-by-step proof.
You may only use elementary geometry, such as the fact that the angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees and the basic congruent triangle rules (side-angle-side, etc.). You may not use more advanced trigonomery, such as the law of sines, the law of cosines, etc. There is a review of elementary geometry below.

This is the hardest problem I have ever seen that is, in a sense, easy. It really can be done using only elementary geometry. This is not a trick question.

Here is a very small hint. Here is a small hint.
Piece of cake with trig but this puppy is going to be rolling around my brainpan for a day or two... Regarding the answer (from the same site):
Sorry, but I'm not giving the answer nor the proof here. You will just have to work on it until you either solve it or are driven insane.

A product review - Windows XP upgrade

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A nice detailed review at Coding Sanity -- they upgrade a machine from Windows Vista to Windows XP:
Review: Windows XP
I have finally decided to take the plunge. Last night I upgraded my Vista desktop machine to Windows XP, and this afternoon I will be doing the same to my laptop.

Look & Feel
Windows XP has quite a cartoony look and feel compared to the slick look of Aero Glass; this is mostly offset by the lack of strange screen artifacts caused by malfunctioning graphics code. You know, almost like static on the screen. This was a once or twice monthly occurrence on my laptop, and happened on my desktop whenever I logged in, and also whenever I played a 3D game after leaving Vista running for a couple of hours. I also miss the "orphaned windows" I got on Vista, dialog boxes that would not go away, in a sense they became part of the desktop, since you could drag a selection from within them, despite the fact that the Glass would render the selection below them. Such crazy graphics bugs appear to be a thing of the past.

Well, here there appears to be no contest. Windows XP is both faster and far more responsive. I no longer have the obligatory 1-minute system lock that happens whenever I log onto Vista, instead I can run applications as soon as I can click their icons. Not only that, but the applications start snappily too, rather than all waiting in some "I'm still starting up the OS" queue for 30 seconds or so before all starting at once. In addition, I have noticed that when performing complex tasks such as viewing large images, or updating large spreadsheets, instead of the whole operating system locking down for several seconds, it now just locks down the application I am working on, allowing me to Alt-Tab to another application and work on that. I am thrilled that Microsoft decided to add preemptive multitasking to their operating system, and for this reason alone I would strongly urge you to upgrade to XP. With the amount of multi-core processors around today using a multitasking operating system like XP makes a world of difference.
It would be funnier if it wasn't so true... I have Vista on one machine, the store office system which just runs Office and QuickBooks and a few editing tools. Still have issues with it from time to time.

RIP - Floyd Red Crow Westerman

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You would have seen him in Dancing with Wolves, on stage with Willie Nelson or as Albert Hosteen on various X-Files episodes. A very accomplished musician, acting for him was a sideline and a way to raise money for his work as an activist for environmental causes and for the rights of Native Americans and other indigenous people. His My Space page, IMDB and a nice Obituary at CBC/AP.

Hat tip to Gary over at Muck and Mystery for a link that pointed to another link to this story at the LA Times:

A focus on meeting, not setting, climate goals
The U.N. summit is preoccupied with targets for reducing carbon output, with little discussion on how it will be done.

Here's a recipe to head off the worst effects of global warming:

1. Start with 30 new nuclear power plants around the world.
2. Add 17,0000 wind turbines, 400 biomass power plants, two hydroelectric dams the size of China's Three Gorges Dam, and 42 coal or natural gas power plants equipped with still-experimental systems to sequester their carbon dioxide emissions underground.
3. Build everything in 2013. Repeat every year until 2030.

It's an intentionally implausible plan presented this week by the International Energy Agency to make a point: For all the talk about emissions reductions, the actual work is way beyond what the world can achieve.

As delegates from 190 countries gather here on the Indonesian island of Bali to negotiate a "road map" for the successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on global warming, some experts are wondering whether the meeting has lost touch with the reality of tackling climate change.

In Texas, the participants would be referred to as "All Hat and No Cattle" -- setting goals, creating committees to study issues, setting limits to growth. It is all a lot of fun -- playing with OPM (other people's money) -- the participants are in paradise for a few more days and then they fly back to their huge homes on their private airplanes. If you have not read Bjorn Lomborg's book Cool It, you should do yourself the favor. He really dissects the science of AGW and shows that a lot more benefits could be done by spending the money elsewhere.

10 cool windows tips

I had mentioned Marco Folio before with his 50 useful Windows tools. Now check out this list of 10 quick random tips that can be really useful Some winners, some less so but all of them are cool.

Memo to self - when dying my hair

the plastic gloves the kit provides are there for a reason... From The Meat Scale comes this story of Britney Spears, some and a really stupid hair experience...
Britney Spears: Dyes her hair and her hands
Britney Spears is really out to impress that judge, y�all. She�s even dyed her hair and hands for the occasion.

Dumbass. Those home kits come with gloves. I bet she thought they were finger puppets she could use to amuse herself while she waited for the colour to set in.

The dye stains around her hairline is a nice touch. That judge can�t failed to be impressed by her efforts. Give the kids back now!
It is sad to see popular stars self-destruct through their own bad management but still -- what was she thinking...

Happy 116th birthday Basketball

On or about this date, in 1891 -- from Wikipedia:

In early December 1891, Dr. James Naismith, a Canadian physical education student and instructor at YMCA Training School (today, Springfield College) in Springfield, Massachusetts, USA, sought a vigorous indoor game to keep his students occupied and at proper levels of fitness during the long New England winters. After rejecting other ideas as either too rough or poorly suited to walled-in gymnasiums, he wrote the basic rules and nailed a peach basket onto a 10-foot elevated track. In contrast with modern basketball nets, this peach basket retained its bottom, and balls had to be retrieved manually after each "basket" or point scored, this proved inefficient, however, so a hole was drilled into the bottom of the basket, allowing the balls to be poked out with a long dowel each time. A further change was soon made, so the ball merely passed through, paving the way for the game we know today. A soccer ball was used to shoot goals. Whenever a person got the ball in the basket, they would give their team a point. Whichever team got the most points won the game.

Naismith's handwritten diaries, discovered by his granddaughter in early 2006, indicate that he was nervous about the new game he had invented, which incorporated rules from a Canadian children's game called "Duck on a Rock", as many had failed before it. Naismith called the new game 'Basket Ball'.

The first official basketball game was played in the YMCA gymnasium on January 20, 1892 with nine players, on a court just half the size of a present-day Streetball or National Basketball Association (NBA) court. "Basket ball", the name suggested by one of Naismith's students, was popular from the beginning.

Women's basketball began in 1892 at Smith College when Senda Berenson, a physical education teacher, modified Naismith's rules for women.

The story of his daughter's 2006 document discovery is here: Newly found documents shed light on basketball's birth Another cool story...

"My mother told me for years that there was nothing of real value there," said Carpenter, 74.

More (quite a bit) at that article. I'm not a commercial athletics fan but I always enjoyed playing basketball as a kid.

Arrrrggghhhh!!! Shipwreck ahoy

And not just any ship -- how about Captain Kidd's Quedagh Merchant? In ten feet of water? 70 feet off the coast of a Caribbean Island? And no sign of looting or disturbance? From Indiana University:
Indiana University discovers 1699 Captain Kidd Shipwreck
Resting in less than 10 feet of Caribbean seawater, the wreckage of Quedagh Merchant, the ship abandoned by the scandalous 17th century pirate Captain William Kidd as he raced to New York in an ill-fated attempt to clear his name, has escaped discovery -- until now.

An underwater archaeology team from Indiana University announced today (Dec. 13) the discovery of the remnants. IU marine protection authority Charles Beeker said his team has been licensed to study the wreckage and to convert the site into an underwater preserve, where it will be accessible to the public.

Beeker, director of Academic Diving and Underwater Science Programs in IU Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, said it is remarkable that the wreck has remained undiscovered all these years given its location, just 70 feet off the coast of Catalina Island in the Dominican Republic, and because it has been sought actively by treasure hunters.

"I've been on literally thousands of shipwrecks in my career," Beeker said. "This is one of the first sites I've been on where I haven't seen any looting. We've got a shipwreck in crystal clear, pristine water that's amazingly untouched. We want to keep it that way, so we made the announcement now to ensure the site's protection from looters."
Very cool! The same team is also actively looking for a few other ships. Check it out: IU archaeologists hot on the trail of Columbus' sunken ships Hey Bob -- ya' got some people breathing down your neck...
One possible reason -- from Live Science:
Magma May Be Melting Greenland Ice
Global warming may not be the only thing melting Greenland. Scientists have found at least one natural magma hotspot under the Arctic island that could be pitching in.

In recent years, Greenland�s ice has been melting more and flowing faster into the sea -� a record amount of ice melted from the frozen mass this summer, according to recently released data -� and Earth�s rising temperatures are suspected to be the main culprit.

But clues to a new natural contribution to the melt arose when scientists discovered a thin spot in the Earth�s crust under the northeast corner of the Greenland Ice Sheet where heat from Earth�s insides could seep through, scientists will report here this week at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

�The behavior of the great ice sheets is an important barometer of global climate change,� said lead scientist Ralph von Frese of Ohio State University. �However, to effectively separate and quantify human impacts on climate change, we must understand the natural impacts too.�

The corner of Greenland where the hotspot was found had no known ice streams, the rivers of ice that run through the main ice sheet and out to sea, until one was discovered in 1991. What exactly caused the stream to form was uncertain.

�Ice streams have to have some reason for being there,� von Frese said, �and it�s pretty surprising to suddenly see one in the middle of the ice sheet.�

The newly discovered hotspot, an area where Earth�s crust is thinner, allowing hot magma from Earth's mantle to come closer to the surface, is just below the ice sheet and could have caused it to form, von Frese and his team suggest.

