Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Things to do if I ever win the lottery

Find a prestigious university. Offer them more money than they can afford to ignore to endow a Wile E. Coyote Chair of Applied Engineering.


Israel has, according to the reports, rejected the idea of a truce. Well, no, I don't think so. Remember, the immediate Hamas response to the suggestion of a truce was "If Israel stops it's aggression and removes the blockade of Gaza, we'll study the suggestion.". IOW "If Israel stops shooting at us, we'll think about stopping shooting at them.". Israel didn't reject a truce, Hamas rejected the idea of a truce and Israel shrugged it's shoulders and said "That's fine, we'll just do it the hard way then.".

Monday, December 29, 2008

Back to work

Back to work after a week's vacation over Christmas. I'm afraid to look in my in-box, I can practically see the tentacles crawling out of it.

In other news, the Chargers pulled off an end-of-season miracle and made the playoffs. Bets on them choking the very first game and getting themselves eliminated?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Death in the family

I just got word that my grandfather has passed away. This isn't horribly unexpected. He was in his late 90s, he's required in-home care and been pretty weak since last January. The day before Christmas Eve he had what we think was a severe stroke, when I called him Christmas Day he just couldn't talk coherently and I'm not sure how much of what I said he actually understood. Death was apparently quick and painless. That's really about the best you can ask for in that situation. He wanted cremation, no fancy service, so handling the memorial can be done as the family's schedule permits. Everything's in theory taken care of, all the property's in a trust, there's no probate to deal with, the cremation and everything was arranged and paid for several years ago.

Time to look up Amtrak ticket prices and trip times and that sort of thing.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Shopping bags

California is in the process of adopting laws that either ban plastic disposable shopping bags or impose a fee on them. Myself, I don't see what the problem is. Most stores have good-quality reusable cloth shopping bags for sale for about a dollar each. They're washable if they get dirty. They'll last for several years. I figure if I go shopping once a week and can use each bag for 2 years before I have to replace it, it's costing me about a penny per trip. For that penny I get a much sturdier bag with better handles. It's much easier to carry several of them thanks to the longer handles, and they don't dig into my fingers and palm so much. They'll hold a lot more without ripping, especially heavy stuff like cans or bottles. And we've had six months warning of this, more than enough time to get one more every trip so you don't have to buy a bunch all at once. I simply don't see what all the fuss is about.

And for those who say it's the principle of the thing, I expect to see you out in the empty lots and gutters picking up all the stray plastic disposable bags. You want something that makes a mess? You clean that mess up, or stop your whining and accept the fact that the rest of us are tired of it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Red Thursday

Christmas will be Red Thursday this year, or maybe black-and-blue Thursday. Retailers aren't seeing a good season this year. Low sales numbers, lots of unsold inventory, and they're looking at even steeper discounts for the after-Christmas sales to try and lose as little as possible. Considering the number of 50%- and 75%-off sales already, I don't see how they can discount much further. And if 75% off isn't attracting buyers, then there just aren't buyers to attract.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Things we probably don't want to think about around Christmas

Back in the 60s, a man named Milgram conducted an experiment to see how people responded to pressure from authority. The results were... not exactly nice. The experiment has been recently repeated, with pretty much the same results. BoingBoing covered the story, and included some related links. Not a shining endorsement of humanity. I can't say I'm surprised, though. And people really should think about it. The worst atrocities aren't committed by monsters who do it deliberately, they're often committed by ordinary people who are just under pressure from the people above them to get results. This should be taken into account when, for instance, looking at the current prosecutions for torture in intelligence-gathering in the War On Terror. The higher-ups say "Don't prosecute us, we didn't do it. Prosecute those evil soldiers who actually did the dirty work.". These results pretty graphically demonstrate that the "But we didn't do it!" plaint from the people at the top shouldn't fly. The people at the bottom of the chain of command very likely wouldn't have done those things if the people at the top hadn't been applying the pressure to get results in the first place, and sending the message down that anything that got results was OK.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Corporate mascot madness

Our corporate mascot, whose stand-up is smack in the middle of the lobby of corporate HQ, along with two of the posters that adorn the walls further in. When an employee passes the mandatory security training, they receive a certificate awarding them the title of "Sidekick". Someone got paid good money to dream this up.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Definitely a real professional thing, having this stand-up in the lobby of corporate HQ.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Yeah, they found geothermal all right...

A drilling company was drilling a well looking for a geothermal heat source. Well, they found one all right. They put the bit right into a magma chamber. 1000+ degree molten rock = "Boss, you know that new bit? Well, we're sorta not getting it back outta this hole.". Geologists and volcanologists are spooging over this, it's the first time they've been able to get at live magma in it's natural environment, under pressure and with the dissolved gasses intact. Normally all they get is lava that's on the surface, after it's depressurized and degassed and altered itself. And this stuff is at a relatively shallow depth, only 2500 meters down, and turns out to have the composition of continental base rock, not ocean-floor rock.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Jobs and phones

Every day I'm more and more tempted to put myself back on the job market, just to see. SOE's hiring for their platform group, for instance, which sounds interesting if they can come even close to matching my current salary.

I upgraded my cel phone to the Pantech Matrix (successor to the Duo). It's got a few nasty habits. Applications that aren't from AT&T, for instance, can't be granted some permissions like "always allow network access". It gets annoying having to approve each and every network access for Google's GMail application. AT&T's position is that this is to protect me. Um, no it's not, it's to make it annoying for me to patronize anybody else. Time to track down some software that'll fix this. And if AT&T doesn't like it, well, tough.

