Friday, July 29, 2005

Space Shuttle Mission Watch 2

We finally launched the Space Shuttle again, although there is a lot of tension for this mission because it is a test of the many changes that were made to ensure the safety of the crew and success of future missions. Those tests brought us the cool video of the Space Shuttle somersault to let the space station crew photograph tile on the shuttle underside.

Just when the Shuttle was docking with the International Space Station and that success was achieved, NASA cancels all future flights until the issue with the foam falling from the fuel tank and potentially damaging the shuttle can be addressed. Now there is cautious hope that another Shuttle mission could occur this year.

I reiterate my wish for a cheap, easy, safe way to get to Space. It is not much of a space age if all we send are robots and satellites. Those things are useful, but a human presence is the way to move forward with space industry and robots can only explore so much. If people were on Mars right now we could just look and see if it is water or there is life instead of all of this inference.

Googlize your blog title - or anything

Everybody is doing it so I though I would hop on the bandwagon. I went to a page to Googlize my blog title.

Isn't it lovely. Don't bother searching for anything from The Honest Hypocrite on Google, though. I am nowhere to be found. Searching for The Honest Hypocrite on Yahoo has me as the second link. I am sure that those of you out there that are knowledgeable of these things can tell me why. I suspect that because no one is linking to me that Google won't find me, but that Yahoo has found me because I added the RSS feed to My Yahoo page.

I am not sure if I care. I must because I looked, but it is up to the world to find me interesting to generate the links. I remember taking great pains to search the name before I titled the blog so that there wouldn't be obvious overlap and then later I found, oops. He seems really interested in math so he can't be all bad.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Parking Lessons

Slashdot had a good story on someone who collected all of the bad parking at Yahoo's headquarters.

I feel compelled to show this one I had to interact with in my own travels. I parked next to the fancy car anyway. I think the spaces are painted to narrow to begin with but that is no excuse.

I will point out that I am not without sin. But today this park job by the fancy porshe bugged me.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Freakonomics should teach you to form your own conclusions

I may have misled you. I read Freakonomics by economist Steven Levitt and journalist, Stephen Dubner and put it on my sidebar to tell the world about. I liked the book. The authors take an econometric look at some topics that don't normally get addressed by academics and they do it in a style that is readable and enjoyable. They come to some controversial conclusions the most famous of one is that legalizing abortion in the seventies is responsible for the reduction of violent crime in the nineties because children that would have otherwise been unwanted were never born. I don't think you could come up with a more controversial statement than that. It turns out that it might not be true (see Did Legalizing Abortion Cut Crime by Steve Sailer).

What I took away from the book is that you can and should apply econometrics to your hypotheses and be open to the conclusions even if they may be counterintuitive. The knowledge of why a thing is the way it is may allow you to change it or fix it or simply understand it. This is always with the caution that correlation is not causation. I am a critical thinker myself. I find myself unable to stop applying an almost mathematically rigorous approach to problems around me, at least for setting them up, even if I never have the time to follow through, collect the data and solve them. This applies to something as simple as whether I could recover the heat from the drain water in the shower and save energy to something as complicated as allocation of resources in my work or actual Chemical Engineering.

I should have applied this critical thinking to the conclusions of Freakonomics. The difficulty in a popular books like that is that most people don't have the time to check all of the facts, and I don't have the time to collect the data and review the results myself. So Freakonimics gets points for a catchy title, easy reading on a sometimes boring subject, and the great idea of applying econometrics to a wide ranging set of problems, but it gets some negatives for drawing the wrong conclusions from the data and oversimplifying the topic to make it accessible to the reader. Perhaps they themselves they weren't critical enough in their approach. All of these thoughts were brought to mind today by the review of Freakonomics at Stay Free! Daily.

