Monday, July 27, 2009

Those who study history ...

In the "The Political Prisoner" by Charles Coleman Finlay in The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Sixth Annual Collection edit by Gardner Dozois (first appeared in F&SF, August 2008), Finlay adds a corollary to a paraphrase of the familiar aphorism about history:

"Those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it"

Finlay's extension is placed in the words of Max, the story title's political prisoner:

"Those who do study history are doomed to see the repetition coming"

Prius driven 10 000 by owners

I actually bought my Prius with only 1 mile on it, so hitting 10001 is both symmetrical and significant because I put the 10000 miles on it.

So far the car still drives well. I am not getting the vaunted 50mpg (more like 40mpg) that many claim for the car, probably because my commute doesn't even give the car time to warm up the gas engine and shut it off to let the electric do some work. I am getting twice the gas mileage of the last car. I also like that the car does shut off the gas engine when you are stopped at a light. That means less emissions.

I am what I would term a comfort or convenience car buyer so my favorite features of the Prius are the bluetooth connection to my cell phone and the jack for my iPod. I also like all of the controls on the computer screen in the middle of the dashboard leaving a very clean console.

Now if only the damn thing could be plugged in and charged for even more gas savings.

Prius milestone 10 000

The prius reached 10,000 miles today, a milestone made special by being the fourth power of the base of our counting system.

One more milestone coming.

Arbitrary Prius Milestone 9999

Today the prius hit 9999 miles. More milestones to come.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Too much cancer screening can be worse than none at all

A recent article in the New York Times reports that the push for increased cancer screening may only have limited benefits. It talks especially about massive screening campaigns for rare cancers like thyroid cancer (kills only 1600/year in the US) and extending testing for breast cancer or prostate cancer to populations (younger people) where it occurs rarely or using tests that are poor screening tests.

The most insightful statement from the article:
Dr. Ned Calonge, the chairman of the United States Preventive Services Task Force said, “There are five things that can happen as a result of screening tests, and four of them are bad.”
Below is a the paraphrased and bulleted list from the article with inserted statistical names for some of these outcomes if relevant.

One good result of screening:

  • Identifying a life-threatening form of cancer that actually responds to timely intervention.

Four bad results of screening:

  • False Positive: Results that falsely indicate cancer and cause needless anxiety and unnecessary procedures that can lead to complications.
  • False Negative: Results that fail to diagnose an existing cancer, which could lull a patient into ignoring real symptoms as the cancer progresses.
  • Results that detect slow-growing or stable cancers that are not life-threatening and would not otherwise have required treatment.
  • Results that detect aggressive life-threatening cancers whose outcome is not changed by early detection.

If you know the accuracy of the test and the incident rate of the cancer in the population and the cost of treatment and the value of a human life (that last one is tricky and is a minefield) then a simple cost benefit analysis will allow the determination of appropriate screening. If human lives are worth infinity then the math is impossible. When advocates of a particular approach don't understand statistics then the math is also impossible. I think the main error is the failure to understand the cost of the four bad outcomes above. Everybody focuses on the correct positives.

I think the same approach could be used with terrorism. Replace cancer with terrorism above.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Spoons attached to their injection molded frame

I can't wait to see what my spoon fighter jet model will look like when I put it together. I just have to detach all of the parts from the plastic frame first.

Someone or some machine failed to detach these spoons from the frame after the injection molding was done. Do you remember the initial thrill of getting the parts ready for the plastic models we used to build when we were little? Mine never looked like the box because I wasn't allowed paint and I wasn't patient and careful enough with the glue.

How did your models turn out?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The day after moon day when the world read the headlines

July 21, 1969 was the day when the world woke up to the headlines of man landing on the moon, though millions watched it live as it happened.

NASA has many great photographs in their history write up of the Apollo 11 mission.

Above is the iconic photo of Buzz Aldrin with Neil Armstrong and LM in reflection in Aldrin's visor. I have linked to Wikipedia's photo with black sky behind Aldrin made by extending this picture vertically, but the original shown here shows that the photo was cut off at the top. Still not a bad photo for being shot by Neil Armstrong in a space suit on the moon without a viewfinder to look through.

