Thursday, July 30, 2009

New Course in Literary Criticism

"The Poetry of Sarah Palin's Tweets"

If you haven't seen it ... check it out. [Sorry for the ad.]

This is seriously good stuff, although it owes a lot to William Shatner channeling the beat era Howl of Allen Ginsburg plus a very careful choice of tweets.

But what fun! What insights could we glean from this poetry?

And could it bring back beat poetry in REAL coffeehouses like I recall from my freshman year in college? Haiku, meet tweet-haiku, limited to 140 characters. A new art form!

PS -
Since the ad I am seeing is for cat owners, I'll counter it with this story about a UK cat that rides a bus.

Read Entire Article......

Birther Hypocrisy

You can't watch very much of the chattering classes on cable news without seeing the ongoing rants about whether Obama is a "natural born citizen" and eligible to be President. You can see some of the latest here.

My opinion is that they are asking these jive talking politicos the wrong question.

They should be asking these Republicans if they think John McCain is a natural born citizen eligible to be President of the United States.

You see, every Republican member of Congress was at the convention and voted to nominate McCain. If they think it is so important that we know if Obama was born in the US (not to mention all future Presidential candidates), why didn't they press that issue with McCain before nominating him? After all, there is no question at all that Sen. John Sidney McCain III was born in the Panama Canal Zone, not in one of these United States.

If being the son of a United States citizen was sufficient for them to nominate McCain, why isn't it good enough for Obama? That is the followup question for any of these solons.

Or is it possible that they were all part of a bizarre conspiracy to elect McCain, sue to have him immediately declared ineligible, thereby putting Palin in the Presidency? Then Palin gets someone like William Kristol approved by Congress as her VP, and immediately resigns because she is a lame duck. Coup complete.

Nah, that isn't possible. They are just jive talking maroons.

Read Entire Article......

Reason for a Liberal Arts Education

The news yesterday contained a horrifying story about how the US military leveled part of the ancient Babylon archaeological site. They apparently bulldozed mounds that were what remained of parts of guest palace of King Nebuchadnezzar's, damaged pottery that had cuneiform writing on it along with other items that date back over 2500 years, and carried on activities that damaged the reproduction of the Ishtar Gate at that site.

I am embarrassed that they did not know better, as one would expect from any decent humanities course or bible study in church school, but there is a precedent from World War II:


Every time I happen to hear a story about Kyoto that mentions how it managed to survive the war, I wish they would tell the whole story. The people planning the bombing of Japan had no idea of its religious or historic significance, let alone the beauty of the temples that fill the city. The only reason it was not firebombed was that it had been put at the TOP of the list of places to use the first atom bomb! Hiroshima was number 2.

You see, in order to be sure we could see the effects of the bomb, we wanted to use the A bomb on a pristine city. The people in Hiroshima and several other cities were sure they had said a special prayer to have been spared the bombings, whereas the reality was they were in the cross hairs of something far worse than about 400 planes carrying explosives and incendiaries sufficient to burn tens of square miles.

But it happened that Secretary of War Stimson knew Kyoto well, and fought hard to get it off the list and to keep Gen. Lemay from bombing it with conventional weapons during the rest of the war. You can read the details in "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" by Richard Rhodes. Either Groves and others were ignorant of its cultural value to the world, or they wanted to destroy it for that very reason.

One would have hoped that today's generals would know something about Babylon's history and the nature of archaeological sites, if only because this city had an important role in the Bible, but apparently not. I'd hope that humanities teachers everywhere can draw on this as a teachable moment in their classes.

Read Entire Article......

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Followup on Gates and the Cops

Late last week, I posted my thoughts about the Gates Arrest based on the content of the police report.

Since then, we have heard the actual content of the 911 call (or, at least, significant parts that the media consider relevant, but the transcript is available from a local paper) and it raises new questions about the approach taken by the Cambridge police, both the arresting officer and the dispatcher. Indeed, when you read the transcript, it sounds like the dispatcher was doing some profiling when asking "And what do the suitcases have to do with anything?". Not even listening, it would seem, as that got turned into "backpacks" by the time the cop reported it back to us.

So, what do I think now?

First, just because the caller says she was careful about giving the race of the two men does not mean race played no role in the call since she was not the initial witness. It was another woman who had been watching what took place. However, it is clear from the call that she never even saw one of the men - probably Gates, unless she thought Prof. Gates looked Hispanic - so his race was never an issue for her. Certainly it answers my question about what she "said", because she never said what the arresting officer claimed she told him.

The important thing now is that her statements make it very clear that the story in the police report, that she told the cop that she "observed what appeared to be two black males with backpacks on the porch", was, shall we say, quite wide of the truth. She doesn't have to answer for that, but it was fun to read how the Cambridge Police Commissioner acknowledged that the police report contains a reference to race, but said the report is merely a summary of events. Wow, can you imagine a defense attorney using that to impeach the information in any report filed by that officer in the future?

But second, why was the elderly neighbor woman concerned? That was part of my earlier question, as she was the original witness, and it remains unanswered. Was she concerned because she saw dark skinned men pushing on the door? Would she have been concerned if it had been a 60 year old white man doing it with the assistance of a white Limo driver?

