Monday, January 31, 2011

Visual Brain Stub

This is what happens when you have an unlimited movie budget, an unlimited supply of marijuana, and an unlimited interpretation of Bollywood's always-larger-than-life visual spasticity.


Daily Report: Wandering

I was up at 11:30 this morning. That's about my average... I usually go to sleep between 3 and 4. Puppy Gracie immediately rushed outside and did her thing when I opened the back door — she's good about that. (She did poop in the house yesterday because I rushed her time outside yesterday morning, as I was on my way to the races.)

I went and watched the movie "The King's Speech" today... matinee movies have always been my preference for some reason. It's really impossible to go see a movie with British actors in it anymore without seeing somebody who was in the Harry Potter movies, and The King's Speech is the clear winner so far with three familiar faces: You've got Dumbldore taking on the part of the king's father, Bellatrix Lestrange married to the king, and Wormtail takes on the part of Winston Churchill. I probably missed a couple lesser-known Potter characters in cameos as well — not sure.

After the movie, Gracie and I were off to The Dome Flea Market, where we had a wander and ordered a nice knife set: a graduation present for Sister-In-Law Ednel, who I have finally finished putting through Culinary School. The Dome has a fantastic vegetable stand out front that sells the largest onions I had ever seen... all at least the size of grapefruits. There was also a place selling pizza, so I stopped and bought some lunch there. Gracie had a constant stream of admirers stopping to pet her. I've never seen such a people-magnetic dog.

I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening (1) watching a couple of good documentaries, (2) taking a nap, (3) teaching Gracie to dance around on her hind legs, and (4) working.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Daily Report: Day At The Races

Today it was off to Bradenton Motorsports Park to watch that most American of sports, drag racing... eighth of a mile no less. Well, maybe monster truck racing or tractor pulls would be more uniquely American motorsports, but there aren't too many other countries on earth who have large portions of their population that think it's a fantastic idea to put a 2,000 horsepower engine into a car with no suspension, questionable aerodynamics, no brakes worth mentioning, and only minimal steering, and then use it to race only 660 feet at a time.

The engines really are just outrageous: Their displacement are well over 800 cubic inches. We're talking 14 liter engines firing a car to over 180 miles per hour (300 kph) in just 660 feet (200 meters)! The cars are gorgeous to look at and awe-inspiring to watch in action. Hearing them though: The noise these dragsters make when they go is ear splitting... rock concert loud. Watch the folks behind the car in the video below plug their ears:

(And these aren't even considered the "top of the line" dragsters here: Their bigger and more powerful "Top Fuel" brothers that hit 330 miles per hour (530 kph) in the qurter mile (400 meters) are substantially louder. They weren't racing today.)

There were several different categories of dragsters. I was equally impressed with the "Import" category. Check out this little 4-cylinder sedan go from 0 to 150 miles per hour (250 kph) in just under 5 seconds.

Walking around the pit area, it quickly became obvious that the people who race dragsters are 2 things: First is rich, and second is mechanically minded and mechanically employed. I talked with one dragster owner who runs several automotive shops in the midwest, standing in front of his quarter-million dollar motorhome, matching tractor trailer, matching golf cart, and (obviously) matching dragster. "Did this," I asked, pointing at the beautiful burgundy dragster that started life as a Camaro, "pay for all of this?" I pointed to the motor home and the rest of it. "Oh hell no," he replied. "This car doesn't even win enough money to pay for the tires we use up every weekend." Quite true: Uncle Bob told me that the winning purse for each category of racing is only $5,000. Obviously people do this for real love of the sport more than to make any money.

Overall it was a friendly crowd at the races... surprisingly multiracial as well. (Yes: I expected a rather homogenous makeup to the crowd and participants, and that was decidedly not the case.) I did find it a little bit "us and them" though: When the "import" cars came on, the race venue changed announcers to a fellow who spoke only Spanish. Obviously the drivers of the Japanese dragsters trended towards a specific ethnic group... but excluding the English-only folks from the commentary didn't seem necessary.

It was a fascinating day, but I don't think I'd go again though. It was fun once, but unless I'm going to get behind the wheel of my own dragster and get involved in the game itself, I can't see spending the $25 entry fee to sit on hard bleachers in the Florida sun and inhale burning rubber for a second opportunity to watch these admittedly incredible machines.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Trial Balloon

I saw a contestant on Jeopardy the other night who worked as a virtual assistant. So...

Does anybody want to hire a virtual assistant?

Skills include superb English skills (oral, written, vocabulary, content, and grammar). Additionally can speak French, Spanish, German, Portuguese, and Thai. Types more than 130 words per minute.

Also includes master-level knowledge of:
  • Microsoft Word (legal, financial, and contractual document editing and management for many major New York City law firms including Latham Watkins, White and Case, Shearman and Sterling, Proskauer Rose, and others).
  • Microsoft Excel (creation of financial and accounting tables for many major New York City investment banks, including Bear Stearns, Bank of America, Warburg Pincus, Credit Suisse, and others)
  • Microsoft Powerpoint (board room presentations and flip books for many major New York City investment banks including for Merrill Lynch, Blackstone Group, and others).
  • Photoshop and Corel Draw (advertising and graphics for several New York City firms including Ogilvy and Mather as well as most of the investment banks listed above).
Additional skills include website development, HTML with CSS and Javascript, ability to read music and play piano, very solid medical knowledge from a decade of working in the medical industry, a good knowledge of European history, and I used to be a 4 handicap at golf.

Daily Report: Home Alone, Out Smiling

Mom and Paul have left for various parts of the country: Paul is off to the opening of his daughter's opera at The Gallo Center in California. Mom is off to Chicago to help my sister babysit her newborn daughter while Brother-In-Law Dan is at his annual psychology conference.

I'm home alone with Puppy Gracie. It's actually kind of nice to have the dog in the house when nobody else is here because I do enjoy chatting and I can have pretend chats with Gracie and not feel that my mind has gone, as I would talking to thin air... or a volleyball or something.

I did a bit of shopping today and bought some scallops ($8 for half a kilo) which I sauteéd for dinner tonight. (Gracie does not like shellfish, apparently. She wouldn't finish even the single small scallop I gave her.) I also bought some various cheap and quick meals to fill in the gaps between the shrimp and beef I bought (on sale, of course). Actually, everything was on sale.

