Friday, October 29, 2010

Bo Burnham Saves My Schedule

I didn't think I would have time for a blog post today, but just before I went to bed last night, Bo Burnham posted a song from his Words Words Words special.  This song really grabbed my attention when I heard it in the show, and I'm glad he posted it online so I can share it.

art is dead. (NSFW)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

New Camera: Cat Photos

I got that new camera I was thinking about getting awhile back. I also used it exactly how I planned. I have tons of new cat photos! My current plan is to post a sampling of cat pictures whenever I don't have a better idea for a post. So, if you don't want this to become another cat blog, leave a comment telling me what you'd like me to write about!

What big eyes Apple has!

Mac was quite happy to find a way up to a new high place.

Apple being cute.  Imagine that.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Biblical Analysis: Samson's Death

25 While they were in high spirits, they shouted, "Bring out Samson to entertain us." So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them.
When they stood him among the pillars, 26 Samson said to the servant who held his hand, "Put me where I can feel the pillars that support the temple, so that I may lean against them." 27 Now the temple was crowded with men and women; all the rulers of the Philistines were there, and on the roof were about three thousand men and women watching Samson perform. 28 Then Samson prayed to the LORD, "O Sovereign LORD, remember me. O God, please strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes." 29 Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, 30 Samson said, "Let me die with the Philistines!" Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived. Judges 16: 25-30

I don't think I've ever seen two structural pillars close enough for a single person to put a hand on both at the same time. Consequently, the preceding passage has always made me wonder about the temple Samson died in. Especially after reading it as an adult: What kind of temple can hold three thousand people on the roof and still have two critical supports that close together? I figured someone out there had already done the research, what with it being in the Bible, and the Bible being the most popular book ever.

I wasn't disappointed. John Roskoski, PhD, seems to have written quite a bit on the subject. I first found his paper that describes the size of the temple, among other things. It was "26 feet wide by 47 feet long," according to Dr. B.G. Wood, as quoted by Roskoski. "The pillars would be within the reach of Samson, a huge man according to most scholars, as they were situated approximately six feet apart." This is based on the excavation of Tell Qasile, which is believed to be very similar to the temple in Gaza. With that question somewhat answered, I moved on to the three thousand people on the roof. A roof that is definitely too small for three thousand people.

John Roskoski's article on Samson's death addressed the number of people in the section appropriately titled "How Many People?"
The Hebrew term ‘elep represents the numeral 1,000. However, there are several specialized meanings attached to this term. One meaning is that the term represents the “largest basic division of leadership in political oversight or military leadership.” Also, “it is occasionally alleged that since ‘elep means a company of a thousand men it could mean any military unit, even of reduced strength” (Scott 1980: 48). Therefore, it seems as though the text is referring to three distinct contingencies that were in attendance, in addition to the followers of Dagon who filled the temple.
I have no way of really evaluating the information in that section. For now, I will accept it as it is. I will say that it doesn't strike me as a particularly strong argument, though. It seems odd to have to use some specialized meaning of a word in order for it to make sense. We go from "three thousand men and women" to "three distinct contingencies." It seems rather vague.

For the record, my favorite fact comes from a footnote in the first paper by Roskoski: "The columns were wider at the top and tapered at the bottom, a result of inverting the cypress trunk so to prevent sprouting once in place." I had no idea that was a problem, and I love the mental image that comes to mind when imagining some engineer encountering that problem for the first time.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Trade Deficits and Trading

There's been a lot of talk over the years about the trade deficit as concerns imports and exports. I understand that concept - we buy more than we sell, so money is leaving the country. I also understand, roughly, that that's a bad thing. Well, I used to understand that. Looking at a section of the previous link, there seem to be a lot of smart people that think trade deficits could be a good thing. That may be a topic for later.

I've been curious as to whether money is actually leaving the country, overall. This balance of trade really only covers the import and export of physical goods and real services, as near as I can tell. I can find no indication that the portion of treasury auctions purchased by foreign entities counts as either an export or import. This statistic also doesn't count profits and losses from stock trades, bonds, forex trades, etc.

Awesomely enough, some of that data can be found. It looks like I could spend a few years sifting through the data at the Treasury International Capital (TIC) site. It took me most of a day to read the FAQ! But, there's some absolutely great data, such as this grand total table of foreign transactions. And these grand total tables of foreign liabilities and foreign claims. And this other table of derivatives contracts stuff. There's a lot of information to read on how to use all this information. Then there's this table of everything (Flow of Funds Accounts) over at the Federal Reserve statistics site.

