Thursday, April 30, 2009

2 months of swine flu vs. 1 month of regular flu

Some reports argue that the earliest case of swine flu originated on March 3rd in Mexico. This chart shows that less than 400 cases have been detected worldwide since then.
This means that in the entire world there are less cases of swine flu in two months than there are cases of normal flu in the Unites States in one month.

Ridiculous media frenzy, anyone?


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If I were President

If I were President, I'd change the dress code. I could never wear a suit all day, every day.

If I were President, my contribution to the White House grounds would be a big vegetable garden, that no one but me would be allowed to touch.

If I were President, one day a week I'd randomly show up at people's doorsteps and ask to eat dinner with them.

If I were President, the White House staff would have Chicago-style deep dish pizza at every possible meeting.

If I were President, I'd start a "Reds vs. Blues" 7 on 7 football game to be played on the White House lawn. My staff could choose to be red or blue. One player would pretend to be Arlen Spector, and be on the "Purple Team"...on both teams...but really on neither.

If I were President, I'd get rid of that clunky 747 that wastes gasoline and downgrade to a new Boeing Dreamliner. Practice what you preach!

If I were President, whenever I met with a foreign diplomat or leader, I'd first demand we participate in a fun activity like bowling or darts or ping pong, depending on the visitor's preference. I'd also remove all alcohol from the White House, except for a keg of Boulevard Wheat, produced by Boulevard Brewery.

If I were President, I'd encourage foreign dignitaries to call me "dude" or "bud" or by my first name. If they called me "Mr. President" I'd interrupt them and say "Whoa stop right there, Mr. President is my dad."

If I were President, I would try to get a law passed that my children were ineligible for the Office. Sons of Presidents don't seem to make good Presidents themselves. Better to save them from the humiliation of an 8 year blunder.

If I were President, I'd keep a Supersoaker watergun in my podium, and if a member of the press corps ever got on my nerves, I'd blast 'em, and diffuse the tense situation through hilarious jokesterism.

If I were President, I'd occasionally call my staffers by different names, to keep them on their toes.

If I were President, I'd ask Hillary Clinton to name what post she'd most like to have, then I'd nominate Bill Clinton for that position. It'd make some great drama.

If I were President, I'd occasionally justify my actions with "because I'm the President, and I can do what I want."

If I were President, the United States would immediately switch to the metric system, and be done with this ridiculous inch pound garbage.

If I were President, I'd use my position to leverage free flights in an F-22.

If I were President, I'd play golf and have the Secret Service "help" my ball find the fairway. I'd dare my opponent to call me a cheater. If they did, I'd say "Stop being such a Hillary. It was a good shot."

If I were President, I'd encourage people to eat less beef, and more buffalo.

If I were President, I'd publish an NCAA bracket that was straight chalk, then pretend like I had actually used reasoning to make the picks. From that day on, it wouldn't be a "straight chalk" bracket, it'd be named after me.

If I were President, I'd never root for North Carolina. I'd never root for Kansas either. I'd probably root for Xavier, but then I'd pretend that I thought it was the school where the X-Men were training.

If I were President, I'd push for a tax on Segways. The tax would be 10,000% the cost of the Segway. I'd then say in a speech "do you hate Segways or do you hate America?"

If I were President, I'd turn the White House into the "Black House" for Halloween, people would be charged admission to walk through the haunted buildings. White House staffers would play zombies, and I'd be dressed as Lincoln, lying "dead" in the Lincoln bedroom.

If I were President, well...that'd be pretty cool.


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A Rare Defense Of Obama - Universal Health Care

In general I don't like progressive agenda because it is actually "expensive agenda" and seems to me that things are best done when the government stays out of it.

But in the case of health care, (forgive me Wellsy) I have to agree with the Administration, and I have to believe that Universal Health Care should be the American policy. The reason is this: kids all over the country are sick and dying because they can't afford health insurance.

I sit here, firmly entrenched in my cushy, upper-middle-class job, and it'd be easy for me to sneer down and say "health care in this country isn't a problem" because my employer pays 100% of my health care costs. I have to pay a pretty hefty amount to keep Mrs. TAE and T.A.D. insured as well, but still, if either of them was in a terrible accident and needed hundred of thousands of dollars of work, and weeks in a hospital, I'd simply pay my deductible and sit back and request every possible procedure. The truth is, I complain about my monthly insurance premium, but I have it pretty good. I got my teeth cleaned a couple months ago and didn't pay a dime. My wife just got a root canal and it only cost me $138.

But not all (actually hardly any) Americans are so lucky as I. They either have less coverage or no coverage at all. If my family had no dental plan, Mrs. TAE's root canal would have cost us $1,380. There is a reason poor people have less teeth. And it's not just the Mountain Dew.

The reason I think Universal Health Care works for me is because although I am a conservative and I love freedom, I love Jesus even more, and I understand that as a Christian is it not only my duty, but my priviledge, to take a small tax hike in exchange for massively helping the welfare of my underpriviledged fellow Americans. Although I am a conservative and hate fiscal waste, I hate seeing humans suffer needlessly even more.

One might argue that the government could not possibly run health insurance as efficiently as private companies, and I would not disagree. But the government will not run it as a selectively applied, for-profit, greedy empire of deceit that only funds research that proves vaccines are effective, or only covers knee replacements if the patient has a 2-year documented history of pain. The government does not have an annual shareholders meeting, where the CEO must explain why profits are up or down, and government health insurance would be held to a higher standard of equality (and accountability) than privatized health insurance. The government can't lobby itself!

Would universal government health insurance be cheaper? Most likely not. But would more people in the country benefit, and would more Americans be healthier in the long run because of it? Most likely yes.


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Swine Flu isn't even as deadly as the normal flu


The CDC reports that in a normal year, approximately 36,000 Americans die from complications due to the flu. 200,000 Americans are hospitalized because of the flu, and in a normal year 5-20% of Americans get the flu. That means 15 million - 60 million Americans get the flu every year.

So far this year, 1 American has died from the swine flu. There are less than 500 cases nationwide. If one assumes that 200,000 people will get the normal flu this year, then there are 550 new cases every day. Why isn't the WHO declaring a Phase 5 alert for that?!

Yglesias thinks we're all panicking over nothing, but I'll go further: I think we are panicking over less than nothing. Why? Well, evolution, of course. Reports of the symptoms of swine flu are that it is actually less severe than normal flu. This makes sense, if you read my post about evolution pushing highly infectious diseases towards harmlessness. In order for a virus to circulate well, it must not kill its host too quickly. Therefore, viral strains that are less harmful tend to be more infectious. This is what appears to be happening with the current swine flu strain. It is less harmful, but much more infectious, than normal human flu.


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Doctor Shortage


Here, Megan McCardle plagiarizes my argument (just kidding). But she argues, like I did in early March, that universal health care will not work right now because we can't suddenly increase the total number of doctors and nurses in this country by 40%. Further, the number of GP's is decreasing and there appears to be no solution to this problem. I disagree. Megan says:
Second of all, it's actually really, really hard to pay GPs well, at least in the context of cutting overall costs. Note that private insurers, who are presumably not attempting to ingratiate themselves with the AMA, also reimburse procedures, not wellness. That's because procedures can be monitored, and wellness can't.