I've decided that the one thing I like best about Florida is old people. After near on a decade in New York City, I can honestly say that I know what New Yorkers are like: If you go up and ask New Yorkers something, they are the most helpful and friendly people on the planet for about 30 or 40 seconds. But, at the same time they aren't at all open to casual, meaningless communication, such as a bit of eye contact and a friendly smile: Then, they look at you like you're a cannibal or something. Ask a question? Fine... but please hurry up. Just look and smile? I'm sorry: you're obviously demented.

Old people in Florida though: They all seem to have grown up in friendly places, and they obviously have shed many of their cares of yesteryear for the happy life of Floridian retirement and they do carry that outlook to the store with them... or when they are driving around. All kinds of superannuated folks smile and start up quick conversations with me. I walked into the bank the other day, fixed my collar against the wind as I walked in, and that windy adjustment launched a 30-second convo started by the lady I held the door for.

I'm quite sure that there are lots of parts of America that retain that bit of simple communal civility, and with people of younger ages... but as far as I'm concerned, Florida is the world capital for people who are wont to drop a friendly sentence or two to a friendly face.

And no, I've yet to go to Miami.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Smart Is On The Horizon

It looks like The Tea Party has figured out (and perhaps soon Republicans in Congress as well) the patently obvious fact that in order to reduce the budget deficit, cuts in military spending will ultimately be necessary.
Back home, tea partiers clamoring for the debt-ridden government to slash spending say nothing should be off limits. Tea party-backed lawmakers echo that argument, and they're not exempting the military's multibillion-dollar budget in a time of war.

"The widely held sentiment among Tea Party Patriot members is that every item in the budget, including military spending and foreign aid, must be on the table," said Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots. "It is time to get serious about preserving the country for our posterity. The mentality that certain programs are 'off the table' must be taken off the table."
It's a start.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Daily Report: Home Made

I took one commenter's advice and started reading "The Brothers Karamazov". I'm not into the story yet, but I do like Dostoyevsky's writing style (or at least the translation thereof). I'm also reading a book on British history... or trying to. It's a giant tome on the reign of James I that I borrowed from my friend Clarkie's library. Finally, I'm using my mother's Kindle (the electronic book screen thing) to read the second installation of "A Song of Ice and Fire" series. Kindle is okay actually. I think for paperbacks that you would only read once, it's a good buy: it should pay for itself within about 20 or 30 purchases. But for big and important books that you want to keep... books that you would consider buying the hardcover version of... or big history books with maps and illustrations like the one I'm reading... Kindle is not the answer.

Stepdad Paul is installing a microwave oven above the stove in the kitchen, tearing out the cabinet and remaking the whole thing using saws and hammers and even a straight edge and calculator. I like Paul. He's a retired senior engineer from Westinghouse's famous Department of Invent Cool Stuff That Nobody Understands: a real dawn-of-computers, pocket-protector-wearing, calculus-using, level-25 übernerd. Similar to me, he spends much of his time thinking, so we get along great. But unlike me, he also spends much of his time tinkering too; I'm not inclined to build stuff as he does. He isn't as frivolous as I am either (other than when playing with Puppy Gracie): most of his free time involves things like gardening, whereas I watch Doctor Who or Star Trek.

I cooked my famous pasta carbonara for dinner last night. (Recipe taught to me by a Belgian chef in Thailand: Bacon/garlic/onions in a pan, fried. Then add heavy cream, Parmesan cheese. Nutmeg, salt, and pepper to taste. Add green peas and pasta.) It was a big hit, and there were lots of leftovers. Tonight it was out to the Moose Club for the fish fry.

I've caught a cold, I think. Either that or allergies. Honestly, I can never really tell them apart: I sneeze a bunch which makes my neck and shoulders hurt, my nose itches and runs, and my sinuses get stuffed up. Regardless: It's just wait and see time. I'm still functional, just not 100%.

I still haven't got a mobile phone here in America yet. Well, I have my phone from Asia, and maybe I can use that, but I don't have a number or account yet. I'm not even sure how to go about getting one. I don't really need one since I'm almost always home and have essentially nobody who would call me on a mobile phone even if I did have one. Well, maybe at some point I'll give it some more thought.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Daily Report: Drinks News

Mom and Paul are back home, and I'm back on my daytime/daylight/day schedule.

I bought some silly Rose's blue Cocktail Infusion. (It was on sale... and I'm always interested in finding new flavors for beverage application; the next Cagayan Cocktail is out there somewhere.) Absolute rubbish.

I forgot that nobody should ever buy Guinness except in a pint glass filled by a licensed bartender operating a properly piped and tapped keg, preferably served in a room with at least some brass and oak accoutrements. In fact the words "bottle" and "can" are never to be used in the same sentence (hereafter) with the word "Guiness" again.

Out with Mom and Paul to the store yesterday. While Mom was wandering through a dress store, I had a wander through a neighboring liquor store, and there I found "olive juice" for my martinis. Sheer genius. Do you know how many half-full jars of olives I have thrown away in the course of two decades of drinking dirty martinis? As soon as the jar juice had run out... well, there was just no helping it. Until now: Some guy up in Tampa came up with the idea to just mason sell jars of nothing but the olive-flavored juice: for $4, I get what used to be about 20 jars' worth of olive juice.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Daily Report: Good Eats

Payday today, so I went out and did a bit of shopping. Now that the new year has arrived here in Florida, all of the retirees have arrived from the north for the rest of the winter as well: at the large shopping center, I actually could not find a parking space until 10 minutes of looking had been taken.

I went to eat at "Rib City Grill" for lunch and had their baby back rib lunch for $9. (The diet starts tomorrow.) It was actually the best ribs I've had since Bob's in Thailand, principally because they were quite a bit like Bob's ribs in Thailand. Their BBQ sauce wasn't as good though, but their baked beans were the best I had ever eaten.

