Thursday, April 17, 2014

More Tales From the Over Regulated State - A Series

Wherein tonight's episode may be called, "Beef prices at a 20 year high?  We haven't even started, yet".

Thanks to catching a few minutes of Mark Steyn sitting in for Rush today, I became aware of a ruling from the FDA that is going to affect beef prices.  Most people haven't thought of it, with the possible exception of folks who have brewed their own beer or wine, but commercial breweries have a big problem with the fermented grain they produce as a byproduct.  They also treat the grain a bit differently than home brewers.  After the most intense period of the fermentation cycle, the major breweries take the beer off the grain and sell the result to cattle farmers as feed, while the home brewer leaves the grain in to ferment out all of the sugars.  Selling the mostly-fermented grain ends up being good for the breweries, good for the farmers and good for "the environment".  The breweries make some money from the mash, instead of paying to landfill, compost or otherwise recycle it; the environment doesn't get industrial quantities of this waste, and the farmers get high quality feed for their cattle.
Farmers have been procuring and feeding their livestock spent brewing grains and grapes for centuries.  These livestock “happy hour” arrangements advance environmental sustainability, engender bonds among local businesses, and financially benefit both parties.  Farmers get low cost whole grain feed packed with fiber, protein, and, of particular importance to livestock in arid climates, moisture.  Alcohol makers save millions by not having to landfill the by-products.
...
On average, one gallon of beer will yield about a pound of spent grain. One gallon of bourbon yields more than nine pounds.
...
Brewers and distillers have tons of wet grain left over from making alcohol, and cows just happen to love it. 
The change is that the FDA decided that when a brewery soaks the grain (or grapes) for a short period of time, and sells the residue, they have become food producers and fall under FDA regulations for that.  The new regulations and record keeping the FDA seeks to impose is going to increase the cost of this feed.  I haven't seen it being referred to as becoming cost prohibitive, but any increase ends up in the cost of beef from these cows.

The problem is that the FDA is regulated by a duly passed law called the Food Safety Modernization Act, and FSMA section 116 specifically exempts activities at facilities which “relate to the manufacturing, processing, packing, or holding of alcoholic beverages” which this clearly is.  As one reviewer said, the FDA is rewriting the laws they're supposed to be bound by and striking that exception out of the FSMA.  (And not to pat myself on the back too much, but I warned against trouble from this law long before it was passed.)

There's a couple of possible explanations.  The first is the simplest: the government is expanding like a virulent cancer and the agency sees more ways to dominate industries.  The more rules they write, the more power they have.  Alternatively, as Forbes put it, they are the hammer and everything looks like a nail to them; in this case, they see something that isn't regulated to absurd levels, so they need to make sure it is.  They can't allow anything to happen that isn't regulated, right?  Again, as Forbes put it,
[The] FDA is overstepping its constitutional authority to impose unnecessary controls on a centuries-old, local, safe, and environmentally sustainable practice which financially benefits all parties involved. 
Let's see... proven, traditional technology; safe, environmentally better than alternatives; free market agreement that benefits everyone... how could a Fed.gov agency like something like that?  It needs to be destroyed.  Going to raise your food prices?  Go on food stamps like a good little comrade! 

Of course after a little too much of that Happy Hour grain mix...
(source)



Confidential to Michael Bloomberg

If you think you "earn your place in heaven", you're not going. 
“I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed,” Bloomberg declared. “I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.”


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Good Read

The Feral Irishman linked to the post The Pig Trap on Taxicab Depressions that's really worth your time to read.  It's a bit long and rambling, even more so than my stuff, but has some good ideas in it.  You should read.  An excellent companion to that piece is Borepatch's shorter All Will be Well When the Government Votes in a New People, especially the second half.

The author presents two stories, the first about an early morning fare he had in his cab.  A security professional of some sort, with some extremely lucid remarks on Fast and Furious, the administration and what a new civil war would probably look like.  
These people are playing with matches… I don’t think they understand the scope and scale of the wildfire they are flirting with. They are fucking around with a civil war that could last a decade and cause millions of deaths… and the sad truth is that 95% of the problems we have in this country could be solved tomorrow, by noon… simply by dragging 100 people out in the street and shooting them in the fucking head.”
Chances are it won't be new ideas for most of you, but there's good stuff in there.  Go read.

What’s the difference between fascism, socialism and crony capitalism? In theory, a lot. In practice, nothing.

A Little Florida Stuff

Florida Carry is running a Thunderclap (whatever that is!) to show support for some pro-gun legislation making its way through the sausage-making process.  As I understand it, all I gotta do is embed this:


My usual ranting will follow.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Techy Tuesday - Printing, Growing, and Replacing Body Parts

A Dutch Woman received a 3D printed skull a few months ago and is now back to life as normal. The woman had a condition that causes bones to thicken, particularly in the skull. This had caused her skull to thicken to almost three times its normal thickness, which was putting pressure on her brain.
Led by brain surgeon Bon Verweij, MD,  the surgical team labored 23 hours in the operating room to replace the woman's skull with one made of acrylic. Her new skull was 3-D printed by an Australian company, Anatomics (St. Kilda, Victoria) that specializes in the custom 3-D printing of cranial and maxillofacial implants based on the patient's own CT and MRI image data. Verweij performed the operation with assistance from orthodontic surgeon Marvick Muradin, MD.
...
“The condition initially manifests itself in severe headaches,” Verweij explained in a hospital press release. “The thickening of the skull puts the brain under increasing pressure. Ultimately, she slowly lost her vision and started to suffer from motor coordination impairment. It was only a matter of time before other essential brain functions would have been impaired and she would have died. So intensive surgery was inevitable, but until now there was no effective treatment for such patients.”
Remarkable, but not exclusive.  In the UK, a British man with a rare bone cancer had part of his pelvis removed and replaced with a 3D printed synthetic.
The surgical team used a 3-D scanner to measure the exact amount of bone that needed to be  removed. In this case so much bone needed removing that nothing would have been left to which an implant could have been attached. The man’s leg would have been left unattached to his spine and “hanging,” and it would have been shorter than the other, the surgeon told the newspaper.
His surgery was three years ago.  UK newspapers report the man is able to walk with the aid of a stick.  Sure beats a walker - or being confined to a wheel chair or bed.  

Remarkable, but only the beginning.  There was a story about soft tissue being engineered and four teenage girls with a rare and otherwise unrepairable disease receiving lab-grown vaginas made of their own body tissue, between 2005 and 2008.  This success opens the door to other, more complex organs being grown and printed.  The heart has been targeted, although that may be skipping over lower levels of complexity. 

I've been a major advocate of, and believer in tissue engineering since first hearing of this years ago.  We are currently bringing thousands of young men and women home from battle with missing limbs.  Wouldn't it be fantastic to build them a replacement instead of a prosthetic?  What could be a better way to improve their lives? Think of people who have virtually every other part of their body removed during cancer treatment: liver, kidney, pancreas, intestines, skin, breast, and bones.  Think of the people who tear up a knee or elbow, or develop arthritis, or who lose pieces of ears, or nose to skin cancer.  Wouldn't it be a massive improvement to grow new cartilage and restore full functionality?  How can medicine talk about "quality of life" and not go down this research pathway?


Monday, April 14, 2014

QoTD - Bundy Ranch Edition

From Dana Loesch of the Blaze, as a guest on Megyn Kelly's show (H/T ENDO):
If these cattle were people and they were here illegally.. the department of justice would be running guns to them and the department of homeland security would be driving by with free government phones and EBT cards, but now that they’re cattle they are actually rounding them up and killing them.
Me, I've been pondering that Fed.gov can put hundreds of heavily armed BLM agents on the ground over a rent dispute, with drones high above, helicopters at mid-level, and snipers on the hills, but they can't get off their asses to do a frackin' thing while an ambassador gets raped, mutilated alive and murdered, and two years later there is no official responsibility for how he got hung out to be killed (as if we don't know who it was)  and nobody has had so much as a bad performance review, or a letter left in their personnel file. 

