Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Calling Imaginary Physicists...

I am hoping that, among the masses of imaginary readers who flock to this blog each day, there is at least one physicist who can explain this image of two black holes.

Notice that I did not call it a "photo", because that would imply an image rendered from photons, or light particles, and all imaginary readers know that the gravitational pull of a black hole is so strong that not even light can escape.

Apparently however, particles from the infra-red end of the spectrum did escape, because NASA created this image from such particles.  My question is "how can this be"?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Clean Air and Water

Sometimes, a message must be delivered in a certain package in order to have impact.

Despite ubiquitous reminders to protect the environment, it can seem at times like the earth has a limitless supply of clean air and water, and an inexhaustible capability for cleaning itself.  I think this image packages the "environmental message" in a way that may help debunk those notions of limitlessness and inexhaustibility.

If the earth's atmosphere was spread with equal density from sea level outward, it would be a mere 5 miles thick. This means that if the earth were the size of an apple, the atmosphere woud be about as thick as an apple's skin. As shown above, the amount of air on earth, relative to the earth, is quite small (and already somewhat polluted).

Even more shocking is the amont of water that is spread thinly over the planet's surface and scattered through the atmosphere.  That small amount of water is arguably more polluted and harder to clean than the air.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Light at the End of the Tunnel

I was swimming in the Pacific this morning at dawn when suddenly, this big wave broke over me just as the sun came up.  Luckily, I had my iPhone in the pocket of my bathing suit so I pulled it out and snapped this shot.  Hope you like it.

Friday, November 22, 2013

On the 50th Anniversary of JFK's Death

John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963)

He presided over such a tumultuous time in American history: the cold war, civil rights, Vietnam, the space program, all that crap with Cuba, and the birth of an all-time high in political activism. I think his speech at the Democratic Convention was prescient, and I love the philosophy of citizenship and self-determination that he summarized in this line about the new frontier. 

For the problems are not all solved and the battles are not all won—and we stand today on the edge of a New Frontier ... But the New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises—it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them.

Now is a time when the public needs to remember this message.  Our government was not formed to care for us, but to govern the process by which we care for one another. The government won't solve our problems; the hope is that it will enable the implementation of private solutions.

Rest in peace JFK.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Gettysburg Address

It was 150 years ago today that Lincoln delivered his speech at Gettysburg, arguably the most famous speech in American History.

While many of us studied, or even memorized the speech as school children, I think some important context from the address is not commonly transmitted in 5th grade history classes.

I refer to the fact that a series of distinguished speakers were invited to the event for the purpose of addressing a crowd that could sense the end of the war. Each did their best to infuse the ceremony with importance which, for most, meant that they spoke for a very long time. They searched for the words and conjured the metaphors that they felt would best resonate with the historical significance of the day.

As the President, known for powerful oratory, and delivering the final words of the day, Lincoln took the podium facing enormous expectations from the crowd. They settled in, ready to have their emotions stirred during a long, hot soak in the tub of verbal eloquence.

Rather, he dismissed the ceremony as more or less meaningless compared to the honor already bestowed on the grounds at Gettysburg by the brave soldiers who had died there. He spoke for about 2 minutes and then took his seat.  The crowd was stunned.

I find this context fascinating.  If you are also intrigued, here is a great summary of background information that went into his development of the Gettysburg message.

Also, if you re-read the address (below), it is easy to see why the other speakers went home, shaking their heads, and muttering "Why didn't I say that?"
Lincoln's Address at Gettysburg
November 19, 1863

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. 
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Specifically Incompetent

I’m not against progress. However, I am aware that some gains are connected to unfortunate losses. 

I don’t think many would argue that, throughout history, the division of labor, into many smaller and more specific tasks, enabled specialization and tremendous gains in productivity. Once we decided that not every man needed to be a self-sufficient island, quality of life rose by leaps and bounds. We let the farmers grow the food for all, which enabled doctors to devote their time to become better at dispensing care, and soldiers were free to improve their ability to protect us. Such developments have left the rest of us much more time to contribute in our own special ways, like watching YouTube videos and playing fantasy football.

But as specialization has gone further and further, our individual survival has become entirely dependent on the persistence of the social machine. I can tell you right now, if the manager at my local supermarket loses his keys and cannot open the store, I will perish within a week. I am not capable of catching or growing a single morsel of edible matter.

