Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Year in Running 2014

For the 2nd year in a row I have made my goal of 30 miles per week. This year I decided to include the extra day as well--52 weeks times 7 days is 364 days, so there is an extra 1/7 of a week to account for.

I did a total of 1582 1/2 miles in 208 hours, 40 minutes and 37 seconds; for an overall pace of 7:55

1136 was with shoes at a pace of 7:58 and 446 was barefoot at a pace of 7:47.

I was faster this year than last and ran a few more miles as well, but ran about 100 miles fewer in the barefoot mode. A little surprising that I was faster since barefoot runs are much faster than runs with shoes.

Monday, December 29, 2014

I Already Liked The Lego Movie but this sealed the deal

[in slow dreamy voice]
Lucy: ... blah, blah, blah. Proper name. Place name. Backstory stuff...
Emmet: Mmm-hmmm
Lucy: [in normal voice] ... is the Special. The Special...
[in slow dreamy voice]
Lucy: ... I'm so pretty. I like you. But I'm angry with you for some reason...
Emmet: Mmm-hmmm
Lucy: [in normal voice] ... put the Piece of Resistance onto the Kragl and disarm it forever!
Emmet: Great. I think I got it. But just in case... tell me the whole thing again, I wasn't listening.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Wed Off--Little things that became large and things which could have been small, that also got large.

I had high hopes for my day off but they went down the drain quickly:

Wife was doing some early morning vacuuming (I know, right?) and jammed the machine. I thought it would be easy to remove the agitator and shake-out whatever piece of FOD she managed to suck up. No. Whatever it was, was up in the impeller and would not come loose. There were a bunch of screws on the bottom of the vac that were down long tunnels. One of the tunnels was slightly narrower than the rest. Why? What engineering problem could only be solved by making one hole a little narrower? My screwdriver would not fit down the hole. I went through some desultory efforts at grinding a makeshift screwdriver, but it was a Phillips and can be somewhat challenging.

It was off to Lowe's.

I checked-out the Christmas trees first and they had some nice ones, but nobody was back in the garden center so I put that off till later. The store was crawling with associates but I suppose none of them wanted to camp-out in the unheated part of the store. I got a set of screwdrivers and it was tough deciding which one to get--there were sets of 9, 14, 24 and a bunch of others, maybe 10 combinations in all. What you really need are long ones and short ones in Phillips and straight slot, so four will do. There were no kits of four. I also obtained a metal tool box. I had settled for a plastic one when I had been at Walmart since all they had were different plastic ones, but it was not up to the challenge of holding its shape under the task of having metal things (tools) in it. It might be good for housing a collection of small stuffed animals though.

While I was checking out, I asked the cashier if the garden center would be manned or would I need to haul a Christmas tree through the store to buy it? She picked up her phone and did some paging, so all set! I put my things in the truck and went to the garden center. Still very like a morgue, cold and no living people there--or dead ones (as far as I could tell). I carried the tree through the store to the checkout, a bit amazed that I didn't cause any end cap slides. I had parked down by the garden center just to avoid a long walk punctuated by balsam fir needles sticking into my neck--God laughs at people who plan.

Once home and equipped with a screwdriver that was the right size, it took a mere 5 minutes to fix the vacuum cleaner. Later at dinner, I was regaling the family with my day's travails and our eldest daughter opined that she would have just bought a new vacuum cleaner. I pointed out that it would have taken just as long to buy a new one as it took to fix the old one, plus I saved the $200 it would have cost. As she disinterestedly left the room, I called out after her, "If it took me 15 minutes to save $200, then I earned $800/hour"! She still thinks I am an idiot.

After that, I roasted coffee and worked on wife's treadmill: I removed the motor with the idea that the motor could be removed from the frame and flywheel, which would not come with a new motor. While at it, I realized that the brushes were shot. I ordered some and realized that I could have done this with out removing the motor or cutting any of the wires. Hopefully when the brushes come in, this will fix the problem and I will be able to reassemble the machine.

Since it was pouring rain, I decided to bag running and have lunch. While I ate, it cleared-up. Or rather, while I over-ate massively, it cleared-up. I did some small tasks, like setting up the tree and cleaning the kitchen, to buy my stomach a little time. Then I want for a run. A very painful run.

I did not get a chance to work on the cherry coffee table project but did pick up some sanding belts for the belt sander and these might come in handy for that work.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Getting Punchy At U-Mass Amherst

Having spent the whole day at the campus, we were tired and headed for the car. The mood was of happy expectation at being almost done and exhaustion.

It featured lame academia inspired joke like, "What do they call the study of the later Roman Empire"? Nero-Science.

We passed the Steam and Condensate plant and I pointed out that this is the site of Anger Management class. My wife noted that they are accounting for gas and liquid but what about solids? Oh yes, that is building number two.

Yes, we were that tired.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Two Pans Three Times Each

Wednesday was moderately successful but I was most happy with my conservation of pan usage.

I had fried eggs for breakfast and left the pan on the stove because I knew it would be used again.

Later, I went out to get chili fixings since my wife intended to make a batch for the CC final meet. She had asked for two lbs of ground beef but all the packages were around 1 & 1/4 each, so I got two and figured we could have hamburgers for lunch.

