Friday, August 29, 2008

Hottest VP Candidate Ever!

Today should be Web-Stuff Friday, but that will just have to wait. Big news today from McCain has stolen some of the Democrats' thunder.

John McCain has chosen Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate (thus making these people and these people really happy.) You gotta respect a man who surrounds himself with beauty queens.

I have been a Palin fan ever since I saw Wonkette's posts about her:
Some highlights from Palin's bio:
  • Children are named Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper, and Trig (A kid named "Trig" is just great, but maybe that's just because I used to teach the subject.)
  • Husband Todd is four-time champion of the Iron Dog, the world’s longest snowmobile race.
  • Came in second place in the Miss Alaska pageant.
  • Once worked as a commercial fisherman.
  • Hunts Moose.
  • Once posed for Vogue magazine.
Anyway, this is an interesting development. I have no idea how it will play, but it will certainly make televised election coverage more pleasant to watch.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Some Democratic Convention Thoughts

I haven't exactly been sitting around watching C-SPAN all week, but I did catch some of the speeches live on C-SPAN radio last night.

First of all, it's nice to see the Democrats not eating their young too voraciously. I haven't seen any major screw-ups except that they didn't put Bill Clinton in the prime time hour (from 10-11:00 PM when all the networks show the convention live.) He gave a great speech and it should have been on when everyone would see it, but I have a bit of a quibble with part of it.
They [the Republicans who ran things for most of the past 7 years] took us from record surpluses to an exploding debt; from over 22 million new jobs to just 5 million; from increasing working families' incomes to nearly $7,500 a year to a decline of more than $2,000 a year; from almost 8 million Americans lifted out of poverty to more than 5.5 million driven into poverty; and millions more losing their health insurance.
This is a great example of a politician using misleading statistics. I'm not saying that he's lying. I can't contest his numbers, but I can contest the implication. Clinton's presidency rode the wave of the dot com boom that went bust in Bush's first year or so. The economy took a huge hit in the past 7 years or so, but not primarily because of Bush. Rather, the prosperity of the 90's was at least in part due to the "irrational exuberance" that accompanied the dot com and real estate booms. Clinton was lucky just as Bush was unlucky when it comes to the economy.

Don't get me wrong: Bush ain't the sharpest knife in the drawer and the executive branch of the past eight years has been shameful. They have lied and broken rules and tarnished the U.S.'s reputation abroad. The Bush Republicans must go, but not because the economy is in the crapper. They must go because they have lied and broken rules and put our citizens in harm's way under false pretenses.

If Obama wins the election, I hope he is able to heed the council of people who know how to get things done in Washington. If he's another Jimmy Carter (who is a great ex-president, but was a pretty bad president), it would be really sad. I remain convinced that Al Gore (who seems to be a pretty decent ex-vice president) would have been a terrible president. He was arrogant and out of touch. John Kerry was pretty similar. Each of them would have struggled to be as good as Carter was. Obama seems to be able to gather and listen to people who can get things done. If he wins the election, I hope he can keep it up.

Next week seems like the right time to talk more about the Republicans and to do some comparing and contrasting, so I'll wait until then. In the meantime, I'll keep on listening to these speaches with a skeptical ear.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Discussing Racial Issues

The Onion really lives up to its tagline as America's Finest News Source. Ed Bryerley's article entitled American Needs To Have A Superficial Conversation About Race really struck home.

As the major political parties hold their national conventions over the next couple weeks, this sort of article can help us keep things in perspective. I'd like a similar call to superficiality with regard to discussing the economy, energy, and education. Politicians are adept at simplifying these complex issues ad absurdum, but this doesn't make their pithy statements of the nature of the issues or their proposed simplistic solutions valid.

The tough issues facing us are complicated and don't lend themselves to easy, quick solutions. We won't cure the economy with tax rebates. We won't solve our energy problems by pumping more domestic oil. We won't fix our educational system by doubling what we pay teachers or putting a computer in every child's hands. We won't end racism by singing Kumbaya. Big problems require big solutions.

Here's another fun one from The Onion: Portrayal Of Obama As Elitist Hailed As Step Forward For African Americans. BTW: the professor they interview looks like Dick Gregory. Speaking of which:

Dick Gregory is kinda crazy, but I like some of his stuff. He's a great part of the discussion. A bit off on one extreme, but that's ok.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Travels with John

A friend of mine (really the husband of a former colleague, but I consider them both friends as well) is blogging as he rides through the southwest on a motorcycle. I may not be much, but I'm all I think about is good stuff.

