Thursday, February 28, 2013

Right to Keep and Drive Arms

In The Wall Street Journal.
Earlier this month, Mr. Bauer, the Texas banker, took his Chaffee out for a spin in his warehouse parking lot. He had rigged the .50-caliber machine gun on the turret with a propane system that generates the noise and muzzle flash of gunfire, without the bullets. He fired off several bursts.

Minutes later, two Port Lavaca police cruisers pulled up. The first officer rolled down the window and asked dryly: "You know why we're here, right?"

Mr. Bauer assured him that no actual rounds had been fired.

The second policeman, Jeremy Marshall, got out of his car and eyeballed Mr. Bauer's tank. "Awesome," he said.
A tank in the U.S. can have operational guns, if the owner has a federal Destructive Device permit, and state laws don't prohibit it. The permit costs $200...

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Roaring Bore

What's all this noise I keep hearing about some kind of squeakster in Washington D.C. on Friday? They make it sound like it's the end of the world. Or the second coming of Ronald W. Reagan.

Somehow I don't think it will quite live up to its billing.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Biding My Time

a_monthly_check_to_you_dear_subject.jpgA little over six years to go...

It must have looked wonderful back in 1935. Finally, something you could count on. What they didn't count on was the constant devaluation of the dollar.

We'll be lucky now if we recover even the nominal investment.
(As Greg likes to say, “I want my money back.”) As for the actual value? Pffft — that's long gone.

Image from The People's Cube.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Totally SOGGy Again

A couple months ago I volunteered to send round the invitations for the monthly get-together of the lower Rogue detachment of the Southern Oregon Geek Group (SOGGy for short). This month I suggested The Laughing Clam in beautiful downtown Grants Pass.

I arrived a few minutes early and secured a table in the back.
No one showed. I decided to give them ten minutes, and to kill time I drank a glass of Merlot and perused the menu.

Ten minutes later (certain that everyone hated me) I ordered the Laughing (behind your back) Clam burger on a gluten-free bun. And another glass of Merlot.

Thank Gaul for smart phones. I tuned in the internet and dialed up The Lazy Farmer. He's planting annual rye grass in February:
The heater stuck on and I had to open the windows when I discovered the airconditioning didn't work. I had no GPS or calc-an-acre or fertilizer or little flashing lights which I have forgotten what they do. I did have my invaluable Loup Drill Monitor which has an acre counter and beeps at me when I run out of seed. Then it started raining. I also discovered that I had the planter in the wrong gear and it was planting at too low a rate. I could see the population monitor was reading low but it doesn't seem to read all that accurately with grass seed anyway. I texted Orin to see what he thought, and he was quite polite and didn't tell me I was a moron for planting annual into annual blue grass in the middle of February. He said I should bump up my seed rate. So in attempt to go to 17lbs I went to 20 and then I miscalculated what was left in the drill and thought I would go up just a smidgen and suddenly I was out of seed.
Compared to that I had a pretty good day.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Genius Genes

If there are any, BGI's going to find them.
The roots of intelligence are a mystery. Studies show that at least half of the variation in intelligence quotient, or IQ, is inherited. But while scientists have identified some genes that can significantly lower IQ—in people afflicted with mental retardation, for example—truly important genes that affect normal IQ variation have yet to be pinned down.

The Hong Kong researchers hope to crack the problem by comparing the genomes of super-high-IQ individuals with the genomes of people drawn from the general population. By studying the variation in the two groups, they hope to isolate some of the hereditary factors behind IQ.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lincoln Bad At Math?

Apparently so, as quoted in The Wall Street Journal today:
The receipts into the treasury from all sources, including loans and balance from the preceding year, for the fiscal year ending on the 30th June, 1862, were $583,885,247.06, of which sum $49,056,397.62 were derived from customs; $1,795,331.73 from the direct tax; from public lands, $152,203.77; from miscellaneous sources, $931,787.64; from loans in all forms, $529,692,460.50. The remainder, $2,257,065.80, was the balance from last year.

The disbursements during the same period were: For Congressional, executive, and judicial purposes, $5,939.009.29; for foreign intercourse, $1,339,710.35; for miscellaneous expenses, including the mints, loans, Post-Office deficiencies, collection of revenue, and other like charges, $14,129,771.50; for expenses under the Interior Department, $985.52; under the War Department, $394,368,407.36; under the Navy Department, $42,674,569.69; for interest on public debt, $13,190,324.45; and for payment of public debt, including reimbursement of temporary loan and redemptions, $96,096,922.09; making an aggregate of $570,841,700.25, and leaving a balance in the Treasury on the 1st day of July, 1862, of $13,043,546.81.
I've been doing a lot of bookkeeping lately so I couldn't help but notice the error: expenses for the Interior Department were actually $3,102,985.52, not $985.52 as quoted.

Interestingly enough the error has propagated throughout the internet. I challenge you to find a single transcription anywhere of Lincoln's Second Annual Message that does not contain the same error, as well as the extra decimal point in $5,939.009.29.

Update: I was wrong. There are plenty of transcriptions that are correct; Google misled me yesterday (either that or they all got corrected last night).