Count me among the folks thinking this is far from over.  I think this whole exercise has been the equivalent of driving a humvee through Falujah to draw fire and see where the insurgents are.  They did this to see what kind of response it gets, monitor communications capabilities among the militia, look at logistics issues, deployments, and the reconnaissance they could get on what sort of resistance to expect.  FWIW, Oathkeepers is reporting that various insiders tell them the BLM is planning a raid on the Bundy home. 
Not only is the BLM not actually backing off of Cliven Bundy, Sheriff Richard Mack of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association has revealed stunning information: on Ben Swann’s radio program, Mack said that he has received intelligence from multiple, credible sources inside the BLM and the Las Vegas Metro that there is “no question” that the federal government is planning a raid on the Bundy home and the homes of their children who live on the property.
As Sheriff Mack says in that interview, it's hard to imagine such a raid being accomplished without bloodshed.  
(source)
As Yogi Berra said, "it ain't over til it's over"... and this one ain't over.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Recyclable Paper Coffee Cups?

Let me apologize if I bust the bubble of anyone who thinks paper coffee cups can be or are being recycled.  That also applies to ice cream cups, or cartons, or pretty much any paper container used for liquids.  The only recyclable coffee cups are the porcelain, china or other non-disposable cups that you can wash.  The problem is that these cups and containers are coated in a layer of LDPE: low density polyethylene used for waterproofing, and that gums up the machines used for recycling.

But that might be changing.  According to Machine Design editor Leland Tesch, a company called Smartplanet Technologies has developed a coating called "mineralized resin" that doesn't gum up the recycling machines. 
Smartplanet Chief Technology Officer Chris Tilton told us when cups coated with the stuff go to a paper mill, the plastic contamination from the coating is small enough and dense enough to be filtered out of paper fibers. The point is to make the resulting coating go through the recycling process more like a mineral than like a plastic. But Smartplanet’s coating can be applied with existing equipment normally used for LDPE. The thermal properties of the minerals they add are such that coatings of their substance can go on at the same superhigh speeds as used for conventional LDPE.
But what if we could recycle the plastic cups?  Berry Plastics has developed a cup made out of No. 5 plastic polypropylene, a material which many facilities can already recycle. The material is a good insulator so it can replace disposable foam cups.  They've come up with proprietary methods of making coffee cups that take advantage of the insulating properties with a cellular structure, like foam.  The cup is so durable, it doesn't need to be recycled after one use.  If you had these at home, you could wash them in the dishwasher and reuse them.  More durable than the ubiquitous Solo cup, use it and wash it until it starts to look like it's losing integrity and then toss it in the recycling bin.
Hopefully, we can end up with products that don't cost cities $4000/ton to recycle but that they can only sell for $32/ton, as is the case today. 


Saturday, April 12, 2014

The 12th Root of Two

Chances are that if that number means anything to you, you're one of the geeky few who are interested in – or aware of – the intersection of music and mathematics.  Stand by for some observations.  Some of this is going to get weird, I'm sure. 

Music is as old as humanity.  Every society ever found has music, and although the scales may not be the same, there seem to be relationships that follow.  Long before humans could measure frequency (or had a word for it) musicians knew that there are tones that are related to each other.  If you play a stringed instrument, for instance, you can hear beat notes between strings and minimize the differences.  The concept of octaves, two tones that were the same musical tone but twice the frequency, was known for a long time, but not by measuring frequencies.

Western music has evolved to be based what's called the "equal tempered" scale; there's a constant difference between tones.  The scale is based on a series of 12 semitones or half steps, or 7 full tones.  Wait – shouldn't there be 14 semitones if there are 7 full tones?  Welcome to the first oddity: there are two places in a scale where no semitone – no half step – exists.  There are only 7 notes in written music: A through G.  In common notation, a scale has 8 notes - you include the ending note one octave above the starting note.  The easiest scale to show is the C scale, which goes from C to C; C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C.  There are no semitones between E and F or B and C.  The number of half steps between the notes of any scale are 2 2 1 2 2 2 1, and music theory students will laboriously derive scales starting on every semitone in an octave.  If you were to measure the frequency of the two C notes, the second C is exactly twice the frequency of the first one.  For example, middle C on a keyboard, so-named because it is the C closest to the center of a piano keyboard, is produced with a frequency of 261.626 Hz.  It is also called C4  - the fourth C on piano.  The next C (usually called High C or C5) is 523.251 Hz.  Why the oddball numbers?  Why decimals with 3 decimal places?  Because the 12th root of 2 is an irrational number, which means it can't be obtained by dividing any integers.  Its value is approximately 1.05946309435929 although the decimal never ends.

That interval of two gets equally divided among the 12 semitones.  That means each semitone step up is the 12th root of 2 times the frequency of the note you started on, and each step down is divided by the 12th root of 2.  Over the years, the world has more or less settled that the A above middle C (just below high C) is 440 Hz, although some orchestras will vary from that.  Chances are if you have an electronic keyboard in your home, though, that note is 440 Hz. 440 * 12th root of 2 is 466.1638, or A#.  A# times the 12th root of 2 is 493.8833 or B.  Times the 12th root of 2 is 523.2511 Hz or C.  That's how this “equal tempered chromatic scale” system works.

If that reliance on the 12th root of 2 isn't weird enough for you, hang on. There are combinations of notes that naturally sound good to your ears, and other combinations that don't.  These combinations are intervals in musician-speak.  Good combinations are the fundamental, the third and the fifth.  These are 4 and 7 semitones away, or 2^(4/12) and 2^(7/12); the combination of these three tones is called a major triad.  If we drop the third by one semitone so that instead of 4 semitones, we only go 3 (2^(3/12)), this has a tone most people think of as somehow “sadder” than the major triad.  It becomes a minor triad.  Any lessons on the blues will tell you blues music is based on flatting the 3rd and 7th.  In other words, humans perceive tones that vary by (2^(3/12)) or (2^(1/4)) and (2^(5/6)) as sadder sounding than (2^(4/12)) and (2^(11/12)).  Why is that? 

Other forms exist by using other combinations of tones.  Some of them add musical "suspense", somehow sounding stressed or unresolved, as if there's some sort of tension between the tones; replacing the 3rd with a 4th in a Sus4 chord.  Others resolve that tension.  Still others blend in so well with the original major triad that you hardly know they're even present.  Maybe an experienced musician will pick out a C2 being played instead of a plain C major chord; most won't, while everyone can hear the distinctive dissonance of a G6 alternating with a plain G major in the opening of the Eagles' "Tequila Sunrise", for example.  

It gets weirder.  You know that meme that all really famous popular songs come down to a very similar 4 chord progression?  The progression is called I V vi IV ( where the lower case vi means the minor form of 6th chord).  It's a meme because it's absolutely true.   Staying with the key of C (it's easier) C D E F G A B C, that turns into C G Am F.  Not only that, but I vi IV V (C Am F G) accounts for another few thousand songs.  Why do certain progressions work together and others don't?  I have a book of chord progressions, and there are many out there.  This particular one is less than a hundred pages long and yet quite possibly contains the guts of every song ever written.

What this means is that some ratios of multiples of the 12th root of 2 are pleasing to the human ear and others aren't.  Why is that?  Yet another weirdness: the value for A (and, thereby, the entirety of music) has changed since the great composers of the 17 and 1800s were alive.  I've heard speculation that if Mozart were alive today he'd be physically sickened to hear his music.  I don't really know how we could know, but while the individual tones would be different, the ratios of the tones would be the same.  I rather think that music would sound strange to a reanimated Mozart, but that he'd soon adapt to it, since the ratios and harmonies are the same.
I've never seen an attempt at explaining the sensitivity to musical tones as evolutionarily advantageous that seems like a compelling argument to me.  The Wiki entry for octaves says that monkeys experience octaves and that it appears to map to mammalian brains in the thalamus, though. so it seems it has been in the hardware for a long time. 

