Saturday, January 31, 2009

Low Carbon Diet

There are many articles out there about how what we eat affects the environment, and how one of the most powerful ways to affect climate change is to change our eating habits.

However, describing this as the Low Carbon Diet is problematic. Pretty much anything you eat is going to be high in carbon. Organic molecules, by definition, contain carbon. Whether it's meat or corn, super-unsustainable all carnivore diet or earth-friendly vegan food, everything you eat is chock full of carbon atoms. That's how life works.

Of course, they mean carbon footprint, technically carbon-dioxide footprint, how much carbon dioxide is emitted in the course of producing and shipping your food. And they're right. But if anyone tries to start marketing foods as low in carbon, don't buy it. 'Cause it's a lie.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Pennsylvania journal

Two other anecdotes from my trip to Philly:

First, I played Scrabble with my grandmother twice. Both times our total score combined was over 500. I even won the second game, but she did start that game with 5 N's in her tray, which is a significant handicap. And I made pancakes Sunday evening, reenacting a family tradition back in the day when my grandfather would cook pancakes or scrambled eggs or barbecue on Sunday evenings.

Second, at the SEPTA station, catching the train out to grandma's house, I heard the PA crash and reboot. It made the Windows shutting down sound. This was hilarious to me. The PA system in a major transit station is a random computer playing sound files plugged into the speaker system. It reminded me of this.

A minute later, all the various automated announcements of trains arriving and at which platforms were being made normally. But to hear the usually quiet whimper of Windows shutting down made forcefully across an entire cavernous room was quite a thing to behold. At least they're running a fairly recent operating system version.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Switch TV on time

I have to agree with the decision in the House today to proceed with the digital TV switch. As screwed up as the process has been, and as predictable as the running out of money for converter box coupons was, it makes no sense to go back and stop it now.

If they'd contemplated moving the deadline two years ago, that would be fine. They in fact did move it a couple times. But with less than a month to go before all analog TVs switch off, they should just bite the bullet. If Congress gets backlash from millions of seniors who can't watch TV anymore, that's their own fault for making the choice in the first place. Shouldn't have listened to the cell phone lobbyists who were hungry for the bandwidth. Don't blame anyone else when you lose your reelection campaign.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Starcraft College Course

I suspect I wouldn't be allowed to count this class towards my master's degree. Sigh.

Because it's a dream come true to be permitted to get college credit for understanding Starcraft. So awesome.

I'll just have to play more Starcraft at home, and imagine that I am getting credit for it. And dream of being one tenth as good as the Korean professional players.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Badly Done, Microsoft

Microsoft is coming out with a program that automatically plays cheesy music in the background to your singing. Horrible, horrible cheesy music.

The horror is best demonstrated if you put in really good songs.

The horror.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


We have a new president. And it's super historic.

My special personal experience was being at my grandmother's in Pennsylvania, watching the MLK Day events and the inauguration preliminaries with my 95 year old grandmother, while light snow fell outside and a female cardinal flew in the shrubbery. The holly and the bare trees looked very pretty with the snow on the leaves and branches.

Grammar Police

Interesting column by Steven Pinker about the grammatical confusion by Chief Justice John Roberts at the inauguration. Seems Roberts was trying to avoid splitting an infinitive.

Pinker gives some amusing familiar examples, and makes the case that while you can't split an infinitive in Latin, it's not only possible in English, but it's completely natural to often split them.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Ghost Map

This book is awesome. It's the story of London's last cholera epidemic, and how a scientist and a preacher working in parallel were able to discover how cholera is spread and inspire the invention of modern sewer systems.

It's a really hypnotizing book; I was sucked in by the foreshadowing of disaster, how you see people going about their everyday lives, not knowing that they're doing things that will kill them. And the detective story of the people solving the mystery of disease, coupled with a villain who denies the evidence even as it mounts higher and higher, makes for a compelling human story that's also the story of the scientific process. I recommend it greatly.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Coffee can mess you up

If you drink too much coffee, you can induce hallucinations.

