Later On

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

Archive for March 22nd, 2012

Human flight (bird-wing guy) a hoax?

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Check this out.

UPDATE: It’s over. He admits it. (Video at the link.)

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2012 at 5:02 pm

Posted in Technology

Two very interesting posts by Dean Baker

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The first is Rents are too high: The Apple edition:

The basic facts of inequality are beyond dispute: The top 1 per cent sucked in more than 42 per cent of the gains of US economic growth over the last three decades, with the bottom 90 per cent sharing less than 37 per cent. This means that most of the population has seen little improvement in living standards over this period in spite of the great breakthroughs in technology and increases in productivity.

This background provides the fuel of the Occupy Wall Street movement and its sympathisers around the country. However, there is a counter-story that the media continually bombards us with. This counter-story has a hero, Steve Jobs.

The counter-story is that under Jobs’ leadership, Apple has produced one breakthrough after another, revolutionising the way that we use computers, listen to music, make phone calls and live our lives. Jobs died a very wealthy man because of his success in bringing great products to the market.

The pushers of the counter-story ask us if we would be happier if Steve Jobs had not been rich, but we didn’t have the iPod, the iPad, the iPhone and all the other products developed by Jobs and Apple over the last three decades. The moral of this counter-story is to shut up and eat your inequality.

This counter-story might provide good rhetoric, but it suffers from bad logic. The question is not whether we are better off with Steve Jobs getting very rich and all the products that Apple developed, or having Steve Jobs be poor and not having these products; the question is whether it was necessary for Jobs to get quite so rich in order to get these products.

The difference is the concept of economic rent. Rent is the additional money that Jobs collected beyond what would have been needed to get him to innovate great products. This rent was likely substantial in Jobs’ case and is probably even higher for other members of the 1 per cent.

To see the logic of this issue, let’s imagine that firefighters were paid in a somewhat different manner. Instead of paying them a fixed monthly wage, suppose that . . .

Continue reading.

And also: Paul Ryan’s deficit-cutting mania: the real agenda:

If you want to see House budget committee chairman Paul Ryansanctimoniously excuse himself and his friends for missing the most predictable economic crisis in the history of the world, you now have the opportunity. In a YouTube video produced by his staff, Ryan tells viewers that the crisis called by the collapse of the housing bubble caught “us” by surprise.

Well, it didn’t actually catch us by surprise. Some of us had been warning about the potential damage caused by the collapse of the bubble since 2002. We repeatedly tried to warn of the dangers of the housing bubble in whatever forum we had.

It was easy to see that the housing market was hugely over-valued and that, at some point, it would collapse – just as the stock bubble had collapsed in 2000-2002. It was also easy to see that its collapse would have a devastating impact on the economy.

The bubble was driving the economy both directly, by propelling a construction boom, and indirectly, through the impact of housing bubble wealth on consumption. When the bubble burst, there would be nothing to replace this bubble-driven demand. It would be necessary to run the sort of large government budget deficits that we have seen the last four years in order to sustain the economy and keep the unemployment rate out of double digits.

All of this was 100% predictable and predicted. However, Representative Ryan wants to give himself the blanket “who could have known?” amnesty because he and his Wall Street friends chose to ignore the people who were giving the warnings. Ryan should apply a variation on the sanctimonious lines in his video to himself:

“Imagine being warned about an economic crisis that would throw more than 10 million people out of work and cause millions to lose their home and doing nothing. Imagine that our politicians in Congress and the White House chose to do nothing while there was still time, because it would have been bad politics to upset the Wall Street banks who were making so much money. They, instead, chose to ignore the warnings. That is immoral.”

While some of us were putting in overtime and missing sleep trying to warn about the dangers of the housing bubble, Representative Ryan and his cronies were whining about a budget deficit that was almost non-existent. The budget deficits that the government was running in the years just before the collapse of the housing bubble were less than 2% of GDP (pdf). The debt-to-GDP ratio was actually falling. We could have run deficits of this magnitude forever.

After contributing, through his negligence, to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, Representative Ryan has the gall to imply that the people who don’t like his plan now are immoral. While the specifics of his new plan this year have only just been announced, we know what he put on the table last year.