However, there is no question in my mind that I would want one of my neighbors to call the police if they saw something like that happening, but I think my actual neighbors (including ones who walk this area regularly) know what I look like! Similarly, I think they know that a black family lives next door and would never question a black person going into that house. (That might make my neighbors less well protected from black-on-black crime, just as it makes folks in the wealthy all-white suburbs less protected against their neighbor's kids robbing them.)

Third, there are now serious questions about the part of the police report related to the cause for the arrest. We have heard the transmissions from inside the house, and there was no indication at all that Prof. Gates was yelling loudly enough to interfere with communication. Quite the opposite. The premise given to get him out of the house was just that, a premise, based on what the police department released about the call.

Finally, the caller was pretty clear about the most likely possibility that the men lived in the house (said so more than once) and were just forcing a stuck door and that she was just calling to be on the safe side. The dispatcher made the suitcases sound ominous rather than an indication of a likely non-emergency situation, as intended by the caller.

That is something for everyone to remember: the officer responding to a request will likely be totally unaware of what was said to the 911 operator, either because it got filtered by the operator or was only partially heard while finding the way to the address in question. Assume the cop has incomplete or inaccurate information, and explain all details as if it was the first time.

So, to give a one-line answer to the question about whether an apology is in order, I think the cop owes her and the rest of us an apology.

Note added:
Forgot to include a link to this interesting analysis, which matches my view that this was about Power more than race, although I still think he was arrested for being "uppity" based on the officer's own description of his shock at not being treated as the Master and his stated concern about being shown up in front of his fellow officers.

Read Entire Article......

Three Weeks and (not) Counting

Posting a comment over at Dean Dad's blog reminded me that we are just a few days away from the 3-week countdown to the academic equivalent of "pitchers and catchers report".

In the past, I might have said that it was time to get to work, but I now plan ahead. However, as mentioned in an earlier blog about how I now approach a new year (particularly in the comments), I can be susceptible to using the extra time to create more work for myself. With too much time to do the job, there is a tendency to polish the brass like I was a lowly seaman in the Navy. So this year I have to thank a post by Dr. Crazy where she mentioned setting a false deadline of July 30, as if that was the actual start of the semester.

Great idea. Apart from one detail (a possible course assignment that would alter the office hours that I always put in my syllabus), I will have all of my syllabi "printer ready" by then. That will give me some free time to take a mini-vacation and also thing about some bigger issues, ones mentioned in an article last year. I might also think about the workload issue mentioned more recently by Dr. Crazy as she finished of her third (of four) syllabi, but it is easy to edit by subtraction.

Oh, yes, lets not forget to mention the one sign that the semester is approaching: U-Haul trucks at the student apartment complexes.

The invasion is near!

Read Entire Article......

Friday, July 24, 2009

Gates and the Cops

As a (now aging and balding) "long hair" who has spent many years on and around the cloistered ivy covered halls of academe, I can understand Gates' attitude. After all, they give him a hard time but an earlier break-in of his house remains unsolved. And if I can understand it, it must be doubled and squared if you are black -- where having a "tumultuous" attitude (college-educated cop speak) was really being perceived as having an "uppity" attitude (a word that would be auto-replaced by the police report word processor). As the commentariot has put it, what would Henry Kissinger have done if ordered out of his house by a cop? Would Kissinger have asked "Do you know who I am?", called the Police Chief, and gone ballistic if arrested for being angry at being insulted in his own "castle"?

I'll put my experiences and thoughts below the fold.

Certainly Gates should have done the "Yes Massa" thing and thanked the cop for responding to a case of a black man entering his own home, mentioning his past problems with break-ins as a reason he is glad the police show up when called. But there is no law that says you have to be civil to anyone in your own home, and certainly not to an uninvited person who just walks in your door. Unless you are black, it would seem.

I learned enough from being around dumb-ass white kids in middle school and, particularly, in high school that it is not a good idea to act as if you are a lot smarter than they are even if the intelligence contest can be won with my dominant hand in a cast. Thus my way of dealing with cops is to go into "Yes Massa" mode. It has always worked well for me in the few instances it seemed relevant, and I don't have any problem going with it. However, I can imagine why a world-famous Harvard professor (holding a "chair" that makes him special even at Harvard) might not take that approach - and there is certainly nothing in the Constitution that says you have to do that in your own home.

And cops, even ones with a college degree (in a CJ major that is open to literally anyone at the universities that I know about), definitely come from that power-mad category that expects "Yes Massa" in every one of their interactions. That would probably be why the cop was "surprised and confused" by the behavior of a homeowner who was being treated like a common criminal. He certainly wasn't expecting an "uppity" black man, let alone expecting to be charged with racism by a child of the 60s in front of his fellow officers and the general public. He had no choice but to arrest Gates for embarrassing him. And since there is no law against embarrassing a cop, he charging him with being disorderly in the "public" place that was his own living room and, later, front porch.

I remember well an incident late one night when I was almost 30, walking across campus. As I approached a major well-marked cross walk with its "yield to pedestrians" sign, a car blew by me, well over the speed limit. A cop pulled out of a side street to follow that car, and I turned and said "go get him". What did the cop do? He ignored the criminal, and went after the long hair. Yep, next thing I knew, there was a cop car ON THE SIDEWALK following me. He must have made a U turn rather than follow the (likely intoxicated) speeder who had also failed to yield. God knows what he thought, but he wasn't expecting a Staff ID card (when he illegally asked for ID) or my question about why he had ignored the person who had threatened my safety. He just wanted to be a dick. I suppose I'm lucky he didn't charge me with "orderly conduct", but that "Yes Massa" act did the trick.