The waitress came over — this horse-faced, bored-looking, 20-something girl: "Hi sweetie. My name is Monica and I'll be your waitress today." Sweetie? I had forgotten that American waitresses say things like that. I tried to imagine sitting down at a restaurant in The Philippines or Thailand and hearing that instead of "Sir" as per usual. The only thing I could think of was the Thai prostitutes at the go-go bars who called everybody "darling" or "teerak".

Off to Publix I went, where I restocked the house with all of the foodstuffs belonging to Mom and Paul that I had finished off in the last month. (They were due to return from New York today.) I also treated myself to a 6-pack of Guinness and (oh, joy-of-childhood-joys) a 2-liter bottle of "Cherry Crush": When I was a kid, my father's company used to have a soda machine in the workshop that had bottles of Cherry Crush for sale and it was my favorite soda ever. I hadn't seen it in almost 30 years, but there it was on the shelf.

Food bill this time around: $115. Getting a bit expensive... but I spent about $40 on stuff that was more frivilous (like the Guinness) or high-priced/high-quality than previous shopping excursions.

After that it was back home, and Mom and Paul arrived at 4:00, having driven down from New York. Papillon Puppy Gracie was funny when she got out of the car. I imagine she thought it was yet another in a series of interminable rest stops for a quick sniff and pee before getting dumped into the back seat again, but when her paws hit the ground and she saw me standing there, she just exploded with puppy joy and zoomed around the neighborhood for 10 minutes.

For dinner, Paul and Mom and I joined Uncle Bob, Aunt Carol, and Aunt Alice, and her friend George (a pharmacist from Pittsburgh) for dinner at Alice's house, where we had a fantastic lasagna and apple crisp for dessert. Oh so good.

Friday, January 14, 2011

I've Been Converted

Ever since I saw the Jaguar hybrid supercar, I started thinking about the possibility that electric cars that get their electricity from the electrical grid may not be the best green transportation solution out there: First, obviously, the consumption of electricity isn't entirely "green" in the fullest sense: better than using fossil fuels, but still uses resources. Second, more importantly, you can't recharge batteries with electricity in a few quick minutes and continue on down the highway like a normal car. (See here for battery technology, lithium titanate, that may change that, recharging in 10 minutes.)

Now finally arrives a car that has changed my mind completely about the direction in which the future of road transportation should and shall go: The Honda Clarity.

Similar to the Jaguar above: The Honda Clarity uses an online generator, powered by hydrogen (benefits: most abundant element in the universe; same cost as gasoline; refill times 3 minutes; exhaust is steam) to run an electric engine that drives the wheels. It gets the equivalent of around 50 miles per gallon.

I've done some reading on hydrogen fuel cell and hydrogen engines... and there's a way to go. But the concepts embodied by the Jaugar Turbine and Honda Clarity seem to light the clearest path foward away from gasoline.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Important Side Story Regarding Firearms In Tuscon

Something that you often hear gun rights advocates come out with following tragedies like the one in Tucson is something akin to the following: "If there had only been good guys there with guns, they could have taken out the bad guy before so many people were killed." In other words, more guns on the streets would lead to less killing.

Although a thousand and one thoughts spring to mind about why that is a ridiculous assertion, here is one true story that illustrates a basic flaw in that logic: There was a good guy with a gun at the Tuscon shooting.
"I came out of that store, I clicked the safety off, and I was ready," he explained on Fox and Friends. "I had my hand on my gun. I had it in my jacket pocket here. And I came around the corner like this." As he rounded the corner, he saw a man holding a gun. "And that's who I at first thought was the shooter," Zamudio recalled. "I told him to 'Drop it, drop it!'" But the man with the gun wasn't the shooter. He had wrested the gun away from the shooter.

"Had you shot that guy, it would have been a big, fat mess," the interviewer pointed out.
In other words: Lucky. Lucky that the good guy with the gun managed to keep a cool head.

Add a couple more people with guns drawn running out of that store or coming up on the scene. How many people running around with guns drawn would manage keep a cool head? Better be all of them or... "big, fat mess".

Imagine if you are one of a couple or several armed people arriving simultaneously with guns drawn on a scene where there is still gunfire, not knowing anything in advance... where the gunman is, what he looks like, whether it is single or multiple targets, anything: Bang! There's a guy with a gun. Bang! There's another guy with a gun. Bang! Now two guys with guns standing over there are shooting. Bang! A guy with a gun just got shot by another guy with a gun. Bang! The guy is now pointing the gun at you. Bang!

Yeah... just what you need in a gun fight: A bunch of confused, scared, but heroic and well-meaning people with more guns.

I come from a gun family... avid hunters on my father's side, and my cousin on my mother's side is a gunsmith. But my opinion of guns is this: First, you carry a firearm only when you are hunting or sporting, or on the rare occasion of extremely dangerous situations of which I can only think of a few examples: My uncle carries his pistol when he is going cross-country in his camper, and uses store parking lots to stop for the night. My old boss used to carry his revolver when he took the evening till from the restaurant to the night deposit box at the bank. Both dangerous and reasonable places to go armed. Second, you only fire your weapon when you are 100% sure what you are shooting at, you are 100% sure why you are shooting at it, and (in emergency situations) you are 100% sure that shooting is not just the best option you have, but the only option you have left.

I personally would never carry a gun thinking that I might use it to protect other people (other than my family)... to "enforce the law" as it were: That's not my job. If I were in that supermarket in Tucson that morning, armed, I might have stayed where I was — given no other options, maybe found something to hide behind, and kept a lookout — and if somebody approached me with a weapon drawn who was not immediately identifiable as a member of law enforcement, I would have declared and then defended myself. But I doubt I would have gone looking to engage the guy doing all the killing.

But then I think about it some more: People dying... you're armed... you can stop it. What else can you do? What else are you supposed to do? I guess the fact that I can ponder those kind of questions is the reason why I wouldn't consider carrying a gun on a regular basis: It's a question I'd rather not be forced to answer. It's not a function of bravery or survival... it's a function of options: If you are armed and something like Tucson happens nearby, then morally you automatically become part of that life-or-death situation... you automatically become a potential solution. No choice. As a civilian, that's a choice I would prefer to make for myself, and not have circumstance make it for me.

