Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Just to finish my mis-handling of the word "liberal", we have this quote from Seneca:

"You want to know my attitude towards liberal studies. Well, I have no respect for any study whatsoever if its end is the making of money. Such studies are to me unworthy ones. They involve the putting out of skills to hire, and are only of value in so far as they may develop the mind without occupying it for long. Time should be spent on them only so long as one's mental abilities are not up to dealing with higher things. They are our apprenticeship, not our real work. Why 'liberal studies' are so called is obvious: it is because they are the ones considered worthy of a free man (a 'liber' in latin). But there is really only one liberal study that deserves the name - because it makes a person free - and that is the pursuit of wisdom ..." - Letters From A Stoic, LXXXVIII

Ouch. As an engineer, the primary purpose of study to me seems to be for developing skills to make a living. I guess that means my mental abilities aren't up to doing "higher things", whatever they might happen to be. Of course the pursuit of "wisdom" is certainly honorable, but where can you find liberal studies that result in wisdom? Even Paul Simon lamented about all the "crap I learned in high school". In college, it just gets worse.
Pondering the origin of the word Liberal ...

"So they then applied the name of the deity itself to what that deity had brought forth. This is why we call corn Ceres, and wine Liber, as in the tag of Terence: 'Ceres and Liber, if not there, The heat of Venus do impair'." - From "The Nature of the Gods", by Cicero, Book 2.60

Certainly 'liberal' derives from the latin word 'liber'. I had known 'liber' meant book and so liberal studies seemed to be just the study of books. This was mentioned in Seneca, but I don't have the time to track the exact reference at the moment. But then there is the word 'liber' for wine, implying that a 'liberal' would perhaps be a drunk. I am sure many conservatives would find this definition more compelling, or perhaps a combination as "a liberal is a drunk who studies books". Maybe I will discover the origin of the word conservative if I keep on reading.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

MIT researcher makes a key breakthrough in fluids research, but we aren't going to tell you the formula! Grrrrr!
California health care changes.

There are a few changes that look worthy, but as always, I have to wonder about unintended consequences. The one that looks the most contentious is when an insurer retroactively cancels an insurance policy. In the example cited, someone who came down with cancer was denied coverage for not reporting a knee industry. That certainly is abuse. On the other hand, setting the standards higher may effectively deny the insurance industry any right to manage risk, with the consequences of higher costs to everyone else.

The real issue remains government constraints on the supply side: Insufficient numbers of doctors and nurses being trained, excessive litigation and regulation, and general interference in the market that precludes America from providing sufficient health care. Politicians have yet to begin discussing the issue.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Are you Green?

According to the article, the reason California environmentalists conserve is so that they can justify a business class trip to Les Trois Vallées, hang out at a 4-star hotel for a week or two, and do some skiing between jacuzzi visits, massages, gourmet meals made from imported delicacies, ... Tempting? Almost makes me want to be green too.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bill Clinton endorses Sarah Palin.

"I get why she is hot ..."

Some guys just don't know when to keep their mouth shut.
Prejudice and Obama?

These articles keep showing up here and there: Although voters may cite their preference for a black candidate, when the day comes for them to go to the polls, they tend to stay home, which they wouldn't do if the candidate were white. Since blacks usually run as Democrats, this phenomenon is primarily one that effects Democrat and independent voters - the ones who are officially the most multi-ethnic in their outlook!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Unemployment in Silicon Valley.

For reference, the US unemployment rate overall is at 6.1%, which is quite low by international standards. Some parts of the US will do better and some worse than the average. California as a whole is about 12% of the US population, but runs an average unemployment rate of 7.7%. Ouch. The only other large state with a higher rate is Michigan at 8.9%. According to the above article, Silicon Valley's unemployment rate stands at 6.6%, although we are generally one of the most productive areas of California.
Remembering an earlier monetary crisis.

The crisis in mind being the Savings & Loan crisis of the 1980's and the Resolution Trust Corporation which was created by the government to clean up the mess. Given that Reagan was in office, he was largely blamed with the S&L crisis, although the cause and effect was largely missing. Since the earlier era of Carter is something I do remember, there was something that did have a huge effect on the banking industry.

During the 1960's, interest rates were low and most people bought houses on 30 year loans at about 5% to 6%. When Carter went into office, he used a popular economic theory that by raising inflation rates artificially, unemployment could be lowered. Inflation was deliberately raised by several points with the goal of reducing unemployment, but the results were nasty all around: Unemployment went up and we had a period of "stagflation", making Carter a one term president and bringing Reagan in. What never was discussed, however, is the profitability on a 30 year house loan at 6% interest when the inflation rate is above 10%. The artificially induced inflation accomplished a massive transfer of wealth from the banks to those who were holding loans on real estate. The cash flow situation at the S&L's turned negative under Carter, but their balance books didn't go to zero until Reagan was in office. That is the cause and effect chain.

