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Week of 3 May 2010

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Monday, 3 May 2010
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08:57 - Yet another Costco run yesterday, this time with Paul and Mary, followed by dinner. Like Barbara and me, they've both been on the run lately, so it'd been a month or more since we'd gotten together.

We had dinner at the usual place, but we didn't entertain the waitress as we usually do. Somehow, and it's not intentional, we usually end up talking about something that results in our waitress hovering nearby to overhear our discussion. Sometimes, she brings her friends to listen in. For example, we once had a detailed discussion about the benefits of fellatio for pregnant women--it greatly reduces the incidence of pre-eclampsia--and other means of inducing allogenic tolerance. Then there was the time we were discussing murdering someone by poison, and which poisons produced symptoms similar to those of common medical conditions and were least likely to be detected by a standard tox screen. The waitress's eyes were bugged out on that one, so I called her over and gently explained that Barbara and I were writing a forensics lab book and that Paul and Mary were two of our technical advisors.

I'm afraid that the real financial collapse started yesterday, with Greece effectively declaring bankruptcy and the EU and IMF starting a massive bailout. Greece didn't have much option, with their national debt now larger than their GDP. I think Greece is likely to be the first in a row of dominoes toppling. We may end up longing for the days of that minor recession that started a couple of years ago.

The US is in horrible shape in absolute terms, but we're actually in pretty good shape in relative terms. Italy, Portugal, and Spain are in about as bad a shape as Greece, and Iceland is actually in worse shape. Belgium, France, and Ireland aren't far behind. Britain looks good only in comparison to nations that are already effectively bankrupt. Canada, in the best shape of any major Western economy, is, put it as politely as possible, in critical condition. In reality, the situation in nearly all of these countries is much more dire than even the published numbers indicate, because they don't include gigantic unfunded pension and medical care liabilities, both public and private.

Nearly every national government has been spending much more than they take in for so long that they make drunken sailors look like misers. I expect to see defaults spreading from small countries like Greece into the G8, and accelerating. Back around the turn of the century, I told Pournelle that I expected to see the US default within 20 years and nationalize foreign-owned assets, leaving China and every other foreign creditor holding worthless stacks of paper. Pournelle said that was unthinkable. Unthinkable it may be, but that doesn't mean it isn't going to happen. The only reason the US dollar is still the world's currency is that all other currencies, including the Euro, would be much worse.

Fortunately, the US has most of what it needs to withstand a worldwide economic collapse. We can feed ourselves and produce essential goods. With a few exceptions, we're still sitting on huge reserves of every essential raw material. Even petroleum, although it's not nearly as easily or cheaply accessible as what we're used to. Of course, there's an alternative to oil-shale and other costly sources of petroleum. Unfortunately for small nations with large pools of oil, those US assets include carrier battle groups. If push comes to shove, we won't hesitate to use them. Count on it. Rare-earth metals are a different story. China now produces the vast majority of the planet's REM output, and the US will not confront China militarily. China has already started strictly rationing REM sales to the West, but major new US and Canadian REM mines are or shortly will be coming into production.

The next couple of decades are likely to be interesting. As the old curse goes, may you live in interesting times.


Tuesday, 4 May 2010
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09:47 - I haven't been following the NYC "bomb" thing very closely, but if the news reports I've read have their facts at all straight, this was no bomb. It was a hoax rather than an actual would-be terrorist bombing, unless the terrorists were stupifyingly incompetent. From the description, this was an almost random collection of items intended to shout "bomb!" to anyone who saw them. What it wasn't was a functional explosive device. Obviously, whoever did this went to a lot of trouble and expense, even buying an SUV. That tells me they're either hoaxers with way too much disposable income, or terrorists with way too few brain cells.

According to the news reports, there were no high explosives present in the SUV. None. (Unless, of course, they're not telling us something.) The collection of "M-88" firecrackers probably totaled less than 2 grams of low-explosive flash powder, considerably less than is present in one real M-80 or Silver Salute. Detonating even a real M-80 next to a propane cannister would have no effect on the cannister, if it were sealed. Yes, in the proper mix with air, propane can detonate as an FAE, and a full backyard grill cannister of propane, properly dispersed in air, is the equivalent of maybe six or eight kilos of dynamite. But there was never any chance of achieving that proper fuel/air mixture in the SUV, so at worst the propane would have burned rather than detonated, and produced an impressive fireball, which the several gallons of gasoline present might have added to, assuming the gasoline had somehow been released from its containers.

Then there was the fertilizer, which everyone has been leery of since the Oklahoma City bombing. The problem is, the only fertilizer that can be used in an explosive mix is pure ammonium nitrate mixed in stoichiometric quantities with fuel oil or another fuel. That wasn't the type of fertilizer found in the SUV. Whatever fertilizer was present was inert, about as explosive as dirt.

Incidentally, none of my comments are intended to take anything away from the NYC bomb squad folks. These incredibly brave people had no idea going in what they were facing. It could have been a ton of acetone peroxide, for all they knew. But it does grate on me to hear the authorities talking about this incident as though they had foiled a serious and deadly terrorist plot. Why can't they just stand up and say, "Our heroic bomb-squad folks, at the risk of their lives, went in and determined that the bomb was a fake and there had never been any real danger."? Yet another example of keeping people scared so they'll be compliant.

Thanks to long-time reader SVTarheel, who pointed me to this forum page, I now have the local cable channel lineup.