After an 11 & 1/2 mile barefoot run (sub 8)in light misting, in spite of heavy rain forecast for the day, I made the burgers in the pan.

The second pan is deployed:

After a shower, I decided to make some applesauce since we still have tons of fruit from when we went picking weeks ago. In an hour and a half of peeling and chopping, I used up half the apples and half way filled our largest stockpot with apples. While they were stewing, I browned some Italian sausage in the fry pan for lasagna. Once the apples were stewed and mashed, they were packaged into jars we get peaches in from Costco. Then the same pan was rinsed and used to steam the apple jars for canning. 20 minutes later, it was filled to sufficient depth for lasagna noodle cooking. The pan is of sufficient girth that the noodles can be put into the water horizontally so the depth need only be a bit more than the noodle width.

Each pan used three times!

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Plus and Minus of Staying Busy

I didn't think I would get much done on Sunday.

Friday I had volunteered to work at the Bay State Marathon but on Saturday at the expo, they had nothing for me to do. As it turned out, I was at the expo with Dahlia since I had just taken her to the eye doctor which is located right by the Radisson. She ended up working at the race since there was a water stop organized via her high school CC team.

Around Noon, the day of productivity began with a visit to the grocery. I thought, bbq might be nice and got a pack of baby back ribs.

Home by 1:00 and put away the groceries and got the ribs cooking: First a dry rub, then into a covered pan in a 250 F oven.

Next, a barefoot 7.85 mile run followed by a necessary shower.

Even though I was freshly clean, the next job was an hour and a half of lawn mowing/leaf mulching. The mower has been running great in this cooler weather and with rain coming, this may be a last shot at elimination of leaves.

I took a minute to wash my hands and began assembling the ingredients for spaghetti sauce: Though this is a bit of a misnomer since the intent was to get a key ingredient ready for a later in the week lasagna plan. I also picked up ricotta and lasagna noodles in the above shopping trip. Once the sauce was fully assembled and simmering, I took the ribs out of the oven to let them rest and cool a bit. If they went on the grill in their present fork tender state, they would fall apart and into the coals.

At this point, there was a good half hour before the need to begin final supper preparations: Fire up the grill to put some char onto the ribs and put together some corn bread. Not 30 seconds after siting down to check-out the NFL situation, my wife asked if I had reviewed Surenna's essay. The essay is the girl's college entrance writing and tres-important: In fact the daughter had asked me about it right as I started on the sauce. I groaned at this new task but took up the paper and looked it over in commercials and used these breaks to stir the sauce from time to time. I had just enough time to review my edits with daughter and then set to work with wife on dinner.

After dinner, clean-up and a final shower, it was time to rest. I was too tired to pay attention to TV and too wound-up to sleep.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Nurse and Her Dog

Update: Looks like she is going to make it!

Crediting her medical team and God, she said: “I do not know how I can ever thank everyone enough for their prayers and the expressions of concern, hope and love.”


She said she looked forward to going home to Texas and reuniting with her dog — Bentley, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel that was quarantined after Pham tested positive. The dog tested negative for the virus earlier this week.
from NBC

Saturday, October 04, 2014

I Wish There Was A 'Before' Picture

Like lots of people, we buy a poinsettia around mid November and throw it out when it "dies" in January or February.

This year, it looked like it would die, or be killed--but somehow held-on till the warmth of Spring allowed me to transplant it to the out doors.  It thrived out there, as you can see from the above picture.  Now.  Will it survive the change back to indoor living?

Good luck to it!

Friday, October 03, 2014

23rd Apple Harvest Ramble Harvard, Massachusetts - September 27, 2014

I approached this race with medium and short term reservations:  1. It would be the longest run in over a year.  2. There was a 5k race the Sunday before this Saturday race, so not a lot of recovery chances.  3.  I hadn't run more than about 8 miles in practice since Spring.  4.  It may have been late September and in the morning, but it was already hot on a day that would come close to 90F.

I dealt with the training and recovery issue by skipping my normal Tuesday run so that I could do an 11.5 miler on Wed, then I would not run again until the Sat race day.  This gave me a long training run, recovery time and since Sat is my week-ending day--I would complete my weekly 30 in the race.

I normally place in the top 20s or 30s in races of this size and so start towards the front of the starting line.  I chose not to do that in this race since that would have meant standing in the hot sun for 15 minutes before the start.  I meandered over a few minutes before the start and exchanged pleasantries with people who recognized me from last-week's race or people I recognized from the race series.  I saw one other Greater Lowell runner at the front of the pack and we waved at each other.

I  started the race easy:  No need to dash around in the early parts of a ten mile race.  Still, in the first quarter to half mile, I had passed four fifths of the runners--including the Greater Lowell woman I had seen at the start.  I caught up with a guy I remembered from the 5k race and had chatted with at the start of this one.  We hit the mile mark at 6:45 and he remarked that he was going too fast.  I replied that there is plenty of time to slow down.  In any case, he may have slowed down and if so, I slowed down more since he slowly pulled away from me.  Each long straightaway and I could spot his gold shirt, a little further away than the one before.

He fell into the smallest of three groups in this early to middle part of the race:  1. Runners who passed me and remained ahead of me the whole way.  2. Runners that I passed and stayed ahead of the rest of the way.  This group became more and more rare as runners thinned-out along the way.  Finally, 3. Runners who passed me and then I passed, often with many repeats of this pattern.  In general, I would get passed mostly on the up-hill parts of this generally hilly course and I would mostly pass people on the down-hill parts.

