Thursday, May 31, 2007

Budget and Numbers about Brandywine School District

The Brandywine School District does have information about the referendum on June 4th, but of course the slant is toward getting voters to approve the tax hike. The message certainly heaps on the gloom and doom if the tax hike doesn't go through - staff reductions, school closings, reduction in salaries, stipends, programs, books. Is the school district running on such a shoestring that the moment the funding slips a little everything must be cut? Having programs before they are funded is called "counting your chickens before they are hatched". The brinkmanship tactics also do not inspire confidence. Raising taxes is a highly unpopular thing in these days of rising gas prices and stagnant house prices and wages.

Exploration of the School District website will lead you to the page with all of the budget information on it. The budget reports are available as .pdf files. I find the actual budget to be difficult to read, and the 2007 budget was poorly (unreadably) scanned. At 50 pages or so, I don't feel I have the time to understand to the level required to offer a truly informed opinion on the need for the referendum. What does pop out in the summaries is the fact that the school district appears to run a surplus from year to year.

For even more detailed information on all of the financial goings on in the Brandywine School District I recommend the website Schoolwatch.us sponsored by the Committee to Save Our Schools. There is a wealth of information gathered there about salaries, costs per student and other data gleaned from various Department of Education Documents. I have been unable to duplicate the efforts of those on the website, so I suggest you contact them for confirmation of the data, but some primary data sources that I can find do check out with the Schoolwatch data.

Some interesting data from School Watch:

This is a link to the administrator salaries. 56 administrators with an average salary of $105,000. By the way, Dr. Jim Scanlon, the superintendent, makes $163,000/year.

Or this chart (by Allen Kemp) of the growth of the budget well ahead of the standard of living and flat school enrollment.

The question is what information do you need to have to vote in the June 4th referendum? What will you vote be? I think School Watch says it should be "no".

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Eastern tent caperpillar on the Shellpot Creek

As part of the continuing exploration of the wildlife refuge that is my backyard I have tried to take good pictures (with my new camera) of the interesting things that inhabit the area. As long as they are not moving too fast I can usually run inside to get the camera and shoot it. This means I can get more slow bugs than fast mammals and birds but I am working on it.

This colorful fuzzy caterpillar seems to be an Eastern Tent Caterpillar as far as I can tell from the web. The Malacosoma americanum is a pest in the east and they are known to defoliate trees like cherry, apple and crab apple. I guess I should have squished it when I saw it. It was only one. I promise to take a picture of the tent and mass if we get one. These guys turn into moths.

Voting History of Brandywine School District Referenda

I thought that it would be appropriate to gather some data on Brandywine School District referenda since they have scheduled another one on June 4th to raise taxes because the April one failed to pass. The voting records can be found at the Delaware Department of Elections starting with April 2007 and they go back to 1987 (follow the links inside for earlier results).



Here is the data in table form. Red means failed and green means passed, before 2007 the last referenda to fail was in March of 1987. There was a second one that year in October that passed. Is the school district trying this strategy again? Will they keep having referenda until they pass?



I have also plotted the results back to 1987 to illustrate some points. None of the votes after 2000 were close until this last one in 2007 that did not pass.

My main issues with the referenda are that they seems to think it is alright to have another vote even though the voters already said no, and that the district doesn't inspire confidence in the voters that they will use the money wisely. I will be voting no.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Ancestry.com helps us remember on Memorial Day

Ancestry.com has digitized 90 Million military service records, registration cards, and enlistment records and put them online. The good news is that they are available, the bad news is that they are available free only until D-day June 6th. From the article:
"After June 6, users can pay $155.40 a year for unlimited access to thousands of U.S. record databases, Sullivan said.
Eek! That is a lot for government records that should probably be free, though then they were much less available. I suppose Ancestry.com needs to recoup the cost of digitizing and putting them into a database.

During these free days I went and found registration records for my grandfather, Enrico Pizzico, in World War I and World War II. The cool thing is his own signature on the cards. He fought in World War I, but not in World War II (he was too old by then).

Enrico Pizzico World War I

Enrico Pizzico World War II

For World War II, I also found records for two great uncles, Anthony and Joseph Timbario, and two uncles, Gaetano (Bill) and Thomas Pizzico. At one point during World War II, my grandmother had two brothers and two sons fighting all over the world. Though I have my flag flying for all the soldiers that have ever served our country, my uncles are some of the soldiers that I especially think of on Memorial Day.

The Honest Hypocrite in Alphabet Agates

The Proceedings of the Athanasius Kircher Society points us to alphabet agates. Recently a set went for $11,000. Collectors look for and then very carefully cut agates in order to form the letters in the surface. These sets are very rare.