With no reasonable explanation for why it would offer survival advantage to be sensitive to certain separations of tones characterized by some factors of the 12th root of 2, we're forced to conclude one of two things.  Either it's serendipity: happy accident.  It's just there as the random accident of billions of random matings.  Or we can modify Ben Franklin's statement on wine:  it's "... a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy."

Now can someone tell me why car horns are in the key of F?


Friday, April 11, 2014

Smart Car Tipping

In the story that struck me funniest this week, vandals went lynching Smart Cars in San Francisco last weekend.  Quoting Newswer:
How did the undersized vehicles look when flipped? "Like they are dachshunds sitting up on their hind legs."
In the old days, Volkswagen beetles were the car kids did rude things to.  You'd regularly see stories about them being moved into impossible positions to drive out of, or carried off.  Although I never did anything malicious, I was one of a group of six high school seniors who picked one up and carried it out of a bad patch of sand it was stuck in.  It was spring break and it was how 18 year olds tried to impress college girls...
Actually, this one is pretty benign.  In several of the pictures the cars look like they were damaged too badly. 

Kind of the San Francisco version of cow tipping.  Now that it's made the news, expect to hear of it happening more often.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why I Think It's Different

Last weekend, I wrote a pretty scathing piece on the way Mozilla treated Brendan Eich for his political views.  I come down strongly on the side that his first amendment protections for political speech were violated, and that this is one of those trends in society that is an endarkening.  I don't want to put words in anyone else' mouth, but I saw similar responses from several, including Borepatch (several pieces; here's one) and Karl Denninger at Market Ticker (example), along with examples I linked to in the post itself.

On the other hand, there has been a current running in the other direction.  Tam compared it to Zumbo and Metcalf being fired; a topic picked up and riffed on by McThag.
I've seen some pretty interesting rationalizations over the past few days from people nominally on my team for why it was okay for Metcalf and Zumbo to be shown the door for offending sponsors or being out of step with their subcultural zeitgeist, but Brendan Eich's ouster was just... zomg... FIRST AMENDMENT!
In my case, I didn't call for Dick Metcalf to be fired and I wasn't even in the shooting sports community when Jim Zumbo got canned, but I see these as very different cases.  I had to look Zumbo's case up: he essentially got fired for the same reason Dick Metcalf did, which had nothing to do with political speech and everything to do with pissing off your customers.  No surprise, it simply isn't good business to piss off your most loyal customers - just ask the Dixie Chicks.  They're still in business in some sense (two of three are off in a new band) but the Chicks are nowhere near the industry presence they were back in '03. 

What Metcalf and Zumbo did was massively, stupidly out of touch with their customers - at best.  In my mind, saying something stupid isn't a fireable offense, but if you say something stupid enough - especially if you're in the public eye - you've got to know it can happen.  People who talk on radio or TV for hours every week are bound to to eventually say something stupid enough to get in trouble for it.   (I think I'll save that excuse for writing a blog post every evening, too.)  Further, I don't think you have free speech protections in business.  How long do you think a marketing guy would last if he degraded his company's products with every potential customer? 

What Eich did was donate to a political cause in his role as a private person, not as CEO of Mozilla (of course; he wasn't CEO six years ago when he made the donation, the promotion was very recent).  Donating to a cause is the very essence of protected political speech.  Denninger argues that there is little that one can do that is more fundamentally political speech, other than voting.

The funny thing about someone in Eich's position is that if he were asked to sign a statement saying he would never go against the corporation's publicly declared position, and then did, I'd think it was a justified firing.  That would the same as saying the price he paid to get that CEO pay, corner office, and seat on the corporate jet, was that he signed away a civil right the rest of us have.   Don't know about you, but I've never heard that he signed away any rights, so he absolutely had the right to donate to whomever/whatever he wanted without retribution. 

I still come down that this was an unjustified firing caused by political correctness run amok.  It was brought on by a loud minority that can't bear the thought that everyone doesn't love them.  Mozilla is mind-numbingly hypocritical in their statements about the firing.  And the CEO of OKCupid, who appears to be the person who started the whole jihad against Eich, and who donated to an anti-gay group as well, is a hypocrite for the ages; a hypocrite of epic proportions. 

Need to download Opera or some other browsers and dump this Firefox/Thunderbird suite.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Wait! ... Say What?

This story made the news recently, and was in the formerly-great Scientific American.  Dark beer is better than lighter beer.  They measured concentrations of potentially harmful chemicals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, created by grilling and found the level reduced 50% by marinating in beer.  Fans of the book Protein Power by the doctors Eades will probably remember that they've been recommending you marinate steaks in red wine since the '90s.  Their recommendation is based on reduction of arachidonic acid, a compound we'd like to limit in our foods (and lives) due to its role in inflammatory processes. (Note: after reviewing three sites, this one seems to offer the best balanced look at AA in the diet).

Beer or wine, marinating before you grill makes sense.  Not mention that it tastes good. 
"Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.” - Ben Franklin


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Techy Tuesday - Amateur Digital Voice

There's a large and healthy group of liberty sphere folks who have gotten amateur radio licenses as part of their preps.  Ham radio offers both many more frequencies to operate on and many more modes to operate that dwarf anything obtainable any other way.  I've written somewhat on the topic before but bow deeply in recognition to Sparks31 who has done a great job on many topics. 

In the last month or so, I heard of and looked into a piece of open source software put together by some very technically savvy hams; it's called FreeDV or Free Digital Voice.  FreeDV allows you to put an HF transceiver on the air using digital modulation techniques as advanced as any you'll find.  Let me quote from their intro page:
FreeDV is a GUI application for Windows, Linux and MacOS (BSD and Android in development) that allows any SSB radio to be used for low bit rate digital voice.

Speech is compressed down to 1600 bit/s then modulated onto a 1.25 kHz wide 16QPSK signal which is sent to the Mic input of a SSB radio. On receive, the signal is received by the SSB radio, then demodulated and decoded by FreeDV. Communications should be readable down to 2 dB S/N, and long-distance contacts are reported using 1-2 watts power.

FreeDV was built by an international team of Radio Amateurs working together on coding, design, user interface and testing. FreeDV is open source software, released under the GNU Public License version 2.1. The FDMDV modem and Codec 2 Speech codec used in FreeDV are also open source.
If you want to hear what it sounds like, check out this YouTube video of a test contact which goes back and forth between analog SSB and FreeDV voice.  An important point that they don't mention is that the only reason you can understand both is that the receiver is using FreeDV.  If that software isn't available, the speech will be unintelligible.  This YouTube Video lets you hear what the FreeDV sounds like just coming out of a speaker with no decoder.  It's also a test of the software algorithms in degraded conditions by artificially introducing degradations into speech test clips. 

Side note: I was involved in development of a digital voice system called VDL Mode 3 for the FAA about a decade ago.  Even though it was sent at much higher bit rate and channel bandwidth, it didn't sound that much better than this.  One of its features was digital voice using a commercial (very closed source) digital voice codec developed by a couple of post-docs from one of the big schools.  FreeDV uses an amateur-developed, open source, free codec and sounds good enough when running slightly over 1600 Bits Per Second.  The first thing that jumps out at me about these tests is that the phrases used, male and female speakers, are identical to what we were using.
(The FreeDV GUI
As always, if you think you'll want to get to know this mode, there's no time like today.  And the same provisions for security I've always mentioned go for this one, too.   Amateur modes are designed so that they can be publicly read by default.  I don't know where it's buried in the source code, but I'm sure if a couple of guys modified certain key parameters, they could come up with a version that was intelligible to a much smaller number.  It would be thoroughly illegal for use today, AFAIK. 


Monday, April 7, 2014

Jeb, Jeb, Jeb...

No. No. No.