On the contrary, it seems to me that universal health care could fix this problem. If we all were beholden to the same standard of health care, and all medical visits, both procedural and wellness (and rehabilitation) are all billed to the same giant coffer of government health insurance, and the are all reimbursed at the same crappy rate, then it actually might encourage doctors to move to GP.
Let me explain: if you had your choice of seeing patients for $88 a visit, and look at their tonsils, check their tummy for swelling, listen to their breathing with a stethoscope, and then send them home with Tylenol (basically a zero risk consultation) or to open up their brain and try to remove a tumor, possibly killing them and getting sued, I think a lot of doctors would choose the former, not the latter. Of course, the brain surgery pays 1,000 times more. The key to universal health care would be to eliminate the ability of specialists to charge $75,000 to put in an artificial knee, or $46,000 to remove a kidney.
In many European countries, the situation is very different. There is not a desperate shortage of doctors. In Germany, for instance, every ambulance that is dispatched has a doctor riding in the back. This ensures the patient has the highest quality care possible from the moment the ambulance arrives until the patient (hopefully) leaves the hospital later. However, German doctors are not making exorbitant amounts of money. In many European countries, the job of a doctor has been reduced in stature by restriction of pay to the level of someone like...an engineer or a scientist. So in these countries, being a doctor is a fair job, but not unlike many others.
If you want to "herd doctors to GP" as Megan puts it, you must either incentivize that trade or de-incentivize specialties enough that people stop flocking there.

The last time I talked about doctors, a commenter argued that the problem with the doctor shortage isn't as much the lock the AMA has on med school enrollment numbers, but rather the shortage of residency spots. That may in fact be true. However, residencies are typically for specialists, not for GP's. Increasing the number of residency positions nationwide simply encourages a larger share of a finite number of new doctors to specialize. Right now, we need GP's more than we need dermatologists.


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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How much is $100 million in budget cuts?

Sadly, watch me.


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Pet Engineering


I read this morning that scientists have made puppies that glow in the dark. This follows the glowing fish, pigs, cows and lambs from a few years back in a string of pet experiments that scientists have conducted. It all goes back to my idea that science is at its most bold, but least ethical, when it is primarily motivated by money and not in improving the human condition.

Cloning glowing puppies is clearly a violation of nature. And worse, I see no possible way this could advance the well-being of the human population. Scientists have already proven they could put RFP (red fluorescent protein) and GFP (green fluorescent protein) in several mammals; there really wasn't anything amazing done here.

But the idea that people might pay exorbitant amounts of money for bizarre pets surely must have driven this research. Which leads me to my own bold, unethical science experiment to be done on dogs that would yield millions in revenue: PermaPups

Someone (who understands that I own the intellectual property rights to this idea) should take puppy embryos and genetically engineer them so that when they get to be 10-week-old puppies, they stop growing. Voila! PermaPups, the cutest, cuddliest form of human-friendly life on this planet. So many dog owners buy a cute puppy at the pet store...but a few months later when that adorable little pup has matured into a rebellious young adult, and requires training and patience...the owner stops loving it so much. But what if that same person could have that puppy they love...forever?! Surely they'd treat that puppy wonderfully. And the puppy gets to live in blissful youth forever, free to do all the fun puppy things, never bothered by puberty or going into heat, or getting spayed or neutered. Never cursed with old, bad hips, or a decaying mind.

You might laugh and say that PermaPups are unrealistic. Well consider the glowing puppies of the story above. Was it so unbelievable ten years ago that someone would invent a cadre of glowing dogs, lambs, etc? Scientists simply inserted the RFP gene into the dog embryos and nature did the rest.
So for example take the lobster. Lobsters are basically believed to be immortal. They simply grow and live and grow and live until they are caught by fisherman or eaten by a predator. Some lobsters are believed to be hundreds of years old. Would it be so hard to isolate the gene (or genes) that lobsters use to guarantee their longevity, and place them in the dog gene code in place of the part of the dog gene that causes puberty to start? If that worked, keeping your puppy a puppy forever would (seemingly) be a cinch!

Anyway, what I am proposing, though intriguing, is unethical. It is unethical to force a creature to remain an adolescent forever. It was (is?) unethical for the Catholic Church to castrate boys to keep their vocal chords from maturing. It is unethical to genetically engineer dogs with weird traits, just to prove they could.

Seemingly, our society is confronted more and more with scientists who attempt a thing just to see if they could, not considering if they actually should.


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This fulfills my obligation to say something about the entertainment industry.


Warm to the touch professional dancer and singer Julianne Hough and boyfriend Chuck Wicks got eliminated last night on Dancing With The Stars. TAE is not an avid watcher of this show, but does stay on top of the latest news. Having seen the early episodes of this season (and the female dancers in particular) let me just say this.
Watching Dancing With The Stars without Julianne Hough is kinda like trying to eat a bowl of ice cream without a spoon. It's still ice cream, and it still tastes good, but if you have to shovel it into your mouth with your fingers...it just loses something intangible.


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Predicting the future


Back in 1792, Thomas Jefferson was fed up. The Federalists, led by (tastefully named) Alexander Hamilton, were trying to pass legislation to establish a national bank, to shore up the Federal governments primacy over the states, and to establish a treaty with Britain (who was at war with France).
Jefferson retaliated by forming the "Democratic-Republican" party. For simplicity they were called "the republicans". From 1800-1824 this party held the majority in both the House and Senate, and eventually became so large that party unity dissolved and the party split into the Jefferson loyalists: "the democrats" and several other groups. None of those groups was the modern Republican party as we know it today; that party formed in 1854 as an anti-slavery party.

Anyway, the point is, in 1820 James Monroe ran under the party's banner for President and was elected almost unanimously in the electoral college. Four years later the party fractured.

Is this the future of the Democratic Party? With Specter now entrenched in the Democratic party, but still claiming to be at least moderate, and with the possibility that the Dems might gain more Senate and House seats in the 2010 election, I have to wonder if the Democratic party is on its way to utter dominance...and then utter collapse.

Could the Democratic party soon get so big and broad-ranged in political attitudes that it fractures? Ask the Blue Dogs.


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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Adventures in ridiculous hypocrisy


Sen. Arlen Specter in March 2009: "To eliminate any doubt, I am a Republican. I am running for reelection in 2010 as a Republican on the Republican ticket."

Sen. Arlen Specter in April 2009: "I have decided to run for reelection in 2010 as a Democrat. I find my political philosophy is now more in line with the Democratic party."

My guess would be that Sen. Specter's campaign advisors told him the Pennsylvania Republican ticket will be very unpopular this November. Specter does not care about political philosophy, he cares about doing whatever it takes to retain his position of power.


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Evolutionary Pressure on Viruses to be Wimpy

If you were a neat new virus, would you want to be deadly, or harmless?

Many evolutionists agree, viruses tend to mutate towards harmlessness. The thought goes like this: deadly viruses kill their hosts before they can spread. The less deadly the virus, the more likely the host is to survive at least until the virus is spread to a new host. So viruses tend overall to mutate away from deadly.

This should be good news to anyone fearing a global kill off of all humans by a new supervirus or superbacteria; any bug that wants to live most probably must sacrifice its own virulence for the sake of its own infectiousness.


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Global Swine-o-caust


Swine flu cases have now been confirmed in the Middle East, Spain, New Zealand, and Asia. This means that swine flu, which is believed to have originated in Mexico, has spread in less than a month to 3 separate continents and is officially "on" every landmass except Antarctica. Although for developed countries swine flu is laughably curable, and in fact not even a dangerous disease, the high death toll in Mexico shows that weaker immune systems typically associated with peoples in poorer countries are more dangerously effected. And so we find ourselves facing a pandemic.

I have two thoughts, and I have to keep them short because I am swamped here at work.

First, we need to use this less than awful disease to test and evaluate models for isolating and stopping the spread of pandemics. Here we have a gift: a disease that is easy to survive if given care and nutrition, but spreads vigorously from person to person. We can watch and learn how the typical spreading patterns emerge. All of the cases outside Mexico involve someone who traveled to Mexico, got the disease and brought it home and started spreading it; we should look at our local quarantine methods, and figure out how to quickly seal off borders if needed. Someday, it might not be an innocuous flu spreading from Mexico, it could be a killer virus.

