Today I received my driver’s license renewal form in the mail. Part of the form is updating my height, weight, and eye/hair color. The funny thing is, none of this information has changed in the last fifteen years. I weigh the same as I did in high school, I’m not any taller (or shorter) than I was, my hair is still blond (no grey yet!), and my eyes are bluish.

One wonders how long it’ll be before I put on a nice beer gut or go bald or something…


Part of the magic and mystique of science– and the reason I have such a passion for it– is the fact that now and again, you have an opportunity to see something never before seen… and sometimes that thing is beautiful beyond words.

Astrophysics is particularly good at this; perusing images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope is a journey down a road of splendor and pictures so amazing, so grand, so awe-inspiring that it can humble you to realize there are such things… and we are but a tiny insignificant part of such a grand cosmos.

Today the Cassini-Huygens mission released some pictures of a Mimas fly-by. This is a small moon of Saturn (and, incidentally, the subject of the very first computer program I ever wrote) and an enigma of sorts because it survived an impact that should’ve splintered it. Although the picture here doesn’t show Mimas very well (it’s on the right side), it does show an amazing display of Saturn’s rings. The planet– or rather the clouds– are in the lower left, with rings at the bottom and top.



“In every revolution, there’s one man with a vision.”

— Captain James T. Kirk


It occurred to me last night that I often spout and fume about how much America sucks. I find myself agreeing with people who bash Bush (sometimes just for the sake of bashing an easy target), and nodding when I read articles about how our country is going down the drain.

Now, I should be clear about something. Yes, I think America is headed in the wrong direction. Indeed, I think it’s been wrong for quite some time. But it’s ludicrous to pin all the blame on Bush and/or Ashcroft– although the two of them are certainly a tag team for destruction– and I recognize there are more forces at work (Congress, the courts, the general “roll over and take it” attitude of the public).

I suppose the real problem, and the reason I tend to be vocal about America’s woes, is because during my not-so-long life I’ve watched this country change so much for the worse. We’re bullies, we’re egotistic, and we’re self-centered. Oh, and we’re so supremely confident of our own infallibility that we can’t imagine why other countries dislike us so much.

On the other hand, America truly is a fantastic place to live, full of opportunity and promise, and offers to its citizens rights and privileges not found anywhere else on the globe. It’s not hard to see why this country has produced astounding scientific advances, social progress, and a populace that is accustomed to regular (and often heated) debate about its own political system. I think it’s great that we have these opportunities, and without them I certainly wouldn’t write some of the things I do.

It’s the erosion of these rights and opportunities that saddens me. To watch as Bush and his administration stifle scientific research, or fund national defense and “homeland security” (oh, how I’m tired of that phrase) at the expense of education, gives me grief. It’s such a short-sighted view, and it’s supported by so many short-sighted people, that I can only see an acceleration of the decline of this great nation. Again, I can’t say “Bush brought about the destruction of America”, but he’s carrying the banner and playing a big role.

So all in all, three cheers for America and the little remaining goodness herein. But down with Bush and all of the short-sighted lawmakers and corporations and people who think the things we’re doing today are actually going to improve anything.


From a long missive on Kiro5hin by Roger Williams, where he discussed (among other things) the building of the atomic bomb:

Perhaps the biggest myth of the American national character is that we are the Good Guys.

Whenever this atomic subject comes up and my views come out I often get some pretty hostile responses. I think it’s because it’s hard, it takes a real shock to the system, to admit to yourself that your country didn’t just needlessly and horribly kill a few hundred thousand people; your country does stuff like that all the time. To recognize the magnitude of the problem is to realize that we are not, in fact, the Good Guys. And that’s a very traumatic thing to have to accept.

From America’s beginning we have been a nation of high ideals but low values. We’re the kind of nation that can accept the 3/5 compromise on slavery right after ratifying a document that says “all men are created equal.” We can hear something like the Dred Scott decision and most of us are fully capable of saying “sure, that makes perfect sense.” Then we can have a big old knock-down drag-out civil war on the issue that kills a few million people, as we trip over ourselves finding ever newer and cleverer ways to kill each other. Then we can pick silly fights like the Spanish-American war just because we don’t have anything else to do.

