Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for April 12th, 2012

Watch 15,000 heat record highs for March be broken

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Thanks to TYD for this:

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Robert Gonzalez at io9 reports:

Data collected by NOAA reveal that the month of March saw a total of 7,755 daytime and 7,515 nighttime record-breaking high temperatures, making last month far and away “the warmest March on record.”

The video featured up top shows the locations of each daytime and nighttime record (or tied record) in sequence, over the course of the month. It’s absolutely staggering.

For more information, check out NOAA’s State of the Climate Report, which reveals that the first three months of 2012 were also the warmest on record for the contiguous U.S., with an average temperature of 42.0°F — that’s 6.0°F above the long-term average, and 1.4 degrees higher than the all-time record. According to the Washington Post, these records are usually broken by just one- or two-tenths of a degree.

Other highlights from the report include:

  • Twenty-five states, all east of the Rockies, had their warmest first quarter on record, and an additional 16 states had first-quarter temperatures ranking among their ten warmest.
  • Numerous cities had a record warm January-March, including Chicago, Boston, and Washington, D.C. No state in the contiguous U.S. had below-average January-March temperatures.
  • Alaska had its ninth coolest January-March period; temperatures were 5.2°F below average.
  • The nationally-averaged precipitation total for January-March was 0.29 inches below the long-term average. States across the Pacific Northwest and Southern Plains were wetter than average, while the Intermountain West, parts of the Ohio Valley, and the entire Eastern Seaboard were drier than average.
  • NOAA’s U.S. Climate Extremes Index, an index that tracks the highest 10 percent and lowest 10 percent of extremes in temperature, precipitation, drought and tropical cyclones, was 39 percent, nearly twice the long-term average and the highest value on record for the January-March period. The predominant factor was the large area experiencing extremes in warm daily maximum and minimum temperatures.

[NOAA State of the Climate Report]

Are the denialists still claiming it’s all a hoax? And have they joined forces with those who say the moon landings were staged in the Nevada desert?

Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2012 at 5:57 pm

Interesting doings at Johns Hopkins

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The Eldest sent me this link—some fascinating stuff underway. Watch the slides through one cycle (there are about a dozen—14, by my count) to get an idea of the range, then click the “Read more”s for those of interest.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2012 at 3:24 pm

Posted in Science

Enjoyable series: Life (two seasons only)

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I just finished watching the 32 episodes of Life that were made. (The entire series is available on Netflix Watch Instantly.) I really enjoyed it and got caught up in it, and was looking around, hoping for Season 3, when I checked the Wikipedia article and found that it had been canceled after two seasons. Too bad, because it really was quite enjoyable—some shows had their languors, but overall it delivered. So it goes.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2012 at 1:12 pm

Posted in Movies

Information-management software

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I, like James Fallows, am fascinated by software that handles information well. My all-time favorite was Lotus Agenda, Mitch Kapor’s inspiration that Lotus simply didn’t know what to do with, but what a fantastic piece of software (pre-Windows: runs under MS-DOS). Next is Microsoft OneNote, but that’s Windows only—but a dynamite piece of software that every Windows user should know about. (James Fallows was consulted during the design, BTW.) I haven’t found just the right thing for the Mac, though I’ve been using Evernote heavily for book notes.

Take a look at this post by Fallows. It has some excellent links including a comparison of Brain V. 7 (for Windows) and Tinderbox (for the Mac).

Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2012 at 11:57 am

Posted in Software

The future of computer games

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A fascinating article in the Atlantic—read the whole thing. This video is from the article, which begins:

LIKE MANY WEALTHY people, Jonathan Blow vividly remembers the moment he became rich. At the time, in late 2008, he was $40,000 in debt and living in a modest San Francisco apartment, having just spent more than three years meticulously refining his video game, Braid—an innovative time-warping platformer (think Super Mario Bros. meets Borges), whose $200,000 development Blow funded himself. Although Braid had been released, to lavish praise from the video-game press, on Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade service that August, Blow didn’t see a cent from the game until one autumn day when he sat down at a café in the city’s Mission district. “I opened up my Web browser and Holy fuck, I’m rich now,” he recalled. “There were a lot of zeros in my bank account.”