Second, we have a real opportunity here to highlight the fact that people in third world countries need our help. By and large, only people from destitute areas are dying from swine flu, and the affluent are spared via health and nutrition. Shouldn't we be doing all we can to help the poor?


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Sunday, April 26, 2009

TAE's Trademarked Phrases


As the inventor of the phrase "whatev" I've always been looking for what's hip in linguistics so I can take credit for it.


One of my greatest linguistic inventions (actually mine) was the word "godzillion" which basically means a huge, massive amount of money equal to the amount of funds you'd need to fund a research lab that could create Godzilla. I'm sure that'd be an expensive project. It might be cheaper to just detonate nukes at the ocean floor, like the Japanese did, I don't know. In some circles, the word godzillion is becoming wildly popular. The radius of said circles is not up for discussion.


Anyway, whenever government corruption gets en vogue, I always hear the phrase "who will watch the Watchmen?" This phrase has been especially popular given the recent release of the movie "The Watchmen" which is about a bunch of illegal vigilantes.

So now the phrase "who will watch the watchmen?" has gotten a little skewed and the meaning gets derailed. So leave it to me to come up with a new phrase!

Here it is:


"Who will police the policymakers?"


Once again, I've outdone myself.



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Friday, April 24, 2009

Why some people need to shut up.

Ace Ventura crackled onto the screen in 1995, featuring Jim Carrey who, among other things, spent 5 minutes of the movie standing in his own shower trying to pump his stomach using a household plunger after he realized he had jokingly kissed a cross-dressing man earlier in the movie. It debuted Jim Carrey's trademark style of spastic humor, which he used again later that year in Dumb and Dumber and The Mask.

Of course, Carrey's comedic debut was really (and ironically) as a man dressed in women's clothing as Vera de Milo on In Living Color in early 90's.

Anyway, when I think "expert on vaccination safety" I usually think of medical doctors, immunologists, scientists, and various other experts in the field. I do not think someone who's trademark phrase is "La-who-sa-her'!" qualifies as a credible expert in the field.

But then I remembered that Jim Carrey is dating Jenny McCarthy, who has a son with autism, and that McCarthy claims her son was completely normal until he had his MMR vaccine.

"My girlfriend told me vaccines are to blame for her son's disease, as well as her divorce, so they must be really bad."


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Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Big Blue Marble


Sometimes I forget how beautiful it is.


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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Corn Ethanol...still bad


Ages ago, I wrote a post about cellulosic ethanol, that is, ethanol derived from grass. That post was also written in opposition to corn-based ethanol, which has a much lower energy yield per acre.

Scientists have discovered that corn-based ethanol requires three times as much water as previously thought to be produced. So not only is corn-based ethanol inefficient at producing energy, it's also a water hog. Did I mention that native prairie grasses (which are used in cellulosic ethanol production) require little or no irrigation?

Hmm...


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Science on the edge of insanity


Nanobiotechnologist 1:"And then I was like, dude, you know what'd be totally bad-ass? Let's take nanoparticles and cover them in scorpion venom, then insert the nanoparticles into tumor cells!"

Nanobiotechnologist 2:"Dude, sweet!"

NBT1: "Totally."

NBT2: "We'll either kill the tumor cells or create a wicked supertumor - part tumor, part scorpion, all awesome."

And so they did.


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The reason trial lawyers love Democrats

As reported here, Rep. Peter J Visclosky, D-Ind, has asked the Federal Elections Committee for permission to use campaign funds to pay for lawyers hired to represent him in an ongoing fundraising investigation.
That's right, he wants to use the very illegal money he shouldn't have to pay for lawyers who will help him keep that illegal money.

Of course, this is the latest trend: last week, awesome human being and inspiration to us all, Rod Blagoyevich asked permission to use the very funds he is indicted for obtaining illegally to pay for his legal defense that he didn't obtain those funds illegally.

The equivalent of this, in engineering terms, would be to ask your thermodynamics professor for the answer to the exam, so you can take the test and prove you are good at thermodynamics. "Without the answers to the test, how can I possibly prove I know the answers to the test?!"

But I think there's a larger issue here: we could be looking at the next great idea for making money. Here's how it works: take money from dubious (and legally troubled) sources via blackmail, bribes, corporate theft, tax evasion, or whatever methods are necessary (and legally grey), then use part of that money to pay slick lawyers to make the whole thing go away. Then, you can use your money as capital to entertain (read: coerce) new investors to give you even more money, which you'll then use to pay more lawyers to bury in the courts, etc etc and so on and so forth.

Maybe I should take a look at J.D. programs around here...


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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Here, I am. Send me.

So I said:
“Woe is me, for I am undone!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King,
The LORD of hosts.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said:

“Behold, this has touched your lips;
Your iniquity is taken away,
And your sin purged.”

Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying:

“Whom shall I send,
And who will go for Us?”

Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”


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Earthquake expected any day now in Iran.

Seismologists have predicted a late April earthquake in Iran on the order of 5.0-6.0. Their method involves watching unusual cloud formations. Electromagnetic forces, caused by the nearly-earthquake forces in the rocks, is thought to disrupt cloud formations in the atmosphere. These cloud formations should be detectable via satellite.

In similar news, an Italian seismologist correctly predicted the recent Italian earthquake that killed over 200 people. However, he was forced by Italian authorities to remove his findings from the internet, over fears he would spread a panic.


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Dick Cheney Justifies Torture With Results


Dick Cheney:
"Since the U.S. provides most leadership in the world, I don't think we have much to apologize for," said Cheney. Since his departure from the White House, Cheney says he's been concerned over the way the U.S. has been presented overseas and finds Obama's apologies to various countries "disturbing." He also feels Obama's "coziness" with America's opponents like Daniel Ortega and Hugo Chavez is not "helpful." "It's important the U.S. that we don't come off as arrogant -- but also important to not come across as weak, indecisive and apologetic," said Cheney.
For some reason, Cheney and Obama remind me of Chet and Wyatt from the 1985 movie Weird Science. Wyatt, constantly apologizing to everyone for Chet's violent, reckless behavior, and Chet constantly making fun of Wyatt for being a pathetic weakling.

Anyway, I'm just recycling what others have already said: it's disturbing when people start thinking that the ends justify the means. Of course, having said that, I wonder about my own hypocrisy, because I support Truman's bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki...


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Bear Grylls faces impending unemployment


Above is a pictorial representation of how remote places on earth are. The darker they are, the longer it would take someone there to travel to a city of 50,000. Most of earth is now less than 24 hours from the nearest major city, and this does not include towns and villages along the way. Frankly, its getting harder and harder to disappear.
Anyway, after the research was done, it was found that there are almost no places on earth that are 3 full days away from a major city. Think you're safely lost in the Amazon? Well thanks to rapidly expanding river traffic, you're found as soon as you find water. Thanks to an expansive highway system, much of China is now quite developed.

In fact, based on the image below, the only place on earth left to disappear is Nepal.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Banking Math Fail?


I read today that Bank of America posted a profit. But their stock dropped 20% because they realized over 8 billion in losses.


*scratches head*


They made a profit, but lost $8 billion? Obviously math like this is what got us into this mess.



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SCIENCE POST!!!


Remember a couple weeks ago when I made fun of the scientists (more specifically, the state of California for the funding) who were going to beam energy from space?

Apparently it has come to light that those same scientists plan to use their space solar beam to "kill" hurricanes.

"Not only can we send a high-precision microwave beam from space to Earth without harming anyone or the atmosphere, but it turns out we can turn that beam on the atmosphere itself to control weather."

