Sunday, January 31, 2010

Catcher in the Rye

The death of the author, J.D. Salinger, brought the book back to mind. I first read it in high school, on my own time, 'cause of the buzz it was getting. The book was new then. Like Holden Caulfield, I was attending boarding school, in fact a boarding school within 75 miles of Holden's fictional school. I could relate to Holden's desire to go to New York, to get served, and then get laid.

Unlike truly well written books, Catcher required real effort to keep reading. About three quarters of the way thru, where Holden starts obsessing about hairs in his roommate's razor, I decided Holden was a nut case and I was wasting my time reading about him. Forty odd years later, my son is required to read Catcher for school. So I borrowed his copy and read it thru, so I could discuss it with some authority.
On the second reading, I was struck by how Holden goes around with a kick-me sign on his back and then wonders why he isn't very popular at school. Early on Holden manages to loose the fencing teams equipment on the way to a match. It never occurs to him that his team mates are going think he is a jerk for that play. He takes advantage of his younger sister who adores him and lacks the courage to actually get sexual with a prostitute. With a more adult viewpoint, I could see that Holden, in addition to being a nut case, was a loser to boot. This time I got to the end and see Holden incarcerated in a booby hatch. At last, there is justice in the world I thought.
Son was unimpressed with Catcher. Teachers all love it.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

5.7 % GNP growth. Do I believe it?

Yesterday the TV announced the US gross national product (GNP) had grown 5/7% in the last quarter of 2009.
Wow. Normal GNP growth is 3%, that number holds good all the way back to WWII. 5.7% is a boom.
Why does not the country feel like boom times? Could the figures be off or fudged? How can the country raise output of goods and services 5.7% with 10% of the workforce laid off? Surely it requires workers to turn out the goods.
On the other hand, if the number is real, Great Depression 2.0 is easing off. Lets hope.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Commentary on Avatar

Commentary, a conservative high brow magazine of politics and the arts, did a piece on Avatar. Not remarkable, it's only the top grossing movie of all time and thus worthy of a writeup. Stephen Hunter does the review and gets sucked into a search for the deep inner meaning of the flick. Trouble is, there is no deep inner meaning. The plot is shallow, as shallow as a Western or a Bond movie. Focusing on the light weight plot doesn't do much for his readers, most of whom have seen the movie by now. We know the plot was so light weight as to float. We enjoyed the scenery, the fighting, the flying, and exploring the lush jungle of Pandora.
A more perceptive review would have explored just what made this movie the all time best seller/top grosser despite the light weight plot, cardboard characters, and good guy bad guy role reversal.
Especially as Avatar is a "see once" movie, unlike Star Wars which racked up money from awe struck fans seeing it two, three, and four times.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

State of the Union (SOTU for short)

I stayed up and watched it. It was unsatisfying. It ran forever. It was mostly bafflegab, motherhood and apple pie. Obama isn't changing direction, at least not much. The speech had no overall unity, it was a collection of political sound bites, one after the other, each one so vague as to be meaningless. It certainly didn't call the democrats to arms in the face of the Scott Brown threat, or state broad principles that drive his administration. No rousing lines to match "We shall fight them on the beaches,... " or "Ask not what your country can do for you..."
A few surprises. Obama admitted that his health care is not politically popular. This provoked a nervous titter of laughter. Then he said they ought to pass it anyhow. A real democrat here. Clearly Obama has gone far beyond believing that politicians are supposed to represent the voters. Obama still believes in global warming and still wants the job destroying cap & trade bill. He mentioned foreign trade and Columbia, South Korea, and somewhere else, but he did not advocate passing the free trade treaties for those countries bottled up in Congress.
He attacked the recent Supreme Court decision that overturned McCain-Feingold and allows unions, corporations large and small, and other organizations to, print and televise their viewpoints about political matters. Freedom of speech for unions and corporations. Obama is against it, although he didn't state what he wanted to do about it.
One good thing, he did speak up in favor of nuclear power and domestic oil and gas production. That was the only good thing in an hour and a half.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Who caused Great Depression 2.0?