I am a glutton for the econometrics, so if you would like a better, much more staid but rigorous popular book on the subject you can read Predicting Presidential Elections and Other Things by Ray C. Fair or go to Fair's wesbite at Yale. Here is the presidential vote equation. As always when I find some good things like this I will pass them on. My own book, if I would ever pick a topic and write one, is years and years away.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

All these videogames, and she wants to play Tetris!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have finally taken the plunge and become a poseur gamer. I have been enjoying my X-box but I don't seem to find too much time to play with it because I work for a living and have a life to live, pesky things like that. My fiance warmed up to the idea of the system after she saw how advanced the games have become. "Destroy All Humans" serves as an example. Yet with all of this advanced technology she is truly only happy with Tetris.

I can't stand Tetris so I would rather have someone play it for me. On "Attack of the Show" they highlighted an efforts to combine artificial intelligence and Tetris. You can download the program and have it play Tetris in front of you at an enormously accelerated rate (clearing 160 rows/second for instance). I, for one, would like to be the first to welcome our artificial intelligence Tetris playing overlords.

I figure since I started the programon my computer, I get to claim the score. It went to 8,000,000 before I shut it down. Beat that! Luddite, un-enhanced human Tetris players!

Shuttle is in space once again!

The Space Shuttle had a successful liftoff today. I am really pleased because it certainly looked like we were running out of chances to ever put people into space again on a regular basis. We all know that the Space Shuttle has to go away someday, I just would like there to be a replacement.

It does look like the civilian replacements, such as SpaceShipOne, and the encouragement provided by the X-prize for first manned civilian spaceflight, have more of a chance of being around than any government sponsored activity. Call me a futurist but I really think that going into space is an activity that an advanced civilization should be able to do. I have heard much on the uselessness and usefulness of space. Space exploration is a vanishing small part of the gross product of the planet but could have a spectacular payoff. Putting robots out there is a start, but we should touch these places with out own hands (gloved perhaps) and make them our own.

This Shuttle mission is 12 days. I am officially starting mission watch today. Let's see if the media attention will keep up for that long.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Other Fans of They Might Be Giants are out there!

On the web, someone has already thought of it, already put together a website glorifying it and gathered up a cadre of like minded people to do a better job of it that you can every imagine. Case in point the photos and the wiki below about They Might Be Giants.

I had such a great time at the They Might Be Giants concert on Penn's Landing in Philadelphia on Saturday that I though I would go see if other people had commented on the concert already. A variety of Google searches didn't get me any specific comments but Flickr already had a lot of folks that put up picture from the They Might Be Giants Concert. I can't point us out to you on them because I am close to the stage and not quite in any of the pictures, but we were there. Go see dougward's photos, or Sarcasmo's photos, or I am a Librarian's photos.

For more information than you could ever need, want, or imagine about They Might Be Giants, please use this TMBG wiki. Info on the TMBG concert in Philadelphia is there as well.

Our distopian future? Oh, it won't be that bad.

This weekend I have been reading the Behemoth series by Peter Watts and it has caused me to use the word distopian over and over, much to the annoyance of some (distopian, distopian, distopian). The books are what I would call aggressively distopian. They are set in the near future and more so than in other series many separate bad things go wrong in this particular future to create the distopia. The books do center on a group of "rifters", divers modified to handle the extremes of working in the extreme deep ocean near rift vents. As such the claustrophobia is often palpable in the novels. The author has also included a heady mix of psychosis and chaos brought on by human hubris as well. I can't really say more without giving the plot away but I suggest you read them.

In the serendipity field that seems to permeate my life I have noticed several series on cable about the weird undersea life at the very bottom of the ocean that serves as paractically a main character in Perter Watts' novels. There are things at the bottom like the angler fish which use a phosphorescent light at the end of protrusion from there nose to lure fish into a cavernous maw full of teeth. These fish come from your worst nightmares, good thing they are only a few inches long. Even the Simpsons got in the act last night, where the couch gag was that the family sat on their couch, which turned out to be the very angler fish lure I just mentioned and then they all got gobbled by the fish.

