moldybluecheesecurds 2

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Redefining pie

Make every second count, because you never know when you might have an extra one?

Actually, the addition of "leap seconds" to our clocks has been happening since 1972, when scientists working with atomic clocks realized that Earth's rotation is actually slowing slightly. The problem comes with computers, which are sometimes hard-programmed with 60-second minutes. It's a little hard to reprogram a computer chip, although it's been done.

I'm more interested in what this scientific discovery of earth's slowing rotation means for our standard definitions of time. If Earth continues to slow, then minutes begin to be longer, containing more seconds, in order to keep the standard of 24 hours, 60 minutes per hour. But really, the definition of an hour is 1/24th of an earth rotation, a minute is 1/60th of an hour, and a second 1/60th of a minute. So shouldn't we really be redefining what a second is, instead of adding extra ones?

It's kind of like saying that each pie tin is a little larger than it used to be, so instead of making the slices (or pies) bigger, you just mash an extra piece in there every once in a while. Maybe we need to redefine what a pie is.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A poem

Twas four days before Christmas,
and all through the home,
jff ran whooping,
the semester was done.

75 pages written,
single line-spaced,
but now all submitted,
free! by God's grace.

Fsck yeah - that's why I'm a Democrat

From my friend at 28th Avenue
From The Hill:

“None of your civil liberties matter much after you’re dead,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a former judge and close ally of the president who sits on the Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who has led a bipartisan filibuster against a reauthorization of the Patriot Act, quoted Patrick Henry, an icon of the American Revolution, in response: “Give me liberty or give me death.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Two branches of government say no to intelligent design

Intelligent design was put in its rightful place for the second time in as many months today, as a federal judge joined the voters of Dover, PA, in rejecting this spurious science curriculum. Intelligent design is the religious belief that the development of humans was too complex to be explained by science, but it's being paraded as a legitimate "alternative" to evolution in the science classroom. Fortunately, this federal judge knows as well as the Dover voters that just because someone says religion is science doesn't make it so.

Ne'er a feeling so manly

I'm not a plumber. In fact, aside from the occasional chain-in-the-toilet-tank detangling, my best plumbing experience prior to yesterday was Super Mario Bros. 3.

But then it started. *drip* The faucet had never presented a problem before. *drip* But now turning off the water really just meant *drip* starting the auxiliary water service. *drip*

The problem wasn't just the *drip* dripping, but that the rate seemed to *drip* be increasing. *drip* Pretty soon *drip* you could fill *drip* a pint glass *drip* in under an hour *drip* with the water *drip* off. *drip* *drip*

So I finally *drip* called the pfaucet company *drip*, because they *drip* have a lifetime guarantee *drip*. Without argument, *drip* they sent two replacement *drip* parts that arrived *drip* yesterday. *drip* *drip* *drip*

In about five minutes, I successfully replaced the cartridge thing, finally stopping the incessant dripping and more than doubling my plumbing experience. Eat your heart out, Mario, a new plumber is in town!

To my two faithful readers:

PREVIOUS CONVERSATION
Blog reader: "Did you see my comment on pre-sesquicentennial celebrations last week?"

jff: "Oops, I must have missed yours because there are, uh, so many."

NEW CONVERSATION
Blog reader: "Did you see my comment on severance pay for Uptown window washers?"

jff: "Yeah, I wrote two pages back to you! Didn't you see my response?"


Starting earlier this week, I finally turned on comment notification. Which means I will actually be reading comments, soon after they are posted. So for my two (or three) dedicated readers - I'm listening.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

9/11 doesn't change the rule of law

After the recent relevation that President Bush authorized the National Security Agency to spy on Americans in hopes of ferreting out terrorist plots, I'm going to say Congress should consider impeachment hearings. Because if it ends up being true - and it probably came from multiple, high sources to be printed in the NY Times - what this really means is that Bush willfully overrode all domestic laws restricting the arbitrary use of surveillance on American citizens. The last time we had a leader doing these kinds of things, a few patriots got together to give these arguments for his overthrow:
Of course, Bush continues to claim that 9/11 changed everything. To that I can only quote the inestimable DarkSyde from DailyKos:
Does that really make sense? Our rule of law and constitutional chaperone of personal liberty survived presidential assassinations, two World Wars, the Holocaust, standing armies millions strong, and scads of thermonuclear tipped missiles pointed at out heads, and we're going to trash our traditions and Constitution because a cabal of religious fanatics with box-cutters trained in a stone-age country got lucky?
9/11 may have radically changed our perception of the world order and what presents the gravest threats. It does not change the fact that we are fundamentally a society of laws and that no one is above the law. Including the president.