As a lifelong Floridian, I was able to observe Jeb Bush when he was governor a few years ago.  Jeb is competent manager and CEO type, a very effective administrator.   For example, he was governor during the bad hurricane season in 2004, and comparing him to Louisiana's government was like comparing a team of extremely well trained operators to the Korrupt Keystone Kops.
But... No.  First off, he's too big a progressive; too quick to go for government solutions.  Not the guy to go to when you need to drastically reform and curtail the fed.gov.  Plus, he's too big a supporter of the Common Core federal take over of education.  Like many, when W showed up in the primaries in 2000, we thought he was "the wrong Bush"; that Jeb would be the next Bush to run.  Later, we figured W had used up the family name. 

Every bad quality Mitt Romney had that pitted conservatives against him is core Jeb.  Another big government technocrat.  He's the wrong man at the wrong time. 

Plus... can we please have more diversity than another Bush running against another Clinton?

Aside from that, as an update, Mrs. Graybeard has the nasty cold I first came down with two weeks ago.  It's staying more as head cold for her (while for me it dove into my lungs first), and she has conjunctivitis really badly. 

Me, I've been back in motion for a week, but still cough too much and I'm still consuming more than 50% of my calories as cough drops


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Of Course The Stock Market Is Rigged - But ...

Earlier this week "some dood with a book" (Michael Lewis, in the book Flash Boys) made news headlines by taking about the stock market being rigged for the high frequency traders.  His argument is that they get ahead of the market by milliseconds - by buying the fastest network connections money can buy - and take advantage of the rubes. 

Whether this is true or not, I can't tell you.  Predictably, all the cable finance shows, finance magazines and columnists repudiated the idea (for example).  I say "predictably" because to the man (or to the info-babe), they push Wall Street as the only way an individual can build wealth. 

The problem is that the market is rigged, and it's rigged in ways nobody is talking about; it's rigged by a combination of the Federal Reserve and the too big to fail (TBTF) banks.  The endless creation of "money" out of thin air is driving the market prices up.  I've written before that if you try to compare the major market indices to any standard of value: gold, silver, or any commodity, the Dow peaked in 2000 and has been losing value ever since.  Even if you just look at the annual inflation rate reported by Shadowstats and divide the DJIA backwards, you find this. 

If you get nothing else out of my ramblings, get this point: what the Fed is doing to the market is helping nobody but the institutional traders who buy and sell from each other and their infrastructure.  A simple example might help.  If the market is truly healthy and populated by successful companies, they pay earnings or dividends.  Some stocks, especially the tech stocks, value growth over dividends or earnings and the goal is for them to go up in price, perhaps split to more shares at lower prices.  The "blue chip" stocks emphasize dividends and paying stock holders.  According to The Motley Fool, Exxon Mobil, paid dividends of 63 cents per share this past quarter, for shares that cost $97.32 (0.65%)  Five years ago, the dividends were 42 cents per share on shares that cost $69 (0.61%).  So just how has the higher stock price benefited anybody?  The stock costs 41% more today and you're earning marginally lower dividends per share.  You're certainly not earning 41% more dividends for a stock that's 41% more expensive!  Why would I want to pay more for a stock giving me the same percent dividends, let alone paying slightly less?  

But the broker who sells the stock to you is earning a bigger commission based on that higher price. He must love the Fed.
Remember, Janet said if she could make you pay a penalty to save money, she would. 



Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Gathering Darkening

Some years before I joined the blogosphere and more years before I even started reading the liberty sphere, Billy Beck coined the term "The Endarkenment"; the opposite of the renaissance and era of enlightenment, he meant the term to describe the descent into coming dark ages.  America in the opening decades of the 21st century is a dark place, becoming darker by the day. 

I refer in this case to the firing/railroading of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich.  Eich's dismissal was clearly because he exercised his protected rights to free speech by contributing money to a political campaign.  Nobody is citing evidence that his behavior to anyone anywhere had anything to do with his dismissal - if they were, it would be million point type headlines on every newspaper.  No, the root of his problem is that he believed something counter to the orthodoxy he's required to believe; "Are you now or have you ever been a supporter of proposition 8".  It's pure McCarthyism; nothing less. 

Mozilla made a statement that is laughably idiotic to try to cover this up:
Mozilla believes both in equality and freedom of speech. Equality is necessary for meaningful speech. And you need free speech to fight for equality. Figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard.
Earth to Mozilla:  No.  No it's not hard.  Allowing free and meaningful speech means allowing free and meaningful speech.  It means you have to give up being rabid control freaks.  It means accepting that you will hear things you don't like.  Period.  If everyone agrees, it isn't free speech, it's a choir singalong.  If everyone agrees there is no need for free speech.  If your idea of convincing someone of your opinion is firing them and ruining their life, you're not interested in free speech or opinions, you're interested in having power over other people and dominating them.  In a word: Mozilla, you're scumbags. 

California, in its infinite idiocy, has decided that it will publish lists of everyone who contributes to any cause.  That means thugs of all stripes will mine that information and attempt to destroy anyone who disagrees with them.  All evidence says that this group will continue their attempts to destroy anyone whose opinion on Prop 8 is doubleplus ungood unacceptable.

Everyone is quoting Andrew Sullivan on this topic, and it's easy to see why.  Andrew has the opposite opinion on this topic from Eich, but he understands the problem to its root. 
Will he now be forced to walk through the streets in shame? Why not the stocks? The whole episode disgusts me – as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society. If this is the gay rights movement today – hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else – then count me out. If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us.
Andrew, you and I probably agree as often as a stopped clock and an atomic clock, but I'm 100% with you on this.  This is absolutely not a gay issue and this isn't a left/right issue.  Some of the best comments on this come from Tammy Bruce and other gay commenters.  This is no less than one of the key founding questions of our country: are people entitled to an opinion that conflicts with the orthodox belief system. 

I'm an engineer.  Human psychology, especially deviant psychology is almost incomprehensible to me in its illogic.  An aspect I've never understood is how someone who has been abused and then is freed of that abuse can want to inflict that same abuse on others.  I think the healthy reaction would be to dedicate one's life to ensuring no one else suffered abuse again.  The people who railroaded Brendan Eich are the kind of people who would get out of abuse and then celebrate that they could do the abusing now.  It's a mental illness I can not comprehend. 

Rod Drehrer at the American Conservative has a good quote to sum this situation up.  Mr Drehrer: you have the floor:
I do not want to live in a world in which gay people get fired for their sexuality, when their sexuality has nothing to do with their ability to do their job. But the kind of people who ousted Brendan Eich want to live in a world in which expressing the “wrong” opinion about same-sex marriage makes one unemployable, even if that opinion has nothing to do with their ability to execute their professional responsibilities. This is not going to end well.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

It's Time for the End of an Error

It's time for the end of an error.  It's time to arm the Army.  It's time US soldiers, airmen, marines and sailors were allowed to defend themselves in Ft. Hood and every other base in the US.

If these men and women were on any other piece of property in Texas, they could defend themselves against an armed crazy person by concealed carry. 
There is simply no rational argument against it.  The country routinely brags this is the best trained fighting force in the history of the world, but they're not well-enough trained to be trusted being armed at home?  But we trust them to be armed on bases around the rest of the world?

I don't care who started it; I don't care how far back it goes; I don't care if it's a D thing or an R thing because it's a stupid thing.  I don't know how this idea got started in society that if some aggrieved soul has a problem with anything he goes into the nearest gun free zone and starts killing people, I just know that it has to stop.  The fact that the uniformed military has not just the ADD-ridden high school snot, but Achmed, L'il Kim and a half dozen others gunning for them just means they need self defense the most. 

Last night, Megyn Kelly on Fox impressed me twice in the opening few minutes of her show.  First, she announced that the shooter's name Will Not Be Mentioned on her show; there's enough evidence to convince her that's what most of these psychos want.  Within seconds after that, she was hounding a Texas senator (I think) about why concealed carry isn't allowed on bases.  Concealed carry has a great track record of stopping this sort of thing.  It's time to stop the stupidity and let people protect themselves.