Actually, it's like Murder on the Oriente Express, they all did it. But, one major villain is Elliot Spitzer, New York Attorney General and later Governor. While Attorney General, Spitzer targeted Hank Greenburg, president of AIG. Spitzer made such a stink that Greenburg stepped down as president. He never actually brought charges against Greenburg, but he made blood curdling threats which panicked AIG's board.
AIG was Greenburg's personal creation. He had assembled company after company into the biggest insurance company in the world. Greenburg was the only man competent to run AIG. He was a difficult man to work for, and so all the competent people in the organization had left for greener pastures, leaving a corporation staffed with narrow gauge yes men. With Greenburg gone, AIG began to slide down hill. The surviving management began gambling in the "credit default swap" market to make a quick buck.
Credit default swaps are insurance under a silly name. The deal goes like this. The seller, for a small fee, promises to insure some other company's debt against default. They became immensely popular with traders in risky bonds and securities. Give AIG a small cut, and take the rest of the income risk free. What's not to like?
When the market collapsed in September, AIG suddenly had to pay off zillions and it didn't have the money. Eventually we taxpayers paid off $140 billion of AIG's bad bets, making the buyers (Goldman Sachs, Lehman, Merrill Lynch & company) whole. We probably should have flushed the buyers down the drain, but at the time responsible officials (Treasury Secretary Paulson and Fed chairman Bernanke) thought that was just too dangerous. They only flushed Lehman and paid off the others.
If savvy old Hank Greenburg had still been running AIG, this probably would not have happened. Elliot Spitzer drove the man with his finger in the dike away and sure enough, the dike failed.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

All the data that is fit to print

Is the world getting warmer? How do you tell? One way is to look at temperature readings from the past. NOAA has collected thermometer readings going back to 1701 and posted them on line.
One would think, that you just average all the temperature readings over one year, and you have the average temperature for that year.
Other clever folks have been looking at the raw data and finding discrepancies in it. Jogs up and down, missing data, "urban heat island effect", and other stuff. The clever folk advocate "correcting" the data to "eliminate errors". Trouble is, the "correctors" seldom explain the basis of the "corrections". Worse, some of them work for NOAA and have been "correcting" the raw data files. The "hockey stick" graph was produced by "correcting" the data.
Years ago Scientific American did an article on historical temperature. They gathered up all sorts of records and them "corrected" the data for all sorts of effects. Scientific American, to its credit, did explain their corrections. After doing all the correction, the author declared a small amount of global warmin was visible. However, the amount of warming was smaller than the corrections applied.
Moral of the story. Stick with raw data. Corrections are untrustworthy.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Doing Osama's propaganda for him,

An audio tape surfaced, alleged to be from Bin Ladin. As usual, our brain dead CIA is doing voice analysis and will pronounce the tape authentic.
Why do we do this? Bin Laden audiotapes are bin Laden propaganda. Every time we "authenticate" Bin Laden's propaganda we make it more effective. Lots of people have doubts about these audiotapes. But after his enemies, the American CIA, pronounce them real, many will believe them.
Let Bin Laden do the heavy lifting to convince the followers (including the MSM) that his propaganda is coming from him, rather than imposters.

The power of the mouth

On Meet the Press this morning:

Anchorman David Gregory: "What will President Obama do to improve the economy?"

White House staffer Valerie Jarrett : "He will give a State of the Union Address..."

Highly effective that.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Full body scanners == Electronic Strip Search

In reaction to the serious screwup that allowed the crotch bomber to board the aircraft, the TSA has ordered 150 "full body scanners" essentially small radar sets that see thru clothes. The scanner images are black and white, a little fuzzy, but embarrassing. If they were a bit less fuzzy you could peddle them as pornography. I sure wouldn't want anyone to see my full body scan.

Instead of harassing passengers, we ought to be looking for the bureaucrat[s] who failed to react to the bright red flag warnings the crotch bomber was waving furiously as he boarded. Single male, paid cash at the airport for his ticket, no luggage for a trans continental trip. He should have been marked for extra scrutiny just for that. The Amsterdam airport should have asked him to step aside, patted him down, and interviewed him. If the bureaucrats had been really efficient, a computer search would have turned up the father's warning that the son was turning radical. These things didn't happen. Let's find the negligent bureaucrats and hang them out to dry.