One of the last people I passed and stayed ahead of was the high school girl who had won last week's 5k in the women's division.  I caught up to her around 5 miles and we ran together for a few minutes.  We talked a bit about Bat Girl and Robin (her team mates on the Littleton CC team) and I told her about my girls who would be running in the Ocean State CC meet later that day.  In any case, I was only caught up with her because her coach told her to run at "training pace".  Because of her, I know our pace:  She asked for our pace and it was 43:30--only then did I notice the 6 mile marker.  That made the pace at 7:15 so far.  Way faster than I thought I was going but I felt like I could keep it up for the time being.  She must have realized that "training pace" restrictions were not being followed and so slowed down.  She is certainly faster than I am and could have kept pace and indeed, left me in the dust if she choose to do that.

The End Game:

I feel like I kept up the 7:15 pace until about 8 miles in, then the hill climbing begins.  I felt like I was out of fuel and also a twitch in my calves indicated that they were ready to cramp too.  The race had plenty of water stops but they used plastic cups, which are very hard to drink out of when on the move.  With paper, you can scrunch it up and control the flow.

First, I got passed by a runner who always beats me but I hadn't seen him in the last couple of races and didn't even realize he was in this one.  In any case, he is normally ahead of me start to finish rather than passing me almost at the end.  He was too fast to consider matching.  Soon after that, two men passed me and again, way too fast to match.  A little bit past that came a surprise--the Greater Lowell woman that I hadn't seen since mile one passed me at mile nine!  I might have been able to match her but just wasn't feeling enthusiastic to try.  The last straw was when the guy I had been passing and re-passing from mile one through five made a reappearance and passed me at mile nine!

I finally sped-up but did not catch him on the hills.  Finally as the hills turned downward I began to gain on him.  He swerved over to high-five his cute toddler daughter (He lives on the course) and was kind of glad I hadn't already passed him since it was a cute scene.  I did finally pass a couple of hundred yards from the finish line though.

Oh! So how did I do?  27th out of 189 finishers and 5th in my age group which had 20 entrants.  My pace was 7:30 per mile, so given that it was about 7:15 with 4 to go--those final four were pretty slow.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Littleton Road Race

I don't feel scrunched-up while I run but usually look that what in finishing pictures--maybe it is just the final bit that gets me.

The girl behind me and the one below were running together for most of the way and if I can bring your attention to their socks, you may see that they are somewhat unusual.  My powers of deduction are not great but observational skills are better.  People who know the girls, they are on the Littleton CC team and the race is in Littleton, were encouraging them by cheering, "Go Batgirl and Robin"!  After that, it is easy to see the theme and how it relates to their socks.

I think Batgirl came in a ways after Robin (18 seconds--14 places) and me since I passed her at about the mid-point in the race and only passed her friend in the last 100 yards.  I didn't really think I could catch either of them because they looked really fast during the race.  There is something about scale (they are smaller than me) that makes it look like they are moving faster than they actually are going.  I passed a guy from their team who was much taller than me and he looked like he was just shuffling along very slowly--so the scaling works in both directions.

As for the results:  I came in 30th overall, 6th among men in our 50's.  Robin was 3rd among all women in the race--so she may well be Littleton's top varsity runner.

Pictures from the Littleton Road Race site, and placements from their link to coolrunning.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Drive Like Your Kids Live Here

For the past few months we have been seeing these signs popping-up here and there. I have yet to meet anyone who likes them but clearly somebody does, since they are putting them up. What is it about the sign that I find objectionable?

Lack of Logic:

1. If my kids do live here, then I am by definition already driving like they live here.

2. If my kids do not live here, then why should I pretend that they do when I know that they do not? I normally base decision making on the actual state of reality (as I perceive it) not on some state I know not to exist.


--I just purchased a house on a busy road and I have small children. Everybody better accommodate my choice by driving slowly for the next few years.

--I have no actual authority, but command all who drive this public road to drive below the speed limit. Would it be less officious-sounding to post a sign that says, "Please Drive Within The Speed limit"? Debatable, but it might earn you the title of "Captain Obvious" since everyone who drives, knows what speed limit means.

My alternate solution to the problem, if there actually is a problem:

First a confession: I generally drive on the fast side. But not always: When I see pedestrians or bicyclists, I give them lots of room and go slow. And even in cases where I was well below the speed limit, mostly in the other lane to give room, have still been commanded to slow down. So my conclusion is that there may not actually be a problem with fast drivers in a place where the sign is installed. But for the sake of argument, let us pretend there is an actual problem: What might help and not be irritating as Hell?

1. Ask the local traffic control authorities to intervene: Maybe the speed limit is 25 but nobody knows this since there are no speed limit signs nearby. If people speed grossly in spite of adequate signage, see if the police can setup a speed trap. A speeding ticket will work wonders.

2. How about putting up a sign that does not tell people what to do? I am like most people in that I do not like being told what to do, especially by people who have no legitimate authority over me. Here is a suggestion: "Children Playing"

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Run Through Village, Vineyard and Mountain.

I started from my hotel in the middle of Obernai.

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I ventured through the Villiage.