I had found out about the books from Boing Boing a while ago, and there was a mention yesterday that Peter Watts placed the earlier books of the series online (there are four) under a creative commons license. Now you can explore his distopian future without an initial purchase to decide first if you like them.

By the way, maybe it is my normal naive optimism but I don't think that these disptopias will come to pass. More on the many ways the world will end (or has ended) but hasn't in a later post.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Free TMBG foam hands

We also got these great free They Might Be Giants foam hands. They looked really cool when we all waved and were rocking to the music. As you can see the crowd was great and we all loved the band.

I haven't been a fan for all 20 years because I am not quite old enough. I have been a fan long enough that when I first heard them I was more like thin John, but over the years I have become a little more like thick John.

The concert was great and worth the long anticipation. They are such a great band in concert because they have always stuck with their sparse instrumentation but great sounding songs, and this translates great to the concert venues. Go to for more info.

Why don't some of you tell me your favorite They Might Be Giants song.

TMBG sings my favorite song.

My favorite song is "Particle Man". Not just because it is a great song with an accordian solo but also because I quoted one line in my thesis - "Is he a dot or is he speck, when he's underwater does he get wet, or does the water get him instead." - which, if you read my thesis, essentially captures the theme. Here is the required picture of John playing accordian.

They Might Be Giants at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia

I am so excited because we just got back from their 20th Anniversary concert in Philadelphia. They started with "Istanbul is Constantanople". We were so close we could almost touch John and John.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Just how rich are you?

One of my recurring themes has been the fact that we in the Western world have it good. We are the wealthiest people as a whole in human history. We have to make critical decisions about what to do with these advantages. This is one of the themes of The Progress Paradox by Gregg Easterbrook. Our society is suffering from a transition from searching for the things we need, to searching for meaning in what we do. Needs can be met eventually, and the book contends that most of us in the western world have these needs met. Searching for meaning can be a never ending inexhaustible task, and therein lies some of the uneasiness.

I ran across this interesting calculator, the Global Rich List, on TreeHugger. Go to it and see where you land, it will be in the top few percent. Those of us in the United States fall among the richest people on the planet, which puts us among the richest people in the entire history of the human species. Appreciate where you are and what you have. Now what are we going to do about it. Tell me if I am just being a pollyanna here or is this a singular unique opportunity in all of history and we must do something with it now.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Moon Day - If they can put a man on the moon why can't they...

A phrase that has struck fear into the hearts of designers and engineers everywhere - "If they can put a man on the moon, why can't they ..." - fill in your favorite seemingly simple task or device. I think that the men putting men on the moon had a few more resources than the rest of us.

Today is the 36th anniversary of man landing on the moon. July 20th, 1969 is one of those dates dividing everything before from everything after. My parents tell me that I watched the first steps on television, though I was only 6 months old. It seems like a long time ago, and we haven't fulfilled the future promised. Where are the cities in space and on the moon? When will man walk on Mars. Many a great novel has been written about this longing. Stephen Baxter has revisited this longing with his books Titan, Voyage and Moonseed. I daresay the Space Age yet continues when the daily activities of the satellites we put up to take our phone calls, take pictures from above and track our locations are commonplace, though still amazing.

On the other hand, back then one might not have predicted the Information Age with the Internet and cell phones and the continuing upward progress of mankind and its gadgets. We may yet get our flying cars and orbital cities, but they will have bluetooth and wi-fi and artificial intelligence.

I agree with the others that this day should be an international holiday. Look up tonight and remember that we touched that moon up there.

"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." -Neil Armstrong

Ribbon magnets with empty sentiment

I have blogged about this before, and even taken some action. But I wanted to point out this item that I saw on StayFree Daily.

This ribbon is great in that it captures the unthinking way in which people plaster their cars with these things. A great quote from the creator, Deirdre Doyle, in the article states:

"...If you spell it out: placing mysteriously produced, cheap pieces of vinyl and magnets in an impermanent fashion onto your non-fuel-efficient vehicle to show support for a war in a land that fuels that vehicle ... the irony seems plain as day."

