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Sexy (?) lab equipment

Thanks to ernunnos who posted this in maradydd's lj. I had to repeat it.

Gov nixes solar energy

The Bureau of Land Management has just decided to call a two-year moratorium on solar projects placed on public land, most notably including the Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah, in order to conduct extensive environmental impact studies.

Environmental impact studies are good. But note that other projects with similar tower foundations and shade effects have not been shown to have any deleterious effects, so it seems the likelihood of negative impact is small. A moratorium seems a bit draconian.

Meanwhile, Congress is being pressured to run pell-mell into drilling for oil in the Alaskan wilderness and the waters of the continental shelf, despite the well-known negative environmental impacts of oil drilling and oil spills.

I suppose the requirement is merely that an environmental impact study be done, not that it must conclude that a project is relatively benign. We KNOW oil drilling does a lot of damage, while we only THINK that solar panels cause minimal disturbance. Obviously, oil drilling is therefore preferable to setting up solar panels.

Meanwhile, federal solar investment tax credits are set to expire at the end of the year unless Congress renews them. Federal tax credits for speculative drilling and ridiculously low public land leases to oil companies (usually with no charge for the oil they remove) continue unabated. That's the way the current administration likes it.

The CLEAN energy act (H.R. 6) would remove the "preferential tax treatment afforded intangible domestic drilling expenses (primarily labor and material costs associated with finding and exploiting oil and gas fields)", and use that money to subsidize alternative energy.

The Cato institute, in their critique of the CLEAN energy act, mentions that "the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that eliminating those preferences for intangible drilling expenses would save the taxpayer $7.6 billion over ten years."

With Congress behind taking investment out of oil and into solar, the oil-backed administration has resorted to green-sounding environmental concerns to justify a unilateral administrative delay. It's a clever move -- how can environmentalists protest an environmental impact statement?


This morning the NYTimes has an Op-Ed piece titled "Fight Terror with You-Tube". The author, Daniel Kimmage, says that the web was originally a good platform for Al-Qaeda's demagoguery, but that the egalitarian interactivity and social networking of "Web 2.0" has caused this strategy to backfire.

He says:
Unfortunately, the authoritarian governments of the Middle East are doing their best to hobble Web 2.0. By blocking the Internet, they are leaving the field open to Al Qaeda and its recruiters. The American military’s statistics and jihadists’ own online postings show that among the most common countries of origin for foreign fighters in Iraq are Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen.

He goes on to say that those same countries do the most to restrict the internet and concludes, "unfettered access to a free Internet is not merely a goal to which we should aspire on principle, but also a very practical means of countering Al Qaeda".

Does restricting the internet cause susceptibility to radical sentiments? We have correlation, not necessarily causation, but it is sugggestive. Note that Iran is NOT in the list of countries of origin for foreign fighters in Iraq. Our good friend, Saudi Arabia, is.

Meanwhile, there are some in our government who want to block internet content that they deem fosters terrorism; i.e., content put up by Al-Qaeda and others. They are afraid to allow citizens to hear and possibly be swayed, not realizing that the clear light of public examination is more apt to provoke ridicule than conversion. Kimmage is addressing governments of the Middle East, but it applies to us as well.

Politics and pay

I was reading a NYTimes article about how a small number of super-rich families are behind the campaign to eliminate estate taxes, and followed a link to http://faireconomy.org which has lots of info on pay inequities.

The musical 1776 stated "most people would rather protect the dream of become rich than face the reality of being poor." Because of this, and because of the spectre of socialism, the public has not really come around to embrace the idea of CEO pay limits. But here's another approach.

For years I've been trying to get the sentiment started that it is *unpatriotic* - not illegal or even unfair - for any CEO to make more than the President of the United States (whose salary is currently $400,000). Surely the President of Widgets, Inc. is not more important or more worthy of his pay that the "leader of the free world"?

It's a different take on the issue, and one better-suited as a response to those who see no problem with the wage gap, that's it's a matter of earning what one is worth. I'd like to see someone take this and run.

Abandoning the Constitution

OK, I knew the Bush administration likes to grab power whenever it can, to "strengthen the Executive Branch". what I didn't realize was that Congress seems quite willing to give it away.


Congress has passed a law which says that Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security, has the right to unilaterally ignore any law he wants to, in the name of "Homeland Security". Furthermore, Congress specified that the Federal Courts have no jurisdiction to oversee or contravene Chertoff's decisions.

