Friday, September 14, 2012

Why Is Romney Slipping In The Polls?

John Cole gives a hypothesisfor  why Romney has dropped in the polls:
BTW- notice that it never occurs to Caddell that the reason Romney is failing is because his ideas are awful, the Republicans are insane and dangerous and represent about, well, 27% of America, and he is out of touch with America. No, no, no… It’s just bad messaging. That’s like saying rectal cancer is unpopular only because it has a shitty logo and the jingle sucks.
I really do think that some fence sitters tuned into the Republican National Convention, listened to those nuts talk about a Barack Obama who doesn't exist, wondered how the GOP thought  slashing federal spending and handing out even more tax cuts would balance the budget and promote economic growth, and they decided they didn't want to board that crazy train.  Then tuning into Bill Clinton explaining in plain English that Republicans are idiots sealed the deal.  The polls will probably get closer down the stretch, but widespread exposure to Republican "ideas" put them pretty well behind.

Melting Arctic Ice May Bring Severe Winter

Well this is a kick in the ass:
Francis published a study last year in which she showed that Arctic warming might already be causing the jet stream to become more amplified in a north-south direction. In other words, the fall and winter jet stream may be getting wavier. A more topsy-turvy jet stream can yield more extreme weather events, Francis said, because weather and climate extremes are often associated with large undulations in the jet stream that can take a long time to dissipate.
“We know that certain types of extreme weather events are related to weather that takes a long time to change,” Francis said.
While there are indications that the jet stream is slowing and may be more prone to making huge dips, or “troughs,” scientists have a limited ability to pinpoint how this will play out in the coming winter season.

“The locations of those waves really depends on other factors,” Francis said, such as El NiƱo and a natural climate pattern known as the Arctic Oscillation. “I can only say that it’s probably going to be a very interesting winter,” she said.
Francis’ work has linked Arctic warming to the unusually cold and snowy winters of 2009-10 and 2010-11, during which the U.S. East Coast and parts of Europe were pummeled by fierce winter storms and experienced cooler-than-average conditions. The winter of 2011-12 was much milder, by comparison, but Francis said it, too, was consistent with her research. Not all meteorologists agree on the Arctic connection theory, but that may change with time.
I can just imagine more ice storms and ridiculous winds knocking out power for days or weeks.  I don't have any idea what kind of weather might result from climate change, but it seems the consensus is that it will be more extreme.

Fall Cattle Drive

Via The Dish:

Herdsmen and -women wearing traditional Bavarian clothes (Dirndl and Lederhosen) accompany cattle down from alpine mountains in the annual cattle drive descent on September 13, 2012 near Oberstdorf, Germany. The herdsmen bring the cattle up to mountain meadows in the spring and stay there throughout the summer, where the animals graze on grass and the herdsmen live in a small huts called an alms, often without electricity, where many make cheese from the cows' milk. The tradition dates back through centuries, and in countries like Germany, Switzerland and Austria, the culture has a deep resonance in folk history. In September the season ends and the herdsmen return the cattle to farmers in a festive ceremony marked by the decoration of the lead cow with a garland, but only if all the cattle survived the summer. By Johannes Simon/Getty Images.
Unfortunately, I wouldn't be able to decorate the lead cow with a garland, because last Friday my cows got out and one got hit by a car and had to be put down.  That made for an unpleasant weekend.

A Couple Quick Things

While the Libya deaths are tragic, and the people who committed the violence (and the people behind the video) are idiots, are these four deaths any worse than the six deaths at the Sikh temple outside Milwaukee?  Both involved hate-filled idiot killers and innocent victims.  Is there a difference in who did the killing and who did the dying?

On another subject, did Mitt Romney actually blame Obama for the 30 year long trend of income inequality, and say that Obama's policies make it worse?  I guess my take is that Romney personifies the causes of income inequality and the erosion of the middle class.