But the way this long-hair was treated almost three decades ago is certainly not how middle aged (Gates is a few years older than I am) balding faculty expect to be treated by the campus-area police.

On my minor (but not at all small) campus, I am known on sight by the campus police officers as well as the un-armed security personnel. I would imagine that Gates is also well known to the cops that patrol Harvard Yard, even if it is a much bigger place. After all, he has been there almost 20 years and is in a "named" chair. He has even had a PBS TV series, not that cops watch that sort of TV. My expectation is that the cops who patrol our campus (and Gates apparently lives in a Harvard-owned house) know who the faculty are and we get treated with respect. Well, at least this white one does. I don't know about the much younger black professor who is built like a power forward.

As for racism, one wonders why no one in the media has talked to the "neighbor" who called the police about a Limo driver helping a middle aged man open his front door. She was, indeed, viewing Gates as being guilty of being a "black man in America". The cop simply picked up the ball and ran with it. Her story seems inconsistent, since the 911 call referred to two people but she only mentions one in the police report to the second officer. Is that because she eventually realized it was a Limo driver who had left? She was there the whole time, but never gave any info about the car these "criminals" had used, or that the Limo driver had (apparently) left, to the police officer who responded? Her failure to tell the cop where the second man had gone is a missing part of the story. And would she have even called the cops if it had been a 59 year old white man opening the door? She is the one who needs to lawyer up, not the cop.

Note: Here is one copy of the police report of the many that are available.

Read Entire Article......

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Old TVs, new Spot, Old Rocket, and Moon Pictures

Inspired by a comment from The Thomas, here is an article about the a working 1936 TV in the UK. Let that be a challenge to you! I was amused by the fact that it only had one channel because there was only a single (state owned) station in the entire UK, so it needs two converters to get over-the-air transmissions, and by the comments from the grandson of John Logie Baird (UK television inventor). I knew him from an old book (something about "electrons go to work") in my collection.

The article also has an extensive comments section, where various people posted the ancient things they have that still work. Reminds me of the refrigerator my parents have in the old house, which I think is older than I am.

Other news of note includes a new "spot" on Jupiter (possibly from an impact, but a "dark mark" could come from a Death Eater attack), and some older followup stories about Apollo:

The NASA article gives important details on the resolution per pixel (about four feet) and how the long shadow (due to a low sun angle) makes it easier to spot the lander. Imagine what we will see when the resolution improves by more than a factor of 2 after they circularize the LRO orbit later this year!

Read Entire Article......

Monday, July 20, 2009

Man on the Moon

We can pretend I was live-blogging this one (40 years ago), but I am sure the posting time for this picture is about 5 or 10 minutes too early.

Armstrong stepped off the Lem around 11 PM EDT on 20 July 1969 (Wiki says he stepped on the moon at 10:56 pm EDT), and we were watching it live on TV, on CBS. I'm pretty sure it was our old Motorola Quasar b/w television (right Bro?). Aldrin followed about 15 minutes later, after Armstrong had picked up a quick rock sample, and then the TV camera was moved to a tripod where it would view the landing area.

At some point I set up my dad's old Ricoh SLR on a tripod and, guessing at the exposure, took one picture on color slide film to record this moment of history - with both astronauts on the moon with the LM. This is that image:

Special thanks to my brother for borrowing the slide from my parents and scanning it for me so I could include it here today. (He says the picture itself is much better than this indicates, and suspects his scanner's bulb is fading. Apparently you can also see the TV tuner, etc in the original slide.) Maybe I'll get a chance to try it on my own scanner one of these months.

You can click on the image for a slightly larger version but, as I say, it is really not of archival quality. I've smoothed and resized the original scan to get rid of various scanning artifacts, which also hides somewhat the rasters of the TV image itself that are in the original.

That was a really memorable day, with the landing on the moon in the afternoon and then a long wait into the evening to see the moon walk. I don't remember staying up past midnight to see the entire 2+ hour effort, but that first hour was simply amazing ... particularly the way they moved in the reduced gravity of the moon.

But perhaps the most amazing thing was that we had live television from the moon, even if it had to be a special "slow scan" system to fit in the available bandwidth. I had grown up with the Space Race, watching launches live on TV in elementary school, so it was easy to take a lot of this for granted. However, my grandfather had grown up before radio, and lived to see live TV from the moon. Never underestimate what the future can hold.

Read Entire Article......

History Channel ... Epic Fail

They hacked up the CBS broadcast pretty badly, putting very little of the landing coverage in the program, although the "first step" part was fantastic.

Their program "Moonshot" stinks. I'll never watch that turkey again.

In contrast, TCM's showing of "For All Mankind" (1989) is a keeper.

Sadly, they re-edit the audio/video sync of the first step so it matches the point when Neil Armstrong drops down from the ladder to the lander footpad for the SECOND time rather than when he steps off of the pad some 30 seconds later, but most of it puts a premium on real film and video with voice-over commentary - mostly from those involved in the mission.

Few "recreations". The actual astronauts getting dressed, not some actors like in "Moonshot", and certainly no fake dinner at home with the astronaut's parents.