Blow’s similarities to the average millionaire end right there, however, because unlike most wealthy people, he seems faintly irritated by his memory of striking it rich. When Blow told me, during a typically metaphysical conversation in a park near his Berkeley office, that his windfall was “absurd,” he didn’t mean it in the whimsical “Can you believe my luck?” sense; he meant it in the philosophical, Camus-puffing-a-cigarette sense of a deeply ridiculous cosmic joke. “It just drives home how fictional money is,” Blow said, squinting against the unseasonably bright December sun. “One day I’m looking at my bank account and there’s not much money, and the next day there’s a large number in there and I’m rich. In both cases, it’s a fictional number on the computer screen, and the only reason that I’m rich is because somebody typed a number into my bank account.” For the world’s most existentially obsessed game developer, coming into seven figures just provided another opportunity to ponder the nature of meaning in the universe.

Which is not to say that Blow has forsaken his wealth. As Braid grew into a bona fide phenomenon in its first year—selling several hundred thousand copies, winning armloads of industry awards, and becoming Exhibit A in the case for the video game as a legitimate artistic medium—Blow made several upgrades to his austere lifestyle. In place of his old Honda, he now drives a $150,000 crimson Tesla Roadster, a low-slung all-electric automotive dynamo that offers a highly realistic simulation of being shot out of a cannon whenever Blow clamps down on the accelerator. And after a yearlong victory lap filled with lectures and laurels, he moved into a spacious hilltop condo that overlooks the eastern half of the city as it slopes down to the sapphire-colored bay.

Yet aside from his electric car . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2012 at 10:54 am

Rules for eating in restaurants (for those who like food)

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Very interesting article (with a video) by Tyler Cowen at the Atlantic:

A BAD OR MEDIOCRE meal is more than just an unpleasant taste, it is an unnecessary negation of one of life’s pleasures—a wasted chance to refine our palates, learn about the world, and share a rewarding experience. Virtually every locale offers some good meals at a good price. But too often, amidst the clutter of our days, we don’t find them—at least not consistently.

I’ve been an economist for some 30 years, and a foodie for nearly as long. In this time, I’ve learned that by applying some basic economics to my food choices, I can make nearly every meal count. I’ve also realized that a lot of the best food is cheap. Herewith, a distillation of what I’ve learned about dining out, in six simple rules.

In the Fanciest Restaurants, Order What Sounds Least Appetizing

At fancy and expensive restaurants (say, $50 and up for a dinner), you can follow a simple procedure to choose the best meal. Look at the menu and ask yourself: Which of these items do I least want to order?  Or: Which one sounds the least appetizing? Then order that item.

The logic is simple. At a fancy restaurant, the menu is well thought-out. The kitchen’s time and attention are scarce. An item won’t be on the menu unless there is a good reason for its presence. If it sounds bad, it probably tastes especially good.

Many popular-sounding items, on the other hand, can be slightly below the menu’s average quality. For instance, you should be careful not to get too enthusiastic about roast chicken, especially if you are in a restaurant that, like virtually all restaurants, does not specialize in roast chicken. Roast chicken is an exceedingly familiar dish, and many people will order it to experience the familiar. Consider the incentive this provides the chef. And consider that a few items may be on the menu specifically because they are generally in demand, not because the chef cooks them with special brilliance.

So order the ugly and order the unknown. You’ll probably get a better and more interesting meal.

