Archive for November, 2011


Another reason Mac are better than PCs

November 30, 2011

I was just irritated again by a Windows 7 television commercial – the one with the edited video clip of the guy sort of dancing to the annoying electronic music. Apple would never let their ad agency choose music like that. If they did, the Ghost of Steve would come and haunt them for it. Think of the music used in Apple tv commercials…you may not know the tunes, but they usually are moderately “catchy,” (dontchajustlove that term?) and are never equalized so poorly so that a particular higher frequency range screams out of television speakers, as this Windows one did.

I don’t know which ad agency is doing Apple’s commercial work now, but by and large, even in the “bad old days” in the 90s, the advertising was at least halfway decent. I do miss the “I’m a PC, I’m a Mac” commercials, though. I think Steve dropped them because the PC/Mac wars are actually over now. Um, in case you weren’t noticing…Macs won.

Go ahead, ask me how I know. Because if I wanted to, I could switch from here to Windows in a matter of a few seconds, using Parallels. I just don’t need to. Heh.


What were the “Occupy” demonstrations for?

November 30, 2011

I made some comments about the Occupy demonstrations and possible motivations for them over at Keep Americans Free!, my other blog. Here’s the link. I invite you to read it.


Last candidate standing

November 29, 2011

By the time we get to the Republican Presidential primaries we’re going to be down to this guy. As far as we know, he has had no affairs, he doesn’t have any corruption issues from holding a previous office, and as far as I can tell, he never was particularly interested in socialized medicine.

That is, assuming Vader is a Republican.  If he is, I guess he’s a big-government conservative, right? I mean, he was working for the Empire, after all. He has that intolerance of failure that liberals like to accuse conservatives of. I don’t know where he stands on taxes and on the budget deficit. He certainly has some ideas on full employment – learn the Power of the Dark Side, submit to the Emperor, or die. That’s simple. Same policy for immigration, I think.

There was that one incident of nepotism, of course. It didn’t turn out so well. His son was kind of a whiner, anyway. That’s why you can’t hire relatives, I guess.

You know, now that I think of it, Vader might have leanings more toward the Democrat party. He seems comfortable with a large bureaucracy – but then again, he was known for removing executives for small infractions of policy. Or were they really military? In the Empire, it’s hard to tell.

I know this: no one would ever accuse Darth Vader of being libertarian.

I, for one, welcome our new overlords from the Empire.



“Atlas Shrugged Part 2” – why so much gnashing of teeth?

November 25, 2011

The independent film of the first third of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” is out on DVD and Blu Ray in time for Christmas giving. It was a small-budget film, with a cast of lesser-known actors. I had some misgivings about it before it came out. I couldn’t see how it could be set in the near future and work, seeing as how the book was published in the 1950s and was set “approximately” in the 1970s.

She made it all work, and we can still read it today and understand that it was written when the Communist threat of the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc countries was very, very real. Translating that to today, or a few years from now, was a dicey proposition.

Somehow they made it convincing enough. I found it internally consistent and easier to follow if I didn’t constantly try to compare it to the book. The Rand’s magnum opus was over a thousand pages and even six hours of film – three movies – will not be a thorough rendering of the book.

That doesn’t mean it can’t convey the main themes Rand presented in the book. So far, I think it’s doing so and doing so in an entertaining way. It’s been hammered by the critics, of course. They are primarily not the audience for a film such as this, anyway. In fact, I would hope that it makes the smarter ones damn mad. Any “progressives” who have some intelligence should feel very uneasy with the things said in this movie. I thought the writer and director focused it correctly to make sure Rand’s theme came out unambiguously.

There has been a lot of talk on the comment sections of the sites for both Part 1 and Part 2, and others, about how the film was poorly marketed, poorly this and poorly that. Not true! It was marketed and placed in theaters independently. It was probably the only way to get it into theaters. There was a lot of talk about how it didn’t make enough money in the theaters. Hasn’t anyone every heard of DVD sales?

A lot of smaller films have very limited release in theaters, and then go quickly to DVD. The DVDs sell over a longer period of time, sometimes by word of mouth more than anything. Eventually the money comes in and everybody gets what they need.

