Thursday, March 24, 2011


As an antidote to that last post, there's this:

Autumn Dawn is a relative of someone we knew back in Michigan. Amazing stuff.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Hits Just Keep Comin'

Our most recent war seems to be going poorly.
Hamas is back to its old tricks, blowing up buses and lobbing rockets into cities.

Syria is killing protestors. (Will our Tomahawks fly into Tishreen Palace?)
Oil is up.
Gold and silver are up near record territory.
New home sales are at record lows.
Food prices are up.

But, hey! Stocks are up!

Elizabeth Taylor, RIP

Elizabeth Taylor died early today.

When I was growing up, we got a local UHF channel out of Detroit on our cable service (which then was just an antenna service). There was a show during week-day afternoons that played old movies with breaks for viewers to call in questions for the host. It was hosted by a guy who, to me, was old as dirt, which means he was probably in his forties or fifties. We didn't go to theaters, and other than Saturday morning Godzilla movies, there were very few movies shown on TV, so this show was about my only exposure to film.  (For you youngin's, there was no such thing as VCR's or DVD's or HBO. And get off my lawn!!) I saw Lassie Come Home, National Velvet and Cleopatra on that show (along with everything Shirley Temple ever starred in). In my mind, those will always represent what a movie is supposed to be, and Elizabeth Taylor is what a movie star is supposed to be.

Monday, March 21, 2011


Still not a lot going on at work other than getting bored silly reading stuff on the internet. I did manage to do one whole return this morning. I feel all tingly. So while Debbie is cranking out work like crazy, I'm wasting my time. Well, I still get paid so maybe "wasted" isn't the right word. It's just that I spend 99.9% of my time here reading blogs and e-mail, and posting stuff here when I feel the need.

Japan. I haven't said much over the last week-plus about what's going on over there mostly because there really isn't that much new information. The best source of information on the mess with the nuclear reactors is a series of interviews with a retired nuclear engineer. There is a great deal we just don't know; partly because it's an on-going event in an area completely destroyed by the earthquake/tsunami. It's not like someone at the power plant can pick up a phone and do an interview with CNN. Everything is smashed. The other problem is a lack of transparency from the power company in charge of the plant, which may be in part because everything is smashed. What is clear is that this is not some minor problem that will be fixed in a few hours or even days. However, there is also no reason to panic.

What probably disturbs me more than anything is the media focus on the power plant. Yes it is serious. Potentially very serious to those in the immediate area. But so is 18,000 dead and hundreds of thousands homeless. So are shortages of water and food. And burning refineries. And destroyed ports in a nation that imports 95% of its energy. And for the gods sakes, if you are going to make a living focusing on the nuclear plants, educate yourself! Learn what "critical" means in the context of a nuclear plant. Learn the difference between radiation and fallout. Quit screaming "meltdown" at every wisp of steam. Quit screwing up the units.

And it seems that while I went away for a couple days, our Nobel Peace Prize-winning president has started a third war. Without a declaration from Congress, of course, but we all know that's just some outdated idea from a bunch of dead white guys. One hundred-plus Tomahawk missiles were launch into Libya, including two that punched holes in the roof of the equivalent of the White House here in the United States. I seriously doubt that was necessary in order to enforce a no-fly zone in rebel-held areas. I have no doubt that the world would be a better place with one less bat-shit crazy dude in a fake military uniform, but I would love to see what document is being used as authority for the US to assassinate the head of a sovereign nation. Other than the We're Bigger Than You And We Can doctrine that seems to inform all US foreign policy for the last few decades.

Another country for us to occupy for all time without accomplishing anything. How many times do we have to get our collective nose cut off before we learn to quit sticking it in other people's business?

And after a few days of reality, the stock markets are back in the gentle fairyland of rainbow farting unicorns. We can all have a nice warm cup of cocoa now and go back to sleep. Don't pay attention to those spiking commodity prices and rising prices in the store. They can't hurt you.

And I still have 3 1/2 hours to kill. What else can I ramble on about?

It looks like NASA is making one more last ditch effort to contact the Spirit Mars rover, then officially calling it quits. Meanwhile, the Opportunity rover is still chuggin' along. These are definitely two of the crown jewels of NASA. Along with Cassini, which has sent back thousands of images that are beyond words:

As someone who grew up on grainy TV images from the moon, this stuff is amazing.

