Later On

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

Archive for March 19th, 2012

Exceptionally good cabbage grub

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I just had some cabbage grub, the what’s-on-hand variety, and it turned out exceptionally well:

Cook 1 c. converted rice, with salt and a little olive oil.

Chop and slice ahead of time, then add as follows:

In 4-qt sauté pan, heat:

2 tsp hot chili sesame oil
2 tsp toasted sesame oil

Then add:

1 enormous shallot, sliced—probably 2 large shallots

Sauté until shallots wilt and almost start to brown, then add:

8 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c pine nuts (pignolas)

As soon as they are fragrant—about 30 seconds or so—add:

2 sliced large domestic white mushrooms
1/2 red bell pepper, diced small
4 oz extra firm tofu, small diced
2 handfuls chopped celery
1-2 tsp smoked paprika (I’m liking that stuff)

Sauté briefly then add:

2 Tbsp Amontillado sherry
1 Tbsp soy sauce (a cool brand I read about recently—here’s one review)
1 Tbsp sherry vinegar
1/4 head of cabbage, shredded

Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Put rice in bowl, top with cabbage grub, top that with nonfat yogurt.

Forgotten: crushed red pepper, or jalapeños (which I have just exactly for this sort of thing—and I’ll certainly be giving this another go).

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2012 at 5:18 pm

You can’t copyright π (so I bet e and i are safe, too)

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Interesting story. Even as I type, there are IP lawyers trying to figure out how to make money from this decision.

UPDATE: The more I think about it, the more I realize what a tangled web this is, for indeed some numbers can be (and have been) copyrighted. π is a “public-domain” number (specifically, the decimal expansion, but I think any representation of π would not be copyrightable).

But consider your new novel (redundant?), published to great acclaim and of great value now as a property. It’s fortunate you own the copyright to the text, and thus specifically to the binary number of ever-so-many digits that represents the text as a string of bits in ASCII (or whatever: EBCDIC, Unicode—same argument). That’s one big number, considering the total bits, but not unimaginably great: 60,000 words is a reasonable novel = 360,000 characters (assuming word average is 5 plus blanks and occasional punctuation). If you think that’s conservative, let’s make it 400,000 characters = 3.2 megabits (bits, notice, not bytes). So the “number” copyrighted is a binary number 3.2 million digits long. But, by God, that particular number—the ASCII (or whatever) representation of the exact text of the novel—is indeed copyrighted. If someone defended electronic copying of a copyrighted work on the basis that a big number cannot be copyrighted… I think they’d be laughed out of court.

So we do allow certain numbers to be copyrighted.

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2012 at 2:25 pm

Posted in Law

James Cameron’s deep-water exploration vessel

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I was tremendously impressed by James Cameron’s Expedition: Bismarck, which I discussed in this post. I was particularly impressed by his mastery of technical detail and his organizational skills. And now in the NY Times, I read about his new creation:

For centuries, the daredevils known as submariners have slipped beneath the waves in vehicles made for horizontal travel. Their craft are basically underwater ships. Even submersibles, small vessels that dive unusually deep, follow the horizontal plan.

Until now.

In a stroke, James Cameron has upended the field — literally and figuratively. A man known for imaginative films (“Titanic,” “Avatar”), he has reinvented the way that people explore the deep ocean.

This month, Mr. Cameron unveiled his unique submersible and announced plans to ride it solo into the planet’s deepest recess, the Challenger Deep in the western Pacific, nearly seven miles down.

He calls it a vertical torpedo. The axis of his 24-foot-long craft is upright rather than horizontal, speeding the plunge. His goal is to fall and rise as quickly as possible so he can maximize his time investigating the dark seabed. He wants to prowl the bottom for six hours.

“It’s very clever,” said Alfred S. McLaren, a retired Navy submariner who helps to run a company that makes submersibles. “Nobody has done this kind of thing before. It’s a great idea, a tremendous idea.”

He likened Mr. Cameron to “an underwater Steve Jobs — difficult to get along with but very creative.”

“He’s driven,” Dr. McLaren went on. “He put together a hell of a technical team.”

Just as bullets are spun to steady their flight, Mr. Cameron’s craft rotates on its vertical axis — another first. In a test dive, he has already broken the modern depth record for piloted vehicles, going down more than five miles.