(kudos to 28th Avenue for the quote link)

This has to be worth at least 2000 words

Normally I pride myself on being nuanced and thoughtful in my political discourse. But this is too damn funny for that:

Friday, December 16, 2005

Congressional poetry - no really, it's good

Kudos to my friend on 28th Avenue for this link. A Congressional Democrat was pretty sick of the "Defend Christmas" lobby and read this original poem in protest of House Resolution 579 which "Express[es] the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected."

The poem is an excellent critique of this empty posturing, but my favorite part of the affair: the Republican who proposed this Congressional waste of taxpayer time refused to add other religious holidays to the resolution. Because we all enjoy religious freedom, but Christians are a little more free...

Another day, another beta. This time, Yahoo makes it worth it.

I just got invited to try the Yahoo Mail Beta version today. It's rendered via flash DHTML.

The good:
1. Drag and drop. I can take messages, read them in the preview pane and drop them into folders. Very slick.
2. Right-click context menus. Want to mark that message as read? Done!
3. RSS feeds in my email. Without the fscking ads that Gmail throws in there. That's right, Yahoo trumps Gmail on this one.

The bad:
1. A minor, nitpicky thing: when I dump unread messages in the Trash, don't tell me I have unread messages in the trash. I know they're in there.

The hopeful:
1. That this may be the first step in solving Yahoo Mail's chronically slow access to email.

Overall: A-

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Nothing says Merry Christmas like a plasma TV

Lacking sufficient time and energy to report on real news, the 24 hour filler folks have been reporting on a "controversy" between "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays." Apparently, hordes of WWJD-bracelet-wearing maniacs are put off when the Wal-Mart clerk says Happy Holidays. There's even a bill in the state legislature in Georgia to save this right to say Merry Christmas.

Much like early Christians, these folks are suffering, for many reasons:
  • The tree in the town square is called a holiday tree
  • They are wished a happy holiday
  • Their government can't say "Merry Christmas" to Jews and Muslims
  • They are invited to holiday parties
To hear them report it, these terrifying acts are a "violation of rights," "religious persecution," and "an offense against the majority."

Sarcasm aside, the irony is that Christmas is supposed to be the celebration of the coming of Christ, the savior to Christians around the world. It's supposed to celebrate the potential for salvation, but also the good works that Jesus did. Instead of spreading the real message of Christmas, these religious nuts are complaining that the very people who have tranformed their holy day into a crass commercial enterprise won't say Merry Christmas.

Because nothing says "peace on earth and goodwill toward all" like having the Wal-Mart clerk "Merry Christmas" you as he loads the 42" plasma TV into your trunk.

The good Father Neal put it well:
“Even Christianity has moved away from some of Jesus' real teachings...The way we deal with Christmas, in this culture with the chaotic schedules and the kind of gift giving we get involved with, perhaps the deeper question is let's bring Christ back into Christianity rather than worry about Christ back into Christmas.”

Gift "guides"

Ever since Thanksgiving, every circular in my newspaper, every commercial flyer in my mail, every techie website claims to have the ultimate gift guide. Is someone under the impression that I am lacking in gift ideas?

My family tends to be pretty straightforward with Christmas. Here's a list of things I would like, but feel free to shop for something else if you have a great idea. So the idea of a gift guide is laughable.

Of course, none of these purported gift guides really are. They don't help you navigate through things appropriate for someone who just started college, or a middle-aged aunt. No, they are just the same old advertisements with the prices removed, because with celebrating the birth of Jesus, money is no object.

Merry Christmas. (or happy holidays?)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The economics of sexuality, part 2

The author of the controversial New York Times magazine piece on the influence of AIDS on sexual preferences responds to questions about stigma, sample size, and the politics of being gay.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

You are still worthless

Stanley "Tookie" Williams is now dead. He is a four-time murderer, it's true. But he's spent twenty years on death row trying to make amends: as a Nobel-nominated anti-gang activist and children's book writer. Twenty years, he has tried to do good for the bad he did.

There has to be some irony that the same week Williams is put to death, Christian fundamentalists are complaining that somebody (those damn secularists!) stole Christmas. If we're such a Christian nation, then what happened to forgiveness?

So what kind of message do we send, when a man spends 20 years of his life trying to make amends for his wrongs and is summarily put to death? That he is still worthless.

Will the next death row inmate even try?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Sex sells, but sexuality?

The accepted scientific thinking is that sexual orientation is genetic. In other words, you like who you like because DNA says so. But some economists decided to look at an American social survey, and they discovered something interesting. Knowing the cost of getting AIDS can alter sexual preferences. In other words, sexuality has its price.