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Soon, I was in the suburbs.

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Out into the country side, where there are vineyards and orchards.

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Another village at the base of the mountains.

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And finally, into the forested hills.

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The whole way was a bit less than five miles each way. As a coincidental event; a restaurant pretty far from town is where our gracious host took us for dinner the next day.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

German Mountains and Tramways

Here is the top of a mountain overlooking Heidelberg.

 And the tramway that one can take to get to the top.  We were there early in the morning and drove up.

This tramway was not as pretty, but it is the one we took to get to the top of the mountain by Baden Baden.

The tram goes into that building below and the view is from a lighthouse looking structure at the peak of the hill.  People were paragliding from the grassy area in front of the patio.


Does this dozen eggs look odd to you?  They should, so look again if you do not notice what is wrong with them.

In the past, when people mostly got eggs from their own chickens or a local small producer, eggs probably varied in size like these.  But these came out of a package labeled "Grade A Large Eggs" so they ought to be pretty uniform.

Once I formed a hypothesis about this, I asked my wife and kids if they could think of some reason for a package of eggs being random sizes.  Having never purchased eggs, the kids had no clue.  But my wife and I knew:  When you buy eggs, you check for broken ones and take a whole different carton if there is one broken one.  Some enterprising clerk must have consolidated unbroken eggs from different packages so that one broken egg costs one egg and not a dozen eggs.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Real World V. The Imaginary One Government "Manages"

A microcosm of the pointlessness of most of what government does:

I am underconfident that the 17 agencies participating in the Pollinator Health Task Force, starting their deliberations a mere eight years after the problem became apparent, will add much value, although I'm sure National Honey Board could use some support for its grant program to study bee health. Maybe the task force should have some actual private-sector beekeepers and pollination customers, not just government officials? Or is that crazy talk?

Whole article here

Monday, July 07, 2014

The Great Harvard 4th of July Road Races

I was hoping to break 7:00/mile since the course is only 5 miles*. What I forgot is that being in July, it is warm and this course is very hilly (There is a greater than 200 vertical foot climb in the middle--most of which happens in about 1/4 mile).

In addition, there was a shoe malfunction: I was undecided on keeping the inserts in my racing shoes since they are a little tight. As I left home, I kept them out of my shoes but brought them with me and only single-tied my shoes so I could put them in easily if I decided to do it later. Once I got to the race, I forgot all of this, until the race started. Then I noticed that my feet were sliding around inside and were still single-tied and could come untied at any time.

As it was, I ran at a pace of 7:22. This turned out to be enough for third place in my age group and I would have had to be well-under 7:00 to have caught the 2nd place finisher. Also, last time I ran this--back in 2011, I took 1:37 longer. It was hotter on that day but comparing the times, it looks like the heat may have accounted for 10-15 seconds.


Added: In the middle of the race, at the end of the big hill, still climbing but not as steeply, I was chatting with another racer--Bob. We figured out that both of us were in the 50 year old group and he speculated that we were dueling for 5th and 6th place. I had checked the previous year's results and we were actually on track to be competing for 2nd and 3rd if all the same people were running. It turned ot that reality split the difference: Last year, I would have taken 2nd but this year I got 3rd. Bob got 4th this year and would have placed the same last year with that time.

*My longest run in the modern era (when I took up running again at 40), in which I was sub-7 is 6k, which is a bit less than four miles.

Update 2: 2 races into the Nashoba Valley Grand Prix, I am in 5th place and there is nobody ahead of me who is older. Full results here:

Added: I am actually pretty tan from running outside most days but I have to admit that I look like Casper the exhausted ghost in these pictures. LOLOLOLOL

Monday, June 30, 2014

Is An Ounce Of Prevention A Compelling Governmental Interest?

Justice Ginsburg thinks so:

It bears note in this regard that the cost of
an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month’s full-time pay for
workers earning the minimum wage

The IUD is one of those things which have a high upfront cost, but they last a long time and so will "pay for themselves" eventually. This alone might pull some weight in the "a compelling governmental interest" area, but she doesn't seem to make this point. Her gist is that it is a form of contraception that some women want but they opt out when faced with the expense.

Life is full of these kinds of trade-off: A washer and dryer are expensive but their convenience and cost savings over a laundromat make them worthwhile. That does not mean the government should buy them for us, or especially; to force our employer to buy them for us.

The whole opinion is here:

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Love these Sabo street-art posters

Added: He also has a clever "Abortion Barbie" poster, which I like the idea of, but the above two have a design style I can get behind.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

My Metaphoric Peril Sensitive Sunglasses*

It is a long drive back from Niagara Falls to Chelmsford and my wife sensibly suggested that our newest driver get in some highway time. I could not argue against her logic but was not looking forward to watching her drive--she is safe enough but few meet my standards of highway driving and it would be irritating.

My solution was to repair to the 3rd row of our GMC Yukon XL and take a nap. The truck is so large, quiet and solid that one cannot help but feel safe; even hurtling down I90 at 75 MPH.

It was great, for me: I had a two hour nap which primed me for the rest of the trip, the girl got in some driving and my wife got the stress of observing it all.

Into each life a little rain must fall. And it was her suggestion.

