Archive for March, 2012


Lake Erie from space

March 26, 2012

This image is from the Terra satellite using the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer. It’s supposed to show the amount of sediment in the lakes. You can go to a higher-resolution image here.

Now, Lake Erie has taken a bad rap since the early 1970s. The reason that lake, of all the Great Lakes, looks different and has been more sensitive to pollutants is because it is much shallower than the others.

Lake Superior has an average depth of 483 feet. Lake Michigan, 279 feet. Huron, 195. Ontario, 283 feet. Lake Erie…only 62 feet. Its deepest point is only 210 feet, only 15 feet deeper than the average depth of Lake Huron. Its volume is less than a third that of its closest neighbor, Lake Ontario. (Source of the data.)

This makes it far more sensitive to what runs into it from the surrounding cities, towns, fields and rivers. It drains over 30,000 square miles, and Lake Ontario drains just under 25,000. The largest of the lakes, by volume, is Lake Superior; it only drains about 2/3 more area than Lake Erie.

It’s also the lake with the second largest surrounding population, after Lake Michigan, which has over twice Erie’s shoreline – and it’s second by less than 0.1 percent. It has had more industrialization and more farming in its drainage area than any of the other lakes.

The good thing is that it has a retention time (how long water remains in it before moving to Lake Ontario) that is half that of Lake Ontario, at 2.6 years. Lake Superior has a retention time of…191 years!

So don’t look at this image and say to yourself that it shows a lake in trouble. It’s not – it shows a shallow lake with a lot of movement. It can hardly be compared chemically to the other Great Lakes at all. That gives it unique advantages and unique problems. You have to be very careful what you put into it – you can’t hope it will be diluted and forgotten. That seems to me to be a pretty mature attitude. I know at one time it wasn’t taken care of very well, but today it’s much better.

What you won’t find there is that deep, clear, blue water you can find in Lake Superior or Lake Michigan. It’s just too roiled up for that. It’s most likely always going to look a little green and muddy…on the other hand, in the summer it actually gets warm enough to swim in!


Bits of stuff…

March 21, 2012

Okay, I’m not a very football-oriented guy…what’s the deal with Peyton Manning being hired by the Denver Broncos? Wasn’t there some kid named Tebow playing there?

This morning (Tuesday) the weather guy from “Good Morning America” was on WLS radio. He said that meteorologists don’t know what’s going on with the unusually warm weather and can’t predict what’s going to happen next. How is this different from their usual long-range predictions? He said they are very confident about short-term – 3 or 4 days out – but farther than that? I never really thought they could do very well with long-term anyway. Too chaotic a system. About the only things I can think of that might be predictors are solar output and cosmic rays. But that’s really long-term, like years, not six months.

Looks like Mitt Romney has won the Illinois primary. That’s the last time Illinois will have any effect on Republicans at the national level for years and years, I’m afraid. I expect the state to go to Obama in the general no matter what we do here. It was only important this time because neither Gingrich nor Santorum would drop out. I went to vote and couldn’t find “none of the above.” Too bad. I had to choose another one.

Still convinced the recent flap about Rush Limbaugh was just regular folks who had had enough? This local advertiser in New York went on Fox Business to tell the truth. Yes, it just fuels the conspiracy-theory fires. But sometimes it’s not paranoia, it’s somebody really out to get you. (Careful! The link takes you to – ooooh noooo!!! – a page on the Rush Limbaugh site.)

I haven’t seen Episode 7 of “Smash” yet, so I’ll have to post on that another day.

I didn’t watch it, but apparently Elon Musk, CEO and Chief Bankroller of SpaceX, was interviewed on CBS’ “60 Minutes” last Sunday and took exception to statements previously made by Apollo Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan. They seem to believe that commercial space is not the direction to go; and Musk presented himself as not only an entrepreneur but also as a full-bore space exploration enthusiast who believes we need to explore space and is willing to put his considerable fortune where his mouth is.

(Let it be known that Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon – but he’s a bit touchy about that – is very pro-commercial space, and has been promoting it for decades.)

Now, I’m going to make a distinction here: remember, the Federal Government doesn’t create anything but red tape. When they need something, from bombers to buckets, they have to buy them from a regular commercial company. So, we can say that NASA built the moon rockets in the Apollo program, but while they did have designers and researchers, the hardware was designed and built by good old USA corporations. Some of you may remember my rant about how the Saturn V was built by Chrysler.)