I guess the producers have been thinking of putting some “name” actors in Part 2 to give it more marquee value. There are a lot of Hollywood actors who wouldn’t have anything to do with this film, of course, because it is completely at odds with their politics. The idea that that people won’t see these films unless there is an Angelina Jolie in it is, in my view, flawed.

I thought the cast did what the cast should have done in Part 1 – they became the characters. I didn’t think of the actress playing Dagny as Taylor Schilling, but as Dagny. Rebecca Wisocky (I had to look her name up) was particularly good as Lillian Rearden. Even Grant Bowler, as Hank Rearden, was really pretty good – although I still think he is too short!

Too many “name” actors can’t be “character” actors – Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, even Liam Neeson just can’t (or couldn’t) change enough. This movie is about the ideas, played out by specific characters who typified particular things. That shouldn’t be clouded by “Oh, wow, Liam Neeson was so good as Liam Neeson.”

If you’ve not seen it, get the DVD. Or on Blu-Ray. In any case, right about now, this is the perfect book and film for all Americans to read and see.


Happy Thanksgiving!

November 24, 2011

I’m a little late because I was at our daughter’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, prepared with skill and artistry by my daughter and son-in-law. They are truly getting to be outstanding cooks!

Anyway, I tend to like to leave this link to Rush Limbaugh’s Real Story of the First Thanksgiving. It may open your eyes a bit.

I hope you had a great day! I am thankful for so much I couldn’t list it all here! The Lord knows, and I thank Him for all of his gifts!


Another Telsa invention we needed

November 20, 2011

I’ve spent a lot of time in traffic lately. Mag-lev cats sound better all the time!


One more little rant about the public/private school issue…

November 17, 2011

OK, first, you’re right. If you pay your property taxes, but you choose to send your children to kids to private schools, you’re paying for something you’re not getting. Guess what? My last kid graduated in 1999. I’m still paying my property taxes, too. You knew when you bought your house where those taxes would go. You made a choice to spend the money to go someplace else for your education.

Most government-subsidized services (sewer, water, roads, etc.) don’t have private alternatives. In our area we just barely got alternatives in buying electric power in the last year or two – and we still pay ComEd for the infrastructure, of course.  Since education isn’t used by everyone, and there are private alternatives, it becomes a focus.

I live in a pretty affluent area. People like the fact that their property values are higher because of the perceived excellence of the public schools in the area. That’s even true of a lot of the folks in the area who don’t send their kids to those schools, some of whom say they derive little to no benefit from the publish schools.

A couple of years ago, when the recession hit, the school I used to teach in suddenly added a bunch of new students because it became too expensive for their parents to keep them in private schools. I wonder if they decided after a year or so that the public school was all that bad…

I’d love to go back in time and debate whether we should have offered free public education in the first place in the US. Unfortunately, we can’t unring that bell, now. Today it’s practically considered a “right,” like so many other things that aren’t really rights.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: more affluent school districts can hire better teachers because they can offer more money. They also have already selected for a generally more intelligent student body, because in general their parents couldn’t live in the district if they were not smart enough, and ambitious enough, to earn enough money to buy a home there. In a way, that means those schools work much like selective private schools. Those schools select for the students they want. In the case of schools in affluent public school districts, the economics of the district do it for them.

Even then, I would wager that most public schools, even in the most affluent districts, have a wider range of student abilities and backgrounds than most private schools. I know of a private school nearby that requires testing for entry, like many of them do. The only other way to get in is as a legacy student – in one case, an older sister had been a student there.

I don’t have any data on how many private schools are not academically selective. Again, most are selective to a degree just because the parents care enough, and can afford enough, to send their children there. That skews comparison with a local public school. The parents might not be rich, but they definitely are more motivated for their children’s success.

I still keep hearing the same arguments about the cost of public education and private education that I heard ten years ago. No one ever brings up the “third rail” of public education: special ed. How many private schools are equipped to handle students with special needs? Are any required to do so? If your child requires a full-time aide as determined by her IEP, will a private school provide that person? The public school is required to by law.