In a sense it was an accident that we came out of WWII looking like the Good Guys; it helped that we were sneak-attacked and that the Germans really went out of their way to make us look good by comparison. Under other circumstances the atomic bombings of two inhabited cities would have been roundly and widely criticized. But it seems that Teflon, which was invented for sealing surfaces at the Y-12 diffusion plant (not as popularly believed for the Apollo space program) kept the dirt of our misdeeds from sticking even before we started to apply it to cookware.

We went on after WWII to do a lot of Not Very Good Guy things, from the Cold War missile buildup to the Cuban Missile Crisis to Vietnam to Iran/Contra to Iraq. Now there’s a typically American approach to something we don’t understand very well; befriend both sides in a nasty long-standing conflict and then screw them both over! How to win friends and influence people, American style. When you’ve got the world by the tail you can do whatever you want.

Now as interesting things go, building the atomic bomb is one of the most interesting things ever to happen, and the fact that we still argue about it sixty years later is a testament to just how interesting it is. But it also isn’t a very Good Guy thing to have done. And America tends to be cool with things like that, even if we saw too many John Ford movies to admit we’re wearing the black hats in this show.


Tonight was the night… Christmas decorations are going up. Once the outside temperature goes above the teens, I’ll probably get out there and take care of the lights. For now we’ll have to be satisfied with the tree and various holiday decor around the house.


Last night was one of those magical winter nights… there was fresh snow on the ground, and the moon was a couple days past full and out in all its glory. The night was so bright that, in Laralee’s words, you didn’t need headlights to drive. It was bright enough you could read a book at midnight. Coupled with the quiet muffled peace of a snowy night, it was wonderful (although cold) to just stand outside.

It reminded me very much of the classic line, “The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow / Gave a lustre of midday to objects below…”


Laralee and I watched “Footloose” about a week ago, and thoroughly enjoyed the music (if not the cheesy plot). Today, she was listening to Christmas music while she worked in the kitchen, and Kyra and Zack were both dancing in the family room. It was funny to watch because it was just like the movie: Kyra was obviously the accomplished dancer, and Zack was trying to copy her moves. He’d watch her and then try it himself and (no surprise, since he has my genes) fail miserably. Still, very cute.

Finally he gave up emulating her and just went into his usual: the ever-popular Epileptic Seizure Dance.


I made a batch of chocolate cookies the other day. I’d been craving them for a while, so I finally called Mom and got the recipe. Unfortunately, I think I need to change something in the recipe to account for the high altitude, because instead of nice puffy cookies I ended up with a single large chocolate sheet about an eighth of an inch thick…


“Progress isn’t made by early risers. It’s made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something.”

— Robert Heinlein


“The two most common elements in the universe are Hydrogen and stupidity.”

— Harlan Ellison


Seen on Slashdot:

Laws are designed to help us co-exist with each other, to respect one another and bring order and a set of rules to abide by so that we can pool in our interests and progress as a civilization. People or “things” like RIAA and MPAA abuse these laws, which were written to help bring progress. They abuse them into filling their coffers with wealth that is meaningless when it does not really help anybody. More so when it happens at the expense of others, and at the expense of progress.

I sincerely hope that one day our society is rid of parasitic savages of the likes of MPAA and RIAA. They’re the scum and a disgrace of our civilization. They are the true deterrents to progress.

Amen, brother!


Today’s idiotic spam award goes to the guy who represents fabulously wealthy people who want to invest in my company.

Of course there’s the usual… they’ve got cash:

Total amount to be invested
$75,000,000,00.usd………………………….Cash investment.

But, in a rare twist, they also have:

4Metric tons of AU in
dust………………………Treasure investment.

Sweet! Four metric tons of gold powder! I can load that into a fertilizer spreader and make my lawn all shiny or something.


On a Linux newsgroup, of all places, there’s been a two-day discussion about the famous Monty Hall Paradox. From the UC-San Diego math department comes this explanation of the problem:

The particular game that we are concerned with here is where Monty Hall offers you the opportunity to win what is behind one of three doors. Typically there was a really nice prize (i.e., a car) behind one of the doors and a not-so-nice prize (i.e., a goat) behind the other two. After selecting a door, Monty would then proceed to open one of the doors you didn’t select. It is important to note here that Monty would not open the door that concealed the car. At this point, he would then ask you if you wanted to switch to the other door before revealing what you had won.