An Overlooked Invention

William Rosen, via Ritholtz:

The sliding D-valve dramatically improved the steam-engine, and ushered in the age of incremental innovation. Source: Library of Congress

Lists of history’s great inventions always include the wheel, fire, the telephone, digital computing, the printing press, television, the automobile and (surprisingly frequently) the flush toilet. Depending on the archness of the list maker, you’ll also find the likes of the transistor radio, birth- control pills, eyeglasses, the Internet, WD-40, the push-up bra and the iPhone, which came in at No. 9 in a 2010 survey.
You won’t find the D-valve on any of them. However, almost every list is likely to include the steam engine, for which the sliding D-valve was invented by Murray in 1797. That’s because the steam engine is one of the most transformative machines in history -- the power behind the Industrial Revolution.
Yet the steam engine changed the world in a different way than we usually believe. For one thing, it didn’t actually drive the machines of the Industrial Revolution, at least not at first. Though Thomas Newcomen’s first engine appeared in 1712, it wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century that steam power overtook waterwheels as Britain’s foremost power source. This is why Murray’s 10-inch-long valve does a better job of illustrating the steam engine’s historical importance than Newcomen’s 40-foot behemoth.
The whole thing is worth reading, both for the history and the perspective.  A quick summary is that incremental changes add up to significant improvements over time.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Why I Love Joe Biden

The Inquisitr:

Joe Biden invited a firefighter to come to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave to try one of the White House’s now famous home-brewed beers. And just to make sure that there was no confusion with the invitation, Biden insured the crew in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, that he wasn’t bullsh*ting.
Pointing to one of his aids, Biden said:
“He’s going to call you, no bullshit.”
When Biden remembered that the room was full of reporters, he changed the message slightly. Biden said:
“This is no malarkey. You come to the White House. I’ll buy you a beer.”
According to the Huffington Post, Biden is a few years overdue on his beer promise to Deputy Chief Brad Shober. Biden visited the Shanksville Volunteer Fire Department last year and gave Shober a presidential coin. Biden told Shober at the time that if he still had the coin the next time he visits he’d buy the crew a round of beers.
Shober told the NY Times earlier this week that he ”made sure that was [in] my pocket” when the vice president came to visit on 9/11.
When Biden left the volunteer firefighter department in Pennsylvania, he made sure that Shober would come visit the White House. Biden did, however, say that he couldn’t promise a visit from President Obama.
That guy is just hilarious.  You don't know what he is going to say or do.  Pairing him with such a buttoned down guy like Obama makes it even better.  Even though Biden doesn't drink, it is easy for me to imagine he does (or imagine Obama drinks too much).

Tribute To Ron Swanson


The Malleable History of College Football

Bryan Curtis:
For most of history, A&M has claimed a single national title, in 1939, when German Panzers were rolling into Poland. This year, A&M decided it had won two more national titles, in 1919 and 1927, and added them to a display at Kyle Field. Let's look at the 1927 title. That year, judging by A&M enrollment data, the university had around 2,500 students. All of them were men. Dana X. Bible’s Aggies played a nine-game schedule, which included an impressive five shutouts. One of those shutouts was a 0-0 tie against TCU. When the season ended, various outlets — there was no AP poll yet — gave the national title to Illinois and Notre Dame.
Nearly 60 years later, as Barry Petchesky notes, Jeff Sagarin created a computer formula to rank college football teams. He retroactively declared A&M the 1927 national champs over Illinois et al. So in 1927, Texas A&M won a national title, even though that title wouldn’t exist for almost 60 years and the Aggies wouldn’t brag much about it for 85 years.
It gets stranger. This year, the Aggies also claimed new conference titles, for 1997 and 2010. I was in college in 1997, at Texas, so I can testify about that one. A&M lost the December 6 Big 12 title game to Nebraska, 54-15. Readers of the next day’s Dallas Morning News would discover a headline that read, "Ineffective offense stages A&M’s loss." The Nebraska-A&M game was so uninteresting that it doesn't even rate a Wikipedia page — though that might be the result of UT fans and our co-conspirators in the media.
An A&M spokesman later said the school would add a “South” next to the ’97 and ’10 titles on the display. By this point, the Internet had noticed.

