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davew's picture

Introspection

Is it really narcissism if I truly am the most special person in the word?

davew's picture

Mnemonic

The next time you have to remember something to take to or do before work in the morning I have the perfect mnemonic. Turn your bicycle seat 90 degrees. That way either you remember or you will have a really uncomfortable ride.

davew's picture

Are All Police Departments This Gullible?

LOS ANGELES - Lindsay Lohan has checked out of a Malibu rehab center after a stay of more than six weeks and will wear an alcohol-monitoring ankle bracelet.

An alcohol-monitoring bracelet? I've never heard of this before. How could it work? I found the website for the makers of the Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor (SCRAM). The principle is sound enough. It runs whatever is wafting off your skin through a fuel cell. Essentially your sweat is burned to see how much energy it produces. Things like water and salt don't burn well so they produce a low signal. If you imbibe, however, you will sweat some ethanol which will burn quite nicely. Several questions jump instantly to mind. Can it tell the difference between different kinds of alcohol? No. Can it tell the difference between alcohol and other things that burn nicely? No. Can foods you eat throw it off? Oh, yeah. Can it tell the difference between things coming off your skin and things in the room? No. So what if I refuel my gas mower while wearing it? The device will light up like a Christmas tree, and you'll get busted for violating parole.

Police departments across the nation are investing millions in these gizmos so surely they had excellent proof that these devices were reliable enough to stand up in court. Right? Perhaps something like a series of independent studies all attesting to the reliability and accuracy of the SCRAM. Well, no. There is exactly one study and it was funded and published by the manufacturer. If you are the sort of person to take a manufacturer's claims without corroboration, then you are probably the sort of person who thinks that food supplements contain the ingredients they claim to and get the results they claim to. (Quick aside. Do you know where the raw ingredients for most food supplements come from? That's right. Enjoy your plasticizers and antifreeze boys and girls.)

I am all for keeping drunks off the roads and light-weight criminals like Lindsay Lohan out of government-run hotels, but this SCRAM thing has boondoggle written all over it. The first time someone gets busted because of this device and their lawyer gets them off the entire SCRAM collection will turn into really expensive, really ugly, tennis jewelry. I feel... tremendous envy. Why do I never have ideas like this? I always get stuck at the "build something that works" stage. If you leave out the "works" part the whole get rich quick thing is loads easier. I wonder if I can find a police department gullible enough buy something from me even if I don't believe in it.

davew's picture

Wild Feedback

About two years ago I bought a game called The Journey to Wild Divine, and have been playing it on and off ever since. I cannot claim to have gotten very far, but then again it is not the sort of game where progress is easily measured. I bought the graphical interface, too, which is a simple graph of the raw data from the biofeedback device. It does provide an easy way to measure progress at least for more basic things. For example, with a bit of concentration and not too much coffee, I can get my pulse from resting, about 53 bpm, to 75 bpm, and back down over the space of a 15 seconds. I can't do sin-waves yet, but I can do the shark-fin drawing below.

Do try this at home. It is way cool!

One interesting thing I didn't notice until I was putting together this jpg is the slight dip past resting and subsequent recovery as the rate is coming back to normal. It appears as though my brain is saying, "Calmer, calmer, calmer, oops too calm, take it back up." Does this have any practical use? Sure. It is a sign that the meditation exercises in the game are working. Also, if I can achieve total relaxation in front of a computer I should have a long and happy career... until I nod off, of course.

davew's picture

Happy 4th!

Ah, the fourth of July. A day of soaring patriotism for all Americans. We celebrate the valor and privation of our ancestors by blowing the ever loving crap of small, inanimate objects and consuming mass quantities. I celebrated in a manner that is typical for me... sneaking into work for a little quality time while most everyone else was otherwise occupied. Fortunately my labors left a few moments to surf on over to the local paper wherein I found a cute little 4th of July quiz. I can say with all due pride I aced it. I can say with no small chagrin that the only reason I aced it was multiple viewings of one of the best musicals ever made, 1776. My love for this film has firmly cemented the basic facts of our revolutionary war in my brain with a dash of Hollywood spin. For example I am certain who wrote the Declaration of Independence, but I'm not sure if he was a basketball coach, a lawyer, or and ex-cop. Feel free to try it yourself. I'll post the answers in the comments in a couple of days. (For extra credit you can name the three TV series alluded to above.)

1. Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?
A. John Hancock
B. Calvin Coolidge
C. Thomas Jefferson

2. On what date did the American colonies declare their independence from Great Britain?
A. July 2, 1776
B. July 4, 1776
C. July 4, 1777

3. Which phrase is not in the Declaration of Independence?
A. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ...
B. We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union ...
C. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

4. How long had the Revolutionary War been fought before the Declaration of Independence was signed?
A. Three years
B. One year
C. The Revolutionary War did not start until the Declaration was signed.

Ellen's picture

Eva the Cat: Half Groucho, Half Marilyn

Eva passed away on Friday evening. It was peaceful and both
Dave and I were there to be with her during this time.
Our favorite vet, Katie Reece, was on hand, too, which made it more
peaceful.

Eva was 19 and lived a very full life. I had her from the
time she was 8 weeks old. I picked her out of a roomful of
unwanted kittens in 1988 partially because of her stunning
looks. Some friends nicknamed her "Cow" because of
her black and white jersey coat. She was my favorite cat to
photograph because of her black and white marks. Her face was
split between black and white patches. She had a white jaw but a
Groucho Marx black moustache and a little Marilyn Monroe mole above her
mouth. She was a very vocal cat. She used to
follow me around the house talking very loudly until I paid attention to
her. She even joined me in vocalizations when I practiced
voice. I decided she was singing with me rather than trying
to drown me out.

She slept with me every night of her life. At first, she
stayed with me all night long. Then as an adult, she spent
part of the night in her heated kitty bed. In her last few
months, though, she returned to spending the whole night with me,
sometimes sleeping half on my pillow, half on my head.

Eva was a very jumpy kitty who was very shy around strangers for the
first 10 years of her life. She even gave Dave a wide birth
until about 7 years ago when he became her best bud, providing her laps
and really good hip rubs that would send her rolling back and forth on
the carpet in ecstasy. As she got older she got more
demanding. She never did understand when another cat got
attention.

After we moved to Colorado, she liked to lay outside on the back patio on
warm days and soak up the sun. In her last weeks, she enjoyed
moving back and forth between sun and shade in the back yard as she got
too warm or too cold.

Both Dave and I will miss her very much. She was my
Ev-wava. A Momma's girl.

davew's picture

The Most Ignorant Statement of the Week

Last week I heard a report on a new museum dedicated to creationism. An unnamed interviewee proclaimed excitedly, “People say that the bible is not scientific truth, but it really is!” Please bear in mind I said ignorant which means, in its most common sense, uninformed. I did not say stupid or moronic which implies some sort of mental malfunction. This young lady speaking could merely be the unfortunate victim of a bad public school, or a bad home school, or maybe she was just sick a lot.

The statement is profound because it is such a multifaceted display of ignorance. First off science, outside of mathematics and logic, does not concern itself with truth. Even mathematicians and logicians only discuss truth relative to an axiom like 1 + 1 = 2. Their starting points generally fall far short of the grandiosity of “assume God”. The vast majority of science is a process. Truth is an end. Once science reaches a truth that avenue of exploration is over. Or at least I assume it is. I cannot name an instance in which is has happened. We thought we had gravity solved a few times and yet every so often some hotshot comes along and changes what we thought we knew. Conversely, the bible is not tolerant of being proved false. A scientific theory cannot be considered scientific at all unless there is a way to show it false. This is why “things fall” is science where as “George Bush consults an invisible pink unicorn for military advice” is not, although I suspect that both are true anyway. It is hard to picture the pope getting up and saying that Mathew got it wrong so were going to replace his part with the Gospel of Bubba. The only way you can change the bible at all is to come up with a new religion, but even then the splitters just tack on a few new chapters. They don’t rewrite the bible so much as just ignore the bits they find inconvenient and emphasize the new bits.

