Saturday, September 24, 2005

CDF Air Force Invades Boulder Creek

Some things make you nervous. If you live in Florida, you worry about hurricanes. If you live on the west coast, you worry about earthquakes. And no matter where you live, if you are in the forest, you worry about fire.

Just before 6 PM, I had the kids in the car and was trying to persuade them to get up to the house for dinner. We are used to hearing firetrucks about every week, so I hadn't paid much attention to the two we had just heard. Just as the kids were starting to move, we heard a helicopter approaching. The moment we looked up, a California Department of Forestry Huey appeared right over our house, really low. Calvin freaked out at the noise. I became a little concerned when the Huey didn't leave the area, but instead started circling in the valley adjacent to my house.

And then I noticed the observation airplane, an OV-10A orbiting high overhead. That means they care enough about what's going on that they need someone up high watching and directing traffic. That got my attention. I started to actively look for aircraft. The problem was, I was looking in the sky.

Once I started looking through the trees, I saw the third prong of the CDF's air trident - the S-2T tanker airplane. He was flying low, and this was obviously a drop run. A neighbor confirmed there were several retardant drops made.

All the while, I never saw a fire or smoke. Within the space of about 5 minutes, I went from not seing any aircraft, to seeing all three of the workhorses of the CDF. Whatever was burning out here, these guys were all over it like it was their homes and families near the fire. Whoever you are, thank you for putting your asses on the line for us.

Every once in a while, you realize what it is that taxes are for, and maybe you don't mind paying them for a few days. And then nothing burns down in your neighborhood for a few months and you forget...

Pictures copied from: OV-10A Bronco - UH-1H Super Huey - S-2T Tracker


Friday, September 23, 2005

Graphic Design Goof: Yahoo! Puked on my Computer

So after weeks of Yahoo Instant Messenger nagging me to upgrade in one of it's eight thousand popup advertisements, I finally acquiesced. I don't really like Yahoo's IM client, but my wife insists on using it, and my experience with multi-lingual clients like Trillian has not been positive. So, I stick with the bloated pile of adware that is Yahoo.

After believing I had successfully installed YIM without all the crappy "toolbars" and other stuff that clutters up my universe, the installer displayed the final "You're done!" screen, and what did I see, but the little happy face guy blowing chunks on my screen. What does it mean that the purple streams of technicolor vomit don't cast a shadow?

Great, thanks Yahoo. Now I feel like you guys are intentionally puking on my computer when I fail to uncheck the little "Install evil toolbar" button. What was that url for Google Talk again?


Thursday, September 22, 2005

Men Replaced by Mobile Phones

First we had the wife who chose her cell phone over her husband, now we have discovered a rash of women stealing cell phones and hiding them in various bodily orifices.

There have been two reported incidents of women hiding phones in their vaginas - one in Jamaica, and one in Romania, and now we have the latest trick of hiding a phone in the rectum - also in Romania.

So my question is, are Romanian cell phones that expensive, or are Romanian women that desperate for "vibrate mode"? Which reminds me - I'm going to go disable "vibrate" on my wife's cell phone.

(via Boing Boing)

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Logo Collisions

Boing Boing's comments on logo plagiarism reminded me of something I've noticed - there are several cases of companies or organizations that are in completely different fields having nearly identical logos.

It is not likely that any plagiarism is involved, and apparently the companies don't care enough to sue, because this has been going on for quite some time.

For example, Applied Materials and Planned Parenthood have very similar logos. The differences are three lines versus two, a mirror image change, and a 3-D vs. 2-D look to the layering of the lines.

An even more stunning example is Sun Microsystems vs. Columbia Sportswear. The sole difference is that the little U shapes are filled in in the Columbia logo. From a distance or at low resolution, the two are identical.

In addition we have the recent news that Quark has run into trouble with the Scottish Arts Council for having a substantially similar logo, as seen in this Yahoo News story.

Mike Davidson has an excellent piece on Logo Originality as well.


Monday, September 19, 2005

Environmentalists to Blame for Delayed New Orleans Levees

In the wake of Al Gore's remarks at a Sierra Club summit, the American Spectator's R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. delivers a telling blow to those who would blame Bush era budget cuts for delays in improving New Orleans' flood protection. Environmentalist organizations have been suing to prevent progress for decades, citing insufficient environmental impact reports. This has been a serious contribution to the damage sustained by the big easy.

