Wednesday, November 30, 2011

War Is Ugly

The English philosopher John Stuart Mill, writing in 1862 about the American Civil War (although this was published in The Nation in 1867):

For these reasons I cannot join with those who cry Peace! peace'....  War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice; a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice, is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice aud injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight, for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for one against the other. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Delinquency and Father Figures

Interesting paper here about delinquency and the presence of father figures, based on a longitudinal study of more than 20,000 American kids.  For girls, there was a reduction in delinquency where a father figure was present, although it was not statistically significant.  For boys, it definitely was significant:
Adolescent boys who have a father figure in their lives are significantly less likely to engage in subsequent delinquent behavior than are their peers with no father in their lives.  For example, the incidence of any form of delinquent behavior is 7.6 percentage points lower among boys living with their biological fathers and is 8.5 percentage points lower among boys who live with stepfathers and have no relationship with their biological fathers.  Delinquent behavior is also somewhat less likely among boys with non-residential, biological fathers whether or not their mothers have remarried (4.0 and 5.0 percentage points, respectively), though the former effect is not significant. Fathers are associated with a particularly large reduction in the incidence of violent behavior and gang fighting among adolescent boys. These effects are quite sizeable given that we are also controlling for whether or not adolescents were engaged in delinquent behavior at the baseline.
It has been obvious for some time that the much higher rates of single mothers in the black community plays some part in the higher rates of violent crime and gang activity.  This is why Newt Gingrich made the observation when pushing for the welfare reforms of 1995 (I'm paraphrasing because I cannot remember his exact words) that a society cannot long continue where 13 year olds are smoking pot, 14 year olds are having children, and 15 year olds are engaging in drive-by shootings.

Interesting: while the effect of a father figure was not statistically significant for girls, it appears that living with the biological father does matter:

Results from our baseline model (see Table 3) indicate that the delinquent behavior of adolescent girls is generally unrelated to the presence or absence of father figures in their lives. The exception is that biological, residential fathers appear to have some modest protective effect in reducing delinquent behavior.
Not a surprise; biological fathers are generally less likely to sexually abuse children than stepfathers, boyfriend of the week, and so on.  I would not be at all surprised if abused girls are more likely to be delinquent in their behavior.

A Nice Surprise

A co-worker brought a copy of Armed America to me to autograph; it's a Christmas gift for her father.  It's nice to do things like that!  And of course, for those who are not close enough for an autographed copy, Amazon has the paperback version available for $14.99.

I also wouldn't object if you ordered a copy of my wife's book Running From Your Nineveh in either Kindle:

or paperback:

Something That Was Never Possible in Film SLRs

I can upgrade the firmware in my Pentax K10D.  I have reason to believe that even though I am using SD cards in it, it will (and certainly after the firmware upgrades) support SDHC, so that I can put as much as 32 GB of RAM inside.  Right now, the 2 GB SD card lets me take more than 300 pictures at 10 megapixels.  The AmazonBasics SDHC Class 10 16 GB Secure Digital Card that I just ordered should let me take an entire European vacation without changing the card.

Not that I am planning to do that, but then I can switch the 2 GB SD card into the Soundfly SD and make it a bit more compact sitting on the console.  Also, because this is a class 10 SDHC card, it should store pictures considerably faster than the existing SD card--something that matters when you are taking long time exposures for astrophotography.  A 30 second exposure takes many, many seconds to complete.  I am not sure if this is because of the time to write to the card, or because it is doing some complicated operations on the data before it starts to write.  I figure that it can't hurt.

Remember: If You Are Buying Anything From Amazon...

If you buy it through the Amazon search tool on the right side of this blog, it will put a few cents* in my pocket, without costing you a penny.

* In most cases, it is only a few cents--but someone bought a cell phone through it a few months back, and it put $25 in my pocket.

If Monty Python and The Onion Collaborated

Marmite accident closes major British highway

Herman Cain Pretty Well Ends His Campaign

The allegations against Cain about sexual harassment were serious, and his failure to file a slander suit against Bialek suggested to me that he did not want any of these allegations tested in court.  Now, another woman is claiming that she had a 13 year long sexual relationship with Cain, ended only when he started preparing to run for President.

Again, this is a woman with financial problems and a somewhat cloudy history who could perhaps be persuaded by the promise of a big payday for either blowing the whistle or lying about their relationship.  But the repeated phone calls to her from Cain's private cell phone number--some in the wee hours of the morning--suggest that there is something there.  (And by the way, for those who think Fox News is partisan--that is who apparently broke this story.)

But the most devastating part of this is the response from Cain's attorney, after denying that this happened:
Rather, this appears to be an accusation of private, alleged consensual conduct between adults - a subject matter which is not a proper subject of inquiry by the media or the public. No individual, whether a private citizen, a candidate for public office or a public official, should be questioned about his or her private sexual life.
This sounds like something President Clinton would have said.  If someone can't be faithful to their own spouse, how far can we trust him to be faithful to his duties to the nation?  Cain is done.

UPDATE: I see that he has acknowledged giving this woman some money in the past.  Maybe it is all very charitable, and has nothing to do with what she says...but Cain is done.

Monday, November 28, 2011

More Signs of Decline and Fall

Now Syracuse University has fired a basketball coach for sex with little boys--and the evidence seems to be a taped phone conversation his wife had, in which she acknowledged having seen her husband doing this:

In the tape, a woman — which ESPN, citing experts, claims was Laurie Fine — said she knew “everything that went on” with her husband, adding that “he thinks he’s above the law.”

“Bernie has issues ... and you trusted somebody you shouldn’t,” the woman said, speaking to Davis.

The woman appears to acknowledge an inappropriate sexual relationship between Davis and Bernie Fine, saying, “It’s just wrong and you were a kid.” She also said that her husband should “find (himself) a gay boy, get your rocks off.”
 Now, a University of Utah professor has been charged with something that is just unimaginable to me: watching child porn on an airline flight  Another passenger saw this, alerted the flight crew, and he was arrested when he arrived in Boston:

Prosecutors said that Smith tried to erase pictures of what appeared to be pre-teen girls engaged in sexual acts after a flight attendant told him to turn off his computer.

The recently divorced Smith was met at the gate by state police, who asked for and were granted permission to view the contents of the laptop. Investigators allege they found several images of nude or nearly nude children, including girls apparently as young as 6 years old.

"Child pornography is a form of child sexual abuse — nothing less," state police spokesman David Procopio said in a statement. "Those who possess it — a crime unto itself — foster an evil network that sexually abuses and exploits children irreparably."
Now, Smith is pleading innocent, of course, but I am a bit unsure exactly what his defense is going to be, unless both the passenger who saw this, and the police who inspected his computer, are just making this up.  I think the more interesting question, however, is why anyone would think that they could do something like this in a public place and not get arrested (if lucky).  Have we reached the point where a university professor would not realize how unacceptable this is?  Or is it that what is considerable acceptable in the ivory tower is that far removed from the rest of the society?