That's if you have more than seven cups a day. And the odds of hallucinating triple; but that means it goes from 3% to 9%. But if you do have hallucinations, an easy thing to try is to cut down on the caffeine.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Pilotless Drones

The Air Force, next year, is going to buy more drones than planes. Someday soon most of our pilots will work on the ground. I hope all the aircraft that shoot at things will still be controlled by people.

I do dream of the day when we have robot wars, and once one side is out of robots, the war ends.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Evolution of Invention

This book tells interesting stories about how the fork, the paper clip, hammers and the zipper (as well as some other inventions) developed gradually over the years from simple primitive tools into highly refined tools for very particular jobs.

It's an interesting, but pretty dry book. The story is not a human story, of a particular inventor struggling to overcome hardship. (Except for the zipper people.) The stories are interesting because you use forks and paper clips and zippers all the time, but I was a little disappointed at how the author didn't bring the topic to life.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


I really enjoyed this book. I couldn't put it down. It is really short, but I found the story of a lone carpenter suddenly solving the largest technological problem of his age totally fascinating.

The story of a man who made a clock doesn't sound interesting on its face, but it's a classic (and cliched) tale of one man against the Establishment, with various astronomers who refuse to accept the success of the carpenter. I was drawn into the story of the conflict, and amazed at the brilliant innovation of the inventor who developed clocks that didn't need lubrication, don't wear out, and keep excellent time even by today's standards.

I suppose if I appeared 200 years ago and offered a Casio to them as the solution to their navigation problems, they would scoff at this magical claim. But it's still amazing to read about astronomers who are so committed to their plan for solving the problem that they're unwilling to accept that a clock has beaten them.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Boarding the aircraft, please step out of the aisle

Spending lots of time traveling, I'm thinking about airport logistics, which I'm sure is not unique, partly because I'm sure there are travelers who travel more often than me, not to mention professionals in the industry, and because I did a Google search.

But the idea of more efficient airline boarding is interesting to me, especially because mathematicians have done modeling that shows that there are way more efficient ways to do it than the ones we use now.

Although, the chatter on the boards favors drawing an outline of the plane seating on the floor of the airport, which gets complicated when you use more than one type of aircraft. It would work for Southwest, but not for anyone else.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


For my recent trip, I stayed in a hotel with very 1970s architecture. Weirdly reminiscent of my college dorm the last 2 years of school.

Except the rooms are suites nearly the size of my home. Maybe a bit smaller, one room smaller (well two rooms, but I never use the spare room) but way bigger than what I expected from a hotel room.

Although I expected not to pay extra for internet. But I can live without it. But I'd rather not.

It's not an addiction. I could stop any time I wanted to. Although it'd be easier if I weren't alone in a hotel room with my sweetie a continent away.

Sad Day for Geeks

Today we learned that Patrick McGoohan and Ricardo Montalban have passed away.

Hopefully the afterlife is nothing like The Village or Ceti Alpha.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

It's Alive!

Well, not quite alive. Yet.

But scientists have synthesized basic enzymes. From scratch, they've gotten the molecules that copy and manipulate RNA to self-assemble in a vat, and to self-replicate and even mutate and evolve.

Scary. The miracle of life may one day be reproduced in a jar.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

FDA approving devices prematurely

Unsurprisingly, the FDA approved devices without adequate testing, when pressed by a Congressman.

I'm hoping that this is an area that will get Change after the 20th of January.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Canon

I've been reading a lot of books for a project at work, so I'm going to write some book reviews, because I have more opinions than my friends and family have time for.

The Canon is an interesting book that sums up Everything You Should Know about science. The author, Natalie Angier, interviewed dozens of scientists and asked what people should know.
I found most of the chapters very interesting, and the writing very exciting, although it's chock full of obscure allusions and references, several of which I had to look up. It's quite Hegelian, which is an insult. And I found the chapters about topics I know a lot about to be boring, but topics I didn't know much of to be quite engaging. Either physics is a less interesting story, because protons lack personality, or this book is best for English majors who will get all the literary allusion but not be burdened by prior knowledge.
If anything, everyone should read the first two chapters about the scientific method and statistics, because there's so much confusion on those two areas.

Watchmen may open after all

They've probably fired whoever screwed up at Warner, since talks between them and Fox are going well.