Translating Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin came out with a video today containing the following two salient points regarding those who may try to connect the things she has said with the massacre in Arizona:
1. "Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them."
Translated: People shouldn't think things I say cause crazy people to commit violent acts.
2. "Journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn."
Translated: People should be careful to avoid saying things that cause crazy people to commit violent acts.

In simplest terms: Premise A is false, therefore premise A is true.

p.s. Blood libel? That's the belief that Jews use the blood of children in their religious rites, and is the root from which pretty much all modern-day anti-semetism has sprouted. That's a tasteful one to apply to yourself, Ms. Palin. Sheesh.

Daily Report: I See Sunshine

I quickly migrated back to a daytime schedule, sticking my work time (and nighttime) at the end of my day now, where it belongs.

Not wanting to get my exercise by walking around the same old circle of retirement homes again today, I drove down to Best Buy and spent 90 minutes walking amongst the electronics and appliances for sale, which was fun. Everything is so cheap compared to The Philippines.

It had been cloudy lately... but the blue skies are back. Still colder than I would like though. I've been using the central heating in the house to keep the temperature above 75° indoors. That seems to be the temperature at which I start to feel cold. Anything in the 60s and I'm just shivering.

Epril and I are still on the webcam pretty much 24 hours a day. She has a constant stream of sisters, friends, and cute babies parading through the house, keeping her company. The Skype video is pretty good I think, but the audio is rubbish. However, that might just be the crappy microphone on Epril's laptop too.

I got Epril's I-130 form finally sent out yesterday. It now costs $420 just to submit a form to the U.S. Government that essentially says, "Is it okay if I submit an application for this person to come live in America? We're married, you know." (Not the application to come live in America, mind you... just the form that tries to get permission to submit the application to come live in America.) I had to go out and get 2 passport photos of myself to submit with the package as well: $8 for 2 at the local parcel/mailbox store. A little steep.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Another Good Article About Revolutionary Rhetoric

This Salon article is particularly well put in explaining the difference between standard political bluster, common for most of American history, and the newly discovered language of revolutionary rhetoric that is typified in the revolutionary-named Tea Party and other major sources of right-wing fulminations against the current government:
When she's not talking about God, Sarah Palin's talking about guns. Practically all her rhetoric is blood-soaked, and proficiency with firearms is a key element of her persona. Her cult can claim her stupid map wasn't supposed to show rifle sights aimed at vulnerable Democratic districts, but anyone who's ever seen a violent movie — which is to say, Americans of all ages — knows what cross hairs look like. "Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD" isn't one unfortunate incident of over-the-top language, it's her mantra. "Going Rogue" begins with that line, attributed to her father.

Everyone uses battle-related language in politics, of course. "If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun," candidate Barack Obama said in 2008. Rahm Emanuel's comically exaggerated speech is the stuff of (probably embellished) legend. It's perfectly legitimate, if also often counterproductive and stupid, to pretend politics is blood sport.

I'd also say that while you can argue the wisdom of either, there's a difference between using the imagery of politics as street fight and employing revolutionary rhetoric. And when you combine standard-issue violent political language with the idea — stated and reiterated by nearly every prominent right-wing politician and media figure since Obama took office — that the opponent is not simply wrong, but has illegitimately seized power, and is illegally exercising that power, the inevitable question raised is, "What do we do to stop them?" The correct answer is supposed to be "vote Republican and keep watching Fox," of course, but a good midterm for the GOP hasn't dethroned the socialist usurper-in-chief.

It's not strictly that language tinged with violent imagery is dangerous, or that heated denunciations of the motivations of your political opponents are out of line, or even that America's pervasive gun fetishization is to blame (though our gun culture is insane and bizarre to every single other developed nation in the world) for violent crimes. But when elites don't just condone but participate in the combination of that violent imagery with the idea that the government represents an existential threat — that representatives of the government are domestic enemies, that your liberty and even your physical safety are in danger — the idea of political violence is normalized. Terrorizing Congress members at town halls and "we surround you" and head-stomping and death threats and all the other bad craziness just becomes "the way we do politics in America."

The crazies are listening to the same media that the rest of us are. Charles Alan Wilson, the man arrested last year for threatening the life of Sen. Patty Murray, used the same language as Glenn Beck in his insane voice mails to Murray's office and borrowed Sarah Palin's death panels meme. (He also had a concealed weapons permit and carried a loaded .38 special.) When everyone's hoisting guns and shouting "tyranny" and playing at being a revolutionary, there will be a couple of people who don't see the wink.
"There will be a couple of people who don't see the wink."

That's it exactly. But, I'll say that it isn't just a couple of people: but millions of right wing fanatics who are convinced (just not motivated enough probably due to a sense of self preservation) that revolution — violent overthrow of the government — is necessary now and would support it wholeheartedly if it were to come about tomorrow.

It's the same thing I said 3 years ago.

Using phrases like "take 'em out" or "I want his head" or "drop a bomb" or saying "reload" instead of "try again", or using any of the thousand other violence-speckled aphorisms common in political posturing is generally harmless. Nobody is convinced to grab a rope when some pundit says, "Hang 'em high," and nobody thinks about murder when a person is accused of "throwing somebody under the bus." But, when you have an entire political establishment putting together detailed "facts" that the President is not an American... when you have people calling a politician a traitor or a domestic terrorist instead of arguing that their policies are misguided or just plain wrong... when you try to convince people that the things they hold most important, like their civil rights, or their family values, or their property, or even their very lives are under direct, immediate, and measurable threat from the government... when you tell them that armed revolution is a viable, possible, sensible option if balloting and election fails to get the results they want: People are inclined to believe that stuff, and what they are thinking about isn't just "voting Republican and keep watching Fox", but things much worse than that.

Talking Points Memo has a dozen examples of politicians (all Republican) speaking about guns, gun violence or armed revolusion in connection with their campaign, political opponent, or the government in general in the most recent election.
  • "We have a constitutional remedy here and the Framers says if that don't work, revolution. If the government is not producing the results or has become destructive to the ends of our liberties, we have a right to get rid of that government and to get rid of it by any means necessary. Our nation was founded on violence.
  • "We can get new faces in. Whether it's my face or not, I pray to God that I see new faces. And if we don't see new faces, I'm cleaning my guns and getting ready for the big show. And I'm serious about that, and I bet you are, too."
  • "People are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying, my goodness, what can we do to turn this country around? I'll tell you, the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out."
  • "I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax, because we need to fight back. Thomas Jefferson told us having a revolution every now and then is a good thing. And the people — we the people — are going to have to fight back hard if we're not going to lose our country."
  • "We hunt liberal, tree-hugging Democrats, although it does seem like a waste of good ammunition."
  • "I am convinced that the most important thing the Founding Fathers did to ensure me my First Amendment rights was they gave a Second Amendment, and if ballots don't work, bullets will."