About Last Night

I feel compelled to to tell y'all something.  Last night, I wrote that Janet Yellen admitted to being a disciple of "soviet economist" Yuri Pavlovovich.

To the extent I can verify this, there is no such person as economist Yuri Pavolovovich.

Yuri Pavolovovich is a plot device - in that the made up character helped to develop the "story". 

To be even more specific, Yuri Pavolovich is a special type of plot device.  Yuri is an April Fool's joke.  Anyone can pull an April Fool's joke on April 1st.  How many of you have ever had one pulled on you on April 2nd?


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Has Yellen Folded Already?

Almost under the radar, Fed Head Janet Yellen declared on Monday that the economy is too soft and the Fed was going to need to keep the monetary stimulus going "for some time".  In a prepared speech given in Chicago on Monday, she said the "extraordinary measures" will be kept up for the foreseeable future. 
While policy makers have slowed the pace of their monthly asset purchases over the past three gatherings to $55 billion from $85 billion, Yellen said the central bank’s commitment is strong to helping sustain progress in the job market.

“Recent steps by the Fed to reduce the rate of new securities purchases are not a lessening of this commitment, only a judgment that recent progress in the labour market means our aid for the recovery need not grow as quickly,” she said. “Earlier this month, the Fed reiterated its overall commitment to maintain extraordinary support for the recovery for some time to come.”
Stocks - of course - were up after the pep talk, with the S&P 500 Index rising 0.8% to 1,872.72 at 10 a.m. in New York. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note was up three basis points, or 0.03 percentage point, to 2.75%.  Unless you're very new here, you know that I've been saying the growth in the stock market is all artificial, coming only from federal reserve stimulus funds.  Compared to even a flawed commodity standard like gold today, the stock market is down considerably since 2000. 

But the interesting thing that's being reported (Bill Bonner) is that Yellen has admitted to colleagues that she's a disciple of Soviet economist Yuri Pavlovovich.  Who?  Yuri Pavlovovich was a young man and otherwise unknown economist when the Bolshevik Revolution shook Russia.  Young, but not stupid, Pavlovovich was shrewd enough to figure out which way the wind was blowing and set about ingratiating himself to "Uncle Joe" Stalin.  Once in the Kremlin, he studied how to improve the results of the Federal Reserve's Soviet central planning. 
The central concept of Pavlovovich’s pensĂ©es was that people do as they are told to do. Few people are original thinkers. Few are willing to defy authority.

The job of the ruler, he figured, was therefore merely to direct human action in a way that was salutary. People, he reasoned, could be enticed, lured and ordered to do many different things. The challenge for the elite in charge of the economic system was to find the course of action most beneficial to citizens… and to themselves.

“Policy should direct people where they ought to go,” was one of his famous dicta.   Give them a bottle of vodka or seven years in a gulag. That will help make up their minds,” was another.
Unfortunately for Pavlovovich, Stalin appeared to have decided that he didn't really need this economist's opinions and had him assigned to the German front in the winter of 1941.  There, incoming Panzer troops were even less fond of his ideas than Stalin and he met his untimely demise.

The similarity to Janet Yellen's own views, as well as those of every central banker we can think of, is obvious.  The whole of Quantitative Easing to Infinity has been to give us that choice of the vodka or the gulag.  In the central bankers' minds, it doesn't matter that the average borrower has more debt than they can live with, it just matters that they need you to keep borrowing.  Get drunk and borrow!   It's better than a deflationary death spiral! 
As the Fed tries desperately to raise inflation (and are succeeding) the central bankers live in morbid fear that if we consumers don't see prices rising badly enough, we'll save our money and not take on as much debt.  To you and me, seeing prices going down would make us feel better; less like the "typical, middle-class American" in this Steve Breen cartoon.  But to central bankers, you and I being able to successfully save for retirement or life in general is the death knell of their control.  Savers simply must be destroyed.  Omelet; eggs; you know.  You're the egg. 


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Techy Tuesday - What's All This Vacuum Tube Stuff, Anyway?

With apologies to Bob Pease.

Get a group of audiophiles in a room - especially a bunch of guitar players - and ask their opinions of vacuum tube amplifiers or solid state amplifiers.  And get ready for a really active discussion. 

Let's back up a second.  A certain amount of "WTF are you talking about?" is expected.  When we say "amplifier", we're actually referring to a system of parts: a cabinet with a speaker or two that takes input from an audio preamp or maybe a guitar and brings it up to room-filling volume.  But each one of those is based on an active amplifier device that takes small voltages (or powers...) and makes them into bigger voltages (or powers...).  The active device that does this - the amplifier in the amplifier - could be silicon: a bipolar transistor, or a Field Effect Transistor.  Or it could be a vacuum tube: metal electrodes, hot plasma and wire running in an evacuated glass envelope. 

I've got to tell you, I've been paying attention to technical details on this subject for years and it is one of the most complex subjects I've ever come across.  One of my frequent reads, Lou Frenzel in Electronic Design, dives into the topic.  He ends up sounding like me. 
I have actually compared solid state audio power amps to the vacuum tube equivalents several times and using the same speakers.  (It seems to me that the speakers would have more of an effect on the sound than the type of amplifier.)   I could discern a difference between the two.  I do not have the words to describe the difference.  It is akin to comparing wines in a tasting.  There are words for that but they are also vague and subjective to be sure.  So it is with audio sounds.  I have actually heard people say they can tell the difference between two different sets of speaker cables and connectors.  I still don’t believe it.
There's a big deal in there, when he refers to the speakers having more effect on the sound than the type of amplifier.  The guys who build these amplifiers frequently don't account for everything.  Speakers couple magnetically into audio wires; wires interact with each other.  Moving the input transformer with respect to the input circuit can change the way the system sounds.  Maybe it's all the effects of the transformer and has nothing to do with the active devices (transistor amplifiers tend to drive the speakers directly while vacuum tubes need the transformers). 

One of the most common things you'll hear is that transistors tend to odd order distortions - odd harmonics of the fundamental tones you produce by playing a string - while tubes tend toward even order distortions.  The theory goes that humans perceive even harmonics as sounding nicer than odd harmonics sounds.  I recall back in my days playing with electrical things as a kid running both a square wave and a smooth sine wave into a speaker: the square (odd harmonics) did indeed sound harsher. 

(Source)
I'll be 100% honest, as always.  I don't know what to make of this.  Our ears, our "psycho-acoustic" processing is amazing.  But audio is ferociously complicated.  Everyone who has played around with stereos has heard of "8 ohm speakers", but there is nothing inherently 8 ohms about any speaker, and the actual impedance measured at the input varies with where the speaker sits in the room.  The back pressure from the speaker compressing the air in the room and that air pressing back will change the impedance.  Our ears can hear amazing things, but so can modern instruments.  I think the situation is that there is no simple, tidy little answer.  It's not odd harmonics or even; it's not transformers or direct drive; it's not transformers perpendicular to their wires or not.  It's all of this and more in a subtle blending.  It's complicated. 

Maybe the answer is get a box of tubes, some sheet metal, and the rest of the parts and put a few things together.


Monday, March 31, 2014

Are You (Getting) Gray?

You might want to keep your animal protein consumption up.  From a report in Science Daily about a study in Japan by the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Japan,:
Men in the highest quartile of animal protein intake had a 39 percent decreased chance of experiencing higher-level functional decline than those in the lowest quartile. These associations were not seen in women. No consistent association was observed between plant protein intake and future higher-level functional decline in either sex.

"Identifying nutritional factors that contribute to maintaining higher-level functional capacity is important for prevention of future deterioration of activities of daily living," said Dr. Tsubota-Utsugi. "Along with other modifiable health behaviors, a diet rich in protein may help older adults maintain their functional capacity."
The top 1/4 of animal protein consumers had almost a 40% lower chance of "high level functional decline" than the lowest quartile meat eaters.  (I think that means their ability to function independently in society).  Nice to see someone doing that science, since our country is determined to make us all vegetarians.  And though not exclusively related to lowfat diets and veganism, it's nice to see they admit that the last 40 years of the NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) study is full of bogus data.   So it's basically a waste of time and money.  It's from the Fed.gov: what do you expect?