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Dendrites and Whiskers

Maybe the batteries had something evil growing inside them.
Aviation safety investigators are examining whether the formation of microscopic structures known as dendrites inside the Boeing 787's lithium-ion batteries played a role in twin incidents that prompted the fleet to be grounded nearly a month ago....

Dendrites are tiny deposits of lithium resembling microscopic whiskers that can grow within the cells of a battery, potentially causing short circuits and significant heat and even fire. They are often a byproduct of rapid or uneven charging of lithium-ion batteries, according to experts....

"It takes time for the dendrites to grow and [the plane] can have several flights, and everything's going fine and suddenly" there's a fire, said Professor John Goodenough of the University of Texas at Austin, who is widely credited with the invention of the lithium-ion battery.
So I trundled off to Wikipedia to look up dendrites. Nothing there on batteries, but that led me to whiskers.
Metal whiskering or tin whiskers is a phenomenon or fault which occurs in electrical devices. Tin whiskers were noticed and documented in the valve (tube) era of electronics early in the 20th century, in equipment which used pure, or almost pure tin solder in their production. It was noticed that small metal hairs grew between metal solder pads causing short circuits. The problem was solved with the addition of lead which prevents the growth of the hairs. The European Union banned the use of lead in most consumer products in the early 21st century due to health problems associated with lead, leading to a re-emergence of the problem. New laws exclude some medical and military equipment and space flight hardware, which can still use solders which contain lead.
We tend to think of hardware as being sort of stable. But now we've got circuits growing whiskers and batteries growing dendrites. We're back in the organic realm. How long will your phone live before the cancer kills it? Longer than, say, a hamster?

Friday, February 8, 2013

It's Official...

Marielle Durand
Crater Renaissance Academy
Valedictorian 2013
What does it mean?
Latin valedicere “bid farewell,” from vale, imperative of valere “be well” + dicere “to say.”
It means you get to give a speech!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Dick Trey

I knew absolutely nothing about Richard III before I listened to the Arkangel CD. About halfway through the second scene I said to myself, "man, this guy is a real Dick." Shakespeare spent the next four acts hammering home the point: Richard III was not nice.

So naturally any time something is generally known to be true, a whole cottage industry arises to argue it's not.
...the king is shown facilitating the deaths of King Henry VI and his son Prince Edward; of Richard's brother George, Duke of Clarence... of the Second Duke of Buckingham; of Richard's own wife, Anne Neville; and especially of the Princes in the Tower of London, the 12-year-old King Edward V and his 9-year-old brother Richard, Duke of York. ...yet there is absolutely no evidence that Richard was guilty of any of it.
No direct evidence, maybe, but plenty of circumstantial.

Years of contrarianism have left me contra-contrarian. Whenever everyone starts to argue that the facts are just too tidy, I start to wonder if the facts aren't, in fact, just tidy enough. Maybe the simplest answer is correct. Maybe Richard really was a dick.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Fed's Worst Fear

The New York Sun
The Fed's worst fear is that despite its long-term commitment to buying up government debt, it will lose control of interest rates anyway. That's why the early-January upward blip in bond yields flashed caution. If Treasury bond prices decline significantly from the artificial levels massive Fed buying has supported, several things will happen, none of them good.

First of all, government borrowing costs will rise, making it even more difficult to control the deficit. Second, the Fed's gargantuan and growing $2.6 trillion portfolio of Treasury and government agency mortgage bonds will lose market value. It won't take much of a fall to wipe out the system's capital ...

[T]he Fed faces a cruel dilemma. It can reduce market support, let bond prices fall and suffer the unhappy consequences. Or it can keep on its present course of trying to satisfy the beast by buying up further trillions of dollars in Treasury paper....

That course inevitably leads to inflation.
Stock up on canned goods. Five years from now a can of beans
will still be a can of beans, but a dollar won't be worth a nickel.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

KWH vs Temp

kwh_vs_temperature_annotated.pngWe put together out power bill and monthly average temps for the last twenty-five months. It only confirmed what we already knew.

The months naturally clustered into five groups by temperature and three by kilowatt-hours. We turn the corner in April; the hot weather lasts four months; it stays warm until the end of October.

And most of our energy goes into heating.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Hoping Bashar Wins

Assad is certainly a nasty piece of work, a cruel dictator; but from the point of view of American national interests, that's the best thing to have in charge of an Arab country. There was one in Iraq; We got rid of him; and now the place is an Iranian satrapy roiled by ethnic conflict. There was one in Egypt; We helped get rid of him; now the place is a lawless Road Warrior state heading down the Somalia path. There was one in Libya who, at least over the last decade or so, behaved himself reasonably well; We helped get rid of him, and now the place is in chaos, with radicals fanning out to spread the gospel of nutso Islamism among the Negroes to their south.
John Derbyshire speaks the politically incorrect truth.

As much as we might hope and wish that everyone in the world wants Western-style democracy it's not necessarily true.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Unemployment In Color

unemployment_by_the_colors.pngThe Wall Street Journal has an interesting graphic today.

Each row represents a year, beginning in 1948, and each column a month. Dark red signifies high unemployment — 10% or more during the Reagan recession, and dark green low unemployment — as low as 2.5% during the Eisenhower boom.

All in all a very intersting approach to the visual display of quantitative information.