We've All Been Suckered

Thailand, Same Old Busted Society As Before

This is biggest story in Thailand right now. It is amazing how this type of thing can happen in a second-world country like Thailand, but it does:

A few weeks ago, a 16-year-old girl from one of Thailand's wealthy families, speeding without a license, caused a crash on an elevated highway in Bangkok which killed nine people. According to reports at first she was not particularly despondent at what she had done, which got people pretty pissed off. (Public reaction scared her and her family into a semblance of contriteness though. They immediately paid a few thousand dollars to the families of each of the 9 slaughtered people.)

Now today, the judge on her case has released her without bail. Another judge familiar with juvenile cases said the girl is likely to get a suspended sentence... to never spend a day in jail, "not because of social privilege, but due to her confession, her remorse, her family's payment of compensation to victims." Even trials for premeditated murder could end with a young offender getting a suspended jail term, he said, if they showed remorse or were willing to undergo rehabilitation or gave victims compensation.

This accidental mass killing by a rich person of poor people going unpunished in Thailand is not the first time either. Five years ago, the son of a prominent business man mowed down a crowd of people at a bus stop with his Mercedes after the bus they were boarding scratched his fender. His powerful uncle, a police officer, went on television and blamed poor people in general, and the victims specifically for the incident.

The principal problem is Buddhism, which in essence, states, "Take what life gives you." The Thai people are sheep to this thinking and it is unlikely to ever change. Add to that the additional local belief that children are generally blameless and their wrongdoings are better targeted with education and rehabilitation than punishment, and you've got a country where nobody is willing to cast blame, nobody learns to take responsibility, and the consequences of guilt are generally light or avoided altogether.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Daily Divertissement

A guaranteed internet classic.

Daily Report: Unshift

Mom and Paul will late this week be on their way back to Florida from Christmas in New York. My lonesome and nocturnal schedule has really made the days blur together so that it seems like only a short time they've been gone... instead of a month. I don't like this schedule nearly as much as I used to, mostly because then it was a get-out-and-do-stuff, New-York-City-nighttime schedule; now it is a stay-home-hermit-in-the-dark schedule. When Mom and Paul get back, I'm going to switch back to the more daylight and people oriented schedule.

The last 3 or 4 days have been particularly bad in that I didn't even do stuff: No studying, no going out, even dishes went unwashed for a day. That's a bad sign of acedia and not my style at all. Even work has suffered because of this schedule... having gone from 1,500 lines per day before the change to 1,250 lines per day after the change. (I remember 6 months ago that I would have cracked open a bottle of champagne if I did 1,250 lines on any one day.) Nope. I'm not the person I was 10 or 12 years ago, I'm not in the place I was then either.

How 3D Television Without Glasses Works

Did you ever have one of those children's books where the images were 3-dimensional, or as you changed your viewing angle, the image seemed to shift? Those are called lenticulars. The new 3D television without glasses works the same way.

What happens is this: On the television screen (we'll keep it simple and just stick with lines; that might not be the case), the even vertical lines of pixels show the picture that is destined to go to the right eye and the odd vertical lines show the picture that is destined to go to the left eye. Over the television is laid a piece of clear, ribbed material, called a lenticular lens. The ribs act like prisms: They take the even lines and bend and project them to a certain distance in front of the television where your right eye will need to be located, and the ribs do the same with the odd lines for your left eye.

That's right, in order to watch 3D TV without glasses, you'll need to be sitting in a rather fixed viewing spot in your living room, and a rather fixed distance from the screen itself. There are actually several closely-spaced, fixed, equidistant viewing spots, as the prisms create repeating "sweet spots" in a line in front of the TV — three in the example I saw outlined on the internet — which apparently means that only 3 people can watch the 3D TV at once.

So, in other words, 3 people sitting pretty much shoulder-to-shoulder, with eyes about 2 meters away from the screen, will be the only possible viewing configuration.

Now you know how it will work. Nothing too complicated, and rather limited in its potential... makes the glasses option seem a dozen times better.

Where We Are

I think this quote from a reader of Andrew Sullivan's sums up best where America is politically right now.
I am standing in the aisle at Costco when I found out my Congresswomen, Gabrielle Giffords, has been shot dead up on the north side.

While I'm scrambling with my phone, two couples in front of me are talking about it and suddenly I hear one of the women say, "Well, that’s to be expected when you're so liberal."

And the other woman says, "Ohh, so we get to appoint a Republican?"
There is a fairly substantial segment of the American population out there — and yes, they vote Republican — who really just want to destroy the liberals by any means necessary. How their minds are helped to that point is too long a subject for this post, but suffice it to say when important people use their bully pulpits to incite fear and anger, there are not just the gullible and weak minded people who will be pursuaded by this fear and anger, but additionally mentally ill people whose minds will be completely overwhelmed by this fear and anger — most likely added on top of other fears and angers that already plague their minds — and are compelled to take action. Bill O'Reilly mentioned the abortion provider Dr. Tiller over and over again and then... surprise! Somebody murdered him. Sarah Palin (with her gun imagery being an integral part of her persona) encouraged people to "reload" and on her website placed a gun target over this Arizona Congresswoman's district. And then...


I will say, based on what I've heard so far, this guy was not some right-wing lunatic as some people are trying to portray; I'm not sure he was really a left-wing lunatic either. I think he was just a lunatic. (I'll also give Palin half a break by saying that I don't think the guy was out to shoot a Democrat or this Democrat: I think he just knew where a Congressperson would be and went there to kill.) I think the guy was an unbalanced, paranoid, and mentally ill person who looked at the world around him and listened to the world around him, and used that as fuel to justify a homocidal urge that he felt.