The core problem, unfortunately, is that when a society reaches a point where it worships sex, it seems to be very difficult for many people--especially those who are well-educated, intelligent, and therefore superior to the ignorant unwashed masses (who just cling to their guns and Bibles)--to recognize that there are limits.

Obscenity?  We crossed that line in the 1960s.  Now stuff that would have been regarded as disgustingly vulgar and repulsive even by sophisticated sorts in 1960...or even available on many cable systems, and is no longer a source of shame or disgust to the vast majority of Americans.

Adultery?  We crossed the line of that being socially accepted (except, of course, if it involves your spouse) about forty years ago.

Casual sex?  Ditto.

Homosexuality?  That became socially accepted by most of the population about 1990, even if they still found it a bit icky, and were not prepared to go along with same-sex marriage (although that is coming).

Polygamy?  Still not generally accepted, although the ACLU is working on getting it constitutionalized, which is certainly a step towards forcing everyone to accept it.

Incest?  The Lawrence decision, inevitably, led to efforts to argue for a constitutional right to that.  Once you scrap all notions of sexual morality except those involving force and minors, why would you keep an archaic law about incest?

Why does anyone expect that any notions of sexual morality are going to survive this continual scrapping of all standards?  And if sexual morality is just an old-fashioned set of primitive ideas (as many intellectuals seem to believe), why would you have any limits, as long as there is no force used?

Things That Start To Make Ron Paul Sound Sensible

Bloomberg has a detailed examination of the data that the Federal Reserve refused to release, until ordered to do so by the courts: They lent almost $8 trillion to the "too big to fail" banks, enabling them to survive, give big raises to their employees, and screw over those who were foreclosed.  The New York Times is reporting that the Democrats have given up on white, working class voters for next year, figuring that they are going to lose them to the Republicans, and figure that only college educated whites and blacks and Hispanics are going to vote Democrat--and hope that this is enough.  Now, if only Republicans decided that they wanted to win.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Economic Recovery: One Data Point

I would not put much credence in one data point, but I do see a few signs that the economy may be improving.  One of those signs is here in Horseshoe Bend.  Most of the churches here jointly put on a free community Thanksgiving meal each year.  This is actually a pretty impressive spread that we put on: not just traditional turkeys with stuffing, but turkeys deep fried in peanut oil, hams, and a selection of side dishes and desserts that no single family would ever produce!

This is not explicitly a rescue mission type of thing: some people come to it for the social aspects; some come to it because they are alone, and have no family in the area; some because they cannot afford to travel to be with family; and some come because food is in short supply. At the same time, there is nothing about it that reminds you bluntly that you are poor or struggling.  It is a chance to have a very decent meal with a lot of your fellow Horseshoe Bend residents, and no one needs to know, or asks why you are there.

Still, the count of people fed is, I suspect, a low quality proxy for the economic conditions.  Last year, we fed 150 people.  This year, we fed 110 people (and consequently had quite a bit of food left over).  The population of this area has not noticeably declined.  My guess is that some families have enough money to prepare their own Thanksgiving feast this year, and others can afford to travel to be with family.  Both are positive signs.

AR-10 Review

This review of the Armalite AR-10A4 includes a 2" group at 500 yards!  That has to be extraordinary luck.  I have always been partial to the AR-10, but when I bought a .308 battle rifle, the AR-10 was not back in production.  The review also claims that the AR-10 has less recoil than the M1A--primarily because it is distributing the recoil over a long period of time.  Do any of my readers have experience of AR-10 and M1A recoil?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Grading Papers This Morning

I'm grading papers this morning, and it is gratifying to see papers that are using primary sources.  One student turned in a paper about colonial mental illness treatment.  While it had some factual errors (based on the secondary sources she used), it was a well-written and well-structured essay.  Most gratifying of all was to see that she was using primary sources, such as Memoirs of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, volume 7, which contains a discussion of the colonial government assisting a man in building an insane asylum for his son.

Students today have so many advantages over when I was an undergraduate--and is one of them. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Nightforce Optics Is Looking For An IT Manager

Since my readership includes a very technical bunch of gunnies, I suspect that this ad from Nightforce Optics might interest some of you interested in living somewhere that makes Boise look like a big city.  Orofino, Idaho, is what most people imagine Idaho to be like.  And they make some really cool riflescopes!

I Really Wish That I Could Completely Discount This Mentality

From the CBS station in St. Louis:

WEBSTER GROVES, MO (KMOX) - A chain of three stores that sells survival food and gear reports a jump in sales to people who are getting prepared for the “possible collapse” of society.
“We had to order fifty cases of the meals ready to eat to keep up with the demand in the past three months,” said manager Steve Dorsey at Uncle Sam’s Safari Outfitters Inc. in Webster Groves. “That’s not normal.  Usually we sell 20 to 30 cases in a whole year.”
The fact is, American society is in fast collapse, and the politicians either do not get it, or are afraid to sound like alarmists by pointing it out.  You could almost get the impression that Washington does not care whether the society collapses or not.

Religious Fanaticism & Environmentalism

I ran into an interesting email in the most recent release of emails involving the global warming "scientists."  Before you read it, ask yourself: If someone on the skeptic side claimed that their religious beliefs drove or even influenced their climate skepticism, would that be something that the media would make a big deal about?  Would it be a sign of "religious fanaticism"?  

date: Mon May 20 09:45:55 2002from: Mike Hulme <REDACTED>subject: Re: SONGS OF PRAISEto: Joanna Malton <REDACTED>
Joanna,I am happy to talk, although I am not really sure what you are after. My work is asDirector of the national centre for climate change research, a job which requires me totranslate my Christian belief about stewardship of God's planet into research and action.My office number at the University of East Anglia isREDACTED2 and my home number isREDACTED312.Mike

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

MP3 FM Transmitter

I mentioned a few days ago that I was ordering a $34.95 gadget as an alternative to spending big money on either the Jaguar CD changer, or not so big money on a new head unit (but an uncertain amount of work to install it with the steering wheel controls).  It arrived today, and it does work, and pretty well.

I had a 32 GB USB drive lying around, but no large SDHC cards; it might be worth trying to find one in the GB range just because it is less obtrusive than the flash drive.  The only real obstacle was that the instructions say to tune to an unused FM station.  The Jaguar does not have a way to do that!  You hit the scan button and it finds the next available FM station with signal.  There is conventional tuning knob (something that I have not noticed before).  After a bit of thought, I tuned the transmitter to 93.9, which appeared to be unused, and hit scan on the stereo--and boom!  There it was.

Tricks: make sure you turn the volume on the transmitter up to its highest possible setting.  You will still have to turn up the stereo volume for this station about 25% higher than other FM stations.  The reason to do this is otherwise there is a high pitched hiss that increases along with the music.  Increasing volume on the transmitter seems to mostly correct the problem by improving the signal to noise ratio problem. 