Making the past more glorious than it was is one way college football changes history. Another way is to make the past disappear completely. Thanks to Reggie Bush’s NCAA violations, USC did not win 12 games in 2005. I was at the Rose Bowl that year, so I must have been on a Dickian amphetamine binge when Bush lateraled the football to nobody. Also retroactively, Bush did not win the 2005 Heisman. And USC's athletic department has — forgive the Bidenism — literally painted Bush out of the program's history.
He doesn't even touch on the lunacy with vacating all of Penn State's results from 1998 because that is when people at the school found out an assistant coach was raping little boys.  Or stripping Ohio State of a season's wins because Jim Tressel tried to cover up that his players were getting free tattoos.  Anyway, we may as well ignore all college sports records, because most of the good teams will have their wins vacated anyway.

What's Up With The Polls?

People have been pondering the lack of a bump for Romney, coming out of the convention, along with a decent bump for Obama.  Could it possibly be that undecided voters tuned in to each convention, and saw that the Republicans' solution to everything was more tax cuts and less regulations?  It had to help that Bill Clinton laid out why the Republicans are idiots.  I am sure the true believers are going to blame Romney for what is increasingly looking like a defeat this fall, but I think most of the blame lies with the true believers.

Irrigation And U.S. Agriculture

Big Picture Agriculture:

This month the USDA came out with a report titled, “Water Conservation in Irrigated Agriculture: Trends and Challenges in the Face of Emerging Demands” by Glenn D. Schaible and Marcel P. Aillery.
What Did the Study Find?
• Based on the 2007 Census of Agriculture, irrigated farms accounted for roughly 40 percent ($118.5 billion) of the value of U.S. agricultural production; nationwide, the average value of production for an irrigated farm was more than three times the average value for a dryland farm.
• Irrigated farms accounted for 54.5 percent ($78.3 billion) of the value of all crop products sold and contributed to the farm value of livestock and poultry production through animal forage and feed production. Livestock/poultry products accounted for roughly a third of market sales for irrigated farms and 63 percent for nonirrigated (dryland) farms.
• Nearly 57 million acres were irrigated across the United States in 2007, or 7.5 percent of all cropland and pastureland. Roughly threequarters of U.S. irrigated agriculture occurred in the 17 Western States, although irrigation has been expanding in the more humid Eastern States.
• Irrigated agriculture across the Western States applied 74 million acre-feet (24 trillion gallons) of water for crop production, with 52 percent originating from surfacewater sources and 48 percent pumped from wells that draw from local and regional aquifers.
There's a lot more interesting stuff over there.   With potential climate change impacts, I can't see how this continues.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remembering 11 Years Ago

Today's remembrances seem a little more muted than in the past.  As I've said before, I think that is a good thing.  For those of us who didn't lose anybody that day, it is past time to move on.  For those who did, my prayers are with you.  Now if we could remove the awful title of Patriots Day from the calendar for this day, and get rid of those tacky stars and stripes baseball caps they wear in the majors, and put away "God Bless America" from the seventh inning stretch in cities outside of New York City, I'd say we'd be well on our way back to normalcy.