I can't say much more than that. The article states says you can get a template of the magnet at her website. Direct link to the template here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Simpsons take on Pre-millenial dispensationalism with "Left Below"

I must have missed this episode when it was first on in May but the repeat Simpsons on Sunday night was a hilarious send up of the Left Behind series and The Rapture. The episode was called "Thank God its Doomsday" and has Homer predicting the date of the end of the world with funny results.

Homer and the kids end up seeing a movie called "Left Below", a clear parody of the movie "Left Behind" based on the book of the same name. This and some more signs Homer sees on his way home inspires him to calculate the date of The Rapture. Homer gets it wrong and then he gets it right. We all know the intellectual level that the creators of the Simpsons attribute to Homer, yet the writers credit Homer with the correct calculation of the date, which is the certainly a scathing comment on calculating the date of the Rapture and those that do it.

Many a new religious sect has been formed when some leader attempted to calculate the date of the End of the World and the Second Coming, but got it wrong, recalculated and still got it wrong. Even more offshoots of the original breakaway group form from the crisis caused by date of the Rapture coming and go with nary a last trumpet to be heard. Jehovah's Witnesses have calculated it several times. Seventh Day Adventists arose from another failed attempt.

I am not going to present an even handed detailed description of pre-millenial dispensationalism and tribulationalism (a great phrase to write and say) and a breakdown of the Left Behind series. The reason I am interested in this stuff is that one of my hobbies is crazy conspiracy theories. The whole Left Behind phenomena falls squarely onto that bookshelf in my library (though I do not and never will own any of the Left Behind series, I own the debunker's books).

I have been reading the Slacktivist, who has been carefully analyzing the Left Behind book and the whole phenomena and is well worth exploring for a former insiders view. presents a non-biased review of all of the data, has histories and origins of Christian groups that I have never even heard of. More fun is the Rapture Index which is kind of a speedometer showing the rate at which the rapture is approaching. We have been moving at a steady clip since the Gulf War in 1990 with an all time high shortly after 9/11 of 182, this week we are at 150. The creator has taken great pains to do many calculations based on world events and esoteric theories, which pretty much describes the whole movement in a nutshell.

I think when your movement is a parody on the Simpsons that you have officially jumped the shark. Welcome to syndication, Left Behinders, I will always think of Homer's Rapture calculation when I think of you.

Monday, July 18, 2005

I am finally a poseur gamer!

I broke through my resistance with the help of another and actually went out and purchased an X-box this weekend past! I am so excited.

Allow me to explain. I have been following the gadget blogs and the gamer community for a while yet I did not own any game system. I could comment on the reviews for all of these games that I had yet to play. I am not a hacker, I am not a cyberpunk, yet I am drawn to the allure of technology. The best you could say is that I am a poseur. As an Honest Hypocrite I am comfortable with admitting that. My one foothold in the early adopter bin is that I have owned a Treo 600 for a year and that my current peer group and associates (except for one) are blissfully unaware of all of the cool technology passing them by. Remember all the folks I told you about that still don't know what a blog is.

So I am officially a poseur gamer. My current favorite videogame is Lego Star Wars. The player follows the theme of the movies but all of the characters and sets are made of Legos, which convincingly blow apart into Lego pieces if you shoot at them. I am pretty sure that this is a game for five year olds, yet I find it a little difficult to play because I am getting old, or at least slightly less adaptable. For example, in one level you get to pilot Annikin's Podracer, but you must complete each section of the race in a fixed amount of time and you can't run into rocks and things. For the life of me, I have had to play it over and over, memorizing a little bit each time and coaxing my misadapted reflexes to the new technology. It generously puts you back at the same location each time to do this. I beat it last night, but I am sure some toddler somewhere thinks the game is easy and boring.

One amusing part of setting up the game is that my fiance was very impressed with just setting the time on the X-box. It has been a long time since either of us have owned a video game system and the advances have been meteoric. She wants to know why the time setting interface on her computer can't be as cool as on the X-box. So I ask you out there on the internets, why can't it?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Wrigley Field and the Cubs Today!