Perhaps you can see why I said I found a lot more information than I expected to. I still don't think this covers everything. For one, the FAQ says there are a lot of errors due to a variety of factors. And even with all these statistics being complete, I don't think they would be able to answer my question. I'm still not sure if these show any profitability in all these trades, and I'm almost positive they don't cover forex transactions, since that has an average daily volume of $3.98 trillion, and I don't see any figures with large enough values to cover that. I have to admit that I'm tired of looking into it at the moment. However, if anyone has the answer, or even just another piece of the puzzle, please do let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Filler: Bug Videos

I was talking with a friend the other day and mentioned videos of bugs flying around porch lights and the like. Because I like the videos, but mostly because I found a lot more information than I was planning to for today's scheduled blog post, I'll share the videos I had in mind while talking with my friend.

They're both from the same person - Katers17 on youtube. There may be better ones out there. I really haven't ever looked. As I said, this is filler. Feel free to share your favorite bug video(s) in the comments, though!
  1. Night Light
  2. Night Light 2: Firefly Bug Ballet

Monday, October 18, 2010

Nerd to Jock

I'm making the transition from nerd to jock. It doesn't surprise me that you don't believe me, which is why I'm presenting evidence!

A couple of years ago, I went to Microsoft Tech-Ed and got 14 t-shirts! A couple were medium-sized and so I gave them away, but I'm pretty sure I kept the rest. And added them to my collection of IBM t-shirts. That is to say, virtually all my t-shirts were related to technology companies. My mom tried her best to counteract this by buying me the occasional t-shirt that she found hilarious, but I don't think I'd go so far as to say that they made me less nerdy.

Recently, however, I've been running [I didn't end up running in this 5K due to food poisoning] some 5Ks and other benefit things that give out t-shirts. Thus, my t-shirt wardrobe is gradually transitioning from technology t-shirts to running t-shirts. Plus, I wrote recently about football, though admittedly I was on the outside of the conversation. Still, incontrovertible evidence that I am changing from being a nerd to being a jock!

To be fair, there is some evidence that this is a very slow process in its earliest stages. But only a little bit of evidence, really. And I suppose that this post kind of contradicts itself. And all but one of the fitness-related tags below are new....

Friday, October 15, 2010

Quantum Tunneling and The Matrix

As I'm sure you know, quantum tunneling involves a particle not impacting a barrier. One would expect that a particle hitting a barrier would bounce off, just like a baseball off a wall [I wanted to link that to a clip of The Great Escape with Hilts in his cell, but due to copyright enforcement the closest I can get is the final scene - SPOILER ALERT]. A curious thing can happen with individual particles in quantum mechanics, though. There's a probability, dependent upon the speed and mass of the particle and the thickness and other properties of the barrier, that the particle will tunnel through and appear on the other side. This has a number of absolutely cool applications: pressure sensors, a bunch of physics and semiconductor stuff, and of course the scanning tunneling microscope.

All this strikes me as similar to something else, though, and that is the errors in collision detection that some games have. I had a friend in high school that made an awesome QBasic platformer called Bouncy, which was just a bouncy ball that had to bounce around a screen to get to the exit. In some of the early versions, it was quite possible to get bouncing so fast that you'd run straight through the platform you were on and die. The probability of going through the platform was dependent upon your speed, the thickness of the platform, and the length of time between calculations. Sounds quite a lot like quantum tunneling! Which is why I think we're in The Matrix, and that our simulation needs to calculate things at a finer time resolution. Quantum mechanics is very probably just a programming error. Q.E.D.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dangerous Fox vs Invaluable Olbermann and Maddow: Part II

In my last entry, I went over the negative sides of the implication that the White House was incorrect in calling Fox News dangerous while praising Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow as invaluable was false. I looked at a sample of NewsBusters articles on Rachel Maddow, and listed the arguments Media Matters made for Fox News being dangerous. The Fox News part stands on its own. Unfortunately, in order to make a decision on Rachel Maddow, you'll have to combine these two posts and weigh the NewsBusters articles against her videos below. For Keith Olbermann, I have only listed a few videos, which can't be weighed against any NewsBusters articles. As I mentioned on Monday, their search feature was removed. It has since reappeared, so perhaps I will write a Part III, but probably not. If you have good examples of Olbermann being less than invaluable, share them in the comments of Part I!
I found at least a few of the above videos invaluable, personally. This is by no means an exhaustive list of good segments. It is much harder to browse video clips than blog posts, currently. It also doesn't include (many) segments that show them being vindictive, save that last one. Anyway, do you have other favorite clips from The Rachel Maddow Show or Countdown with Keith Olbermann? Share them below in the comments!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Dangerous Fox vs Invaluable Olbermann and Maddow: Part I

As I mentioned in my post on looking for conservative facts, I've been reading the NewsBusters blog. They've taken issue with Barack Obama calling Fox News dangerous while White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton called Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow invaluable. I decided to investigate a bit. First, let's look at what each side has to say about the other.

