Thursday, January 28, 2010

Time Lapse Recession

Great animation of the recession as unemployment rate by county over the entire nation can be found here:

It seems to me that more and more of these types of demonstrations are beginning to surface. Has anyone else noticed that the U.S. is starting to feel more like a case study and less like a nation?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The 3rd Reviewer.

Waiting for me in my inbox this morning:

There's a good amount of truth to this satire (despite the rather tired "HITLER REACTS TO :blank: LOLZ" genre). The peer review process can be an absolute gauntlet- reasonably and unreasonably so. There are cases where a reviewer asks for ridiculous changes or additional work. Conversely, there are times when such requests are completely justified. On the other side of the coin, the authors have already put in an intense amount of work to produce their manuscript and want to be done with it once and for all! Even though the additional experiments may be warranted and not so burdensome, the scientists may be loathe to do so because, in their minds, this work is finished. I have been guilty of this myself. Finally, when only one of the three reviewers is requesting the additional effort, it is doubly frustrating. It feels like the odd man out is just trying to be difficult compared to the others.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What Does the U.S. Manufacture?

Computers, but apparently not for long:

"The trend for low-priced computers will last for the coming years," said Shih, according to the AFP's quote of a Commercial Times newspaper interview. "But U.S. computer makers just don't know how to put such products on the market... US computer brands may disappear over the next 20 years, just like what happened to U.S. television brands."

Excuse the anecdotal evidence, but a town that relied on jobs provided by a local television assembly plant was featured in a documentary concerning the impact Walmart has on U.S. economics. The cheaper, foreign made televisions acquired and sold by Walmart led to the collapse of the American plant. The freshly laid off workers in this small town found low paying jobs at their local -- wait for it -- Walmart.

A brief scan through the comments on this story as reported by Tom's Hardware suggests that the readers don't believe that this will happen. They cite higher quality products from companies such as HP versus their foreign counterparts and note, correctly, that the above prediction comes from foreign rival Acer. I am not so optimistic, however. When is the last time that Americans, en masse, valued quality over low prices?

Snow Shoes, Heras!

I haven't been on a good hike for a long while. I finally broke my dry spell this past weekend with the help of brand-spankin' new snow shoes! I took them up the local ski hill twice already; it was a fantastic hike. Click on the way points for pictures, pop the map open in a new window for a better view:

I'm going to try to go very early this Friday to get some sunrise pictures; my next goal is to take my snowboard with me so that I can get down quickly.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Good Internet Monday - Google

Yeah, it's Wednesday. I know that. This one's a good one, though:

In a nutshell: There was a recent attempt to hack gmail accounts of prominent human rights activists in China coming from China. Based on Google's investigations, the attack was most likely by the Chinese government. In retaliation, Google will no longer be filtering searches on, and may pull out of China all together.

We'll have to see if Google actually follows through with these threats, but if so, this is fantastic. The Chinese government has been horribly restrictive about what information circulates from the internet to citizens. By no longer supporting these actions, Google can deal a major blow to censorship in one of the most populous nations in the world.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Whiskey Tango Friday: Stand for Christmas!

Here's a post-Christmas WTF link: Stand for Christmas. It's a collection of people who are butthurt by stores not using enough Christmas decorations, using non-Christmas decorations, saying "happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas", do not have a manger scene on display, etc. ad nauseum. They call out the worst perpetrators of such heinous actions, rank the stores, and vow to boycott the top (or is it bottom?) of their anti-Christmas list. It's kind of like reverse Santa.

In a way, this is fine. Everyone has the right to be butthurt, and to try to take action either to relieve the butthurt or to prevent future butthurt. But it seems to me that these people have some things backwards, as evidenced by the testimonials. I focus on the Walmart section, because... do I need to explain that?

[...I] proceeded to ask her why was there no Christmas music playing. She stated that 'some' folks were offended by it & I said 'what if I am offended by it not being played?"

The answer is simple: don't shop there if the absence of "White Christmas" is so unbearable that you are compelled to protest.

The answer is also not so simple.
I like to think that it begins with the irony that is clearly lost on this person. If Christmas isn't about buying crap for everyone while hearing the same four songs sang by 200 different "artists" 24/7, then why would this bother our modest, God-fearing Christian? Apparently, defending Christmas involves the proliferation of the most shallow aspects of the holiday at large retailers (as opposed to, y'know, church.) If I wanted to do the most damage I could to this holiday in terms of its perceived meaning and the number of people who celebrate it in a religious manner, I would not employ a campaign of mass censorship. Rather, I would do that which has already happened and is strongly endorsed by "Stand for Christmas": ensure constant over-stimulation by means of watered-down imagery, sound, and commercialization. Jesus is now secondary (or tertiary or worse) in this nearly-secularized charade*.