*Joo Janta 200 Super-Chromatic Peril Sensitive Sunglasses

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Groton Road Race 2014

Picture from Jim Rhoades of Cool Running

I came in 46th out of 426 finishers with a time of 44:23 which is 7:09/mile. 39th out of 202 men and 8th out of 50 men in my age group. I was nine seconds slower than the last time I ran this, which was in 2012, but I got 66th then out of a field of close to the same size. I actually came in 46th before, back in 2009. All results are collected here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Port Townsend

In case you have never been and if you are a Washingtonian there really is no excuse, Port Townsend and its environs are well-worth a visit. I haven't gone there in years but when I was stationed at NAS Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island, I would often go there with friends.

It was a day-trip kind of place, not known for its nightlife but quaint and Victorian in appearance. Nearby, there are even naval gun emplacements that guard the entrance to Puget Sound--these too date from the Victorian era. Also in day-trip range is Victoria BC, which given the name should not surprisingly be quite Victorian. The Empress Hotel and Butchart gardens take one back to what one might imagine those times looked like.

The one flaw to the whole scene was the people: It is hard to feel like you are in Victorian times when all the tourists are dressed in t-shirts and shorts. I recently heard of a couple who live there and have adopted Victorian dress styles. They are very charming and the woman has even written a book:

Victorian Secrets: What a Corset Taught Me about the Past, the Present, and Myself by Sarah A. Chrisman

Their very presence adds, at no charge to the local community, to the allure of the place.

Here is an image from their website:

It is clear from what I have read about this couple that they have not only taken up the appearance of Victorian people but much of the same outlook. I say much, because so far they do not appear to have done the thing Victorians were most famous for, which is have a large family. They are young so if they choose it, there is time for this . I am hoping that they do have kids and pass-on their ways to another generation.

To some extent they already are spreading their outlook, but in dilute form. Depending on how famous they get, they may touch millions of lives, but how much difference will one book or a television appearance make? On the other hand, one can only have only a fairly finite number of children but a much higher influence over them than with consumers of your creative output.

If you have an idea or a way of living that is valuable, shouldn't one want to have it carried forward into the future? Take Henry David Thoreau, in Walden he made an economic case for living a simple life. His point was that if you dispensed with much of what people spend their time working for, you would have much more time for what you really want to do. All fine and well, but if an able bodied man in his prime years only works hard enough to sustain himself, there will be no second generation to live this kind of life. His plan was not sustainable. An author who has ideas more fully-baked than Thoreau and also happens to hail from the Pacific North West is Neal Stephenson, who wrote a story about a future containing neo-Victorians. In The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer the neo-Victorians form communities in various locations and can raise their children, work and live all within a community that re-enforces their values. I do not think this is too far-fetched: Isn't this more-or-less what the Amish do now?

Added: Like most of Stephenson's works, I think his main goal is to take the reader on a tour of his imagined world, the plot is just a tool to move you from scene to scene. The device is a "book" which I put into quotes since it is really a supercomputer that teaches its owner whatever they need to learn. A neo-Victorian plutocrat commissions the book for his daughter, with the idea that their civilization for all its laudable ideas, can be too conformist and book is to introduce a bit of subversiveness into its reader. The upper middle class engineer sees the value in this and secretly makes an extra copy for his own daughter. This copy falls into the hands of a neglected girl living in a slum. The story revolves around this girl who would have been doomed by her circumstance to a base existence and early demise, but instead is taught skills and an outlook (the Victorian outlook) that allows her to survive and thrive.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Rather Like A Gold Coin Once Held In Julius Caesar's Pocket--If Romans Had Pockets

Here is a philosophical question:  If you had a gold coin that had once been owned by a famous ancient statesman and somehow this could be proven, would it be more valuable than an otherwise identical coin?*

I think most people would understand that this particular coin would be worth more than an otherwise identical coin that lacked such provenance.  There is nothing intrinsic about the coin that makes it different, it is only how we feel about it which is different.

* Seems pretty unlikely but how about this:  The statesman was found buried in Pompeii and had the coins on his person.  There had been an unbroken chain of custody since the discovery.

This kind of meaning is where pretty much all of the value, to the extent that there is positive value, comes from when we concern ourselves with the provenance of our food.  So terms like halal,  kosher, GMO free and organic are mostly alike as a category.*

*If I feel like it, it does seem pointless to spell-out things which should be obvious to anyone with a rudimentary education in biology, I will explain why there is no intrinsic differences between the above rarefied categories and regular food.
There are real differences in how special foods (the above categories) are produced and handled.  In the religious categories, the differences in how the foods are handled is important to the observant because they put some value into following the commands laid out by their faith.  The organic and GMO free are similar in that there are very real differences in how the food is produced:  Organic will not use GMO seeds, nor chemically derived fertilizer or most pesticides.  In general, it takes more land and more labor to produce such food and this accounts for the higher prices.  One can debate the relative value of refraining from adding artificial chemicals to soil versus using chemicals but leaving more land uncultivated.  It becomes more of a metaphysical question if one tries to differentiate between nitrogen supplied by horse manure or the Haber process. A growing plant can't tell the difference, because there is no difference between these molecules.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Kristen Schaal And Sandra Bernhard

A generation apart but really similar in several ways:

Kristen Schaal

Sandra Bernhard

1. Both work in comedy

2 Neither are pretty.  Not ugly or even homely either, just not pretty in any conventional sort of way--though perhaps contradictorily  they both have enormous sex-appeal.