The reason I find this worth writing about, other than the spectacularly ignorant nature of the remark, is this sort of ignorance can be contagious. It spreads most easily to children, but if a critical mass builds up it can infect a whole community. Implicit in the statement is that helping someone memorize the bible is an acceptable substitute for teaching them science. Rote learning has its place like spelling, grammar, and arithmetic, but society only advances when people learn how to solve new problems. The bible doesn’t help with this. Science does.

davew's picture

Bye, Bye, Albert

As Alberto Gonzales ponders when to feel a sudden need to spend more time with his family I am reminded of a truism. You might be thinking, "It's not the crime, it's the cover up." While that is certainly apropos in this case, it is not what I was thinking of. Something more along the lines of, "Scoundrels don't always go down for their worst crimes, but they always go down." It's not pithy enough, but you get the point. Like Al Capone and income tax fraud, or any number of government nominees and their undocumented nannies. What Albert is being filleted for is for lying about firing prosecutors who weren't Loyal Bushies. What is a Loyal Bushie? Someone who sticks to the top priorities of Bush administration. And what priorities did these eight unfortunate lawyers fail to prosecute vigorously enough? Perhaps you can come up with an answer. Think up five major problems afflicting this country that the Justice Department can help with. I'll wait. Done? Were "indecency" and "voter fraud" on your list? Mine neither. Unless millions of undocumented aliens are swarming into this country with child porn or Al Qaeda voted down the World Trade Center I have a real disagreement with this list. Sadly, while slimy, setting stupid priorities and turning the Justice Department into the legal arm of the GOP are not illegal. Lying about it is, and that's why Al is going down. But that's not why he deserves to.

We also learned last week that Alberto Gonzales and Andy Card made a midnight foray to the intensive care unit to try to get John Ashcroft to legalize illegal wire taps before he died. While disgusting and morally bankrupt, this too is not illegal. It might assist Al on his way out, but again this is not why he deserves to. This sort of behavior will only get you condemned to spend eternity slurping dog poop smoothies.

Why Mr Gonzales richly deserves the boot is the torture memo and his vigorous defense of Guantanamo. I do not believe in evil, but if I did these two actions would certainly qualify. At the same our country is theoretically spreading what it claims to be freedom and democracy throughout the world we are embracing the worst habits of our worst enemies. Not only is torturing people and imprisoning them without charge immoral, illegal, and a gross violation of human rights, it is also remarkably ineffective. Guantanamo has been going for five years now, and the only thing it has succeeded in doing is worsening the human rights record of Cuba. (How is that for irony?) In those five years how many people have been convicted? It's an easy number to remember. Zero. How many have confessed? One. He got nine months and a trip home. Must have been a real bad-ass. So given that those men are "the worst of the worst" and we only have to rise above the meager threshold of a secret kangaroo court, we still cannot manage to bring any of them to justice. So for the myriad reasons to close this prison immediately, and there are more, how about the fact that it just plain doesn't accomplish anything?

As the other half of America wises up to what a mistake the Iraq war was from the beginning, I'd like to think the same could be said for Guantanamo. I have reason to be pessimistic, though. None of the major presidential candidates has come out against it. And Mitt Romney, demonstrating once again the belief that the right to life begins at conception and ends at birth, suggested doubling the size of Guantanamo. I wonder what in the teachings of either Jesus or Joseph Smith he finds to defend this position.

Anyway, so long Albert. I for one won't miss you. America will spend decades undoing the damage you have helped do to our country. When Ashcroft quit I thought it would be impossible for Bush to find someone worse. God help us if I am wrong again.

davew's picture

Dumbest Ad of the Month

I saw this gem in "The Week" magazine, and it serves me right for pausing to read an advertisement. The ad is for the Ford Fusion all wheel drive and they were citing the results of a study done by Car and Driver. What caught my eye was where they tested this highly capable, all-weather monster. How about you guess. Was it A) Helsinki Finland, B) Duluth Minnesota, C) Vancouver, Canada, or D) Los Angeles? Yup. La La land where the need for an all wheel drive car is about as dire as a monastery's need for tampons.