I have only listened to it with the car stationary, and it is apparent that the sound quality is definitely not CD level, and maybe not even quite FM station quality, although it is close.  Perhaps with the car in motion, the difference will be less noticeable.  I do wish that there was a way to connect by wire to the stereo, but the box Jaguar sells for that purpose is $270 plus installation.  At that point, it makes more sense to replace the head unit.

UPDATE: I had started out setting it transmit on 93.9, because that was not in use--but it was right next to 94.1, which is in use in this area.  I then changed the frequency to 93.5, which is a bit more removed from 93.1 and 94.1, both of which are in use--and the sound quality definitely improved a bit.  I can honestly say that it is not much inferior to CD quality, and certainly as good as most FM stations.

I did have some odd behavior about moving into folders, but I see from this review that the top folder in supposed to be MP3 or mp3--which I did not do.  I have just adjusted it.  I'll see if this solves the odd behavior problem tomorrow on the way into work.  Right now, I would have to brave the cat, who is locked up in the laundry room between me and the garage--and he thinks he's a little mountain lion.

UPDATE 2: My enthusiasm is cooling.  They warn you that WMA files with DRM won't play--but it appears that they do something worse: they prevent any files on the drive from playing.  Worse, I am not even getting particularly reliable results even with the WMA/DRM file removed.

UPDATE 3: Satechi's tech support did not directly say that DRM files render the rest of the volume unreadable, but they certainly imply it.  None of the rest of the files on this USB disk have DRM--and yet it does not seem to play reliably.  The latest email indicates that all purchased MP3s will have DRM--which makes this unit pretty much useless, unless you are ripping from CDs.  I suppose that I could burn the music that I have bought to audio CD, then rip it from audio back to digital.  I suspect that would work.

UPDATE 4: I did a bit more digging this afternoon, and found what one of the comments below tells me: relatively few audio sellers are now shipping with DRM.  It appears that the single WMA file that I purchased which had DRM was the cause of my problems.  All the other MP3s that I have work just fine, once that DRM protected WMA file was removed.  (Many of my other music files are also WMA, and work just fine.) 

The solution was to burn this DRM WMA file to an audio CD-RW, then use AVS Audio Editor (which I paid the license fee to unlock last year) to read the CDA file from the audio CD and convert it into an MP3.  This gets rid of the DRM, without any loss of audio quality.  This would be a bit of nuisance if I had hundreds of DRM-crippled songs to convert, but I only had the one, so it was not too bad.

I have put about eight full albums on a 2 GB USB drive that I had lying around, and  I have only used 540 MB so far.  If I had a 2 GB SDHC card that I was not using in a camera, that would be even a better choice, because it is smaller, and less obtrusive sitting in the console.

I called the Jaguar dealer today to find out if the Audio Connection Module might be a substantially cheaper and more useful addition than the $1000 they want to install the CD changer.  (Yes, Alpine used a proprietary, only for Jaguar fiber optic connector for the CD changer, so it isn't something that you can buy something aftermarket instead.)  The Jaguar Audio Connection Module (ACM) takes about an hour to install, and lets you plug in USB drives or connect an iPod to your existing Jaguar stereo, and it does seem like a better solution in every respect.  Your iPod or USB drive are treated exactly like the CD changer, including control from the steering wheel controls...and it costs $800 installed.  Wow.  Why am I thinking of the joke about the kangaroo who goes into a bar, orders a beer, and gets charged $10 for it.  The bartender says, "We don't get many kangaroos in here."  "And at these prices, you won't get many more."  Jaguars are clearly for the 3%.

I am pretty darn happy with how this gadget works, now that I have unraveled the details.  It is not CD quality, but it is very close to FM radio quality--close enough that I find it quite listenable while I am driving.  I might whine and complain a bit if this were music to which I was listening in my living room, but I don't do that much, anyway.  There is a little bit of static between songs, but for $40?  It also works very nicely in my wife's TrailBlazer, if we have occasion to go on another long trip.

It is not as convenient to use as a Jaguar CD changer or the Jaguar ACM, but it isn't bad.  There is a little remote control that you can operate by touch.  If you are content to just let it move forward from song to song, or use it in shuffle mode (which I have not yet bothered to figure out how to start), it works just fine.  Would I prefer an MP3 player controlled by the steering wheel controls?  Sure.  But not if it is going to cost me more than $400 for the steering wheel control box plus a new head unit plus the labor to install it, and certainly not if it is going to cost me $800.

Telescopes For Christmas?

I was asked several questions last year about this.  I see that there is interest again.

I have been asked this question before, so I thought that I would gather up my various emails on the subject and distill them into a blog posting.

One reader asked about a telescope for terrestial use--he had a very nice view from his office.

Keep in mind that under daylight conditions, and with the typical heat turbulence of daytime, you will probably find that few telescopes are going to be particularly useful above 100x.  However, even at the same magnification,  the image resolution goes up linearly with the diameter of the objective (the front lens on a refractor, the mirror on a reflector).  A 6" refractor will resolve quite a bit better of an image than 3" refractor.  If of equal quality, a 6" refractor will give at least three times the resolution of your 20x50 binoculars.  Of course, astronomical refractors (except for the very cheapies) are often much higher optical quality than binoculars.

For daylight use, I would strongly recommend a refractor.  Most reflectors aren't really adequately baffled for daytime use.  The few exceptions tend to be $$$$$$$$$ like the Questar.  Reflectors also tend to require a bit of adjustment to keep them optically aligned.  A refractor usually does a fine job for decades on end.

What you can realistically expect from an 80mm refractor (which is probably in about the price range that you are thinking of) is to see Saturn's rings, some of the brighter deep sky objects (such as the Orion Nebula, the Hercules globular cluster), Jupiter's bands and satellites, the phases of Venus, and more Moon than you can handle!

A few warnings.  There are a lot of short focal length refractors that are primarily intended for daytime use, and which can be used for some casual astronomical purposes, but I would not recommend them.  Example:

I would not consider any refractor with less than an 80mm objective as adequate for beginning astronomy.  If you go to Orion's web site you will find that you have a stack of choices: 80mm, 90mm, 100mm, 120mm.  The 120mm refractors start to gather enough light to pull in some of the deep sky objects that aren't even going to be visible with the 80mm.  Remember that light gathering power increases with the square of the increase in diameter, so the 120mm refractor will bring in 2.25x more light than the 80mm refractor.

Refractors are sold in one of three mounting arrangements:

1. As an Optical Tube Assembly (OTA), and usually these mount to a 1/4"-20 camera thread on an existing camera tripod.  Anything big enough to be useful for astronomy is going to be too big to put on a camera tripod without driving you crazy from vibration.

2. On an altazimuth mount, which is easy to use for daylight observation, and usable for astronomy--but barely.  You will find that you will be constantly chasing objects across the sky at higher powers.

3. On an equatorial mount.  Usually these include a motor that lets it track objects across the sky.  For astronomy, you really want this.

Back to the problem of short focal length.  The majority of the refractors in your price range are called achromatic; this means that there is some chromatic aberration, but except on bright objects, or at high power, this won't be a big problem.  See here for a more detailed discussion of the problem, and one of the solutions to it.  Here's the other, more expensive solution.