The best part of "For All Mankind" might be the very beginning, where they play ALL of Kennedy's speech about going to the moon. I had no idea he went into such detail about the challenges that project would face.

However, the very best part is the high resolution film looking out during launches from the moon, where you can see the entire landing site (with instruments and tracks on the surface) as they pull away. Ditto for images of the Apollo 11 landing, which were much higher resolution than I have seen before.

Read Entire Article......

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Live from 1969

The History Channel just ran an ad announcing their schedule for Monday, 20 July.

They will run a half-hour program at 8:30 EDT (re-run about three hours later at 8:00 PDT) that is essentially a re-broadcast of the CBS News coverage I watched as a kid.

the actual CBS News/Walter Cronkite coverage of man's first lunar landing. Using minimal editing and leaving the original footage untouched viewers will feel as if they are watching the CBS coverage in July of 1969. While today we know the outcome of Apollo 11's mission it was not a given then. This will become evident watching Walter Cronkite and his colleagues as they watch the historic lunar mission unfold before them.

Afterwards, from 9 to 11, they will run the movie "Moonshot" with the film parts converted to high definition. I can't wait to see that.

Having seen other "as it happened" re-broadcasts (one was of the NBC coverage of the Kennedy assassination that I never saw in real life), this promises to be excellent.

You will also get to see how TV looked back then, and I'll get to see it in color.

(We could not afford a color TV back then. Or, to be more precise, my parents could not afford to save for our college education and have a color TV back then. They made some excellent economic choices.)

Read Entire Article......

Revisiting the Moon Landing

I've decided not to jump the gun like so many news stories, and hold off on posting my personal photo of the moon walk until roughly the anniversary of when it was taken (about quarter after 11 EDT on the night of 20 July). Today I will just reflect on the events themselves and some articles I feel are worth mentioning.

Looking back, we knew what was going to happen, in detail. Maybe in more detail than you can find in all of the Wiki articles put together, because we had been raised on the space program. We (meaning my brother and I) had read every National Geographic article about moon missions going back to the first high-resolution pictures taken by Ranger 7. And we had read everything in Popular Science, books, Life magazine, you name it.

In addition, there had already been several missions to the moon, and the dangers were clear. We had seen plenty of launch attempts fail in the early days, so we knew every launch was dangerous. We had seen quite a few early moon missions actually miss the moon, so we knew navigation was not a trivial detail. We knew the rocket on the Service Module had to work correctly several times. Once you slowed into orbit around the moon, you were stuck there unless it fired. We knew there was a very narrow window for reentry. You didn't aim for the earth, you aimed at the edge of the earth to just barely catch the atmosphere. Too little and you skipped off into oblivion, too much and you would be crushed by the g forces. And we knew that there was a lot of kinetic energy to burn off by the heat shield, because you were coming in at 25,000 miles per hour.

Worse, we knew that both the descent and, in particular, ascent engines on the LM had to work or you would be stuck on the moon - leaving one man to go home alone. And, unlike the main engine (which was used for mid-course corrections), that ascent engine was never tested. Sure, they had used one on Apollo 10 when the LM had descended to less than 10 miles above the moon, but that was a different spacecraft. You had one shot to get home.

Best of all, it was summer. We knew when it was going to happen and we could watch it all as it happened. It was like riding along with Columbus to the New World. And that is what we did, went along for the ride via television.

One news item out there that I really enjoyed was this Audio slide show from the BBC. The music is from the top songs at that time: "In the year 25-25", "Age of Aquarius", and "Something in the Air". However, the newsman narrating is wrong about just how much chance was involved in the selection of Armstrong for that flight. The only way he would have missed is if an earlier mission had failed in its objectives, and even then one suspects that the crews might have shifted so he was flying the LM with the same skill that he showed flying an X-15.

Another news item of note was this video interview with a self-styled beatnik who programmed the computers on the Apollo mission. I'll bet The Thomas will enjoy this, with its discussion of worrying about every byte of code that had to be squeezed into that box, even more than I did. No bloatware back then!

Videos and pictures:
I suppose everyone has seen the partial set of cleaned up video (BBC version here), but I'll also link in my blog from last year that includes comments about the edits of the audio-video sync (concerning Armstrong's jump down, up, and then down again) in many of the older "first step" versions out there. By the way, the picture I will post on 20 July was taken just a bit after the part shown at the 3:00 mark of the first YouTube video.

For that matter, I think the coolest photo of all isn't on the moon, it is this one of Neil Armstrong doing his best Jack Nicholson impression after returning to the LM after walking on the moon. That look of tired joy, and the twinkle in his eye, says more than his words did.

Side remark:
The one thing I would like to see that has never been on any program is a side-by-side comparison of the Saturn launch to the moon and a Space Shuttle launch. The Saturn just crawls off of the pad. Why? The shuttle has a thrust to weight-at-launch ratio of 6.8 to 4.5 (in millions of pounds) while the Apollo rocket had a ratio of 7.6 to 6.7. Apollo didn't get going until it had burned off a lot of fuel from the first stage. A friend who watched them all as a kid was stunned when he saw the first Shuttle launch. It went up like an Estes rocket, and the roll maneuver it did early in flight looked like one of those early rockets just before they blew up.