SpaceX has a significant number of satellite customers already lined up for Falcon 9 launches once testing is complete. These are not generally government entities. They also have a development contract with NASA called COTS in which they receive some funding to help spur development of the Dragon capsule that will supply the ISS, and the manned version that will ultimately take crew there and eliminate our need for buying seats on Russian 1960s-technology hardware. Several companies are participating in COTS and are competing for the ISS and other manned space work.

If Armstrong and Cernan want to, they could promote Boeing’s manned space capsule, which seems to have an inside track with NASA because of the previous association the company has had with the agency, or NASA’s own Orion project, being built by Lockheed Martin. These companies are still corporations, not arms of the government, even though their connections with the government – defense, especially – are very strong.

SpaceX is a little upstart company that is basically funded by Musk’s own personal fortune, much as Virgin Galactic is being funded by Richard Branson. While they are receiving government funds, they primarily are going to live or die on building a successful booster and getting satellites into orbit for clients. How is this a bad thing? Let’s say they can’t get a manned vehicle to fly successfully by, say 2020. They will most likely go out of business or just drop back into the satellite-only market, which, frankly, is a bit saturated at the moment globally. No harm, no foul, and not nearly as many taxpayer dollars are wasted as would be if the development of the vehicle was completely funded by NASA.

So I don’t understand the reluctance of Armstrong and Cernan to embrace such endeavors. It seems like a win-win for America’s space exploration efforts, and minimal expense by the taxpayer for maximum reward. I’m much more concerned about the relationship between NASA and LockMart and Boeing, to be honest. I really get the feeling that “the fix is in” for those companies to be successful in getting more of NASA’s business not because they have superior hardware, but because of their track record with the Federal Government.

We’ll see. I read Musk’s remarks and I tend to agree with him.


How I solved my iPhone 4 problem; the new iPad; and problems with iTunes.

March 17, 2012

First, a word to the wise: there are many people having problems with iTunes 10.6. I didn’t, but my daughter has, and so I did a bit of research and found that there were numerous reports of crashes in both Snow Leopard and Lion.

Here’s the link to iTunes v.10.5.3. If all else fails, just go back to the older version until Apple gets it all straightened out.

Now for the big deal…some weeks back my iPhone 4 microphone started to go dead in the middle of calls. It worked for all other uses, like audio recording software. It just didn’t work as a phone. I tried the Reset Network Settings trick (Settings > General > Reset > Reset Network Settings). It worked for a while, then the problem would occur again. I even called AT&T and asked them to reprovision the phone, which they did; that didn’t seem to help at all.

The last couple of weeks the problem sort of went away. Now, I hadn’t been using the phone as much, knowing that it was unreliable. I was traveling back and forth from Illinois to northwestern Ohio every week for the last few, and it made me very nervous knowing the phone was, well, wonky.

So…how did I fix the problem?

I didn’t. My contract was up on March 9, and my wife, bless her heart, ordered me a new iPhone 4S. It arrived last Tuesday. It’s damned skippy.

I wish I had a better solution. I think part of the problem was a hardware issue after all. I did drop it on the concrete driveway last November and completely trashed the screen. I had it replaced at a local electronics repair shop in Naperville. I don’t think the replacement was original Apple issue. It worked fine but the screen always seemed a little bit less sharp and it picked up fingerprints more than the original.

Some of the reports I’ve read about problems like mine ended up to be a hardware problem located up near the headphone jack. I can’t tell you how many times I had headphones on and the phone dropped out of my pocket, leaving it dangling while the ‘phones stayed in my ears. (Ouch!) I could have screwed it up there, somehow. Still, there was no evidence of a mic problem in November. It didn’t show up until late January.

Oh, well. I have the new one in a Griffin Survivor case most of the time. I don’t know about the headphone thing. I use the phone a lot when I’m outside doing yard work. I’ve been using some Motorola bluetooth headphones lately. They didn’t work worth a nickel with the iPhone 4, but they work better with the 4S for some reason. Maybe the antenna redesign helped.

On the other hand, my Jabra Cruiser handsfree speaker won’t link with the new phone. It worked fine with the old one. More research required, I guess…

Oh, and my new iPad came yesterday. Apple is just calling it “the new iPad.” No number. That will be confusing. We had “the original iPad,” then the iPad 2. Now…what?

It’s beautiful, though. It has 1 GB of RAM, which is great, considering my old one had 256 MB of RAM and I ran into a lot of crashes because of running out of memory with some apps. I don’t expect that to be a problem – at least for a while!

