Boy, do I hate Windows. I haven't used it myself for more than five
years, but it still comes back to bite me sometimes. Yesterday, Barbara
was visiting her sister and called me to say that they were having
problems with Thunderbird on their notebook system. When they tried to
open it, they got an error box telling them it was already running and
they should close it or shut down the computer. Nothing showed up in
Task Manager, and restarting the system didn't work.
trying to walk Barbara through things on the phone, but I no longer
remember Windows well enough to do that. She brought the notebook home,
and to make a long story short, Windows had trashed the Thunderbird
profile. I searched for ways to recover the data, but it was gone.
There was nothing for it but to delete the corrupted profile and
reconfigure Thunderbird from scratch.
I talked to Frances later
to see if her memory of why they were running Windows Vista on this
system was the same as mine. It was. They bought the notebook right
before Al took off on a month-long trip. The notebook obviously had
Windows Vista running on it, so in the interests of getting them
something reasonably stable and workable before Al left, I just
installed Skype, OpenOffice.org, and a few other apps on the Windows
system. Now that things aren't so pressing, I'll blow away Vista and
install Ubuntu for them.
made an interesting discovery the other day. Usually, Barbara cleans
the bathrooms as part of cleaning house. But Saturday she was fully
occupied getting up about a million leaves in the yard that I did the
house cleaning while I was doing laundry. While I was cleaning toilets,
the Lysol toilet duck thing ran out of blue juice. I'd assumed that it
would be based on sodium bisulfate, but when I checked the label I
found that the only active ingredient was "Hydrogen Chloride......
9.50%", or hydrochloric acid, with the other 90.5% being inactive
ingredients, presumably blue dye and goopifier (to use the technical
Let's see. The last time I bought a gallon of 31.45%
muriatic (hydrochloric) acid at Home Depot, it cost about $6.00, IIRC.
That gallon could be diluted to about 3.3 gallons of 9.5% acid, at a
cost of about $1.80 per gallon, or about $0.45 per quart. I wonder how
much that quart of Lysol toilet duck stuff costs. More than $0.45, or I
miss my guess. I suppose I could spend a few cents on blue dye and a
bit more on some goopifier, but I don't see the point. A 9.5% HCl
solution slaughters nasties on contact. Off the top of my head, I'd
guess one second of contact with 9.5% HCl probably results in at least
a 5-log reduction, if not 6-log. A few drops of dishwashing liquid
would ensure that the acid solution wets the porcelain thoroughly.
So I mentioned this to Barbara, who told me thanks, but no thanks. She
prefers the real blue goop.
A group of Wake Forest University
researchers has grown fully
functional penile erectile tissue in rabbits, using a procedure that
one day may be used to treat erectile dysfunction in men.
I think they should be thinking bigger, literally. There's money in
ED treatment, sure. Viagra proved that. But there's even more money in
penis enlargement, if my inbox is any indication. These researchers
should be thinking not just about ED treatment, but actual enhancement.
You want 8"? Fine, that'll be X thousands of dollars. You want 10"?
Fine, that'll be 4X thousands of dollars. You want something to fill up
a Blackadder-size codpiece and make experienced hookers flee
screaming in terror? Tough luck. You can't afford it, and Obama's
healthcare plan isn't going to pay for it.
It happened 34 years ago today. The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. I
was living in Rochester, New York at the time, within spitting distance
of Lake Ontario, doing graduate work at Rochester Institute of
Technology. It made the national news, but it was the subject of
conversation for a week or more in communities around the Great Lakes.
To this day, when I think about a ship sinking, I don't think first of
the Titanic, but of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
When the Fitzgerald
is mentioned, people who've never seen the Great Lakes or an ore
carrier probably think about small boats on recreational lakes and
choppy waves. The Edmund Fitzgerald was the length of two-and-a-half
football fields, and storms on the Great Lakes match anything the North
Atlantic can come up with in terms of ferocity. This was not a helpless
small boat sunk in a minor storm. This was a huge ore carrier sunk in
what amounted to a hurricane.
I think the reason it hit everyone
so hard was how close they came to making port safely. As Lightfoot
sang, she'd have made Whitefish Bay if she'd put 15 more miles behind
her. To this day, Lightfoot's ballad is the most haunting piece of
music I've ever listened to.
We've had nearly four inches (10 cm) of rain since the Ida remnants
started moving in yesterday morning, with another three to six inches
(7.5 to 15 cm) expected today and tonight. With the three
inches we got a week or so ago, things are pretty soggy around
here. At least the combination of heavy rain and high winds is bringing
down most of the remaining leaves.
I talk with college professors, one of the recurring themes is the
growing sense of entitlement that their students have. When I was in
college 35 years ago, a student who got bad grades had only himself to
blame, no matter how hard he'd worked. Nowadays, there seems to be an
almost universal belief that a student who works hard should be given
an A based on that effort, even if he hasn't come close to mastering
the material. Worse still, there seems to be a growing belief that
simply showing up for classes entitles students to above-average
grades. Worst of all, many students (and their parents) now seem to
believe that simply paying the tuition entitles the kid to an A. Higher
education has become entirely commercialized; the student pays money to
the university, and expects high grades in return.
On a related note, this article by AC Graying is worth reading.
He talks about what a university education is supposed to be, educating
our best and brightest students to think and work
independently, versus what it has become, training mostly mediocre
students to regurgitate facts and figures. Of course, this shift in
emphasis was predictable once colleges and universities began admitting
large numbers of unqualified students.