April 19, 2010

116-4 78-1WFMY (HD) CBS 1920x1080
116-3 85-315 WFMY(sd) 528x480
87-4 78-2WFMY2 (wx) 704x480
115-2 78-3WGHP (HD) FOX1280X720
115-1 85-316 WGHP (sd) 528x480
115-3 90-1 WXII (HD) NBC 1920x1080
87-3 90-2 WXII2 (this tv)704X480
115-4 85-314 WXII2 (this tv)528X480
116-6 85-508 WGPX 704x480
91-1 83-3 WCWG (hd) 1920x1080
117-20 85-502 WCWG2 528x480
116-1 118-45 WXLV (HD) ABC 1280x720
116-2 85-505 WXLV (sd)640x480
87-1 117-48 WMYV (hd) 1280x720
87-2 85-48WMYV (sd)528x480
91-4 90-4 UNC-HD (PBS)1920x1080
91-3 91-4 UNC-SD (wunc)528x480
87-5 90-5 UNC-KD (wunl)704x480
87-9 90-3 WUNC-KD528x480
91-5 78-7UNC-EX (wunl)704x480
117-41485-14 TWC NEWS14 528x480

Also, 93-1248 appears to be the Weather Channel, so I've left that one active. We also have a few other possibly interesting channels, including apparently the Tennis Channel. I didn't realize there was such a thing.


Wednesday, 5 May 2010
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10:25 - I saw an article yesterday about browser share. It said that Internet Explorer had fallen to less than 60% share. My impression was that IE had fallen to less than 50% quite some time ago. A CNN Quick Vote I noticed this morning, although not scientific, tends to confirm that. With 62,245 responses in, that poll places Internet Explorer at 41% (25,689 responses), Firefox at 37% (23,104), Other/Don't Know at 11% (7,127), and Chrome at 10% (6,325). I suspect at least half of those Other/Don't Know responses are OS X Safari and Opera, so even if all of the Don't Know responses are IE that would mean that IE is no longer the majority browser, at least if the poll numbers are anywhere near accurate.

To me, full HD looks only slightly better than upscaled SD. Yesterday, I watched a couple of minutes of the local NBC affiliate's news in full 1080 HD and compared it to a DVD upscaled to fill the screen. (I realize that cable HD is compressed and of lower quality than OTA HD). Yes, HD was crisper than the upscaled DVD, but the difference was only noticeable when I flipped back and forth between the signals. The DVD looked very good indeed. Certainly good enough that I see no reason to buy a Blu-Ray player, ever.


Thursday, 6 May 2010
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08:09 - If there are any botanists among my readers, I'd appreciate an expert opinion on the identity of this foxglove.


Barbara planted it for me, as a start on my "poison garden". At the time, I forgot to check the label, but I assumed it was Digitalis purpurea. Now that I see it in bloom, I'm not so sure. I wonder if it's some other foxglove species or sub-species, or perhaps a hybrid.


Friday, 7 May 2010
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08:09 - Thanks to everyone who commented on my foxglove plant. The consensus was that it is in fact a D. purpurea or some sub-species. The color of the flowers confused me, but those that are pink in the image are now turning much darker, and the ones that are yellow in the image are now turning pink.

Yesterday, something I had for forty years or more suspected to be true was confirmed. Some of my many-times-great grandparents were Neanderthals. Yours probably were, too, unless you are of pure African ancestry.

10:08 - Oh, yeah. I signed up for Facebook yesterday. Just about all of my friends were already on it, and one of them said the other day that they all talked about me behind my back. So I figured I'd better get an account just in self-defense.

My first experience with Facebook was, to put it mildly, creepy. Once I'd completed registration, the next screen I saw was a list of suggested Friends. I was surprised to see that I actually knew many of these people. How did Facebook do that? They had my first and last names (not my middle name, which I routinely use), DOB, email address, and IP address. They did not have any of my web site addresses or any access to my email client's contact list. And yet they came up with a pretty reasonable list.

Another problem is that, as an author and the keeper of one of the earlier web journals still active, I "know" a lot fewer people than "know" me. I started getting friend invitations from people whose names seemed vaguely familiar, the first few of which I accepted. I'm being much more selective now.


Saturday, 8 May 2010
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00:00 -


Sunday, 9 May 2010
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08:55 - An article in this morning's newpaper reports that two separate forensic audio analyses of a tape made during the Kent State shootings 40 years ago this week have established what many people suspected all along. Despite claims at the time that the guardsmen had panicked and opened fire on their own, these analyses both report an audible command, "Prepare to fire."

So, it appears that the guardsmen were simply obeying an order, the result of which was more than a dozen young people killed and wounded, some of whom weren't even demonstrating but were simply minding their own business, hundreds of feet from the confrontation. Two of the four students who were killed were simply walking to class, more than a football field away from the confrontation, and were probably not even aware that the confrontation was taking place. One student who was wounded was about 750 feet from the guardsmen.

My question, at the time and now, is why those guardsmen were issued live ammunition. Whoever made that decision must have realized the potential for tragedy. Throughout the race riots and anti-war protests of the late 60's, the National Guard was often called out, but almost never issued live ammunition. Those guardsmen were perfectly capable of defending themselves without loaded weapons. They were facing a group of unarmed college students, many of whom were girls. One guardsman suffered minor injuries before they wheeled and opened fire. And shot more than a dozen kids. And now we know that they did so not because they panicked, but because they were ordered to do so.


Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.