Cranks and crackpots:
I really enjoyed some of the articles about the silly people who think a friend of mine (who witnessed the launch in person) and even the Soviets (who tracked the mission and congratulated us on kicking their butts in the biggest competition of the entire Cold War) were pathological liars and/or part of a conspiracy to fake the landing. Matt laid out part of the answer to some complaints, but posted a few days before new photos (pointed out by Astroprof) showed up that allow us to see the base of the LM at the Apollo 11 landing site. Even better, the LRO photos also include a cool image of the Apollo 14 site where you can see the disturbed lunar dirt (I was going to write "earth"!) where the astronauts hiked back and forth to set up a science experiment. However, as a BBC article explains, they won't get the resolution down to 50 cm per pixel (twice what is in the images linked above and shown in Astroprof's article) until August. They will eventually orbit even lower, giving sharper images for the reasons Matt explained, but that will be some time next year.

One thing those cranks never deal with is the 3 foot jump needed to get up on the ladder to get back in the LM. If you were faking it you would have steps all the way down. No one, not even a basketball star, could do a 36" vertical jump with all of that equipment on in full gravity, but it is easy in 1/6 gravity. And why the big gap? The legs on the LM were collapsible, to take up the impact when they shut off the engine and dropped the last meter or two to the moon. The ladder could not go all the way down; it had to allow for the possible compression of the lander legs.

PS - Every news feed has their version of this info, but CBS deserves mention because their video archives helped make up for the landing videos that NASA destroyed or simply lost. I like the BBC versions because they seem to provide better bandwidth, particularly for video.

Here is today's story about Pres Obama honoring the Apollo 11 astronauts. The sidebar has a number of additional new stories related to the 40th anniversary of the landing.

Read Entire Article......

Friday, July 17, 2009

Uncle Walter is Dead

What an irony, Walter Cronkite dying in the middle of the celebration of the 40th anniversary of man's first trip to the surface of the moon - because our journey into space seemed to be his personal mission.

Those of you who are too young to remember his era can't appreciate how central he was to broadcast news in the late 60s and early 70s. No one today matches his combination of reporting skill and accuracy and straight speaking. It is not an exaggeration to say that we viewed him as "Uncle Walter". I certainly did.

I remember him most for three things:

A program series "The Twentieth Century" that he hosted and narrated. (The title was a bit ambitous, since it ended in 1966 and really only covered about 1/3 of the century - the part where we had newsreel footage.) It was like The History Channel, only without the alien psychics in Bermuda triangle shorts touching a Tesla coil on an ice road. I learned a tremendous amount of history from that program.

Coverage of the entire NASA program. Because CBS was the dominant station (meaning the only one with a good signal) in town for years, they were what we watched in the elementary school gym when launches were broadcast live. He made sure he knew what was going on, and explained it to us as he understood it. That made him both the consummate reporter and a great model for teaching.

I hadn't thought of that until just now. He taught us the news. And what I just wrote is how I approach teaching: articulating what I needed to know or see to understand something.

Speaking out on the facts that argued for ending our involvement in Vietnam. With opinion so rampant on cable "news" channels today (to the point where CNN stopped doing news at all and put it all on Headline News, only to interrupt that with hours of non-factual blather so you often don't find any news there either) it may be hard for any of you to imagine the impact on the nation when an objective newsman stated that we needed to get out of Vietnam. Sadly, more than half of the troops killed in Vietnam died after that point in time.

But I will also remember him for speaking at commencement, even though no one remembers what anyone says at graduation. And I will never, NEVER, forget the way he covered the assassination of JFK and the subsequent funeral. Partly because he not only knew what to say, but when to shut up. He was willing to let the images speak for themselves, not like the idiots who talked over a person singing their heart out - literally - at the Michael Jackson funeral, or put their logos and "crawl" over part of the content they were trying to show.

Cronkite could watch the funeral or a rocket launch or the moon landing and moon walk with us, without narrating it like it was a prize fight. That will be missed most of all.

CBS Coverage of Cronkite's Death

Read Entire Article......

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Commies better for Business?

The chinese economy is just rolling along (sample story), growing at +8% rather than slumping at -1% like in the US. That is despite a 20% drop in exports!

What is the difference?

Twice as much stimulus, relative to our respective GDPs.

Those crazy communists dumped 0.58 T$ into a 4.4 T$ economy. That is 13% of their GDP (IMF value).

Held back by the nay-saying Hoover wing of the Republican Party, the US has put just 0.96 T$ into our 14 T$ economy. (Made up of 168 G$ under Bush and 789 G$ under Obama.) That is just 7% of our GDP, less if you look at what we have spent.

So which system puts more national resources behind business? Clearly not ours.

There are other differences, of course. We were spending like drunken, coke snorting former Air National Guardsmen when our economy was good, so we lacked the resources to ramp up spending when the economy was bad. Perhaps more importantly, we chose to sift our stimulus money through state legislatures rather than spending it directly by the federal government like those commies do. This, along with time needed to get bids, slows down our system so much that we probably won't even spend half of it this year. So our stimulus might be only 1/5 of what China did.

The good news is that the budget deficit won't be what it is projected to be until we actually spend that money.

Read Entire Article......

New Element Named Cp

It is semi-official:

Now that the existence of element 112 has been certified, the discoverers have given their recommendation that it be named "copernicium", Cp, in honor of Nicolaus Copernicus.

Interesting choice.