�Where the crust is thicker, things are cooler, and where it�s thinner, things are warmer,� von Frese explained. �And under a big place like Greenland or Antarctica, natural variations in the crust will makes some parts of the ice sheet warmer than others.�
Perfect example of Occam's razor

Improving productivity - two tales

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These two links caught my eye as I agree with them a lot. I find that increasing the hours that you work on something (crunch time) also increases your error rate and it would be much better to quit work and come in the next morning with the benefit of a good nights rest and a decent breakfast. I used to work for MSFT doing hardware and lab management and I would see programming teams doing crunch time and always cringed knowing that their bug rate would just go up and up and up. Not the way to deliver a quality product people (as the recent Vista release goes to show)... #1 -- from the International Game Developers Association:
Why Crunch Mode Doesn't Work: 6 Lessons
There's a bottom-line reason most industries gave up crunch mode over 75 years ago: It's the single most expensive way there is to get the work done.
One excerpt:
The History
In 1908 -� almost a century ago � industrial efficiency pioneer Ernst Abbe published in Gessamelte Abhandlungen his conclusions that a reduction in daily work hours from nine to eight resulted in an increase in total daily output. (Nor was he the first to notice this. William Mather had adopted an eight-hour day at the Salford Iron Works in 1893.)

In 1909, Sidney J. Chapman published Hours of Labour, in which he described long-term variation in worker productivity as a function of hours worked per day. His conclusions will be discussed in some detail below.

When Henry Ford famously adopted a 40-hour workweek in 1926, he was bitterly criticized by members of the National Association of Manufacturers. But his experiments, which he'd been conducting for at least 12 years, showed him clearly that cutting the workday from ten hours to eight hours � and the workweek from six days to five days � increased total worker output and reduced production cost. Ford spoke glowingly of the social benefits of a shorter workweek, couched firmly in terms of how increased time for consumption was good for everyone. But the core of his argument was that reduced shift length meant more output.

I have found many studies, conducted by businesses, universities, industry associations and the military, that support the basic notion that, for most people, eight hours a day, five days per week, is the best sustainable long-term balance point between output and exhaustion. Throughout the 30s, 40s, and 50s, these studies were apparently conducted by the hundreds; and by the 1960s, the benefits of the 40-hour week were accepted almost beyond question in corporate America. In 1962, the Chamber of Commerce even published a pamphlet extolling the productivity gains of reduced hours.

But, somehow, Silicon Valley didn't get the memo.
And #2 -- from Yahoo News/AP:
All-nighters may not improve grades
Students who rely on all-nighters to bring up their grades might want to sleep on that strategy: A new survey says those who never study all night have slightly higher GPAs than those who do.

A survey of 120 students at St. Lawrence University, a small liberal arts college in northern New York, found that students who have never pulled an all-nighter have average GPAs of 3.2, compared to 2.95 for those who have. The study, by assistant professor of psychology Pamela Thacher, is to be included in the January issue of Behavioral Sleep Medicine.

"It's not a big difference, but it's pretty striking," Thacher said. "I am primarily a sleep researcher and I know nobody thinks clearly at 4 in the morning. You think you do, but you can't."

A second study by Thacher, a clinical psychologist, had "extremely similar" results showing lower grades among the sleep skippers.

Many college students, of course, have inadequate or irregular sleep, for reasons ranging from excessive caffeine to poor time management.

Prav Chatani, a St. Lawrence sophomore who wasn't involved in either study, said the findings made sense. The neuroscience major has been pulling fewer all-nighters, but recently stayed up all night to prepare for an organic chemistry test and a neuroscience presentation, he said.

He had difficulty remembering some of the material he studied around 4 or 5 in the morning.
No shit sherlock -- not only do you study poorly, you then have to present your material the next day having spent a stressful night without sleep... A few solid hours of REM sleep does wonders for the brain's function. And the guy mentioned in the last article is a Neuroscience Major for cry'n out loud -- remind me not to go to his clinic when he sets up practice...

Methane Clathrates in the news

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Here is the Wikipedia entry for Methane Clathrate Fairly common offshore - we have some large deposits off our coast in the Pacific Northwest and there is a lot offshore Mexico. What isn't common is using these deposits as a source of energy. German newspaper Der Spiegel has some interesting news:
China and India Exploit Icy Energy Reserves
China and India have reported massive finds of frozen methane gas off their coasts, which they hope will satisfy their energy needs. But environmentalists fear that tapping these resources could have adverse effects on the world climate.

On the surface, it looked like any other drill core from the ocean floor. Its shimmering grayish-green surface was both slippery and grainy at the same time. But the sample only revealed its exciting secret when the geologists on board the "Bavenit," a drilling ship, lowered the pressure in the steel tube and held a lit match to the upper end. Suddenly a yellowish-red flame began licking from the slick material.

"As astonishing phenomenon," noted the scientists from the Guangzhou Marine Geological Survey. So astonishing, in fact, that when their ship pulled into the harbor at Shenzen on June 12 of this year, the scientists were all smiles.

Shengxiong Yang and Nengyou Wu, the two expedition leaders, stand an excellent chance of going down in the history of their country as heroes. The material they pulled from the muddy ocean floor of the South China Sea has the potential to satisfy the energy needs of China and its fast-growing economy.

The flames in the drill core were coming from methane hydrate, a material first discovered in the 1970s. Its unique characteristic is that it is a seemingly frozen and yet flammable material.

In the West, this potential fuel from the ocean floor has for the most part been the stuff of fantasy. But it's a different story in Asia. The People's Republic of China is investing millions to study this massive source of energy. The same holds true for India, South Korea and Taiwan, all nations that are on a fast track to surpassing the West as economic powers.
The article goes into a few of the proposed ways to extract the Methane and then veers off into la-la land by quoting some doom and gloom people who worry about Methane being such a bad greenhouse gas and how these clathrates should be used for CO2 sequestration. I would love to find a place to sequester all the AGW ninnies - their braying is getting on my nerves...
Check out this YouTube video of Jason McElway WOW!

Great advertisement

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Perfect set design, plot and prestiege. Thanks to Dark Roasted Blend for the link: The Future is... disconcerting - [fun video] 1:19 of YouTube goodness: The Essay


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Just Jen and I at the house now -- we were thinking about going out to hear a local band but we are stuffed and feeling nappish. That plus it's below freezing outside, was raining earlier today so the roads are slick and the venue is about 15 miles away... The ham turned out beyond our expectations -- raising a pig in a pasture with grass feed makes a big difference in the quality and taste. Unlike any processed ham I have ever tasted. Everyone brought side dishes that were delicious and one person's Mom baked two blueberry pies that were to die for -- she didn't use so much sugar that it was cloying, the flavor profile was perfect. We got a great crew!!!
Hat tip to Maggie's Farm for this bit of news. From The Sun:
Miliband signs Britain away
Foreign Secretary David Miliband signed the hated EU treaty - hours before Prime Minister Gordon Brown arrived in Lisbon.

Due to the PM's delayed arrival, Mr Miliband was the only foreign minister to attend the televised ceremony alone, amid a stream of prime ministers and presidents from the other 26 EU states.
The news will be a blow to the country's voters - The Sun's EU petition has received 28,000 votes saying no to the Treaty.
The Barrister at Maggie's Farm had these choice words to say:
"Never have so few decided so much for so many"
Brits sign EU Constitution without obtaining the opinion of the citizens. Who owns a nation's sovereignty? Surely not the slimeball politician du jour.

And remind me again - why would a nation willingly give up its sovereignty to unelected foreign officials? Is this a return to a post-modern monarchy?

Says EU Referendum defiantly today: We are not your citizens! In my opinion, the EU wants subjects, not citizens. But who are they, anyway? Arrogant jerks in suits, who want power and babes.
And the sad thing is that these idiots really think that they are doing good for their constituents. They do not realize just how pitifully deluded they are -- they think that because they wear a suit, that makes them morally obligated to tell their lessors what is good for them and to drag a once-great nation into the cesspit of socialism. Useful idiots indeed...

A breather

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The ham is in the oven, the stuffed delicata squash is ready to be baked, the fire is being lit and the Christmas tree is in the house ready to be put on the stand and trimmed. The ham is from our organic half-pig that has been living at Freezer-Camp in our garage for the last couple of months gradually making it into our bellies. next spring, we are getting a whole pig -- there is a huge difference in taste. People will be arriving at 5:00 - there is another couple hours work getting ready so things are actually going on schedule. Most of our workers are foodies so this should be one interesting potluck!

Light posting today

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We are having the first annual Christmas party for our store employees and are expecting about 20 people to be showing up at the house in about eight hours. Yikes! Should be a lot of fun though -- we have a very mellow crew and we love them all. Now back to the cleaning and cooking...

An interesting alternative fuel from Hawaii

From The Register:

Shell in Hawaiian algae biofuel pilot
Oil giant Shell announced yesterday that it will build a pilot plant in Hawaii to make biofuel out of algae grown in seawater ponds.

"Algae have great potential as a sustainable feedstock for production of diesel-type fuels with a very small CO2 footprint," said Graeme Sweeney, Shell veep for Future Fuels.

"This demonstration will be an important test of the technology and, critically, of commercial viability."

The oil company, which is mounting the venture in cooperation with tech developer HR Biopetroleum, believes that swiftly-multiplying algae strains native to Hawaii can produce viable amounts of vegetable oil. It is thought that this can be profitably turned into fuel for diesel engines.

And the money shot:

The joint venture is to be called Cellana, and will also feature an academic research project drawing on expertise from universities around the world. Initial analysis by Shell and Biopetroleum suggests that saltwater algae can produce as much as 15 times the oil yield per hectare from landbased crops such as rape, jatropha or palm soya. Selected types of algae can double their mass several times daily, building up a thick layer of scummy gold on the sea surface.

Emphasis mine -- obviously, there are a lot more hectares suitable for growing plants than there are placid lagoons but if this works out, it can probably be scaled up with existing fermentation and growing vessels such as are currently used by the chemical and pharma industries. And for Shell to be taking notice means a lot -- these companies didn't get to where they are by being stupid...