3. The parts they play are just creepy enough to make them both a little intimidating.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Driverless Cars and Trucks

First, let's assume away the most likely outcome:  Massive resistance by professional drivers will kill the adaptation of the technology.  Why take this step?  Because if the technology is not adapted then there is nothing to speculate about and that is boring.

1. It will be less common to own your car.  The main reason people own their car is that they want to have one available.  Even if you wanted to share your car, it is not always convenient to do this.  A person could use my car for the ten hours I am at work or the 13 hours I am at home on a normal work-day, but they would have to live near one of those places and have to restrict their use to those windows of time.  But what if my car could drive itself?  It could go and pick-up someone who works later than I do or drive around a mom who has some mid-day errands to do.

There is a lot of trouble and expense in owning and maintaining a car.  All of that cost provides me with an hour per day of use.  For only a marginal increase in cost, the car could be kept busy all day long.  A company can operate and maintain a fleet of cars for less per car than individuals could do.  If they can do this and make sure that subscribers have a car when they need one, why would people bother to own one?  Some people would remain attached to an old car or one which is special to them in some way but a lot of the fun of driving will be gone because:

2.  It will become illegal, or very expensive to manually drive.  The software and sensors are improving all the time and it won't be long before computers are much, much better at it than any human.  The temptation will be to outlaw the risky behavioral of manual driving.  My kids, or maybe theirs, will be the last generation to know how to drive.

3.  Long range travel by car will be much more tolerable and therefore more common.  Computers would allow for faster driving and could save fuel by networking with other cars on the road to tailgate each other and thus save on wind resistance.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Shocking! Surgeon General Nominee Opposed Due to His Polarizing Stances

By all accounts, Dr Murthy is a fine physician and if that were the only qualification needed to be "America's doctor"  he would be a shoe-in for the post.  He has been busy with arguably non-doctor type activities though:  He co-founded and was president of Doctors For America which advocated for the ACA (Obamacare) and for gun control.

People of good faith can argue about the merits of each of these, but what is not debatable is that both are hot issues that divide the country pretty evenly--I would say that the doctor is on the somewhat less popular side of both issues.

Is it right to oppose Dr Murthy for the post of America's doctor for his political views?  Well, yes.  And it would hardly be unprecedented:  Feminists and other liberals opposed C. Everett Koop because of his views on abortion.  They failed, obviously, but one cannot deny they had a right to try.

As an aside, the NRA is often derided as having out sized influence given its meager numbers, but compared to say NOW, it is rather more representative:  
NOW has some 500,000 members and there are about 150 Million women in the USA, so the ratio is 1:300 
NRA has 5,000,000 members and there are about 75 Million gun owners in the USA, this gives a ratio of 1:15, which is 20 times more representative of the group they supposedly speak for.
Not to fight the gun control fight here but let's have a look as some of the proposals the good doctor put his name to:

Specific approaches should include:
A federal ban on the sale of assault weapons and ammunition – to stop weapons
from being added to the existing stock.
It is well known that only a vanishing small fraction of murders are committed by long guns of any type (mostly shotguns). By far, most crimes (that involve guns) are committed with pistols.  Also, well known among people who know anything about firearms, is that the ammunition used in so-called assault weapons is also very commonly used in regular rifles.  It is also well known that the differences between normal rifles and assault weapons are almost all cosmetic rather than functional.  Some anti-assault weapons proposals and laws go after certain pistols and shotguns too, but the assault versions use exactly the same ammunition as the regular ones.  The upshot of all this is that the guy makes proposals which would curtail the rights of millions of law-abiding Americans and yet can't be arsed to know the first thing about fire arms or bother to look at easily obtainable data such as FBI crime statistics.  These stats would show him that the lion's share of murder is committed with one type of gun, pistols.  And it would show him that "gun deaths"* have been on the decline for decades.

*In my view, the murder numbers have gotten so low that advocates like to use the term "gun deaths" instead.  The bulk of this number comes from murder and suicide, with suicide being about twice as common as murder.

Hey, I thought all good progressives were in favor of suicide--maybe only if it is assisted.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Too much time in Washington rots your mind.

" She earned a B.A. in political science from Yale University in 1972, followed by a J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1975. "


Thinks the US Constitution is 400 years old.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

What Does Russia Get From This?

Kiev had already granted Russia the right to use bases in the Crimea, which is the only warm-water port Russia has available.

Now what?

If Russia annexes the Crimea, they get the status of international pariah and gain bases they already had.

If Ukraine manages to kick the Russian troops out of the Crimea then they are also likely to end the Russian basing privileges too.   After all, they can say, "Last time we let you keep troops here, look what mischief they got into"?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

How Many Gears?

My driver took the Autobahn between Darmstadt and Frankfurt.  He showed up in a Volkswagon, which did not dismay me since it was the same giant, powerful type I had been brought in.

He only hit around 125 mph but I looked over at the tach and it was only reading about 3,300!

I hope that was his top gear!

The Information In These Two Offices Vary

Both of these sites give the dates of Lake Champlain Closing (due to ice), both are tagged with NOAA and have the following address listed:

National Weather Service
1200 Airport Drive
S. Burlington VT 05403

But one gives a closing date of Feb 12th and the other has no date listed.