Given this person's insistence that their particular beliefs and rituals must be respected by the establishment (under penalty of offending someone?), it is an easy extrapolation to guess their response if anyone else were to receive the same treatment. They would become greatly offended if any sort of Islamic, Jewish, Mormon, etc. etc. holiday were to be paid the same respect. How is it someone could expect such special treatment with blatant disregard for others?

We are turning into a secular European country which is exactly what our founders fought to escape. Wake up America before you lose everything you hold dear.

Oh, that's right... these people are batshit insane**.

*Not that I don't enjoy it immensely. It's a great time to see family, eat too much, and binge on buying and receiving presents.

**To be fair, there are a number of very reasonable posters on the site. For example, this person seems to have reasonable expectations given both the number of people who do celebrate, yet keeping in mind the diversity of the populous:
I have no problem with employees saying "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings" since they don't have any idea which a customer celebrates. I do have problems if a store PROHIBITS the use of "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Hannukah" since we're spending money on gifts for THOSE specific holidays. Hello, if a customer is buying Christmas cards, Christmas tree, Christmas decorations, it's a safe bet they celebrate Christmas. Thanks to Wal-Mart for being inclusive to their customers rather than excluding customers who celebrate Christmas.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Hey, I know that guy!

National Geographic listed their top ten space discoveries of 2009. Number 7 goes to the Mars Phoenix lander, which discovered liquid water upon landing. Co-Investigator Nilton Renno is a University of Michigan AOSS-department scientist, and his (ex-)graduate student, Manish Mehta, performed the experiments that demonstrated that the lander would likely uncover ice by blowing away dust during touch down.

Manish was a fellow grad student during my time at Michigan; congratulations to him and the entire group.

Travelling Blues- Christmas Edition

My family traveled back to Michigan for the holidays, but it was not an easy trip. We were on 5 different flights, and something went wrong on every single one.

Our first leg from Albuquerque to Minneapolis took off on time and even landed- in Albuquerque. Mechanical problems killed the flight, and we were re-booked to go through Atlanta and then to Detroit the next morning. Give Delta credit: they gave us hotel and meal vouchers, then sent out apology letters and 10,000 bonus miles before we had a chance to complain.

The next morning, our plane had to de-ice. This takes a long time in ABQ. We landed in Atlanta 15 minutes before our next flight, which is when you are required to be on board so they can close the aircraft doors. We sprinted from terminal to terminal and then to our gate to find a large crowd. The flight had boarded, but onto the wrong type of plane! They had to clear the plane, find the correct one, and re-board. This gaffe allowed us to make our flight, which was a relief. Bonus surprise: our luggage made it, too.

The trip home had its share of fail, too: it took an hour to load the baggage after the doors had been shut. Another sprint found us on the next flight alright, but this time our baggage didn't make it. Delta told us it would arrive between 11 AM and 11 PM the next day. It showed up at midnight (note: the delivery company was a seperate entity contracted by Delta.)

It is both easy and tough to place all of the blame on Delta. Easy because the scapegoating feels right, but tough to pin them down completely. It was the worst time of year to fly, the flights were exceptionally crowded, and a bit of snowy weather in ABQ didn't help. We never had to argue to get flights changed or luggage delivered. In a way, these hangups were to be expected. On the other hand, when there are five consecutive screw ups, ranging from minor to major, you have to wonder if the experience is anomalous or systemic.

Anyone else have recent bad experiences? Opinions on the matter? I would love to hear them all.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Good Internet Monday - Scale of the Solar System

Christmas Vacation != Actual Vacation. Details forthcoming.

Anyway, here's a link that's been sitting in a Firefox tab for some time. I either stole it from Pharyngula or Bad Astronomy; I can't remember which (those are good blogs that you should be reading if you're not already.) It's the solar system correctly scaled. Be prepared to do some hardcore scrolling to find the planets.

Demonstrations like these are important. It's hard to grasp the vastness and emptiness of our solar system. In a presentation about the feasibility of traveling to Uranus, I learned that the largest barrier was simply the distance to reach the planet. It would take 21 years to arrive there. Think about that. If your child was born on the day the mission launched, you could legally (in the U.S.) share a champagne toast with him or her as they would be celebrating their 21st birthday.

Note: to zip directly to a particular planet, add #planetname to the end of the URL.