Like many men, I dream of taking a trip like John's. Cruising the scenic southwest through tiny towns that dropped off the technology train around the time of eight-track tapes. Beautiful scenery with huge vistas reminiscent of No Country for Old Men or a John Wayne western. Great food in simple places that Tim and Nina Zagat have never heard of.

Maybe I'll try it when Boy Kid is turning 13 or some similarly auspicious event. It would be a fun bonding event. We'd take tons of pictures and blog from the road as we cruise around on motorcycles (yeah, way Mrs. Kid is letting that fly) or in a Jeep. I'd have to plan the trip. Destinations, roads, sites, and places to sleep and eat are all important, but the real key is to hand-pick a bunch of playlists for the iPod. Having the right soundtrack for each part of the trip is crucial.

Anyway, John is my hero. Check out the story of his trip.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Web Stuff Friday: Translations and a Ball

This Chinese restaurant shouldn't have relied on an online translation service for their sign.

Ball is maddening. I won't give away the ending, but it's a cool game.

Note: I was on vacation all this week, so the posts were all written and set up last week. One Blogger feature I like is that I can set a date and time at which each post will be released. In theory, I could set up my posts for the year on January 1st, then ignore the blog for the rest of the year. The posts would roll out on schedule. Fun stuff.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A picture a day for six years

Noah takes a photo of himself every day for 6 years

This is an interesting experiment, and it's still going on. I really like the video and I check in on the site every once in a while. Noah's ability to make the time to take the photo every day is great, but his ability to keep his facial expression so consistent day after day is awesome.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Virginia's Special Plates

When I was a kid, all Virginia license plates were the same. Eventually, there were a few special plates--one with the state seal in the middle, one with a painting that looked like the Blue Ridge Mountains, and one featuring the state bird, tree, and flower. Life was simple then.

Now someone at the DMV has figured out how to make more tax revenue by catering to special groups. There are license plates for several schools (many of which I didn't know existed, and several of which are not even in Virginia), fraternities, military groups (including some I didn't know existed), and special interests.

Here are some interesting special interest plates that are available in Virginia:
Anyway, the options are interesting, but a bit disturbing. I decided to stick with my ten-year old free plates.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

How to Not Get Conned

I really like a blog called Wide Lawns and Narrow Minds. The woman who writes it is a great writer and has such an interesting life.

A recent post really struck me. It's titled Red Flags - Part 1 and it's about figuring out how to not get conned in relationships or business. Here is one quote that got me:
I know a girl who is constantly abused by men in some way. She has been date raped twice and in both cases she was drinking heavily. In one of the cases she was even drugged, which is a whole new level of awful. Still though, in some way, it was her fault because she put herself in a situation where she was impaired, could not think or act optimally and could not defend herself. Had she not been drinking she would have been a much more difficult target.
Amen, sister. Don't get either of us wrong: Guys who take advantage of drunk women are scum. They are weak little "men" who deserve to serve time. But the women who put themselves in these positions are not wise, and any woman who does it more than once is very stupid. This goes for guys, too. If you make bad decisions when you are drunk, then you have to figure out how to stop drinking.

I'm looking forward to Part 2. Wide Lawns' perspective and writing style are top notch.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Music Monday: Coltrane

When talking to a friend (let's call him Horton) at work a while ago, I mentioned that I had just been listening to John Coltrane. When I told Horton that I was listening to A Love Supreme, his response was something like:
You really like that? I didn't think it was possible to like it.
Yeah, I really like it. I love the whole album. I can really get lost in the bass grooves, as well as the piano, sax, and drum solos.

Coltrane could also breath new life into standards. His take on Stardust is lovely.

Don't get me wrong. I like Julie Andrews' version, but Coltrane's My Favorite Things is great.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Web Stuff Friday: Fun and Games

Here are some cool games that you can play online.

Go is an ancient game that has been one of the last bastions of human superiority over computers. Sadly, this superiority seems to be ending, but it's still a really cool game. I always wanted to play it and so will check out:
Sudoku is really addictive. I used to do one puzzle a day (usually on the bus on my way home from work), but now that I have a short drive to work, I don't do them often.
  • Web Sudoku has various levels and is a good place to go for a quick game.
Scrabulous is an online version of Scrabble.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Drug-Induced Kid Shows

There is a long tradition of kid shows that have been developed by people on heavy drugs. Kids like these shows, but adults on drugs love these shows.

Yo! Gabba Gabba is the new kid on the drug-induced block. Here is Party In My Tummy.

Teletubbies was a favorite of mine in the 90's. The pinwheel sprays the drugs around so Tinky Winky, Dipsy, La La, and Po can get a good buzz going, then the show is a drug-fueled romp.