The Pro Sports-Local Government Boondoggle

From The Atlantic:
In June, the city council of Glendale, Arizona, decided to spend $324 million on the Phoenix Coyotes, an ice hockey team that plays in Glendale's Arena.
The team has been owned by the league itself since its former owner, Jerry Moyes, declared bankruptcy in 2009. For each of the past two seasons, Glendale has paid $25 million to the league to manage the Coyotes, even as the city faced millions of dollars in budget deficits. Now, Greg Jamison, who is also part of the organization that owns the NHL's San Jose Sharks, is making a bid for the team, and would therefore be the beneficiary of the subsidies.
To put the deal in perspective, Glendale's budget gap for 2012 is about $35 million. As the city voted to give a future Coyotes owner hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, it laid off 49 public workers, and even considered putting its city hall and police station up as collateral to obtain a loan, according to the Arizona Republic. (The latter plan was ultimately scrapped.)
Overall, Glendale is not only on the hook for $15 million per year over two decades to a potential Coyotes owner, but also a $12 million annual debt payment for construction of its arena. In return, according to the Republic, the city receives a measly "$2.2 million in annual rent payments, ticket surcharges, sales taxes and other fees." Even if the Coyotes were to dominate the league like no other in recent memory and return to the Stanley Cup Finals year after year, the city would still lose $9 million annually.
What the fuck were they thinking in subsidizing the team like that?  Building stadiums is bad enough, but paying the league $25 million a year to run the team seems ludicrous.  Now that these stadiums are all built (or almost all built), I hope cities have learned their lessons.  The Bengals, and to a lesser extent the Reds, screwed over Hamilton County.  They will pay an outrageous amount by the time the stadiums are paid off.  But at least they aren't paying to operate the teams too.   And the economic benefits of the teams being there won't ever pay for what the County laid out.

Robot Dog, Or Robot Cow?


Previously we’ve seen AlphaDog, Darpa’s four-legged, autonomous robot wander the woods and play fetch. Now the Pentagon’s robo-beast, designed to haul supplies in rough terrain, has become smart enough to follow troops around like a loyal pet.
In the video above, released on Monday by Darpa, the AlphaDog – known as the LS3 or Legged Squad Support System – climbs rocks and trots after a soldier through wooded terrain. “We have been conducting tests to check out its mobility, perception and autonomy, and human-machine interaction,” Lt. Col. Joe Hitt, Darpa’s program manager, tells Danger Room. And a lot of what the robot is doing looks familiar. The machine, designed by Boston Dynamics, can stand upright, walk for 20 miles without a break and carry up to 400 pounds.
But this test has one important difference. Now the ‘bot can obey instructions to follow people. The Marines connected the robot to the Marine Corps Tactical Robot Controller (TRC), a 10-pound touchscreen device a soldier or Marine can use to send the robot orders.
That thing is creepy looking.  I'm glad to know what kind of robot crap the DoD is working on to make killing folks easier.  I don't think too many "sovereign citizens" can come up with the weaponry to fight off our military, 2nd amendment or not.

Biomass Syngas?

From Big Picture Agriculture:

Since the golden years of refining margins seem to have disappeared, Licata expects that to meet new mandates to produce cleaner-burning fuels, refiners will be forced to add biogas “in a big way” to sustain revenue growth. Valero Energy Corp., the world’s largest independent oil refiner, has become a major ethanol player. Valero invested $60 million in Enerkem Inc. last year, a company that converts waste into ethanol.
The Northeast’s refinery sales and closures because of favored margins in the West Coast and MidAtlantic regions has led to a lack of distillate and gasoline production in this region. Licata thinks that opportunities for biogas development in the eastern U.S. are growing. Refiners would distill garbage, plastics and biomass such as wood chips, corn husks, wood residues, straw and switch grass into syngas which is rich with complex hydrocarbons.
Licata concludes:

While cellulosic ethanol is a promising fuel alternative, there are issues we must call attention to, namely high production costs and the potential environmental damage. The U.S. produces about 1.3 billion tons of biomass a year. Therefore, fuel derived from biomass could potentially offset 30% of our present crude oil needs. Progress in this area should be seen sooner than later, and more refiners will likely look to follow Valero’s lead to boost exposure to biogas without harming food crops or timber.
I'll believe it when I see it.  Biomass syngas isn't as easy as fracking, and that's saying something.

Shoddy Chinese Construction?