The question I have is what they will say 6-months from now?  Will they agree on the date or claim the lake never froze?

I will update when and if there is a change to either site (I have screen-shots of what is there now).

Note:  Just playing with the font and background color for kicks--this will not persist.  Probably.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The curious and irregular conception of Obamacare

Read the whole thing by Noemie Emery
 “Current and former administration officials .  .  . have been surprised at how steadfast the opposition has remained,” the Washington Post reported last summer, quoting MIT economist Jonathan Gruber saying, “It used to be you had a fight and it was over, and you moved on.” But few have moved on, for reasons which are not all that hard to tease out: It’s not working out, in fact it’s a disaster; it’s blowing holes in the federal budget; the win-to-lose balance is way out of kilter, as many more people are hurt than helped by it. Obamacare may collapse on its own for practical reasons, but there is a fourth strike against it that adds a dimension of weakness no comparable measure has faced: Much of the country believes it’s a fraud, passed dishonestly, and not deserving of moral authority. In short, they find it nearly illegal, highly immoral, and possibly fattening. And their minds won’t be changed.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Germany, Traditional and Modern

A typical street in Darmstadt.

An artsy apartment building: It was horseshoe shaped with one end at ground level and the other end about six stories tall. All of the top is covered with trees and other plants.

The circular building is one ward of a hospital complex.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Big Mac At Home and in Germany

I just had to know: Are they the same everywhere?

Difference #1 Price: 6.49 Euros comes to $8.87, so that is more but I really do not know how much more since I usually just buy the burger itself--or more usually, just whatever burger is on the value menu. This is not entirely cheapness on my part; I just feel like the fries and soda are much worse for me than the burger.

Sameness #1 The burger was, as far as I could tell, exactly like what I get in the United States. The fries were the same too. The coke tasted perhaps slightly better but this is hard to tell since I usually get Dr. Pepper and I am used to having ICE! please. It is possible that they use sucrose here instead of corn syrup and that would account for the Coke tasting better.

Difference # 2 The ketchup packet was much larger than the ones in the US. It takes three of the US ones at home while this larger one was plenty. Also, they offered me Ketchup OR mayonnaise. Neither was available to take as one pleased. Lately, the McDonald's in the US have pumps available or packets upon demand.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Labor Participation Rate and Bad Cancer Cures

One might be sanguine about our economy if you look at the unemployment rate: It has gone from about 10% back in 2010 steadily downward to 7.5% now. If you look at the labor force participation rate, the story takes on a different hue: We have steadily dropped from around 66% between 2003-2008 to about 63% now. Back in 2006, 66% of the people wanted to work, there was 5% unemployment and so 62.7% were actually working. Now, we have 7.5% unemployment and only 63% participating, so that leaves 58.275% working. If we calculated unemployment using the former participation rate,we would get:

(1-(58.275/66)) X 100 = 11.7%

Some might say that decreased labor participation is good because it gives us a better unemployment rate. I will show why I disagree below.

Unemployment rate: From BLS

Labor force participation rate: From BLS

The recent CBO report on the impact of "Obamacare" says:

CBO estimates that the ACA [Affordable Care Act] will reduce the total number of hours worked, on net, by about 1.5 percent to 2.0 percent during the period from 2017 to 2024, almost entirely because workers will choose to supply less labor—given the new taxes and other incentives they will face and the financial benefits some will receive.
(People like Greg Mankiw (and many others) saw this coming from a long-way off.)

This has been greeted by some as a good thing. Certainly it is possible that some individuals will benefit: Let's say there is a guy who hates his job, doesn't need the money, but did need the health insurance. Let's further assume that now he can get his coverage for free or so cheaply that he could afford it easily. Okay, he is gaining from the new law. But what about society? We lose in two ways: 1. He will no longer provide the valuable work he had been doing. 2. We as a society are now paying for what he had previously provided for himself. Bear in mind that the above was a best-case-scenario. He could have been forced to quit because his employer had cut his pay to provide added benefits due to mandates or because of higher taxes or any number of reasons that leave him worse-off now.

The whole idea of society being better off with fewer people working reminds me of good and bad ways to decrease mortality from cancer.

A good way would be prevention: Get people to stop smoking and lung cancer rates will go down. Another good way is earlier detection and better treatments. But here is a bad way of reducing the rate of cancer deaths to zero: Execute anyone who is diagnosed with cancer. It is a ridiculous idea and yet one cannot deny that it eliminates death from cancer. The problem with it is that it doesn't leave anyone better off than they were before. Similarly, organizing our economy such that fewer people want to work deprives us of productive activities.

All of this leaves aside the non-economic value of work: This was well summed-up in a comment to this post over at MARGINALREVOLUTION: How happy should we be about ACA supply-side responses to work less?

Turkey Vulture February 5, 2014 at 12:06 pm
I really dislike working. I don’t like being tied down, and want to pursue other activities. But at points in my life when I haven’t worked, or have worked minimally, I have tended to just waste time doing nothing of use. And I want to do things, accomplish things, I just don’t. I am lazy, and especially so when I have no immediate need to do anything. This lowers my life satisfaction. But still, even knowing this, if I have a way to get by without having to work, I will be tempted to take it, and probably lose the good habits a regular job can bring.