The new display is gorgeous. The form factor is appreciated. The original iPad wasn’t heavy, but I always feared I would drop it, even when it was in a case. This one seems to be just more comfortable to handle. I don’t know about battery life yet.

More when I’ve played with it a little.


How to write an account of a hospital stay.

March 15, 2012

Mike Flynn, statistician and hard science-fiction author, recently went through having a kidney stone and the resulting infection.  I had a kidney stone last August, but it didn’t turn into anything so bad, thank God.

The difference here is that Mike Flynn is an excellent writer, and he posted a short narrative of his difficulties on his blog. He is a more than excellent writer, actually. His most recent books are difficult to describe – space opera with a decidedly Irish twist – if you can call it that. It’s complicated. Read The January Dancer. It takes a bit of persistence, at first, then it grows on you. His earlier works, especially the Firestar series, are near-future SF and are not difficult to get into at all. Eifelheim is a very odd book. It deals with an alien landing in 14th-century Germany. Yep. That’s what I said. Fourteenth century Germany. Aliens.

Anyway, my hope for a very swift recovery, Mike! I’m glad Old Nick didn’t get you!


”Smash” episode 6 – ”Chemistry”

March 14, 2012

Karen wows 'em at the Bar Mitzvah...

I’ll leave the recap to others, as usual. Here are the thoughts I had on this episode, though. What? Of course I have thoughts!

I’m increasingly unhappy with the Michael/Julia relationship. I don’t see it as authentic, or romantic, or even as something that helps create tension in the plot threads. I just find it…uncomfortable.

According to this show, there is no professional behavior to be found on Broadway: directors sleep with performers, lyricists sleep with performers, the producer is out in some bar with a bunch of kids – see how much respect you get after doing that in reveal life – the composer has his own personal agenda in promoting one performer over another, the “star” just automatically assumes she has enough power to get another performer fired. I could go on. Is there anyone in this bunch in whom an investor should trust? Especially with a couple of million dollars?

The Karen character is beginning to annoy some people in the blogs I happened to read yesterday. The doe-eyed innocent bit is wearing thin with some folks, I think. TV and movie audiences aren’t very patient nowadays. Watch a film or television program from thirty or forty years ago and see how slowly it is paced compared with today, even that action shows. We are used to a sort of ”plot shorthand” from years and years of watching TV and movie plots compressed into anything from forty minutes to two hours.

This collectively-understood shorthand translates into a kind of suspension of disbelief of its own. In a situation comedy we don’t expect characters to change or grow. That’s why ”The Simpsons” has been so successful for so many years. The characters never have to age. As far as we know, it’s still the same year it was when the show started.

In dramas, though, we expect some development of the characters. I like to credit this to J. Michael Straczynski and his groundbreaking story arc concept, Babylon 5. It wasn’t the first show to us an arc – heck, ”The Fugitive” had a sort of one decades before – but the show was sold to the fledgling PTEN network with that intention: 5 years, no more. The story would be told in 5 years. To hell with the generally-understood plan back then that seven years of episodes were needed for successful syndication. (Of course, DVD and Blu-Ray season boxed sets, as well as secondary sources like Netflix, have changed that playing field a great deal in the last decade.)

”Smash” was intended, from what I have read, to become a multi-season show by creating a new musical each season. It won’t take five years to get ”Marilyn” to the stage. However, this interview with creator Theresa Rebeck says otherwise. Also from what I’ve read, this season is 12-15 episodes. I expect the show will be on the stage for the out-of-town tryouts at the end of this season. I may be wrong about that, of course.

So…we expect some development in our cast members. Last week’s episode showed Karen being a bit sneaky and seductive and non-Midwest good girl to get information for Dev at a dinner. This week she’s so babe-in-the-woods that she can’t even figure out that she should ask someone what to do before going out to sing at a bar mitzvah for the first time. I don’t buy the bit that she’s just too preoccupied, waiting to hear if Ivy has lost her star gig. Which is she – street-smart or not?

On the upside, ”History Is Made At Night” may be the best tune in the show so far. It has a great melody, great harmonies, and great lyrics. The arrangement is skillfully done as well. (Get it on iTunes so you can hear the whole thing without the distraction of the action in the show and the dopey looks between Julia and Michael.) I really hope there will be enough of a book put together so that, at the end of the season, there could really be a ”Marilyn” show.

I love Katherine McPhee’s voice, I really do – but I must say that Megan Hilty, as a singer, is doing a damn fine job sounding the way I think Marilyn should sound. Maybe Katherine can do it just as well – I expect we’ll find out, eventually!