Can Congress sign away their responsibilities like that? That is the question that has been submitted to the Supreme Court. I just hope they decide to take the case.

Those who voted for this bill. who are willing to abdicate the responsibilities given to them by the Constitution and allow ultimate power to be concentrated in the executive branch, don't deserve to be members of Congress. The Constitution doesn't mention a Chamber of Sycophants.

"Irresponsible" borrowers

I have been growing more irritated with politicians and pundits who dismiss the people now facing mortgage foreclosures as simply "irresponsible borrowers", implying that they are only getting what they deserve.

John McCain recently said: (quoted in the NYTimes)

“Some Americans bought homes they couldn’t afford, betting that rising prices would make it easier to refinance later at more affordable rates,” he said. Later he added that “any assistance must be temporary and must not reward people who were irresponsible at the expense of those who weren’t.”

Is it "irresponsible" to listen to the experts? Is it "irresponsible" to do what only a few years ago was presented as the patriotic thing to do? How many people remember Bush's "Ownership Society" initiative? If you don't remember, here it is (Actually, I was somewhat surprised to find this page still up, given the Administration's penchant for rewriting history.):

To quote:
"The President believes that homeownership is the cornerstone of America's vibrant communities and benefits individual families by building stability and long-term financial security. In June 2002, President Bush issued America's Homeownership Challenge to the real estate and mortgage finance industries to encourage them to join the effort to close the gap that exists between the homeownership rates of minorities and non-minorities...
President Bush's initiative to dismantle the barriers to homeownership includes: American Dream Downpayment Initiative, which provides down payment assistance to approximately 40,000 low-income families..."

So here we have the President encouraging banks and lenders to aggressively go after low-income families and make them homeowners. Perhaps the mortgage lenders, who presumably have some knowledge of economics, knew this was not necessarily a good idea - but the President is pushing it as one of his pet initiatives. And why were the borrowers low-income? Could it be that their schooling didn't extend as far as economics? Could it be that when the loan officers at the bank (making five times their income) assured them that they were eligible for these loans, the borrowers believed them? Especially with the President pushing it, and saying that the best thing the average person could do to fight terrorism was to go out, spend money,  and achieve the "American Dream"?

But no. Just remember that they should have known better. They should have known that real estate sometimes devalues. Ignore that most professional in the field forgot this. Ignore that most towns and cities -- who base their revenues on real estate values -- were caught by surprise. Ignore that all the experts were advising them that home ownership was the right thing to do.

In the end, they borrowed above their means, and for that sin they will be punished.

The professional advisors and enablers had nothing to do with it. 

Next time you are given advice by your lawyer, your doctor, or anyone who is a professional in any field, remember that is your decision to listen to them, so any bad decision is your fault, not theirs. Remember, it's all the Decider's fault.  (uh, wait a moment...)

It's been a week.

I think I need to check my horoscope or something. Last week was Not To Be Repeated™.

My computer crashed. Entirely my fault; I pulled out the ethernet plug and accidently snagged the power plug at the same time. Macs are usually pretty robust about things like that, but this time the hard drive got trashed. Like the computer didn't even know it had a hard drive.

Luckily I have a bootable backup drive. Unfortunately, the last time I had backed up was at the end of January. Fortunately my work is mostly low tech and this was not a crisis. Unfortunately my customer records were computerized and I didn't know who had paid and who hadn't, and I haven't yet done my taxes.. You can see the see-saw.

Then. I delivered a repair to a customer, a lovely lady, a retired doctor. She gave me a lollipop as I was leaving. I bit into it and broke a tooth. #12, if anyone is interested; that's the one just behind the upper left canine. I didn't just break a little piece. I essentially split the tooth, breaking it off below the gumline and exposing the nerve.

My dentist just retired, and I didn't really know his replacement. Now I do, and I must say I'm rather pleased with him. First, he squeezed me in, but he also went far above the call of duty and took a lot of time discussing the situation with me and talking over the options. Ultimately, I had to go to an oral surgeon for the extraction. He was much more brusque. (I know this hurts but I've got to do it). The tooth came out.

Much of the rest of the week passed in a Vicoden fog. They don't suture the gum; you can actually see the bone and you want a blood clot to form on it so it can heal and you can't disturb the clot or you risk what's called "dry socket". Ycch. It's a great way to diet; you don't want to eat anything and you take tiny sips of liquid. They recommended ice cream, so I indulged there. I'm a bit lactose intolerant, so it gives me the runs, but Vicoden gives you constipation and it seems to have all balanced out. (I'm sure everyone wants to hear these details).