Because Neil Armstrong took so many of the pictures during the mission there are only a few photos of him on the moon. The one above is one that Buzz Aldrin took.

Here is another one of Neil Armstrong that has been taken from a high definition restoration of 16mm film taken by a camera on top of the lunar module. You can even see Armstrong's face through his visor. This picture is featured in a new book about the moon landing.

Finally the big blue marble with the Lunar module below.

Let's go back!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Happy Moon Day - First photograph of man on the moon published in color

This first photo of man on the moon published in color was a supplement to the Philadelphia Inquirer 40 years ago.

My parents saved this photo with the other newspapers from the moon landing forty years ago. It is too large to scan in, so I photographed it. Click on it for larger to read the text and see more detai, though the photo was not that detailed originally.

Now NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Observer has photos of the landing sites 40 years later.

Apollo 11

Apollo 14

Wish I was planning my moon vacation right now. Maybe in another 40 years. Tom Wolfe thinks he knows why we those first steps heralded the end of the program. Charles Stross asks what has the space program done for us? (lots of good stuff).

Let's go back.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

40 years ago, Man on the Moon headlines from the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Norristown Times Herald

I was told today that 40 years ago when Apollo 11 landed on the moon and Neil Armstrong was about to take his historic first step I was crawling around on the floor with my twin sister and my father during the broadcast. I suppose at six months old I was too young to remember the moon landing but my dad tells me I was there watching.

My parents saved the newspapers from the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Norristown Times Herald for July 21, 1969 with the morning headlines proclaiming the landing and first steps of the night before. He are photos of those pages. If you click on them to make them larger you should be able to read some of the articles.

Philadelphia Inquirer July 21, 1969 page 1.

Philadelphia Inquirer July 21, 1969 page 3.

Philadelphia Inquirer July 21, 1969 page 3.
Closeup of conversation as Neil Armstrong takes his first step on the moon.

Philadelphia Inquirer July 21, 1969 page 4.

Philadelphia Inquirer July 21, 1969 page 5.

Norristown Times Herald July 21, 1969 page 1.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Birding at the Shellpot Creek Wildlife refuge

These past weeks have seen the return of two of my favorite bird species to the Shellpot Creek.

This short tailed hawk was in the front yard with its catch. The catch looked like a morning dove but it was hard to see. The photograph is from far away and I wish that I had video of it flying away instead of just the picture. We have seen hawks in the front yard before (one, two).

As usual the white herons still like that one spot on the creek where the larger fish congregate. I will have to try to get video of one these flying up the creek as well. We usually see several white herons a year on the creek (an earlier visit, another visit). They seem to like the morning and the fish.


I guess I have unrealistic expectations when it comes to ferns growing in wet shady areas like my backyard next to the creek. I wanted to have an explosion of various types by now but still have a only a few still adapting to the conditions. The key may be to realize that it is dryer in the back than I expected and so the ferns need some help in the high heat of the summer.

Here is the best fern, an ostrich fern, that actually seems to be spreading from its spot between the rocks near the creek.

We have also planted three Japanese painted ferns (Athyrium niponicum 'Pictum') that I wish would grow larger and faster. To their credit they came back after being trampled when one of the fallen trees was removed from the creek.

This cinnamon fern was dead last year in the summer, but has apparently come back to life. I hope it continues to grow. I expected it after its return to have more of the fuzzy brown texture on the young fronds, but it looks typically fernlike right now.

This autumn fern never thrives, but never completely gives up after a two years of being in this spot It is a single now that the companion that we planted with it did finally succumb.

I have not yet given up on my fern garden, it appears more patience is on order.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Was the ending of Battlestar Galacta the worst Sci-Fi ending ever?