Dr. Ed's Blog, via Ritholtz:
All these developments certainly explain why the Shanghai-Shenzhen 300 stock price index dropped last Wednesday to the lowest readings since March 3, 2009. On Friday, it rebounded by 5.3% on news that the government approved 25 new subway and inter-city rail projects worth $126 billion.

That’s not much, really. Why aren’t China’s leaders spending much more as they did in late 2008 and 2009 to boost economic growth? It might be because much of what they built was defective as a result of widespread corruption. The 8/4 issue of the London Times reported there were 99 road cave-ins in Beijing between July 21 and August 21 of this year. Roads and bridges are collapsing in other cities as well. Most are relatively new including a bridge that was built just 10 months ago.

The country's former railway minister, Liu Zhijun, was expelled from the Communist Party of China for corruption in May following the high-speed train collision that left 40 people dead and 172 injured near the eastern city of Wenzhou last year. In March of this year, part of a high-speed railway line due to open in May between the Yangtze river cities of Wuhan and Yichang collapsed after heavy rain. Engineers working on some projects have complained of problems with contractors using inferior concrete or inadequate steel support bars. Consider this excerpt from the 2/17/11 issue of the NYT:

“The statement underscored concerns in some quarters that Mr. Liu cut corners in his all-out push to extend the rail system and to keep the project on schedule and within its budget. No accidents have been reported on the high-speed rail network, but reports suggest that construction quality may at times have been shoddy. A person with ties to the ministry said that the concrete bases for the system’s tracks were so cheaply made, with inadequate use of chemical hardening agents, that trains would be unable to maintain their current speeds of about 217 miles per hour for more than a few years. In as little as five years, lower speeds, possibly below about 186 miles per hour, could be required as the rails become less straight, the expert said. Strong concrete pillars require a large dose of high-quality fly ash, the byproduct of burning coal. But the speed of construction has far exceeded the available supply, according to a 2008 study by a Chinese railway design institute.”
I've linked to previous stories about shitty construction in China.  I really wonder how much of it is true.  It is pretty hard to get worried about China and India taking down the U.S. when getting bridges to stand up and keeping the power on are real challenges for them.  We have some of the same problems, but not nearly on the same scale, and we don't have the outrageous poverty those countries do.  Maybe things aren't as bad here as we tend to believe.  Of course it would help if it looked like there was any way we could start fixing our comparatively modest problems.

Study Shows Swine Flu Potential

Scientific American:
Choi wanted to assess the pandemic potential of Korean strains. His team tested two H1N2 and two H3N2 viruses isolated from pig abattoirs before the 2009 pandemic. Most of these viruses did not cause any signs of serious disease in ferrets.
Sw/1204 was the exception. It replicated in the airways and lungs of three infected ferrets, killing one and causing such severe disease in the others that they had to be euthanized. The virus also spread through the air to infect three healthy ferrets that were housed in cages next to infected ones.
The virus gained two new mutations in its trip between the cages — one from aspartic acid to glycine in the haemagglutinin protein (HA225G), and one from serine to asparagine in neuraminidase (NA315N). The mutant virus was better at infecting and growing in human lung tissues and airway cells than the parental strain, and could still thrive and spread among swine.
The HA225G mutation allows the virus to bind more effectively to receptors in the lungs of its hosts, and has been linked to greater pathogenicity, but not transmissibility, in the pandemic H1N1 strain. NA315N has also been found before, but its role is less clear. Choi suggests that it stabilizes the neuraminidase protein, which is involved in viral break-out from host cells.
The outbreak of swine flu in people at county fairs is slightly concerning.  At least it hasn't shown any potential for transmitting from human to human.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Strange Fact Of The Day