I think most people are like this, which is why even though I will never pray at the alter of the protestant work ethic, I think that programs that encourage idleness can lead people into a rut from which they won’t have the wherewithal to escape. But hey, maybe everyone else is more of a go-getter than me, and I’m completely off base.

I think Turkey Vulture is correct--and far more honest than most people are about themselves.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Remember When You Didn't Care About Executive Overreach?

You were of course thrilled when president Obama decided to stop defending the Defense Of Marriage Act) DOMA. But now there is a Republican president and she has decided that all campaign finance laws are unconstitutional and will not be enforced. Still happy?

Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.

Lou Reed, Perfect Day

Monday, January 27, 2014

Flat Land

Todd Zywicki does not exactly review The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt, but he uses it as a jumping-off point for a number of interesting observations.

Read the whole thing of course--including the comments, some of which are really excellent. What interested me was this:

...he describes five key vectors or values of psychological morality: (1) care/harm, (2) fairness, (3) loyalty, (4) authority, and (5) sanctity. Haidt finds in his research that self-described “conservatives” tend to value all five vectors of morality (as he defines them). Liberals, by contrast, place a high value on “care” and “fairness”...

One might think this is all purely theoretical but some science was added:

...Haidt reports on the following experiment: after determining whether someone is liberal or conservative, he then has each person answer the standard battery of questions as if he were the opposite ideology. So, he would ask a liberal to answer the questions as if he were a “typical conservative” and vice-versa. What he finds is quite striking: “The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least accurate, especially those who describe themselves as ‘very liberal.’ ...

Conservatives and moderates can predict the kind of answers liberals will make because they have all the same tools, in addition to others which are lacking in liberals.

This explains very well an observed tendency one sees all the time:

In short, Haidt’s research suggests that many liberals really do believe that conservatives are heartless bastards–or as a friend of mine once remarked, “Conservatives think that liberals are good people with bad ideas, whereas liberals think conservatives are bad people”–and very liberal people think that especially strongly. Haidt suggests that there is some truth to this.

In fairness, I've seen the above formulation going in both directions. While I don't want to rule-out the possibility of there being some small number of genuinely evil people in the world, a safe rule is that if you think someone is evil, you are probably thinking about an issue in a simple-minded way.

Secondary observations: The side that can understand their opponent's viewpoint can be persuaded by it. The other side cannot understand the opposition's positions (except by assuming bad faith) and so are never persuaded. This would present a distinct disadvantage to the conservative side. It is an opportunity for a larger game though: If you can show how the other factors (which liberals are currently blind to) matter, then you might just plant a seed. A kind of broader-understanding-of-things seed, which might allow them to grow into a conservative.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

It Is A Tool

This is a tool, but for what?

Before I get to that, I want to talk about a goal from when I started lifting weights in June. An initial and realistic goal would be to lift my own weight within one year of taking up the training.

I knew that our bathroom scale weighed light but from the standpoint of monitoring weight this doesn't really matter. It may be systematically light but is consistent and so fine for keeping track of gain or loss, as the case might be. My wife has scientific training and was not happy with that answer, she wants to know what she really weighs. That plus my new need to know what I really weigh, led to this:

The hook on the end of the tool was to connect a rod in the tower to the mechanism in the platform. The screwdriver like slot is to adjust the zero and the hex hole was for bolting on the height measuring rod and the wheels.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

The Year In Weight Lifting

It really hasn't been a whole year since I started in June, see my post on that here.

I continued to add 5 lbs per week until about 105 lbs and then hurt my back trying for 110. I worked on my form and on getting my back well again and progress has been slow but steady. I have gotten to the point where I sometimes am able to lift 135 lbs over my head using the clean and jerk.

I have changed my routine a little: I used to just lift whatever weight I was at five repetitions. Now I start at 115 and then either lift 120 then 125, then 130 and then (sometimes 135). Other times I will skip increments in order to be fresher at the highest weight, so 115, 125 then 135.

Am I getting stronger?

The short, or as I like to call it sometimes--the Microsoft answer--is that yes, I must be getting stronger. But does it alone account for the fact that I can lift more weight? No, almost certainly not. When I make a successful top-weight lift, it often feels pretty effortless. The moves in a clean and the moves in the jerk are pretty acrobatic and require a lot of coordination. This difficulty is compounded by the stress and danger of doing it while holding a heavy barbell in your hands.

It is all for the best:

Whether I am purely getting stronger (which is the actual goal) or am getting purely better at the moves, it is fine. If I am becoming more skilled this helps in two ways: Going through the full range of motion which happens in the properly executed lift provides better training. If skill allows more weight on the bar, then eventually the weight will have to be lifted with strength and so my muscles will become stronger.

Learning to let go.

The thing I have to watch out for is hurting my back. As mentioned above, I did hurt myself at 110 lbs. This happened when I failed to make the clean and bent my back while under a load. Now what I do is drop the bar if I need to. The floor is concrete and an unfinished basement, but even if it was the finest teak parquet, my back is less replaceable. Still, my back does ache and it is hard to tell what the reasons are. It was totally fine a month ago and I was lifting 130 back then. I suspect it was other activities like snow removal and hauling around packages and heavy bags of salt. This current snow storm will not clarify matters, but back issues are something to watch out for.