Apparently in September 1991, a clever reader wrote to Marilyn vos Savant (reputedly one of the smartest humans alive) and presented this problem. She answered that you should switch your choice to the other door and thus double your chance of winning. Apparently thousands of people wrote to her and said she was flat wrong, and that in fact your chance of winning remained 50-50 because there were now two doors from which to select.

It makes your brain hurt to think about, but the math shows irrefutably that if you pick the other door your odds of winning are 66%, compared with 33% if you’re stubborn and remain with your original choice.

Now if I could just find someone with three doors, two goats, and a nice car…


Well, today Microsoft announced that it might sue Chinese companies– or even the government– for using Linux, which it claims infringes on nearly 300 patents owned by Microsoft. While the details are more complicated, and while they may even have a case, this seems like a disastrous public-relations stunt doomed to fail.

In any case, perusing the various MS-bashing messages on Slashdot I found this great post likening Microsoft to the regime of Sauron of Morder… and anything that bashes Microsoft while simultaneously incorporating the Lord of the Rings storyline is good to me.

OSGILIATH (Reuters) – Mordor Corp. warned Middle Earth kingdoms on Thursday they could face the wrath of Orc armies for harbouring and aiding Gandalf and his fellowship of hobbits instead of rightfully bowing to the will of Sauron.

The growing popularity of Gandalf – a wise and benevolent wizard who freely aids all in need and is a friend of all free people of Middle Earth – is a thread to the global dominance of Sauron’s Dominion of Evil. Gandalf’s fellowship has illegally kept Sauron’s valuables, Mordor’s Mouth of Sauron said at the regime’s Middle Earth Kingdom Leaders Forum in Osgiliath. He did not provide any details on what, exactly, the nature of Sauron’s valuables are, which the Fellowship disputes.

Ex-hobbit Gollum McBride, who claims that “nasty hobbitses stole his preciousss”, is suing elves and hobbits alike, including the Shire. Rohan’s Riders of Defense at Gandalf’s council last month readied 20,000 horsemen to face the assault of Mordor Corp instead of submitting freely to the evil reign of Sauron. Other kingdoms in the region are also beginning to rally under one banner. Gondor, Arnor and Erebor this year agreed to jointly combat Sauron’s forces at Gandalf’s request.

The Mouth of Sauron said that security fears some rulers had about surrending to Mordor were overblown. “We think Sauron will provide far more security than Gandalf ever could. Sauron is a better protector for you lot because he has this awesome Ring which he forged, he fixed and he stands behind. Gandalf doesn’t have an awesome Ring,” he said.


Well, it finally happened: Laralee has officially started listening to Christmas music. It’s always a question of how long before Christmas we’ll start hearing the tunes. She’s in the process of compiling an MP3 collection for her car player, so she’s going through our thousand and one Christmas tunes while she works on other stuff.

‘Tis the season!


Our friends the Lukowskis just moved to North Carolina, much to our disappointment. (I mean, come on… North Carolina?) I called them today just to say “hey” and see how things were going– they’re moving into their new house soon, and Rachel is due to have their second baby.

She picked up the phone, and when I asked how things were, she said they were actually on their way out the door, headed for the hospital. Apparently the baby decided today’s the day. That made for a short conversation! Hope all goes well for them.


It was only a matter of time before someone got serious about amending the Constitution to allow non-U.S.-born citizens to be eligible for the presidency. Of course it’s being driven by people who think Governor Schwartzenegger should be President Schwartzenegger.

Check it out: www.amendforarnold.com.

If they weren’t eighteen bucks, I’d pick up a few of the spiffy t-shirts as Christmas gifts…


“Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think it’s important.”

–Eugene McCarthy


Crap. Abba won’t be getting back together. Saith Bjorn Ulvaeus (either the first or second “B” in the band name):

“I can understand that people are longing for Abba, but deep in my heart I know that they would be deeply disappointed if they saw us back up on the stage again today.”

Thank you, Bjorn, for having the guts to do what so many other washed-up bands can’t do.

Interesting side note: in 1985 the four were offered a billion (yes, that’s nine zeros) dollars to hook up again, but they turned it down then as well.