April 20, 2008


Anybody have a recommendation for a good 24" flat panel monitor? I was looking at the Samsung at Costco, but I hear ViewSonic is also good.

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April 18, 2008

Bonus Friday Science Poem

Here's a poem, which purports to explain Schrödinger's conjecture. It's by Cecil Adams, a long time idol of mine, in response to a poem by one of his interlocutors. This post itself was inspired by Stewy.

Schroedinger, Erwin! Professor of physics!
Wrote daring equations! Confounded his critics!
(Not bad, eh? Don't worry. This part of the verse
Starts off pretty good, but it gets a lot worse.)
Win saw that the theory that Newton'd invented
By Einstein's discov'ries had been badly dented.
What now? wailed his colleagues. Said Erwin, "Don't panic,
No grease monkey I, but a quantum mechanic.
Consider electrons. Now, these teeny articles
Are sometimes like waves, and then sometimes like particles.
If that's not confusing, the nuclear dance
Of electrons and suchlike is governed by chance!
No sweat, though--my theory permits us to judge
Where some of 'em is and the rest of 'em was."
Not everyone bought this. It threatened to wreck
The comforting linkage of cause and effect.
E'en Einstein had doubts, and so Schroedinger tried
To tell him what quantum mechanics implied.
Said Win to Al, "Brother, suppose we've a cat,
And inside a tube we have put that cat at--
Along with a solitaire deck and some Fritos,
A bottle of Night Train, a couple mosquitoes
(Or something else rhyming) and, oh, if you got 'em,
One vial prussic acid, one decaying ottom
Or atom--whatever--but when it emits,
A trigger device blasts the vial into bits
Which snuffs our poor kitty. The odds of this crime
Are 50 to 50 per hour each time.
The cylinder's sealed. The hour's passed away. Is
Our pussy still purring--or pushing up daisies?
Now, you'd say the cat either lives or it don't
But quantum mechanics is stubborn and won't.
Statistically speaking, the cat (goes the joke),
Is half a cat breathing and half a cat croaked.
To some this may seem a ridiculous split,
But quantum mechanics must answer, "Tough @#&!
We may not know much, but one thing's fo' sho':
There's things in the cosmos that we cannot know.
Shine light on electrons--you'll cause them to swerve.
The act of observing disturbs the observed--
Which ruins your test. But then if there's no testing
To see if a particle's moving or resting
Why try to conjecture? Pure useless endeavor!
We know probability--certainty, never.'
The effect of this notion? I very much fear
'Twill make doubtful all things that were formerly clear.
Till soon the cat doctors will say in reports,
"We've just flipped a coin and we've learned he's a corpse."'
So saith Herr Erwin. Quoth Albert, "You're nuts.
God doesn't play dice with the universe, putz.
I'll prove it!" he said, and the Lord knows he tried--
In vain--until fin'ly he more or less died.
Win spoke at the funeral: "Listen, dear friends,
Sweet Al was my buddy. I must make amends.
Though he doubted my theory, I'll say of this saint:
Ten-to-one he's in heaven--but five bucks says he ain't."

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April 30, 2007

Fire Melts Concrete

I don't know. It looks like a controlled demolition to me.

I'm just saying there are unanswered questions is all.

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April 26, 2007

Calling All Smartypantses

That means you, Will.

Due to the intense boredom initiated by "a very special American Idol," I began channel flipping and became transfixed by the excellent PBS documentary called ENRON: The Smartest Guys In The Room.

[Aside: Let me note for the record that chief Enron assholes Lay, Skilling and Fastow were all baby boomers.]

Anyways they mentioned that Enron was a major promoter of the early "weather futures" market. When I heard that, I thought, weather futures? wtf? now I've seen everything.

But it's a real thing, and apparently weather futures have exploded on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. In fact, volume on the CME jumped 64% in the last year alone. It's now a 45 billion dollar market.

But what is it? How do you trade weather? According to CME's website:

CME created a weather derivative market which enables those businesses that could be adversely affected by unanticipated temperature swing or unusually high snowfall, to transfer this risk. It is estimated that nearly 30 percent of the U.S. economy is directly affected by the weather. As a result, the earnings of businesses can be adversely impacted by summers that are hotter than normal or winters that are much colder than anticipated. Just as professionals regularly use futures and options to hedge their risk in interest rates, equities and foreign exchange, now there are tools available for the management of risk from extreme movements of temperature. This sector of hedging and risk management products represents today's fastest growing derivative market.
A reasonably concise primer can be found here.