And I did another return! Woo hoo! Two in one day! And only two more hours to kill.

When is green energy not green? When it is wind power:

...Britain flaunts its environmental credentials by speckling its coastlines and unspoiled moors and mountains with thousands of wind turbines, it is contributing to a vast man-made lake of poison in northern China. This is the deadly and sinister side of the massively profitable rare-earths industry that the ‘green’ companies profiting from the demand for wind turbines would prefer you knew nothing about.

Every way of generating electricity has costs. We're seeing the costs of nuclear playing out in Japan. Wind farms kill birds, create toxic goo during their manufacture, and don't work as advertised. PV panels take 20 years to generate the power needed to build them. Coal miners die in mine cave-ins, mountain-top removal is an environmental nightmare, and living 50 miles from a coal-fired electrical plant will expose you to three times the annual radiation as living 50 miles from a nuke plant. Natural gas plants explode and fraking contaminates drinking water. Nothing is free from risk. If you really care about the environment, quit using so damned much energy! Depending on what numbers you look at, Europeans use between a third to half the energy Americans do and live approximately the same (and some argue better) lifestyle. It's not impossible to drastically reduce energy consumption; we simply choose to not think about it expecting technology to save the day once again.

Well, it's getting close to time for me to scoot out of this place, so I'll stop rambling.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Diet Coke Wins Battle in Cola Wars

U.S. sales of Diet Coke overtook those of Pepsi-Cola for the first time in 2010, making the diet soda the No. 2 carbonated soft drink in the country behind Coca-Cola, industry data are expected to confirm Thursday.

Occupying the top two rankings would mark a historic win for Coca-Cola Co. in its decades-old rivalry with PepsiCo Inc.

Yeah Coca-Cola rules!

Short Road Trip

This afternoon after Ric gets out of work -- we are on our way to Bonita Springs Florida. First time we are going in that direction. Ric's Aunt/Uncle live over there and we are having a small get together with them, his parents and a couple other cousins that are down in Florida.

Next weekend we both have off Saturday -- so may head to Disney World; head in a new direction for someplace to visit; or visit with Don and Shirley one more weekend before they head back up to Michigan.

I made #1 again last pay period at the office with my best cabin count so far (67). This pay period I know I did just over 50, but my insurance policies were really good. Usually when I hit bonus, I just get 16 (minimum for bonus), 17 or 18. This pay period I think I did 25. Should make for a nice bonus.

Friday, March 11, 2011

...And Stocks Go Up

Nothing seems to be able to stop the US stock market's upward trend. Not civil war in Libya, not governments toppling in Egypt and Tunisia, not $100 oil, not three years of declining home prices, not 15% real unemployment, not even and 8.9 mag earthquake in the world's third-largest economy. (More here, and video here and here.)

Remember: Markets are rational.

So, a woman walks into a courthouse with a monkey in her bra. No, that's not the start of a bad joke. A woman walked into a courthouse with a monkey in her bra. The best part, as usual, is at the very bottom of the article:

Asked who let the monkey through the metal detector, deputies quipped: “It wasn’t armed.”

And this guy makes more money than you do.

Have a nice day.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

TED Talks

Hulu recently put up a batch of fifty or so TED talks covering every subject you can imagine. If you can tear yourself away from the Charlie Sheen Self-Destruction Reality Show for a few hours, these are certainly worth the time. A few of my favorites:

Sam Harris: Science Can Answer Moral Questions

Simon Sinek: How Great Leaders Inspire Action

Andora Suitak: What Adults Can Learn from Kids

Sir Ken Robinson: Schools Kill Creativity & Bring on the Learning Revolution

Good stuff. Enjoy.

Saturday, March 05, 2011


Unless a miracle happens -- it looks like Bob Seger won't be coming to Florida. The closest he will be is in Atlanta GA, but during the week. It also looks like he will be closing up the tour in mid May. So I doubt he will still be touring Michigan area the first week of June when I'll be back.

Bummer, bummer, bummer. SOMEBODY make sure to go see his concert and call me on your cell phone so I can hear part of the concert!