This guy was already burning inside... and the people who have turned up the heat in this country are the ones who put the finishing touches on frying this guy's mind.


Sullivan has put up some good links psychoanalyzing the shooter that are worth reading:

1. Psychologist says: Youtube videos show evidence of delusions of persecution... less than coherent language suggests formal thought disorder... significant indications in the videos that he suffers from a psychotic disorder... paranoid schizophrenia.

2. Another: His favorite book list... deal with the topic of reality perception being controlled by higher powers. The Communist Manifesto deals with the topic of organized revolution more than it does with imposing a state-controlled economy. A picture more or less emerges of a troubled adolescent, who reads stuff that’s maybe a few levels too complex for him. But these are exactly the people that you shouldn’t expose to the sort of militant, violent political rhetoric that since Obama’s presidency has been employed by the Tea Party and the Republican right.

3. Another: Very incoherent, hard to classify beliefs, clearly paranoid and conspiratorial.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

It Will Last This Long

I wondered 6 months ago how long BluRay and HTDV at 1080 lines of resolution would last, with 2000-line ("2K"), 4000-line ("4K") resolution (and higher) digital programs being available for broadcast in places like movie theaters.

It took about this long.
In the coming months and years, Sony hopes to change the way we experience 3D video. The prototypes displayed today at CES are all still a long way from production, but they do give us a possible glimpse into the future of 3D.

The first is fairly obvious in design, but difficult in practice. At CES today, Sony showed off a new 56 inch 4K LCD, a 46 inch 2K, and a 24.5 inch 2K TV, all feature 3D, and all do so without glasses.

But the technology is not easy or cheap to produce, and the sets can still run into the thousands of dollars for even a basic model. Another issue is that the special screen on the TV that makes the 3D possible needs a much higher resolution to match the output of the current generation of 3D, so you need the super HD quality of a 4K TV, four times the resolution of current HD TVs. Again, the cost becomes wildly prohibitive, and 4K TVs are still running several tens of thousands of dollars.
So, what shall we peg it at, in today's fast moving technological universe? 5 years? 7 years? How about: Riiiiight about the time you're thinking about replacing your old 40-inch HDTV that you bought in 2010?

Republicans Will Break Their Own Rule Immdiately

This is the official "common sense" article of the week, where Bruce Bartlett says, "Somebody needs to explain to Republicans that cutting the budget is a complicated business that can't be done with a hatchet and a good supply of dogma." But the part I will highlight is how Bartlett explains that Republicans will break the only common-sense rule they came into this Congress sporting on almost their very first vote:
Moreover, CBO director Doug Elmendorf has been a lightning rod for Republicans. Many hold a grudge against him for attending a White House meeting in the summer of 2009 on health care reform. In a July 23, 2009, report, the Wall Street Journal implied that Elmendorf had been pressured into changing the CBO’s score on health care reform. It called the meeting “extraordinary and inappropriate.”

Subsequently, the CBO scored the health legislation as reducing the deficit in both the short-run and the long-run – a view that every Republican finds incredible and factually wrong. They all believe that ACA increases the deficit, which is why they plan to vote on its repeal next week.

Interestingly, CBO was not asked to score the cost of repeal by its sponsors, which is normally required for all bills that affect spending. However, it did so anyway. Yesterday, CBO estimated that ACA repeal will increase the deficit by $230 billion over the next 10 years. Keep in mind that repeal would not only reduce spending for new benefits, but also reverse all of the cost savings that paid for them. Undoing those savings means increasing Medicare spending by about $500 billion. That’s why Republicans had to bend their own rules to permit a vote on ACA repeal in order to get around their promise never to increase entitlement spending without offsetting it with entitlement cuts.
Anyway, read the whole article. You will learn about the complicated issues at play in the process of cutting budgets... the forces that work against the cuts, the rules and regulations, the reverbarative effect of those cuts, and the general impossibility of the Republican approach with regard to making cuts.

Friday, January 7, 2011

They'll Advertise Anything In America

Just watching a bit of "Take Home Chef" at 4 a.m. and 2 commercials in a row came on selling: Female orgams, both mechanical and medicinal.

First was an advertisement for the Trojan Triphoria... a vibrator, and next was an advert for Zestra... which is apparently some kind of stimulating lotion.

Really? Are there really women in America sitting up at 4 a.m. looking for sexual release like their male counterparts? Have men no domain in life they can strictly call their own anymore?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Good Video On Historical Global Warming

A commenter under another post said, "If you really believe man is responsible for climate change, then you are easily fooled by some clever people. I guess ancient man caused the earth to warm and bring an end to the ice-age. Just maybe the cycles of the earth's temperatures are caused by something far greater than man-made causes. Just maybe it is the Sun and its cycles of sunspots, or maybe tilt of the earth, or CO2 from natural sources."

He's right about one thing: Naturally, the earth's climate can change quite a bit... over thousands of years with typical geological cycles. Unfortunately, concluding that what took several millenia to happen way back when (or several million years even further back) bears an equivalency to or responsbility for what has happened in just 20 or 30 years in today's day and age is obviously fanstastically wrong.

Watch this video below where this scientist (the head of Atmospheric Science at NASA) explains how climate change was brought about in the past... and how little resemblance it bears to what is happening on earth today due to human industry.

Karma: Cagayan De Oro Post Office On Fire

Photo credit: John Thomas Obrial.
Additional credit: Karma, irony.
After losing Epril's registered mail package a month ago, it seems even fate is fed up with the Filipino Postal Service, as hundreds of thousands of lost pieces of mail stuffed into the various crevices and corners of the Cagayan De Oro Post Office late last night caught fire and burned the place to the ground.

I'll cautiously say (and I'm sure that the Filipino Postal Service will readily agree): Don't worry! Burning down the post office will have absolutely NO effect on mail delivery service in Cagayan De Oro.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

More 80s

Mike in the comments section sent this link:

Also, since Switch 625 is not a particularly well-known song (although I've loved it since it first came out) I'll include the original version so you can see how stunning this little girl's performance actually is.

Happy New Year Coming Up

A homeless guy has such a fantastic voice that CNN picked up on this video from Columbus Dispatch... and now the job offers are rolling in left and right. A nice story with a happy ending.