And please lay off us poor passengers.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Brown was elected by independents

Us Republicans need to keep that in mind. Massachusetts Republicans are only 12% of registered voters. Independents are 52%. Brown won by 52%. Assuming every registered Republican voted for Brown, that means the other 40% came from independents and democrats.
Independents tend to be fiscal conservatives and social liberals. Republicans need to concentrate on fiscal issues and stop worrying about the social issues.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cherry Pie (recipe)

Comes out very tasty. Very simple. Make the crust (2 cups flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 tablespoon baking powder, some sugar, one stick of margarine, 1/4 cup cold water). Sift dry ingredients together. Toss in the margarine and use a pair of table knives to chop the margarine up into pieces the size of a baked bean. Add the water. Dust your hands with flour to prevent sticking and knead the dough into a single mass. Adjust the consistency of the dough by adding water til the dough all sticks together and soft enough to roll. Divide pie dough into two parts, one for top crust one for bottom crust. Dust rolling surface and rolling pin with flour. Lacking a rolling pin, use a bottle. Grease the 9" pie pan by rubbing it with the margarine wrapping paper. Put the bottom crust in the pie pan.
Fill the pie with cherry pie filling. Or make your own filling from two cans of cherries. 1/4 cup sugar, 3 tablespoons corn starch and the juice from ONE can of cherries. Cook on low heat, stirring constantly until it thickens. Remove from heat and add two drained cans of cherries. Pour into pie crust. Add top crust and bake at 375 for 40 minutes or so. Pie is done when filling is bubbling hot and crust is browned. A cookie sheet under the pie pan will catch any leaks before they bake themselves onto the oven floor.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


This month's American Rifleman (the NRA mag) has a review of nine little automatic pistols, the pocket sort. They are all good looking and chambered for low powered 380 ACP cartridge. Prices range from $318 to $1150. Each gun gets a picture and a writeup.
The striking thing about the writeups. All, except but one, experienced "malfunctions" during the test shooting. We used to call them stoppages or jams. One pistol maker recommended shooting in the gun with 200 rounds before carrying it for real.
Where as a plain old .38 Special snub nosed revolver never jams, always works, and .38 Special will do a bunch more damage than 380 ACP. If you are going to carry a gun best to carry one that works.
Used to be Americans believed in revolvers, powerful and reliable, and distrusted automatic pistols as jam prone and apt to let you down in an emergency. Dirty Harry carried a revolver. That was then
Now all the cops carry Glocks, and private citizens are carrying 380 automatics. At least those who read American Rifleman. Me, I don't carry, but if I did, it would be a revolver.

Nice Guys can win

I watched Scott Brown's victory speech last night. He was good. He thanked all the proper people, and congratulated his opponent for running a good race (she didn't but Scott said the right thing). He was funny. He teased his daughters, made jokes about the pickup truck, did a good standup routine. He came across as a nice guy, witty, likeable, who likes people.
In short, Scott Brown showed as a helova good candidate, where as Martha Coakley is stiff and formal, doesn't like people much, doesn't campaign hard, and isn't very likeable. Plus she carried some formidable baggage from the Amiralt Malden daycare case and the Woodward infant death case. There's gonna be gallons of electrons and ink spilled over "why Scott won" in the near future. Maybe it is just a nice guy who happens to be an effective candidate, beat a not-so-nice woman who was a poor candidate.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Scott Brown Wins. Coakley concedes

With 83% of the vote in, Scott Brown has 52% and Martha Coakley has 47%. Coakley has formally conceded. Scott Brown will be the next Senator from Massachusetts and the 41st Republican Senator. 41 votes is enough to block action (like passing Obamacare) in the Senate.
Let the avalanche begin.

CAn Brown do it?

Who knows? There will be no exit polling so we won't know diddly til the polls close and the precincts report in. Polls stay open til 8 PM. Many, perhaps most Massachusetts towns have updated to electronic ballot boxes which give vote totals instantly. I'm planning to stay up and watch the results come in. I have a bottle of $5 Andre champagne to drink when Brown wins. I have a bottle of scotch bet with daughter.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Tankers for USAF