Running the grocery store, I notice that our cost on things are bumping up bit by bit -- ten cents here, fifty cents there. It seems that this is a global phenomon... From The Economist:
Cheap no more
Rising incomes in Asia and ethanol subsidies in America have put an end to a long era of falling food prices

One of the odder features of last weekend's vote in Venezuela was that staple foods were in short supply. Something similar happened in Russia before its parliamentary election. Governments in both oil-rich countries had imposed controls on food prices, with the usual consequences. Such controls have been surprisingly widespread�a knee-jerk response to one of the most remarkable changes that food markets, indeed any markets, have seen for years: the end of cheap food.

In early September the world price of wheat rose to over $400 a tonne, the highest ever recorded. In May it had been around $200. Though in real terms its price is far below the heights it scaled in 1974, it is still twice the average of the past 25 years. Earlier this year the price of maize (corn) exceeded $175 a tonne, again a world record. It has fallen from its peak, as has that of wheat, but at $150 a tonne is still 50% above the average for 2006.

As the price of one crop shoots up, farmers plant it to take advantage, switching land from other uses. So a rise in wheat prices has knock-on effects on other crops. Rice prices have hit records this year, although their rise has been slower. The Economist's food-price index is now at its highest since it began in 1845, having risen by one-third in the past year.

Normally, sky-high food prices reflect scarcity caused by crop failure. Stocks are run down as everyone lives off last year's stores. This year harvests have been poor in some places, notably Australia, where the drought-hit wheat crop failed for the second year running. And world cereals stocks as a proportion of production are the lowest ever recorded. The run-down has been accentuated by the decision of large countries (America and China) to reduce stocks to save money.

Yet what is most remarkable about the present bout of �agflation� is that record prices are being achieved at a time not of scarcity but of abundance. According to the International Grains Council, a trade body based in London, this year's total cereals crop will be 1.66 billion tonnes, the largest on record and 89m tonnes more than last year's harvest, another bumper crop. That the biggest grain harvest the world has ever seen is not enough to forestall scarcity prices tells you that something fundamental is affecting the world's demand for cereals.
The article then goes on to outline the two primary reasons. China and India are becoming prosperous and more people are buying meat instead of grains. It takes 2.6 pounds of corn to produce one pound standing weight of beef. This includes all the offal, bones so once the beef is butchered, it's more like four to one. The article said that the Chinese used to eat 20KG/year and they now eat more than 50KG/year. The second reason is obviously the government's idiotic subsidies of Ethanol as a fuel. The sooner that they get out of that business, the better. A good and well-written article...

From Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers/AP:

Green Bay council president provokes atheists with nativity scene
The Green Bay City Council president paid for a nativity scene to be put up at City Hall after learning of an anti-religion group's protest of one in Peshtigo.

Council president Chad Fradette told a city committee he believed the U.S. Constitution upholds citizens' right to display symbols of their religious beliefs on publicly owned property as long as they are not paid for with tax money and other faiths aren't excluded.

The committee approved the nativity scene 4-1 Tuesday night.

"So now the Freedom From Religion Foundation can pick on somebody a little larger than Peshtigo," Fradette told the committee.

And a bit more:

Fradette had wanted to extend an invitation to all religions to put up displays, but committee members agreed a policy was needed to prevent people from testing the boundaries of taste. Fradette asked Schmitt for permission to put up his display while the council worked out those details.


Peshtigo Mayor Thomas Strouf offered to pay the lighting bill for his city's display after the foundation objected to it. The local Chamber of Commerce owns and erected up the display, he said, although it is in a public park.

What's not to love -- having a bit of fun, exercising your freedom of speech and pissing off a bunch of nanny control-freaks.

Spent the day in town

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and then decided to see if there was anything new on the Gordon Brown negotiate/not negotiate story. All of the links to MSM reports of the negotiate story are now dead although present in Google's listings. Must have been some fast and furious emails and telephone calls from Brown's office. Found this at the BBC:
Afghan battle being won - Brown
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has told MPs that forces are "winning the battle against the insurgency" in Afghanistan.

He said Britain and its coalition partners were "isolating and eliminating the leadership of the Taleban, not negotiating with them".

But he backed Afghan leaders' moves towards "political reconciliation" with ex-insurgents who renounce violence.
There is a long-standing tradition among Islamists to renounce violence. It's called Hudna From Omdurman:
Truces, Arab Style
"What is being touted as a 'cease-fire' is something called a 'hudna.' A hudna [also known as a hudibiyya or khudaibiya] is a tactical cease-fire that allows the Arabs to rebuild their terrorist infrastructure in order to be more effective when the "cease-fire" is called off."
And from Jihad Watch:
Dar al-Islam and dar al-harb: the House of Islam and the House of War
The violent injunctions of the Quran and the violent precedents set by Muhammad set the tone for the Islamic view of politics and of world history. Islamic scholarship divides the world into two spheres of influence, the House of Islam (dar al-Islam) and the House of War (dar al-harb). Islam means submission, and so the House of Islam includes those nations that have submitted to Islamic rule, which is to say those nations ruled by Sharia law. The rest of the world, which has not accepted Sharia law and so is not in a state of submission, exists in a state of rebellion or war with the will of Allah. It is incumbent on dar al-Islam to make war upon dar al-harb until such time that all nations submit to the will of Allah and accept Sharia law. Islam's message to the non-Muslim world is the same now as it was in the time of Muhammad and throughout history: submit or be conquered. The only times since Muhammad when dar al-Islam was not actively at war with dar al-harb were when the Muslim world was too weak or divided to make war effectively.

But the lulls in the ongoing war that the House of Islam has declared against the House of War do not indicate a forsaking of jihad as a principle but reflect a change in strategic factors. It is acceptable for Muslim nations to declare hudna, or truce, at times when the infidel nations are too powerful for open warfare to make sense. Jihad is not a collective suicide pact even while "killing and being killed" (Sura 9:111) is encouraged on an individual level. For the past few hundred years, the Muslim world has been too politically fragmented and technologically inferior to pose a major threat to the West. But that is changing.
The above is part of an excellent paper titled: Islam 101 It goes into a lot of things that you simply do not hear about on the media or from people promoting Islam as the religion of pigs peace... I'll leave you with a photo of Gordon Brown's most-notorious predecessor - the guy on the left. The guy on the right needs no introduction.

A story from Og, the Neanderpundit

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WARNING: Serious drink alert! Check it out: Oh Mandy!

Well that didn't take long

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Was following up trying to get some more info on the previous Gordon Brown post and ran into this article at ITN News:
Brown sets out plans for Afghanistan
Gordon Brown has set out his strategy for redeveloping Afghanistan, saying the UK will "not enter into any negotiations" with insurgents.

Addressing the Commons just days after visiting the country for the first time as Prime Minister, he told MPs the coalition is "winning the battle against the insurgency.

Mr Brown said the leadership of the Taliban is being isolated and eliminated but negotiations are not being entered with them.

As part of the redevelopment plan, he said Britain will make available �450 million in assistance between 2009 and 2012.

He also outlined what Britain can do to build on military victories such as Tuesday's end to the hard-fought battle to retake the Taliban stronghold of Musa Qala.

Mr Brown said British forces will get 150 new protected patrol vehicles as well as extra Sea King helicopters and new contracts for commercial helicopters to move freight.

He also urged Afghan President Hamid Karzai to press ahead with "targeted eradication" policies against the poppy crop in Helmand.

The plan, which follows an internal review of Afghanistan policy which began in the summer, has been described as a "shift in emphasis" rather than a completely new approach.

British forces had pulled out last year after striking a peace agreement which gave responsibility for security to the Afghan elders.

However, weeks later it was overrun by the Taliban and become a major hub of the heroin trade which has helped finance the uprising.

Following talks with Mr Karzai in the capital Kabul on Monday, Mr Brown emphasised the importance of the reconstruction effort alongside continuing military operations.
Emphasis mine -- that is exactly what will happen every time if you do not foster nation-building and strength from within; you leave and the power-hungry thugs brutally step in and take over. It will be interesting to see if there was actually an announcement and then smarter people moved in with damage control or if this was a Fake but Accurate news item made up by someone who was wishful thinking... The Evening Standard link in the last post is dead now so someone pulled the plug very quickly.

Clueless politicians - the UK Prime Minister

Words fail... From The Evening Standard:

Brown says he will negotiate with Taliban to end war in Afghanistan
Gordon Brown will announce today that he intends to talk to the Taliban in a bid to end the war in Afghanistan.

In a major shift in UK foreign policy the Prime Minister is expected to tell the Commons today that negotiation is the only way to bring peace to the war torn country.

This year has been the deadliest in Afghanistan since the U.S. led invasion of 2001.

Since January more than 6,200 people have been killed including 40 British soldiers. In all, 86 British soldiers have died during the campaign which was launched to crush Al Qaeda and the Taliban following the September 11 outrage in America.

The change of tack will be seen as the latest attempt by the prime minister to distance himself from the foreign policy of Tony Blair and his ally George Bush.

In a landmark statement in the Commons he will say that the Cabinet has agreed a three pronged strategy for Afghanistan which will security guaranteed by NATO and the Afghan national army followed by economic and political development in the country.

The third prong of the plan is likely to be most controversial - to engage Taliban leaders in constructive dialogue.

A senior source said last night: "We need to ask who are we fighting? Do we need to fight them - can we be talking to them?"

This idiot will go down in history as a worse scumbag than Neville Chamberlain Right now, the Taliban is on the ropes. We need to push a bit more to defeat them but defeat is well within our grasp. You cannot just hand the keys over to the Afghan national army as they will become infiltrated in short order. The change of power has to come from within as General David Petraeus so wisely realized -- it is a slow process, winning the hearts and minds of a nation but it is working and conditions in Iraq have improved significantly. Brown wants to take Afghanistan back into the stone ages. He is a leader who simply does not "get" his enemy.