Bird Deaths... Getting Weird

First a few hundred dead birds appeared suddenly and without explanation in Arkansas. Ok... strange. Never heard of something like that before.

Then, yesterday, a few hundred dead birds appeared suddenly and without explanation in Louisiana. Now that's a really strange thing.

Then a few thousand dead fish show up in a river in Arkansas. What?

Then a few hundred tons of dead fish show up on a beach in Brazil?

Then a few hundred dead birds show up on a street in Sweden? Are you joking me?


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fratres by Arvo Pärt

I have the alarm next to my bed set to turn on to the local classical music radio station. When I woke up today it was to the sounds of this gorgeous piece. I immediately came here to the computer to learn more about it.

It's a neoclassical piece written in 1977 by the Estonian, Arvo Pärt. The foundation is a 9-chord mathematical phrase with a percussion bridge. It starts out harsh. Get yourself past the first 75 seconds of that and listen to what comes after... it keeps getting better and sweeter.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Game Of Thrones Coming To HBO

First the "The Sword Of Truth" series of books was made into a television program by ABC that ran for 2 seasons, and now HBO is taking an even-more-serious stab at "Game of Thrones". My mother gave me the first book of this collection to read and I'm currently making my way through it. It's pretty good.

It's encouraging that TV show producers are now starting to do in earnest what movie makers have been doing since almost the very beginning: Turning to books for their source material. Perhaps it is something that has only been starting recently because it is only recently that truly long novels are being written — long enough to provide 50 or 60 hours of television. (Next up hopefully will be the most-massive Wheel Of Time saga... coming in at about 10,000 pages.)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

What 80's Music Is All About

When I think of music in the late 1970s or early 1980s, what I think of most is kids like the one below who, one day were in their bedroom in a middle class suburb playing around on a keyboard, and a few months later were worldwide sensations... not just in music, but in style and attitude. No help from fancy producers or marketing gurus. They just walked into a recording studio, and walked out as legends who still affect our musical experience today. It happened in those few years to a lucky group of kids: Gary Numan below, The Police, Devo, U2, Thompson Twins, Duran Duran... the list goes on.

It's cold outside
And the paint's peeling off of my walls
There's a man outside
In a long coat, grey hat, smoking a cigarette

Now the light fades out
And I wonder what I'm doing in a room like this
There's a knock on the door
And just for a second I thought I remembered you

So now I'm alone
Now I can think for myself
About little deals and issues
And things that I just don't understand
A white lie that night
Or a sly touch at times
I don't think it meant anything to you

So I open the door
It's the friend that I'd left in the hallway
'Please sit down'
A candlelit shadow on a wall near the bed

You know I hate to ask
But are 'friends' electric?
Only mine's broke down
And now I've no-one to love

So I found out your reasons
For the phone calls and smiles
And it hurts and I'm lonely
And I should never have tried
And I missed you tonight
So it's time to leave
You see it meant everything to me
And just in case the name Gary Numan doesn't instantly ring a bell for you (and I would be surprised if it does not), you can check out his more popular video to help yourself realize just how lasting an impact a 19-year-old kid with a keyboard in the suburbs used to be able to have on the world with one little song:

Daily Report: Sunrise

The migration back to my regular sleeping schedule was as easy as falling down, as expected. Bedtime is now at 11 a.m. and waking up is at 8 p.m. (I do despise waking up in the dark, but it can't be helped.)

I've been wanting to go for walks in the morning and have been doing so. But being so much further north in latitude (1,350 miles) means that the sun rises substantially later now in the wintertime than it did in Jasaan: 7:22 a.m. to be precise. Unless I want to walk in the dark, I have to sit around the house until at least 7:00 before the sky is light enough to see anything. That sucks a bit. At least the temperature is going up now.

I've been shopping twice at 7 a.m. though. That's brilliant: Go do your grocery shopping first thing in the morning. Everything is fresh, no lines, and all the people working at the supermarket haven't had a bad day yet and actually seem happy to see you.

Yeah: Payday. Groceries. I treated myself to half a pound of prosciutto. Also, there was pumpkin-pie-flavor milk which I bought to put in my coffee for $2 per quart: all these clever foods they have for sale in America, so much fun.

I've started studying anatomy. The book I got from the library is pretty basic (it was the thin book next to the paving-brick-sized "Gray's Anatomy") but I can go on the internet to expand upon anything I read. The only problem is that on the subject of anatomy you really can get buried in the details. Just focusing on the bony skull: it is divided into 40 separate fused bones. Those bones are then divided into individually named processes. Those processes all have bumps, prominences, holes, curves, and other features that all have their own names. Even the little flanges and features on those bumps, prominences, holes, et cetera have their own names as well. If you wanted to know all the words just associated with bones of the head you would probably have to learn 400 anatomical terms.

I've a good idea about what level of detail is too detailed for any particular part of anatomy: If, after a decade of medical transcription, I see a word that I have not seen before then chances are it's a litle bit too specialized to merit study at my level.

New Year's Day on BBC America showed all the prior Doctor Who specials. Doctor Who episodes are divided into regular season episodes and special episodes (usually airing at Christmas and Easter). I had actually never seen the special episodes before because I only purchased the season DVD collections. I never realized how important the specials were to the series... and to the viewers: this year's Christmas Eve Doctor Who special (a fantastic story starring Micheal Gambon (Dumbledore) as a scrooge-like character) was the most viewed program of the day in England.

Okay. Time to go for a walk.

Excellent NYT Article By Krugman

Paul Krugman spells out what kind of government budget bad craziness we can expect next year:
As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, the incoming House majority plans to make changes in the “pay-as-you-go” rules — rules that are supposed to enforce responsible budgeting — that effectively implement Mr. Kyl’s principle. Spending increases will have to be offset, but revenue losses from tax cuts won’t. Oh, and revenue increases, even if they come from the elimination of tax loopholes, won’t count either: any spending increase must be offset by spending cuts elsewhere; it can’t be paid for with additional taxes.