The Air Force tanker fleet are still largely the old KC-135 which has been flying for fifty years. That's damn good service life for anything, let alone a jet aircraft. The tanker fleet is as important as the fighters, bombers, and transports flown by USAF. The fighters and bombers nearly always need air-to-air refueling to reach their targets. The F105's from my wing used to tank twice, once on the way in and a second time on the way out on missions into North Viet Nam. Without the KC135's, the Thuds didn't have the range to get to Hanoi. The B2 missions to Iraq all needed tanker support. Without the tankers there are a lot of targets the Air Force cannot reach. So we really need to place an order for new tankers. Remember, years go by between placing the order and delivery of aircraft.
USAF has made two tries to order new tankers and bungled both of them. A third try is in the works. Technologically speaking, the tanker is dead simple, buy a commercial airliner, take out the seats and install fuel tanks. The existing KC135 tankers are Boeing 707's in USAF markings.
Money is the issue. As in who gets the money (Boeing or Airbus the only makers of big jet airliners) and how much money goes for each airplane. Speaking as a taxpayer, either aircraft will do the mission and we should buy the cheaper of the two. The Airbus uses American jet engines which are 1/3rd or more of the final cost. Buy Airbus and US engine makers get a good deal of the money.
There are some smoke screen issues. Boeing accuses Airbus of accepting government subsidies. We are supposed to forget that fifty years ago US government money for KC-135 tankers helped mightily in the launch of the 707 airliner. Is there a stature of limitations on subsidies? This issue doesn't matter to us taxpayers. If the EU governments want to make tankers cheaper for USAF, more power to 'em.
Airbus is quibbling about specifications and threatening to no-bid the job. Specifications ought to be "standard A320". Period. The gold platers infesting the Pentagon will fancy up the aircraft with military avionics and all sorts of expensive gadgets if you let them. The standard commercial avionics and gadgets are good enough, and a helova lot cheaper than any special design military stuff. The commercial airliners are in production, the bugs have been worked out of them, they work, and that's what USAF needs, a reliable airplane that flies when asked to, rather than a finicky special design bird that ground aborts at the slightest excuse. Same goes for Boeing. Standard 767 (or 777), no modifications. Last time Boeing was proposing a "special" 767 with stretched fuselage, extra flaps, longer wing, damn near a whole new airplane. And taxpayer money for all the engineering required.
Ignore the whines from the paperwork people. "Oh preparing a bid is so expensive". "We have to refine our requirements." All the Air Force has to say is how many aircraft, how many spare parts, and how long to deliver them all. All the bidder has to say is how much.
This is a $40 billion program. Lot more economic stimulus in a $40 billion aircraft buy than we are getting from the $700 and something billion porkulus.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Coakley came into money today.

Coakley is running back to back attack ads against Scott Brown in New England Cable News (NECN). This is new. I wonder who gave her all the last minute money. There are Brown ads, but nearly as many. Brown is doing straight forward "vote-for-me" ads rather than attack ads.

Tax on big banks?

Obama is pushing for a tax on the fifty biggest banks on the country. The banks are wailing, Republicans are opposing, but actually, it's not a bad idea in my book. The fifty big Wall St banks bear a lot of responsibility for Great Depression 2.0. The "too-big-to-fail" banks made risky loans on the theory that when they pay off, you get rich, when they don't pay off, the taxpayer (ME!) bails you out.
Since the too-big-to-fail banks enjoy taxpayer support, they might as well pay for it. If they find the tax too heavy, they can always spin off parts and become smaller. Which is a fine idea. That makes them small enough to fail. Which is good, they will be more careful.
Plus, the big Wall St banks don't do a thing for me. They don't do car loans, they don't do mortgages, they don't lend to companies, they don't do venture capital. Far as I can see they just do deals with each other. So tax the bejeezus out of them.

You don't have to be crazy, but it helps

Tina Brown reviews the "Game Change" book here. This is the book that quoted Harry Reid saying "Light skinned" and "no Negro accent". Tina goes on at length describing one gaffe after another. She gives a number of unscripted Hillary moments but fails to mention the one unscripted moment that allowed her to beat Obama in the NH primary. It was one of those "man on the street" interviews, actually a woman at the diner counter, and just once, Hillary choked up a little bit. There was a catch in her voice, and for about 10 seconds Hillary looked like a real person with strong emotions. It was her most effective TV appearance of the whole NH campaign, and yet Tina doesn't mention it at all, instead dwelling on other less important incidents.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Body Language

Obama is delivering a Haiti speech. Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton are standing on either side. But why do Biden and Clinton have such sour expressions on their faces?

