Physics is Sexy?

I’m not sure, but I think I just saw Stephen Hawking in a car commercial. I’m not sure what to make of that, considering he can’t drive. It’s kind of like draping a supermodel over the hood. Nothing much to do with the actual car at all. But… I’m a little proud to live in a world where great intellects can make a few bucks with commercial endorsements.


Knives Episode 23 Released!

About a week ago I decided it was best to release episodes on weekdays, so I decided to wait until Monday to unleash Episode 23. Whups. The good news is you won’t have to wait so long for the next one. This episode is more about intrigue than overt action, but Martin does do something he’s likely to regret.

On the writing front, Episode 24 is rolling down the release ramp. The events in that episode were not part of the original plan, but they really help the next few episodes make more sense. It also pushes off for yet another episode that will allow me to release the rest of Bags’ backstory. But it will come, I promise. In other news, I have set aside a chunk of time to whip out the next backstory; I will be reaching out to the Mighty Benefactors to see if they want Kat (as I originally promised) or whether they would prefer someone else.

Please enjoy 23: The Well

Here’s a picture of the first paragraph, to slow Facebook scrollers. This picture is certainly not worth 1000 words.


Things I Would Say as a Candidate…

… and why I would never get elected.

  1. Those jobs are gone, buckaroo. They’re not coming back. Worldwide, manufacturing jobs are declining. Don’t blame the Chinese and the Mexicans, blame the robots. (Side note, this is exactly the reason we were so excited about robots forty years ago.)
  2. The retirement age has to go up. The whole idea of Social Security was sort of an enforced savings account. Regular folk didn’t have the foresight to save for the future, so the government decided to do it for them. But rather than structure it as a regular savings account they did the math assuming you would die at a certain age. As people live longer, the math has to change. No biggie, right?
  3. Except they looted Social Security anyway. The system is living hand to mouth; all those savings gone. What should be a vault with trillions of dollars instead has a slip of paper in it with the letters “IOU”. The problem is, the people who borrowed the money don’t show it as a debt on their books. As if they had no intention of paying it back. People at Enron went to jail for exactly this. The workers at Enron never recovered.
  4. Miami is fucked. So is New Orleans, and other great coastal cities. If you live in one of those places, sell now before people catch on. Where I live… borderline, but I won’t get storm surges (even when the typhoon track turns north). It is simply too late to change our energy policies enough to save those places.
  5. Oil is too damn cheap. The low price of oil damages far more than you know. Just one example: While massive boats burn incredibly dirty fuel, out-polluting entire cities to bring us cheap foreign goods, local businesses wither. You want to bring the jobs back home? Stop buying things brought to our shores for practically free, only to pay the price later when Corpus Christie is evacuated.
  6. We are in conflict with radical Islam because of oil. If we weren’t propping up dictatorships in the Middle East, if we weren’t pumping great piles of cash to some pretty terrible people, if we we weren’t knocking over governments to keep the oil flowing, we could be part of the solution, rather than the bankroll for the problem.
  7. Fracking… At the risk of harping on oil too much, the environmental free pass frackers have been given makes me sick to my stomach.
  8. Military spending should be based on effectiveness for a relevant mission. Not jobs, not kickbacks to politicians. This isn’t welfare, it’s the security of our country.
  9. Give me your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free. We’re going to need those guys as we get older and Social Security goes belly-up. And maybe we take “breathing free” for granted. Ask people fleeing oppression what our nation stands for. Sometimes we forget.

There are more. I could probably say one thing a week to keep the memes humming over the course of a hopeless campaign.

There are other things I would also say, positive things, about the really great things this country is and could be. About ways to Keep America Great. Because this is a great country. We have some tough choices to make in the coming decades, and we will be challenged to overcome the sins of past leaders who dodged those questions. But if we can find a way to work harmoniously with the majority of nations on this planet who act like adults, there’s every reason to believe we can come through the coming trials intact.

We just have to stop fooling ourselves first.


Sloth vs. Vanity

I’ve had a beard almost continuously for the last couple of decades. Not because I think I look particularly good with a beard, but because shaving is a pain in the butt. I just let the damn thing grow, occasionally cleaning up my neck while I’m in the shower, and every now and then pulling out the heavy-duty hair clippers (those little groomer things are helpless against my facial hair) slapping on the #2 guide, and hacking the thing back.

A couple of times recently I’ve been even more slovenly than usual and allowed my beard to get quite bushy. This time around, I decided to have a little fun with it. I shaved off most of it, but kept the goatee. Since then it has gotten even longer, and I’ve been shaving the rest of my face.

Yep, I’ve been doing almost as much work as going completely clean shaven. You see, I like the way the thing looks. Vanity has stepped up and bumped Sloth to the curb, at least for a while.

“How long are you going to let it get?” the official sweetie of Muddled Ramblings asked me a few days ago. I didn’t really have an answer for her. Later I came to another realization: I don’t even know how to trim the dang thing. So for now at least, it’s still getting longer.