This breaks a long string of names for trans-plutonium elements that reflect either the location of the discovery (Am, Bk, Cf, Db, Hs, Ds) or key people in the early history of nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry (Cm, Es, Fm, Lr, Rf, Sg, Bh, Mt, Rg). Until now, the exceptions were Md (101) and No (102).

I am stuck on the pronunciation. Will it be

1. koh-per-NEE-cee-em (similar to other names)


2. koh-PER-ni-CEE-em (to preserve some similarity to the name)


Read Entire Article......

Climate Change in Hell ... and more

Here are some great articles from The New Yorker for your entertainment.

  • Shouts and Murmurs takes a look at a symposium about Climate Change in Hell that was (allegedly) hosted by Former VP Al Gore
This is a short, fun article. It is an amusing twist on the usual physics problem concerning the temperature of Hell (as in, is Heaven hotter than Hell) and the on-going Big Science of Global Warming that manages to skewer a number of suspects. For example, why does Sony have a Portal to Hell in one of its sub-basements?

Hitting closer to home,
  • XXL, which looks at books about possible explanations for the rapid growth of obesity in the US.
Favorite factoid about consequences of changes in the past few decades: "It has been estimated that Americans’ extra bulk costs the airlines a quarter of a billion dollars’ worth of jet fuel annually." I personally thought the problem was a result of the SUV (like goldfish in a bigger bowl, people grew to the size of their vehicle), but the author seems to argue that the vehicles were needed to carry our supersized fries.

By the way, at my CC we are starting to have problems fitting students into the standard desks in our standard classrooms. Anyone else have this problem? We might have to cut class sizes just to make the aisles big enough for students to navigate their seats to their seats.

The review might be funnier than the movie. Not that I would know, since I won't bother until the DVD comes out, so to speak. It can't possibly compare to Zoolander.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Harry Potter

No, I haven't gone to see it yet, although I can't wait.

The reason for this blog entry is to point to two brilliant analyses of the book series (not this particular film, although book 6 is where you begin to see what has been going on all along). Both are thick with spoilers for anyone who has not read the entire series, so the links and comments go below the fold.

These articles are not, by the way, the sort of fawning nonsense you see in the popular press. Muggle Children, consider yourself warned.

I think the second article goes a bit overboard by taking the control of the Muggle PM as more than a conceit needed to explain how this entire world - and its wars - can remain invisible, but the books do take a rather deterministic view of the world.

The only thing missing from the second article seems to be any notice that the Goblins can be seen as a particularly racist caricature of hook-nosed Jewish Bankers. Or maybe it was in there, but was just left unsaid.

Where I disagree with the second analysis (and agree with the first) is that the books are not about a Chosen One, a "christ figure" come to save the wizarding world, even if he gets Resurrected to finish the job. That is the way it is cast when you start in book 1, and the way you might read it superficially, but the reality is that it takes collaboration among many individuals - each with their own special skills and weaknesses - to win the final fight.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sweet Tweets

From PhD Comics today:

Great Tweets of Science

But where was one for Schroedinger or Bohr?

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Basic Research Proves the Obvious

According to a study reported by the BBC, cats 'exploit' humans by purring:

Cat owners may have suspected as much, but it seems our feline friends have found a way to manipulate us humans.

Researchers at the University of Sussex have discovered that cats use a "soliciting purr" to overpower their owners and garner attention and food.

Unlike regular purring, this sound incorporates a "cry", with a similar frequency to a human baby's.

The team said cats have "tapped into" a human bias - producing a sound that humans find very difficult to ignore.

(Follow the link above to see video evidence of this, as if we needed any!) Look below the fold for LOLcat evidence of this phenomenon from a photo posted late last week:

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Slow Progress on the Economy

This morning's news concerning new jobless claims, where the number dropped below 600,000 for the first time since the last week of January (2/5/2009 release), seems to have been ignored by the markets. Oddly, "investors" did not buy into what looks like a nascent recovery, choosing to buy 3% T bills instead.

Now it is true that the moving average is still above that 600,000 level. However, the moving average now has a sustained (slightly) negative slope -- sustained since the middle of March (when the stimulus bill was passed). I expect we will still see a lot of new jobless claims even as some stimulus projects get started (highway projects in our state are just going out to bid) because the hiring will not be in the areas where layoffs are still likely to happen.

Continuing unemployment claims went up modestly. Also not surprising, because the stimulus package - which Congress put mostly in the hands of the states - won't really get rolling at creating new jobs until next month. However, that does bode well for a modest increase in the unemployment rate in July. That will probably be when we will see a market rally.

But what is going on? Are people putting new IRA or 401(k) money into fixed return investments? I'm at an age where a big chunk of mine goes that way, but I would not ignore equities at a point that might be a market bottom, particularly when there is a good chance of inflation a few years in the future. Those 10-year 3% T bills will be worthless then.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Blogging about some blogs

Some classics out there today:

Matt writes about clouds and the "chemtrail" conspiracy theories. Worth visiting just to see the photo of a fighter just about at Mach 1. BTW, Matt is correct about the second photo. It is from Castle Bravo, the largest yield device (at 15 megatons) ever tested by the US.

Amusing, but he needs to get more up to date. Check out this about sighting Michael Jackson's ghost in a CNN clip shown on Larry King.