In the school from which I recently retired, the largest department by number of staff was Special Education. I don’t have data in front of me, but I’m pretty sure it served the smallest number of kids. That’s a huge expense private schools don’t have to bear.

Please understand I am not saying that providing these services is bad – just that it is far more expensive than providing an education to the “average” student. If you are going to compare private and public schools, take the things out of the equation that private schools don’t provide, then run the numbers. Then let’s see how the students gain entry into the private schools. Then we’ll talk.

Disclaimer: As with all my posts, the above only reflects only my own opinion, and should in no way reflect on any institutions, public or private, with which I may or may not have been affilliated.


Does God Exist?

November 16, 2011
bubble universes

Bubble Universes visualized in

I’ve been doing some interesting research for a novel I’m writing.  (More on that, maybe, in another post.) It concerns quantum physics and even smaller things – string theory, branes, theories of 10- or 11-dimensional space-time, multiple universes – all sorts of what can be considered either cutting-edge physics and cosmology or crazy crap.

I confess I came to the whole quantum physics stuff late. In high school we got “classical” physics, down to the electron, proton and neutron. I didn’t take a college science class (Yea music degree!) so I didn’t get anything there. Most of what I got was from science fiction I read, and the science fact articles I’ve absorbed through the years from Analog or other magazines.

Parallel to this I was a kid growing up in small-town Ohio in the Sixties in a German-Lutheran environment, religiously speaking. The Lutheran Church there had not yet been changed by the inclusion of Scandinavian influences. I’ve always thought that the Church I grew up in was closer to old-school Roman Catholicism that the Catholic Church was in the Sixties. Minus that transubstantiation stuff, of course.

These two viewpoints always kind of fought in my head. Is there a God? Is He a personal God? If I pray to Him, does He hear me? Does he answer prayers? How do I reconcile my religious upbringing with, not Darwinism, but cosmology, which was trying to determine how the whole universe started.

What was here before there was a here? If the universe was created from a Big Bang, how did that happen? And why? I’ve always felt that the intense study of the Big Bang and what happened immediately after it, while extremely valuable, ignored the more basic question: what was there before it occurred?

Now there are scientists who are saying that maybe our universe has collided with others. (Also see here.) Some believe that branes have collided, or that gravity, weak in our 4-dimensional view, could be very strong in another dimension or set of dimensions. Others are seeking to understand why the universe seems to be perfectly set up for life to exist.

None of these, nor superstring theory or it’s successors using branes, really refers to why things are the way they are. They just seek to describe what they are. If strings exist at the Planck length (or less) it may be impossible to ever detect them directly. God may just not want us to look that far “behind the curtain.”

The more we know about the very small, the more we can determine about the very large. The Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland is supposed to whack protons together so hard as to produce energies never before seen on Earth. There was an unfounded concern it would create a black hole that would ultimately eat the Earth. The smaller you want to observe, the greater the energy required. That may put a limit on what we can detect.

Instead of looking at this from the “blind watchmaker” angle, let’s look at it from the point of view that there is some kind of intelligence that is extra-universal. It exists outside of our universe but can perceive what happens in our universe. Perhaps it influences how our universe began. Is this the vengeful Yahweh of the Hebrews? Is this a being that cares about us at all as individual solar systems, as planets, let alone as individual people?

I don’t know. In an infinite set of universes, being created and collapsing, eventually there will be one that will have exactly the physical characteristics necessary for life to evolve. (If you wait long enough, those million monkeys will eventually type all of Shakespeare.)

I was going to say, “Are we lucky enough to be the only ones who live in that universe?” What popped into my head was, “Are we the only ones blessed with living in that universe?”

I have to confess that God nowadays seems a bit close-mouthed about things. Back a few thousand years ago he would talk to people, or smite somebody, and demonstrate he was there. Now we look for anything that might be somehow made to fit into our beliefs. I’ve got a couple of incidents myself (which I will not relate here). Is it just our evolved predator brains, looking for patterns where there are none?