From Slashdot: FCC Requires Backup Power For 210K Cell Towers
1sockchuck alerts us to an article in Data Center Knowledge that explores ramifications from the FCC's decision a couple of months back to require backup power for cell sites and other parts of the telecom infrastructure. The new rule was prompted by wireless outages during Hurricane Katrina. There are more than 210,000 cell towers in the US, as well as 20,000 telecom central offices that will also need generators or batteries. Municipalities are bracing for disputes as carriers try to add generators or batteries to cell sites on rooftops or water towers. The rules will further boost demand in the market for generators, where there are already lengthy delivery backlogs for some models.
This is great for emergency responders but it will make things interesting for the small sites located on water towers, buildings, flag poles, etc... For the casual user, as one slashdot commenter said:
Millions of people will be able to call each other to ask "is your power out too?"

Portable Storage - 1956 edition

Was digging through Snopes this evening and ran into this fun story -- IBM's first commercial hard disk unit: Photograph shows a 1956 computer disk memory storage unit.
From the article:
It started with a product announcement in May of 1955. IBM Corp. was introducing a product that offered unprecedented random-access storage 5 million characters (not bytes, they were 7-bit, not 8-bit characters). This first disk drive heralded startling leaps in mass-storage technology and the end of sequential storage on punched cards and paper or Mylar tape, though magnetic tape would continue for archival or backup storage.

The disk drive was big, not quite ready for today's laptop. With its vacuum-tube control electronics, the RAMAC (for "random-access method of accounting and control") occupied the space of two refrigerators and weighed a ton. It stored those 5 million characters on 50 hefty aluminum disks coated on both sides with a magnetic iron oxide, a variation of the paint primer used for the Golden Gate Bridge.

What is pictured above is the IBM 350 disk storage unit utilized by the IBM 305 RAMAC.

The 350 Disk Storage Unit consisted of the magnetic disk memory unit with its access mechanism, the electronic and pneumatic controls for the access mechanism, and a small air compressor. Assembled with covers, the 350 was 60 inches long, 68 inches high and 29 inches deep. It was configured with 50 magnetic disks containing 50,000 sectors, each of which held 100 alphanumeric characters, for a capacity of 5 million characters.

Disks rotated at 1,200 rpm, tracks (20 to the inch) were recorded at up to 100 bits per inch, and typical head-to-disk spacing was 800 microinches. The execution of a "seek" instruction positioned a read-write head to the track that contained the desired sector and selected the sector for a later read or write operation. Seek time averaged about 600 milliseconds.

With storage capacities of 5 million and 10 million digits, and the capability to be installed either singly or in pairs, the 350 provided the 305 system with storage capacities of 5, 10, 15 or 20 million characters.
The unit leased for $3,200/month in 1957. According to this Inflation Calculator that would be $23,793.42. How times have changed. Now hard disk space is about $0.25 per Gigabyte.

Texas Talk

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Wonderful collection of Texas vernacular - a few examples:
used to describe everything from mild annoyance to dangerous, murderous rage. Usually pronounced "agger-vated."

tough and/or bad tempered man, woman or horse.

a few fingers tastier than finger-lickin' good.

a very heavy downpour.

the friendly creature
19th century term for whiskey.

when something is not fitting properly, e.g., "You'll never get that wine open, the corscrew is all whomperjawed!"

Staying warm

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I'm casting about on the web looking for possible replacements for the shop furnace and was curious about the differences between the various fuels. This site seems to sum it up quite well: Stay Warm -- New Hampshire Here, pellets are about $170/ton, seasoned wood is in the nosebleed $280/cord range ($180 last year) when you can get it and propane is through the roof. Of course, the amortization is over several years and since pellets are sooo cheap, that price will probably "adjust" in the next year or so... BOHICA - it has a nice Caribbean ring to it but it is actually an acronym and it stands for Bend Over, Here It Comes Again. Still casting about.
An interesting little observation from dispatches from TJICistan:
reading between the lines�

Maybe he thought it was funny to point a hand-held laser beam at a helicopter. But the three police forces and the U.S. Coast Guard were not laughing Saturday night as they chased down a Medford-area man who faces the possibility of federal charges�

State police pilots were on a routine security mission, guarding a liquid natural gas tanker, as it was near shore at about 9:15 p.m. Saturday night, Bousquet said. They noticed a laser light touching their helicopter. Using sophisticated equipment on their helicopter, including cameras, they pinpointed the origin of the light as somewhere in the Medford-Somerville area, Bousquet said.

The search was on � involving authorities from the U.S. Coast Guard, the state police, the Medford Police Department and the Somerville Police Department. About 90 minutes later, police found an adult male. Bousquet would not say exactly how police found him�
I find it quite interesting that

(a) state police helicopters have the capability to track down the origin of a laser flash with resolution tight enough to arrest a guy

(b) they won�t say what this technology is

I find even more interesting the unstated tidbit that there is, apparently, some credible threat that led authorities to install systems on helicopters to track down laser flashes.

Maybe I�m reading too much into this.

�but maybe I�, not.

Most curious... I know that here, we had an incident in 2005 where some Boarder Patrol officers saw an object of interest, at night, at about 14 miles range from a land-based surveillance camera. The news item is only available to subscribers to the Bellingham Herald
A tiny dot on a Border Patrol surveillance camera turned out to be a kayak with more than 100 pounds of marijuana on board headed into the United States on Monday night. About 11 p.m., a U.S. Border Patrol communications operator in the Blaine sector noticed the "faint but unusual object" moving south in Boundary Bay from White Rock, B.C., toward Semiahmoo Spit, west of Blaine, said a news release from Deputy Chief Joseph Giuliano.

Agents met the kayaker as he landed.
We live a few miles from the Canadian border and have these cameras scattered around. I would love to take one of them for a test drive someday...

The new face of childhood education

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Say buh-bye to Field Trips... Damn, I really looked forward to these when I was in grade school. Every other month, we would be bundled into busses and taken out to various engineering and chemical research centers (I grew up in Pittsburgh and Westinghouse, GE and several of the steel-makers had major facilities close by) or museums and historical places like the Old Economy Shaker Village. It was recreational for sure to be out of the classroom but it also broadened my experiences and made me realize that my 'culture' was only part of the big picture. For the engineering labs, it provided a good taste of what an Engineer or a Chemist did for a living and was helpful when it came to choosing my own career. From Courant:
Field Trips Fading Fast In An Age Of Testing
Mark Proffitt still remembers the thrill of being sprung from school for class outings to Old Sturbridge Village or the state Capitol. "You couldn't wait to go on field trips," recalled Proffitt, now an elementary school principal in Middletown.

For today's students, such experiences are increasingly elusive. Tight budgets and rising gas prices, concerns about safety and the sheer hassle of taking kids out into the world are leading some schools to reduce or eliminate field trips.

And now there's a powerful new force keeping students in their seats during the school day: the drive to boost performance on standardized tests. That has led principals to jettison "extras" such as field trips in their quest to wring every minute of instructional time from an already crammed school day.

In other words, an afternoon spent gazing at masterpieces in an art museum is getting harder to justify.

"We have a limited amount of time for instruction," said Karen List, an assistant superintendent in West Hartford. "Given all the demands that are placed upon us these days, we want to make sure every single moment is a valuable moment."

The pressure to improve student performance is especially intense in urban school systems struggling beneath the weight of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. James Thompson, the assistant superintendent in Hartford, said his district is reviewing its field trip policy to make sure every excursion connects to a classroom lesson.
A shame really -- the education system in the US has gotten so dumbed down.
I make no secret of: #1) - having grown up in the Episcopal Church and #2) - deploring the current state of it from the top down (read here, here, here and here) Fortunately, other people are seeing the light - several dioceses has seceded from the Church of England and allied themselves with more rigorous churches around the world. A biggie just happened in California - from AOL/AP:
Episcopal Diocese Secedes From Church
The conservative Diocese of San Joaquin voted Saturday to split from the liberal-leaning Episcopal Church, becoming the first full diocese to secede from the denomination in the debate over the Bible and homosexuality.

Clergy and lay members of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin voted 173-22 at their annual convention to remove all references to the national church from the diocese's constitution, said the Rev. Van McCalister, a diocesan spokesman.

The diocese, based in Fresno, plans to align with the like-minded Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, based in South America.

The decision is almost certain to spark a court fight over control of the diocese's multimillion-dollar real estate holdings and other assets.

The Episcopal Church is the U.S. member of the global Anglican Communion, a 77 million-member fellowship that traces its roots to the Church of England.

Anglicans have been moving toward a worldwide schism since 2003, when the Episcopal Church consecrated the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. San Joaquin is also one of the three Episcopal dioceses that will not ordain women.

The Episcopal rift over theology began decades ago and is now focused on whether the Bible condemns gay relationships.

"We have leadership in the Episcopal Church that has drastically and radically changed directions," McCalister said. "They have pulled the rug out from under us. They've started teaching something very different, something very new and novel, and it's impossible for us to follow a leadership that has so drastically reinvented itself."
It's not just gays, that is only the barest tip of the iceberg. As I said in an earlier post:
My Dad gravitated from the Episcopal church to the United Churches in Christ. I do not agree with them but I support his decision to do so. I consider groups like the UCC to lack a sense of moral definition. The idea that everyone can be accepted is a mental dishonesty and a spiritual weakness. There is evil out there and to try to �accept it� and hope that it will turn out good is at best, ineffective and at worst, only serves to encourage that very evil that you are trying to turn good. It is nothing more than mental masturbation.
It will be interesting to attend a service the next time we visit Jen's parents in Fresno -- that 173-22 vote is definitely sending a clear message... Big tip 'o the hat to Maggie's Farm for the link...

A few years ago - waterboarding

No wonder Congress' approval ratings are in the toilet these days. From The Washington Post:
Hill Briefed on Waterboarding in 2002
In Meetings, Spy Panels' Chiefs Did Not Protest, Officials Say

In September 2002, four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was given a virtual tour of the CIA's overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.

Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said.
The word you are searching for is: Hypocrite

Shopping with Rachel

Blogger Rachel Lucas shares the experiences of a shopping trip to Target...
Going to Target is like visiting the chimp habitat at the zoo.
I need to start taking my camera every time I go there, to photographically prove to you my justification for wanting to break necks and throw karate chops all over the place. Last Saturday, I made the FATAL MISTAKE of shopping there at about 1 in the afternoon, when the monkey/white trash population is at its peak. I started wanting to cut people before I even got in the front door because was I able to enter the front door freely? NO I WAS NOT.

Because the front door - a double-wide automatic-opening front door - was blocked by a young couple together achieving a triumphant 700 pounds and their three crackhead children, who had stopped en masse to discuss who was going to which area of the store first. Mom wanted to hit the clothes section, you see, but would she be able to find Taylor later in the toy section if Dad was over in the auto section with Ashley and Mikey? There were literally 10 people who had approached the door and would have liked very fucking much to enter, but these clowns apparently exist in one of the alternate universes where actual human beings are invisible.

Most of us stood gaping at the sheer audacity of the asshole family, and sort of wedging past them, but finally a young guy came charging through saying �What�s the holdup, people? Let�s MOVE!� It was kind of hot, to be honest with you.

Once inside the store, I chanted to myself do not kill do not kill do not kill and tried to ignore all the people who need killin�. Did okay until I got to the house-cleaning supplies aisle, in which I encountered a middle-aged couple with TWO carts, which of course were side-by-side and of course blocking all ingress and egress. The woman was asking the man if they should use bleach on that and the man was muttering something about how the hell should he know?
Spot on! Retail therapy should involve baseball bats, ordnance and live ammo (by licensed owners) and custard pies. Her commenters are wonderful -- here is one from BasilRiverdale:
As a complete misanthrope and confirmed elitist snob, I only shop in places where the clientele dresses in coat and tie. Ditto for the rare times I go to a bar. I just refuse to mingle anymore with the unwashed. Grocery shopping by necessity is an exception to the rule. Once a week I put on full camo, combat boots, and pack an empty shoulder holster under my jacket (been meaning to get that CC for awhile). Then I wrap a utility belt with ammo pouches and a six battery flashlight around my waist (next best thing to a billie club), and top it off with a black SWAT TEAM hat. Given that Santa Fe is 50% liberal weenies, and 50% illegal aliens, I find the costume generally clears the way before I have to announce myself. And it makes shopping much more fun. Same costume is equally good for sushi bars, the plant nursery, and Borders Books.
I would love to have thought of that when I was living in Seattle. Here especially: University Village Talk about a target-rich environment...
Don Lancaster has been around for a long long time. He wrote homebrew articles for Radio Electronics including the seminal TV Typewriter which allowed you to build a video terminal for a fraction of what a commercial one cost. This alone helped fuel the explosive growth of the personal computers. Today, he resides in Thatcher, AZ and maintains his website: Thatcher is in the middle of some prime ranching country. Here is what Don had to say:
I attended a recent seminar on overgrazing.

When they asked the audience what the indicator species for overgrazing were, they got rather upset with my answer of "cows".
If you are at all interested in alternative energy, his Energy Fundamentals paper (PDF) is an absolute must-read.

Guerrillas in the midst

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Off the scale high geekdom. Check out the Untergunthers Here is an article in the UK Guardian:
Undercover restorers fix Paris landmark's clock
'Cultural guerrillas' cleared of lawbreaking over secret workshop in Pantheon

It is one of Paris's most celebrated monuments, a neoclassical masterpiece that has cast its shadow across the city for more than two centuries.

But it is unlikely that the Panth�on, or any other building in France's capital, will have played host to a more bizarre sequence of events than those revealed in a court last week.

Four members of an underground "cultural guerrilla" movement known as the Untergunther, whose purpose is to restore France's cultural heritage, were cleared on Friday of breaking into the 18th-century monument in a plot worthy of Dan Brown or Umberto Eco.

For a year from September 2005, under the nose of the Panth�on's unsuspecting security officials, a group of intrepid "illegal restorers" set up a secret workshop and lounge in a cavity under the building's famous dome. Under the supervision of group member Jean-Baptiste Viot, a professional clockmaker, they pieced apart and repaired the antique clock that had been left to rust in the building since the 1960s. Only when their clandestine revamp of the elaborate timepiece had been completed did they reveal themselves.

"When we had finished the repairs, we had a big debate on whether we should let the Panth�on's officials know or not," said Lazar Klausmann, a spokesperson for the Untergunther. "We decided to tell them in the end so that they would know to wind the clock up so it would still work.

"The Panth�on's administrator thought it was a hoax at first, but when we showed him the clock, and then took him up to our workshop, he had to take a deep breath and sit down."

The Centre of National Monuments, embarrassed by the way the group entered the building so easily, did not take to the news kindly, taking legal action and replacing the administrator.
Heh... A bit more about the group and other work they have done:
Klausmann and his crew are connaisseurs of the Parisian underworld. Since the 1990s they have restored crypts, staged readings and plays in monuments at night, and organised rock concerts in quarries. The network was unknown to the authorities until 2004, when the police discovered an underground cinema, complete with bar and restaurant, under the Seine. They have tried to track them down ever since.

But the UX, the name of Untergunther's parent organisation, is a finely tuned organisation. It has around 150 members and is divided into separate groups, which specialise in different activities ranging from getting into buildings after dark to setting up cultural events. Untergunther is the restoration cell of the network.

Members know Paris intimately. Many of them were students in the Latin Quarter in the 80s and 90s, when it was popular to have secret parties in Paris's network of tunnels. They have now grown up and become nurses or lawyers, but still have a taste for the capital's underworld, and they now have more than just partying on their mind.

"We would like to be able to replace the state in the areas it is incompetent," said Klausmann. "But our means are limited and we can only do a fraction of what needs to be done. There's so much to do in Paris that we won't manage in our lifetime."

The Untergunther are already busy working on another restoration mission Paris. The location is top secret, of course. But the Panth�on clock remains one of its proudest feats.

"The Latin Quarter is where the concept of human rights came from, it's the centre of everything. The Panth�on clock is in the middle of it. So it's a bit like the clock at the centre of the world."
I know that I have done my fair share of ragging on the French but then they go and do something like this that is so totally... totally... French that it boggles the mind. What a wonderful group of people! A big tip of the hat to the Cabinet of Wonders for the link. The parent group mentioned is Les UX - here is a Wikipedia entry, no website that I could find...

50 useful Windows tools

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Each of them are smaller than One Megabyte. Check out Marco Folio's: 50+ under 1MB free useful tools [Windows] Good stuff!
From the Minneapolis, MN Star Tribune:
Too many zeros add up to big problems in Carver County
Eric Mattson was not surprised that the small vacant lot he bought last year near the shores of Lake Waconia was increasing in value.

What shocked him was the $189 million market value the Carver County assessor's office came up with for the 55- by 80-foot lot, making it the most valuable property in Waconia and possibly the county.

"It was such an obvious mistake," said Mattson, 41, who was looking at a property tax bill of $2.5 million. "It was over the top. It was very funny."
But the fun didn't stop there:
But no one is laughing at the assessor's office, where the problem started. Neither is anyone at the Carver County Board, the city of Waconia or the Waconia School District.

Those three entities -- which were counting on the $2.5 million in increased property tax collections -- now face the daunting task of raising taxes or cutting budgets to make up for the shortfall.
And what the h&^% happened?
Lundgren said the trouble began in August when a clerk went into Mattson's file to change the designation of the property, at 233 Lake St. E., from homestead to non-homestead to reflect its change in status after its sale.

The clerk filled in the $18,900 proposed valuation, but then mistakenly hit the key to exit the program. The computer added four zeros to fill out the nine numerical spaces required by the software, thus indicating the value was $189,000,000.

Increase by a factor of 10,000
I am very surprised that the three entities didn't suspect something when their property tax base jumped by $2.5 million. That sure would have caught my attention. Instead they just made plans to spend it all. Wonder how they will fare in the next election...

Minimal posting tonight

It has been a hella long day for both Jen and me. I took my Dad out to lunch with two visitors from the University of Pittsburgh where he used to teach. They were in Seattle for a function and drove up this morning to visit. I then had a meeting with Sustainable Connections where they talked about a clever web-based tool to connect commercial food buyers (Chef's, Grocery Stores, etc...) with local farmers. Very well run meeting, fascinating ideas and recognized a lot of faces. Finally, I had been nominated to serve on the board of the local Chamber of Commerce -- they had their Annual General Meeting tonight and Jen and I showed up about 30 minutes late. They had already held the elections and I am now on the board! I'll never show up late for one of their meetings again! (grin) Jen's day was even more fun. I usually do the Friday buying run for the store but couldn't because of my Dad's thing. The two keystones for the Friday run is picking up the order from our Organic Distributor at an address in Bellingham (they don't drive out to where we are). We then run back out to the store so our staff can start pricing and stocking these goods. This order is dropped off in the early morning. We then need to meet with one of our Dairy guys at the same address at 3:00pm. Well, Jen gets there around 10:00am - no order. She then goes to some of our other vendors, swings back, no order. It's two and there isn't time to drop everything off at the store and come back to meet the Dairy guy so she hangs out, gets the Dairy and then proceeds to do the rest of the shopping. It is 4:30, I have gotten out of the Sustainable Connections meeting and give her a call on her cell phone to see what she wants for dinner. I figure that her day went normally and she is at the store. I frequently stop and get takeout for us to eat at home. I find that she is also in town and that the Organic Distributor has still not shown up, that she is on contact with them and they say that it's a new driver and he was lost... I swing by the drop-off point and get a call from Jen that the driver is a few blocks away but can't drop off because of the traffic. (it's a busy commercial district right right at prime dinner time). I find him, we pull into a nearby warehouse parking lot, I call Jen back and she rendezvous with us and we get things loaded. We swing back to the store, drop everything off and head out to the Chamber meeting. Like I say, long day and it's time for a glass or two of wine and off to bed...