The new constitution of the Nation of Hungary, part 1.

March 12, 2012

I recently found out that Hungary enacted a new constitution last year. Apparently it has generated some controversy, inside the country and out. I found the full English text of the constitution at and I’ve started to parse it out. There are some interesting things in it.

I remember reading (in a novel, in fact) about the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. The uprising only lasted a couple of weeks before the Soviet Union put the hammer down, but it remains a special event in Hungarian memory – in fact, the date of the beginning of the uprising, October 23, is still a national holiday. We have our Independence Day, but our revolution was successful. The Hungarian people didn’t stand a chance against the Soviet military machine.

The new constitution takes into account two important facts: first, natives of Hungary are scattered throughout eastern Europe, and the constitution protects them as citizens even if they do not reside within its borders. I’m not talking about someone living in the Czech Republic for a year or two, working or attending a university; I’m talking residents of those countries and their descendants who were not born in Hungary. You see, the historical ethnic people of Hungary are the Magyars, and the current nation of Hungary is not the same borders as those of the mostly-Magyar nation prior to 1920, when the Treaty of Trianon broke several areas off. See this article for more.

This is similar to what happened to the Ottoman Empire, when a young Winston Churchill drew the boundaries for what are now many of the countries of the Middle East, without much regard for who lived where – except, apparently, a few ruling families that were on the right side when World War I ended. In this case, not only history, but geography was written by the victors.

So there are several significant ethnic and religious-based groups living within Hungary’s borders who are not, according to the government, “real Hungarians.” That’s my term. The term in the constitution is “nationalities.” Article XXIX states, in part:

(1) Nationalities living in Hungary shall be constituent parts of the State. Every Hungarian citizen belonging to any nationality shall have the right to freely express and preserve his or her identity. Nationalities living in Hungary shall have the right to use their native languages and to the individual and collective use of names in their own languages, to promote their own cultures, and to be educated in their native languages.

(2) Nationalities living in Hungary shall have the right to establish local and national self-governments.

If this was the US, I think that means (legal) Mexican immigrants can have government schools that teach in Spanish. Back about a hundred years ago, Chicago could have had government-sponsored schools that taught in Polish, and New York in Italian.

However, Article XXIII gives certain voting rights to non-citizens:

1) Every adult Hungarian citizen shall have the right to be a voter as well as a candidate in the elections of Members of Parliament, local representatives and mayors, and of members of the European Parliament.
(2) Every adult citizen of any other member state of the European Union who is a resident of Hungary shall have the right to be a voter as well as a candidate in the elections of local representatives and mayors, and of members of the European Parliament.
(3) Every adult person who is recognised as a refugee, immigrant or resident of Hungary shall have the right to be a voter in the elections of local representatives and mayors.

Yep, a non-citizen immigrant has the right to vote at least in local elections. No citizenship required. (I’m not even going to get into the whole European Union bit. The way things are going for the EU lately, it may not even exist by the time you read this.)

I thought that was interesting.

There are some other zingers. Article XXI prohibits pollutants being brought into the country for the purpose of dumping. Article XX outlaws “genetically modified organisms,” so no genmod seeds for Hungarian farmers.

There are four words or phrases that are of particular interest. One is “have the right,” and there are lots more rights in this document than in our Bill of Rights. Or, at least, they are enumerated in greater detail. There is “Hungary shall strive,” which gives them government an out on things like “providing every person with decent housing and access to public services.” (Article XXII.) My favorite is “shall be obliged,” and I don’t know the legal definition. This is used in places like Article XVI, in, “(4) Adult children shall be obliged to look after their parents if they are in need.” Does this mean Gramma and Grampa have to move in with you? Exactly what obligation do you have, and – I have to ask – what business is it of the government?

Turns out a lot is the business of the government. They may take your land (even though you have a right to ownership of property, Article XIII) but they must pay you for it right away. Article XVII says in part that every employee has the right to “annual paid leave.” What? How much?

Free and compulsory education is only through the primary grades. Secondary education must be “free and generally available.” (Article XI)

Here’s one of the things that has many in the EU getting their panties in a bunch: Article II, right away, states “Every human being shall have the right to life and human dignity; embryonic and foetal life shall be subject to protection from the moment of conception.” Yep. No pro-choice here, folks.

If you were waiting for that cloned liver to save you, don’t go to Budapest. Article III prohibits human cloning.