This weekend I decided to take a few self-portraits to memorialize Vanity’s time in the spotlight. I have an old Russian Industar 50 lens (no need to add vignettes in post!) that I ended up getting for almost free, that I had yet to really play with. It came with a yellow filter, which is useful for Black and White (mostly outdoors, but hey). Black and white shots of my salt-and-pepper beard (more salt these days) seemed like a swell idea, so that’s what I did.

One thing about a manual-focus lens, self-portraits are a little trickier. Happily my eyefi mobi lets me see the pictures on my iPad without me having to move from my spot. Even with that, I ended up throwing away a lot of shots that weren’t in focus. Once the shots were loaded onto my computer, I converted the RAW files to black and white. The hard part there: which black and white? I spent quite a while fiddling with settings, and I could have spent even longer, but good ol’ Sloth intervened.

I was taking a beard-stroking picture, but I fumbled with the camera controller. Came out all right, though.

I was taking a beard-stroking picture, but I fumbled with the camera controller. Came out all right, though.

One thing about this facial hair setup, my cheekbones are visible. I should smile in pictures more often.

One thing about this facial hair setup, my cheekbones are visible. I should smile more.

The first time I've seen what it looks like from the side.

The first time I’ve seen what it looks like from the side.

A more dramatic pose.

A more dramatic pose.

Technical notes:
These were all shot with a Canon 5D Mk III, ISO 100 at 1/125 s. I started with the lens at f/3.5, but lost too many shots to focus and stopped it down to f/5.6-ish. (The aperture on the Industar is continuous, not “clicky” like on most lenses with manual aperture controls.) Light came from one strobe to my right (and reflected in my glasses), and another at very low power above and behind my head.


Facebook 101: When they Say “Like and Share” Probably you Shouldn’t

If you haven’t already figured this out by the thousands of radio stations firing off memes on Facebook, let me spell it out for you. “Likes” are worth money. Here’s the part maybe you didn’t know: Likes can be sold.


It’s always 2%.

Perhaps you say to yourself, “gee, I’m actually kind of against beheading children.” You like and share. Otherwise, you’re implicitly in favor of juvenile decapitation, right?

A few weeks later you get an item in your feed about vacations in Mexico. Not a sponsored item, mind, but a notification from a page you liked. “The heck?” you think to yourself. “I don’t remember liking anything about travel in Mexico.”

And in fact you didn’t. The Travel site bought your like from the child-beheadding page.

Well, to be more exact, they bought the page itself, likes and all, then just switched in their own content. People are making a sound business out of creating pages, getting likes any way possible, then selling the page.

These days, I block almost every item in my Facebook feed thingie that says “like and share”. When you look at the name of the source page, it’s amazing how often page name and content don’t match. Even when they do, I block. Don’t tell me what to like, Chumley, and I share only the good stuff. Which is maybe one thing a month.


The F-35 ‘Flying Turd’

I promised a few months ago a more detailed discussion of one of the cornerstones of the American Military arsenal, and with all the candidates saying quite correctly that their opponents are making promises without explaining just how we’re gong to pay for these new programs, I’d like to make a modest proposal.

Let’s start this little talk about the airplane with a parable. Imagine a father taking his kids to the gun store. Katie is a duck hunter, and she’s starting to excel in trap shooting as well. She needs a new shotgun to get to the next level. Young Roger loves deer hunting (he eats what he kills, of course), and needs a new rifle. Little Joey needs a semi-automatic, while Sally needs the rugged dependability of a revolver.

Naturally, they all have to have the best of each weapon.

At the gun store, the clerk helps them make wise choices and then lays the items out on the counter and totals up the price. “Holy moly,” Dad says. “I can’t spend that much. Mom would be pissed.”

“Well,” says the clerk, “If you buy five of the same type of gun, I can give you a discount.” With a smile the shopkeeper pulls out an odd-looking firearm. Shortish, largish barrel, pistol grip. “Here’s the shot-rifle-pistol guaranteed to work for all your kids!”

Dad looks at each of the kids. They’re all glum. None of them want the thing, but each believes that if they say no, they won’t get anything. Dad takes a deep breath and says, “Ok, I’ll take five.”

The shopkeeper then presents him with a bill that’s more than the five specialized guns were! “What the heck?” says Dad.

The shopkeeper heaves a weary sigh and says, “Look, a gun that does all those things is pretty impressive. But if we need to cut costs more, we can special-order ones with plastic barrels. Plastic’s really strong these days. Probably even strong enough for a rifled shotgun barrel*.”

The kids are a little bit stunned when dad says “OK”, and plunks down the credit card, without even looking at the “shipping and handling” charges on the special order, that make it even more expensive.