I took the pictures and created a banner for the Honest Hypocrite.

I am sure some clever programmer could turn these pictures of agate letters into a a webtool that would allow you to write anything you like in alphabet agates. I just used Paint.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

As american as baseball and apple pie

The new house hosted its first game of catch as some guests and I through baseballs back and forth a few times before the chicken was done on the grill. Nothing more American than throwing a baseball back and forth. Memorial Day weekend also signals flag flying season. I was unable to get the apple pie into this picture, though we did have one for dessert.

I picked this picture because apparently I either run funny or was about to fall down (I am the stumbling man on the left). It is an action shot. The truth, justice and the American way picture is harder to compose, since those qualities are so abstract.

Better Gaming Through Chemistry

One slogan the DuPont company used in the 60's was Better things for better living through chemistry, often shortened to "Better Living Through Chemistry". I think we can say the same thing for the Dungeons and Dragons gaming online comic "The Order of the Stick". Or perhaps we should say "Better Gaming Comics Through Chemistry"(tm).

Instead of the stodgy old Earth, Fire, Water, and Air elementals that are used in current fantasy gaming, Rich Burlew has a character that paid attention in chemistry class and suggests the use of element based elementals. In my comments on the titanium elemental he used in an earlier strip, I presciently wondered how scary a chlorine or plutonium elemental might be. In Friday's comic he has the goblin cleric use a chlorine elemental to clear the way during the epic battle that's in progress. Though I had seen the comic that day, Zak3056 kindly pointed out that I guessed right.

I like how the comic artist had a nice periodic table of the elements label on the elemental so we know which one it is. Chlorine's effects are well know, but there are some other nasty elements in pure form, like fluorine, that would kill even faster. Oxygen elementals would cause things to burn fast. Call up a sodium elemental and a water elemental and let them mix for a big boom. Mercury elementals would be cool to look at, all reflecting and liquid, like the Terminator in the second movie.

Some of the effects of elements depend on their valence state, a pure chromium elemental would be shiny or could be used to make your other metal elementals shiny, but chromium at +6 is a strong oxidant and is known to cause cancer, I guess in the gaming world it would have a Touch of Death or some such thing. Can the spellcaster also suggest the isotope of the element that is summoned? Depleted Uranium (low in U235 almost all U238) is good for bullets, but too big a U235 isotropically pure element would go critical and cause a nuclear explosion as soon as it was summoned (no uranium 235 elementals over 52kg). We all know what a polonium 210 elemental would do.

Can we do chemistry with the elementals? If I summon three chlorine, one hydrogen and a carbon elemental, does that make one chloroform elemental that can put everyone to sleep? Enough fluorine and carbon elementals (four F's to every C and some F's for the ends) strung together should give me an untouchable Teflon elemental.

Speaking of carbon elementals, which physical or crystal state do the elementals arrive in (allotropes)? Can I could have a slippery graphite carbon elemental, or a hard diamond carbon elemental? What special properties would a nanotube or fullerene carbon elemental have (everything you could think of according to the scientists that try to get funding for that type of research).

The possibilities for chemistry element based elementals seem to be endless. I guess it is whatever the Dungeon master can think of and the players will let them get away with. In the comic its all up to Rich Burlew.

Friday, May 25, 2007

"Dynamic" baseball Payroll vs. Performance chart

Ben Fry, who can program, has created a dynamic salary vs. performance chart for this baseball season. His chart connects the current standings of each team to its 2007 salary.



We don't learn much more than I realized when I plotted the salaries vs. performance for last year - there is no correlation. You can also delight in the fact that the Yankees are paying a lot of money for a very mediocre team this year.

On his chart you learn these facts with more flash and javascript. I agree his chart dynamically changes the team performance as the teams win and lose games through the season, but I think if he has gone to all this trouble it would be great to see the payroll change as teams add and drop players over the season. Paul would point out that this is still a useless chart since we have beaten to death the idea that performance does not correlate to payroll in baseball (and in many other things). He suggests you read Moneyball.

(via Castro's Favorite Color)

More animal visitors on Shellpot Creek

Finally I have visual evidence that it was probably a raccoon that visited and left footprints over the winter and not a homunculus, as I had previously thought. Here he is trekking across the backyard to go to the neighbors yard where treats are left out for him.






The same day, the duck that lives a little bit upstream passed by us to go swim a little downstream.