The main reason for that history is that the current banking crisis - like the previous - needs to be looked at as a product of cause and effect over a longer term, and the cause and effect sequence should make some sense. The last time I got a house loan, we were concerned about issues of "conforming loans", with this market being established by the government quasi-companies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The housing loan industry is driven by Fannie and Freddie's rules, and they are run by political appointees with agendas, while also lobbying congress like Enron did. As with the earlier S&L crisis, the government very much has its fingers directly in the pie, but it isn't in the way that the populist election rhetoric describes.

Update: Another article on this subject.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Somehow I got my bicycle up to Saratoga Gap on the way to Santa Cruz yesterday. This is where the redwoods really get thick. The church had a prayer meeting at the "Fasting and Prayer Mountain of the World", which is in Scott's Valley. From here, all I need to do is cover the 21 miles to Felton, hang a left, and it is about 4 more miles.

The "Fasting and Prayer Mountain of the World" is not quite my style, but then again, it was founded by a Korean Christian group. According to the story, when Christianity first came to Korea, there was a lot of persecution, so the Christians would find places in the mountains to pray and worship. This became a pattern for Korean believers in Korea, and they brought this cultural item to the US. For me, every mountain is a prayer mountain. When I am on my bike, every road is a prayer road, and when I am on the trails running, every trail is a prayer trail. Others of our group, however, don't get out to nature nearly so often, so the scenery seemed to have more of an impact to them. The place usually has many church groups meeting, and this time was no different, except that there was a loud and enthusiastic Hispanic group speaking in Spanish in addition to the usual, more reserved Korean, Mandarin and Cantonese groups.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

"Children of Heaven"

This is an Arabic movie which came to me via China, but fortunately has English subtitles. It is a movie about children, running, and sneakers, which are three important topics to me. According to the linked article, it was filmed in Tehran so there are references to the "supreme leader" and a nationalistic flavor to some of the education scenes.

For us Americans, it is a wonderful view into the culture of Iran. If I want a pair of running shoes, I am quite picky and order off the internet because I can't get exactly what I want in the San Francisco Bay Area! In this movie, a brother and sister are forced to share a pair of shoes due to the brother losing the sister's shoes, but the hardship of the parents precludes even acknowledging that the old pair was lost.

The simple look into another world is what I like. Yes, there is hardship and grief, but the kind of crudity that characterizes so many western films is missing. Much of this difference in flavor I presume is due to the values of Islam, where the crudity of the West is viewed as something better not glorified in public. This film was truly a treat.

Friday, September 19, 2008



I am a bit skeptical of some of the German to English translations in the subtitles, but it has been a very long time since I studied German in high school.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Conan the Governor finally shows some mettle.

"I will not sign a get-out-of-town budget that punishes taxpayers, pushes the problem into the future and has fake budget reform."

The veto will probably be overridden, but he is right that using smoke and mirrors to balance a budget will just create a bigger problem next year.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

German's Discover 120 million year old ant.

Methuselah removed from the record books.

Actually, the claim is that it is a species that hasn't changed measurably in 120 million years. This kind of stuff gives me a giggle: Evolutionists claim that the rate of change of species as seen in the fossil record can be correlated with mutation rates. The problem is that some species seem to change rapidly, while others don't change at all. So how is it that we can correlate based on rates? Simple. We don't actually know the exact rate, so we specify a narrow band of rates, going from say 10-10 to 10+10. No problem!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Jury clears vandals ...

The vandals in England were putting graffiti on a power plant chimney. Some "climate expert" from the US was flown in to testify, which apparently convinced the jury that lawlessness was morally justified - if it is done on behalf of university ideology. This strikes me as a rather dangerous precedent, especially given the history of university driven, ideologically motivated terror in Europe going back to the French Revolution.
Today I made it up to the 1,900 foot level on Mount Hamilton before heading home for a 50 mile route. Until the knee operation, I will stick to bicycling since it doesn't hurt nearly as much.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Road Hazards.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Bourne Punditry.
A view of Alcatraz from the San Francisco Aquatic Park.

It doesn't look that far in this view, but the distance is over a mile. A few days ago I received a reminder in the e-mail to sign up for the 2009 Alcatraz swim event. I did this swim three years in a row, but it is difficult and expensive to get pool time to train, so I haven't bothered the last few years. Some memories of an Alcatraz swim are here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Big Bang Experiment and Extraterrestrials.

With the Large Hadron Collider about to recreate the Big Bang in a backyard in France, it is good to reconsider the problem of the non-appearing extraterrestrials and other space aliens. The theory is that because the evolution of life is easy, life should have evolved on many planets throughout the universe. Statistically, the earth should be millions of years behind other planets, so that technology should be far advanced on a planet nearby. So why don't we see space aliens all the time?

Here is the current answer list:

1) Advanced aliens don't pay attention to earth in compliance with the Prime Directive.
2) Aliens do show up, but there is a government conspiracy to keep it a secret.
3) Aliens do show up, and they are fundamentalist, Republicans, country music stars, take your pick ...
4) It turns out not to ever be possible technologically to cross interstellar distances.
5) The theory of evolution has a problem.
5) All technologically advanced civilizations eventually build a Large Hadron Collider and destroy their home planet before settling on another.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Win One, Lose One.