The Original: H.R. Pufnstuf. Even when I was a kid, I could tell that the people who wrote the show about Jimmy, Freddie the flute, and Witchiepoo (on the island where everything was living) were not normal.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Why I Think Phelps Is Amazing

OK. Lots of people are on the Michael Phelps train these days, but I just want to document the reason he impresses me even more than other Olympians.

Every Olympian impresses me. They all have incredible skill and dedication. I like some sports better than others, but I am impressed with all of the athletes. They are simply incredible.

Phelps amazes me even more than any other athlete I can think about. On August 13th, he swam about 8300 meters (including warm-ups and cool downs.) That morning, he swam the first leg of the 4 by 200 free relay for the U.S. team that crushed the old world record time by five seconds, and then 53 minutes later he set a world record in the 200 meter butterfly. During the eight consecutive days of swimming competition, he will swim 17 races. It's amazing.

Tennis players actually impress me for a similar reason. When they win a tournament, they have to play set after set on consecutive days. They are impressive, but Phelps is incredible. He is doing so many things in such a short time that is really boggles the mind. Carl Lewis was awesome, but I still give Phelps the edge. Phelps set five world records (three on his own) in the first four full days of the competition. He's an absolute swimming machine.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bob Costas' Hair

I know this blog has covered an incredibly broad list of topics, but today we will sink to a new low.

What's the deal with Bob Costas' hair? I noticed it while watching the olympics last night, so I googled "bob costas dyed hair" (no quotes) and came up with some hits.
Anyway, it's comforting to know I wasn't the only one who was taken aback.

I've always given women a hard time for dying the grey out of their hair, but it's no better when a man does it. Why fight it? A bad dye job runs the risk of making you look like you are desperately trying to hang on to your lost youth. It's like a bad combover. Just don't do it.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Music Monday: Isaac Hayes

Isaac Hayes passed away this weekend. In recent years, he was known as "Chef" from South Park and as a member of the Church of Scientology, but back in the day he was The Man. He wrote songs, played piano, and of course there was The Voice. Every black man who lived through the 70's wishes he had Isaac's voice. He was the embodiment of smooth.

He did much more than The Theme from Shaft, but this song is iconic and is one of my favorite movie songs of all time. The wah-wah guitar, the great high hat, the horns, and the incredibly quotable lyrics make this one of the great movie title songs of all time.

The original: Shaft. That was one bad mother.

Shaft II. This is a longer version of the original. When a song has a great groove (and Shaft is one of the greatest grooves of all time), I never want the song to end. Extended versions are right up my alley, so I can really dig this version (get it?) It's a bit disco-y, but that's ok by me.

And here is another post of the Yukulele Orchestra of Great Britain's take on Shaft:

Friday, August 8, 2008

Web Stuff Friday: Automotive Energy Innovation

In light of yesterday's post about energy, here are some interesting things that are happening:

Tesla Motors is now delivering 100% electric vehicles. It's a bit out of my price range, but I hope they can make the business work.

Mercedes is planning to sell blue efficiency cars that are more fuel efficient than their standard sedans. These, too are out of my price range, but when a real automotive manufacturer starts working on making alternative fuels scale, progress seems possible. This is the most exciting news about improving the environment and reducing our petroleum dependency that I have heard in a long time.

Solar race cars chase the sun
is about a cool race from Dallas to Calgary.

On a somewhat related note: maybe solar power will make some big leaps soon.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Energy Independence

I heard Anne Korin on CSPAN radio as she spoke at Young America's Foundation's conference this week. She's an energy security person with the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security.

You can open the Real Media file here. She starts at about halfway through the file. You can also find it in pieces at YouTube. Her talk is about 30 minutes long, but it's pretty worthwhile. She makes several really good points, including:
  • Oil money is financing many terrorists, so we are really paying for both sides of the "war on terror."
  • We can increase use of nuclear, wind, solar, and hydroelectric power and other alternatives, but they won't lessen our dependence on oil. Oil only accounts for about 2% of our electrical energy needs. Our dependence on oil is mostly about transportation.
  • Oil is a fungible commodity. If we don't buy middle eastern oil, others will. All that matters is that we buy from someone and worldwide demand is high. It's like a big swimming pool. Producers put oil in the pool and consumers draw oil from the pool. We only get about 20% of our oil from the Middle East, but that doesn't really matter. We are drawing from the pool, so we are part of the demand side.
  • Every time non-OPEC countries drill more, OPEC drills less. Even if we drill, we know that OPEC will decrease production so the swimming pool keeps the same capacity. We don't have enough oil reserves to remove OPEC's power when it comes to putting oil into the pool.
  • Oil is a strategic commodity. It is currently an irreplaceable resources that underlies transportation and thus the global society. To reduce the strategic quality of oil (and thus the power that OPEC has), we have to create options and really reduce the world's draw on the pool in a big way. Small decreases in demand don't really help since OPEC can just decrease supply to match.
  • We should develop hybrids that use flex fuel. This could allow us to drastically cut our dependence on petroleum for transportation.
Anyway, I thought she made some good points. If I had a chance, there are some things I'd like to discuss with her. For instance:
  • I am skeptical about ethanol in its current form. It costs lots to make it and I am not sure it makes sense with the dominant technology we have in place. When better technology comes along, ethanol can make more sense.
  • I think that alternative power sources (nuclear, wind, solar, etc.) make sense to replace coal and make sense as part of shifting the mix from gasoline to electric power for transportation (what will power our plug-in hybrids?)
I am suspicious about how strongly she is defending ethanol, but I think she made some really interesting arguments. Once you understand the swimming pool concept of supply and demand, you begin to see why China's huge increase in demand is one of the big causes of the increased cost of oil and why US pumping probably won't be part of the solution.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Evolving Opinions About Giuliani's Golfer Kid

