Monthly Archives: December 2015

All Right! I Confess!

I admit it. I’ve been trying to write blogs lately, but:

  • There was Christmas.
  • My son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren drove 12 hours to visit.
  • My daughter, who has started reading my blog, says all my blogs are the same.
  • I keep coming up with ideas that are incomplete—which got me thinking.

Some of the Beatles songs, including much of Abbey Road were actually the parts of songs that had never fully developed. Therefore I tried to piece together ideas:

My New Year’s resolutions. After “I will never be a staffer for Donald Trump,” I got stuck.

I tried to write about the era of Downton Abbey and how people were once born into wealth and/or married into it, and how that is rare today.

Then I thought of:

  • The Bushes
  • The Clintons
  • Miley Cyrus
  • Jaden Smith
  • Colin Hanks
  • Drew Barrymore
  • Prince Charles

Which brought me back to square one, so, attempting to steal from the Beatles, using the tune from “She Came in through the Bathroom Window”:

My son and daughter trashed the bathroom,
I think they lost my silver spoon,
So I sat there and I pondered,
I should not get mad so soon.

My kids have always been expensive,
Cost me more than I could know,
But I wouldn’t change a minute,
So now I have these joys to show

Is it any wonder?

Let me close this year with my thanks to God for my NORMAL family (the emphasis is there to remind me that despite the condition of their bedrooms and bathroom, my kids are normal; on the other hand, given their outstanding academic, athletic, and musical accomplishments, I owe it to them to differentiate between normal and average).

For you, may 2015 be the year that was just before when everything became wonderful.

The Night Before—the Night Before Christmas

SONY DSC

Twas the night before — the night before — Christmas and chaos persists,

There’s wrapping paper everywhere and six missing gifts.

We tear the house apart, looking for tape,

Not to mention all the bows, which made an escape.

The stocking are hung just as they say,

But the hooks are too weak to last till Christmas day.

The only old fat man around here is me,

So we gather the gifts to put under the tree.

My wife, who has done the most, heads up to bed,

And seeing all she’s done, “I love you,” I said.

Enjoying Astrophysics and Quantum Mechanics at Home

 

153309main_hidden_blackhole_lg

Image courtesy NASA; NOT the black hole discussed on the blog.

Scientists are busy with the Large Hadron Collider, probe spacecraft to the outer planets, telescopes and mathematics to understand the wonders of the universe.

They really don’t need to go so far and invest in so much technology; it’s far easier to study much closer to home. For example, I have constructed a black hole in my own home. I confess that it was quite by accident, but it’s here and functioning nevertheless.

It started out as a simple cardboard box (shades of Calvin and Hobbes and their transmogrifier!). Its initial purpose was a place for me to drop my keys and other essentials that I tend to carry or keep in my pocket: eye drops, Chap Stick, pens, wristwatch, etc. Over time, it has continued to gain mass as church bulletins, programs for school concerts were added.

Naturally, I assumed that my wife or kids were responsible, but they vehemently denied putting anything in or on the box. Naturally, I accept these statements as absolute fact, with the logical conclusion that its gravitational attraction has become strong enough that anything not firmly secured elsewhere would make its way into the box. It is no longer a surprise to find soiled socks, soccer gear, or even the occasional electronic device in the box.

I’ve observed the lights in our house and realized that the black hole may be at least one reason that the house is always darker than we like it. Buying more lamps and increasing the bulb size does not seem to help. In addition, compact fluorescent lamps and LEDs guaranteed to last five years have the light sucked out of them in mere months.

I’ve tried to examine the light near the black hole to see if it is bent by the mass of the black hole, but have not been able to objectively observe this. A friend claims that with special equipment (a six-pack of beer) the bending of the light should be visible, but I haven’t tried that.

So while we have not yet achieved production of energy by cold fusion, constructing a black hole has now been successfully achieved. I am hopeful that the Nobel Prize committee is writing out a check to me at this very moment.

Time Travel

Flintstones, meet the Flintstones

Flintstones, meet the Flintstones

Suddenly my entire family was transported—thrown, really—into the mid twentieth century.

The internet connectivity to our house was lost. We still had cable television—just like 1975—but no computer connectivity. The telephones went out, too, but that happened in the twentieth century as well.

Of course the DVR, which is part of the cable service was not working, so we couldn’t watch the TV shows from earlier in the week, just like in 1975, before everyone had a VHS video recorder.

It was traumatic. When we called the cable company on a cell phone, they tried resetting everything from their master control center, but failed. They told us that a technician would have to come out and Monday was the earliest possibility. That would mean three days without internet! Three days! No breaking news surrounded by ads and “Sponsored Stories.” Someone could have rocked a dress or a bikini, and we wouldn’t have known. What if that Nigerian prince had tried to contact me by e-mail?

I carefully peeked in my teenagers’ rooms, expecting to find them in a fetal position, clutching their smartphones as their only lifeline to the present, but they proved to be made of stronger stuff. They weathered almost all of Saturday, trapped in the past.

Fortunately, today when we woke up, it had been repaired.

It’s amazing how the internet has become so intertwined in our lives. The silver lining is that it gave me an excuse for not writing a blog yesterday and a topic for today’s blog.

Topic du Jour

David Steinberg & Tommy Smothers thedavidsteinberg.com

David Steinberg & Tommy Smothers
thedavidsteinberg.com

One reason that I do not write as often as I should is because after four years, I run out of topics. I’m sure I’ve repeated more than a few. Then again, I’m sure I’ve repeated more than a few. Or perhaps, I’m sure I’ve repeated more than a few.