I'm sorry, what? I guess the theory is that by heating up the inner portions of the hurricane they can weaken it to the point that it won't cause damage when it hits land. The problem arises when you realise that a solar array designed to power California cannot possibly send power to California while on duty as a hurricane deflector ray. Are they now suggesting we launch two orbital solar arrays? And if they are right, and their microwave emittor can burn up hurricanes, what's to stop it from burning up other things? And how exactly doesn't it burn up the atmosphere when it transmits its energy beam to the grid-thing in the California desert?

As an engineer well-versed in Murphy's Law, let me tell you: this will never work.


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Scott Parks Condones Waterboarding

Below is the text of an email I just sent to the Shanin and Parks program, based in Kansas City:
Scott Parks: "Khalid Sheikh Mohammed should be waterboarded every day for the rest of his life."

Scott, I have been listening to you guys for a few years now and that is the most offensive thing you have ever said. When you said that I was simply dumbstruck. Normally I nod along as you guys broadcast, but when you said that, I sat there for a second, and then turned you off.
I do not know you, but based on your website claiming you attend Knox Presbyterian Church I suspect you consider yourself a Christian, and if so, you should think long and hard about what Jesus said about your neighbor and what the responsibilities you have as a Christian man with a voice heard by thousands over the radio. You have a real opportunity to show that although you do not like terrorists, and what they do is a vile, vile thing, you are a Christian human being and you will treat the terrorists as fellow human beings.
I am not asking you, or any American, to forgive them, and I believe justice should be swift. But torturing them not just through waterboarding, but through electric shocks, forced physical strain, and various other techniques is heinous and wrong and the Bush Administration has done serious harm to our international stature and it will take years to repair it. I find it sadly ironic that most of the people who are claiming waterboarding is AOK (because, you know, it gets results) are people like you that call themselves Christians, and the cries of foul about the torture have been largely from secular sources.
Christians that do not act the faith they preach are why more than 40% of Americans between age 16-29 say that they "like Jesus, but hate Christians for their hypocrisy" based on a recent Pew study.

I am turning my radio to 97.3 (the local version of KLOVE) for a while, your hypocrisy has lost me as a listener.
Signed, TAE

I encourage any of my readers to email something similar to Scott Parks here, or simply tell anyone you see that Scott Parks is a jackass.


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Gun Control vs. Obama?


In the comments to my post, regular reader Adam says:
I think that TAE's argument was that Obama would not stop the movement and would just let it happen, sign the bill, and be fine with it.

Basically yes, what I am concerned with is that Obama will act as a willing bystander, maybe not signing the legislation, but instead just letting it sit on his desk sans veto, thereby letting it ratify anyway. This would be the politically neutral way for him to allow enhanced gun control without actually endorsing it.

TPI rebuts (also in the comments):
If you're worried about mass gun confiscation, don't--there's no way it will happen.

I don't think most politically informed conservatives are actually concerned with gun confiscation in the near future, 2nd Amendment intepretation lately have been very pro-gun and pro-ownership. But I believe the concern from people in the know is that the Democratic party (possibly, though doubtfully minus the Blue Dogs) is attempting to circumvent the 2nd Amendment by going after ammo instead of guns. Already (within the first 75 days of Obama Administration) the DOD tried to end the decades-long practice of selling spent cases to private ammo manufacturers, which would have put a stranglehold on, or bankrupted, many ammo manufacturers nationwide. Although I am against banning ammo, I can't help but smile at the cleverness of the tact.

However, if the first amendment is the right to free speech and free press, heavy restrictions on, or outright bans of ammunition seems to me like telling journalists to write whatever they want...but pens and laptops are hereby illegal.


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Girl Talk

Megan McCardle and I agree (in the comments) on what is good in music.


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Adventures in linguistics


Did I already post about this? I got kinda busy last week and lost track of the latest entertainment news, but apparently TV Land started a show last Wednesday titled "The Cougar" which is sort of a bachelorette show with the twist being that the woman is 40 and the men are all in their 20's.

Now I hate to argue semantics here, but after looking at a few pictures of the Cougar, Stacey Anderson, and hearing that she's only 40 (with 4 kids), my conclusion is that the show is getting it all wrong. She isn't a Cougar at all. She's a Milf!

The definition of a Cougar is an old lady who is hunting at clubs for a quick kill from a young man...she'll feed, then go back for more. A Cougar is supposed to have plastic surgery to the point that she looks like a wind tunnel victim. She's supposed to be soulless, horny, and looking for young men willing to do anything.
Stacey, in this show, isn't looking for a cheap lay, which is the object of a Cougar. Stacey is looking for a boyfriend or love or whatever. So all things being equal, this show really isn't about women's lib. It's about fulfilling men's fantasies of getting their hands on a Milf.


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Tea Party Politeness


Comments like this:
Fresno had over 7,500 attend the most polite protest I have ever witnessed.
are both a blessing and a curse, really.
You see readers email Glenn Reynolds saying this all the time about protests all across the country: People are so nice, so polite, everyone was very cool, everyone was so calm, no one got violent, smiles were all over the place.
That's neat, and all, I really am glad people can behave like adults.

But this is a protest. This is a protest movement, or at least some would like it to be. Someone needs to get angry and show it. Someone needs to shout something at a cop and get the ball rolling. Politely asking Congress "if you please would you mind not raising taxes? And could you pretty please impeach Mr. Obama?" is kind of like standing in front of a beehive and saying "Bees, would you please let me have your honey? I won't stick my hand in there, honest, but I'd like that honey so I need you to bring the honey out to me."

Of course, I don't condone violence, or riots. But I do believe that a protest movement, if it wants to be effective, needs to have some bullhorns, and the occasional arrest. If you look at the length of American history you see radical change coming not from petitions and sit-ins, but from arrests, angry protesters, and from government taking action when the protest is on the verge of becoming an uprising.

Of course, you have to actually be focused on an issue in order to effectively protest it. People at the Tea Parties really don't have a unifying cause. They are all just sort of there with their own pet complain against liberal government.

I guess I'd really like to turn on CNN and see someone chain themselves to Obama's front steps in Chicago.


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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Unmanned Aerial Helicopter


I can understand someone arguing that an unmanned helicopter with guns strapped to it could slip into urban areas and takeout insurgents with less collateral damage than human soldiers...


...but what I don't understand is why they call it the "Vigilante"? A vigilante is someone who gets tired of the actual police force not doing anything and goes on a violent killing spree against criminals. Maybe because DOD checkwriters are a lot more hynotized by the word vigilante than they are by the phrase "soldier saver".



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Friday, April 17, 2009

Iron Man Suits, the neverending thread


Another day, another Japanese robot maker releases some bionic device with the loud disclaimer that it doesn't imbue superhuman strength.

Here, you can read about the new Honda exoskeleton, designed to assist the elderly move around by relieving joint pressure.


Once again I ask myself "Why are scientists using servos?" Linear actuators are way more powerful. I think I have come around to the answer: batteries.

Servos use less power to produce less power. They are about the only feasible option for portable power assist suits, in which I have no interest. I am quite content to require my suit wearers to stay safely plugged (via a long cord) into the wall, for now. Let the chemical engineers invent batteries to accomodate my suit, not the other way around.


In any case, hopefully my suit, or the parts I am working on, will not break during press junkits, as the Honda unit does in the second video on the above link.



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A riddle

On the work bulletin board someone has posted the following riddle:
What is greater than God, more evil than the devil, the poor have it, the rich need it, and if you eat it you'll die?
Now the obvious answer is "nothing", and I am sure that is the intended answer to the riddle. But there are a few other answers I could suggest that might make this more entertaining. Does anyone else have any suggestions?