Beware the Beautiful, Laughing Women

When I’m out looking for food, and I come across a restaurant where the patrons are laughing and smiling and appear very sociable, I become wary. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2012 at 10:49 am

Posted in Business, Food

Obama Administration says it will make no changes to drug policies regardless of facts

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Joe Biden pretty much said that the facts and findings of studies are unimportant, presumably because the policies are not based on or derived from facts but are simply empty political positions that nonetheless wreck millions of lives. When you have policies that are not going to be changed regardless of facts that surface, you have something extremely bad—as we see. Philip Smith reports on how the rest of the world is getting fed up and refusing to go along with the US and its irrational drug laws:

In just a couple of days, President Obama will fly to Cartagena, Colombia, to attend this weekend’s Organization of American States (OAS) Sixth Summit of the Americas. He and the US delegation are going to get an earful of criticism of US drug policies from Latin American leaders, and that makes it an historic occasion. For the first time, alternatives to drug prohibition are going to be on the agenda at a gathering of hemispheric heads of state.

It’s been building for some time now. More than a decade ago, Uruguayan President Jorge Batlle became the first Latin American sitting head of state to call for a discussion of drug legalization. Former Mexican President Vicente Fox joined the call, albeit only briefly while still in office through some media quotes, much more frequently after leaving office in 2006. Honduran President Manuel Zelaya issued a similar call in 2008, but didn’t move on it before being overthrown in a coup the following year.

Meanwhile, drug prohibition-related violence in Mexico exploded in the years since President Felipe Calderon called out the army after taking office in December 2006. As the savagery of the multi-sided Mexican drug wars intensified and the death toll accelerated, surpassing 50,000 by the end of last year, the call for another path grew ever louder and more insistent.

In 2009, a group of very prominent Latin American political leaders and public intellectuals led by former Brazilian President Henrique Cardoso, former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, and former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo formed the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, calling for a fundamental reexamination of drug policy in the hemisphere and a discussion of alternatives, including decriminalization and regulation of black markets. That was followed last year by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which includes the Latin American ex-presidents, as well as former Switzerland President Ruth Dreiffus and other prominent citizens such as Richard Branson and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, echoing the Latin American Commission’s call for reform.

As the commissions issued their reports, the violence in Mexico not only worsened, it spread south into Central America, where governments were weaker, poverty more endemic, and violent street gangs already well-entrenched. Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, in particular, saw homicide rates soar in recent years, well beyond Mexico’s, as the Mexican cartels moved into the region, a key transit point on the cocaine trail from South America to the insatiable consumers of the north.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, the secretary of defense under his predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, and a man who knows well just what a sustained war on drugs can and cannot achieve, has been among the latest to pick up the torch of drug reform. Santos has made repeated statements in favor of putting alternatives to prohibition on the table, although he has been careful to say Colombia doesn’t want to go it alone, and now he has been joined by another unlikely reformer, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, a rightist former general who campaigned on a tough on crime agenda.

It is Perez Molina who has been most active in recent weeks, calling for a Central American summit last month to discuss alternatives to drug prohibition ranging from decriminalization to regulated drug transit corridors to charging the US a “tax” on seized drugs. That summit saw two of his regional colleagues attend, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla and Panamian President Ricardo Martinelli, but no consensus was achieved, no declaration was issued, and three other regional leaders declined to show up. But that summit, too, was a first — the first time Latin American leaders met specifically to discuss regional drug law reform.

All of this has not gone unnoticed by policymakers in Washington. Vice-President Biden, Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano, State Department functionaries and US military brass have all been flying south this year, reluctantly conceding that drug legalization may be a legitimate topic of debate, but that the US is having none of it.

“It’s worth discussing,” Biden told reporters in Mexico City last month. “But there’s no possibility the Obama-Biden administration will change its policy on legalization. There are more problems with legalization than non-legalization.”

But along with discussing an end to prohibition, the Latin Americans have also offered up proposals between the polar opposites of prohibition and legalization. Options discussed have included . . .

Continue reading.

Biden’s comment that there are more problems with legalization than non-legalization is completely empty: devoid of facts, reasoning, or content. It reveals a shallow, flippant attitude toward a serious problem, and his declaration that that facts will not influence policy decisions, though refreshingly honest, is breathtakingly stupid: “wooden-headed” doesn’t touch it.

We now have people running our country who will explicitly say that their actions and policies will not be influenced by facts. This is not “decline”, this is “jumping off a cliff.”

Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2012 at 10:43 am

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