So if taxes don’t matter, does the incoming majority have a realistic plan to cut spending? Of course not. Republicans say that they want to cut $100 billion in spending, which is itself small change in a $3.6 trillion federal budget. But they also say that defense, Medicare and Social Security — all the big-ticket items — are off the table. So they’re talking about a 20 percent cut in what’s left, which includes things like running the judicial system and operating the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; they have offered no specifics about where the cuts will fall.
Okay: Get it? (Now remember, this is the "deficit reducing Republicans" who just won an election promising to get that crazy old federal debt problem under control.)

Republican step one: For every dollar you raise federal spending in one place, you have to decrease federal spending by a dollar in another place. Sounds like a start.

Republican step two: For every dollar that you lose in federal revenue by lowering taxes... just don't worry about it.

Republican step three: The only parts of the federal budget through which the $13,000 billion total federal debt can be paid off is (from the chart below) the areas of "Safety Net Programs" and the other "Remaining Fifth" (almost half of which includes Veteran's benefits).

So, let's do some math: Out of the $3,600 billion budget, Republicans have decreed that they will not cut, touch, or adjust two thirds of it, $2,400 billion, and they have decreed that they will not raise taxes. From the remaining $1,200 billion, the Republicans have found $100 billion in cuts. Considering that the most recent budget deficit that did not include the depression-avoidance / emergency bailout measures was approximately $500 billion, the Republicans are barely putting a 20% dent in the budget deficit with $100 billion in cuts.

But here is the down-and-dirty reality of what the Republicans are pretending they are going to do: They are JUST going to balance the $500 billion budget deficit (assuming it has not gone up in the past 3 years, which it has) only by making cuts to the $1,200 billion part of the budget that they have not declared off limits. In other words, they are claiming that they are going to literally cut the entire spending of the federal government (excluding the military, Medicare/Medicaid, and Social Security) almost in half. Of course, if they want to start paying off the $13,000 billion federal debt, they will need to cut it even more... a lot more.

Just to give you an idea of how preposterous that is: If we completely shut down the entire government — save military, Medicare, and Social Security, as per the Republican plan — there would be a $700 billion budget surplus. So with the Republican Plan as it currently exists, if the federal government was completely shut down and did nothing except collect taxes and pay the national debt (plus military, Medicare, Social Security), it would still take 20 years.

Do you believe them? Do you think they'll do it? Me neither.

Actually, I'm kind of morbidly curious how long the rest of the world will continue to let the United States continue this. We already owe the world $13,000 billion. As long as other countries continue to loan our budget $500 billion a year... everything is fine. Hell: The U.S. feasibly could go on forever as long as other countries are willing to pay for our overspending with their own money.

(Don't you wish your own life was like that? You purposefully spend increasingly more money than you earn every year for dozens of years in a row. At the end of each year you just go around to all your neighbors on your block and borrow increasing amounts of money from them. And they actually give it to you! In addition, you pay them the interest on the money that you've already borrowed in previous years by borrowing money to pay that too.)

Granted, when that finally comes to an end — whether you, the Republicans, the Democrats, or I like it or not — the $500 billion (and more) budget deficit is going to disappear all at once. The age of the "balanced budget" will have involuntarily arrived. (And, of course, that's just one problem: Social security, trade imbalances, and interest on the national debt still need to be paid (or fail) at the same time.)

I'm quite certain I'm going to live to see it happen.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

What Would Make You Take Mass Transport?

Chicago wants to know.
Over the last few weeks, Chicagoans have been asked a simple question: "What would encourage you to walk, bike and take CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) more often?" Ads posing the question in buses, subways and public spaces invite the city's residents to respond with their ideas, via text message.
I can tell you what works best in Asia: public microtransport systems that cover very small areas.

What am I talking about? In Thailand or The Philippines, when you want to go the quarter mile from your front door to the main street bus stop, what do you do? You go into the street outside your house and clap your hands: a guy on a motorcycle comes riding up, and for 20 cents he drives you down to the end of the road where the busses are. When you get off the bus close to your destination there is a second guy on a motorcycle waiting to drive you the last quarter mile to the place you want to go.

Granted, you won't convince the average American to hop on the back of a motorcycle taxi — nor get many Americans to sit around on motorcycles waiting to get paid 20 cents to drive somebody to the end of the road every few minutes — especially in a slippery, freezing Chicago winter. But that is the most important step: door to door public transportation. Obviously in a place like Manhattan, something like that isn't as important; but in Los Angeles, it's not the 20 mile drive that causes people to get in their cars: it's the half mile walk to the bus stop that causes people to grab their car keys instead of a bus pass.

If you can get people easily and effortlessly to a bus stop (and as long as the wait isn't too long) then many more people will take the bus.

As for riding a bike or walking? Hmm... you'll have to ask someone else about that.

Fox News Fails To Make Light Of Climate Science

How can you tell which side is losing an argument? When they resort to cheap tricks like this. Fox News posts the article, "Eight Botched Environmental Forecasts". You can go read the article if you are interested in reading those 8 botched environmental forecasts (most of which are "he said X would happen in Y years and only half or a third of X happened in Y plus 5 or 10 years", and a couple of which were scientists engaging in a bit of needless hyperbole). What I would like to point out is the dates of those botched forecasts:

1. March 20, 2000... 11 years ago.
2. 1990... 21 years ago.
3. May 15, 1989... 22 years ago.
4. June 8, 1972... 39 years ago.
5. September 1971... 39 years ago.
6. January 1970... 41 years ago.
7. 1970... 41 years ago.
8. 1970... 41 years ago.

So the most recent example Fox News could find of climate scientists' "botched forecasts" was 11 years ago. They needed to go back a quarter of a century to find a second "botched forecast". After that had to go back to the days of Woodstock and Moon Missions to find more than three erroneous expectations of climate science.

Actually, I'm guessing that some poor intern at Fox News was probably given this assignment by some party-line fanatic wanting to do his duty in daily propaganda dissemination: "It's the end of the year. Everybody has top 10 lists. So write an article called 'The Top 10 Botched Climate Forecasts of All Time'." and this shortfall was the result.

Yes, I know there are reasons to rail against climate and environmental regulations, when countries like China aren't doing their part and are making more of a mess of the planet than The United States is (though not by much). However, still trying to win the argument that climate change is not happening / not manmade is so 2006.