“He’s done something radical,” said Peter Girguis, a biological oceanographer at Harvard and head of a panel that oversees the nation’s fleet of deep-research vehicles. “He’s set aside the conventional wisdom.”

Mr. Cameron sees his craft — built in secrecy in Australia over eight years — as . . .

Continue reading. This strikes me as MacArthur grant stuff—and rather different from the ambitions of most Hollywood big-name directors.

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2012 at 12:57 pm

William H. Rehnquist does indeed seem to have been a POS

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Rehnquist was a bad choice at the time and he never got better, but now the US Supreme Court is a dumping ground for partisan hacks (Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas, for starters). Here’s a story about Rehnquist by Adam Liptak in the NY Times:

In 1952, a young Supreme Court clerk wrote a memorandum that would come to haunt him.

The court was considering Brown v. Board of Education, the great school desegregation case. The question for the justices was whether to overrulePlessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 decision that said “separate but equal” facilities were constitutional.

The memo, prepared for Justice Robert H. Jackson, was written in the first person and bore the clerk’s initials — “WHR,” for William H. Rehnquist.

“I realize it is an unpopular and unhumanitarian position, for which I have been excoriated by ‘liberal’ colleagues,” Mr. Rehnquist wrote, “but I think Plessy v. Ferguson was right and should be reaffirmed.”

The memo was disclosed by Newsweek in 1971, on the eve of the Senate floor debate on Mr. Rehnquist’s nomination to the Supreme Court. It caused a firestorm, one that was rekindled when President Ronald Reagan nominated Justice Rehnquist to be chief justice in 1986.

Opposition to the Brown decision is a good way to doom a Supreme Court nomination. But Mr. Rehnquist had an explanation, which he sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee in a letter in 1971 and repeated under oath in 1986.

The opinions expressed in the memo, he said, were not his own. “I believe that the memorandum was prepared by me as a statement of Justice Jackson’s tentative views for his own use,” Mr. Rehnquist wrote.

Quite a bit of evidence has accumulated over the years to cast doubt on that explanation, and now there is more. . .

Continue reading. A bigot, a liar, and somehow Chief Justice.

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2012 at 11:25 am

Posted in Government, Law

Background on the soldier who murdered 19 civilians

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If found guilty of the crimes, he is culpable, but it is also clear that a better-run military and more-realistic war planning could have precluded not only this incident but many more. Background story by James Dao in the NY Times:

He was not the star, just a well-regarded young man who seemed to try to do the right thing. That was Robert Bales, “our Bobby,” friends said. He was a busy, popular kid, but he made time for the autistic man down the block. Other neighborhood boys admired him. As a high school linebacker, he was good enough to be captain, but also gracious enough to help a more talented player take over his starting position. It was good for the team, he said.

That solid-guy reputation followed him into the Army infantry. He joined at the relatively seasoned age of 27, just a few weeks after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and became respected for his maturity and calm, including in battle. “He was a damn good leader and a damn good soldier,” said Zachary Parsons, who served with Staff Sergeant Bales in Iraq in 2007.

So when many of his old neighbors from Norwood, Ohio, and former battalion mates from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State heard the news that Sergeant Bales had been accused of coldbloodedly shooting to death 16 Afghan civilians on March 11, nine of them children, they were not simply shocked. They grieved.

Michelle Caddell, 48, who knew Sergeant Bales when he was growing up, watched a video clip of the news over and over and over again, mesmerized by disbelief. “I wanted to see, maybe, a different face,” she said, fighting back tears. “Because that’s not our Bobby. Something horrible, horrible had to happen to him.”

Friends, relatives and his lawyer say they have an idea of what that horrible thing was: war.

Three deployments in Iraq, where he saw heavy fighting, and a fourth in Afghanistan, where he went reluctantly, left him struggling financially, in danger of losing his home.

And there were more direct impacts. During his deployments, Sergeant Bales, 38, lost part of a foot and injured his head, saw fellow soldiers badly wounded, picked up the bodies of dead Iraqis, was treated for mild traumatic brain injury and possibly developed post-traumatic stress disorder, his lawyer and military officials said.