Worse yet, I think the specialization movement is accelerating. Here’s my evidence: Since most of the adults in my neighborhood are like me, earning a living at some hyper-specialized task that produces essentially no social value, we have enough time on our hands to don costumes and stroll the neighborhood with our kids on Halloween (only the farmers, doctors, and soldiers need to work dependable schedules). As recently as two years ago, I recall the mobs of children moving in an orderly and systematic fashion, up one side of a street and down the other, hitting each street in sequential order, and effectively canvassing the neighborhood. 

This year? I saw the little brats engaged in an exercise of ad hoc randomness, wandering from one lit up house to another, zigzagging, doubling back, and missing a great many houses all together. What do I blame? Google, of course. They have specialized "search" and reduced our dependence on organization.

The gains of “search capabilities” have come with the loss of ingrained, organized thinking and systematic intellectual classification. Prior to search, we had to keep track of information like which houses we had looted, and therefore, we approached Halloween festivities in a systematic manner. Today, kids are clearly not learning to store information in an organized way because they can just search for it.

Pretty scary Halloween for me.

Monday, June 24, 2013

English Majors

It's such a shame that the term "English Major" has come to imply "unemployability" in our modern, capitalist society.

I read somewhere that a degree in the humanities almost guarantees your ticket to a long and rewarding career as a Starbucks barrista.   Perhaps this is true, but it imposes an artificial perspective that a degree is only useful as a means to employment.  I think a much better perspective is that an education enriches your life in many ways; the prospect of employment is only one of them.

The New York Times ran a great piece today defending the value of an English degree.  The author focuses on the development of clear thinking and written expression as a core benefit.  I have to agree.  As a hiring manager, I rule out more candidates for poor writing and unfocused thought than for any other reason.  Were I graduating today with a degree in the humanities, I would be sure to emphasize this with prospective employers.  Well-honed communication skills are not going to develop naturally on the job; candidates either developed them as students or they are likely never to have them.

I was thinking about employability yesterday as I observed this guy above, just outside my hotel in Toronto.  He put on a Spock costume, stood in a high pedestrian zone where the ferry boats unload, and hovered around a bucket labeled "donations".  In the time it took me to eat lunch, he must have hauled in a couple hundred dollars.  Nearby, there was a guy in a black suit with red suspenders.  I don't think he looked like a TV character;  his gimmick was that he stood really still.  I think he only made about a hundred bucks during the 20 minutes I watched.

I don't know why I jumble these two topics together.  If I had a degree in English, I could probably offer a lucid explanation of why they are somehow related in my mind.  On the one hand, society doesn't owe anyone anything just because they are educated; everyone must create value in order to get paid.  On the other hand, many employers seem to overlook the value-creating abilities of clear-thinking English majors, which I see as a shame.

Spock caught my attention because his case doesn't fit either of my statements above -- I can't discern what value he is creating, but he is getting paid.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Haunted Hotels

I recently stumbled across this list of the world's Top 10 Haunted Hotels and, to my surprise, I've visited 3 of the top 10, and stayed in two of them multiple times.

While I didn't know that the Banff Springs Hotel (pictured above) had such a reputation, I was well aware (and in fact warned) about the history of the Hyatt in Taipei.  I probably stayed there about 2 dozen times on trips to Taiwan.

My Taiwanese colleagues always told me these same two stories, both of which they swore to be true.  First, the hotel was allegedly built, after great controversy, on a grave yard.  Second, in the first year after opening, three different guests committed suicide in the same room.

I admit that's a little spooky, but, if they ever make a Bed and Breakfast out of Tin Man's house in East Jay, Maine, that venue will surely shoot to the top of this list.  I am sure that imaginary reader Ryer agrees.

Friday, June 7, 2013

What's Wrong with this Picture?

While I consider myself fairly well grounded and generally capable of keeping the world in perspective, I admit that I am not immune to certain petty aggravations. I have alluded to such petty aggravations in previous posts when I was annoyed at Starbucks and when I was bewildered by our national caffeine obsession.

I snapped the photo above yesterday, while feeling both annoyed and bewildered. Naturally, it happened at Starbucks.