The shorter the focal ratio of an achromatic refractor, the more severe the chromatic aberration gets.  You will find plenty of f/5 and f/6 achromats offered; I would avoid these if you intend to use them for astronomy.  An achromat needs to be f/8 or more to get the chromatic aberration under control.  This is why refractors, especially the Japanese made refractors that used to be common, were typically f/12 or f/15.  Here's an example.

There are what are called "apochromatic" refractors as well.  These use exotic glasses to get rid of the chromatic aberration (or reduce it to a level that you have to really look to find)--and often with shorter focal lengths, such as f/6.  And they are priced accordingly.  Here's an example.

The upside of the apochromatic refractors is that they will often allow to use a lot more magnification, not just without color, but showing much more detail.  See here for a comparison test I did some years ago.  The result is that an 80mm apochromat will usually show more detail on Saturn or Jupiter than a 120mm achromat--because the apochromat will allow you to use far more magnification without the image getting fuzzy.  The downside is that an apochromat still gathers the same amount of light as a achromat of the same objective diameter.  An 80mm apochromat will do a GREAT job on Jupiter, the Moon, or Saturn, compared to a 120mm achromat.  But when it comes to deep sky objects (such as the Orion Nebula, or the Ring Nebula), where you need light gathering power, but not necessarily enormous magnification-- the apochromat is going to disappoint.

If keeping it below $400 matters, I would look seriously at this collection.

If you can go a bit higher, this set will definitely take into significant deep sky object territory.

Another reader asked a similar question.

First of all, telescopes tend to be addicting.  Bet you can't buy just one!

As a general rule, any quality refractor above 60mm aperture (or quality reflector above 4" aperture) will resolve Saturn's rings quite adequately--especially if the Moon isn't up.  (The Moon is a major obstacle because it is so bright.)  Most of the department store telescopes are pretty unimpressive--but oddly enough, the deficiencies are typically the eyepiece and the mount.  See here for a discussion of cheap vs. good.

I'm very partial to the Televue refractors, but they aren't cheap (made in the USA).  I've been very pleased with the quality of the telescopes that Orion sells.  This is about the cheapest real telescope that is likely to satisfy your needs.  I encourage beginners to look at refractors, not reflectors, simply
because reflectors require more expertise to keep collimated.  Most bad reflectors are not really bad--they just need proper adjustment.

I would also suggest that you look at and for used telescopes.  There are often some pretty decent deals for used telescopes in this area.  I've never found anyone pulling fast ones with stuff they sell at's still pretty much a bunch of astrogeeks buying and selling stuff.

Yet another reader asked:
I have a 7 year old son, and I was wondering if you could recommend a telescope for moon and stargazing.  We do not want to buy him the Hubbel for Christmas, but neither do we wish to buy a mere "toy." Can you recommend a decent one?

Orion Telescope Center does a good job in the reasonable, but not toy category.  (Most of what is sold in department stores is pretty deficient.)  I usually recommend that a good starter--especially for a child--is something like this.   Refractors are less fussy about alignment and maintenance.

It's enough telescope to be wowed by the Moon, see the rings of Saturn (although we are just about edge on for the next couple of years, so they will be a disappointment for a while), a few of the brighter nebula (M42), Jupiter's satellites and cloud bands (if the atmosphere here is reasonably stable--dependent on location).  In general, the more you go up in aperture, the better.  80mm or 90mm refractors show a lot--just make sure that you aren't buying anything that Orion calls "short focus" because those are generally better suited to terrestial use.

Any suggestions on good "Telescopes for Dummies" type references? I know photography, but the parts of a telescope are confusing for me and I don't want to make the same mistake a lot of people do when buying cameras (they spend too much on the body and not enough on the lenses!).

Again, Thanks a Ton,
In brief: astronomical telescopes consist of:

1. An Optical Tube Assembly (OTA).
         1.1 Refractors (big lens at the far end; eyepiece at the near end).   
         1.1.1 achromatic: flint and crown glass objective; unless f/10 or longer, usually have a lot of chromatic aberration on bright objects.
        1.1.2 apochromatic: exotic glass fixes the problem, but at an exotic price (usually: see this article)
        1.1.3 semiapochromatic: some refractors advertised as apochromatic are close, but not quite as pricey
   1.2 Newtonian reflectors (big mirror at the bottom of the tube, diagonal near the top of the tube, eyepiece where the diagonal reflects light to).
   1.3 Catadioptric (big mirror at the bottom of the tube, corrector plate at the top, eyepiece peers through a hole in the big mirror).
        1.3.1 Schmidt-Cassegrain
        1.3.2 Maksutov

For the same size aperture AND QUALITY, Newtonians are cheapest, followed by catadioptric, then refractors.

2. A mount.
   2.1 Equatorial mount: tracks objects across the sky using an electric motor.  Necessary for astrophotography.
      2.1.1 German equatorial mount: consists of two axes at right angles, with a counterweight at one end of declination shaft, and telescope at the other end.
      2.1.2 Fork mount: the telescope fits between the two tines of the fork.    2.2 Alt-azimuth mount.  Adequate for visual observing at low power; generally weighs less and cheaper than equatorial mount.  Sometimes come with go-to
         electronics to find objects.  Dobsonian telescopes are Newtonian reflectors on alt-azimuth mount.

3. Eyepieces.

4. Finder
   4.1 Traditional finder scope is a small telescope that you align with the main scope.  This is low power, and lets you find objects so that the main scope is pointing to them.
   4.2 Red dot finder: projects a red dot onto a glass.  No magnification, so pretty quick to use.

5. Camera adapters allow you to plug your SLR into the eyepiece mount.  These consist of three parts:

A bayonet type adapter that replaces the lens on your camera.  You turn and pull out your lens, and the adapter has the same interface to the camera body.  See here for an example.

There is another part that slides into the eyepiece tube on the telescope (either 1.25" or 2" inside diameter).  This is threaded so screw onto the bayonet type adapter.  For prime focus photography (where you are using the telescope itself as the lens of your camera), this is all you need.

A third part is called a teleextender tube, and it is threaded to fit in between the bayonet mount and the eyepiece adapter tube.  Here's an example all put together.  You put a telescope eyepiece in the teleextender tube, and now you can do what is called eyepiece projection astrophotography.  This gives you a lot more magnification, and a lot more frustration as you try to get a crisp focus (much harder than doing it at prime focus).