Airheads in California

According to this, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has time and money for yet more foolishness. They will require mandatory tire inflation tests with jail sentences for non compliance.
If California ever wants to get serious about cutting state spending, I know just where they can start. Close down CARB, fire all the employees, and burn the files.
Good thing NH is too intelligent to fall for something this dumb. We are, aren't we?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Excessive Wall St Skimming

Wall Street exists to route society's capital into economic development. They haven't done a very good job lately, and in fact, stupid Wall St moves are largely responsible for Great Depression 2.0.
Right now, while the wounds are still fresh, we ought to outlaw, or at least tax the bejeezus out of, risky Wall St speculation scams that do not yield economic growth, or create vast surpluses. The "credit default swaps" don't invest money in the real economy, they are just a cover your ass maneuver. Underlings can make risky investments and tell their bosses "It's safe, I bought a credit default swap to insure it". When all the investments went bad at the same time, AIG couldn't pay off, we taxpayers had to cover AIG's bad bets.
Resale of mortgages and the "mortgage backed security" are scams that allow unscrupulous operators to sell mortgages that should never have been written and dump them on more gullible investors before the junk mortgage goes into repossession.
Credit rating agencies were paid to put AAA ratings on junk, and gullible investors bought the junk. We don't need that kind of credit rating agency. Actually, any broker worth his salt should do his own rating. We would do our selves a favor by taxing the credit rating agencies like Moody's right out of business.
We need to create some corporate governance. Right now the management runs the banks pretty much the way they like. The pay them selves and their buds outrageous salaries with money that by rights belongs to the stockholders. We need to give the stockholders and the boards of directors more say over company operations. For instance top management salaries ought to require a majority vote from the stockholders. Big moves ought to require board of directors say-so.
Then we need to clean up the accounting business. American "Generally Accepted Principles of Accounting" allow companies to carry purely imaginary assets on the books, allow ordinary running expenses to be "capitalized", and allow "sales" to be credited as income before the money comes in. Plus a bunch of other unsavory stuff.

We ought to demand Wall St reform from our Congress critters.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Meeting the NH State Republicans

The NH State Republican Committee had a meeting in Concord last night. I caught a ride down with Bruce Perlo. It was pitch dark when we left and it got no lighter. The meeting was chaired by JOhn Sununu, former governor and current Republican state chairman. John spoke of the Scott Brown campaign in Massachusetts and said Brown was very close in the polls, give or take 5% he said, and getting better day by day. He urged us all to give Scott a hand over the next week to the special election. Sununu feels the NH democrats are on the defensive over the LLC tax (a 5% income tax on small business owners) the state budget problem, brought on by a 24% increase in state spending over the last two years, and the $? trillion Obamacare. Sununu feels that this year will be the best year ever for Republicans. If Republicans cannot win this November, they will never win.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Scott Brown rising.

Scott Brown, the Republican candidate for Ted Kennedy's old Senate seat, is a comer. A few weeks ago he was rated a long shot. Today one poll has him in the lead. That's a lotta of coming up in the polls. The election is the 19th of this month, only nine days away. If Scott Brown keeps on rising like he has been, he's gonna win.
Brown has promised to vote against Obamacare if elected. Obamacare will still be before the Congress on the 19th, and likely for some days after. A Brown victory will scare the daylights out of all democrats from swing districts. Some of them will be scared enough to vote their districts, and the districts are against Obamacare.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Where's that waterboard when you need it?

They are turning the crotch bomber over to the ordinary criminal courts. He gets a lawyer, who will advise his client not to talk to anyone (except him). Critics maintain that the crotch bomber should have been called an enemy combatant and turned over to CIA or the armed forces for interrogation.
There a bunch of things we'd like to know that the crotch bomber knows. Like who gave him the bomb, and where that individual lives. Along with phone number, email address, work address, work phone and the rest of the contact information that would let the Yemeni authorities arrest him, or let a Predator strike snuff him.
Would CIA be able to extract this information? With several CIA interogators facing criminal prosecution for excessive roughness while interogating Al Qaeda suspects? CIA is not a very courageous agency in the best of times, and I doubt they have the stones to waterboard the crotch bomber in these days.
In these not so good times perhaps a tough DA will be able to squeeze the crotch bomber harder than waterboarding would. The DA could offer to reduce the sentence in return for co operation. "Talk and we let you off with five years in a nice low security 'detention facility'. Clam up and we give you life in an awful place."