Guess where I am today.

I finally made it to the right baseball park in Chicago. I am, this instant, watching the Cubs play the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field. I am conflicted because I used to go to school in Pittsburgh, but today I have my Cubs hat on and I will root, root, root for the home team.

I would tell you that the score is nothing all and it is the bottom of the 1st with the Cubs up to bat, but that would be transmitting a description of the game without the express written consent of Major League Baseball and that could get us all in trouble.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

We are rich compared to the past

Having finished Accelerando I have been thinking a lot lately about how wealthy we are compared to previous generations. This is a consistent theme in the Progress paradox and I want to point out how clear demonstrations of this effect are available all around you.

Case in point is the all in one video game boxes. These are items that contain all (maybe 7) of the video games that were on the Ataris of the early eighties in one single box. The exciting thing is that the box only costs ~$40 but contains what was once hundreds of dollars worth of games. Not only that, $40 in 2005 is worth less than $40 20 years ago so inflation boosts the discrepancy. These days many more kids that couldn't have afforded the games in the eighties can now have all of them.

However, one interesting and piercing point of Accelerando is that the rate of progress makes it so that if a kid today only had the "Atari in a box" video game we would think that they were disadvantaged. The middle and upper class have X-Boxes or PSP's or multiple game systems. Progress is that more people today have a standard of living that is better than 20 years ago, the middle has been lifted not just the top. That is good for everybody. The acceleration of technology though, always ensures that there is a next big thing. In the coming weeks I will continue to point out this acceleration.

I have been patiently waiting for the future all of my life. I have started to notice that some of it has started to arrive.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Michigan lighthouse pictures taken with Treo camera enhanced by roadside telescope!

Using the crappy Treo camera and a lot of patience I was able to take pictures through the sightseeing telescope at a rest stop near Gros Cap on the way to the Macakinac bridge on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This one is the St. Helena's Island lighthouse. I think the picture turned out surprisingly well. Also this saves me getting on a boat and taking hours and hours to visit the lighthouse in person in order to "count" it as seen.

Here is a ship just before it crosses in front of White Shoal Light. This lighthouse is painted like a red and white candy cane but you can't see it that well in this photo. Cut me some slack I took with the Treo through a telescope that cost 50 cents to operate. This isn't Ansel Adams. For more and better pictures and info try here, here and here. For preservation info look here. Other people have this same obsession and better cameras and web design skills.

Finally I knock off two lighthouses in one shot with the above picture of the Waugoshance Shoal and Grey's Reef Lightstations in one shot across St. Helena Island. This is great because I am very unlikely to visit these in person.

Above you can see why I needed the telescope, that lighthouse on St. Helena is tiny. Luckily there was a convenient telescope nearby and I had two quarters. That was four, count them, four lighthouses in one 15 minute rest stop. I hope you enjoyed my crappy Treo camera magic.

Monday, July 04, 2005

The Bandwidth is narrow here.

I am a little cutoff from the web up here in the great Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In spite of its great lighthouse museum (Sand Point), Escanaba feels a little away from it all.

Which is perfect for vacation, but blogging will be sparse. I don't even have web access on my phone to post! eek!

These last few posts come to you courtesy of the free wi-fi at the 8th Street Coffeehouse in downtown Escanaba. Thank you to them.

I will return to my commentary duties when the vacation is over and the bandwidth improves. Since I have a ton of books up here I am sure there will be interesting things to comment on.

Happy Independence Day

My friends,

Celebrate your independence and your freedoms. Speak your mind. Vote. Write your representatives. Disagree with others if you must but be prepared to fight for their right to say it. Support your troops but think carefully about the policies that require their use. Be patriotic in your heart not just with the flag flying once a year.

Put four ribbons on the inside, don't just paper your car with them. Pledge allegiance not so much "to the flag" but "to the republic for which it stands".