I just can’t believe that. If there is some kind of intelligence outside of our universe that tweaked the parameters of our universe so that suns and planets could form, so that water and carbon and other elements could exist and combine in certain ways, and so that ultimately life, sentient life, could come to be – I’m calling it God. Does He listen to my prayers? If He can design a universe, why not? If He went to all the trouble to make the universe balance so we could exist, why wouldn’t He take an interest in His creations?

What happens outside of our universe? Are there more universes? How many more? An infinite number? At what point does the multiverse become self-aware? 

I think the problem with atheism is that it is thinking too small. “I can’t see it, or smell it, or touch it, so it can’t exist.” I think the ideas of what is outside of our universe, how our universe began and how it might end, and how it is built at its fundamental level all tell me it was designed for us. God did want companionship. Perhaps trillions of trillions of companions. Perhaps the multiverse is self-aware and is looking after its component parts, which it labored long and hard to build in a certain way.

Now: let’s say the multiverse idea is correct. What’s outside of the multiverse?

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!” 

— Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time

"It's turtles, all the way down!"


Some gorgeous fantasy aircraft and spacecraft art

November 13, 2011

X-wing repaint for the Navy

An artist going by the name of Clave has done twelve pages – over a hundred individual images – of beautiful profiles of aircraft and spacecraft, repainted in livery that they would never historically have, like an F-22 of the Soviet Air Force, etc. The majority are aircraft, mainly WWI and current jet aircraft, but some are TV/film spacecraft like the Gerry Anderson Thunderbirds ships and the Battlestar Galactica Viper. I hope he doesn’t mind me posting this one example. Go to these pages to find the others. Even if you are not a fan of aircraft, science fiction, or alternate history, you will enjoy the sheer artistry in his work. He is an incredible craftsman. Rarely have I seen so much beautiful, exacting imagery of such high quality and with such interesting ideas!


Garmin GPS…isn’t this thing supposed to help you find your way?

November 13, 2011

I bought a Garmin 1450 GPS from Amazon last week because it was a great deal. I used to have a Tom Tom device, years ago, and passed it to my daughter when I started using the Navigon software for the iPhone. The iPhone is just too small a screen for all the information available. Navigon was really slow on the iPhone 3G, but works much better on the iPhone 4.

So the Garmin 1450 has a 5 inch screen and a very nice display. We used it going from home in the western Chicago suburbs to Indianapolis and back to my daughter’s house in the northwest Chicago suburbs this weekend. Most of the time it was fine. I bought the Yoda voice and he got annoying after a while because he pops in with a comment every 10 miles or so. That would be good to keep me awake when driving alone, but you can’t turn it off and the number of fortune cookie-like comments he has is extremely limited. Otherwise, Yodaspeak is good for navigation: he tells you the direction first, and that’s helpful.

The problem is  I think even though I downloaded the most recent update before we left it has some serious problems. I-80/90 east of Chicago is perennially under construction, and a major rebuild of I-70 west of I-465 outside of Indy is just about finished. We got some odd choices in those places. We knew better and went through, but if we were really using it in unfamiliar territory we would have been in trouble around the I-65 and I-90 junction at Gary, Indiana. The roads listed weren’t there anymore! The first route it gave use took us off I-65 onto a surface street for a few miles, then back on to I-90…they connect beautifully and pretty much always have, except when the ramp was rebuilt. The update must be from that time. That was at least six months ago and it’s a very heavily-traveled road; I would expect it would be a pretty high priority for update.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy one. I like the interface on the Navigon better, and I could try it on the iPad, but the iPad is hard to position so you can read it while driving. I thought a dedicated unit would be better. We’ll see. I’m not convinced this thing is as useful as it should be, unfortunately.

Oh, and it has “lifetime traffic reports.” Nope. It has “ad-based traffic reports.” Little popup ads show up on the screen to pay for your use of the traffic service. It’s not really annoying yet, but we drove the Chicago on I-90 (all the way through and out to the Roselle Road exit) on a Saturday night, so traffic congestion was minimal. In real traffic the traffic data may be helpful enough that I don’t care about the popups. Right now I don’t like ’em.