Cool idea BUT...

A bit of a flap over the new Western Digital stand-alone network hard drives. Here is the Western Digital web page for the product:
My Book� World Edition� II
Add this unique remote-access storage system to your wired or wireless network and you�ll have a surprisingly simple and secure way to access and share data and photos at home, in the office, and anywhere in the world--even when your local computer is off. The included RAID software makes it easy for you to take advantage of RAID mirroring for extra data protection.
It includes the following feature:
WD Anywhere Access� - This storage system and all the files on it are always accessible when you need them, even when your local computer is turned off.
Only one weeeee liddle problem here -- read this web page: Western Digital Service and Support:
List of file types on a WD My Book World Edition that cannot be shared by WD Anywhere Access.
What files cannot be shared by WD Anywhere Access?

Due to unverifiable media license authentication, the following file types cannot be shared by different users using WD Anywhere Access.

If these file types are on a share on the WD My Book World Edition system and another user accesses the share, these file will not be displayed for sharing. Any other file types can be shared using WD Anywhere Access.

File Extension File Description
AAC Advanced Audio Coding
AIF Audio Interchange File
AIFC Audio Interchange File
AIFF Audio Interchange File Format
AMF DSMIA/Asylum Module File
ASF Advanced Streaming Format
ASX Advanced Stream Redirector
AVI Audio Video Interleave
CDA CD Audio
FAR Farandoyle Tracker Music Module
IT Impulse Tracker
ITZ Impulse Tracker
KAR Karaoke MIDI
MDZ Cubic Player/Cross-View Music Module Description
MOV QuickTime Video
MP1 MPEG Layer 1 (Audio)
MP2 MPEG Layer 2 (Audio)
MP3 MPEG Layer 3 (Audio)
MP4 MPEG Layer 4 (Video)
MPA MPEG Audio Stream, Layer I, II or III
MPGA MPEG Layer 3 (Audio Stream)
MPV2 MPEG Audio Stream, Layer II
OOG OOG Bitstream
OKT Oktalyzer Tracker Module
PTM PTM - Poly Tracker Module (Audio)
QT QuickTime Video
QT1 QuickTime Video
VOB Video Object (DVD Video)
VOC Creative Labs Sound
WM Windows Media Audio or Video
WMA Windows Media Audio
WMV Windows Media Video
What gives these fucking nannys the right to play traffic cop on a piece of equipment for which you have paid full price. Granted, this is just this one product from this company, the software has a history of poor reliability and you can simply buy a bare WD drive and a $40 NAS box and build your own but still; this is really galling. They are playing traffic cop when there is no way in Hell that they can see where your data came from. Someone getting one of these at Costco with the idea of using it as a media warehouse will be sorely disappointed. And a big tip of the hat to BoingBoing
Talk about chutzpah! From the Raleigh, NC News & Observer:
Pull the plug on Lake Lynn, suit demands
Kristin Wallace bought some very wet land as an investment. Eight acres of it, all underneath Lake Lynn.

The Cary woman bought the land for $12,500 last year at a public auction of property with delinquent taxes. Now she is suing to try to force the city of Raleigh or Wake County to buy the soggy land from her or drain it.

"It's extremely valuable to me," Wallace said, "dry."

City and county officials say Wallace, who started investing in real estate less than two years ago, knew the land was lake bottom when she bought it, something she doesn't dispute.

"It's bought as is," said Shelley Eason with the County Attorney's Office.

Lake Lynn was built in the 1970s to control flooding and has since been enveloped by the city. Easements from private property owners allowed the county to create the lake. It's now surrounded by apartment complexes and dog walkers, cyclists and joggers on the greenway.

Wallace's Cary-based company, Sugartree Investment Group, sued the city and county in late August seeking to remove both the water and a wooden footbridge that is part of the city's greenway system ringing the lake. The lawsuit was filed after her lawyer, H. Cliff Kirkhart of Cary, sent several letters to the city and county offering to sell the land for an unspecified amount.

Kirkhart wrote that he considers the city to be "trespassing" on the land by allowing joggers and cyclists to use the footbridge. The county, which maintains the lake itself as part of a flood-control project, is acting "malicious" by keeping the land flooded, he wrote in a complaint filed at the courthouse.
And the reason the property came up for auction in the first place:
The 8 acres weren't always submerged. They were farmland, which was converted into a lake in 1976 as part of the Crabtree Creek Flood Control Project, a county-run initiative that created several dams and lakes to hold floodwaters. Other flood-control lakes include Shelley Lake and Lake Crabtree.

In 1983, the 8 acres were bought by now-defunct Lake Lynn Development, which owned surrounding dry land that would become homes and apartments.

Lake Lynn Development eventually went out of business. In 2006 the county revenue department noticed that yearly property tax bills of $9 to $35 a year had gone unpaid for more than a decade on the two parcels, one of 6.68 acres in the middle of the lake and a 1.32-acre inlet, Eason said.

More as a housekeeping effort than anything else, the county decided to get rid of the property and put it up for auction in September 2006 as required by law to try to recoup unpaid taxes. Expecting no bids, government officials thought the land would be transferred to the city, which would pay off the back taxes.

Neither the city nor the county envisioned someone's bidding for the water-logged land, Eason said.

Wallace entered the fray in the midst of the auction and made an upset bid of $6,250 on each parcel. She won, and the sheriff's deeds for both parcels were transferred to Sugartree Investment Group.
Heh... Looks like she has them by the balls so to speak. An interesting case.

A rant on connectivity from Chris Byrne

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An excellent rant on the joys of dealing with communication companies. From The AnarchAngel:
An object lesson in poor service, and losing money: The connectivity saga of 2007
Oy... the last few days have been... interesting.

I'm going to tell you a story, that should demonstrate to you why every major ISP, Telco, and Cable company in this country is, or has recently been, in financial trouble.

Now, I'm a techno geek. An early adopter (though not generally true bleeding edge), and I have a lot of digital services in my life.

Most critical among these are my telephone service, my internet service, my mobile phone, and my cable TV. Without the first three, I can't work; and the last makes life a fair bit more entertaining.

Now, for telephone service, I've been with Vonage for four years. I love their service, and I never had any problems with it (until a few months ago). Vonage made signing up with them very easy (for me anyway. MY friend John had some major issues, but we were trying to do something the customer service people didn't know how to do), and has always been helpful when I've had customer service questions etc...

Similarly, I have T-mobile for my mobile phone provider; I've had them for four years; and I couldn't be happier. I get excellent telephone and mobile internet service; and they make things convenient for me with regards to billing and customer service.

I have had phones with Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon before, and I had MAJOR customer services issues with all of them; but T-mobile has been just great.

I've also been with Cox cable and internet for four years; and I've had TONS of problems with their service, which I very much do not love.

Over the past two years, I've seen my cable and internet bill from Cox go from $106 a month, to $174 a month; with not only no improvement in service, but a worsening.
And it just gets better and better...

Saw this one coming from a mile away...

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Want to fly to Bali and cover the UN Climate Meeting for your newspaper? You might have some problems - from NewsBusters:
Skeptics Denied Press Credentials at UN Climate Meeting in Bali
Want more proof of just how biased the United Nations is?

A group of reporters representing the conservative newspaper Environment & Climate News were refused press credentials to attend the U.N.'s climate change meeting in Bali this week.

I kid you not.

The paper's publisher, the Heartland Institute, released the following statement Monday:
As the first goals of the Kyoto Protocol are about to expire, the United Nations is preparing a "Conference of the Parties," the highest decision-making authority. The meeting will take place in Bali, Indonesia from December 3 to December 5.

But the event lost any claim of impartiality when organizers rejected attempts by representatives of Environment & Climate News to receive press accreditation for the conference.

UN press office coordinator Carrie Assheuer said the newspaper's representatives "do not meet the criteria for press accreditation." Environment & Climate News has been in continual publication for 10 years; is sent to more than 75,000 elected officials, opinion leaders, and environmental professionals in the United States; and is one of five newspapers published the by 23-year-old Heartland Institute.
Rope, tree -- some assembly required...

Light posting tonight

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Working on some other stuff.

Circuit Breaker blogging

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What a wonderful day today was... [set sarcasm=off] We had a power outage last evening that came back around 2:00am this morning. I didn't bother to go down to the store as the power had been off for only about three hours -- the freezers are well enough insulated that they can be without power for a good ten/twelve hours. Well, around 11:00am today, we noticed that the internal temperature was 25 degrees and rising and that a lot of the food was starting to thaw. Well crap! Total loss was around $800 at our cost for the food plus an unknown amount for the emergency call to our refrigeration people. What had happened was that when the power came back on, the starting surge of the compressor tripped the circuit breaker. This is a 40 amp breaker and the nominal running current of the compressor is around eight to ten amperes but the breaker was failing. Circuit breakers are designed to fail conservatively -- if you have a 40 amp breaker and it starts to fail, it will trip at lower and lower currents. This is by design as if the breaker failed the other way, you could have an equipment malfunction and the breaker would not trip causing potential overcurrent and fire hazards. Talk about hoist by one's own petard... Anyway, the food is still fine, it never got to unsafe temperatures, it just cannot be refrozen. It is sitting in our walk-in cooler and the Bellingham Food Bank will be getting a lot of nice Pizzas, Juice concentrate, Fruit, Veggies and Box Meals tomorrow morning.