According to projections from the Congressional Budget Office, that plan would have raised the cost to the country of buying Medicare-equivalent insurance policies by $34tn over Medicare’s 75-year planning period. It would also have led to huge cuts in Medicaid, denying healthcare to children, as well as . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2012 at 4:59 pm

Walk and grub

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For the second day I’ve exceeded 5000 steps, so things are moving along. And I just made a terrific grub based on that swordfish dish the other night, but brought into the template. I was cooking from what’s on hand:

Put into 4-qt sauté pan:

2 Tbsp EVOO (rather more than good, but I was using up a bottle)

Heat and add:

3 leeks, sliced crosswise thinly
1 spring onion, ditto
3 green garlics, ditto
1 large jalapeño, diced small with seeds

Sauté those over medium heat until soft. Add:

1 orange bell pepper, small dice
1.5 Tbsp smoked paprika

Sauté more, then add:

1 good-sized bunch of fresh rainbow chard, stalks sliced thinly, leaves chopped small
1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes

Stir, cover, and simmer 20 minutes.

1 lb Pacific line-caught swordfish (this one’s okay to eat according to MBARI) cut into small chunks

Cover, simmer 10 minutes more.

Stir and serve over cooked converted rice. Extremely yummy. Lots left.

I deliberately left out the pine nuts, but now I’m thinking I’ll add those, some black olives, and a diced Meyer lemon (peel and all).

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2012 at 1:32 pm

Making printer cartridges last longer

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The Sister told me of this clever hack: print documents in dark gray rather than black and your printer cartridge will last longer. Cool, eh?

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2012 at 12:47 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Cool water bladder (for air travel, for example)

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We all now know to take empty plastic water bottles to the airport to fill at the water fountain once we’re through security, but they’re a pain. Take a look at these plastic water bladders that hold 0.9 liter ($8) or 2 liters ($10). When empty, you can roll them up to the size of a highlighter, so easily packed and carried, to be filled as needed. No plastic taste, according the note at the link.


Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2012 at 11:33 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

The military’s specialty: Lies and coverups

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The military, when faced with a scandal, has a standard operating procedure—probably some MilSpec thing that includes a Field Manual. The essential steps are to lie, deny, cover-up, admit nothing, and—if absolutely necessary—punish the highest ranking enlisted man involved.

You can see the initiation of the process in this story by David Goldstein and Matthew Schofield in McClatchy, though more benign interpretations are possible. Still, given the military’s history of lying, cover-ups, and protecting officers at all costs, I think a more cynical view is not out of the question:

Besides waiting nearly a week before identifying the Army staff sergeant who’s accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers, the U.S. military scrubbed its websites of references to his combat service.

Gone were photographs of the suspect, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, as well as a recounting in his base’s newspaper of a 2007 battle in Iraq involving his unit that quoted him extensively.

But not really.

Given the myriad ways that information remains accessible on the Internet, despite the best efforts to remove it, the material about Bales was still out there and available, such as in cached versions of Web pages. Within minutes of the Pentagon leaking his name Friday evening, news organizations and others found and published his pictures, the account of the battle — which depicts Bales and other soldiers in a glowing light — and excerpts from his wife’s personal blog.

So why did the Pentagon try to scrub Bales from the Internet in the first place?

The military said its intention in removing the material wasn’t to lessen the Army’s embarrassment over the horrific attack — nine of the victims were children — but to protect the privacy of Bales’ family.

“Protecting a military family has to be a priority,” said a military official, who like several interviewed for this story spoke only on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the case.

“I think the feeding frenzy we saw after his name was released was evidence that we were right to try. … Of course the pages are cached; we know that. But we owe it to the wife and kids to do what we can.”

A second Pentagon official acknowledged that one of the reasons for the delay in releasing Bales’ name was to remove references to his Army service from the Internet. However, when Army Maj. Nidal Hasan was arrested in the deadly shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009, the Pentagon released his name immediately.

Several former military officers said they were perplexed that the Army would try to remove information that already had been public. One called it “unusual.”

Experts agreed that the effort was futile.

“Once a site has been accessed enough times, it’s very, very difficult to remove content,” said Dan Auerbach, a staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit group that supports Internet access. “I don’t want to say it’s impossible, but there’s no evidence of it happening in recent times.”

Another likely concern of the military was that criminal charges against Bales are expected, and the case could last a long time. He’s at the Army’s maximum-security prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

“The military actually does a very good job of protecting defendants’ rights,” said Allan Millett, a military historian at the University of New Orleans and a retired colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve. “I suspect it was simply a matter of not prejudicing either public opinion or anyone who might be involved in the case. I’m sure they’re leaning over backwards.” . . .