As of now, probably nine
out of ten college and university students have no business being
there. All of the money and effort spent "educating" them is
essentially wasted. They're not learning anything worth knowing, but
merely wasting four years of their lives and spending a lot of (usually
borrowed) money to obtain what is ultimately a meaningless credential.
The vast majority of these kids end up with a "degree" in something
essentially worthless like literature or sociology or education or
It's long past time to stop pretending that
these meaningless degrees are worth pursuing, let alone being funded at
taxpayer expense. We're producing 100 or 1,000 times the number of
sociology and literature and history graduates we actually need, but
not enough physicians or engineers or scientists. The rule should be,
if you can't hack math and science, you don't belong in college. The
liberal arts departments should be eliminated wholesale or at least
trimmed back to a tiny fraction of their current sizes. Courses in
non-rigorous subjects should be at most optional electives for the
students, all of whom should be majoring in rigorous disciplines.
we need a few students majoring in touchy-feely stuff, but just one
large university liberal arts department could produce all the
sociologists and historians our society really needs. And the
North Carolina School of the Arts by itself could produce all the drama
and theater majors the country really needs.
Of course, this
would mean that all colleges and universities would have to reduce
themselves to 10% of their former sizes or, more likely, that 90% of
all colleges and universities would have to cease operations. You might
argue that that's unlikely to happen, and you'd be right. At least
under the current system. But it would happen overnight if the
government subsidies went away. Eliminate government-subsidized student
loans, grants, and scholarships, and you'd suddenly find that the
number of sociology majors would plummet to 0.1% of current numbers.
Any kid would still be free to pursue a sociology degree, but he and
his parents would have to pay for it in full.
But continue (and
expand) subsidies for students who are qualified to pursue degrees in
real disciplines. In fact, make the subsidy 100% for STEM majors all
the way through to a terminal degree, if they wish to pursue it and are
qualified to do so. Of course, this would be elitist and horribly
politically incorrect--favoring smart people, ewww--so it's not going
you wonder why I push science and science education so hard, this is
just one example. We as a species need Abbie and a hundred thousand
more like her devoting their lives to figuring things out. We need our
brightest 0.1% to be encouraged to focus their powers on STEM. The
other 99.9% can do useful and worthwhile work, certainly, but it's that
0.1% who will make nearly all of the important discoveries.
encouraging and educating our best and brightest is only half the
solution. We also have to make sure they're free to do what only they
can do. Every time one of our geniuses decides to devote her life to
making money on Wall Street, it's a small disaster for the species.
Every time a bright new Ph.D. in a hard science finds himself working
in another field because he can't find a job in his own specialty, it's
a small disaster for the species.
They tell a story about John
D. Rockefeller. Or maybe it was Henry Ford; my memory isn't what it
once was. Rockefeller had called in an efficiency expert to streamline
operations and cut waste. Rockefeller was a man who took pains. When he
learned that his workers were using 40 drops of solder to seal a
can of oil, he asked the manager if they'd ever tried using 38 drops.
They tested that and found that cans sealed with 38 drops
occasionally leaked, but those with 39 drops never did. Continuing to
use 40 drops would have been wasteful, so Rockefeller standardized on
39 drops, saving himself hundreds of thousands of dollars.
any rate, the efficiency expert soon noticed that one of the offices in
the executive suite was occupied by a man who never seemed to do
anything. Every time the efficiency expert passed this guy's office,
the guy was sitting there with his feet up his desk, reading the
newspaper while he earned a big salary. So the efficiency expert
mentioned this to Rockefeller, and suggested that firing this guy might
be a good way to start saving money. Rockefeller replied that he paid
that guy to think, and if he thought best with his feet up on the desk,
that was fine with him. Rockefeller went on to explain that just one of
this guy's ideas had saved the company millions of dollars, and
that he'd happily continue to pay him for the next 50 years on the off
chance that he'd come up with another idea even half as good.
scientists--all of them--are that guy, and we as a society need to
treat them the same way Rockefeller treated his idea man. Sure, many of
them will labor in obscurity all of their careers, producing nothing
and discovering nothing that's ultimately useful. So what? That's the
price of doing business. Even negative results have value in the sense
that someone had to try it to discover it didn't work. And obscure,
apparently useless discoveries have a way of turning out to be
extremely valuable once more is known. All scientific data are
valuable. It's just that some are more valuable or more immediately
useful than others. But all of it is worth knowing and worth paying for.
what would I do if I were Obama and our Congress? Easy. As much as I
hate taxes, if I'm going to be taxed I at least want my taxes going to
something productive and useful. To get started on fixing the problem,
I'd boost grant funding for the hard sciences by an order of magnitude,
right now. I'd also offer grants to cover 100% of university and
graduate school costs, including a generous living stipend, for anyone
with a tested IQ in the top 0.1% if that person majors in a hard
science, engineering, math, or medicine. And I'd offer generous tax
benefits--deductibility of salaries off the bottom rather than off the
top; a tax credit rather than an expense deduction--for companies who
hired these folks. In other words, it would cost these companies
literally nothing to hire a scientist.
Sure, it'd be expensive,
but ultimately less expensive than not doing it. And the cost of doing
this pales compared to the trillions we've thrown down the drain
pursuing war in the Middle East and bailing out banks and auto
companies. Doing what's needed to allow science to flourish incurs high
costs, but in turn provides gigantic returns.
- Friday the 13th falls on a Friday this month...
going on temporary hiatus as of today, six weeks before Christmas Day.
As is true of most retail operations, things will be insanely busy for
Maker Shed for the next six weeks. My time is allocated fully between
now and then, so at most I'll be doing very short and sporadic posts