Today Ric is going to work 1/2 day then we are on our way over to see his parents for the rest of the weekend. They are going to be heading back to Michigan beginning the end of March. They will probably go home to snow still, but they must be back by Grandpa's birthday on April 8th. Between my schedule and Ric's for tax season we didn't get over to see them much this time. Maybe next "winter season"......

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

We're Saved!! (or not)

(And yes, I'm blogging from work which should tell you everything you need to know about how busy it is so far this week.)

A Massachusetts company claims it can make diesel fuel directly from a genetically-engineered cyanobacterium:

Joule Unlimited has invented a genetically-engineered organism that it says simply secretes diesel fuel or ethanol wherever it finds sunlight, water and carbon dioxide.

...Joule claims, for instance, that its cyanobacterium can produce 15,000 gallons of diesel full per acre annually, over four times more than the most efficient algal process for making fuel. And they say they can do it at $30 a barrel.

And when anyone questions the genius behind these, um, extravagant claims, to be polite about it?

Sims said he knows "there's always skeptics for breakthrough technologies."

"And they can ride home on their horse and use their abacus to calculate their checkbook balance," he said.

Yes, being a horse's ass is the hallmark of breakthrough science. So lets blow the dust off our abacus and do the math that Sims isn't capable of.

Fuel consumption for over-the-road travel (buses, trucks and automobiles) is around 174,930,000,000 gallons per year as of 2006. That was certainly kicked down by the current recession, but we all know the economy is going to bounce back any day now, which makes it good enough for our back-of-the-envelope abacus work. At 15,000 gallons per acre, that's 11,662,000 acres of algae. Double that for tankage, plumbing, maintenance roads, processing facilities, and everything else that you would need to make this work and we're up to 23,324,000 acres or 36,444 square miles. That's more-or-less the state of Indiana, if you're interested. Or 30% of the state of New Mexico is more likely because solar insolation is greater there.

Speaking of insolation, the sunniest place in North America (El Paso, TX) receives a maximum of 7.42 KWH/sq meter/day or 2,708 KWH/sq meter/year. 15,000 gallons of diesel per acre comes to 3.71 gallons of diesel per sq meter. At 40.7 KWH/gallon for diesel fuel, that means a net harvest of 151 KWH/sq meter or 5.6% of the maximum available sunlight. That doesn't sound too bad until you consider that a) that's using the maximum sunlight at the spot in North America with the maximum solar insolation, and b) photosynthesis is only between 3% and 6% efficient in naturally-occurring plants. We are supposed to believe that this genetically-engineered cyanobacteria can support itself and reproduce, and still be able to convert 5.6% of the maximum available sunlight into pure diesel fuel? I don't need to step in it to know bullshit when I see it.

Another problem: the fragility of engineered organisms. In spite of the media hype about Killer Korn from Outer Space (well, OK; Monsanto, which to media douche nozzles is about same thing), most engineered organisms must be carefully protected in a lab to survive. What happens to this Wonder Bacterium when real cyanobacteria start growing in the tanks? At the very least, it's going to kick that 15,000-gallons-per-acre production right where it hurts.

And another problem: What happens to that 15,000 gallons of diesel per acre when an entire ecosystem takes over the tanks? At the scale we're talking about here, there is absolutely no way to prevent that. There are plenty of microorganisms that would love to munch on those long-chain hydrocarbons we are trying to produced. Not to mention an entire biology textbook worth of organisms that would love to munch on our precious cyanobacterium (and each other, and still others that munch them and so on and so forth). Nature has a nasty habit of mopping up spare energy left lying about; ask a backyard gardener about the endless parade of critters from the microscopic to bears that constantly assault their veggies.

Looming over all of this: Net energy. How much energy is it going to take to build out and maintain the infrastructure for 35,000+ square miles of tanks and plumbing? How much energy to pump all that liquid around? How much energy to extract the diesel and get it into usable form? In other words, could you run the entire operation on the diesel fuel being produced and have any left over to sell?

I wish the scientists at Joule Unlimited all the luck in the world. It would be nice if this would work, even at triple the projected cost. But I'm keeping my horse and my abacus. Just in case.