Worried about Body Mass Index, that trendy, new way of reducing the old height/weight charts to a single number?  (Personal motto:  "Mocking BMI since the day it was introduced!")   If anything about body composition is likely to be important to us grayer folks, it's percent muscle
The more muscle older adults have, the lower their risk of death, according to a new study.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 3,600 older adults who took part in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1988 and 1994. The participants included men 55 and older and women 65 and older.
...
"In other words, the greater your muscle mass, the lower your risk of death," study co-author Dr. Arun Karlamangla, an associate professor in the geriatrics division at University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, said in a university news release. "Thus, rather than worrying about weight or body mass index, we should be trying to maximize and maintain muscle mass."
It has been studied well enough to state with confidence that older folks who don't even start trying to lift weights until they're over 50 can still make important gains.  Granted, you won't gain as fast as the younger guys, and other factors (such as your testosterone levels) can make a big difference, but you can still improve.  Still, the fact that "chronic cardio" exercise leads to cumulative heart injuries doesn't mean we shouldn't do anything (this study showed worse injuries from "silent heart attacks" in runners than in sedentary smokers). 

Both of these studies are good sized groups: 3000 in the muscle mass study and over 1000 in the Japanese meat consumption study.  That's way better than these 25 person studies you see.  Might even mean something.
Bacon explosion, anyone?  Sounds like a prescription to me. 


Sunday, March 30, 2014

More Tales From the Over Regulated State - Federal Fart Control

As generations of comedians have said, I'm not making this up.

As part of its attempt to regulate so-called greenhouse gases, the EPA has announced it intends to regulate cattle farting.  Cattle farts, like humans', contain methane, a greenhouse gas several times more potent than CO2. 
This comes despite falling methane emission levels across the economy since 1990.

The White House has proposed cutting methane emissions from the dairy industry by 25 percent by 2020.
Obviously, even those pinheads have to know that simply telling the cows not to fart won't achieve their goals - any more than telling any of us not to fart would curtail our personal methane production.  The only approach to cutting methane production by 25% that has even a remote chance of working would be to reduce the number of cattle by 25%. 
It’s not just the dairy industry that the Obama administration is clamping down on. The White House is looking to regulate methane emissions across the economy from agriculture to oil and gas operations — all this despite methane emissions falling 11 percent since 1990.

Methane emissions have largely been reduced because of the incentive for companies to capture it and sell it for monetary gain. Oil and gas companies, for example, have been looking for ways to increasingly capture methane leaked from drilling operations which they can then sell.
And here's the real meat of this proposal.  Just as diligently as oil and gas companies have been working to capture any methane production in their fields, (leaking methane is throwing away money and that just doesn't go over very well with any business I know), the EPA has been working to shut down energy production  from coal and other non-green (that is, real) sources.  They are, of course, as anti-progress and especially anti-American progress, as you'll ever find. 
“President Obama’s plan to reduce climate-disrupting methane pollution is an important step in reining in an out of control industry exempt from too many public health protections,” Deborah Nardone, campaign director of the Sierra Club’s Keeping Dirty Fuels in the Ground campaign. “However, even with the most rigorous methane controls and monitoring in place, we will still fall short of what is needed to fight climate disruption if we do not reduce our reliance on these dirty fossil fuels.”
Aside from the obvious anti-technology, anti-energy independence aspect, this obviously falls into  Moochelle's famous dietary nonsense, too.  Its a progressive perfecta!  If there's 25% less cattle, the cost of beef in the diet has to go up, and people will eat even less of it.  Reeks of a Cass Sunstein "Nudge"  doesn't it? 
Prototype cattle methane collector.  Srsly. 

Remember:  as always, fart control isn't about the farts - it's about the control.



Saturday, March 29, 2014

Lying For The Image

Not that it's a new thing but it just gets under my skin.  See, I was brought up not to lie, and so the concept that one would lie for some "greater good" just doesn't fit in my brain.  If the truth isn't persuasive enough, it's not on your side.  With the possible exception being something like telling the guy holding the gun on you that you swear you won't call the cops after he leaves.  The image that ticked me off?  This one from the Supreme Court this week:
If you know anything about this case, you know it has essentially nothing do with either of these signs or what's being presented in any news source, be it CNN or Fox.  It's about whether a company has to provide abortifacients in compliance with Federal law, not contraceptives; the deeper question is do people who form a company give up their human right to live in compliance with their faith or even their preferences.  Hobby Lobby already provides contraceptives (16 out of 20 required), their issue is with the 20% which function by preventing survival of an embryo - an abortifacient.   Neither one of those signs represents that case at all.  The one on the left is a dangerous assault on all religions everywhere.  The one on the right, while technically a true statement, is 100% irrelevant.  It's not a healthcare plan.  It's also not a refrigerator, it's not a banana, and perhaps most relevant: it's not a government office. 

The one on the left is more dangerous because it uses freedom of worship (FoW) to replace freedom of religion (FoR).  The president has increasingly been using the phrase FoW instead of FoR since his Cairo speech in '09; some say to the exclusion of FoR.  At least one organization, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also noted the shift and raised a flag on it in its 2010 annual report.  Freedom of worship is just that; it says the only place you are allowed your religious views is in a recognized church - and if congress trying to decide who gets freedom of speech is any indication, laws defining an allowable church ought to start hitting the congress in ...oh...15 minutes or so.  You can believe anything you want in your recognized building, but the moment you walk out of it, you may only believe what Your God Your Government tells you.  Even Muslim nations under Sharia law trumpet their Freedom of Worship, where (at best) it means other religions may be taught only in churches.  More often, it simply means the choice between the Mosque and the cemetery;  you're free to be a Muslim or die (or get out of the country). 

Freedom of Religion is what is expressed in the constitution, and has allowed for the ‘free exercise of religion’ in all aspects of American society unabated for over 200 years.  Only those very uninvolved in watching society would say that there is no conflict over this in American society; just last week, Cardinal Raymond Burke, the Vatican's Chief Justice noted that US policies  “have become progressively more hostile toward Christian civilization.”  In his interview, he specifically said he thought Obama was shifting America to a Freedom of Worship society. 

I think it's wise to never dismiss politics when watching any politicians doing anything, and that's especially true with the crop of Alinskyites in power.  Why does this case get to the Supreme court?  If the government wanted to absolutely ensure those abortifacients were available, they have many ways to do it, including direct confiscation of your taxes and mine.  So it can't simply be about that.  What's it all about?  One of two things: to get yet another area of the constitution shredded away - even better! by the court not the president's phone and pen; the other possibility is to further try to break Obamacare down so that the morons cry out for single payer government takeover of everything.  Which is virtually total control over every citizen.  If you're the one in control, and a pathological control freak, what's not to like about total control over everything?

It's worth noting that the government has declared war on Christianity here; it's not the other way around.  Christ said in Mark 12:17, "give to Caesar that which is his, and give to God that which is His".  While under valid Earthly governments; obey them.  Pay your taxes.  Follow Just Laws.  The problem is the government seems to think that everything you earn, everything you own, and as the Freedom of Worship change progresses, everything you believe belongs them, too.


Friday, March 28, 2014

You Know You're Coughing Too Much

... when the cat leaves because you're keeping him from sleeping.  You know you're coughing too much when you dream about trying to calm yourself so you don't cough.