Power blogging

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Make that without power blogging... Couple of bumps in the night and then pitch black with UPS's beeping all over the place. Fire up the generator, head into our town to check the store. Everything is pitch black except for our honorable competition (a convenience store with a gas station -- we really don't compete for the same market) who has a nice big propane backup power generator. Drive about five miles and everything is dark - finally get to a spot where there are a few trucks parked underneath one of the big feeder lines and there is a wire down. The electric company knows and we should get power back on in a couple of hours. Hopefully as there are several thousand dollars worth of frozen foods in the store and that compressor only runs on 3-phase electricity. The store generator can't run it. Going to check email, have another glass of wine and then shut off the noisemaker and go to sleep... Hopefully, the normal winter insanity will resume in a day or so. It is 60 degrees outside now.
Spoken by the King of Spain, Juan Carlos, to Hugo Chavez. The thought is that this outburst may have been instrumental in costing Chavez his bid for lifetime absolute power in Venezuela. Wretchard at The Belmont Club links to Tigerhawk and notices that one of his commenters had the following observation:
Students of Spanish may recall that there are two forms of address: the more formal usted, and the familiar tu. The fact that Juan Carlos said "por que no te callas" (using the tu form) added insult to injury. One head of state addressing another would almost always, universally, use "usted", so saying this with tu showed that Juan Carlos thinks of Chavez like an animal or an unruly child.

Storm Blogging

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The Pineapple Express hit with a vengeance this afternoon. Winds gusting in the 70's and 80's, temperature were under 30 degrees yesterday and now they are in the mid 50's, lots of rain, flooding and mudslides. I hear that Seattle took it a lot worse than we did -- I was in a storm there in the early part of this year that dumped 3 inches and the city ground to a halt. Today they got five inches. Our power went out in the early afternoon and was restored around 5:00PM, just had a few seconds outage a few moments ago as I was typing the previous paragraph. Needless to say, all computers are on decent sized UPSs. Here is our local river just below flood stage:

The first shows a large standing wave near the bridge that takes us to Bellingham. The second shows an island with some tree snags - only the tips of the snags are showing. Logs were flowing downriver as I was standing there. Still, Jen brought in a bunch of firewood while I was working at the store and if the power goes out again, we have a generator for lights and to keep our deep freezers running (we have the remains of a very tasty cow and an equally tasty pig sitting there at zero degrees Fahrenheit.) Life is good...
Simple market economics and it bears fruit once again. From Bloomberg:
Crude Oil Declines to Five-Week Low Before OPEC Output Meeting
Crude oil futures declined to their lowest in more than five weeks before an OPEC production meeting and amid signs of an economic slowdown in the U.S., the world's largest energy user.

Consumer spending in the U.S. rose less than forecast in October, fuelling concern that growth is faltering. Twelve out of 22 analysts forecast that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will keep output levels unchanged at its Dec. 5 meeting in Abu Dhabi, according to a Bloomberg News survey.

"Participants are getting nervous both about the worsening macro backdrop in the U.S., as well as the upcoming OPEC meeting," Edward Meir, an analyst at MF Global Ltd. in Connecticut said in a report today.

Crude oil for January delivery fell as much as $1.24, or 1.4 percent, to $87.47 a barrel, its lowest on the New York Mercantile Exchange since Oct. 25. It last traded at $87.95 at 12:18 a.m. London time.
The price floats to what level people are willing to spend. Now if they would just get on the ball with Nuclear...

Get 'em young and train them right

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From your friendly neighborhood Shaolin Temple come these three children: More YouTube Goodness


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Microsoft supporting Open Source Software??? Microsoft supporting Open Source Software??? Cats are mating with Dogs and Pigs are flying to the Moon. Check out CodePlex from Microsoft -- just under 3,000 projects, all open source and the ones that I have looked at are pretty good. I was pointing someone to Cropper, a screen capture tool I use regularly and saw that it had been moved to CodePlex and did some exploring. The full list of projects is here: Project Directory
Very cool idea -- the simplest ones are almost always the best. From Eureka Alert:
Helium isotopes point to the best sources of geothermal energy
With fossil fuel sources depleting and global warming on the rise, exploring alternative means of power for humans is a necessary reality. Now, looking to the sky, relying on the wind or harnessing water power are not the only remaining options. Deep within Earth is an untapped source of energy: geothermal energy.

It has been estimated that within the continental United States, there is a sizable resource of accessible geothermal energy � about 3,000 times the current annual U.S. consumption.

Two important reasons this storehouse of energy has not been tapped is that locating the specific energy hot spots is difficult and expensive.

�Since many geothermal resources are hidden, that is, they do not show any clear indications of their presence at the surface, locating them by just using observations made at the surface is difficult,� explains Matthijs van Soest, associate research professional at the Noble Gas Geochemistry and Geochronology Laboratory within the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University.

�Often when people thought there might be a geothermal resource below the surface the only way to determine if their assumption was correct was drilling and drilling is extremely expensive,� he says.
Different parts of the Earth are composed of a variety of elements in varying amounts. Earth�s crust contains a variety of noble gases, one of those being helium. Natural helium occurs as two isotopes, helium-4 (4He) and helium-3 (3He.) Typically, helium-4 is more abundant in Earth�s crust, whereas helium-3 is more abundant in the mantle below. Thus, the helium-3/helium-4 ratio of the gas found in groundwater can provide an indication of the extent to which the water has interacted with volcanic rocks derived from the mantle.

Waters that have equilibrated only with crustal rocks typically have low helium-3/helium-4 ratios, but Kennedy and van Soest found that some waters from hot springs near the Dixie Valley geothermal power plant in Nevada contained anomalously high ratios.

�When we found the elevated ratios, we knew that the only way these waters could be enriched with helium-3 was if they had interacted with fluids from the Earth�s mantle,� explains van Soest. �The area directly surrounding the power plant has about two to three times the values found elsewhere in the region.�

The analysis of samples taken from more than 60 features (mostly from hot springs and shallow wells) in the northern Basin and Range showed that other areas with characteristics similar to those of Dixie Valley � higher 3He/4He ratios � could be very favorable for geothermal development.
Very cool -- a couple hours work with a Mass Spec. and you can narrow your search to the likely sites. The power plants are more expensive to build but the fuel is free so the trade-off is major.

Undergoing a Madden-Julian oscillation

The last two weeks it has been fairly cold and we had two snowstorms amounting to about 18" total accumulation. A proverbial winter wonderland. The Mt. Baker ski area is in full operation, the store is busy, things are good. Last week, the weather forecasters started warning about a change and it showed up this evening. We know it as a Pineapple Express -- the jet stream drives moist and warm air from the tropics up to where we are. A couple inches accumulation of rain in one day and temps in the 30's and 40's. The engine that drives this is called the Madden-Julian oscillation. From the Wikipedia article:
The Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO) is an equatorial traveling pattern of anomalous rainfall that is planetary in scale. The mechanism and cause of the MJO is as yet not well-understood and is a subject of ongoing study.

MJO is characterized by an eastward progression of large regions of both enhanced and suppressed tropical rainfall, observed mainly over the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean. The anomalous rainfall is usually first evident over the western Indian Ocean, and remains evident as it propagates over the very warm ocean waters of the western and central tropical Pacific. This pattern of tropical rainfall then generally becomes very nondescript as it moves over the cooler ocean waters of the eastern Pacific but reappears over the tropical Atlantic and Indian Ocean. The wet phase of enhanced convection and precipitation is followed by a dry phase where convection is suppressed. Each cycle lasts approximately 30-60 days.
The Wikipedia entry for Pineapple Express outlines what we are in for tomorrow:
Pineapple Express is a non-technical, shorthand term popular in the news media for a meteorological phenomenon which is characterized by a strong and persistent flow of atmospheric moisture and associated heavy rainfall from the waters adjacent to the Hawaiian Islands and extending to any location along the Pacific coast of North America. The Pineapple Express is driven by a strong, southern branch of the Polar jetstream and is usually marked by the presence of a surface frontal boundary which is typically either slow or stationary, with waves of low pressure traveling along its axis. Each of these low pressure systems brings enhanced rainfall.

The conditions are often created by the Madden-Julian oscillation, an equatorial rainfall pattern which feeds its moisture into this pattern. They are also present during an El Ni�o episode.

The combination of moisture-laden air, atmospheric dynamics, and orographic enhancement resulting from the passage of this air over the mountain ranges of the West Coast causes some of the most torrential rains to occur in the region. Many Pineapple Express events follow or occur simultaneously with major arctic troughs in the Northwestern United States, often leading to major snowmelt flooding with warm, tropical rains falling on frozen, snow laden ground. Examples of this are the December 1964 Pacific Northwest flood and the Willamette Valley Flood of 1996.
So the Mt. Baker ski area is closed Monday and Tuesday, we will loose a lot of our base there as well as the lowland snow (snow levels are due to rise to 6,000' tomorrow). Well crap!

Life at the top - the very far north that is

Gene Weingarten travels to Savoonga, Alaska and writes about live in the arctic. Check out this Washington Post article: Snowbound
Let's say you were looking for a vacation destination in winter. And also, that you were out of your mind. You might pull out a map of Alaska, locate Anchorage, and then let your eyes roam north and west, across mountain ranges, through millions of acres of wilderness, until you ran out of dirt. You would be in Nome. Nome: the last outpost, Babylon on the Bering, famously dissolute, said to be home to the desperate, the disillusioned, the hollow-eyed, the surrendered, the exiles, the castaways, the cutthroats, the half dead and the fully juiced. Nome, the end of the Earth.

Only it isn't the end of the Earth. You can see that, right on the map. To get to the end of the Earth from Nome you would have to hop a small plane and head 130 miles out into the Bering Sea, where you would land on an island so remote that it is closer to Russia than the U.S. mainland. To the people of Siberia, this island is the middle of nowhere. On it, according to the map, is a village named Savoonga.

Savoonga. Va-voom. Bunga bunga. Funny, no?

I thought so, too, when I first saw it. It gave me an idea for a funny story. In the dead of winter, I would pack up and blindly head to Savoonga, unannounced and unprepared. No research at all, no planning beyond the booking of a room, if there was one to be had.

The whole thing was an inside joke, one with a swagger. It is a journalist's conceit that a good reporter can find a great story anywhere--in any life, however humble, and in any place, however unwelcoming.