The win one is that California judge-ocrats ruled that homeschooling is legal, even without a teaching degree. This does leave me wondering if a vice-president Palin might homeschool. Now that would generate some discussion!

The lose one being that the judge-ocrats ruled against some Christian school biology classes for using the wrong text, because some UC prof claimed the texts don't teach "criticial thinking" regarding evolution. This does beg the question about whether or not "critical thinking" is taught anywhere in the UC system, but we will leave that for another post.

My kids were educated in the public (i.e. government/teacher's unions) schools, so they got all of the propaganda straight in the Asian-American pressure cooker at Fremont's Mission High. When the kids get to the SAT2 Biology test, the way we handle "critical thinking" is along these lines: "Evolution is a pile of crap, but if you mindlessly follow these few simple rules, you will get a near perfect score on the evolution questions. In fact, the evolution questions are by far the easiest, so you have no excuse for missing any." The reason that the evolution questions are the easiest is that evolution is handwaving, rather than science, so any question that isn't in the 'duh' category would probably not have a unique answer. Somehow I suspect that the UC prof would be offended by this version of "critical thinking".
The mood in the coffee shop ...

I usually hang out in coffee shops and work. It is much cheaper than renting office space.

One of the benefits is that I get to overhear a lot of chatter from various groups, with politics being a regular topic. From this limited vantage point, the Sarah Palin / Joe Biden choices have become all the rage. One of the regular Bush-bashers was lamenting the choice of Biden, while most of the other old folk (who do most of the voting in this country) have been vocally expressing their enthusiasm for Palin. Probably I should put some numbers and margins of errors on my polling so we can have a Looney poll to compete with the Zogby and Gallup polls.
Catching the wind blowing through the Golden Gate.

Monday, September 08, 2008

California Proposition 7: 50% of state electricity to be provide by renewables by 2025.

As usual, the Big Stick approach will be used with threats and penalties to utilities. On the other side of the formula, there will be restrictions of what the utilities can charge consumers. This would be a follow on to a push to increase renewable usage to 20% by 2010. The net result is higher costs for power, averaging $0.15/kilowatt-hour in California compared to $0.09/kwh in Oregon, but it is hard to find out about differences in commercial power rates between states. By itself, this proposition would be a minor "ouch", but combined with everything else that is happening regarding California's long term fiscal situation ...
"Sittin' on The Dock of the Bay"

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Chocolate and the Carbon Footprint.

This weekend is the Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival at their location in San Francisco. We drove on into the city along with hundreds of thousands of others for a wonderful treat. The Ghirardelli sign is visible in the picture, but stands out much better at night when it is lit.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

"After Ehud died, the Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the Lord. So the Lord sold them into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan, who regined in Hazor ... Because he had nine hundred iron chariots and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the Lord for help. Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. ...." - Judges 4

And so Deborah led her people out of bondage ...

(Sorry, couldn't resist doing something over-the-top!)
Biden: We may pursue criminal charges against Bush.

This reminds me a bit of the tactics that have been used in Malaysia, Singapore and elsewhere to sabotage opposition politicians by trumping up charges and putting them in jail. Of course we must have an American variation. As long as the president is in office, litigation is limited to the checks and balances of the constitution. This is certainly the way to handle it and was done under Clinton and Reagan both. Whether we like it or not, there will always be a blurring of criminal and political prosecution when politics is involved and it is just as important to avoid the latter as to take the former seriously.

If Bush does get prosecuted after he leaves office for political actions in office, this will represent a major escalation in the overheated political war between left and right in the US. All elected government officials will understand that whatever they put down in writing will be sifted through by the next administration looking for any pretext to pursue a prosecution. If anything can be misinterpreted, spun or whatever to make it part of a criminal conspiracy, government funded prosecutors will be sent in to litigate with their promotions depending on success. With personal lawyers costing $360/hour and up, there will be few who can avoid bankruptcy and/or jail. Each party will respond tit for tat, and America's democracy will be the poorer for it.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Geeks lament the gender gap.

It seems that women just don't have the same level of enthusiasm for installing Corsair DDR3-2133 memory on the overclocked, cryogenically cooled gamer box so that World of Warcraft will run a wee bit smoother. This is a pattern that I remember from when I was young: Men were much more likely to put racing tires on the car, paint a Confederate flag on the hood, saw off the mufflers, and then go cruising aimlessly around town. Boys will be boys.

I remember giving a talk in church for which I don't remember the topic, but achievement in science and technology was something mentioned. Yes, women are as capable as men. Probably more capable. There is, however, the geek mentality. For someone who is fanatically obsessed about something, they will succeed over someone who isn't passionate even when inate talent is lacking, which exhibits itself in technology. Once I brought this point out in a church talk and almost got stoned by the females. Anyway, this topic will continue indefinitely.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Are you a wild-eyed Theocrat? Take the test!


I scored 30 horizontal, 32 vertically.