Think what a break from history the freedom represented by the United States of America has become and cherish and take responsibility for it.

Go to your city parks and watch the fireworks (or safely shoot off your own), cheer and remember what all this is for. Celebrate.

Menominee North Pier Lighthouse

We did make it to Michigan on July 2nd. The first order of business was a lighthouse because we are on the Great Lakes!

This lighthouse was much harder to get to. The town seemed to glory in its existence with a picture of it on flags all through downtown, they just needed to follow through with actual directions on actual signs. We drove along the main road peaking through the buildings until we saw what looked like the pier and then we found the path.

The steel tower halfway along the path gave me a chance to exercise my photographic creativity. Everybody can now ooh and ah about negative space and lines and geometrics. I definitely don't know what I am talking about here.

It does seem that in an effort is being made to alleviate the safety responsibility of owning all of these lighthouses that people want to visit, but that are in some dangerous places, especially if the weather is bad. The Coast guard has out up these scary signs, that even manage to work the word "thereof" into the warning.



Manitowoc Breakwater Light

This is the Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse. We thought we were going to have to walk on a treacherous breakwater with huge unevven blocks of stone. That would mean that you would get no picture. Instead cooler heads prevailed and we found the correct path and were able to walk out on the windy path to see it. This one is still in use.

Can anyone tell me what these markers are? And how to interpret them?

A genuine World War II Hero

Charles M. Stewart is a true American war hero. He led the last part of our tour of the USS Cobia. He is here in the stern torpedo room of the very submarine where he served and lived and even slept during World War II.

We got chills as he described the fateful Mother's Day when the sub sat on the bottom of the Gulf of Siam waiting out 8 hours of depth charges. The charges were so powerful they drove the sub into the muck on the bottom and resulted in even more tense moments of trying to free the sub after the attack had subsided.

He also told of the day he was loading ammunition for the deck gun when the Cobia was in battle with two ships and his crewmate was killed by machine gun fire in the only casualty to occur on the Cobia in the course of its war missions. I didn't know that although many ships were sunk by torpedoes the smaller ones were sunk using the deck gun to conserve torpedoes for the larger ships.

More stories from Charles can be found here. More information can be found at the Wisconson Maritime Museum website.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

More USS Cobia

Some more pictures of the USS Cobia showing the stern deck gun.

The next picture is of the forward torpedo tubes. The torpedoes were more than 20 feet long and the torpedoe crews slept in that compartment.

The bridge is the command center with all kinds of controls. Think of the movie U571 when they are still in there own American submarine.

The last picture is the radio and sonar room. Lots of buttons and gadgets.

Wisconson Maritime Museum in Manitowoc

We stopped in Manitowoc to tour the Wisconson Maritime Museum. This museum is unexpected but it turns out that many World War II submarines were built here and they have included displays on the fishing industry and Great Lakes shipping.

The most interesting part by far is the restored USS Cobia submarine. Though the Cobia was not made here it is identical to the submarines that were. The last picture above is me taking aim at through the 3 inch deck gun (3 inches is the diameter of the shell!)

Serenity Now

Despite my glowing recommendation of Chicago as a great town, be careful when you go there it appears to be under construction.

Here you see me gently admonishing the other drivers on the road to signal lane changes, drive defensively and obey all of those pesky little rules that keep all of us from killing each other.

Chicago is my kind of town

Today our travels take us to Chicago, which is my kind of town.

Chicago has its great tall buildings and a vital downtown. On the way in we drove past the wrong stadium, wrong because I am a Cubs fan not the White Sox.

It used to be called Cominski park but now it has some corporate sponsorship that I won't bother to remember because the company will be bought or sold or merged or go out of business before I can commit it to memory.

Though I have yet to add it to my list of travelled destinations, another cool thing about this town is Navy Peir and they have a beach right on the lake in the middle of the city. The arial photo was taken from an excusive highrise in the north part of Chicago. Chicago has to supply its own tall biuldings for its vistas because it is so flat.

I will not get to State street that great street on this trip.