This would not be so hard to swallow if it were not the same sort of people who are today shouting from the rooftop that George W. Bush cut the budget and single-handedly destroyed New Orleans.

Now, because those who would have improved hurricane protection in New Orleans were prevented by the environmentalist rigorists, the wetlands are polluted and imperiled and New Orleans has suffered the damage that practical minds have been trying to prevent for three decades.

The National Review also has more details in their article Greens vs. Levees.


Newsflash: Insurance Companies Don't Like Sick People

For the second time in my life I've received a letter from Blue Cross (my health insurance company) asking about my health insurance coverage. It's a really politely worded letter which helpfully states "WE ARE MISSING IMPORTANT INFORMATION AND NEED YOUR HELP TO PROCESS YOUR CLAIMS CORRECTLY!" Note that they don't say they need my help to PAY my claims. It is quite obvious they are clutching at straws to get out of paying for all or part of my health care.

The first time this happened was in 1998 or so. My employer had just changed insurance providers, so I was a new Blue Cross "customer". Within a few months I had a run of bad health luck and ended up with pneumonia and several other treatable conditions right in a row. I then received a letter which was similarly politely worded, asking if I had insurance prior to becoming a Blue Cross customer, and if so could I please provide my old insurance information. This was an obvious attempt to avoid paying due to pre-existing conditions, something they can't do if a patient had insurance previously. Their computers must have seen a pattern: Doug becomes a Blue Cross customer, and bang we have 5 or 6 claims in a row - please try to weasel out of paying.

At the time, my company had changed health insurance providers several times, and we had even been with Blue Cross before. The only time I received one of these letters was when I had a run of claims.

Now we are in 2005. I've been with Blue Cross for a very long time, with mostly good health, and now I have a wife and three kids, the youngest being 2.5 year old twins. Well, in the last 2 to 4 months we have had a bad string of health problems - I had pneumonia again, visited the ER once, kids have been sick many times, and in general we've been a pain in the rear end of our medical insurance. So, once again Blue Cross struggles desperately to try to find a way not to pay. This time, they are looking to see if maybe my wife works and they can soak her insurance for some of the cost.

Do you or your dependents have any other medical insurance?

It's funny you didn't ask this until we suddenly have a large number of claims all at once. You're happy to take our money and my employer's money with no questions asked - it's only when a cluster of claims appear and you're worried about losing money on me that you are suddenly concerned with paperwork.


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Santa's Very Nice

Sabina quote:
You know what? Santa's very nice because he always gives me a bunk bed.

Fun With Stupid Math Errors

So today I set up my rain gauge that came with the groovy Oregon Scientific WMR968 weather station, and I wanted to be sure it worked and was calibrated. So, I thought I would pour some volume of water into the rain gauge, calculated so it should read as close to 1 inch of rainfall as possible.

To do this, I measured the diameter of the circular rain gauge opening. If I had all the cool tools I know I need, I'd have used calipers. Instead, I had to settle for a measuring tape and eyeball it.

I decided after much hemming and hawing that the diameter was as close to 3 and 29/32 inches as I could possibly determine with a measuring tape marked in 1/16ths of an inch. I then plugged this into google:
(3 + 29/32) inches * (3+29/32) inches * 1 inch

The result was almost exactly 250 milliliters, which is 1 cup. This seemed to be too good to be a coincidence - obviously Oregon Scientific engineered this rain gauge to process 1 cup of water per inch of rain that falls. Very clever.

So, I poured 1 cup of water into my rain gauge, as slowly as I could. This still worked out to a rate of 21 inches per hour, according to the weather console. I figured there was some error in the size of my measuring cup, and that since I was pouring the water so fast compared to rainfall that the gauge would underreport - some water must inevitably be not recorded if it falls through the rain gauge in the middle of a "dump", where the gauge self-empties.

I was somewhat surprised to see the result on the computer: 1.14 inches of rain fell.

Then I slapped myself silly. I had calculated the volume required as if my rain gauge had a square opening, and it has a circular opening. Back to google:

((3 + 29/32)/2) inches * ((3 + 29/32)/2) inches * 1 inch * pi

So the answer is now 196 milliliters. Too close to 200 to be a coincidence! Or, given how far off I was the last time I thought of this, nevermind.