I guess the deal is that you can buy insurance to protect against catastrophic things that have a low probablility of occurring. But you can't easily insure against high probablility, low risk events like variations in the weather. Playing this market is a way for businesses to offset weather related losses. For example:

A ski resort depends on cold weather to stay in
business. To protect against the possibility of a warm winter, the resort can sell (go short) CME HDD contracts at a level they decide upon with assistance from a
weather-analysis company. A warm winter will result in a low HDD index, and the resort will hope to buy back its contracts at a lower price and use the profit to offset losses in the business.
I still don't get how it works though. I confess I don't understand futures trading as well as Hillary Clinton, but is this all smoke and mirrors bullcrap, or is it the wave of the future? And how, if at all, can this market be used to mitigate the effects of global warming?

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April 07, 2007

UC Berkeley Education At Work

A couple of geniuses from my alma mater came up with this idea.

Perhaps it needs a little fine tuning, but it's a great idea, no?

h/t TechEBlog

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March 21, 2007

Breaking News



I have discovered amazing evidence that Global Warming is real, that it is caused by human activity, and that we are quickly approaching the end of the world.

I looked at my TTLB stats tonight, and the graph for average daily visits to my blog looked frighteningly familiar. By consulting my scientific sources (i.e. I googled it) I was able to find a graph showing the recent increase in average global temperatures.

Sure enough, when I superimposed the two graphs, an inconvenient truth emerged!


The debate is over, the science is in: My blog is at fault for global warming.

Well, as soon as I realized this, my first thought was, "how embarrassing." My second thought was, "If I am to blame, what can I do to save the planet?"

So now you know why, in sixty days time, I will retire this blog. Sorry about that.

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February 08, 2007

Apple Spoof

Have you seen those commercials for Apple lately? This spoof is pretty dang funny.

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February 05, 2007

Did You Hear About The Crazy Astronaut?


This is some pretty wild shit.

An astronaut drove 900 miles and donned a disguise to confront a woman she believed was her rival for the affections of a space shuttle pilot, police said. She was arrested Monday and charged with attempted kidnapping and other counts.

U.S. Navy Capt. Lisa Nowak, 43, who flew last July on a shuttle mission to the international space station, was also charged with attempted vehicle burglary with battery, destruction of evidence and battery. She was denied bail.

. . .

Police said Nowak drove from her home in Houston to the Orlando International Airport to confront Colleen Shipman.

Nowak believed Shipman was romantically involved with Navy Cmdr. William Oefelein, a pilot during space shuttle Discovery's trip to the space station last December, police said.

Nowak told police that her relationship with Oefelein was "more than a working relationship but less than a romantic relationship," according to an arrest affidavit. Police officers recovered a love letter to Oefelein in her car.

. . .

When she found out that Shipman was flying to Orlando from Houston, Nowak decided to confront her, according to the arrest affidavit. Nowak raced from Houston to Orlando wearing diapers so she wouldn't have to stop to urinate, authorities said.

Astronauts wear diapers during launch and re-entry.

Dressed in a wig and a trench coat, Nowak boarded an airport bus that Shipman took to her car in an airport parking lot. Shipman told police she noticed someone following her, hurried inside the car and locked the doors, according to the arrest affidavit.

Nowak rapped on the window, tried to open the car door and asked for a ride. Shipman refused but rolled down the car window a few inches when Nowak started crying. Nowak then sprayed a chemical into Shipman's car, the affidavit said.

Shipman drove to the parking lot booth, and the police were called.

During a check of the parking lot, an officer followed Nowak and watched her throw away a bag containing the wig and BB gun. They also found a steel mallet, a 4-inch folding knife, rubber tubing, $600 and garbage bags inside a bag Nowak was carrying when she was arrested, authorities said.

Inside Nowak's vehicle, which was parked at a nearby motel, authorities uncovered a pepper spray package, an unused BB-gun cartridge, latex gloves and e-mails between Shipman and Oefelein. They also found a letter "that indicated how much Mrs. Nowak loved Mr. Oefelein," an opened package for a buck knife, Shipman's home address and hand written directions to the address, the arrest affidavit said.

Police said Nowak told them that she only wanted to scare Shipman into talking to her about her relationship with Oefelein and didn't want to harm her physically.

"If you were just going to talk to someone, I don't know that you would need a wig, a trench coat, an air cartridge BB gun and pepper spray," said Sgt. Barbara Jones, a spokeswoman for the Orlando Police Department. "It's just really a very sad case. ... Now she ends up finding herself on the other side of the law with some very serious charges."