But there are also glimpses of a darkness in his personal life. Sergeant Bales’s past includes an arrest on a misdemeanor charge of assault on a woman, which was dropped after he completed anger-management counseling; an accident in which he overturned his car, something he attributed to falling asleep at the wheel; and an accumulation of rejections and disappointments.

A year ago, according to a blog written by his wife, he was denied a promotion to sergeant first class, a rank that would have brought not just added responsibility and respect but also money at a time when his finances seemed stretched.

Neighbors remember him, in between earlier deployments, as . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2012 at 11:16 am

Site to bookmark: Reviews of ebooks in science

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The Older Grandson should have this one bookmarked: Download the Universe: The Science Ebook Review.

Sample review:

E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth by Gael McGill, Edward O. Wilson & Morgan Ryan. Wilson Digital, 2012. iTunes. (Chapter 1 available for free. This book can only be viewed using iBooks 2 on an iPad. iOS 5 is required.)

by John Hawks

Last week I was meeting with other biology faculty discussing how to revamp biology education. Faculty, students, education researchers, and institutions all want to see innovations, and they often have competing demands. A number of foundations are now trying to develop teaching units for introductory biology. Taking a “modular” approach, some are focusing on materials that can be used and reused in different courses. Others are trying a “one size fits all” approach by making textbooks to fit every course.

“Life on Earth” is a new textbook project by the E. O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. The foundation’s goal is to supply a full biology textbook suitable for high school biology. The book is one of the first to take full advantage of Apple’s new iBooks format, with embedded video, three-dimensional models, self-quizzes and other add-ons integrated seamlessly in the text. The foundation intends to make the book available for free on the iBooks platform, and a sample chapter along with additional material is presently available for download to the iPad.
Some would argue that educational “innovation” is too often just window-dressing — shopworn ideas in new, flashy clothing. Personally I tend to agree. It may be great to be able to bring knowledge to students for free, in the open. Saving school districts money may not be an unalloyed good, but it ain’t evil. Still, openness isn’t enough. The materials also have to be effective. When I opened “Life on Earth”, I was skeptical…

…right up to the point where I started playing with the 3-D image of a nucleosome, a complex of proteins and DNA that enables tight packing of DNA within chromosomes. Freely rotating the entire structure enabled me to see the relatively small size of the protein element of the nucleosome, and the way that the DNA double helix doubles around a protein core in two tight coils. Playing with this model immediately provides a spatial understanding of the structure that no textbook before ever gave me. . .

Continue reading. It gets even more amazing…

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2012 at 10:38 am

The Human Cost of Animal Suffering

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Mark Bittman has a very good column in the NY Times, well worth reading. It begins:

Until a couple of years ago I believed that the primary reasons to eat less meat were environment- and health-related, and there’s no question that those are valid reasons. But animal welfare has since become a large part of my thinking as well. And I say this as someone not known to his friends as an animal-lover.

If we want a not-too-damaged planet to live on, and we want to live here in a way that’s also not too damaged, we’re better off eating less meat. But if we also want a not-too-damaged psyche, we have to look at how we treat animals and begin to change it.

We can start by owning up to the fact that our system is industrialized. And as horrible as that word — “industrialized” — seems when applied to what was once called animal husbandry, it isprecisely the correct term. Those who haven’t seen this, or believe it to be a myth perpetrated by PETA, might consider reading “Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight,” recently published by Timothy Pachirat. (This isn’t a review, but the book is superbly written, especially given the grimness of the subject.)

You might think that “every 12 seconds” refers to the frequency with which we kill animals, but in a moment you’ll realize that that’s impossible: we process more than nine billion animals each year — hundreds per second. No, 12 seconds is the frequency with which the Omaha slaughterhouse where Pachirat worked for five months killed cattle, a total of around 2,500 per day.

Pachirat, whom I interviewed by phone earlier this week, took the job not as an animal rights activist but as a doctoral candidate in political science seeking to understand the normalization of violence. Like others, he concluded that our isolation from killing allows us to tolerate unimaginably cruel practices simply because we don’t see them. But Pachirat emphasizes that it’s not only we — consumers — who are isolated from the killing, but workers: at his plant only seven people out of 800 were directly involved with live cattle, and only four with killing.