Diana Diroy:
Loud flashes of yellow are all around you in this city—46,000 taxi sedans, vans and S.U.V.’s streaking across the streets of New York. Yet, only about 170 of them are driven by women, a percentage even lower than the national average. In all my years of hopping into cabs here, and elsewhere, I never met a female driver until I shot this documentary. I needed to find them.
I went from one taxi garage to the next, the only woman in a sea of men, and the drivers would look at me like I was crazy. For weeks I had no luck. Then one evening, a good friend of mine hailed a cab—and there was Shonna Valeska behind the wheel. He told her about my project, wrote her phone number down on a record sleeve, and texted me right away.
In November 2010 I began filming Valeska, and Elena Tenchikova, to whom I’d been connected via the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission. They graciously brought me into their world—one of late nights, early mornings, and forgotten corners—and a year and a half later, I caught up with the women for an update.
Wow, 170 out of 46,000?  Zoinks.

The Realism Of Pessimists

Linda Besner looks at a study of humanity's innate optimism:
Even in my airplane behaviour, though, there’s a seed of optimism: I always wear my contacts so I can swim to safety if we crash into the ocean. (If I were actually involved in the spectacular fireball of a plane crash that’s scrolling through my imagination, I would almost certainly be too dead to benefit from corrective eyewear.) I picture a scenario in which the probability of survival is incredibly low, and then class myself among the minority of people who survive, instead of the majority who end up at the bottom of the ocean.This kind of thinking is what dominates our predictions: we believe ourselves to be exceptional. Even thinking of myself as more pessimistic than everyone else is rather self-regarding: if optimists make up 80 percent of the population, why do I think I’m so special? In all likelihood, I’m as blind to my own optimism as other people are to theirs; that’s why they call it a bias.
But our illusions are what keep us going. Sharot’s research into the optimism bias has generated evidence to suggest that this persistent tendency to picture ourselves as special cases, immune to the bad things in life and disproportionately favoured with the good, is a basic function of the brain. One of the significant differences, as far as we know, between humans and other animals, is our capacity to project our spectral selves through time—to imagine a past and a future. Our ability to imagine a future has helped us to use tools, build civilizations, and domesticate other animals, but it comes with quite a catch: it also made us aware of our own mortality. When the best-case scenario is that we will all get old and die, and so will everyone we’ve ever loved, optimism isn’t a choice—it’s a necessity.
For humans to conquer life’s despair long enough to reproduce, we need to be able to ignore much of what we learn. As Sharot puts it, “the knowledge of death had to emerge at the same time as its irrational denial.” Unreasonable optimism is how we accept the human condition.
One of the findings is that pessimists are more likely to accurately predict outcomes, because they are more realistic.  I'm guessing that I fall into the pessimist category, even if I'm not highly accurate in predictions.

Nanodots Add Safety Features

The things that make Nanodots so awesome are also the things that make them enticing and dangerous for young children. It is easy to see why they would be attracted shiny playthings, especially if the child sees older siblings and parents playing with them. It’s the shiny factor that Nanodots has addressed first with a minor change in packaging.
The retail package has always had an emphasis on safety with high-contrast warnings, 14+ age indicators and clear labels warning that the product is not for children. The new change allows the end caps to be assembled into a compact and opaque container. The NANO container retains most of the package’s warnings and can be just a little stubborn for smaller hands to open.
The next feature, AversiveTech, addresses what happens when a child does get a hold of some dots and tries to swallow them. AversiveTech is a patent pending technology developed by Nano Magnets that puts an extremely bitter coating on their new colored dots.
My son unwittingly volunteered to taste the coating when I asked him to touch them to his tongue. He spent the next 20 minutes spitting and sputtering, even after washing his mouth out with water and eating a bowl of ice cream. They sure are gullible at that age.
Sounds like he's trying to win father of the year.  I'd hate to see toy magnets go away.  They were something I loved playing with as a kid.