So, my 1 cup of water should have measured 1.28 inches. At least this has the error in the direction I was expecting it. Either way, it's close enough for me. The measured error is about 14%, but I believe that with slower rainfall the error will decrease dramatically due to reduced "dump" losses.

If I think of it, I'll put up a standard manual rain gauge next to the new one to see if the results are comparable.

Next step: A weather web page. I'm sure my loyal reader will be thrilled. Actually, I know he will, because he is me.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Highlight Reel of Angry Katrina Reporters

Salon has put together a fantastic highlight film of reporters doing their jobs. Watch Anderson Cooper get in Senator Landrieu's face. See Ted Koppel tear FEMA director Michael Brown several new orifices. See Tim Russert latch on to Secretary of Homeland Security Chertoff like a crazed weasel.

Don't miss Bill O'Reilly being smacked down by Shepard Smith and Geraldo Rivera.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Chewing Gum Targets

Bubble Gum Alley, San Luis Obispo
Boing Boing posted a story about the chewing gum target, a designated place to stick your gum - presumably so you don't pollute the rest of the city.

Such places already exist, for example Bubble Gum Alley in San Luis Obispo. According to some reports, on hot days all the gum gets nice and soft, and the aroma of a million pieces of ABC gum fill the air. I know where my next vacation is going to be!

Fountain at the Virgin Mary shrine, near Ephesus, Turkey
One previous vacation to Turkey found me at the purported site of the Virgin Mary's last home. Apparently she migrated to Ephesus in modern day Turkey, where the locals had been worshipping the female Athena and had a hard time swallowing this whole Christianity thing until a convenient female figure was emphasized. On the site today is a small chapel, and a fountain. With Mary being an important figure in both Christianity and Islam, the mountain top stone buildings are a popular destination for Turks and foreign tourists alike.

Evidently in Turkey the custom is to leave some small item from your person at a holy place, for example by tying a small string from your shirt to something handy. This custom evolved into people leaving chewing gum on the stone fountain. I suppose even the Blessed Virgin could appreciate some bubble gum now and then.

The thought of admiring a wall of used gum may appeal to some, but I prefer my used gum where it belongs - on the bottom of tables in restaurants and on the sidewalk where I can conveniently step on it.

Photo of Bubble Gum Alley in San Luis Obispo copied from Local

Creative Commons License This photograph of the Virgin Mary shrine taken by me in 1999 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.


iMac: Slow DVD burning

I've had an iMac G5 for a couple of months now, and I love it. Recently I started trying to burn DVDs, and now I've got issues.

So far I just have the 100 TDK 8x DVD-R and 100 TDK 8x DVD+R I bought at Costco, so I need to try some other brands. But, for now, it looks like DVD-Rs turn into coasters at 75% or so, and DVD+Rs burn but only at 4x. When the DVD-Rs aren't coasters, they burn at 2x.

Something fishy going on here, I'll follow up when I can.


Friday, September 02, 2005

I Can't Afford My Gasoline

Cute little country ditty about getting reamed at the gas pump. Don't forget your vaseline!


Katrina: It's Bush's Fault!!!

It seems everywhere you look you see stories about how Bush cut funding for the flood control projects in New Orleans.

Well, as usual, it's convenient to judge in hindsight what our priorities should have been, but EU Rota has done a spectacular job of showing that it's not just Bush who cut spending on New Orleans flood control projects.

Every government project that doesn't happen to be in the district of the Speaker of the House will be subjected to budget cuts sooner or later.


Putting the psi into science

This article in the Guardian discusses the Koestler Parapsychology Unit at the University of Edinburgh.

These are real scientists using real scientific rigor to test possible psychic phenomena. These are the good guys, even if so far they haven't come up with something that convinces me there is something to it. The main point is, they are doing real tests instead of blindly putting forth specious claims.


Thursday, September 01, 2005

Finding vs. Looting - clarification

Someone claiming to be the photographer who wrote the now infamous "Finding" caption which touched off a crapstorm of racial tension clears the air. For any who missed it, the claim was that pictures of black people called them "looters", while this picture merely said the people had found the groceries.

The photographer says he truly believes that the people in that picture found the groceries. Here are some of his recent photos from Getty Images:

Two black men and a white man have "taken" food and juice and supplies from a Walgreens. I guess "looting" is reserved for taking TVs and computers - it seems to me reasonable to "take" food if you are a starving flood victim.