I’m reminded of a comedy bit that David Steinberg did many years ago. He was talking about his high school marching band, which like most marching bands performed a different routine each week, and most were a tribute. He mentioned that his high school band did a tribute to mayonnaise because that’s all that was left.

I won’t boor you with an article about mayonnaise–unless absolutely necessary!

Counting Down to Christmas

stamp

Parents count the days until Christmas differently than regular people. Are no golden rings, calling birds, pipers, or even a pear tree (sans leaves, since it is winter). Instead, parents way fo counting down to Christmas includes:

Days needed to get a personalized Christmas stocking from (name of mail order retailer here).

The day for the Christmas band/orchestra/choir concert.

The day that the kids need to bring canned food for the needy or a gift for Toys for Tots.

The day you panic and run to the corner drugstore to print out family pictures to send with the Christmas cards.

The day you should have gotten the photos.

The day you should have sent out Christmas cards.

The day you panic and run to the post office to get stamps for the Christmas cards. (And out of 47 styles of special Christmas stamps, they have only one left—the one you used last year, and the year before that, and—you know).

The day you make a list for next year, which you promptly misplace.

Parents—people with strength, courage, humor–and a totally warped perception of reality, which is how they survive.

A Day that Will Live in Infamy

Pearl

That was how Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President of the United States described December 7, 1941 after the Japanese attacked the military facilities in Hawaii. Pearl Harbor Navy Base received the biggest attack, but Hickam Airfield was also heavily damaged. The Japanese sank eight battleships and destroyed 350 US aircraft, most of them sitting on the ground. By luck or Divine intervention, the US aircraft carriers were at sea undergoing training; if they had been docked at Pearl Harbor, America might not have been able to resist the Japanese advances.

For good or for ill, this day does not live in infamy. Many people today are clueless about today’s significance, or even the fact that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

Today Japan and the United States are strong allies. This is, perhaps, the best possible outcome out of any war. The worst outcome is to forget that liberty and security are precious gifts that are constantly at risk.

The opposite of war is not peace; the opposite of war is freedom.

Climate Solution

 

The Paris meeting is over. The coal producing nations want to continue to export coal. The developing nations point out that Europe and North America had at least a century of cheap energy from coal, so they’re not asking for anything we didn’t have.

What to do? What to do?

In the past I’ve mentioned BOINC, the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing system. Initially used in the SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) project, BOINC uses thousands (millions?) of personal computers to analyze data. While it’s true that a single modern PC is more powerful than major computers a decade ago, SETI thought that using the free time when owners’ computers were not checking out cute cat pictures or whatever would provide the computing capacity of a supercomputer—lots of users—and many of us have multiple computers. I’ve had all my computers supporting BOINC for about twelve years, and have helped projects addressing diseases, food, and climate change. What a great idea they had out at Berkeley.

Let’s apply the same idea to energy. The energy companies are constrained by the fact that it will take thousands of square miles of property to install enough solar cells to provide adequate power. What if the power companies took the same distributive idea as BOINC? Imagine your local power company coming to you and saying, “I’d like to install solar panels on your roof (for North America, it would be those roofs that face south). We’ll pay you 10% of the wholesale rate for the electricity your house produces; this will automatically be calculated into (deducted from) your electric meter reading. We still pay retail, they pay wholesale, but the planet benefits. (If you don’t like this planet, don’t participate. Each house is already connected to the power grid, so half the structure is already in place.

Even better, if each house had an electrical storage system so that as the grid needed power—day or night—it could access it. Power losses would affect smaller areas, since the generation and storage would be distributed.

If you think it’s worth a shot, let your congressional representative and senators know. Maybe this idea is half-baked, but there are engineers who can finish the baking job.

Wow!

NCIS (But you knew that!)

NCIS
(But you knew that!)

Life is funny, and it sure gets in the way.

I’ve been so busy with my day job, my kids…

My kids—two are already grown up and the other two are suddenly almost there. My younger son just got his acceptance letter from his first choice college—and an early admission at that. Now, it’s kind of hard to chastise him for not taking out the recycling.

My daughter is a few years younger, but also a great student (My grades were never that god), musician (I was never first chair bassoon), and athlete (let’s not even go there). However, after her last birthday she seems to believe it’s necessary to remind me every 15 minutes or so that in in a few months she’ll start driving.

Naturally I’m proud of both of them, but I wonder, if I hadn’t blinked would they have grown up so fast?

Thankfully I have a Sherpa guide who has looked out for the kids and advised me. I’m speaking of my wife, of course. This is a challenge for her, I’m sure. She hasn’t had to resort to the Gibb’s slap on the back of DiNozzo’s head yet (for the benefit of NCIS fans) but it’s not because I don’t need a >HINT< from time to time.

So, thanks to her, even though I’m sports impaired, I’ve been a soccer dad, in spite of myself, which makes a world of difference to my kids.

However, in all fairness, I’ve done just fine as the science, music and school project parent.

If I haven’t been blogging as much as I should, lately, it’s because life has gotten in the way, and the people who are special to me—well, you know.

The Cost of Politics

The 2012 presidential and congressional elections are reported to have cost a total of 7 billion dollars.

While there are only about 12,000 registered lobbyists, about 100,000 people are believed to engage in lobbying activities. Annual expenditures are about $9 billion every year. That’s a lot of cocktail parties.

Now think of this; with all the money politicians, lobbyists, and special interest groups spend, how much is your vote worth? Think about that next time you walk into the voting booth.

As Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

There are alternatives, of course; it’s possible to select leaders and maintain order without all the cost and effort we expend in a democracy. There’s North Korea with Kim Jung Un or Vladimir Putin running Russia, Georgia, Chechnya, Crimea, (Syria?) and whoever’s next.