I'll start with NewsBusters' articles about Rachel Maddow, since I was already at the site. NewsBusters' search is done using a Google custom search, so this is effectively random stories. Because of this randomness, I wanted a good sample size, so this is approximately two pages worth:
So, Rachel Maddow is liberal, possibly distorts a fact on her show every once in awhile, is liberal, makes lots of money, is liberal, possibly hypocritical, and is liberal. This is what NewsBusters has to say about Rachel Maddow at random times. I have to say that I wasn't too terribly impressed. NB's recent site redesign does not include a search box anymore, and this post is very long (for me) already. Consequently, I'll be skipping Keith Olbermann articles. It should be noted that Keith Olbermann is probably a more divisive figure, though.

Contrast that to what MediaMatters has to say about Fox News. MediaMatters has wonderful search functionality, and they regularly do issue-summary articles, so I didn't have to do a random sampling at all.
Fox's dangerousness is pretty well documented by MediaMatters. It's a rare day when most every major program on Fox doesn't have an article or blog post on it. Most of those entries are related, showing a long history of coordinated efforts at presenting their agenda, often with disputed facts and other problems.

With the negative stuff out of the way, I'll explore the other half of the argument in my next entry: Does Maddow (and/or Olbermann) provide any sort of invaluable service? In the meantime, please comment below if you have more and/or better examples of Maddow (or Olbermann) being bad, or of Fox being dangerous. If you disagree with my characterization of any of these links, or the opinions therein, then please enlighten me!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Health Care Reform: Federal Funding of Abortions

I realize I'm a bit late to this party, but while researching for another blog post, I read this article accusing Maddow of lying about abortion funding over at NewsBusters.
Count me as a fan of the cite-the-page-numbers trick as well. I'm especially enamored of what's in the section of the Senate health bill immediately preceding the one cited by Maddow (follow this link for the bill; see page 2,071) The section is titled as follows, with capitalized letters in the original -- "ABORTIONS FOR WHICH PUBLIC FUNDING IS ALLOWED".

As in, public funding for abortions. Once again, a la Maddow -- public funding for abortions. A third time, in case she still misses it -- P-U-B-L-I-C F-U-N-D-I-N-G F-O-R A-B-O-R-T-I-O-N-S.

Gee, where would Congressman Stupak get that impression?

Who knows, maybe the section cited by Maddow trumps the one I'm referring to. The bill is written in such dense legalese that only high clergy of the courts would be able to decipher it and they wouldn't agree on the language either. [emphasis removed because copy/and paste doesn't keep boldness and I didn't want to add "[emphasis in original]" editor's notes]
I went ahead and visited the pdf link and went to page 2070-2071:
(A) IN GENERAL. — Notwithstanding any other provision of this title (or any amendment made by this title) —
    (i) nothing in this title (or any amendment made by this title), shall be construed to require a qualified health plan to provide coverage of services described in subparagraph (B)(i) or (B)(ii) as part of its essential health benefits for any plan year; and
    (ii) subject to subsection (a), the issuer of a qualified health plan shall determine whether or not the plan provides coverage of services described in subparagraph (B)(i) or (B)(ii) as part of such benefits for the plan year.
The services described in this clause are abortions for which the expenditure of Federal funds appropriated for the Department of Health and Human Services is not permitted, based on the law as in effect as of the date that is 6 months before the beginning of the plan year involved.
The services described in this clause are abortions for which the expenditure of Federal funds appropriated for the Department of Health and Human Services is permitted, based on the law as in effect as of the date that is 6 months before the beginning of the plan year involved.
I'm not a "high clergy of the court" but I think I deciphered it without much trouble. Paragraph (A)(i) states that abortion coverage is not required by any health plan. Paragraph (A)(ii) says that the plan issuer has the responsibility of determining what abortion coverage is included in the plan. This has consequences in the next section which describes how payment for such coverage must be separately accounted for such that no Federal funds are used for abortion coverage - unless specifically allowed. What does it mean for abortions to be allowed/prohibited from using Federal funds? That is described in the next two paragraphs. Rather, it is referenced in those paragraphs. This legislation does not alter the existing abortion funding laws. It just states that when determining how abortions are classified for funding purposes, the law as stated six months prior to the plan year shall be used. This gives time for lawyers to go over existing law, brochures to be printed and distributed, etc. It makes perfect sense to me.