By now you’ve probably already figured out my little allegory. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the swiss army knife that costs as much as a set of fine cutlery, but does no task well (except cost money). The branches of the military all need planes that can fly and blow stuff up, but the Air Force doesn’t land on aircraft carriers and the Marines don’t mess around with air-to-air combat. They leave that for the guys with the right tools for the job, while they pummel bad guys dug in 1000 yards from where the good guys are. It’s more than just even the planes, it’s the training of the guys flying them.

The plastic barrel? To meet budget targets, the plane was built around a single engine. No plane has ever asked for more thrust from a single engine, and parts keep breaking. Much like the first jets ever built by the Germans, our materials just can’t handle the stress from trying to squeeze so much thrust from a single engine.

And even pushing that engine to the limits of our current abilities, the plane is still woefully underpowered. In part this is because the thing is loaded down with all the gizmos and attachments the different branches need. You could make an extremely capable airplane around that engine if you decided ahead of time what its mission was.

Back to the gun store allegory: The first of the special-order guns arrives, dad pays the bill, and turns around to his kids. “Who wants to the the first?” he asks. He is met with sullen indecision. The gun has no range, no spread, no stopping power, and is cumbersome. “Maybe Joey should try it first,” ventures Katie. “It’s gonna take all my allowance just keeping the thing working.”

Now up to this point, Mom and Dad have been pretty together on this. Save money, get the kids what they need. Mom leave most of these decisions to Dad, however. But Dad knows he has a lemon, so he goes back to the gun shop to cancel the rest of his order.

The gun shop owner is contrite. “Yeah, we’ll fix those things,” he said. “for a very reasonable price.”

“No more!” says Dad. “This deal is off!”

“Is it?” The gun guy says. “Tell you what. I’ve got a thousand dollars in chips at the nearby strip-joint/casino. Go on over there, cool off a bit, have a beer, get your head together, and come back and we’ll talk. Mom doesn’t need to know.”

Eventually Dad comes home and says “Good news, kids! You each get two rifle-shot-pistols! I know you’ll learn to love them when I take your old stuff away.”

And that’s why we have the F-35 Flying Turd.

Full disclosure: I can’t prove that politicians are taking bribes or Citizens United-style payouts to keep the program alive. But I do know that the plane is terrible. And expensive.

Here’s the modest proposal I mentioned way up at the top of this ramble: Let’s right now cut every weapons program that doesn’t work. We can start with the F-35 “Flying Turd”.

Boom! Free college for everyone!

I’m not saying we shouldn’t continue to put the best possible weapons at the disposal of our military. Quite the opposite! I’m saying only put the best possible weapons at their disposal. Maybe Katie gets her new shotgun first (Katie is the Marines). Her new weapon won’t be equalled for a long time; it’ll be a tough airframe, nimble at low speed, that can bring the hurt.

The others will have to wait their turn, but each will get a tool that’s right for their job, and one that will not be obsolete next week.

What will be the legacy of the turd? Will it be a dead-end project that yielded great tangential value by forcing us to find near-impossible engineering solutions? Or will it be the plane that kills pilots and marks the end our our air dominance?

If Dad can’t decide, maybe it’s time for Mom to put her foot down. (We’re Mom.)


* for those without firearms experience, a rifled shotgun barrel is stupid.


Whoring Myself Out

Winter is coming, and with it comes the dark. And the fog. I’ve been pretty nervous riding my bike in the fog before.

On a related note, if you’ve ever thought to yourself, “Jerry’s a pretty nice guy, I wonder if there’s a way I can help him win free stuff,” well, buckaroo, your wonderin’ days are over.detail-image

If you don’t want to be bothered with the rest of the pitch, here’s the link: Super-cool bike lights

You see, there’s a pretty cool system called Revolights that attach to the wheels of your bike and light your way ahead, and act as tail lights, even brake lights, and provide awesome visibility from the sides as well. I’d been ogling them about a year and a half ago, but never took the plunge. In the meantime, the kids in R&D have been improving the system, and soon there will be a bluetooth-enabled version with frikkin’ turn signals and other gee-whizzy features for the same amount they were charging for their original system way back when.

Then I discovered that if I whore myself out more effectively than anyone else whores themselves out, I can get the system for free. Oddly, most of my cycling friends fall in the ‘serious’ category, and you may not be interested in adding any weight to your wheels, but if you ride in darkness, the system is pretty sweet. (I’ve seen it in action, and it’s nice.) Maybe you serious folks know some lunchpail commuters who would like to be more visible.

I’d appreciate it if some of you bicycle-minded people would sign up and accept the occasional bike-gear-related email message. And, just as important, pass that link along to your other bike friends. I absolutely benefit from each person who follows that link and coughs up an email address, but I also think there are likely to be folks out there happy to learn about this.

So whaddya say, blogosphere? Can you help me win the prize? Do you have friends who like bike gadgets or who ride in the dark? Then take a minute or two and help me out.