Not that the other workers have it easy: “Every Twelve Seconds” shatters any belief you might have about the system treating animals with a shred of decency. “The sheer volume, scale and rate of killing,” Pachirat told me, “the way the animals form a continuous stream rather than individual creatures, makes it clear the animals are seen as raw material. The cattle are called ‘beef’ even while they’re alive — and that not only protects people from acknowledging what they’re doing and that they’re doing it to sentient beings, it’s also accurate, a reflection of the process itself.”

Our assertion of our right to treat animals as we do iron or lumber or car doors — to treat them as widgets — is not cannibalism, but it’s hardly consistent with our keeping of adored pets.

Meat-eaters may assert that this is somehow justifiable, because we “need” to eat meat — just not cats or dogs or goldfish — to live. And even though we don’t (in fact, there’s increasing evidence that too much of it is harmful; more on that later this week), we have more than two million years of tradition to point to, we have bodies that process meat well and even thrive on it in limited amounts and we have a love of eating animal flesh that for most of us may not go away any time soon.

None of which justifies egregious maltreatment. (Yes, vegan friends, I get that killing animals, period, is maltreatment. This ambivalence, or hypocrisy if you prefer, is for every ambivalent or hypocritical omnivore or flexitarian a puzzle, and scale is an issue.)  That maltreatment must first be acknowledged in order for us to alleviate it.

And that acknowledgment is forthcoming. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2012 at 9:55 am

Trying to fight lead poisoning

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Lead in the environment is devastating. A series of studies have established that the drop in violence and violent crime in the US is largely due to the banning of leaded gasoline, which sharply reduced lead contamination in urban and other high-traffic areas. But:

Hunters leave 3,000 tons of lead bullets in the woods each year, and shooting ranges generate another 80,000 tons of spent ammo, CBD says. As many as 20 million eagles, condors, swans and other birds die each year due to lead poisoning after consuming what’s left behind.

Replacing lead with a more benign substance is an obvious step. Many modern hunters, though, cannot conceive of hunting without lead in the ammo, though it’s obviously possible. (Humans hunted for millenia before gunpowder was invented.)

The quotation above is from this Mother Jones article by Kate Sheppard. Worth reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2012 at 9:47 am

The Affordable Care Act comes before SCOTUS

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It will be interesting to see what happens—we already know what would happen if the ACA continues to be implemented: Paul Krugman notes in the NY Times today:

. . . How would ObamaRomneycare change American health care?

For most people the answer is, not at all. In particular, those receiving good health benefits from employers would keep them. The act is aimed, instead, at Americans who fall through the cracks, either going without coverage or relying on the miserably malfunctioning individual, “non-group” insurance market.

The fact is that individual health insurance, as currently constituted, just doesn’t work. If insurers are left free to deny coverage at will — as they are in, say, California — they offer cheap policies to the young and healthy (and try to yank coverage if you get sick) but refuse to cover anyone likely to need expensive care. Yet simply requiring that insurers cover people with pre-existing conditions, as in New York, doesn’t work either: premiums are sky-high because only the sick buy insurance.

The solution — originally proposed, believe it or not, by analysts at the ultra-right-wing Heritage Foundation — is a three-legged stool of regulation and subsidies. As in New York, insurers are required to cover everyone; in return, everyone is required to buy insurance, so that healthy as well as sick people are in the risk pool. Finally, subsidies make those mandated insurance purchases affordable for lower-income families.

Can such a system work? It’s already working! Massachusetts enacted a very similar reform six years ago — yes, while Mitt Romney was governor. Jonathan Gruber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who played a key role in developing both the local and the national reforms (and has published an illustrated guide to reform) has surveyed the results — and finds that Romneycare is working pretty much as advertised. The number of people without insurance has dropped sharply, the quality of care hasn’t suffered, and the program’s cost has been very close to initial projections.

Oh, and the budgetary cost per newly insured resident of Massachusetts was actually lower than the projected cost per American insured by the Affordable Care Act.

Given this evidence, what’s a virulent opponent of reform to do? The answer is, make stuff up. . .

Sahil Kapur at TPMDC has a good summary:

In one week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on a legacy-defining case for President Obama as it determines whether a crucial piece of his signature legislative achievement meets constitutional muster. The health care reform law’s path to the high court has underscored a climate of supercharged partisan politics, and the highly anticipated decision expected this summer, in the dead heat of presidential election season, will help determine the trajectory of the nation’s health care system.