So, Rachel Maddow was much more correct in her analysis than NewsBusters was. For those curious, current Federal abortion funding is based mostly on the Hyde Amendment. This allowed federal funding for abortions only in the case of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Others, more credible than I, have also verified that the health reform legislation did not increase federal funding of abortion.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What's Been Wasting My Time

I'm currently working on a couple posts that require some research (maybe a few posts, depending on how much research I do). Consequently, this post is pretty much just filler.

A couple of months ago, I found Freddie Wong's youtube channel. I've really enjoyed his videos. They tend to involve video game jokes, which are always fun. To get a bit more nerdy, check out his second channel where he discusses the editing and other behind the scenes type stuff. It's a decent way to waste time, if nothing else! The quality is also pretty good considering they are weekly videos.

A few of my favorites:
Chrono Trigger: Short Action Scene
Flower Warfare - Psychedelic Action Scene
Time Crisis - Ft. Andy Whitfield
Gun Size Matters (with Shenae Grimes!)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Future TV Series Won't Be Watched

I've decided to not watch TV shows until they enter their second or third season, at least. There will be exceptions to this, I'm sure, but I'm tired of becoming interested in a story and getting attached to the characters only to have the show canceled. I know I'm not the only one that is tired of this happening. As more people give up, the problem is likely to get worse, too.

Just compare the story of Cheers' first season and following success to that of any other show in the last decade. No, Cheers would have been canceled halfway through it's first season. Or earlier - take the recent canceling of Lone Star after only two episodes. That's rather ridiculous, in my opinion. I wonder if Lone Star was scheduled for a full 20+ episode season, or if they were doing the frustrating 9 to 14 episode half-seasons.

Actually, I had subscribed to Lone Star on Hulu despite the horrible ads that didn't interest me in the slightest except for having Jon Voight. I hadn't gotten around to actually watching the pilot episode before its cancellation was announced. I wonder if Hulu viewership is counted in the decision making process, or if TV viewership is all that matters, still. I had briefly considered the possibility that, in the future, new shows wouldn't be produced for TV until a successful run as a web series, like The Guild. I don't think people used to watching online shows would all tune in at one particular time when it transitioned to broadcast, though.

Anyway, here are some shows that I was particularly sad got canceled so early, even if I didn't watch them all as they came out. Nice and alphabetized for you!

I'll use Hulu to watch those shows I do decide to follow after their probationary period. My TV is useless to me except for watching tennis. Hulu even has excellent movies they make available every once in awhile. Like Real Genius or Glory! Goodbye broadcast TV.

Friday, October 1, 2010

My Failure as a Man

It's time to report one of my few failures. The last time was a few years ago when I failed as a homeowner. This time, I failed at being a man. Or at being manly. Or at being a stereotypical man. Whatever your view of being a man and/or manly is.

The block I grew up on, where my parents still live, threw a block party a couple weeks ago. As the families trickled in, there was the usual separation - the husbands positioned themselves near the food and discussed manly things and the wives went off to gossip, or whatever it is wives do. Thinking only of the food, I found myself stuck with the men, in unfamiliar territory.

You see, there was frequent talk of that manliest of manly sports: football. "Did you see the K-State game yesterday?" "That was an awesome game!" "I can't believe the Chiefs won!" "[Some guy] did [some play]!" And as each new husband arrived, it started again: "Boy, that was some game!" Players were gradually substituted, and the same verbal plays were repeated over and over. There was no defense in this conversation, so the plays worked every time.

They had a common language; a common experience on which to base their communication. I knew what they were talking about, generally, but I didn't see either game - or know they were on - and I didn't know what each of the exciting things they were talking about were, specifically. I could have parroted some of the more common phrases, but that wouldn't necessarily be intelligible.

There was nothing I could do but stay quiet and hope no one noticed my lack of knowledge. Thankfully, there seems to be an almost-universal rule of not engaging others in conversation. Except that the football conversation started somehow.... Perhaps I didn't have the right stance? Or maybe I wasn't making strong eye contact like manly football watchers do? Did I make too much eye contact? I was probably expected to have grunted or something. Or maybe my soft hands and pale skin gives me away as someone who sits in front of their computer all day. I suppose it's most likely that I didn't show the proper appreciation for the insightful commentary on why the local team won.

There are other topics of conversation that men have, but they don't seem to be nearly as universal as football. For example, I've been known to make the occasional Star Trek reference (see previous two links) among friends, or discuss video games and the like. But, those aren't reliable topics of conversation when it comes to gatherings of pseudorandom males (i.e., casual acquaintances). I even suck at the video game talk. I don't keep up with the latest games, usually, and I've never owned a console. I didn't even play the classic games, for the most part. I don't often get the references to awesome character X, or video game series Y. I'm afraid I fail again.