Howard points to Brad's argument - Battlestar's "Daybreak:" The worst ending in the history of on-screen science fiction. It is full of spoilers for the entire series so read it only if you have watched all of the Battlestar Galacta you want to before having the surprises taken away. Howard think the ending wasn't that great and we should just get over it, and my long comment on his post is worth repeating here as the commentary on the last episode of BSG that I never got around to writing. At least now I will have closure.

I think that the plot got ahead of the creators of BSG. These guys write a show and they don't know when it will end. It was almost killed by the writer's strike and then that ended and it survived and then they had to write some more. So I suspect that they didn't know how to end it when they had to end it, they attempted to sew up all of the loose ends and did a hack job of it. I think they got wrapped up in their own mystique, the fanboy adulation, and the absurdity of their own oracular pronouncements of where the show was going next and how it might end. That being said they are probably crying all the way to the bank.

Starbuck was a cop out, angels was a cop out. Giving up technology is a cop out. Finding a new Earth is a cop out, but we saw that the music and the notes had to mean something and there it was.

I was always aggravated with the show especially in the last season, because the characters seemed stupid or mentally ill. I chalk it up to post traumatic stress disorder for everyone, both fleeing humans, and attacking cylons (and possibly the writers). If instead of emoting and acting generally crazy, the characters had compared notes of their various experiences, they might have figured things out sooner. They would have come to the realization that they were in the grip of an extremely powerful being or set of circumstances, natural or supernatural, and that might have made them change some of their decisions. It would make me paranoid. As Brad points out, once God and fate or destiny are involved it hardly matters what the characters do, there is no mystery, just chugging along to the final conclusion.

I wasn't so worried about the subtle mistake of mitochondrial eve vs. the last common ancestor and trying to fit BSG into our history. My biggest issue with the ending (which is still one of many) was the realization that if all of humanity was descended from Hera, then that meant that every other woman that settled on "Earth" didn't produce descendants to this day, and I just assumed that the first generation all died without having children, which has been pointed out is very depressing.

RIP BSG. (except for Caprica and every other spinoff that they will have).

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Slugs in the garden

Last night I noticed these giant slugs climbing the pots on porch. I am not sure I am comfortable with them getting closer to my height by climbing things.

Halfway up the pot.

A picture with slime trail with my hand in there for size.

This closeup also shows the slime trail, The ridges on the pot are nine to the inch so the length of this slug is about 3.2 inches not taking into account its curved posture (I guess it is not that big).

I am sure these guys are eating my vegetables and plants. We put ground-up eggshells under the tomatoes and Brussels sprouts for calcium and because the slugs don't like crawling over sharp objects. I was going to joke and call these Giant Leopard slugs, but in fact that is what they are, Limax maximus.

73 Triumph Spitfire in Delaware

How do we know this is a 73 spitfire? I think license SPIT '73 says it all. I suspect though that this is one of the clunkers people have been talking about trading in and replacing. It looked like it was in good shape but from driving behind them, the exhaust stunk, which usually means extra emissions and inefficient fuel use.

Or is there another explanation?

Monday, July 13, 2009

How well do you know Moe Szyslak?

A quiz from Mental Floss about everybody's favorite bartender from the Simpsons, Moe Szyslak.


I got ...
Moe Szyslak: The Quiz
Score: 83% (10 out of 12)
How about you?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Babies and monkeys laughing at unpopular names

Sometimes the most recent good stuff is over at Childhood Antics:

A study of baby, monkey and primate laughter shows evolution of laughter seems to follow the evolution of primates.

A study of name popularity indicates a correlation between unpopular names and juvenile delinquency. Do I wish I knew that before we named our son?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Science - is there nothing it won't do?

Two comics today that perfectly capture the hubris of science and engineering.

(via Savage Chickens)

I also like the contrast between normal person and doctor or engineer, it doesn't appear that you can be both.

(via Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal)

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Phillie and Michigan band together for All Star Game 2009 Final Vote

Careful readers will realize that the author of this blog is a Phillies fan but also a Detroit Tigers fan. Today is the last day of the All Star Game 2009 Final Vote and I have been exhorting both Phillies fans and Detroit Tigers fans to vote online at I have asked the Detroit fans to add Phillie Shane Victorino on the National League side to their Tiger Brandon Inge American league Vote and asking Phillie fans to add Inge when they vote for Victorino.