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Obama Agenda vs. Civil Liberties


This is not something that can be asked and answered in a single post, but in response to my post TPI asked me "in what way is Obama's agenda destructive of civil liberties?"

I'm not going to get into a huge argument about this, but here's my very rudimentary and basic answer: Bush massively reduced the right to privacy via the Patriot Act. He violated our right to be free by torturing suspected terrorists. He violated our right to fair trial by holding detainees for years without a hearing. He violated our right to success by promoting discrimination against arab-appearing Americans.

Obama has not had 8 years to violate our rights, so his list is obviously shorter and less heinous. But what I was getting at with my loaded "but no less invasive to civil liberty" is Obama's two-fold attack on our right to bear arms and our right to prosper. I am not defending the Bush Administration's bungling of the economy, and I did not support their spending spree. But Bush's econ policies seemed...I dunno...like a snowball to Obama's avalanche of money. I'm not one of those hypocrites who says "$300 billion is okay, but $1.2 trillion is too much." I ranted against bailouts from the beginning. Bailouts rob people of the right to fail, of the rights of other intrepid people to establish efficient businesses in the wake of a bad business' colossal failure. Bailouts rob people of the right to spend their money at places they wish to, by forcing it into the hands of businesses that do not necessarily deserve it. Bush, and then Obama, used (and continue to use) "bailout or else armageddon" fearmongering to push upon the American people debts that we will eventually have to pay.
And you have to be either completely in Obama's pocket or have no access to the internet to know that about 15 seconds after Obama was elected, his website dropped their pro-gun talk and took up the liberal, anti-gun mantle. I know, I know, TPI, you don't think Obama is anti-gun. But the problem is that Obama isn't going to stand in the way of the people who are vengefully trying to remove guns from the hands of those of us who have the Constitutionally established right to them.
Obama might not be the bad guy in the anti-gun surge that is building steam in the Democratic party, but I don't see him telling Nancy Pelosi to sit down and shut up.

Anyway, we are looking at the sum total of Bush's legacy...Katrina, Patriot Act, Guantanimo, Iraq, etc. and we get the opportunity to go "wow, what a jerk." But with Obama, we're looking at it the ski slope from the top, and we really don't know what the ride will be like. But so far, Obama hasn't really seemed like "the ultimate defender of liberty" but more like "the ultimate enactor of progressive agenda".


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Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Difference


From XKCD.

Dog The Pirate Hunter


Here, Ben Domenech argues that what the United States needs is to follow Ron Paul's advice from 2007: dispatch private mercenaries with letters of marque to dispense low-collateral-damage, low-cost justice on Somali pirates.

Deploying the New Privateers as a blunt instrument against the Somali pirates has some downsides. But I’m unconvinced that these enemies can be negotiated with or stopped without the deployment of an innovative solution — in this case, one that’s a throwback to the era these thieves come from. The cost, difficulty, and risk of a dozen more Maersk standoffs has to be weighed. We shouldn’t be satisfied with better protections for ships, hoping that the pirates will grow bored of their revenge streak, and reorienting our naval force in the region to combat this enemy will take time. Instead, President Obama and the Congress might consider encouraging those individuals who can to solve the problem in their own way — as messy as it may be — so that these seaborne brigands wake up on a morning soon to find their sands are run.

Most people have at least toyed with this idea in their minds. Most of us, deep down, have this idea that people we don't like just need some "Texas justice, Chuck Norris style" and they'll behave themselves.


But as I am sure avid fans are aware, Dog the Bounty Hunter continues to have plenty of work filling bounties. As much as I'd like to send a bunch of vengeful, well-armed American privateers to the Somali coast to take on the pirates, I don't really think that would be a long-term solution. If these pirates can be considered a different sort of land-based terrorist, then the use of force tends to not effectively squash their efforts. Instead they seem to just get wilier. Iraq (and especially Afghanistan) has shown that there is not a quick fix to the problems of terrorism. I suggest the same is true of pirates.


If you want to stop flies from getting in you shut the window, you don't let a bunch of spiders loose and expect the flies to stop coming in out of fear.


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Final (yeah right) thought on Tea Parties


The largest Tea Party in Kansas City was organized and spearheaded by conservative radio personality Chris Stigall, who yells at Democrats like a good little Rushling every morning on some AM station in Kansas City.

This really, really bothers me, because it proves that the liberals are right: THE TEA PARTY MOVEMENT HAS BEEN HIJACKED BY HYPOCRITICAL REPUBLICANS.

You see, it was Stigall and his peers who were for the War in Iraq at any cost, and never once piped up that Bush's spending surges were a bad idea. Never did Stigall say "the $600 dollar rebate checks won't help the economy." Stigall recently went after Robert Gates for "cutting" the defense budget, even though it went up, and argued that we still need F-22 fighter planes to protect us.

All of these things cost money, and the people who started the Tea Party movement were the ones against all of the above, not just against all of the above after Jan 21, 2009. But the Republican party has become like...well...

If you have seen the movie "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" you know at one scene near the end of the movie the 3 protagonists sing for a crowd. Gubernatorial candidate Homer Stokes stops the singing, and the crowd turns wildly against him. Incumbent Governer "Pappy" O'Daniel smells blood, and turns the crowd's anger at Homer Stokes into his campaign, pretending to be a Soggy Bottom Boys fan and winning the crowd (and the home crowd on the radio).

I believe this is what Republican leadership is doing. The Tea Party movement started as pure argument for fiscal responsibility, but the Republican leadership (with a hefty dose of coverage from FoxNews) is trying to re-align that growing energy into anti-Democratic sentiment.

"You hate fiscal waste? Well, forget what we did for the last 8 years! The Republican Party officially hates waste too!"


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The Left and Right of (and right to) Tea Parties


TPI has some good thoughts here on Tea Parties (despite his support of Yglesias, who confounds all by calling tax protestors stupid).

Conversely, Douthat also does a good job of fleshing out thoughts from a less-than-extremist conservative on what the Tea Parties represent.

Personally, I think what liberals like Yglesias are forgetting is that in 2002-2003 when they were all boldly marching against (and chaining themselves to the Bush Ranch in opposition to) the War in Iraq and liberal extremists talked of planted explosives in the Twin Towers and of missiles shooting down planes, the Right collectively called the protesters stupid, and said the conspiracy extremists who were extolling government's hand in the terrorist attacks were undermining the self-confidence of the country and helping the terrorists win. Then, when it became slowly clear that the War in Iraq was...ill advised to say the least...the Left "grassroots organized" and collectively gathered to themselves the ever increasing masses of people who disliked the Republican Party and elected Barack Obama.

So there's this potential parallel going on here. You had 9/11 early in Bush's term when he was uber-popular and then things didn't go well and protesters were all over the place, then he slowly lost the country and became a laughingstock and the lamest duck in 30 years. Now you have Obama as the uber-popular one, preaching and enacting major change (of a different kind than Bush but no less invasive to civil liberty) and protests and rallies are breaking out (three different Tea Parties in Kansas City drew an estimated 10,000 people between them), you have people using stronger anti-leftist rhetoric than ever, and you have Obama's approval rating standing strong...but starting to wane towards the median. Could it be we will all face collosal tax increases in 4-6 years to pay for the uptick in debt from the current Administration's agenda, and the whole thing will blow up into another "I told you so" swing, this time massively to the Right?

I find it highly possible.


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Cloned Goats Yes, Nukes No.