Just got back from my second trip to the lung specialist who (this time) gave me a script for Codeine.  It has to help my sleep, if not Mojo's. He also pointed out that there has been a strange return of pertussis - Whooping Cough - in the last decade and much of the disease is in us older adults.  Since Jenny McCarthy hadn't been born yet, there was no "anti-vaccination movement" to speak of and we all got vaccinated against it.  The real reason there was no anti-vaccination movement, of course, was that those diseases were not some remote risk that never happened.  Those risks were as real as an oak tree to our parents because many of us came from a family where a child (or more than one!) was lost to Whooping Cough, so they viewed the vaccines as the modern miracles they are.  Mrs. Graybeard tells of hearing the story throughout her childhood of how her parents, as children, lost brothers and sisters to "The 100-day cough".  In one case, one sibling came down with the disease on the way to/from the funeral of another. 

The vaccinations appear to be wearing out.  Add it to the list of vaccinations I ought to get. 


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Is The Physics Community Waking Up?

The American Physical Society, an association of 50,000 American physicists in industry and academia, has long just mouthed the government party line that global warmening climate chaos anthropogenic climate change is supported by the science.  I can't recall the first time I read one of the papers they'd issued and shook my head, wondering what happened to the academic rigor and clear-thinking that physicists were always known for; I just recall it was long ago.  It was an embarrassment.  I wrote about it to some extent in this piece from two years ago:
When the APS simply published a long letter from Lord Monckton, a well known skeptic about AGW, they went so far as to publish a disclaimer that this was not the APS viewpoint - something they have never done about really "out there" quantum physics.   (It's at the top of article in that link) As Dr. Giaever says; it's acceptable to talk about the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory, which implies that for every decision we make, a parallel universe pops into existence, but it's not acceptable to question computer models about future climates that claim accuracy to even one decimal place? 
Things look like they might just be changing.  The self-correcting tendencies of real science appear to be emerging.  Thanks to a link from Sense of Events, I found this article from an Australian journal called Quadrant: Finally, Some Real Climate Science.  It opens by saying the APS rules require them to recheck these sorts of support every five years, to make sure they're keeping up with science.  In a bold and completely honest move, they staffed the committee doing the review with three very well regarded "climate skeptics", Richard Lindzen of MIT, Judith Curry of Georgia Tech and John Christy of UAH (Alabama Huntsville).  The other three are prominent members of the IPCC establishment: IPCC lead author and modeler William Collins, atmospheric physicist Isaac Held, and Ben Santer.  The Quadrant article lists some of the questions that they are asking.  This is a real breath of fresh air; real science is trying to emerge here.  As always, I'll include some samples and say you should go read:
While the Global Mean Surface Temperature (GMST) rose strongly from 1980-98, it has shown no significant rise for the past 15 years…[The APS notes that neither the 4th nor 5th IPCC report modeling suggested any stasis would occur, and then asks] …

To what would you attribute the stasis?

If non-anthropogenic influences are strong enough to counteract the expected effects of increased CO2, why wouldn’t they be strong enough to sometimes enhance warming trends, and in so doing lead to an over-estimate of CO2 influence?

What are the implications of this stasis for confidence in the models and their projections?
Out of the gate, they start at one of the major holes in the situation, indeed, the whole crux of the argument: the agreement between the models and reality is abysmal.
Some have suggested that the ‘missing heat’ is going into the deep ocean…

Are deep ocean observations sufficient in coverage and precision to bear on this hypothesis quantitatively?

Why would the heat sequestration have ‘turned on’ at the turn of this century?

What could make it ‘turn off’ and when might that occur?
This is just pure beauty from where I sit.  Over and over, the APS panel asks "You say xyz is going on.  How do you know?  What are your measurement uncertainties? Don't just tell me it's something else, show me the data or calculations that back that up!

Maybe I'm a victim of premature congratulations, but this is sounding more like physicists than anything I've heard out of the APS in at least a decade.  We obviously don't know what they'll conclude, but they seem to be asking the right questions, and if you don't ask the right questions, you'll never get the right answers.
You may have seen this graph at Borepatch's: the gold standard data is the two satellite data sets, UAH and RSS.  Since 1995, the models the IPCC uses have diverged more and more from the measured data.  The real world is cooler than all of the models.  The dark line appears to be the model average.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The College Problem You Haven't Heard Of

Everybody has heard that the price of education has been subject to higher inflation than medicine and every other commodity in our lives.  Certainly everybody has heard the jokes about the surge of college graduates unable to find work, (along the lines of "I have a Masters Degree in Lesbian Poetry, 1900 - 1919, but nobody will hire me!").  Everybody has heard of the coming student loan debt crisis.  Maybe some have even heard that student loans are a problem because student loans are the largest asset in the Federal Government's balance sheet.

But I have to admit even I hadn't heard of the surge in grade inflation to match the price inflation that colleges are charging.  If anyone less credible than Walter Williams had said this (to be fair, most of the human race is less credible than Walter), I might not be so fast to assume it's truth. Regrettably, this is an old argument, which burns me all the more for not being informed about it.  Williams, 2009, quotes a study by Professor Thomas C. Reeves, writing for the National Association of Scholars who documents something no less than academic fraud in his article "The Happy Classroom: Grade Inflation Works."
From 1991 to 2007, in public institutions, the average grade point average (GPA) rose, on a four-point scale, from 2.93 to 3.11. In private schools, the average GPA climbed from 3.09 to 3.30. Put within a historical perspective, in the 1930s, the average GPA was 2.35 (about a C-plus); whereby now it's a B-plus.
In 1960, about 15% of all letter grades given in colleges were As.  Today, that number is 43%.  At some schools, the As alone outnumber Ds and Fs combined by 4:1.  To some degree, we expect Ds and Fs to be a low number in colleges because they used to (historically) get you put on academic probation and then kicked out of school, but the increase in percentage of As can't be accounted for that way.  It seems that the Ivy League schools are particularly subject to this:
At Brown University, two-thirds of all letter grades given are A's. At Harvard, 50 percent of all grades were either A or A- (up from 22 percent in 1966); 91 percent of seniors graduated with honors. ...  Fifty percent of students at Columbia University are on the Dean's list. At Stanford University, where F grades used to be banned, only 6 percent of student grades were as low as a C. 
91% of Harvard students were Honors Graduates?  How much of an honor is it to be in the top 91% of your class?  That's making "Honors Graduate" into a participation trophy!  In my day, it took being in the top 5% of GPAs in the graduating class - which never seemed to work out to 90% of the graduates (or more than 5 or 10%).  The Dean's list at Columbia has 50% of the college's students?  How can that be a Dean's list?  That's the equivalent of having every student on campus flip a coin: head's you're on, tails you're off!  First rule of the Progressives: redefine the words. 

How do you explain this?  Walter Williams says it's pure and simple academic fraud.  He contributes:
Some college administrators will tell us that the higher grades merely reflect higher-quality students. Balderdash! SAT scores have been in decline for four decades and at least a third of entering freshmen must enroll in a remedial course either in math, writing or reading, which indicates academic fraud at the high school level. A recent survey of more than 30,000 first-year students revealed that nearly half spent more hours drinking than study. Another survey found that a third of students expected B's just for attending class, and 40 percent said they deserved a B for completing the assigned reading.
Stu Burguiere of the Blaze and the Glen Beck program contributes an interesting perspective in this 5 minute video. College is an unusual industry in that you pay for the product, often over many years, but somewhere along the way, they tell you how good they were in teaching your children.  If they get As, Mom and Dad feel better about the purchase.  And the student is more likely to join the alumni association and donate money to the school.  How much is that needed?  Depends on the school.  A couple of years ago, I wrote:
Today's fun fact:  Harvard has an endowment worth $32 billion.  If they paid all 6700 undergraduates' tuition, fees and books, it would cost 1/1000 of that - $32 million.  That endowment grew over 21% last year ($6.72 billion).  Based simply on that, they could pay all undergrad fees forever, without endangering a single new building.  [Note: The $6.72 billion growth isn't in the original, I just added that - SiG]
While the Ivy League schools may not need this self-perpetuating system of artificially high grades, the smaller state and private schools surely will.  