I went in with my 12 year-old and our brief visit was, in part, a reward for her completion of a very challenging but successful year in school. I should note that I was feeling a little disheartened that she considered Starbucks to be a destination of such high interest. As we entered, my fears about the corruptive influences of hyper-consumerism and peer-pressure were just below the surface.

Once inside, I was forced to wait in a long line of fashionistas, ordering incredibly ridiculous sounding concoctions, that took a long time to make and were, by all logical measures, way over-priced. I began to feel disappointed in the collective intelligence of my community, impatient about waiting for something I didn't personally think was worth waiting for, and pessimistic about the bleak future of humanity. But I pressed on.

After we ordered and positioned ourselves at the end of the bar where the drinks are served, I snapped the picture above.  As you can see, there was a crowd of children awaiting expensive caffeinated drinks. It struck me as wrong on every level.

In all honesty, I don't feel like I can afford to frequent Starbucks on a regular basis. Technically, I have the funds available; I just don't think coffee that costs $4/cup is a good value, and I don't think one should make a habit out of low value activities. Starbucks is convenient and always available when you need a coffee, but how can a 12 year old afford to pop in daily on the way to school?

One of those silly drinks plus a pastry (the standard order I observed) costs about $7, which is $35 per school week. I'm pretty sure you can lease a Honda for that amount.  How can 12 year-olds who have never worked a day in their lives, afford more than me, a haggard old duffer who has worked 70 hour weeks for the past 20 years?

What is wrong with this picture?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Real People, Real Life

I love it when real people are faced with an unexpected challenge and their natural reaction is honest and admirable.  It's even better when the whole incident is caught on film, their decision process plays out on their face, and the final result is noble and just.

Imaginary reader "Aunt Rose" called just such an instance to my attention today...enjoy!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

NASA Junior High School

So I'm not saying that all NASA employees are still in Junior High School, just the ones currently controlling the Mars Rover, an $800 million dollar remote control vehicle for exploring the red planet.

Apparently, once the requisite samples were drawn from the planet's crust, measurements of the atmosphere were completed, and the general topography of the terrain was mapped, someone stepped away from the joystick and the Junior High kids took over the controls.

Dont believe me?  Check it out...

As you can see, these kids quickly maneuvered the Rover around to draw a large penis in the red sand, backed it away, and snapped a photo, which they immediately transmitted home and posted to their facebook accounts.  Unfortunately, all of the bloggers with Junior High mentalities then predictably downloaded the photo, and further amplified the foolery by promoting the image to their imaginary readers.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Lawyers Finding New Ways to Die

You can't make this stuff up, folks.

Lawyers need to make a living and inventing new ways to blame corporations for accidents is great for business.  In fact, helping corporations protect themselves from lawyers who would blame them is also quite profitable.

This is a photo of an actual sign, on an actual gas pump, where I actually bought some gas recently.

What I want to know is this:  Has any gas-pump patron ever spontaneously combusted when static electricity ignited the fumes around the pump?  Ever?

Think about the waste in this folly.  Consider the time and effort some commercial team had to put into the consideration of this warning, the legal fees and effort associated with drafting the message, the design, printing and distribution of stickers for all the pumps across the nation that now bear this sticker.    What an utter, misguided waste of effort.

I think this was at the root of Auggie's rant back in 2009 when he wrote about "The Blame Game".

Overall, I think we have a pretty good legal system compared to others around the world.  I also think that it is systematically exploited by profit-minded lawyers.

Thursday, March 21, 2013


No better way to welcome spring than to have a couple of business meetings, on a park bench, in the shadow of a shiny MLB stadium. Actually, there are probably many better ways to welcome spring, but I went with the park bench thing.

This is Petco Park in San Diego, one of the nicer stadiums I have visited (and the nicest one, in the shadow of which, I ever conducted business)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Day Feels Scientific

Some people denote today as "Pi Day" day. This is based on the fact that today's date (3/14) represents the first digits in the numerical representation of the (inexact, surrogate) fraction 22 over 7, commonly denoted as "Pi" by Greek mathematicians. We all learned that Pi represents the ratio of a circle's circumference to it's diameter, a number approximately equal to 3.14.

Adding to the day's scientific feel is the fact that Albert Einstein, the first scientist to reach rock star celebrity status, was born on this day in 1879.