Treatment Advocacy Center & Gun Violence

Shall Not Be Questioned points to this letter to the New York Times from the Treatment Advocacy Center:
It is easy to attribute tragedies to inadequate gun control, but doing so overlooks the pronounced link between nontreatment of mental illness and violent acts.
A study published just this month by Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology found that homicide rates rise with inadequate treatment for mental illness. If mental illness had been adequately treated in some of the cases you profiled, these crimes might never have happened, regardless of the availability of weapons.
The Treatment Advocacy Center is not a gun rights group.  They are committed to correcting the horrible mistake of deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill.   They point to this recent paper in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology (Nov. 10, 2011) that shows that "broader civil commitment criteria for involuntary treatment of mental illness correlate with a lower homicide rate."  From the abstract:
OLS results indicate that social-economic-demographic-geographic-and-political indicators accounted for 25% of homicide rate variation. Broader ICC-criteria were associated with 1.42 less homicides per 100,000. Less access to psychiatric inpatient-beds and more poorly rated mental health systems were associated with increases in the homicide rates of 1.08 and 0.26 per 100,000, respectively.  
Conclusions While social-economic-demographic-geographic-and-political indicators show the strongest association with homicide rate variation, the results show the importance and potentially preventive utility of broader ICC criteria, increased psychiatric inpatient-bed access, and better performing mental health systems as factors contributing to homicide rate variation. 
 UPDATE:  Want to know more?  The first few chapters of my next book are here.  My agent is hunting for a publisher for it now.

Monday, November 21, 2011

As Shrewd As Snakes

You should recognize this passage from Matthew 10:16: "Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves."  It remains an important goal.

An older couple that I know called me up to ask for my advice concerning purchasing a truck that they saw advertised on Craig's List.  As they described the situation, it was very nearly the canonical collection of warning signs of fraud.  This is the reason that when you visit Craig's List's cars & trucks section, it warns you to suspect fraud when:

  • Shipping a vehicle to you is suggested by seller

  • eBay Motors or another intermediary is specified by seller

  • Payment by Western Union or a money wire is requested

  • Price is unusually low (fraction of blue book value)

  • If you see these tell-tale signs, flag ad as "prohibited" and avoid
    And of course:
    Offers to ship a vehicle are virtually 100% fraudulent
    The warning signs of fraud on this particular transaction:

    1. The seller's contact information was by email.
    2. The seller cannot be contacted by phone at the moment, because she is in training in the Army, and has no phone access (but does have email access).
    3. The truck is in Kentucky.
    4. The seller is at a U.S. Army base in Oxfordshire, England.
    5. "The Army will ship you the truck."

    At this point I asked, "Is this like a real steal bargain?"

    And the answer was, "Why, yes it is."

    As I said, nearly the home run of signs that this is actually someone in Nigeria, China, or the former Soviet Union.  No phone number?  Because this person can't produce a plausible American accent.  A real steal bargain?  So why can't they find a buyer in Kentucky?  Appeals to patriotism and trust: "I'm in the Army" and "The Army will ship you the truck."

    I hate to be a cynical, skeptical person, but the world is full of crooks, prepared to take advantage of those who are trusting and honest, and have a hard time imagining the deviousness of others.

    Keep Shoveling Money...Eventually Something Good Will Happen

    The November 21, 2011 Investors Business Daily reports that the Department of Labor has decided that unfair competition by the Chinese are what drove Solyndra under, so all 1100 of their employees are eligible for retraining assistance--worth about $13,000 each, for a total of $14.3 million.

    I have a hard time being upset about this assistance to people who were simply workers in the crony capitalist hive, but it is just one more chunk of money that we are spending to cover over the stupidity of the Obama Administration's "green strategy."  I wonder how much good that retraining assistance is actually going to do.  I wasn't eligible for any when HP laid me off in 2008, not that it would have much mattered.  No amount of retraining can make you under 40, and in the current state of the economy, it might not matter for many of those employees what they learn how to do.

    KitchenAid Mixers

    I have been considering buying a KitchenAid mixer to replace the current Chinese-made mixer we have.  It is several years old, and the plastic parts into which the mixer blades go seem to have broken--or at least, they do not hold the blades very reliably.  (To be fair: I think this may be because I inserted the mixer blades from another mixer shortly after we bought this, and they were not compatible.)

    I have thought about buying one of the KitchenAid stand mixers:

    One attraction of the KitchenAid product is that it is still made in America.  One concern that I have is that the reviews are extremely mixed.  They are apparently so reliable and durable that they bring to mind what one of HP's customer said of one of our laser printers, "At the end of the world, all that will be left are cockroaches and LaserJet IIs."  Or, depending on other reviews, they are shoddy pieces of junk, with plastic gears that do not survive even short use, and that leak motor oil into the bowl.

    The average review on Amazon is very, very positive. As of right now, there are 1933 reviews, 1600 of them five star, 194 four star, 45 three star, 30 two star, and 64 one star.  Even though the negative reviews are relatively few in number, they are actually quite scary, when you consider how expensive of a unit this is, and the apparent lack of interest that KitchenAid has fixing such severe problems.

    It appears that there is quite a range of KitchenAid mixers.  Is this one of those situations where the low-end mixers are perhaps not as well made as the Artisan and Professional models?  Or is there actually a big problem of inconsistent quality on KitchenAid's mixers?

    The Corruption Just Keeps On Coming!

    Instapundit points to this Big Government article about the curiously fortunate timing of Sen. John Kerry (D-MA)'s purchases and sales of pharmaceutical and health care companies as Obamacare worked its way through Congress.  As Ecclesiastes 1:9 points out: "there is nothing new under the sun."  Federalist 62 points out the danger:
    Another effect of public instability is the unreasonable advantage it gives to the sagacious, the enterprising, and the moneyed few over the industrious and uniformed mass of the people. Every new regulation concerning commerce or revenue, or in any way affecting the value of the different species of property, presents a new harvest to those who watch the change, and can trace its consequences; a harvest, reared not by themselves, but by the toils and cares of the great body of their fellow-citizens. This is a state of things in which it may be said with some truth that laws are made for the few, not for the many.
    Our government has become (and not all that recently) what the Framers warned us about.

    Another PJMedia Article

    "CEO Salaries and Pharmaceutical Costs"

    Sunday, November 20, 2011

    Bear Spray Recommendations?

    From what I can find searching on the Internet, bear spray is a superior defensive tool to any common handgun against grizzly bears--and I suspect that would be even more true against black bears (which are the real issue around here).  Do any of my readers have recommendations on bear spray brand?

    Next Up: Eurocrats Rule That World Is Flat

    This is one of those news stories that demonstrates how irrational "experts" can be.  The European Union has ruled that sellers of water may not advertise that water prevents dehydration.
    Ukip MEP Paul Nuttall said the ruling made the “bendy banana law” look “positively sane”.

    He said: “I had to read this four or five times before I believed it. It is a perfect example of what Brussels does best. Spend three years, with 20 separate pieces of correspondence before summoning 21 professors to Parma where they decide with great solemnity that drinking water cannot be sold as a way to combat dehydration.

    Saturday, November 19, 2011

    Jaguar X-Type Bra

    I have expressed my irritation previously with how soft the Jaguar's paint is, at least compared to GM paints.  I now regret not paying the outrageous $800 that the dealer wanted to apply a plastic protective sheet to the front end when I bought it.