Battle For Water Out West

A new race for water is rippling through the drought-scorched heartland, pitting farmers against oil and gas interests, driven by new drilling techniques that use powerful streams of water, sand and chemicals to crack the ground and release stores of oil and gas.
A single such well can require five million gallons of water, and energy companies are flocking to water auctions, farm ponds, irrigation ditches and municipal fire hydrants to get what they need.
That thirst is helping to drive an explosion of oil production here, but it is also complicating the long and emotional struggle over who drinks and who does not in the arid and fast-growing West. Farmers and environmental activists say they are worried that deep-pocketed energy companies will have purchase on increasingly scarce water supplies as they drill deep new wells that use the technique of hydraulic fracturing.
And this summer’s record-breaking drought, which dried up wells and ruined crops, has only amplified those concerns.
“It’s not a level playing field,” said Peter V. Anderson, who grows corn and alfalfa on the parched plains of eastern Colorado. “I don’t think in reality that the farmer can compete with the oil and gas companies for that water. Their return is a hell of a lot better than ours.”
How do they truck in up to 5 million gallons of water for a single well?  That is just crazy.  I can't see how fracking could possibly be sustainable.

Republican Crybabies

Mark Thoma:
As for Republicans blaming the troubles on Obama's "arrogance," that's just silly. I know Republicans like Boehner and Cantor are perfect in every way, no reason for Obama to have any problems with them (despite the fact that, according to Woodward they were very childish during the negotiations, "throughout the talks, Boehner and Cantor undercut each other, their animosity so obvious that a White House staffer 'felt awkward being in the same room with the two of them,'" and despite other behavior such as "Boehner screens Obama’s calls and shuns his requests to come back to the White House for yet another meeting. Obama is left to complain — publicly — that 'I’ve been left at the altar.'"). Sounds to me like there's an argument for personality issues on the Republican side -- some of it within the Party -- that's at least as strong as the silliness about "arrogance."
But really, what is it with Republicans and their hurt feelings? They tell us that the CEOs of major corporations stopped investing, stopped maximizing profit for their investors because the president hasn't honored them enough. They'll show him! -- all the while losing money for their investors? Republicans complain endlessly about the debt, it was a theme of their convention, but given a chance to do something about it they walk away because the president didn't treat them exactly as they expected and demanded? Apparently, their feelings got in the way. They show no respect to the president whatsoever -- quite the opposite -- and then break off negotiations they believe are crucial to the future of the country because he didn't show them the respect they think they deserve? Cry me a river (well, everyone but Boehner).
I have enjoyed all the rugged individualist Republicans whining about how mean Obama is, but what gets me is how Republicans are always playing the victim, even as they accuse Democrats of some utilization of a culture of victimization.  They are always crying about the bias of the "liberal media," even when that same media goes out of their way to make the case that Republican idiocy is a real public policy.  The supposedly brutal and biased media are scared of being attacked by whining Republicans, even though all the drivel put out by the Republicans almost never gets called out for it's stupidity.  The GOP is the national pity party.

On The Road With The Sports Guy

Bill Simmons visits the gym in Knightstown, Indiana, where many of the scenes of Hoosiers were filmed.

Anybody who hasn't watched that movie just shouldn't be allowed to reside in the Midwest.

Purely Pacific Northwest

Purely Pacific Northwest from John Eklund on Vimeo.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Art And Science

NASA Photo of the Day

September 5:

Airglow Over Germany
Image Credit & Copyright: Jens Hackmann
Explanation: Does air glow? It does, but it is usually hard to see. When conditions are right, however, a faint glow about 90 kilometers up can be observed, most easily with a wide-angle long-duration camera exposure. The same airglow can also frequently be seen looking down -- in pictures taken from Earth orbit -- as a faint arc hovering above the surface. Pictured above between the beige clouds, above the curving Earth, behind the streaking airplane, and in front of the sparkling stars are some green bands of airglow. The glow is predominantly created by the excitation of atoms by ultraviolet light from the Sun, with the bands resulting from density fluctuations caused by upward moving atmospheric gravity waves. The above image was taken in mid-July above Weikersheim, Germany. Lightning and aurorae can also cause air to glow, but result from particle collisions and are more fleeting.