It all started when I read this article at The Onion: Giuliani's Son Suing Duke Over Golf

Next, I found an article at GolfWeek: Giuliani out of Bounds
My reaction: What a tool! This kid is a typical brat who has such an absurd sense of entitlement.

Finally, I found this article at GolfWeek: Giuliani sues Duke over dismissal and this at the New York Times: Forced Off Duke’s Varsity Golf Team, Giuliani’s Son Files a Lawsuit
These articles made me realize that (if the statements about the coach are close to accurate) it is not as one-sided as I initially thought.
Vincent said Giuliani could rejoin the team if each member wrote a letter that satisfied the coach in support of Giuliani, but if one member declined the suspension was permanent, the lawsuit said.
First of all, I hope this is not true. Second of all, if it is true (and based on several sources, it seems clear that the accusations are true), then the coach should be fired. The coach should have done the right thing, which in this case meant cutting the kid from the team. It should have been done cleanly and without any waffling. Some coaches hate to be the bad guy, but sometimes, that is what the coach has to do.

By the way, Guiliani was not a good golfer (when judged against the rest of the Duke team--he'd crush me), so it would seem to me that his performance would be enough to cut him. He wants to become a pro golfer, but he was in the bottom half of Duke's team. From what I can tell, it seems that the kid is a delusional brat, but the coach was weak.

Anyway, the big idea here is not about brat kids, nor is it about weak coaches. It is about how partial information can color how we see things. Does the Internet make us stupid? I don't know, but it can certainly lead us to be intellectually lazy and let other people form opinions for us. Then again, so can TV, radio, USA Today, and politicians.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tech Tuesday: Fun Technology Music

Technology can be funny and even beautiful. Here are some funny science-related music videos. This could have been a Music Monday, but I have been sitting on the Great Rock Drummers post for a while. Thanks to reader (and former student) jblocksom for sending me links to the first two videos below.

It's Called epMotion (i think it's about an automated pipetting system)

The PCR Song (i think it's about a machine that helps with DNA analysis)

Large Hadron Rap (about CERN's Large Hadron Collider)

By the way, the Large Hadron Collider is really cool and really beautiful, and these photos prove it.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Music Monday: Great Rock Drummers

I have always loved listening to great drummers. Here are some of my favorite rock drummers:

John Henry Bonham. Led Zeppelin's drummer is universally accepted as one of the great rock drummers of all time. He played with amazing energy, but also went beyond the typical rock drummer mold into really interesting arrangements. Bonham was much more than the group's metronome.

Neil Peart. Rush's drummer (and lyricist) has the most amazing drum kit I have ever seen for a single person. On later albums, his solos became tracks unto themselves, but my Rush knowledge ends at Moving Pictures, when his solos were still done as parts of songs. Note: if you hate Rush because of Geddy Lee's voice, then rest assured: this song is totally instrumental.

Stephen Morris. OK, my best friends from college will laugh because they remember me air drumming to New Order songs for which the drums were clearly electronic (Blue Monday, Bizarre Love Triangle, etc.), but Morris was also the drummer for Joy Division and for the early New Order albums that used real drums. His real drum work was great (Love Will Tear Us Apart, Perfect Kiss), but he was also able to lay down some of the iconic electronic drum beats of all time (BLT, True Faith, etc.)

Friday, August 1, 2008

Web Stuff Friday: Exercise

The Couch-to-5K Running Plan can help you start moving.

One Hundred Pushups is a plan to help you start doing push-ups. Remember the importance of push-ups?

Shovelgloving looks odd, but I bet it's effective.

Ignore this article.