Add these sightings to the hawk and the white heron. We have seen the blue heron again, but no pictures yet.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Crane Fly closeups on the Shellpot Creek

Is there an entomological expert out there that can tell me exactly what type of crane fly I have flying around Shellpot creek? I always thought these things were mosquito killers, but I have learned that the adults pictured do not kill mosquitoes, and only the larvae of some species eat mosquito larvae.

Here is a top view







And here is a view of its underside as it perched so nicely on a glass door for me.






That pointy part at the end of the fly is not a stinger, it is an ovipositor and is harmless. My best guess of what species they are is derived from looking through the extensive pictures available on the Carnegie Museum of Natural History Crane Fly site (of course the Internet has many sites dedicated to crane flies!), is that these are Tipula (Yamatotipula) caloptera or Tipula (Yamatotipula) furca. My crane fly has the same striped wings and their abdomens have brown stripes.

Beyond that I am a little bugged out by looking through the hundreds of pictures to find my crane fly.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Are the shirts green?

I think they mean collared golf shirts, unless they are perhaps refering to the color of the shirt. Collard is a cabbage. Collard greens are popular in the South.

Those collared golf shirts are colored collard green.

Found at Feby's Fishery on Lancaster Pike in Wilmington. Great seafood, bad spelling.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Delaware's GDP equals Ecuador's

shows an interesting map where the GDP's of the various states are equated to countries. In this older map little Delaware has the equivalent GDP of Romania. I feel bad for New Hampshire which has the GDP of Bangladesh (but I change my tune later down this post)

Source: The York Group International, Inc.

I think people in this country still do not understand what a high standard of living we have and what benefits we have. I know I appreciate it. Perhaps the map will help.

A better and perhaps more accurate comparison can be found at wikipedia - Comparison between U.S. states and countries nominal GDP or PPP. There is also the difference between exchange rate actual currency GDP and Purchasing Power Parity. For example the dollar has an exchange rate with some country but that might not be equivalent to its purchasing power.

Source: The Honest Hypocrite, Data from World Bank and US Bureau of Economic Analysis

I have updated the map with data from 2005 using the GDP corrected for purchasing power parity. Now Delaware falls between Ecuador and Guatemala. There are other interesting equivalences. Texas has almost the GDP of Mexico, a country it was once a part of. California has a higher GDP-PPP than Russia, perhaps that state could have won the Cold War all on its own, perhaps it did in the person of Ronald Reagan. The states with the lowest GDP are North Dakota and Vermont, but they still beat countries like Estonia and Lebanon.

I know these comparisons are mostly specious since they are not corrected for population, or land area, but it makes an interesting map, nonetheless.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Preventing fallen arches

This poor arch at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Wilmington is not living up to its responsibilities of taking the weight above it and distributing it to its legs and down to the foundation.







It seems to be getting some help from a support right in the middle.







I remember from when I studied the ancient Romans that they got pretty good at building these arches. I imagine some engineer from Rome would be upset at needing a post in the middle.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Cyano-kicking donkey derived from "copyrighted" Smithsonian pix

BoingBoing can usually be counted on to get up in arms about overly zealous copyrighting or copyrighting material that might not be. It seems that the Smithsonian institute has some questionable copyright language about pictures on their site which may be government works and thus not subject to copyright.

I can't believe they didn't do the first thing I would do with the kicking donkey sequence from the Edward Muybridge cyanotypes, which is, turn it into an animated gif. Please enjoy a cyano-kicking donkey curtesy of public.resource.org who is trying to free them, Edward Muybridge who took them (around 1886), the Smithsonian that preserved them (and should free them), and Gickr that did the animated gif heavy lifting. I thought this might be a fun addition to the derivative works that Carl Malamud already compiled with these pictures.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Are you smarter than an 8th Grader?

Remember all that stuff that was taught to us in school? Even I, lover of science and knowledge that I am, must admit that not all of that stuff is useful at all times. So it seems I have forgotten some myself.

Mingle2 Free Online Dating - Science Quiz

I always did work just hard enough to get an A (minus in this case) but no harder. Post your scores in the comments.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Battlefield Earth, bad movie, great book, Mitt Romney favorite

You probably couldn't buy the publicity for an old book like Battlefield Earth that Republican candidate Mitt Romney gave it by revealing that it is his favorite book.

The best thing to come out of the discussion is some reasoned defense of the book and post-apocalyptic science fiction in general. BoingBoing pointed to the Joshua Glenn of the Boston Globe's defense of the choice. Apparently, just like Mitt Romney, liking post-apocalyptic fiction makes me a "starry-eyed idealist, someone who believes that another world is possible." I'll take that. It is important to note that we are talking about the book here and not the film. As Candleblog points out about the book "it's a decent post-apocalyptic yarn that any nerdy teen will likely get a kick out of. It's way better than that turd of a film."