There’s more. As I said, it’s a very interesting document, and the connections between the State and religions is particularly novel, despite stating in Article VII that e”very person shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”

I’ll get to that in part 2. Stay tuned…


What’s the REAL unemployment rate? It’s scary.

March 11, 2012

I heard Rush Limbaugh – yes, that eeeeevil Rush Limbaugh – mention a piece by James Pethokoukis in The American that lays out what the real unemployment rate is – not 8.3, but closer to 9.5-10.4, depending on who is counted in it. Rather than going through all of that right here, just go read it. You may also want to read some of the comments. Usually, comments on a piece like this might be funny, but are usually wrongheaded and often just stupid. There are actually some very insightful comments following this post, and some even present their data or sources.


What can be done about gasoline prices? Turns out, a lot.

March 11, 2012

This article by John Merline in Investor Business Daily outlines a number of ways the price of gasoline, or at least the rapid climb in the price we’ve seen recently, could be reduced.

Some of the price increase is caused by the loss of several refineries. But most of the increases in price are due to Federal government taxes, regulations, and fines. Read the article for the full list.

My favorite: recently, according to the article, “Congress left in place a 2007 law requiring increasing amounts of ethanol (including so-called advanced biofuels) in gasoline, rising to 36 billion gallons by 2022.”

The article continues: “In any case, the law has cost refiners almost $7 million in fines this year after they failed to add 6.6 million gallons of “advanced biofuels” as required. The problem is these advanced biofuels don’t exist commercially, and nobody’s sure when they will, which means even bigger industry fines going forward as the mandated use increases.” (Italics are mine.)

I don’t use this term usually, but WTF? The Federal government is collecting fines from refiners because the advanced biofuels it has mandated don’t even exist? Am I crazy, or is this completely insane?

I’m very afraid that we as a nation are sitting at home, watching basketball on our big flat-screen TVs, while the folks in Congress run completely amuck. What has caused us to feel so disenfranchised that we do not hold these people accountable for their actions?

I suppose that is for another post, isn’t it? I’d be interested in any answers you folks out there have for my question. Come on, you have the time…at over four bucks a gallon for gas, you sure as hell ain’t goin’ anywhere!


Oh. My. God. Time-lapse video of the earth from the ISS

March 9, 2012

You need to go to see this YouTube video of the earth as seen from the ISS. It is absolutely incredible. The mix and background music make it even better. And the green in the image above is the aurora borealis seen from above. I would so love to see this.


“Progressive” radio talk show host mocks tornado victims

March 9, 2012

So there is a “progressive” talk show host named Mike Malloy who has a long history of saying incredibly insensitive things. On March 2 he went on a rant about the people who were victims of the recent rash of tornadoes. Among his comments:

“Their God … keeps smashing them into little grease spots on the pavement in  Alabama, and Mississippi, and Arkansas, and Georgia, and Oklahoma. You know, the Bible belt, where they ain’t gonna let no goddamned science get in the way, it says in the Bible, blah blah blah blah blah. So, according to their way of thinking, God with his omnipotent thumb reaches down here and so far tonight has smashed about 20 people into a grease spot on highway 12, or whatever the hell highway they live next to.”

He has since apologized on his web site. Okay, so he apologized. He has a history of bizarre and hateful on-air statements.

Should we all send letters to his sponsors telling them to drop him because of his speech? That’s what’s been going on with Rush Limbaugh.

I’ve already said I believe Rush got carried away and went too far. He was trying to make a point but it got out of hand. Of course the “mainstream” media has gleefully reported that many sponsors have dropped his show. According to Rush, some have, but in most cases they were local sponsors buying time on the commercial segments reserved for local advertising during his show – not the national sponsors.

Rush can be over the top. He also can be insightful. Sometimes I agree with him, sometimes not – but he has always made me think. The stuff this Malloy guy said would just make me very angry. Apparently he used to be on WLS-AM, which is, ironically, where Rush is broadcast in the Chicago market. I dimly recall the name but I don’t recall hearing him.

Rush was trying to make a point about how the Administration is usurping our freedoms in yet another way. He didn’t succeed because of the direction he took the discussion and the resulting focus on the wrong things. What Malloy said can’t be justified in any way I can see.

But he’s OK, of course. I haven’t heard that the President called the tornado victims to make sure they didn’t feel bad because of Malloy’s comments. But he was very concerned about Ms. Fluke.

As is often the case, Jerry Pournelle presents a logical discussion about the issues of contraception, the Catholic Church, and freedom.

Heinlein was right, but the “Crazy Years” have been going on too long…