Electronic With-it-ness

Which TV channels/networks are with it? Good question. The new digital TV sets can accept labels off the air (channel name, name of program currently broadcast) and display them to us couch potatoes as we surf up and down. Some channels (Fox News, TNT, Animal Planet, The Learning Channel) broadcast the labels, and they show up on the TV set. Other not so with it channels don't bother (WMUR, WPME, CSpan, SyFy, FX and more). Was I investing money in a TV station or channel, I'd invest in the with it ones, the ones that bother to broadcast their name and the program name. When channel surfing, most of us surf right by channels showing a commercial. Should instead a label show us that a nice program will appear after the commercials, we might stop surfing, and put up with the commercial waiting for the program to reappear.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Tea Party

Lot's of talk about the Tea Party rising up and smiting Democrats and Republicans. Might happen, but not just yet. Around here we have a lot of Tea Party folks, but it's a protest movement. The Tea Party doesn't have candidates for office, and until that happens, it isn't a political party.

Note to remote control designers

Hand held remotes for TV's and such. Always make the case ASYMMETRICAL allowing users to tell which way round the remote is pointed by touch. New TV remote is symmetrical, and I get it backward in the hand, point the wrong end at the TV, and nothing happens. PITA.
While we are on industrial design, DON'T mold tiny little labels into black casework. Nobody can read them. Mold the labels standing up from the case and paint the tops of them white. That's readable. As it is, the back of the TV has fifty plugs, all of them with unreadable labels. Makes hooking up the VCR and DVD so pleasant.

Green Jobs are make work

What's green? Wind power and solar power apparently. If either technology would work, at an affordable price, investment would flow into the business and people would get hired. Trouble is, neither technology makes money. Wind power leaves you in the dark when the wind doesn't blow. Solar power leaves you in the dark when the sun goes down.
There is no technological fix for either problem. No power is no power. I'm looking at two feet of snow on the ground and below freezing temperatures. If my juice goes out my furnace doesn't run and my pipes freeze. I can't use power that goes off when ever it feels like it. Neither can anyone else.
We can build a vast green industry, producing mountains of unsalable stuff. Train people to work in the industry. But it's just make work, the industry is producing stuff that cannot be sold.
The Soviets used to do things like that.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Glacier on the porch

The geology books say that glacier ice comes from snow, packing down into ice. It's happening on my porch as I write. I had 25 inches (real inches, measured with a yardstick) Sunday when the snow stopped falling. That has settled over the past few days. It's only 18 inches today. That's all compression and settling of the light powder snow, it ain't melting, it hasn't been warm enough to melt.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Home made turkey soup

I did it. Rather than pitching the Christmas turkey carcass after doing the dinner, the sandwiches, the left overs, and more sandwiches, I made it into soup.
It's dirt simple. Break the carcass up small and boil it in your largest kettle. Throw in any leftover gravy and stuffing. Spice to taste, Bell's Poultry Seasoning is good, thyme, sage, pepper and salt. Cook at a low boil (just the occasional bubble) for four hours.
At this point the turkey meat has cooked off the bones. Fish out the bones and discard. Add chopped onion, celery, and carrots. The carrots add a lot of eye appeal and flavor. A little rice and simmer for another 45 minutes to a hour, or until the rice and veggies are soft.
That's it. Makes a LOT of very tasty soup.


Got to see it last night in Lincoln. Fun flick. It's set in the lush and colorful jungles of Pandora. The jungle night is filled with deadly beasts, gorgeous glowing super fireflies, and the Nahvi, a race of noble savages, all tall, lean, and beautiful despite blue complexions and thick noses. The Nahvi ride on "horses" and fly on dragons, hunt with bow and arrow, and except for being blue, look a lot like American Indians. They dwell in/under/around a humungeous and sacred tree that reaches up many stories into the sky. The scenes of jungle travel on foot, hunting, riding, flying and living in the jungle are fantastically well done and keep your attention.
The charm of this movie is in the excellence of the sets, scenery, and Nahvi. The acting is difficult to assess, when you suspect all the Nahvi facial expressions come from the depths of a computer. In fact this is not an actor's movie. The main characters are all Nahvi and are computer generated/augemented/whatever. The Nahvi are done with bits and bytes and pixels, not makeup and costuming. It's well done, the Nahvi are very believable. Give the CGI folks a few more years and we won't be able to tell live actors from CGI ones.
The plot is pure space opera, the good guys (Nahvi) and the bad guys (earthmen) clash in spectacular fashion. Characters are cardboard, who cares about the bad guys motives, we just enjoy watching the fight.
Lots of electrons have been spilled on the web about the deep inner meaning of this flick. Me, I don't think there is one, the movie puts on a great show, I enjoyed watching it. It's like Westerns or Bond movies, fun but not serious. Enjoy it. I did.