I remember reading this tome (it is over 1000 pages) in clumsy paperback form when I was a kid. I also remember my mother worried that I might be converted to Scientology by reading the book. My father, another science fiction fan like myself, shrugged off the possibility. (This would be when I tell you that today I am proud to be a Scientologist and Clear, but no, it didn't happen.) The book is definitely pulp fiction, space opera, adventure science fiction and is perfect for an adolescent boy. It certainly isn't deep science fiction, but not everything can be. I do recommend reading it if you never have.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Would you ever have this license plate in Delaware?

I encountered this ASTRAZ license plate while driving around in northern Delaware. For those of you unfamiliar with the area, ASTRAZ obviously stands for Astra Zeneca, an international pharmaceutical company with its world headquarters in Wilmington.

Unless you are the CEO, wouldn't you avoid this license plate? I don't think it was the CEO driving around in a soccer mom van that has seen better days. It would be like having DUPONT as your personal plate in this state.

Let me give some examples for the out of staters. Would you have a GM personalized plate in Detroit? PNG in Cincinnati (P&G is Proctor and Gamble headquartered there)? How about a MSOFT plate or BOEING plate in Seattle.

Seems to me that while company loyalty is great, some personalized plates are almost community property and it is a little presumptious or sycophantic to use them.

Am I just being to critical?

Irony at the Rent-a-Center

Is it ironic? Coincidence? Apropos? that the Rent-a-center building is for rent itself.

Will I get to rent it for some enormously long time for an exhorbitant amount but then finally own it having paid five times what it is normally worth?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Just how many prime ribs or prime numbers are there.

Just how many numbers are prime? Something on popurls.com inspired me to got to the Prime pages to figure it out. Experimentalist that I am, I just went and grabbed a list of the first thousand primes and then some points along the way to the first 15 million to see what I could see. I divided the number of primes by the prime number I had reached to get the fraction of numbers below that number that are prime. Plotting this yields a suspiciously smooth decreasing curve if you use a log x-axis, which is necessary because we have numbers from 2 to 275 million.

Since we don't have a straight line yet the next plot is of the inverse of the fraction of prime numbers. Bingo! We have a straight line. A quick check of wikipedia (Distribution of Prime Numbers. Know your search terms!) reveals that I have just empirically rediscovered the Prime Number Theorem. Typical engineer.

That theorem defines pi(n) as the number of numbers that are prime below n. The fraction of numbers that are prime that I was trying to figure out is pi(n)/n.

pi(n) ~ n/ln (n)

pi(n)/n ~ 1/ ln(n)

My plot is the inverse of the fraction on a log which gives me my straight line ln(n). The chance of a randomly selected number being prime is 1/ ln(n).

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Team payrolls, last year's results and who is gonna win the pennant this year

We had discussion at work about baseball payrolls. I wondered just how high the Yankees payroll is and who the next place team was. A plot of the 2006 payrolls and the 2007 payrolls vs their rank shows that the Yankee salary is certainly disproportionate vs. the other teams, but they are not twice the next team anymore. The Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Devil Rays hold the last two spots.


A high salary does not necessarily get you a good winning percentage. There is little correlation between salary and winning. Take that Yankees. Here is an example from 2006, both with and without the Yankees who skew the chart.

They say that past performance does not guarantee future results. That is also true for at least the last three seasons of baseball. I plotted the year's winning percentage vs. the year before and get an even worse correlation than for salaries.


Perhaps it is the quality of players that determines how many baseball games you will win. Team payroll or past performance doesn't seem to correlate.

Friday, May 04, 2007

District of Columbia sells her dish to the Food Network

Eventually the Food Network crews were interviewing each contestant about their recipe. Delaware's neighbor (alphabetically speaking) District of Columbia explained her dish to the camera crews. Noushin Jahanian made "Warm Roasted Potato and Chicken Salad". This recipe was one of the many examples that made me sad that they didn't have the contestants prepare a dish just for us guests to taste. We were just tortured by the great smells.

The 47th Annual National Chicken Contest Concludes

Lynn did not place in the contest but everyone from each of the states that is here is a finalist. Lynn received a really nifty silver bowl engraved with her name and state. I must now fulfill my promise of a trophy case in the kitchen.

Idaho won the $100,000 prize with "Thai-inspired Stuffed Chicken Breast and Slaw". It was one of the best smelling dishes.

Of the contestants that had extra attention from the Food Network, only Ohio placed in 5th place with "Zesty Ginger Beer BBQ Pulled Chicken Sandwiches". I still can't wait to see the whole contest documentary on TV.