The criteria that Ford chose to trumpet is slight edge over Honda were Attractive, Fun to Drive, Performs Well, and Handling. I can only guess there there wasn't print space for Glove Box Size, Cup Holders, and Name Starts with 'F'. Better still, and even more deserving of mockery, you can find the study on the web and Ford didn't win the overall. Honda did. Ford's write up doesn't even mention the Hyundai which was also part of the competition. Maybe the lost-cost Hyundai is starting to eat into Ford's sales. I also can't help but notice that Ford does not mention anything about being made in the USA. There is a simple reason for this. It is the only car in the bunch that isn't.

davew's picture

A Big Lie

Do you remember the four food groups? I sure do. They were drilled into us with posters, film strips, and handouts. By the age of 6 I could quote the whole package verbatim. By the age of 36 I had learned that the whole idea had been cooked up by lobbyists. The more powerful your lobby, the more "recommended servings" per day. I guess in retrospect I'm only surprised that there wasn't a tobacco group. I'm sure glad someone else spilled the beans on this scam because I doubt I would have ever come to this conclusion on my own. The lie was close enough to the truth to escape easy detection, and ubiquitous enough to be above questioning.

Over the last few years I have tweaked to another big lie: mortgages are good. This lie like the other one is close enough to the truth to seem plausible, and drilled into us since childhood. Mortgages are not good. They are evil. I'll grant you they are a necessary evil, but purely the work of the devil. Like head lice, once you acquire one you should endeavor to get rid of it as soon as possible. Bear in mind I said necessary evil. The house I am sitting in right now was financed with a mortgage. The biggest part of the lie is that once you acquire one of these financial parasites you should endeavor to hold onto it as long as possible. I have a strong feeling that this nugget of wisdom comes straight from the companies who lend you the money.

Now you might be wondering if I have forgotten about that lovely tax break you get. I have not. You might think, as I once did, that the government in its beneficence decided to make owning a house easier for you. Think harder though. The government could have subsidized home purchases directly, or the cost of building materials, or even given money directly to the states so your state won't charge you property tax. But they didn't. So ask yourself, is this more of a perk for you or for the lending industry? Even at that this the tax break doesn't make houses any more affordable, and I can't help but think the lawmakers knew this. Houses are priced at the level people can afford. If a tax break comes along that makes houses more affordable prices will rise. And they do. You need look no further than the inverse relationship between interest rates and housing prices to know this is true.

Suppose you buy my theory that this is yet another form of corporate welfare. Who cares if it saves me money on my taxes? I admit that this is a nice tax break, but it saves you less than you really think. At one time I paid $12,000 in mortgage interest. So I deducted that from my income and theoretically saved (assuming a 30% tax rate) $4,000 . Right? Wrong. My total itemized deductions were $15,000, but my standard deduction was $10,000. Without owning a house or sending a nickel to charity I still get to write off $10,000. So in reality I only got to write off 1/3 of the interest. If you do the math that $12,000 expense netted me an extra $1,333 in tax savings. I'd take it rather than not, but it's not the great deal that most people would have you believe. I'd rather be the guy I was paying the $12,000 to.

What really gets my motor misfiring is the financial experts who try to convince you that your mortgage is the last place you should park extra money. "Buy stocks or buy a vacation property or invest in a small business. That crappy guaranteed 7% you get by paying ahead on your mortgage just isn't worth it. Besides you'll miss the lovely tax break." Ahem. I have been invested in many mutual funds of various types. Some for as long as 25 years. The best has returned 16.8% and the worst 2.6% with an average of a little over 8%. This, according to the people who I trust, is about what you can expect from the stock market. Suddenly 7% guaranteed doesn't seem so bad. If you honestly believe you can do better. I'll invest with you. Pay me 1/2 point less than your mortgage rate, guaranteed, and you can have all of my investment money for the next year. Really. Of course you'll have to put your house up as collateral. Still don't believe me? There are a bunch of highly educated financial professionals who believe that loaning you money at 7%, or whatever the current interest rate is, is a fine business. A trillion dollar business in fact. If investing better elsewhere were such a slam-dunk, why wouldn't these people be doing that?

I know that "extra money" is a concept that seems alien to most Americans. I'll admit that other high-interest loans, children's education, and the like, are all better places to put money. Sooner or later though most people do wind up with a little extra scratch. Jane Bryant Quinn's advice was to pay yourself first. Take what you can afford, be it $20 or $2000 and automatically stick it some place at the beginning of every month. For people who never seem to have $100 left over at the end of the month, it's surprising how little they miss it when it goes away at the beginning. If you do this, and I strongly recommend you do, consider putting some of it into that evil mortgage. Think of it as one of the few ways we have of sticking it to the lobbyists.

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