International peace organization called for the immediate halt of all Iranian goat enrichment facilities, claiming they may be used to create cloned "goat bombs." This admission came late this afternoon after Iranian scientists announced the first successful goat cloned in their country. When asked to comment, U.S. security officials said: "Iran must not have cloned goats. Our experts tell us that Iran has definite plans to use their cloned goat herds against Israel. The current Iranian regime has openly admitted its hatred of Israel, and has clearly defined its goal to wipe out all Israeli born goats by 2012."
When asked for comment, Israeli officials said: "If the Iranians do not immediately cease goat cloning operations we will initiate bombing strikes on any Iranian science facility we believe involved in cloning of goats."

Iranian officials were surprised and outraged by the foreign leaders response. "We simply want to develop cutting edge science facilities for the economic benefit of our country." When asked about possible use of cloned goats against Israel, the Iranian official said: "Israel has cloned goats. The United States has been cloning goats since the Clone War. Many other countries have cloned goats. What is the problem with Iran obtaining harmless cloned for the benefit of Iran?"

The U.N. has proposed sanctions against Iran if goat cloning continues.


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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Britain's Got (editing) Talent

In England, American Idol is called "Britain's Got Talent" and it is actually a quality program. Gone is the fake, stupid dialogue between Ryan Seacrest and Simon Cowell.

Instead you get amazing editing and uplifting moments.

Absolutely worth the 7 minutes. If you can't view youtube at work like I can't, just search for "Susan Boyle" on google video.


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Stinky Pee Post


During Easter dinner I had some delicious ham, potato salad and asparagus. Later that afternoon, I noticed the tell-tale odor in my pee that I always smell after eating asparagus. Don't hide it, many of you know of what I speak. That sort of fruity, rich smell that comes 15 minutes -12 hours after eating asparagus, cabbage, or drinking some varieties of wine or champagne.

This is caused by your body breaking down a molecule found only in certain foods and drinks into a small group of highly aromatic molecules that your kidneys send directly (and very quickly) to your liver.

Here's the kicker: only 22% of people report that smell. Scientists (including myself) jumped to the conclusion that the metabolic pathway for turning asparagus into funny smells was genetic, and only 1 in 5 of us were able to create the smelly compounds. But a smart-thinking scientist tried a test: he took pee containing the smelly compounds and held it under people's noses. Turns out everyone makes the compounds, but only 1 in 5 of us can smell them! The genetic difference is in your nose, not in your intestines.

So the next time you eat asparagus and smell that funky smell, count yourself a part of the minority who still have prehistoric scent glands in their noses. Or if you don't smell anything strange in particular, consider yourself lucky; you're a higher organism than I. You've proudly evolved a less sensitive nose!


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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Don't Judge A Racist By His Statistics


Here at work, the repairman has spent the morning dissecting the $45,000 copy machine we have in the plot room, trying to fix its consistent tendency to paperjam during large print jobs. I just overheard him telling a coworker of mine that part of his difficulty is that the innards of the copier are very small, and the space he has in which to move his hands is very small. "The Japanese design these things around their smaller hands," he argued.

My first reaction was "what a racist chucklehead." But as I sat there, pondering it, I wondered if this is truly racist. And I realized racism is a question of statistics, and the interpretation of those statistics.

If there are statistics that support that as a race, the Japanese have smaller hands than Americans, then it is possible the copy repairman is not racist, but rather just well read in biological literature. However, this must be coupled with evidence that the Japanese have designed copy machines (and presumably other machines) around Japanese anatomical averages, and not the anatomical averages of middle-aged, overweight American copy repairmen.
So the racism in this case is a question of statistics.

However, if I were to say "Black men are more violent than white men," I'd clearly be a racist. Or would I? Statistics show that nationally, crime is perpetrated much more commonly by black men than by white men. But statistics are always open to interpretation. Although statistically black men are evidently more prone to violence than white men, statistics also show that areas of crime have a higher population of blacks. Statistics also show that these areas are low income areas. So it could be heuristically argued that poor people are more prone to crime, and it's simply coincidence that those poor people committing crimes are predominantly black. Or you could as easily argue that certain areas (like the urban core of cities) encourage crime, and the people living there are simply following social cues. Racism, in this case, is a question of interpretation of the statistics.

So what of our copy repairman, who called out Japanese as small-handed? Personally, I chalk that one up to racism. I have my doubts that he actually has studied statistical comparisons of American versus Japanese hand size (my quick internet search returned zero results). I also doubt the copy manufacturer neglected to think of the American market (and ease of repair) when designing their $45,000 copier.


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How to increase blog readership

I was highly pleased this morning when I discovered that my daily page views had topped 100. That means that people who visit this site (around 70/day) are clicking to other, older articles that were missed back when I was my only blog reader.

Now I don't harbor ambitions of being the next Ross Douthat; mostly I just enjoy writing, and practicing my sarcastic, conservative-bent analysis of mostly technology, sometimes politics, sometimes God, and sometimes whatever else. But now that I have crept into the triple digits, I feel like I should really take it up a notch.
I've deduced that the best method to this end is by writing articles that pertain to issues about which many people want to read, they find me on google, and come here. Like my circumcision thread, or my charity thread, both popular, according to my sitemeter. By having the right keywords in my posts, people invariably wander here and hopefully get hooked.
So I came up with a foolproof set of keywords today that will absolutely boost my blog readership into the thousands:

"Lindsay Lohan lesbian nude sex video with Megan Fox and Angelina Jolie."



Don't judge me.
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One Step Closer To The Dyson Sphere

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I have discussed before on this blog that a massive amount of energy could be harnessed by space-based solar panels. In science fiction, a massive sphere of solar panels located around a star is known as a Dyson Sphere.

Now, Earth is making its first leap in that direction. California's Pacific Gas & Electric has tentatively signed a deal with Solaren, a start-up that promises to launch and maintain an orbital solar collector, capable of sending 200 Megawatts of energy to earth over 15 years.

Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while can imagine my ten paragraph diatribe about insurmountable technological hurdles being ignored for the sake of politicians who appear to be "doing something dammit!" The can imagine me complaining about space dust blocking the mirror arrays, or about trying to get the mirror arrays stable enough for precision transmission of sunlight, or about the photocells degrading quickly because of the massive amount of energy being generated by them. The regular reader can imagine my face when I think about the engineers who claim this is feasible, and how irresponsible it is to do things like this when environmentally friendly energy is readily available on the terrestrial surface, if people would just have the wherewithal to build it. You can imagine me thinking about how much this will cost taxpayers. You can imagine my sarcastic comment about the debris from the collided satellites could easily destroy this solar array, and if California was depending on that power, brownouts could occur for months until terrestrial backup power could be acquired. You can imagine me not being a fan. Then you can imagine my final words being something like "although this technology is cool and futuristic, I think we should be solving our terrestrial problems first, then working on space-based problems later." You can imagine me linking to my previous eviscerations of pointless, expensive Mars missions and mega-telescopes used to find exoplanets we'll never reach and how against another manned moon trip I am.

I guess I'll believe it when I look up in the sky and see it.


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Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter


Is there a more noble act than human sacrifice for the survival of others? Christian teaching tells us there is not. The Supreme Being appeared in flesh, and then sacrificed himself for the saving of all believers. This tells me that although Jesus said the first commandment is to "Love your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength, and the second is to "Love your neighber as your self," that the act of sacrificing your life so that others may live supercedes all other behaviors. No amount of charitable donation, no amount of goodwill towards others, no amount of responsible behavior or penitence can compare to the simple act of giving up your life that someone else may live.

Easter always remind me of 9/11. I always think about (and mourn) the firefighters who climbed up into the Towers to bring people down, and how although they did not know they were doomed, the accepted their own demise as a very real possibility, and climbed the stairs anyway. Self-sacrifice is one of the only things I can argue is truly a "human" trait, you do not find animals (outside of hive-collective groups where there is not technically an individual) were self-sacrifice is a wide-spread and noticeable trait. Parent animals will often viciously and self-destructively defend their young, but this is simple Darwinism; it is easily argued the parents are not protecting their young out of love, they are doing so out of love of their own DNA. Humans, and as far as I know humans alone, will sacrifice their life for a complete stranger.