My biggest problem has been keeping my tongue away from the socket. And the awful unbrushed feeling the nearby teeth have. And feeling like a poster crone if I smile widely. The gum needs to heal for 6-8 weeks before they can do anything else, so I have time to consider whether to get an implant or a bridge. Both are about equally pricey (a bridge requires capping the adjacent teeth).

Meanwhile, data recovery... Thinking the drive was trashed, I bought a program called "Data Rescue II", because the demo could see the files on the disk. But when I ran it, most of the files were trash. I got what I could, and then used Disk Utility to re-partition the drive (NOT re-initialize it). This seemed to heal the drive; the computer could now see it. But it said the drive was blank. BUT -- Data Rescue also has a "restore deleted files" function. I ran that, and found thousands of files. Yay! But unfortunately, none had a name, just numbers. They were arranged by file type. And there were many many duplicates. Apparently, autosave saves a copy, which doesn't make it into the directory but which is a file nonetheless that can be rescued. Many were file fragments. But I got back my most critical files, and think wading through the other salvaged files will have to be a new hobby for awhile... it would be nice to get back the month-and-a-half of emails I lost.

And it will be nice when my mouth stops hurting.

Not-so-wet wood

I was given a carload of wood over the holidays - it had been raining, but the wood was reasonably dry. So I packed it in the car, and left it there for a few days. There was condensation on the inside of the car windows when I came back. So I toweled down the windows, finished packing the car, and drove about five hours to get home.

It was late when I arrived. I took my stuff in, left the wood in the car, and went to bed.

This morning I discovered the windows were covered with a very thick layer of frost -- inside. So much frost that the scraper only took off a thin layer. Besides, scrapers are not designed to work on a concave surface.

The soft surfaces -- the roof, sunshades, etc -- had frost flowers growing. (look closely)

The wood's drying pretty well, though. Maybe that's why so many people leave an abandoned car in the back yard here -- it makes a good drying kiln.... Eureka!


Homecoming '08

Wonderful Christmas and New Year's -- saw old friends, met new ones, and discovered that my godson has a really good eye for sculpture. Weather was mild in NYC; even going out to watch the fireworks only required a fleece sweater and hat.

My housemate had warned me that we had had a snowstorm at home. I came home to this:

Home sweet home!
(This is my apple tree).
PS - it's 1 degree Fahrenheit today.

Children of the Night

I don't like streetlights.
I live in a semi-rural area, and the stars are glorious. The fireflies dance in the summer air over my meadow, and at night I can hear fox kits playing in the brush. In the winter, the landscape glows with starlight, and moonlight makes eerily garish splashes of light and shadow on the snow.
Bright streetlights chase all this away.

Streetlights make me feel exposed and vulnerable.
I'm walking along the road, and enter a pool of light that ruins my night vision. Anyone can see me, but I can't see outside that small light circle. I can only hope no surprises await me as I continue on my way. Once I am in the dark and my eyes adjust again, I can relax.

Streetlighting is expensive.
I once went to Town Meeting to present the Ambulance Corps budget, which was about $40,000. We spent half an hour nickle-and-diming it -- do you _really_ need a new defibrillator? Two hundred dollars a year is too much for gauze - you need to charge the patients so this is not a budget item. Finally they approved it. Next item on the agenda was street lighting: $40,000 approved with no discussion. This for a small NH town, more than 15 years ago. I hate to think what it costs today.

Excessive light at night is a carcinogen.
Say what?
There has been mounting evidence for years that disrupting circadian rhythms causes a plethora of health problems. Many links can be found at http://www.darksky.org/resources/links/photobio

But now the WHO has weighed in, and the American Cancer Society will probably follow suit.
"Next month, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer arm of the World Health Organization, will add overnight shift work as a probable carcinogen. The American Cancer Society says it will likely follow. Up to now, the U.S. organization has considered the work-cancer link to be "uncertain, controversial or unproven." -- AP (http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/N/NIGHT_SHIFT_CANCER?SITE=VOICESD)
So far, the big guns are only admitting correlation, not causation. And only with night shift work, not with artificial lighting itself. They are apparently admitting that lighting is the likely cause, though. And using red light (other papers say amber) causes less of a correlation.

Oh yes -- I should also mention that the studies of the supposed security benefits of lighting all deal with urban areas. It doesn't transfer to a rural setting. In rural areas, providing light just lets the thieves see what they are doing. And annoys the residents, who live out here because they want to see the stars.