    There are enough little dings here and there that I am tempted to have some of these fixed--but then do something to prevent more damage.  For that reason, I went looking for the black rubber front mask commonly called a "bra."  These turn out to be quite scarce for the Jaguar--and I gather that automotive enthusiast feeling about these has changed in the last few years.  Bras became common on cars in the 1970s just as they were going out of fashion in other places...and now they are becoming rare on cars again, while they have become common on women again.  The reason is that bras tended to damage the paint, either because of rubbing on the paint, or trapping water against the paint.

    What has become more common are these plastic protective coatings.  This is a rather thick piece of plastic, made by 3M, and some of the tests involved shooting air guns at the surface, with no damage to the paint, and often, no damage to the protective coatings.  They are not expensive; I can order this set for the hood for the X-Type for $59.95 plus shipping.

    The set for the bumper is the same price:

    The installation video makes me wonder if this might be a bit more challenging to do than I really want:

    I may call the guy that I have do detail work on my cars, and see if he has experience doing this. It is probably worth paying someone a bit of money to install these, simply because I am sure the first few times you do it, you learn a lot.

    Audio CD-R vs. Data CD-R

    I am a bit disappointed that I did not think of this myself.  I mentioned a few days ago that I was about to order an FM transmitter so that I can play MP3s through my Jaguar stereo, since I only have the single CD player in-dash.  It is about $1000 to have the Jaguar disc changer installed, and none of the aftermarket stereos seem to be capable of working with the steering wheel controls.

    One reader pointed out that you can record a lot more MP3s onto a CD-R if you do it in data mode, not audio mode.  In audio mode, it acts just like an audio CD.  In data mode, the files are stored like a computer disk directory and at much higher density.  Many newer CD players will play data CD-Rs.  As it turns out, not my 2005 Jaguar, or the 2007 TrailBlazer, and I did not even try the 2000 Corvette.  But there are CD players around the house that will play the data CD-Rs--and I can get about eight CDs on one data CD-R.

    Yet Another Reason Copyright Law Needs Fixing

    The RIAA (the record industry) is considering backing Righthaven.  Now, if only Republicans would stop passing bills to help the industry that almost perfectly defines "anti-family values."

    I May Never Eat a Pastrami Sandwich Again

    One of those unfortunate paragraphs from a student paper:
    This is not the only time in history men were castrated.  In my music class I found out that eons of years ago male children were castrated so they could become soprano’s.  Soprano’s were highly thought of by society and since they were castrated as very small children, they were raised as soprano’s.  This group of men were called the pastrami’s.  Look it up, very interesting.
    I have to believe that this is the result of operating from memory.  Microsoft Word's speller checker recognizes  castrati as a word.

    You Know You Are Getting Old...

    When current events becomes history--and worse, history like this from a student paper:
    The Korean War was a battle between North and South Vietnam. They were fighting over who would contain the other in a mad game of Dominoes.

    Friday, November 18, 2011

    Someone With Considerable Integrity

    Or perhaps enough sense to realize that this is going to get ugly.  A firm that I have never heard of before--Barnhardt Capital Management--has just closed up shop.  You should read the CEO's explanation:
    Dear Clients, Industry Colleagues and Friends of Barnhardt Capital Management,

    It is with regret and unflinching moral certainty that I announce that Barnhardt Capital Management has ceased operations. After six years of operating as an independent introducing brokerage, and eight years of employment as a broker before that, I found myself, this morning, for the first time since I was 20 years old, watching the futures and options markets open not as a participant, but as a mere spectator.

    The reason for my decision to pull the plug was excruciatingly simple: I could no longer tell my clients that their monies and positions were safe in the futures and options markets – because they are not. And this goes not just for my clients, but for every futures and options account in the United States. The entire system has been utterly destroyed by the MF Global collapse. Given this sad reality, I could not in good conscience take one more step as a commodity broker, soliciting trades that I knew were unsafe or holding funds that I knew to be in jeopardy.

    The futures markets are very highly-leveraged and thus require an exceptionally firm base upon which to function. That base was the sacrosanct segregation of customer funds from clearing firm capital, with additional emergency financial backing provided by the exchanges themselves. Up until a few weeks ago, that base existed, and had worked flawlessly. Firms came and went, with some imploding in spectacular fashion. Whenever a firm failure happened, the customer funds were intact and the exchanges would step in to backstop everything and keep customers 100% liquid – even as their clearing firm collapsed and was quickly replaced by another firm within the system.

    Everything changed just a few short weeks ago. A firm, led by a crony of the Obama regime, stole all of the non-margined cash held by customers of his firm. Let’s not sugar-coat this or make this crime seem “complex” and “abstract” by drowning ourselves in six-dollar words and uber-technical jargon. Jon Corzine STOLE the customer cash at MF Global. Knowing Jon Corzine, and knowing the abject lawlessness and contempt for humanity of the Marxist Obama regime and its cronies, this is not really a surprise. What was a surprise was the reaction of the exchanges and regulators. Their reaction has been to take a bad situation and make it orders of magnitude worse. Specifically, they froze customers out of their accounts WHILE THE MARKETS CONTINUED TO TRADE, refusing to even allow them to liquidate. This is unfathomable. The risk exposure precedent that has been set is completely intolerable and has destroyed the entire industry paradigm. No informed person can continue to engage these markets, and no moral person can continue to broker or facilitate customer engagement in what is now a massive game of Russian Roulette.
     Over at PJMedia, David P. Goldman has a detailed discussion of how Corzine (formerly Democratic Senator from New Jersey, and a big player in the Democratic Party) did not just gamble recklessly with clients' money, but stole it:
    MF Global’s problem — presuming that customer money really was lost in proprietary trading — is much simpler. The technical term is “theft.” Breaking the wall that separates customer money from the firm’s money is like rape: it’s hard to argue that you did it by accident. There is no way that senior management could not have known that customer money was being misappropriated. When the management bet the firm on Italian bonds, it counted every penny of collateral it had to put up for margin. That’s what trading desks do, every day, all day. Hundreds of millions of dollars were stolen, including my residual pittance. What did Corzine know, and when did he know it? Corzine ran a trading desk. He’s a punter; that’s one of the reasons he got the boot from Goldman Sachs. People who run trading desks obsessively watch a spreadsheet that tells them exactly how much cash they have as margin against levered trades, and where the cash comes from.  There is simply no way that someone in senior management could NOT have known that hundreds of millions of dollars materializing ex nihilo in the cash column came from customer accounts. Corzine has lawyered up and isn’t talking.
    The sheer scale of the looting done by Corzine, and the private investors in Solyndra, just boggles the mind. Oh yes: Vice President Biden boasted in 2009 about how the Obama Administration called Corzine first for guidance.  See the November 14, 2011 The Atlantic:
    Jon Corzine has been the CEO of Goldman Sachs, a United States senator, and the governor of New Jersey, the position he held in 2009, when the Obama administration was preparing to take office. His mix of Wall-Street and public-sector executive experience is doubtless why the Obama transition team called on him for advice. As Joe Biden tells it, they'd gathered a few dozen economists in Chicago to talk over the financial crisis. Some were suggesting a bank holiday.