Thanks to a commenter on FSP's blog about hating the iPhone for that last one. That was also where I found a link to another great article:

Is Google Making Us Stupid from the July issue of The Atlantic. Read it, and see if you start skimming before you get to the paragraph where the author quotes a blogger about the number of paragraphs he can read before he starts skimming.

For the record, I didn't start skimming until I read that prompt, but my attention span for scientific articles was never so great that I didn't usually follow the Feynman approach of reading the introduction and then jumping to the conclusion to see if they got the right answer. Unless it really mattered, and then it took days or a week to read the paper closely.

On that subject, Chad has a great "research blogging" article about entanglement and a hysterical article about a really bad press release title related to string "theory". I suspect that "possible relevance of mathematical tools developed for string theory to an entirely different problem" would not have gotten quite as much attention.

Also, some really good comics in the last few days. PhD comics on whether your research project is impossible (following up on a series about a student being sent on a wild goose chase) and xkcd on the 2038 bug in Unix (when the time counter runs out of seconds in 32 bits).

PS -
Like his fellow former sportscaster, Sarah Palin, Keith Olberman doesn't seem to know much science. Tonight on "worst persons" he said something implying that you use carbon dating to determine the age of uranium. Not even close. I wonder how many people noticed ...

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Monday, July 6, 2009


The agreement announced today to limit US and Russian nuclear weapons, to replace the soon-to-expire 1991 START treaty between the US and USSR (initiated by Reagan halfway through his first term and signed almost a decade later by GHW Bush just months before the Soviet Union collapsed), but in a way that actually extends and further limits nuclear weapons from what was allowed the most recent treaty (negotiated in 2002 by GW Bush and V Putin) with improved verification.

The limitation on actual warheads, although only a minor change from the limits in place for the last decade, is significant as a way of building confidence and restarting agreements such as the one that will allow us to finally use Russian airspace to get to Afghanistan. It also continues the process of reducing the most dangerous Russian nuclear weapons: the "non-strategic" weapons that would be most likely to fall into the hands of (or be sold to) terrorists. Continuing to turn these into fuel-grade uranium that is then burning in US power plants is a win for everyone in the world.

The graph that accompanied the article captured nicely some characteristics of the nuclear stockpiles of the two nations that deserves further discussion.

I include a small version of the figure here for purposes of discussion.

Click image to go to the full-size figure from the BBC article linked above.

First, look at 1960. Is there any clearer picture of just how big of an advantage the US had in strategic weapons during the Cuban Missle Crisis, or any doubt as to why Gen. LeMay did all he could to provoke Russian actions that would allow him to unload those 20,000 weapons on Russia? Did the Russians get the message?

Well, look at what followed, from 1970 to 1985. It took some time to ramp up production (they "only" made about 5000 warheads in each 5-year period from 1960 to 1970), but they made 10,000 additional warheads every five years after 1970. They had no intention of being caught in a similar situation. The SALT treaties negotiated by Nixon and Ford only limited launchers, not the MIRV systems or the number of warheads that could be built. It was arms "limitation" in name only.

I can't even imagine what it cost the USSR to build 2000 nuclear weapons EVERY year. I knew each side had produced hundreds of metric tons of pure U-235 and Pu-239 (that's right, tons, when only tens of kg are needed for a weapon) but I had forgotten what a head start we had with the production facilities built during WW II and expanded afterward. If you remember all the arguments about dealing with the waste from those production facilities and how they were shut down for cleanup in the 1970s, this picture shows you why we could do that. We had 30,000 nuclear weapons in 1965, so we could reuse and recycle them as we refined our stockpile to a slightly smaller number of smaller and more effective weapons in the 1970s. We didn't need to make any more weapons-grade materials. The Soviets did, and they bore that expense every year for 15 years as shown in this graph. We did too, but we spent that sort of money in the 1950s and then shifted our resources to technology rather than tons of weapons-grade material.

As obvious as that might seem to you reading this, I think the origin and CONSTANT RATE of the Soviet weapons buildup in the events of October 1962 has been lost in the construction of the myth that Reagan's "Star Wars" ABM plans made the Soviet Union spend itself into bankruptcy, or (on the liberal side) that the Soviets would simply respond by making more bombs. Both are nonsense, because they were - and had been for a decade - building them anyway in continued response Khrushchev's humiliation when he underestimated the guts of the new young President who had backed out of supporting the Bay of Pigs invasion just a year earlier.

The Wiki article on MIRV includes a great picture (towards the bottom of the page) showing the reentry tracks of 8 dummy warheads heading for Kwajalein. It isn't the best version showing what we can do. Somewhere I saw a picture of a MIRV counter-force attack where you could see the converging tracks of pairs of warheads, with each pair heading toward separate targets (presumably missile silos) and with the warheads in each pair originating from a different missile. They launched two missiles, each one separately targeting the same group of targets. It might have been in the nuclear weapons museum in ABQ. We really got our money's worth from the navigation systems built into those missiles.

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Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Fourth of July

In some places, today is simply July 4th - but here in the US it is the "4th of July", synonymous with Independence Day. And, just like on every official holiday, the flag is flying out front:

This one, which I have owned since college, has faded a bit (it was flown every day for months after 9-11) but it is still going strong.

We don't use this holiday to celebrate the thousands who gave their lives to win our independence from the King of England; that is for another holiday. However, it is worth remembering that something like 1% of our population died in that war - although most (like George Washington's son) died of disease rather than combat. They, helped by the French, fought for the liberty we enjoy. And so do our soldiers today, although many are fighting to bring liberty to others.