The main question facing the justices is whether the law’s requirement that Americans purchase insurance falls within the limits of federal power under the Constitution. They’ll also hear arguments on whether, if the mandate is deemed unconstitutional, other aspects of the law such such coverage guarantee also need to be struck down. There’s a chance that the court will punt the case to after 2014 under a law that says a tax may not be challenged in court until it is being collected.

The Affordable Care Act — which passed despite unanimous GOP opposition and was enacted two years ago this week, in March 2010 — requires insurance companies to accept customers regardless of pre-existing medical conditions. To prevent people from waiting until they get sick to buy insurance — and thus undermine the stability of the insurance — the law requires the uninsured to purchase coverage, or to pay a penalty to the government. It also provides subsidies to those individuals to assure that the insurance itself is affordable. Health economists note that the mandate is vital to the law’s success, but conservatives decry it as federal overreach.

And that’s the basis for the case, brought by 26 Republican-led states, which argues that the mandate is an unprecedented use of power. The Obama administration counters that the mandate is a perfectly legitimate tool that allows the federal government to regulate the health insurance industry, pursuant to its powers to regulate interstate commerce. Decades of prior jurisprudence backs that claim. A variety of lower court decisions, followed by split appellate court rulings on the constitutionality of the statue, brought the case to the Supreme Court, which agreed last fall to hear it.

The battle breaks down on party lines: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2012 at 9:38 am

Something to put on a country lot for a hideaway

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Very cool. Put up and in operation on your site in 5 days.

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2012 at 8:58 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Academic publishing: A broken model

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Very good article on an important topic: Michael Taylor writes in The Scientist:

Academic publishers are currently up in arms about the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA)—a bill that has the perfectly reasonable goal of making publicly funded research available to the public that funded it. Tom Allen, president of the American Association of Publishers, described it rather hysterically as “intellectual eminent domain, but without fair compensation.” Why are he and his colleagues so desperate to retain the current business model?

By any objective standard, academic publishing is a very strange business indeed. It became established at a time when all publishing was on paper, when duplication and delivery were demanding problems, and when publishers provided an important service to researchers. Now, as the Internet is dramatically changing other forms of publishing, academic journals seem stuck in the 1980s, with results both comical and disastrous.

Let’s take a look at the flow of money in the production of research. The government takes tax revenue from citizens and uses it to fund university research groups and libraries. Researchers obtain government grants and use the money to conduct experiments. They write up the results in manuscripts that are destined to become published papers. Manuscripts are submitted to journals, where they are handled by other researchers acting as unpaid volunteer editors. They co-ordinate the process of peer-review, which is done by yet other researchers, also unpaid. All these roles—author, editor, reviewer—are considered normal responsibilities of researchers, funded by grants.

At this point, researchers have worked together to produce a publication-ready, peer-reviewed manuscript. But rather than posting it on the Web, where it can contribute to the world’s knowledge, form a basis for future work, and earn prestige for the author, the finished manuscript is then donated gratis to a publisher: the author signs away copyright. The publisher then formats the manuscript and places the result behind a paywall. Then it sells subscriptions back to the universities where the work originated. Well-off universities will have some access to the paper (though even they are denied important rights such as text-mining). Less well-off universities have access to varying selections of journals, often not the ones their researchers need. And the taxpayers who funded all this? They get nothing at all. No access to the paper.

It’s pretty outrageous.

With government-funded researchers . . .

Continue reading. The current system is unfair, inefficient, expensive, and stupid. Look carefully at the arguments of those who defend the current system.

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2012 at 8:41 am

Prairie Creations and a Gillette Toggle

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Prairie Creations has not re-opened, and I have not heard how the proprietor is faring. But the soaps are good, and I brought out this one for today’s shave. A very pleasant and creamy lather with the Vie-Long chestnut horsehair brush (I refer to the color: the handle is olive wood).

Three smooth passes with the Gillette Toggle holding a Schick Plus Platinum blade, previously used, and then a dab of Intesa aftershave balm, a pleasant thing I got from Shoebox Shaveshop.

I do love mornings nowadays.

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2012 at 8:28 am

Posted in Shaving

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