So the philosophical question doesn't become "what separates humans from animals?" but instead becomes "what connects humans, and humans alone, to the Divine?" The answer, I believe, is self-sacrifice. The answer is Jesus.


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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Zaphod Beeblebrox reference of the year!




Woman has developed imaginary third arm.



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Tea Party Protests

Yglesias:
I haven’t said a great deal about the burgeoning “tea party” “movement” because (a) it’s incredibly stupid, and (b) I knew some colleagues were working on some more in-depth efforts in this regard than I could possible stomach.

Boy he sure sounds like William Rutledge all of a sudden, doesn't he?

Having attended a "Tea Party" tax protest myself, I have to feel a little incensed when someone tells me that something I had done was incredibly stupid. I felt neither stupid nor incredible when I was at the protest. All I felt was a sense of belonging to a large (and growing) group that felt tax increases, even for the most altruistic reasons, would not aid me or the economy.
People like Barack Obama. Not everyone! 30 percent or so of the people say they disapprove. And in a country of 300 million, that means it’s easy to get together a big meeting of people who really hate Obama. But it’s clearly a relatively modest minority of the population, comparable in size—and probably largely overlapping with—the group of people who approved of the job George W. Bush was doing all the way ’till the end.

Believe me, there are not a lot of Bush supporters at the tax protests. If anything, independents and hard line conservatives are the rule there. Many tax party protesters felt Bush was as fiscally irresponsible as Obama will probably be. Many at tax party protests are Ron Paul supporters.

I like James Robertson's comment to Yglesias' post:
Hmm. So it’s absurd because you don’t approve. As opposed to the anti-war protests (which have magically fizzled out - makes me wonder about the principles of those people), of which you approved.
Right….
Bear in mind that the original tea party in Boston was in favor of a policy that very few colonials approved. But then again, I’ve seen Matt yearn for an alternate reality with no revolution, so I guess it all makes sense.



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Friday, April 10, 2009

Earthicidal Starbursts May Have Caused Dinosaurs to "Cease Existing"

I had never heard the term "Earthicide" until about ten minutes ago, when I read this uplifting piece of writing.
When a binary system collapses into a black hole, which astronomers call 'coalescence' (a euphemism which makes 'heated debate' a valid description of World War II), it can release a gigantic burst of gamma rays. Gamma rays are the ultimate high energy electromagnetic radiation, and while the burst lasts less than two minutes it can contain more energy than the entire mass of the sun converted into energy by E = m c^2. You'll notice that the mass of the sun and the speed of light, c, are extremely large numbers

Basically, all that garbage Newt was saying about EMP blasts in space causing the electrical grid to be disabled, or all that stuff I said about solar flares washing the Earth in gamma rays...imagine that multiplied by about a factor of...infinity.
On the upside we'll never see it coming. The EM-burst travels the speed of light so the only warning we'd have is dying - which most people will accept is a little too late.

The idea here is that a star 100,000 light years away could have exploded and sent out a wave of gamma radiation at us 100,000 years ago and we won't have a clue until it gets here and wipes us out.

"Here that sound, Mr. Anderson? That's the sound of inevitability." - Agent Smith, The Matrix


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Spinning the Numbers Helps Obamaniacs

Am I the only one who thinks that when 53% of people find capitalism better than socialism, and 20% of people find socialism better than capitalism, that means that nearly 3 capitalists exist in America per socialist? How are we not cutting this as a massive majority of capitalists?
Further, it is mentioned that
Adults under 30 are essentially evenly divided: 37% prefer capitalism, 33% socialism, and 30% are undecided.

I once heard a quote: "If you're old and liberal, you have no money. If you are young and conservative you have no heart."
Young people have always been more liberal (read: socialistic, idealistic) than their older counterparts. This is exactly what the trends in the Rasmussen poll show!
So when Yglesias says:
The generational change here is interesting.
I have to ask what exactly he means by change? 20-somethings are more socialist than old people? Seems like business as usual to me!

If there has been a shift towards acceptance of socialism, it is because the Democratic party has done a great job of making people believe the following equation: economic collapse + greed + George Bush + AIG execs / your 401k = capitalism. When really, it should be like this: hard work + sound investment + freemarket capitalism = comfortable retirement.

And while I am doing math equations to describe policy, here's socialism:
your tax dollars/everyone else - your hard work - your personal freedom + government inefficiency + bureaucracy*infinity - happiness = future

That's right. bureaucracy*infinity. Happy Friday!

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Newt's scared of EMP's.


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Really? EMP's? I think we've been watching too much Ocean's 11.

Here's the core of his statement:
An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is a byproduct of detonating an atomic bomb above the Earth’s atmosphere. When a nuclear weapon is detonated in space, the gamma rays emitted trigger a massive electrical disturbance in the upper atmosphere. Moving at the speed of light, this overload will short out all electrical equipment, power grids and delicate electronics on the Earth’s surface. In fact, it would take only one to three weapons exploding above the continental United States to wipe out our entire grid and transportation network. It might take years to recover from, if ever.


That's true, and not true. The way to recover would be to go trip your circuit breaker back to "on", as your fuses would have tripped. If you had a surge protector on your computer, it will power back up as well. If you have a cell phone, you'll need a new one. Utility companies will need to re-fuse their facilities, but the power in a massive EMP is not sufficient to actually destroy anything. Since this idea has been unclassified knowledge since the cold war, most utilities have taken steps to prevent damage during a power surge...like from a solar storm.

Newt goes into fearmongering mode here:
Within weeks after such an attack, tens of millions of Americans would perish. The impact has been likened to a nationwide Hurricane Katrina. Some studies estimate that 90 percent of all Americans might very well die in the year after such an attack as our transportation, food distribution, communications, public safety, law enforcement, and medical infrastructures collapse.

Really, Mr. Gingrich, does this kind of language really help the situation? Gingrich goes on to suggest that missile defense is our only solution to the threat of hostile nations EMP'ing us back into the Bronze Age.

The idea of shooting missiles at missiles is not only impractical and expensive, but pseudoscience at best. Can we really expect a U.S. missile to catch up to a Korean missile launched half a world away, traveling at ballistic speed into space? Doubtful, dubious, and wasteful of taxpayer dollars.

As far as I can see, the best solution to stopping hostile tyrants from firing weapons of mass destruction at the U.S. and its allies is simply to invade the country pre-emptively and depose the leader. Say what you want about the invasion of Iraq, but I don't see them planning nuclear attacks on Israel right now.

Or perhaps we should detonate one of our nukes above North Korea? Take out their electrical systems? I bet Newt'd love that plan!


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HAL 5, design issues, continued


I have often wondered how much potential myoelectric relays really have. In the case of the HAL suit the idea is this: The sensors on the skin detect the electrical charge in your skin caused by the nerve sending a signal to your leg muscle to move your leg. The HAL suit then move its leg, and your leg moves with it.

That's pretty amazing.

But the human skin is a complicated organ. Let me give you an example. If you were (go with me here) to plug in an oscilloscope, and plug a wire into the input jack, then hold the other end of the wire, the oscilloscope would be flat. But if you then turned on the flourescent lights in the ceiling, the oscilloscope would immediately detect a 60 Hz frequency signal, somehow coming from your skin. The reason for this is that your skin acts as a signal receiver for the 60 Hz signal being emitted by the electrical current that powers the lights, the same way a radio antenna detects the FM or AM radio station signal traveling through the air.