    "I literally picked up the phone and called Jon Corzine and said Jon, what do you think we should do," Biden said. "The reason we called Jon is that we knew that he knew about the economy, about world markets, how we had to respond, unlike almost anyone we knew. It was because he had been in the pit -- because he had been in the furnace. And we trusted his judgment."

    Aren't There Laws About This? No, But Maybe There Should Be

    In an otherwise mildly encouraging news story about Congressman Connie Mack (R-FL) holding a lead over the incumbent, Sen. Nelson (D-FL), I saw this:
    Mack, who has served in the House since 2005, initially said he would not challenge Nelson’s reelection. However, the son of a former senator and husband of Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack announced his candidacy after the GOP field thinned.
    You are required to be a resident of the state which you represent.  Mary Bono Mack represents California.  Connie Mack represents Florida.  You could almost get the impression that they actually live in D.C.--not in their supposed states of residence.  Otherwise it is a very long distance marriage.

    This is really a bad sign that the political class are so distant from the people from whom, in theory, they arise.

    If Not For Who Wrote It...

    This article would be on the top of the list of great articles to many Americans:
    How do politicians who arrive in Washington, D.C. as men and women of modest means leave as millionaires? How do they miraculously accumulate wealth at a rate faster than the rest of us? How do politicians' stock portfolios outperform even the best hedge-fund managers'? I answered the question in that speech: Politicians derive power from the authority of their office and their access to our tax dollars, and they use that power to enrich and shield themselves.
    But because the intellectual classes have decided that she is an inbred idiot--a "snowbilly" or "Caribou Barbie," it will be completely ignored.

    Yeah, she is not completely qualified to be President.  But she still sounds better than the vast majority of the candidates who are running.  At least she is willing to call the crooks in Washington for what they are.

    A Pretty Good Sign That Someone's Mental Health Is In Decline

    From the November 18, 2011 Idaho Statesman:
    Kimberly Allen, the mother of Ortega’s former fiancee, said he had been well-mannered and kind in the four years she had known him. But he recently began making statements to her daughter that were out of character, including that he believed he was Jesus.
    Ortega is the 21-year-old being held on attempted assassination of the President charges.

    Thursday, November 17, 2011

    It's Nice To See Age Discrimination Out In The Open...

    This way I don't have to waste my time applying for a position that says directly:
    Open to new graduates and experienced developers with up to 15 years work experience.
    Yes, theoretically, they could be hiring people in their 50s who made a career change ten years ago.  I don't think this would impress too many judges.

    Yes, if employers want to discriminate against the middle-aged, that is their business.  But it does not say much for Sybase that they would directly state that they don't want anyone with more than 15 years of experience to apply for a job.

    MP3 FM Transmitter

    Winter is coming, so I will be driving the Jaguar for the next few months.  Unfortunately, it does not have a CD changer--only a single in-dash CD player.  Installing the CD changer in the trunk is about $1000 if the dealer does it, and it is still an astonishing amount of money if you buy the changer and do it yourself.  I am thinking of getting one of the gadgets that transmits MP3 on an FM frequency.

    This unit gets very favorable reviews--even some of the low-ranking reviews are still pretty favorable:

    What I like about it includes:

    1. Let's me use the various SDHC cards that I have lying around the house.

    2. Transmits song information to the Jaguar's RDS system, so you get song title and performer on the stereo display.

    3. While a wired input apparently provides excellent sound quality, some reviewers say that the FM connection rivals CD sound quality.  Since there is no external jack on the Jaguar stereo, this is attractive.

    4. Cheap enough that if the unlikely were to happen, and someone broke into my car to steal it, it would not be a great hardship.

    5. While it is limited to 500 files on SDHC or USB stick, that's roughly equivalent to more than 30 CDs.  If I have to switch media every few days on a long trip, I think I can handle that.

    Any suggestions on such units?

    Reasons To Stay in Species

    For those who can't think of any other reason to species: the risk of penile cancer goes way up.  And this is definitely one of those articles where the word "group" appears and makes you wonder how weird things must be in Brazil.  Or perhaps this weirdness is a lot more widely spread than I want to believe.

    Oh well, that's what I get for being a narrow-minded sort.

    The article also points out that circumcision, regardless of other bad habits, reduces the risk of penile cancer.

    Obama Administration Still Protecting Crooked Banks

    The November 14, 2011 New York Times reports on the continuing effort of the Obama Administration to protect big banks from a proper criminal investigation:
    Then there is Eric T. Schneiderman, New York’s attorney general, caught in Month 5 of a face-off with the White House. President Obama dearly wants to seal a deal in which the nation’s largest banks toss over a few bales of cash — $20 billion to help with foreclosure relief — and the state attorneys general agree not to pursue sprawling and explosive legal cases against the banks.
    Mr. Schneiderman and Attorney General Beau Biden of Delaware, joined by a few others, say no. Banks, they say, should disgorge more documents, testify more precisely and prove more completely that they own millions of mortgage notes. These rebel attorneys general want the banks to hand over more than $200 billion, which would enable the government to write down tens of millions of mortgages.
    But in the end, their argument is elemental: Wouldn’t the nation benefit from knowing the truth about the behavior of banks and bankers?
    If a Republican administration were pulling something like this, it would be on the national news every day.  But the President from Goldman Sachs is doing it, so no one much cares.

    Another Fake Hate Crime

    This one is a bit stranger than most as to motivation:
    PANAMA CITY — A recent cross burning at the home of a Panama City mixed-race couple does not signal the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan; it was the symptom of something understandable to anyone who’s ever been afraid of losing someone.
    LB Williams, a 50-year-old black man, his wife of nearly seven years Donna Williams, who is white, and their bi-racial daughter found a cross burning in their driveway Nov. 4. Their grandchild was home too.
    “When I saw that cross burning, I was scared to death,” Donna Williams said. “I was terrified…we all were.”
    Read more:
     It turned out that Williams did this, in the hopes of scaring his wife into staying.  What?
    “They were watching us, I assumed me and the kids, and that I better not leave that [N-word],” Donna Williams said. The note was signed “KKK.”
    This was another odd development.
    “When did the KKK start supporting black and white, interracial marriages?” she asked.
    Read more:
    Yes, indeedy!  Someone must be very desperate to hold onto his wife, and perhaps a few fries short of a Happy Meal.

    Wednesday, November 16, 2011

    Orange County, California Residents Might Want To Attend

    From the November 16, 2011 Orange County Register:

    The Ending Homelessness 2020 commission will address the question, “Should Orange County treat the mentally ill against their will?” at a workshop at 8:30 a.m. Friday.

    Debate is expected to be impassioned in the wake of the recent shooting rampage in Seal Beach and the death of Kelly Thomas in Fullerton.

    The Ending Homelessness 2020 commission will address the question, “Should Orange County treat the mentally ill against their will?” at a workshop at 8:30 a.m. Friday.

    Debate is expected to be impassioned in the wake of the recent shooting rampage in Seal Beach and the death of Kelly Thomas in Fullerton.