Monday, January 4, 2010

First Purchase a Piggy Bank

Front page story in the Saturday Wall St Journal explaining how economists are cheapskates. Children of economists recall how tight fisted their parents were. Things like keeping the thermostat set so low the wife threatened to move into a motel, private label groceries, off-brand tennis shoes, and a 1995 Subaru with a piece of electrical tape covering the "check engine" light.
Wow. I must be an economist. I do all those things and more, like buying at thrift stores.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The last tube bites the dust

Big heavy Samsung 27" TV started to die. Picture flickered and the sound cut in and out. Damn thing was only six years old. So off to Walmart and home with a new 32 inch LCD Sony. Infinitely lighter. Could be wall mounted with just molly bolts thru the sheet rock. It has threaded holes in the back to accept eyebolts. Only trouble is the eyebolts are a non standard Japanese metric thread, not available at Franconia Hardware.
Plugged her in and went thru that "find the active channels" thing that digital TV's do. I'm on cable and the TV found all the analog cable channels AND discovered 16 digital channels that I never know were there. The digital channels all have strange numbers with a decimal point in them, like 89.104 or 123.2. The remote has a decimal point button. Some of them are second copies of analog channels, like the TV Guide channel and Vermont PBS. Others might be worthwhile, one was playing a movie that didn't seem to be on any other channel. I cannot find the digital channels on TV Guide, either from the cable or from the Internet, which means you gotta channel surf to see if they are playing anything watchable. The channel numbers are up to 7 digits long, which strains my memory. I'll probably make up a cheat sheet.
The 32" LCD is an inch smaller than the 27 inch CRT it replaced when playing ordinary video. Plain Old Television Service (POTS) has the familiar 3:4 aspect ratio. The LCD Sony is 16:9. Playing POTS video you get a letterbox effect, a pair of vertical black bars on the sides. Active picture area, excluding the black bars, measures 26 inch on the diagonal.
If you don't like black bars, you can stretch the picture sideways to fill the screen and make all the actors look short and very stocky. Not to say fat. Or select "stretch both horizontal and vertical" cropping off the top and bottom of the image. This makes the "crawl" go off screen.
Video quality is quite good. Lots of resolution good color balance. Viewed from TV watching distances, it's beautiful. Viewed from computer monitor watching distance you can see some fuzziness on the POTS video. The few high def digital video channels are sharper and nicer.
The Sony has all sorts of gozintas, S-video, composite video, component video, digital video, USB video, laptop computer video, plenty of connectors to hookup the DVD, the VCR, and the stereo. Some of the lesser LCD TV's lacked the composite video input, which you need for the VCR. If you have a VCR and a collection of oldie but goody tapes, make sure a new TV has a composite video input along with all the fancier ones.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Honest plotting

There are a lot of ways to fiddle with a line graph to alter the message. One common trick is to mess with the vertical axis. By rights, the vertical axis ought to go down to zero so you can see the magnitude of the line. Plenty of plotters, and a lot of plot software, set the vertical axis to start at the minimum data point and stop at the max data point. It is claimed that this shows more detail in the data. Yeah, I suppose. It also has the effect of making a very slight change look a helova lot bigger. I consider that misleading.
I notice the global warmers always blow their plots up vertically as much as possible.

Profiling is a thought crime

So what is a TSA screener supposed to do when he sees a young, male, bearded, robed, passenger going thru? Treat him the same as the little old lady next in line? Check him out a little more? The young Islamic men who get their bags hand searched will complain they were "profiled", by which they mean they were subjected to extra screening for the wrong reasons. They will claim they are being picked on because of their race (skin tone actually), sex, religion, national origin or something or other. It's not what was done, it's the motivation behind it, which makes the accusation of profiling an accusation of a thought crime. The TSA screener was thinking wrong thoughts.
I don't like thought crimes. What a person thinks is his own business. And short of mind reading, there is no way of knowing what some one thinks. We can outlaw actions, we shouldn't outlaw thinking.
In actual fact, they were screened 'cause they looked suspicious. Most of them could avoid the extra hassle if they purchased tickets in advance, dressed appropriately, groomed themselves properly, and avoided speaking in foreign languages. The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.