For my part, I will contribute to the minor celebrations by sharing this minimalist artist representation of his likeness. The image is from Noma Bar, her collection of such images is worth browsing.

For those of you who favor the arts over the sciences, your day is tomorrow: the ides of March.  Imaginary readers who taught English in the Knox area will appreciate this.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Cats are Jerks

No need to elaborate. Read the title, watch the video, close the case.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The End of Society

The Roman Empire fell when wealth became so great, and so widely distributed, that the privileged lifestyle of an expansive upper class became too heavy for society to bear.  In retrospect, it seems clear that a majority can never live in idle comfort based on the productivity of a laboring minority.  It only works the other way around.

Alas, as the saying goes, "history repeats itself", and I think American society is about to collapse.  I base my hypothesis on the photo above, similar to one I snapped myself a few days ago at a local retail center.  It shows that, despite high unemployment, the wealthy masses have grown so unable to care for themselves, that we need a nail spa on every corner to provide us all with basic grooming.

The spa in this photo is like one of an ever-expanding multitude of similar outlets.  I dare say there are more nail spas in Orange County, California than there are Starbucks (and there are way, way, way too many Starbucks).

This truly boggles my mind...adults paying other adults to groom them...so many in fact, that we need these outlets on every corner...and they are always full of customers...can we get any more ridiculous?

The end is near.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

50 States with Equal Population

Interesting thought piece.

How would the USA look if the state lines were redrawn to divide the land into 50 states of equal population?  Here is one version.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Lincoln: Too Great to be on the Penny

I know he's on Mt. Rushmore and that he has his own monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., but somehow, I think I never realized the true greatness of Abraham Lincoln.

A few years back, when Barack Obama was debating Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries, I recall news that "Team of Rivals", an historic account of the Lincoln Presidency, had been a driving influence for Obama.  Since he was so unknown at the time, I took an interest in that book as a source of insight as to what the young candidate might be about.

However, given my habit of buying books at a faster rate than I read books, I didn't get around to cracking the weighty, and densely written tome until recently.  After seeing the Spielberg film, that is reportedly based "in part" on the book, I decided it was time.

This is not a book review, though if it were, it would be glowing.  This is just a short collection of thoughts I felt like sharing:

Lincoln exploded from relative obscurity and gained the Republican nomination for President through a shrew political strategy.  The newly formed Republican party was an amalgamation of three former parties, each headed by a well-established, political heavy-weight.  Each of those heavy-weights had their own,  strong pocket of support, and each was considered to have a good shot at the nomination; Lincoln was considered an also-ran.

Knowing that each powerful faction would attack the other two rival factions, Lincoln set out to be everyone's second choice. In this way, he stayed out of the direct line of attack and, as each rival candidate was rendered "unelectable" by the press from the other two, Lincoln secured the nomination.  When all three came together to support him in the election, the Republicans carried the day and had their first President.

The title of the book comes from Lincoln's sharp break with tradition of the time.  He eschewed the custom of awarding plum cabinet jobs to his closest supporters and like-minded allies, and instead, appointed political enemies to several key cabinet positions.  This would be like Obama nominating Newt Gingrich for Secretary of State and John Boehner as Treasury Secretary.  From what I gather, it was as unthinkable then as it would be today, but he did it.

It is clear that even Lincoln's contemporaries recognized the historic magnitude of his character.  Leo Tolstoy, renowned thinker and writer of the time, said "the greatness of Napoleon, Caesar or Washington is only moonlight by the sun of Lincoln".  Perhaps the metaphor got away from Tolstoy but, if not, that's an enormous difference to draw between any man and the greatest known leaders of the day.

Maybe (probably) I wasn't paying attention in school but I never knew that Lincoln was assassinated as part of a plot to kill him and two other key figures.  On the same evening, Lincoln was shot, Secretary of State Seward was stabbed in the throat (but survived), and Vice President Johnson escaped harm when his would-be assailant had a change of heart.

Finally, the book made clear that political divisiveness was as sharp in Lincoln's day as it is today.  A speech by the President would have been hailed as a visionary milestone by one media outlet, while characterized as short-sighted hypocrisy by another.  The key difference I think is that, in those times, the masses understood clearly that all press was agenda-driven. I can't say for sure that is the case today.

Overall, great guy.  Too great to be on the penny.