If convicted of attempted kidnapping, Nowak could face a maximum of life in prison.

Her first mistake was going to Nick Nolte's stylist before the arrest.

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January 20, 2007

Alternate Bronco Bombers

The real Bronco Bomber, for you aviation enthusiasts. Apparently, not a reliable piece of equipment.


Or, if you prefer, here's the most famous Bronco, bombing.

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December 29, 2006

Kraken Caught Off Chichi Jima


Two years ago someone shot film of a giant squid swimming in the deep. Now someone's caught one. It's believed to be the first time anyone has ever done such a thing, ever.

Giant squid, formally called Architeuthis, are the world's largest invertebrates. Because they live in the depths of the ocean, they have long been wrapped in mystery and embellished in the folklore of sea monsters, appearing in ancient Greek myths or attacking the submarine in Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."

The captured squid was caught using a smaller type of squid as bait, and was pulled into a research vessel "after putting up quite a fight," Kubodera said.

"It took two people to pull it in, and they lost it once, which might have caused the injuries that killed it," he said.

The squid, a female, was not fully grown and was relatively small by giant squid standards. The longest one on record is 60 feet, he said.

More giant squid blogging from the depths of the annika's journal archives, here.

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December 11, 2006

Hope On The Global Warming Front

As I'm sure you know, the scientists are predicting that global warming will destroy the world in a couple of years. Because even a change in global temperature as small as two degrees could be catastrophic, you know. But now, the scientists are also predicting that a small scale nuclear exchange involving countries like North Korea or Iran could help to reduce global temperatures by about two degrees. Just what the doctor ordered!

The new studies looked at the consequences if two nations dropped 50 Hiroshima-size bombs on each other's big cities. By analyzing population data and distance from blast, scientists predicted a regional nuclear war would kill 3 million people in Israel and up to 17 million in China. The U.S. would see 4 million blast deaths.

But the researchers say black soot from the fires would linger in the atmosphere, blocking the sun's rays and causing average global surface temperatures to drop about 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the first three years. Although the planet would see a gradual warming within a decade, it would still be colder than it was before the war, the scientists said.

No wonder TIME Magazine has been so soft on Ahmadi-Nejad. He and Al Gore are the only guys out there with a plan to save the planet!

P.S. The AP article I linked is notable for another very surprising reason. It is the first time I have ever seen an article by a major anti-American media source that admits "Iran is also pursuing the development of nuclear weapons," without including the standard preface: "the White House claims that..." Someone must have been asleep at the editor's desk for that to slip by.

h/t Possumblog

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September 30, 2006

News Flash



Thank goodness we have scientists to study this kind of stuff.

Actually, the story I'm referring to, by John Stossel and Gail Deutsch of ABC News, is mildly interesting. For instance:

'So when they look at babies in the first 72 hours of life, they find that males and females are not identical in the way they behave,' [a researcher] said. 'Males startle more than females. If you give a little puff of air on their abdomen, they startle much bigger and much more likely to startle than females, and females rhythmically mouth. They suck on their tongues. They move their lips and so forth more than males do.'
Uhh... am I the only one who reads anything sexual into those results?

Another tidbit:

'The male brain … actually has a harder time processing the female voice versus the male voice, which is a possible explanation to why we don't listen when our wives call us,' Dr. Billy Goldberg said on '20/20.'

. . .

They said it was true that men listened less because of biology.

'Male babies make less eye contact, for instance, with their mothers than female babies,' Leyner said. 'So what we're talking about are different ways of relating to people that start at the earliest possible age.'

So can men say, 'Honey, it's not my fault. It's my brain'?

'I like to use that excuse,' Goldberg said.

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August 30, 2006

SOCOM - Combined Asault

Here's a preview of the upcoming Playstation 2 release, SOCOM - Combined Asault. It looks pretty cool, except for the annoying music track.

I'm so glad I don't have a video game console. Of course, if my boyfriend happens to read this, I do accept early Christmas gifts.

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August 20, 2006

My Solution To The Planetary Crisis

There's currently a big brouhaha about whether to demote Pluto from its planetary status, or whether to keep it as planet under a definition that would also include hundreds of other objects in the solar system.

I don't understand what the problem is. When I learned the alphabet back in kindergarten, I learned that there were five vowels. They were a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y. Now if you count the vowels in that list you get six, not five. But that doesn't change the fact that there are five vowels, and y is one of them, sometimes.