Continue reading. I was struck by the strong concern expressed for the military family, and total lack of concern for the Afghans murdered. “Protect the family” and “collateral damage, so what?” do not go easily together, IMO. The military has shown no concern at all for the families who live in countries we invade—indeed, we slaughter them by the hundreds, paying a head bounty to settle things if the survivors insist, but always first denying that there were any civilian casualties at all, and then shrugging them off as “collateral damage.” Why the sudden concern for family welfare? Sure hasn’t been evident before. And if they are so damned concerned about family welfare—even military family welfare—why so little attention given to detecting and treating PTSD. I’m sorry, but the concern shown seems to be alligator tears and doesn’t pass the smell test.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2012 at 7:57 am

Egg-flipping with one eye open

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I still am mostly seeing only with my right eye—left eye can see, but the gas bubble inserted for retina repair is still not yet absorbed, so it messes up the vision. I’ve noticed that seeing with one eye tends to make me feel a bit unsteady (because of lack of peripheral vision on the left side, I would imagine) and also, oddly, makes it difficult to flip the egg in my standard breakfast. It’s not simply a lack of good depth perception, but rather somehow I have trouble knowing the amount of energy to put into the flip when I’m watching with just one eye.

I’ve worked at it (and broken some yolks, though the eggs have all been edible—the part that I caught in the pan, at any rate). I’ve found that gently moving the pan back and forth before the flip helps some—like a cat bobbing its head up and down to judge distance before a jump—but it doesn’t always work: this morning I did a first. I attempted to flip the egg 180º and instead flipped it 360º: the egg flipped completely around and landed on the original bottom, still sunny-side up. A second flip using less energy did the trick, but it was quite a surprise (a) to see the egg do a complete somersault and land on its feet, as it were, and (b) to have had no intention of doing such a thing.

Fine breakfast, and yolk did not break: the over-easy egg came out perfect.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2012 at 7:44 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Noise pollution and wildlife (including plants)

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Susan Milius has an interesting article in Science News:

Noise pollution can stomp its soundprint on plants, a study of motors chugging in a Western forest finds.

Of course, plants don’t have ears, but birds and other animals hear the throb of humankind’s motors. The uproar drives away some species and sometimes encourages others, swapping their various influences on plants, says Clinton Francis of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, N.C.

Around noisy gas wells in a northwestern New Mexico woodland, Francis and his colleagues found that the reshuffling of birds and small mammals changed the odds of success for crucial steps in plant reproduction. Hummingbird pollination, important for certain wildflowers, increased. Yet birds likely to spread around pine seeds without eating all of them largely gave way to seed-eating mice, he and his colleagues report online March 21 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The new experiments are the first to show that sounds affect the structure of a whole biological community, says behavioral ecologist John Swaddle at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. With such cascading consequences, “whole ecosystems can be restructured by noise pollution,” he says.

The automated gas wells in a squat forest of pinyon pine and juniper create a natural experimental setup for separating the effects of noise from other quirks of landscapes, Francis says. About half the wells need compressors that run day and night, which blast such a din that anyone working up close needs ear protection to prevent permanent hearing damage. The rest of the wells don’t use compressors but have the same basic set-up.

Earlier work concluded that for bird nesting, noise matters (SN: 8/27/11, p. 26). About the same number of individual birds nested around both the roaring and quieter wells, but the quieter neighborhood had a greater variety of species. Western scrub jays hardly showed up around the noisy sites, possibly because the noise masked the jays’ hunting cues. But house finches and black-chinned hummingbirds were actually more common there, perhaps avoiding some noise-averse predators.

Curious about the effect of noise on plants, Francis and his colleagues created a . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2012 at 7:31 am

Great shave using mystery brush

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Absolutely wonderful shave today. The brush shown is the Vie-Long Bombito sold by, which is where I got it. $15, terrific lather generator, but I will continue in my belief that this is horsehair, not boar, or else Andalusian boars are an amazing breed. Example: I’ve used the brush just 3 or 4 times previously—much too soon to break in boar—and I fearlessly used it with the (excellent) Mama Bear Turkish Mocha shave stick. I would not do that normally with a new boar brush, especially one with a relatively small knot (compared to, say, the Omega Pro 48): the brush simply would not hold enough lather for three passes.

With this brush—which also feels like horsehair, not boar, and which I did not soak—I immediately got a very nice lather indeed and was able to work it up quite well. I think it’s a horsehair brush, but whatever it is, it’s a bargain at $15. Go for it.

Turkish Mocha has a great morning fragrance, and the red-tipped Super Speed with a previously used Rapira blade did a fine job: three passes, no nicks, perfect smoothness. A splash of Mr. Klein’s Obsession aftershave, and I’m ready to prepare for the cleaning ladies…

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2012 at 7:21 am

Posted in Shaving

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