So how does the HAL suit discern what is a nerve signal and what is background noise? If your skin is getting constantly bombarded with thousands of signals at different radio frequencies, all of which it picks up and amplifies, how does the HAL suit cut that out? And what about static charge? If you scrape your feet across the floor, does it build a static charge which is absorbed by the sensors, causing a false positive? What happens when you get sweaty, and your body becomes covered in a glistening layer of conductive liquid, spreading and dissipating signals from your nerves? And what about when you just flex your muscle, but don't move your leg? I'm sitting here and I can flex my thigh muscles. Would the HAL suit try to move my leg, or does it somehow know better?

Over at the RIC, a similar method is being used to control artificial limbs for amputees. Electrical sensors are placed on the pectoral muscle of the amputee, who then learns, slowly but surely, to control a simple mechanical arm using careful muscle activation in his/her pectoral.
However, this signal is highly degraded. Direct nerve-to-wire connections would be more advantageous, could they be devised.


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A suit called "HAL" produced by a company called "Cyberdyne"


What could possibly go wrong when the suit is named after a murderous computer and the company is named after a company that created Skynet, an AI program that wipes out humanity...?

Now I'll attempt to write this without at shred of jealousy and purely as an objective observer that has somewhat specialized knowledge in the field of human performance robotics.

This major problem I have with this suit is that it does not enhance a normal human upward towards superhuman. This video details the suit in action. It looks pretty cool. However, when they want to show the strength allowed by the suit, they load the user with three 20-lb bags of rice. Wow, 60 lbs. that is so much weight... Now the other problem I have is that if you watch the video carefully you realize the only thing the arms are capable of doing is holding things in that cradled, bicep-curled position. The suit does not appear to be able to articulate more than a few forces. It can walk, stand up from a sqaut, and bend the arm in a bicep curl. Forgive my underwhelming sense of awe.

Overblown Iron Man analogies aside, this suit is a huge step forward in terms of medical rehabilitation. Imagine someone who had lost most of their nervous system activity, and their leg muscles had atrophied as a result. Put them in this suit, and they might walk again. That's an amazing, wonderful thing. But what I want to impress upon all of you is that this suit is not capable of picking up a grand piano and hurling it a half-mile. In terms of raw mechanical strength, this suit is probably no stronger than your average American. In a lot of ways it is much weaker. You cannot do a pushup in this suit.
The other important thing we should all notice is the same problem I had with the Sarcos suit: no hands. The HAL suit requires the user to rely on their own hand strength. Any athlete will tell you that there is no point in having the arm strength to dead lift 900 lbs. if you don't have the grip strength to hold the barbell!

Anyway, if you really take a look past the cool blue circular lights and nifty paint scheme, you realize this suit is not a technological leap into the future. The video tells us that a suit will cost $20,000 US dollars once they get done with it, and they'll only be able to make ~500 a year. So it won't exactly be selling like the iPhone.

Why the strength limitation? Joint-located servos. The legs have servos at the knee, which is nearly the worst design plan you could do. It works great for 12 lb. Asimo robots, because they don't require a lot of force to move. But what the Japanese seem unable to give up is the idea that a servo can power a robotic joint as powerfully as human muscle can. A servo works by rotation two discs in relationship to each other. The problem with this is not that a servo cannot generate enough force to move the joint. The problem is that the torque is directly proportional to the current draw of the servo. In order for a servo to rotate with the torque and speed of a human leg, it quickly draws a huge amount of power and overheats. Cyberdyne has solved circumvented this problem with large, high-torque servos that are one directional. However, I must repeat that Cyberdyne's suit does not appear to render the wearer any strength beyond what a normal human would have. Despite all our grandiose schemes, Nature has evolved the most efficient, strongest method for moving your bones. Muscles attached to ligaments, attached at points along your bones to create lever arms. Servos, though simpler in function, simply cannot produce the force per unit energy expended that muscle can. A possible solution is a linear actuator, which can mimic the movement of a muscle.

A personal issue I have with the suit is that the anchors, that is, the parts of the suit that attach to the body, are not efficient. Application of force is tied to the body using double straps wrapped around the muscles. A properly built suit should only strain itself, almost like a person wrapped around you. Ideally, designers should want the suit to dynamically balance itself, the same way the body does, so that the wearer carries a load like normal, and then the suit carries an additional load with no effect on the lifter. The Sarcos suit has achieved this design, the wearer really doesn't feel any strain on their body even though they could be lifting 400 pounds.

One thing the HAL suit does right is that the amount of augmentation power is modular. It can be set to assist the wearer 50/50 with loads, or for severely handicapped users, it can be upped as high as 90/10. This is a good idea.
My powered arm design is a slight departure from this. The arm's force actuators are pre-calibrated to move from 0-100% of their force curve as the wearer goes from ~30-100% of their muscle force. Squeeze a can of vegetable soup as hard as you can, you can't break it. Squeeze a can of vegetable soup as hard as you can while wearing the powered arm, the can is crushed. However, squeeze a can only hard enough to lift it, and the suit doesn't kick in and crush the can, it simply lets the wearer do their thing. Under normal circumstances, like the act of holding a can of soup, there is no need for the augmented strength, so the suit has an input threshold, i.e. a minimum amount of muscle tension required before the suit says "I ought to help out here." The basic premise here is that you don't need the suit to help you all the time, but when you do, you don't want it to lag behind. So the suit has a shorter force curve than you do.

It's all very simple, in my head.

Anyway, cheers to Cyberdyne for their suit, it looks neat. But let's not all jump on the "wow, Iron Man lives!" bandwagon just yet.


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Math FAIL

Here, a reader claims that CFL's aren't as energy friendly as promised. The claim is that CFL's only require 13 watts of electricity, but actually need 28 VA from the utility company. So you save money because your meter only draws 13 watts per bulb, but stress is put on the utility company because they have to send more than that to your house.
Until the fix these issues, I'll hold on to my incandescents and carbon arc lamps, thanks."
Unfortunately, the reader fails to do the simple math required to realize that CFLs are still superior:

Normal bulb = 60 VA
CFL = 28 VA

Energy saved = 53%

Did I miss something here?


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Girls Rule

All-girls robotics team crushes male-dominated competition.

Male competitors respond "those chicks are so hot!"


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Cheap Fun

Here. It's as simple as it looks. Entertaining though.


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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Super Strength Suit


So I've been thinking about these cool weight vests they've got on sale at Dick's Sporting Goods, and I got to thinking, as I always do, "I can do this better if I make one myself."
Key points:
1. Use lead. Its cheap, and very dense, which means a lot of weight in small space. We don't want to look like an puffed up idiot now, do we? Also, lead is quite ductile, so if we needed to bend it to the contours of the body, it wouldn't be difficult to do so.
2. Must be modular. We want to start with a little bit of weight and then work our way up to an enormous load that requires a huge amount of strength.
3. Must be evenly distributed throughout the body. Although a vest is a good start, an accurate suit designed to simulate a heavier body load should have weights in various places. Weights on your thighs, upper and lower arms, possibly the head, middle and lower back, along the crown of the shoulders, and elsewhere. Avoid the lower leg, as excess weight down their does not lead to greater muscle development, only to knee damage.
4. Possibly make rubber connectors between appendages to resist movement. This would help build muscles strength for activities that didn't necessary require vertical loading. An example would be a rubber connector between your tricep and midriff, resisting the motion of raising your arm.

Anyway, it'd be a fun project, and quite a bit more doable than that powered suit I'm trying to design. Probably a lot cheaper too, which would make Mrs. TAE happy. I mentioned that a single actuator for a fingers would cost $119.00, and then told her I'd need 10 per hand, plus another three for the forearm (pronation/supination), and she kinda nixed that one...for now.


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