Right now Inge is leading the American League vote by 9 percentage points, but Victorino trails Pablo Sandoval by 2 percentage points. I suppose my and others linking of Inge and Victorino has been noticed at From the article -
"The latest voting alliance has been formed by the Tigers and Phillies organizations, two of baseball's most storied franchises. They are encouraging businesses located throughout Michigan and Pennsylvania to allow their employees time today and Thursday to vote for Inge and Victorino."
I hope it works. Brandon really deserves to be an All-Star, he has been having a great year and picking up the slack for his Detroit teammates. I also hear he is a really nice guy. Shane Victorino deserves the honor as well, for last year and this.

Please go vote for Inge and Victorino, you have until 4pm today.



Vote today!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Once a century - a special time - 12:34:56 7/8/9

Remember that only today will it be:

12:34:56 7/8/9

What will you do at that second?

I am only 29% addicted to Twitter, which is to say, not very much.

How addicted to Twitter are you?

How addicted to Twitter are you?

Created by The Oatmeal

...which is to say not really addicted to Twitter. I like it because I have a few local people and news outlets that I follow, for following NASA, especially NASA Wallops and the moon probes, and for some national news that I follow. For my own tweets, I usually just post a link to the stuff here that I think people would be interested in.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Hey Detroit Tigers fans go vote for Brandon Inge to be at the All Star Game

Hey Detroit Tigers fans, Please go vote for Brandon Inge of the Detroit Tigers to go to the All Star Game at (ballot is first headline on righthand side) - he deserves it. Voting ends Thursday at 4pm.

If you don't have a National League favorite, please stringly consider adding
Shane Victorino of the Phillies on the National league side of your ballot.

Hey Phillies fans - All Star Game Final Vote Information

Hey Phillies fans, when you vote for Shane Victorino to be an All-Star at, please add your vote for Brandon Inge on the American League side, he really deserves it. The voting ends Thursday at 4pm so please get those votes in now.

Orange daylilies finally bloom

This very traditional orange daylily finally bloomed after almost 3 years of us being at this house from a clump that is near the creek.

I suppose they were either planted just before we got there and needed some time to grow to flowering stage. The other variable that changed in this uncontrolled experiment is that some of the trees on our side and on the other side of the creek that were shading this clump and others by the creek have fallen down and been removed. Thus it is sunnier in these locations than before.

The only reason I want to know what finally got them to bloom is I may want to encourage these plants in the future and need to duplicate the conditions. Time means just wait, but sun means choose the planting location carefully. Are there any experts out there with an explanation?

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Independence Day fireworks in Wilmington Delaware

We had to watch the Wilmington, Delaware fireworks from Porter reservoir this year because, as we tried to drive into Wilmington, they had Martin Luther King Blvd closed and thus removed all access to parking. With a baby asleep in the back of the car and a high barrier placed before us we retreated to a high location north of the city to try to catch a glimpse of the highest fireworks and call it a night. He are some shots looking south, the green lights below are from the lights at Rt 202 and Augustine Cutoff.

Facing to the right (looking north) of where we finally saw the Wilmington fire works were someone else's that were shot off around 9:30, before Wilmington's at 9:45. Still don;t quite know who these belong to, but I had a better view of them. My guess is Wilmington Country Club, any Delawareans want to confirm or deny this?

This one looks like a red blood cell.

Happy Independence Day!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Brrrr it's cold today.

Verizon Fios TV has these widgets that can show sports updates or latest news or the weather. Today it was having some trouble, the high was going to be 77F and the low 63F but it was showing currently as 0F all day. Brrrrr.

Cheapskate single cracker packs

When did Zesta move to having single cracker packs instead of two crackers in each? I thought I had some factory rejects but here are two like that.

How much can a cracker cost vs. the packaging that this is cost effective?