In other words, for all the anti-capitalistic crap they indoctrinate students with, they sure do know how to manipulate incentives to get more capital. 
(Dilbert, of course)
The practical side of this is that it has been going on for quite a while, and companies trying to hire only the best new grads are continually refining their search methods.  For you and I, it may mean trying to hire older physicians - or at least being wary of younger, unproven ones.  The problem with that is that all the older ones are approaching retirement, too. 

Sidenote:  the cold that has knocked me flat for the last few days appears to be a bacterial bronchitis.  Saw my (older) allergist yesterday and got pumped full of steroids and antibiotics.  The fever is broken, but coughing still hurts.  At least the gurgling experience has eased up while trying to sleep.  And my hearty congratulations to the folks at Robitussin.  I never thought they could come up with a way to make that stuff taste more vile, but they have.  They changed it from a thin syrup you could knock back like a shot of vodka and follow with water to wash the taste away over to consistency more like molasses which is much harder to slug down. 



Monday, March 24, 2014

Sick Day

I have a cold.  I don't think it's the flu because my temperature has stayed under 102, but it's a nasty chest cold that came on in the space of a couple of hours Saturday night.  In a move that is so uncharacteristic of me that simply stating two words brings a look of concern to my wife, I put on a long sleeve Tee shirt and told her, "I'm cold".  I've spent my day under a blanket. 

Walking to the bathroom is a test of physical endurance that, last week, would have been equivalent to hiking to Siberia over the Bering Strait.  From Florida.  The weakness works its way into all of life.  For example, I find that I don't have the strength to brush my teeth.  I'll get through a half of the two minute electric toothbrush cycle, then just sit down for an hour or two to rest up.  The kids are long out of the house, but it's the kind of cold where if the kids were playing with the acetylene torch in the coat closet, I wouldn't care enough to stop them.  A serious problem we have here in Florida is that our air is very dense.  We just have lots of molecules in the house, and if I pay attention, I can feel each and every one of them hitting me. 

So, in the mean time, as so may of our friends say, visit those cool blogs in the right side bar.  And I'll be functional again as soon the molecules stop beating me up.  And thank Dave Barry for this 1986 humor column that was my inspiration.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Quote of the Day - Schooling the BATFE Edition

Courtesy of Michael Bane's blog, we learn about Innovator Enterprises, the creator of the "Stabilizer Brake," a device that attaches to the muzzle of a rifle with the intent of substantially reducing the firearm recoil and redirecting noise away from the shooter toward the target, among other things.  Such things are usually called "muzzle brakes", but Innovator Enterprises, knowing they are dealing with the Queen Mother of All Arbitrary and Capricious (meaning "goat like", after all) government agencies, asked the BATFE to rule on whether or not this muzzle brake was a silencer.  Since the device forced recoil gases forward away from the shooter, a truly twisted person (like the BATFE) might say it is a silencer.

And, as predictably as the summer rains, they ruled it was a silencer.  Innovator sued the Fed.gov to overturn that ruling.  The good judge in the case, then started warming up for the QoTD. 
"In any agency review case, a reviewing court is generally obligated to uphold a reasonable agency decision that is the product of a rational agency process," U.S. District Judge John Bates wrote Wednesday. "This is not a high bar. But in this case, ATF fails to clear it."
Instead of actually, you know, measuring the noise levels with and without the brake, the  Firearms Technology Branch of ATF declared it to be a silencer "because we say so".  When pushed, they replied with a list of characteristics that a silencer has.  It didn't even say which three of the six characteristics they determined the brake possessed.  Here is where Judge Bates reaches QoTD (or Quote of the Month) levels:
"A mouse is not an 'elephant' solely because it has three characteristics that are common to known elephants: a tail, gray skin and four legs. A child's bike is not a 'motorcycle' solely because it has three characteristics common to known motorcycles: two rubber tires, handlebars, and a leather seat. And a Bud Light is not 'Single-Malt Scotch,' just because it is frequently served in a glass container, contains alcohol, and is available for purchase at a tavern. To close with a firearm-related example a hockey puck us not a 'rubber bullet,' just because it has rounded sides, is made of vulcanized rubber, and is capable of causing injury when launched at high speeds. Learning that one object has three characteristics in common with some category may not be very helpful in determining whether the object in question belongs in that category.
That my friends, is an epic smack down!  Now, it doesn't end the case.  Judge Bates says in his conclusion that he is not the right one to make the decision; that decision is legally the province of the BATFE.  It's just that they need to use a reasonable and clear process.  The clearly haven't done it here and he returns the matter to the agency saying they should use a little logic for a change.
(from the Master, Oleg, of course)


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Enginerds - For The Unfamiliar

I've had a minor medical thing going on this year.  It really goes back a long time, and it's one of those annoying things rather than the kind of thing that makes you think "I've got to get to the Emergency Room now!".  Years ago, let's say 2004, I started to notice that if I stood up too long without moving around, the outer (left) side of my left thigh would start going numb.  Then it would turn into the "pins and needles" sensation, and eventually get pretty painful.  As it seemed to be taking less time to get there lately, I started to get concerned about it maybe becoming permanent or at least getting to where I couldn't stand for more than a few minutes, so I thought I'd mention it to my GP. 

The Doc had lots of "do you have...?" questions ranging from the unpleasant to the really scary, and I could thankfully say "no" to all of it.  He said it was probably a pinched nerve and suggested a few weeks of physical therapy followed by an X-Ray.  Sparing you some of the details, the x-ray came back and said I had a fractured vertebra, either L4 or L5 (don't recall).  The PT had said she could isolate the place where the pinched nerve would be, and it would have been between L4 and L5.  I went back to the GP and told him I had a hard time believing it.  I've had this problem for 10 years; if this is an old, healed fracture - that's one thing, but they didn't say "old fracture".  If they think it's new, that's two problems.  First - it's not causing the reason why I'm there; second, I sure haven't hit my back hard enough to break something.  If they had said I had a bad disk, yeah, I'd probably believe that, just not the fracture.  Doc suggested I get an MRI.  Finally had it Thursday after work. 

A friend and I got talking about it.  One of the questions they ask is if you're claustrophobic, and I know some people who have really freaked out in one of those things.  I found it pretty comfortable, if a little tight at the shoulders, and probably could have taken a nap if wasn't so dang loud!  They give you earplugs, the little foam shooters' plugs, and I swear the bangs out of the machine were around the loudness of a 9mm in your hands.  I'm not claustrophobic, but I was lying there a little while with my eyes open and there's just plain nothing to see.  It's dimly lit and there's just a little speaker panel about four inches in front of my face, so I left my eyes closed most of the time.

Both of us, though, said that we found the loud noises and frequency sweeps interesting, and we spent our time in the tube trying to figure out what the system was doing.  We both do radar and have some familiarity with synthetic imaging, and an MRI does synthetic imagaing very much like a radar or the fish finding sonars small boaters use.  The Magnet in Magnetic Resonance Imaging is a superconducting electromagnet, with the coils submerged in liquid helium - producing a field 40,000 times stronger than the earth's magnetic field.  Are the loud noises from relief of mechanical stress from the modulation of the coils in the strong magnetic field, or from something else?  And what kind of weird electromagnetic and mechanical considerations come into play in such large fields with superconducting magnets bathed in liquid helium?  (This is a pretty good explanation of how MRIs work)

If you haven't seen this Dilbert clip, it explains engineers as well as can be:

Doctor: "It's worse than I feared."
Mother: "What is it?"
Doctor: "I'm afraid your son has ... the Knack."
Mother: "The knack?"
Doctor: "The Knack. It's a rare condition characterized by an extreme intuition about all things mechanical and electrical ... and utter social ineptitude."
Mother: "Can he lead a normal life?"
Doctor: "No. He'll be an engineer."
Mother: "Oh, no!"  (sobs)

As my friend said, "I can see trying to do PET scans of engineer's heads. Hey you! Stop trying to figure out the details of what's going on dammit! You're ruining the scan! Think soft kittens. Soft kittens."