First, they took a social survey from 1992, a time when most people with AIDS were gay men. Their findings were based on an interesting idea. Look at the sexual preference of people whose family members have AIDS. Since sexual preference is genetically based, then you'd expect a higher proportion of gay folks.

Nope.

In fact, zero men who had a family member with AIDS (most likely a male) reported being gay. On the flip side, women with an AIDS-stricken relative were twice as likely to express a preference for other women. As in, not a potentially HIV-positive man.

In other words, knowing the cost of AIDS made people a lot more likely to try to avoid it, even in their sexual preferences. It may be more than sex that sells.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Really, it's the truth*

Editorial cartoonist Tom Toles captures the essence of the Bush administration's issue with the truth. Don't forget your snow brush!


Surpluses are back (if you don't count gravity)

So Minnesota has a state budget surplus again. Apparently, this improving economy President Bush is always talking about finally got talked into showing up. So the state now has about $1 billion in surplus funds over the next two years. Or maybe not.

See, in 2002 two majority leaders in the Legislature were running for office and the state budget was tanking big time. Instead of actually solving the problem, they found a neat way to make the budget look better - take out inflation! In fact, to really help out, only take out inflation calculations on the expenses side, but leave it in on the revenue side. To an economist, this is like legislating that gravity should take a break. Inflation doesn't stop because you tell it to.

Anyway, all kudos for the Star Tribune editorial staff for riding the Legislature on this one. Obviously, even before the state pays back schools for delaying their payments, it needs to restore good fiscal management. And that means putting gravity...er, inflation, back in the budget.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Pizzaman

Get the inside scoop on pizza delivery, local politics, and the abrubtly-shortened life of Mr Whiskers. All in one place!

Put your shoes on, clip your nails, and let's get serious about anti-terror

A counter terrorism expert just wrote a piece on Wired saying that for all the crazy safety stuff we've attempted, the two things making air travel safer these days are not bomb-detection machines or banning nail clippers. Instead, its those reinforced cockpit doors the FAA and airlines had resisted for years on financial grounds and the simple awareness of civilian passengers that they might want to fight hijackers.

Preventing terrorist attacks is a tricky business and few solutions are ever simple. But the United States isn't notable for its strategy in anti-terrorism. For example, we could arguably prevent more terrorism if we took all the money for the Iraq War and put it into homeland security. Or more directly, perhaps the money spent making Americans remove nail clippers and shoes before entering airplanes could have gone to better intelligence gathering (on terrorism or on WMD in Iraq), pick your fav.

So says Bruce Schneier, who worked with the federal government to design better air travel safety measures. Basically, instead of continually being reactive (checking all shoes after the attempted shoe bomber), safety has to be smarter. The way he puts it, we have to stop trying to prevent the latest movie plot terrorist and start thinking strategically about reacting effectively (by having good first responders) and planning ahead (by improving intelligence gathering). Hard to argue with that, unless you need to run for office this year.

The speed-walking smoker

I ride the train to school most days and really enjoy being able to combine mass transit with the short walk to campus from the station. This 5-10 minute trip actually ends up being the majority of my exercise most days, so it's particularly nice to have some time to just think about the world. It was very enjoyable until I started encounter him.

This guygets off the train at the same stop, walks in the same direction, and at approximately the same pace. This is already annoying, because nobody likes it when they end up in that awkward situation of walking alongside a stranger, both of you going the same speed. But this guy likes to rachet up the fun by lighting up as soon as we leave the station platform.

Since I prefer to walk in clean air, I'm left with one option: outpace the guy. I tried letting him get ahead one day, and had to sit in his cancer stick miasma for the entire trip from station platform to school. So I walk faster. However, the sprinting smoker seems to take this as a challenge, upping his own pace and requiring me to set a pace somewhere between brisk walk and dumb-looking speed walker. Asshole!

Even ferrets care about the death penalty

Over at the business, there's some deeper analysis of capital punishment, including some figures on other countries around the world that still use it.

For some additional reading, there are several pieces analyzing the scientific evidence on the supposed deterrent effect of the death penalty. Fagan's testimony to the NY state legislature notes that most studies don't separate between types of murders. A crime of passion, for example, might be less susceptible to deterrent effects than a calculated murder.

Basically, I think capital punishment is more reflective of a desire for revenge than justice. I also feel that people didn't get interested in the deterrent effects until they were under the gun to produce some good reasons for having capital punishment other than "that's what we've always done." Capital punishment is like many "traditions" in America that should be allowed to go the way of slavery, literacy tests at the polls, or institutionalization of the mentally ill.