So why can't we just say there are eight planets, and Pluto is one of them. We can then define "planet" with a definition that excludes Pluto, while giving Pluto some kind of honorary planet status.

We do things like this all the time. There are crayolas called "white" and "black" despite the fact that those are not real colors. And Canada is a member of the United Nations, despite the fact that it's not a real country. Also, Paris Hilton recorded a CD despite the fact that she's not a real singer.

So let's just call Pluto a planet and move on to more urgent global problems.

You're welcome. That's what I'm here for, to solve the big issues.

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July 18, 2006

Basic Rat Facts

Today I'll discuss some basic facts about your common rat, rattus norvegicus. Odds are every rat you've seen, from white lab rats to the brown rat on the streets of DC (or wherever you live), is rattus norvegicus.

1. Average life-span is about 33 months. There is one unsubstantiated (and, quite frankly, unbelievable) report of a rat living 7 years. Personally, my gf and I have had one rat live to about 44 months, but in that calculation we're taking the word of a member of the psych. department of UNC-Wilmington that he was about 30 months old when we adopted him.

2. Average weight in the wild is between 400 and 500 grams. In our house, our well-fed rats frequently top 650 grams, and I had one monster fat rat who was over 1200 grams. Yeah, that's an obese rat.

3. Teeth: Rats have sixteen teeth in total--twelve molars and four incisors. The incisors grow 24/7 and are self-sharpening. The incisors are sharp enough, and rat jaws strong enough, to bite through human fingernails. Rats have no canine teeth to hold their prey; instead, their lower teeth can separate into a V-shape to better hold their prey, or do more damage should the finger prey escape.

4. Rats have five toes on their back feet and four fingers on their front feet. In addition, a small fleshy nub on the hand serves a purpose similar to a thumb, allowing rats to grip food, cage bars, and fingers.

5. Rats are semi-color-blind and cannot see reds; however, they can see into the ultraviolet. Rats also have poor visual acuity--about 20 times worse than a human. Pink-eyed whites--PEWs to rat people, lab rats to the rest of the world--have even worse visual acuity.

6. The sense of smell is more important to a rat than sight. It's been calculated that about 1% of rat DNA is related to the sense of smell.

7. Rats can hear rather high frequencies. Rat laughter is inaudible to humans.

8. Rats are omnivores. Cheese, blueberries, Pop Tarts, dog food, bugs...man, rats'll eat anything, especially if another rat is eating it, which frequently leads to squabbles. Avocado is crack for rats.

9. However, when faced with something new that may or may not be edible, rats will eat only a small bite. If they feel sick afterward, they won't eat it again.

10. Rats are as intelligent as dogs and are very trainable. Rats are excellent mousers, and I believe they've been used to pull cabling (or fish tape for cabling purposes) thru conduit in the construction of aircraft. (I admit I might be wrong on that part--perhaps it was ferrets. But even if it was ferrets, they should have used rats.)

11. Rats are sexually mature at five weeks. Gestation is about three weeks--so, yeah, theoretically, a rat born today could be a grandparent in about two months. Litters average between eight and fifteen pups.

12. Male rats have large testicles. Massive. If a human had testicles in proportion to rat testicles, you'd have cannonballs hanging between your legs. Seriously, these things are fuckin' huge. Bandit likes showing off his balls:
OTOH, rat copulation lasts about two seconds.

(NOTE: I know this stuff by heart, but for most of the numeric details I am indebted to the most excellent Anne's Rat Page at ratbehavior.org.)

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June 20, 2006

The Udvar-Hazy Center

Romeocat recently visited the National Air & Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center recently. You can see pictures of her trip here. This annex, near Dulles Airport, houses the first Space Shuttle, the Enola Gay, the Concorde, and many other awesome sights, including an SR-71, the most kick-ass airplane ever built.

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June 19, 2006

Sukhoi Highlight Reel

As far as I know, the Russians are famous for two aerial manuevers: "ramming" and the "cobra." Ramming is pretty self explanatory. It's what Russian pilots did in WWII when they didn't have any ammo. The cobra is a modern tactic, and if you've ever wondered what it looks like in practice, there's a textbook example by an Su-35 pilot in this Sukhoi highlight video (at 4:15).

There's also a cool shot of an Su-27's 30mm cannon firing (at 3:24).

And that Su-47 is a freaky lookin thing. It looks straight out of a Japanese monster movie.