The Revolution of Google Maps

The Atlantic:
It's probably better not to think of Google Maps as a thing like a paper map. Geographic information systems represent a jump from paper maps like the abacus to the computer. "I honestly think we're seeing a more profound change, for map-making, than the switch from manuscript to print in the Renaissance," University of London cartographic historian Jerry Brotton told the Sydney Morning Herald. "That was huge. But this is bigger."
The maps we used to keep folded in our glove compartments were a collection of lines and shapes that we overlaid with human intelligence. Now, as we've seen, a map is a collection of lines and shapes with Nick Volmar's (and hundreds of others') intelligence encoded within.
It's common when we discuss the future of maps to reference the Borgesian dream of a 1:1 map of the entire world. It seems like a ridiculous notion that we would need a complete representation of the world when we already have the world itself. But to take scholar Nathan Jurgenson's conception of augmented reality seriously, we would have to believe that every physical space is, in his words, "interpenetrated" with information. All physical spaces already are also informational spaces. We humans all hold a Borgesian map in our heads of the places we know and we use it to navigate and compute physical space. Google's strategy is to bring all our mental maps together and process them into accessible, useful forms.
Their MapMaker product makes that ambition clear. Project managed by Gupta during his time in India, it's the "bottom up" version of Ground Truth. It's a publicly accessible way to edit Google Maps by adding landmarks and data about your piece of the world. It's a way of sucking data out of human brains and onto the Internet. And it's a lot like Google's open competitor, Open Street Map, which has proven that it, too, can harness the crowd's intelligence.
Google maps is amazing.  The Street View feature is just great.  

Is Sarcasm Dying?

Simon Doonan wonders:
From the Greek sarkasmos, meaning to sneer at or taunt (and derived from a term for rending the flesh), sarcasm is one of the building blocks of civilization. The ability to express an unwelcome observation in a wickedly passive-aggressive manner is, at the very least, a great alternative to old-fashioned fisticuffs, or rape ‘n’ pillage. When I think about those ancient Greeks and the carte blanche they enjoyed to say horrid things to one another, I get quite jealous. For example: If you were strolling through downtown Thebes and you ran into a pal who was looking particularly soiled and unkempt, you might say, “Going somewhere special?” to which the other Greek might good-naturedly reply, “Oh! You and your flesh-rending ironic observations!” It’s sad to think that such a remark would, in our squishy and oversensitive age, be met with accusations of “hating.”
If sarcasm is dying—it’s now such a rare commodity that when the Republicans decided to insert a little snark into last week’s proceedings, they were obliged to exhume an octogenarian entertainer, hello!—what, pray, will become of the little children of today? Sardonic irony is as critical to healthy child development as vitamins and tick-checks. Raising your brats on an exclusive diet of sincerity is a recipe for disaster. The current mania for relentless positivity and self-esteem building leaves me convinced that we are in real danger of turning out an entire generation of inspirational speakers.
I am happy to say that I was barraged with sarcasm during my formative years. My teachers specialized in subtle-but-withering verbal assaults. Many incidents spring to mind: After jackhammering my way through an entire page of Ulysses in a robotic monotone—how was I supposed to know that James Joyce expected the reader to insert the lilts, pauses, and commas intuitively?—my English teacher announced that he was overcome by the “sensitivity” of my reading and would need to “nip out for a fag” in order to compose himself. While the entire class roared with laughter, I flinched and cringed. But I eventually recovered. Better to be verbally humiliated than whacked upside the head, an outcome that was also on offer, and the benefits of which will doubtless be the subject of some future column.
I have yet to become too sincere.  I can be on occasion, but I generally love to break out the sarcastic comment on someone who is getting a little full of himself.  It always gives the other folks listening a good chuckle.