Monday, December 15, 2008


I really should go and completely delete my ICQ account, since I'm not using it. I don't use AIM much either, but my new cel phone supports it so I'll probably leave it logged in there.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Oil price decline

One thing to bear in mind about oil prices right now is that their decline has to do with more than just supply and demand. Part of it's the consequences of speculation. Speculators don't intend to take delivery of the oil they're buying contracts for. They plan on selling those contracts to someone else before they have to take delivery. They've no arrangements or facilities for actually accepting delivery of the oil if it ever reaches it's destination while they own the contracts. And the costs of parking a supertanker while you wait for a buyer are ruinous. Ports and shipping companies don't like having anchorage space and ships tied up idle, so they punish those who leave ships just sitting there doing nothing. All of which means that, as speculators near the delivery date on their contracts, they have to sell. At any price. Even if it means selling at a loss, because the alternative is an even bigger loss that just might wipe them out completely. That's causing prices to go down further than they otherwise would, as all the speculators get squeezed. Once the speculators are out of the market, expect the price of oil and gas to rebound somewhat.

RIP Bettie Page

Another icon gone.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Messy tasks

One note relevant to PHBs who just don't get it and demand that computer people do the impossible or fix/maintain unfixable/unmaintainable systems:

Bear in mind that, after Hercules got finished cleaning out the Augean stables, he killed the manager who assigned him to the job.

F/A-18 crash in San Diego

Well, they've figured out why the F-18 crashed. Apparently the plane suffered an engine failure during a training flight from the aircraft carrier it's based on. On a twin-engine fighter that's not considered a catastrophic failure that would prompt the pilot to ditch, it's merely a major failure that requires the plane to land as quickly as possible. With a trainee pilot aboard, SOP is to head for the nearest land-based airstrip that can handle the plane if one's in range rather than risk landing back aboard the carrier. The pilot was following the most direct route he could back to Miramar, which is also why he was making his approach from the west (nearest the carrier) rather than circling completely around the base (flying over residential neighborhoods the whole way) and making the more normal approach from the east. On final, low and slow and with landing gear down and flaps out, he lost his remaining engine. In that configuration with no engines the F-18 has all the glide characteristics of a bowling ball. You aren't even going to have much choice in where you aim it, it'll be going down so fast.

My guess is the second engine went from a bird ingestion, or from damage from the first engine failure. There's plenty of seagulls and other large birds in the area it went down, and it was low enough it could've easily picked one up.

Some of the civilians are wondering why the pilot took the risk of taking a damaged plane over a city. Well, what else was he supposed to do? This is a trainee pilot without many carrier landings under his belt. A carrier landing involves hitting a 3-foot square that's bobbing around by 12-15 feet every 10-15 seconds, in an airplane that's also bobbing around by 5-10 feet every few seconds, while travelling at 180mph, and with only one engine he's only going to get one shot at it (even under the best of circumstances it's not unusual for a trainee to need 3-4 tries to get aboard). On a regular airstrip he'll have a lot more room for error. Heading for land's the safest option.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Mortgage modifications not working.

More than half of the mortgages modified in the first half of the year to make payments more affordable are defaulting again. This isn't good news. OTOH, those mortgages were voluntary modifications and weren't the kind of major modifications being comtemplated by everybody but the Republicans. It does, however, fit what I thought: there's a lot of people out there who simply can't afford their mortgage on any terms, either we completely rewrite their mortgages (including massive (on the order of 50%) reductions in the principal owed, which the banks won't do voluntarily because of how that's going to affect them) or we let them default and get them out of the system completely. Small steps, minor patches, will just prolong the mess.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Congressional majorities

The rout of the Republicans was pretty much total at the Federal level. The Democrats have 255 seats in the House to the Republican's 175 (5 seats are still undecided). That gives the Democrats a pretty solid majority (the Republicans have to convince 37 Democrats to vote against their party to block anything). In the Senate the only thing the Republicans can say is that the Democrats don't have a veto-proof majority. The Dems control 58 seats right now to the R's 41, with 1 seat still undecided. The Rs will probably crow over this, but it means any filibusters they try will be hanging on by a hair. All the Dems have to do is convince 2 Republican Senators (and possibly only 1, depending on how that last seat goes) to vote to end debate and the filibuster is over.

What's worse for the Republicans is they've run out of steam. They've gotten their base (the Religious Right) out to vote nearly 100%, and it's not enough. And in the process they've alienated the social moderates with their social policies and the fiscal conservatives with Bush's reckless spend-and-borrow policies. Right now the only way for the Republicans to reduce their losses next election is for Obama to screw up even worse than Bush. And if the Republicans try to paint social-support spending as a failure, the gods have mercy on them 'cause the voters won't.

Economic news

Well, the official pronouncement is out: the US has been in a recession since December, 2007.
Well, DUH!
Anybody down in the real world could've told you that 8 months ago, guys.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The (Lack of) Chargers

The Chargers lost another game yesterday. This brings them to a dismal 4-8 record. If the Chargers want to know why local governments are unwilling to give them massive subsidies for a new stadium, why they can't convince the public to support a new stadium, they need look no further than those numbers. Nobody's going to be enthusiastic about taking on hundreds of millions of dollars of debt for a losing team. Especially one that's losing not because the other guys were so good but because they just plain and simple blew it.