See, Warner Brothers thought they had the rights to make The Watchmen, a graphic novel, into a movie. But Fox originally bought the rights, and while a bunch of other people worked on the idea, no one ever actually got Fox to sell them the rights.

Hopefully, it's good, and we'll get to see it. I don't really care if it gets stuck in legal limbo if it stinks.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


The flu evolves quickly. In one year, 99 percent of the flu strains have become resistant to Tamiflu, an antiviral drug.

Suck to be the company that invented that medicine.

Impressive that something that's not even really alive can evolve and adapt that quickly. I guess one year is 100 generations for a virus, but still. There's a reason you have to get a new flu vaccine every year - your immunization is for the old strains that no longer exist.

Really, it's a wonder that we managed to conquer measles, polio, smallpox and others! Why haven't they mutated to escape those vaccines? Particularly given how ridiculously contagious measles is.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Social Science

I realized last night while doing my homework for my grad program that I'm working on a master's in a social science.

My least favorite academic phylum.

I double majored in physics and philosophy because I couldn't choose. I find science exciting and fascinating. I find the humanities enriching and meaningful. But I often find social studies, at least in academia, full of crackpot theories with insufficient evidence. People failing to understand the world, caught up in their own egos and giant 10 syllable jargon.

But if I want to have a degree in education, I have to spend lots of time with those people. I did know this going in, that I would find large quantities of the program an exercise in patience and hoop-jumping. But the full scope of the irony hadn't hit me until now.

It makes me even more devoted to my sweetie, because she likes all the things I like in the humanities and science, and hates the things I hate in social "science" even more passionately than I hate them.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Lego stop motion reenactments

I can't get enough of these animation/puppet shows. I just wish there were a lego version of Weezer's pork and beans.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Senate Appointments

With all the kerfluffle about new senators replacing ones who will be working for the White House, there's an interesting column by a lawyer from Illinois of all places.

He points out that the Constitution makes the reasonable demand that Senate vacancies be replaced by special election and not by gubernatorial appointment. Sadly, governors, like all people, like power, and so they have weaseled ways to continue appointing people. But erzatz senator Burris' claim that his appointment is legal is not quite as unassailable as I would have thought.

That said, I want this whole distraction to go away. Appoint several jackasses to be in the Senate and lose their reelection primaries in 2 years. Too bad the governors of Delaware, New York, Colorado and Illinois couldn't just have the election now. But that would mean giving up some power.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Worst. President. Ever.

The last political column I commented on talked about how the Bush, W. disaster is larger than just him, but a symptom of disastrous Republican strategy over the last several decades.

Mark Rich just focuses on how bad Bush has been. Amen, brother.

Monday, January 5, 2009

We're too paranoid

We all need to take a deep breath and chill out. At least, Amtrak security, JetBlue flight attendants and AirTran passengers should.

Most of the people around you are just like you, trying to get by. They are as likely to be terrorists as you are to die in a freak parachuting while being struck by lightning accident. So when someone's talking about the structural integrity of an airplane, without mentioning bombs or war or struggle, maybe wait until they actually do something wrong before kicking them off a plane and making them spend a day of their vacation in the airport trying to get to their destination?

If someone is taking pictures of trains or planes or bridges, for a PHOTO CONTEST sponsored by your marketing department, maybe don't assault them, arrest them and demand that they delete the photos they took. I understand that marketing can sometimes want to do stuff that your department disagrees with. But take it out on marketing, not some old man or woman on the train platform.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The collapse of conservatism

Paul Krugman writes that the failures of Bush are really larger failures for the strategy of the conservative movement. He argues that the destructive nature of the current Republican ideology has failed society in such a major way that it has opened the door for Obama and successors to truly build a new public system.

I want to believe that this is true, that the public has lost its patience for the lies and incompetence of the people who brought us the last 8 years. But I fear that Reagan never lost his popularity, even though he believed the same garbage about government being bad and less government being the solution to all our problems. I do think that for now, Obama should push hard. We should spend the next several years working hard to fix our country and rebuild all the destroyed things that Bush broke. But I don't think conservatives are as dead as Krugman thinks. I hope I'm wrong and he's right.