Although the cobra manuever looks like something you'd use in a dogfight, it's real purpose is to confuse AWACS radars. The idea was for a group of four planes to fly towards the AWACS plane, with two in the front and two hidden closely behind the leaders. Then when the American radars got a lock, the two Russian planes in the lead would pull up into a cobra. In theory, this would confuse the radar long enough for the two lead planes to hit the deck, and when the radar regained its lock, the radar operators would think that the two trailing planes were the ones that they had been looking at originally. Then the two planes that had escaped the radar could attack from below.

If you ask me, it doesn't sound plausible, but that's what I read.

Update: More ultramaneuverability here, from what I think is an Su-37.

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May 26, 2006

Badass Cars

I know you all really liked my Dukes of Hazzard banner for the car. Well, if you're a fan of the R/T, you should go here. Michele (yes, that Michele) has a post about it with some nice pictures.

By the way, I actually saw a sweet General Lee replica driving around town the other day. I wish I was quick enough with the camera phone.

Also (and this news doesn't have anything to do with Chargers, but it is related to the 70's car theme), one of the great car chase scenes ever filmed is now on DVD. The obscure 1973 film The Seven-Ups, starring Roy Scheider and Tony Lo Bianco, features a really long chase that takes place in and outside New York City. My brother, who's an expert on these things, says this chase scene is better than Bullitt's, and I can't disagree.

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April 20, 2006

In Memoriam: Scott Crossfield

Yesterday we lost one of the great legends of aviation, and an American hero. Scott Crossfield was the first man to travel twice the speed of sound. He died when his single engine Cesna 210A crashed in Gordon County, Georgia.

On November 20, 1953, Scott Crossfield's Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket dropped from the belly of a B-29 and accelerated to 1,291 miles per hour at about 72,000 feet over California's Mojave desert. He had just lapped the sound barrier, twice.

If you would like to see actual footage of the Skyrocket launching from a B-29, go here.*

If aviation fanatacism were a religion, the entrance gallery of the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum would be its Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Mecca all rolled into one. As any visitor to this temple knows, all you have to do is look up and you will see alongside the Wright Flyer** a constellation of the greatest planes in the history of the world. One of these planes is the North American X-15.

Scott Crossfield was the first man to pilot the X-15, in its dual rocket configuration, on June 8, 1959. He was one of 12 test pilots, a group which also included Neil Armstrong. The plane flew 199 times, launching from under the wing of a B-52. Thirteen of those flights exceeded 50 miles in altitude, bestowing the title of "astronaut" on the pilots. Two flights exceeded 65 miles.

One X-15 pilot, Michael Adams, was killed when the plane began to spin and hit 15 g's before it broke up over the desert.

Here's a picture after a hard landing with Scott Crossfield at the controls. This was the X-15's third flight, and one of the rocket engines had exploded after launch. Amazingly, Crossfield walked away from this landing unhurt. Stud.


Scott Crossfield survived 30 flights in the X-15, including another mid-flight engine explosion. His last flight was in 1960, and all of the speed and altitude records were set later, by other men. But it was Scott Crossfield who made the courageous first test flights of this amazing and historic aircraft.

The X-15 could go 4,520 mph, almost seven times the speed of sound. It set altitude records that were not broken by any plane except the Space Shuttle until the recent flight of SpaceShipOne. The fifth American to enter space did so in an X-15!

Its highest flight made it to over 67 miles (354,199 feet). The X-15's rate of climb was 60,000 feet per minute. Contrast that with the 767 I flew in recently, which gets to its cruising altitude of 35,000 feet at about 2,400 feet per minute.

But those are just numbers. Wanna see how bad-ass this thing was? And how insane pilots like Scott Crossfield were to fly them? Check out this unbelievable video from inside the X-15, looking backwards as it launches. I had to run it a few times, and each time I was moved to shout something like "holy shit..." in disbelief. Keep an eye on the upper left, and you can see the contrails of the B-52 launch plane disappear in about five seconds as the X-15 rockets into space.

Just amazing.

Albert Scott Crossfield: pilot, American hero; born October 2, 1921 in Berkeley California; slipped the surly bonds of earth April 19, 2006.

* By the way, the Dryden Test Center site is amazing. There's so much good stuff here. Check out this fly-over shot of my alltime favorite jet. It's absolutely awe-inspiring!

** Not a reproduction, mind you. I'm talking about the real actual very first airplane ever.

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Coolest Thing On The Internets Of The Day

For F-16 fans, a cool video of low level flying through the fjords of Norway. Takes a while to load.

Hat tip to Shelly.

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