That is how photographer Michael Williamson and I came to be in a small commuter plane in late February, squinting out onto a landscape as forbidding, and as starkly beautiful, as anything we'd ever seen. Land was indistinguishable from sea--the white subarctic vista, lit to iridescence by a midafternoon sun, was flat and frozen straight to the horizon. The first clue that we were over an island was when the village materialized below us. It looked as negligible as a boot print in the snow, the grimy, nubby tread left by galoshes. The nubs were one-story buildings, a few dozen of them, and that was it.

I'm back now, trying to make sense of what we saw, trying to figure out how to tell it. It's all still with me, except for the swagger.
A fascinating account of life in the far north. Problems with food, alcoholism, child suicides. The isolation is so strong that whenever someone leaves to the lower 48, many times they can't deal with what passes for modern civilization and move back.

The situation in Zimbabwe

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Austin Bay has a wonderful examination of the problems in Zimbabwe at Strategy Page:
Tragedy in Zimbabwe
The government's own inflation data put the inflation rate at 7,600 percent a year. Economic analysts outside of Zimbabwe think it may be even higher, 8,500 percent to perhaps as high as 15,000 percent. An IMF "forecast" says the real rate could reach 100,000 percent. Boggling? It's beyond boggling. All of these figures are so large that in terms of policy �and poverty-- the statistical differences are meaningless. Recently a Zimbabwean government official admitted that the real inflation rate is "incalculable" because there are so few goods available in the country. Staples like meat, bread and cooking oil are not available in retail grocery stores. Gasoline (except for government officials and friends of the ruling ZANU-PF party) disappeared many months ago.

A statistic that really does matter is unemployment. No one really knows what the unemployment rate is in Zimbabwe. Visit the Web and you will find estimates from fifty to eighty percent. As always, you have to ask not only who did the survey but what constitutes employment. Zimbabwe's once flourishing tourist industry has all but disappeared. In 1999, 1.4 million tourists visited Zimbabwe. Now there are no tourists. An estimated 200,000 Zimbabweans once worked in a tourism-related job (hotels, restaurants, etc.). Almost everyone agrees, however, that commercial agriculture jobs are (or were) a key component in Zimbabwe's economy. Since 2000, Zimbabwe has lost between 250,000 and 400,000 jobs in its once productive agricultural sector. In 2003 the UN reported approximately 100,000 farm workers were still employed on commercial farms. That was a decrease of 250,000 from an estimated 350,000 workers employed by commercial farms in 2000 prior to president Mugabe's first "land redistribution" program, his "agrarian revolution" called the "Third Chimurenga," or "liberation struggle." The vast majority of those farms were owned by whites. The Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union reported that there were approximately 4,500 white-owned commercial farms in Zimbabwe in 2000. The higher agricultural worker job loss figure is based a recent estimate, which means it is a very iffy statistic, like Zimbabwe's actual inflation rate. In 2000 the UN estimated that the 350,000 farm workers supported roughly two million people. Using the same ratio (5.7 per worker) that means 2.28 million people who once had well-paying jobs (by Zimbabwean standards) now have little or no income. That is out of a 2005 population of around 13 million people. Many of these once well-employed remain "living on the land" as squatters or "tenant farmers without rights." They do grow some crops but their situation is "hand to mouth," meaning they are now subsistence farmers. These Zimbabweans have effectively lost a century's worth of economic development. Indeed, Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe has taken what should be one of Africa's wealthiest countries and turned it into an economic and political wasteland.
Lots more at Strategy Page including some good reasons why other African states are not clamoring for Mugabe's removal.

From Variety:

Studio classics in need of facelifts
Films are fading, and digital can't save them

In Cannes this year, Martin Scorsese talked about the importance of preserving such films as Ahmed El Maanouni's 1981 Moroccan music documentary "Trances."

But he didn't mention that his own "Taxi Driver" is deteriorating.

Although the 1976 film is part of Sony's vast library, few are rallying to its aid. The myriad film-preservation orgs throw their money and muscle behind titles that are indie, foreign or obscure. It's assumed Hollywood's majors will take care of their own films. In fact, they don't.

One Paramount veteran compared the studio's vault to a teenager's chaotic bedroom. In fact, a visitor accidentally stepped on the negative of "Rosemary's Baby," which was unspooled on the floor.

With constant pressure on the bottom line, studio execs often lack the funds -- or interest -- to make sure their heritage is being cared for properly. Digital technology, which was touted as the salvation of film, has turned out to be deeply flawed, deteriorating faster than anyone imagined.

A bit more:

Other vulnerable pics from the era include the seminal dark comedy "Harold and Maude," which is in grave condition. Even "The Godfather" was recently in need of triage. Paramount sent the original camera negative to Warner Bros.' facilities for color correction and sound remixing, among other restorations.

The Francis Ford Coppola movie has been a consistent money-maker since its 1972 bow, on vidcassette, DVD and homevideo. If that movie is in need of repair, what hope is there for lesser-grossing films?

In December 2006, the National Film Registry listed, as usual, 25 films it feels warrant preservation, including "Groundhog Day" (1993) and "Fargo" (1996). Clearly, this is not just a concern for early Hollywood films.

And one more:

For the first half of the century, studios let their sprawling libraries fall into disarray. The result is half of all American films made before 1950 have been destroyed, while 80% of U.S.-produced pics dating before 1929 are lost. But film preservation and restoration efforts sprung up in the early 1960s. Mayer, a longtime MGM executive, launched the first large-scale effort to safeguard a studio library in 1965, when he oversaw MGM's construction of refrigerated vaults to house its library, which included such titles as "Gone With the Wind" and "The Wizard of Oz."

And these people have the gall to bitch about 'intelectual property' when they are not able to take care of their own treasures.

Could have seen this one coming

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Remember the case of the Baltimore Fire Fighter (a paramedic apprentice) who discovered a noose and a threatening note inside the Firehouse? From Baltimore station WJZ/AP:
Fire Dept. Suspends Apprentice For Noose, Note
The Baltimore Fire Department has suspended a paramedic apprentice who admitted placing a threatening note and a rope shaped like a noose inside a firehouse.

Fire officials say the paramedic, Gary Maynard, is the one who initially reported finding the note and the rope. Fire department spokesman Kevin Cartwright says Maynard confessed to city police that he left the note and the rope.

A statement from Fire Chief William Goodwin says Maynard's scheme was "meant to create the perception that members within our department were acting in a discriminatory and unprofessional manner."

The note was believed to refer to a cheating scandal involving black firefighters. Maynard, who is black, has not yet been charged with any crime.
Yup - sticken' it to the Man... What a maroon.

From the Seattle Times:

Sperm donor liable for child support, judge rules
MELVILLE, N.Y.  A New York man who said he donated sperm to a female co-worker as a friendly gesture and sent presents and cards to the child over the years likely will owe child support for the college-bound teenager, according to a judge's ruling.

"What's the saying? No good deed goes unpunished," said Deborah Kelly, a Garden City lawyer for the man, who like all the involved parties remains anonymous because of privacy concerns.

Family Court Judge Ellen Greenberg ruled Nov. 16 that despite the mother's willingness to have the child's DNA tested, the man could not seek a paternity test to determine if he is the biological father because the results could have a "traumatic effect" upon the child, who is now 18 and lives in Oregon with the mother.

The next step is a meeting with a support magistrate to determine the amount of child-support payments -- if any -- the man would have to pay until the child turns 21, Kelly said.

Even without genetic evidence, the man's interactions with the child over the years had a patriarchal nature, said Jeffrey Herbst, a county attorney who represents the mother in the lawsuit through a federal agreement called the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act.

Christ on a corn dog... The guy did send cards and presents to the kid but he was not there raising him, the two women were. Their relationship broke up and now they want the sperm donor to pony up money to raise the kid. Wake up and smell the cappuccino people.

Meet Charlie

Check out The Daily Coyote

Written by 30 year old Shreve Stockton and details the account of her adopting a 10 day old baby Coyote and living with him and her tomcat in a log cabin in Wyoming. Some wonderful photography. -- here are two:



Shreve has also ridden across the USA on a Vespa scooter and she blogged about it here: Vespa Vagabond

Dumb criminals - a twofer

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First one is from Augusta, Georgia. From the Savannah Morning News:
3 arrested as printer is returned; fake money found inside
Police say three people wanted some easy money, but instead they gave authorities an easy catch. Police arrested the three Wednesday evening after a Harlem man reportedly tried to return a printer to Target with fake printed money inside the machine.

A clerk told police she was checking the package returned by Michael Jerome Chatman, 35, of Harlem, when she saw a piece of paper inside the printer. On it were copies of a $20 and $10 bill, according to a Richmond County sheriff's report.

Police say Chatman quickly grabbed the printer and ran from the store but was stopped by a Richmond County deputy outside. Police arrested Diamond Tiara Green, 30, and Kotto Yaphet Green, 24, both of the 3300 block of Jonathan Circle, and Chatman on charges of second-degree forgery, the report says. Upon frisking Chatman, police found a real $20 bill that they said matched the copy inside the printer.
Not to be outdone, this is more bad timing than stupidity but still... From the Everett, WA Herald:
Trash truck scoops up suspect
She tried to make a clean getaway.

Instead, the 13-year-old robbery suspect's hiding place in a trash bin got turned upside down as it was emptied into a garbage truck Friday morning.

The girl came tumbling out in front of Snohomish County sheriff's deputies, who were tracking her, and just happened to arrive as the bin was being dumped, sheriff's spokeswoman Rebecca Hover said.

"She was hiding inside the dumpster under some garbage," Hover said. "She was unloaded, too."

The girl wasn't hurt and police quickly put her in handcuffs, she said.

About 9 a.m. Friday, police believe the girl and a boy, 16, both from Everett, robbed the Pizza Hut in the 400 block of 128th Street SW, Hover said.
Police got the guy too.

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