    HR 822 Passes The House!

    I cringe a little because it seems a bit contrary to federalism, but it effectively implements the "privileges or immunities" clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, so I don't cringe a lot.  It would require states to recognize carry permits issued by other states.

    I am not expecting to pass the Senate or get past President Obama, but it is still nice to see.  Could you have imagined this twenty years ago?

    No-Bid Contracts To Democratic Operatives

    Michelle Malkin is blogging about it--but even the liberal Los Angeles Times is covering this scandalous behavior in the November 13, 2011 issue:
    Over the last year, the Obama administration has aggressively pushed a $433-million plan to buy an experimental smallpox drug, despite uncertainty over whether it is needed or will work.
    Senior officials have taken unusual steps to secure the contract for New York-based Siga Technologies Inc., whose controlling shareholder is billionaire Ronald O. Perelman, one of the world's richest men and a longtime Democratic Partydonor.
    When Siga complained that contracting specialists at the Department of Health and Human Services were resisting the company's financial demands, senior officials replaced the government's lead negotiator for the deal, interviews and documents show.
    When Siga was in danger of losing its grip on the contract a year ago, the officials blocked other firms from competing.
    Remember when Congress passed the McCain-Feingold Act to limit independent campaign contributions out of concern that it made the political process look corrupt?  Yet it did not do anything to stop something this dirty.  I hope all you Democrats are happy about this.

    Tuesday, November 15, 2011

    The Occupy Wall Street Crowd: Can They Stop Spamming Me?

    I keep getting these emails trying to justify the Occupy Wall Street crowd.  Not a one of them has had a valid reply email address to it.  Do they think that they are going to persuade people by sending spurious emails? 

    Pot Scrubber As Registered Firearms

    Federal law considers any weapon that can be "readily converted" to an automatic weapon to be a machine gun.  See 26 USC 5845(b) for the definition:
     The term “machinegun” means any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger. The term shall also include the frame or receiver of any such weapon, any part designed and intended solely and exclusively, or combination of parts designed and intended, for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun, and any combination of parts from which a machinegun can be assembled if such parts are in the possession or under the control of a person.
    The same thing is true if you convert any of the critical parts that convert a semiauto weapon into a machine gun--such as making an AR-15 Auto-Sear.

    Exactly what constitutes "readily converted" is not defined by statute, but I understand that some of the case law has held that if you can do it in less than eight hours in a fully equipped machine shop, that meets the requirement.  When I went hunting for citations, I found this decision, U.S. v. Seven Miscellaneous Firearms, 503 F.Supp. 565, 577 (D.D.C. 1980) that seems to regard "a master gunsmith working in a gun shop, the equipment and tools costing $65,000-13¾ hours" as not readily convertible.  On the other hand, United States v. 16,179 Molso Italian .22 Caliber Winlee Derringer Convertible Starter Guns, 443 F.2d 463 (2d Cir.), cited here indicated that blank starter guns that could be converted to fire live ammunition in "three to twelve minutes" were readily convertible, and I think we can all agree on that constituting "readily convertible." 

    I have heard (which is to say, that it is probably rumor, but it certainly seems possible) that some clever guy converted a Volvo rear axle into a machine gun within this definition---theoretically making vast numbers of Volvos into machine guns.

    Here we have a marvelous example of where this law takes you.  The headline oversimplifies it: the Chore Boy pot scrubber is not now a machine gun or silencer, so those of you who own these do not need to register them with the government.  But the official letter from BATF is very close to that.  It turns out that if you have a registered silencer, and you (not the licensed manufacturer of the silencer) replace the worn out parts inside with a Chore Boy pot scrubber (which is essentially the same material as the silencer comes with from the manufacturer), you are in violation of the law.  Worse: if you keep Chore Boy pot scrubbers and you own a silencer, you have in your possession unlawful silencer materials, and are in violation of the law.

    Even though I live in a state where machine guns and silencers are legal to own, watching this sort of madness is enough to discourage me from doing so: what if someone decides the brand of pot scrubber we use in the sink qualifies as an unregistered silencer?

    So Politicized That Even Democrats Should Be Embarrassed

    The November 15, 2011 Washington Post (you know, the flaming liberal newspaper there) reports:

    Solyndra’s chief executive warned the Energy Department on Oct. 25, 2010, that he intended to announce worker layoffs Oct. 28. He said he was spurred by numerous calls from reporters and potential investors about rumors the firm was in financial trouble and was planning to lay off workers and close one of its two plants.
    But in an Oct. 30, 2010, e-mail, advisers to Solyndra’s primary investor, Argonaut Equity, explain that the Energy Department had strongly urged the company to put off the layoff announcement until Nov. 3. The midterm elections were held Nov. 2, and led to Republicans taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
    “DOE continues to be cooperative and have indicated that they will fund the November draw on our loan (app. $40 million) but have not committed to December yet,” a Solyndra investor adviser wrote Oct. 30. “They did push very hard for us to hold our announcement of the consolidation to employees and vendors to Nov. 3rd – oddly they didn’t give a reason for that date.”
    Even by the standards of politicians, this is incredibly bad.  They are not trying to delay the layoff announcement for a few months, in the hopes that the economy will turn around, or that the government might have an easier time raising the money to fund Solyndra--but transparently to influence election results.  Does Obama and his team of crooks have no shame?

    Sunday, November 13, 2011

    Excuse Me, But This Mixes Too Many Ideas Together

    I'm looking for an electric fireplace (one of those things that looks like a fireplace, but is really an electric heater with a pretty clever simulation of a wood fire) for the master bedroom.  The last one we bought at Home Depot.  But among the varieties of such things I found this has to be among the oddball collections of attributes:

    Yes--a rolling fireplace!  If only medieval Europe had enjoyed the benefits of these!

    For Those Of You With Cutoff Saws

    I need a couple of test users for a flexible ruler that measures to .05" and affixes to the fence.  Essentially, I want to ship this to you free of charge, and have you tell me if the instructions are clear enough, and give me an idea of what price the market will bear (but likely very inexpensive).

    UPDATE: Thanks, I have enough beta testers now.

    Stress Analysis of Voices

    I remember when voice stress analysis first came into common use.  It was regarded as more accurate than polygraph tests for figuring out if someone is lying or not.  This appeared on the CBS Atlanta local news broadcast, and it does incline me to want a bit more proof than just Bialek's claim.

    I would hardly call it conclusive proof that Cain is telling the truth and Bialek is lying, but this is certainly one more piece of low-quality evidence in Cain's favor.

    Saturday, November 12, 2011

    Payette Lake, Central Idaho

    We went up to Payette Lake in central Idaho last weekend, in one of those brief periods where summer sports such as water skiing and boating have ended because it is too cold, but snow skiing has not yet started, because it isn't cold enough!  McCall is the town at the south end of the lake, a resort town with resort town prices.  But the north end of the lake can give you the impression that you are in the middle of nowhere (which you really are).