One of those, in particular, has been in my thoughts today. A Marine, one of my students this summer. His sacrifice was one of the worst: His best friend was killed by an IED just over two years ago. I know about this because he was on edge one day in class, and explained the situation (the 2nd anniversary) to me after class. I was able to put him in touch with some other vets, also Marines, that I know from classes over the years. And add his friend to the list of people I remember - other friends of other former students.

In many ways, the war in Iraq has been closer to me than the war in Vietnam was.

But back to Independence Day.

The 4th has always struck me as an odd sort of holiday because we celebrate something that had not yet happened. Simply declaring our independence in 1776 was only the start of a six (or eight) year process - and it wasn't even the start of the Revolutionary War! The conflict had started a year earlier, in Lexington. Furthermore, it didn't end in the United States we know today. It ended with a loose Confederation (which had ten, mostly unknown, Presidents from 1781 to 1789) rather than the Constitutional government we celebrate on this holiday. It was this Confederation that won the war, signed a peace treaty with the UK in 1783, and eventually dissolved after the Constitution took effect in 1789.

And, I would argue, we weren't really independent until the War of 1812 was settled and the UK was convinced that we were an actual country like the Treaty of Paris said we were. In that sense, we are still a few years short of a significant bicentennial. Back in 1976, with the long lead-up to the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence, I had argued that we really ought to have continued that "200 years ago today" lesson of what it took - and how long it took - before the United States really existed.

It took 46 years, not one day.

And its not over yet, since we have been losing liberties (think warrantless wiretaps) in recent years as we ignore Ben Franklin's [?] warning about giving up our essential liberties for a bit of temporary security.

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Friday, July 3, 2009

This Beer's for YOU!

Check out this article featuring a NK beer ad. There sure isn't much in the way of competition for the quality advertising work like this!

However, it does remind me of some lame ads from the early days of American TV. Is that a North Korean version of this old Hamm's Beer ad? Contrast the fake "injun" music with what I assume is standard national fare in NK, but the biggest difference is that you weren't allowed to show anyone actually drinking beer back in those days in the US. Later they pushed the envelope by showing a full glass and then one half empty, before that rule was lifted entirely.

NK happily shows drinking, but has its own ban on showing women as consumers. Talk about patriarchy!

But what I really love about that ad is the short bit of socialist realist art showing a sweaty worker downing a cold one. Doesn't last long in the ad, but to their credit, the BBC features it on the freeze frame.

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Green Shoots?

Maybe, maybe not.

We have one REALLY BIG green shoot locally: one of the houses across the street finally sold - after nearly a year - and a young couple is moving in. (Oddly, the real estate agent never put up a "sold" sign despite all of the signs - survey stakes and inspections - that it was taken. That is either poor marketing of a successful agent or a serious case of not wanting to anger the sales gods.) The other one keeps getting lookers but no takers.

The other big news was the release of the June unemployment data, which allows us to add the first NEW data point to an infamous graph showing projected quarterly average unemployment rates. Below is an update of the graph I showed last month to correct some major misconceptions about what the economy was doing - and was going to keep doing - before Obama took office.

Click to get a full-size view.

Consistent with the flat trend in new jobless claims, we seem to have a second derivative consistent with zero. That is what the lower of the two pink lines tracks. That is an improvement over the large positive second derivative - indicating an acceleration into a depression - that was the case during the fall of last year before the initial steps were taken by the Fed and the Bush administration (drawing all sorts of grief for Bush and the lame-duck Congress) to turn it around.

Thank God that Bush didn't act like the Hoover wing of his party wanted.

So, is the slope of the "new jobless claims" data zero or negative? Is the break shown by the June unemployment data real or a statistical fluctuation? That we will not know for months, certainly not until we see if there are any significant changes in July once "stimulus" money starts to flow in the new fiscal year. Given all of the delays in getting the Stim Bill passed and then incorporated into state budgets, I didn't expect significant spending by states until well after July 1.

Locally, there are several "shovel ready" highway projects (plans and permits all in place) that are just going out to bid. One is drawing fire from idiots who think it is wasteful to build a particular project earlier than planned just to put people to work. (They must want a 4000 Dow and 15% unemployment.) In addition, most of the jobs that will be shed by local and state government were ended in June as the fiscal year drew to a close. If that sort of action was common nationwide, that may explain part of the bump up in the June job loss data (which had a big chunk from government layoffs) that has thrown the markets into a tizzy today.

This could be a good tizzy. If the Dow gets below 8000 or into the mid 7000s, it may be a great time to put some Roth IRA money into the market early. Even if we have a "stagnant" recovery like I have seen in the past (like the days of stagflation only without the inflation) we should see the GDP pick up. Remember, unemployment is a lagging indicator!

One thing is for sure: the second derivative wasn't negative back in December as the Obama economic transition team had assumed in constructing the blue graph. I wonder what the reaction of the economy would have been in January if they had shown the upper of the two pink lines as the "without" model. Actually, we don't need to wonder. It likely would have been much worse than the March collapse of the stock market as the situation became clearer to investors.

PS -
This new figure has a "credit" on it as well as a minor tweak of the green line described in my earlier article. This is the figure to borrow if you want to include my analysis showing the true starting point Obama had to work with.

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