Off to build a trophy cabinet for our Delaware finalist.

Dancing attracts the Food Network

Whenever the "Girl from Ipa Nema" is playing, Lynn and I dance a Basa Nova without fail. The band here played a nice version with flute so Lynn and I danced. She had completed her judge entry so the pressure was off.

This attracted the Food Network camera crew. After we finished dancing they Interviewed Lynn about her recipe. They have been making the rounds to talk with everyone but the dancing might have drawn them in. Maybe we'll be on the show.

The Dish is in!

Obvious relief from everyone involved now that Lynn has turned in her delicious chicken recipe.

Let's hope that "Plantain Chip-Crusted Chicken with Mango Sauce" is a winning entry.

Jim Perdue with bodyguard

Jim Perdue is here with a fearsome chicken bodyguard. He looks like he is being a good sport. We got to meet him and make the Delaware connection.

Distractions from Food Network filming?

The Kentucky contestant looks like she doen't mind explaining her dish to the camera.

The contestants with lights at their booths, so I am guessing they are being profiled, are
- Kentucky
- Arizona
- Vermont (had previously been in the burger cookoff)
- Ohio (she is the youngest contestant)

The cameras have been at other booths. I did see them over at California. Perhaps because he was so personable with the announcer and former Alabama football star Bill Kraus.

Let's see who wins.

Contest is underway!

They started around 10am and the contestants are cooking up a storm.

Preparing the Parade of the States

Lynn looks calm cool and collected as the contestants from each state line up to be announced.

50 minutes to the big show!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Food Network covers the Chicken Cooking Contest

The Food Network is covering the chicken contest and will make a show about it sometime this year. They have chosen some contestants to do more in-depth profiles as part of the show. You can tell from the cameras and extra lights at the booths.

Contestants not chosen for the profiles are wondering what the criteria might be and how they will go back and fill in the human interest story for the final winner. I guess, through the magic of television, they can get the story on winners not already profiled after the fact.

I'll list the ones that I can figure out are being profiled tomorrow. Let's see if one wins.

Beauty contest or Chicken contest?

It isn't really a contest and you're not a contestant if you don't have a sash. Our favorite contestant models her sash in front of the Delaware state flag and the weapon of choice for tomorrow's battle - the stove.

51 contestants vying for chicken contest supremacy

Here are all of the contestants ready to get setup for tomorrow. Our favorite contestant is at the far left of the picture second person in, on the second row from the top.

Orientation at the Chicken Cooking Contest

There are many questions during orientation at the National Chicken Cooking Contest. The rules are reasonably strict - no alterations to the recipe, it must be cooked twice from 10 to 1 tomorrow, no help from outside.

You can definitely sense the nervousness and excitement in the contestants. Whirdly remains cool and ready to cook.

Cutco is demonstrating the knives that are for the contest tomorrow and are one of the prizes to every contestant. Even I am familiar with some of the techniches so I imagine it is simple to the experts here. I guess they don't want anybody to cut themselves tomorrow.

Adventures at the National Chicken Cooking Contest

The Honest Hypocrite is lucky enough to have only the best prepared meals provided by the extremely talented whirdly (of shellpot.blogspot.com fame).

You don't just have to take my word for it, she was selected as Delaware's finalist in the National Chicken Cooking Contest. We have just arrived in Birmingham where she will compete against her fellow finalists from all 50 states and DC.

She looks excited to begin cooking in this picture with the main component of her recipe. Please join me in wishing her the best of luck. The cooking part of the competition is tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Jack Chick parody staring Tiki vs. Moai

Humuhumu posts a clever Jack Chick parody tract about the dangers of the Tiki. I am a fan of Jack Chick parody (the cthulhu version is discussed here). I was struck by the similarity of some of the poses of the tikis and some photos I took while we were on Easter Island.

vs.


It's almost as if they were there. I should point out that, technically, the statues on Easter Island are called Moai.

More disturbing is that the tract warns against the dangers of delicious tropical drinks. While we were on Easter Island and also in Chile we learned about a liquor made from grapes called pisco. Pisco is really good in the traditional Chilean drink called a pisco sour. (I am sure some Peruvians will claim it is their drink, but we should all have one and get along). I spite of the dangers to my soul (maybe if it is a sour that will save me) I will relate a good recipe that has worked for us.
Pisco Sour
1.5 parts sugar
2 parts lemon juice
3 parts pisco
shake with ice and pour into a champagne glass.
You need more sugar than any recipe will tell you on the bottle. It is very tasty.

(The pictures of the Tiki Jack Chick parody are nicely scanned in here.)

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