Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Infinite Cat Regression

Look at the picture. Click on "Next Cat." Repeat.

Makes me wish I had a cat, just so I could participate.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

10 Ways to Destroy the Earth

Not just erradicate all life, but make it no longer a planet.

Black holes, explosions, and self-replicating machines.

Science is FUN!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Oil Conservation

President Bush noted in the State of the Union that he wants to reduce America's oil consumption by 20% over the next decade.

Unfortunately, if this happens (highly unlikely in my book), it will be the result of inefficient subsidies and grants to well-connected lobbying groups - much like the Clean Air Act focused lots of attention on expensive requirements for vehicles like the catalytic converter, disallowing the new cleaner engines produced by Honda.

One reason I do not like heavy-handed government interaction is that it tries to accomplish in a single stroke what may best be accomplished along a variety of paths. The 20% target is not likely to be much different. The government inherently can only focus its efforts in so many directions at once, and it will do so here through inefficient means of using tax revenue to provide grants and subsidies to those who lobby to spend it on them - while spending still more of that revenue in the administration of the new programs.

May I make a suggestion? If you want oil consumption to go down - raise the price. First, eliminate any subsidies given to oil producing companies, refineries, gas stations, etc. If resulting price increases are insufficient to raise the price enough to cut consumption, then levy a tax on oil.

As we observed during 2006, even short-term jumps in the price of oil modify the behavior of millions of Americans without a single person having to tell them to consume less. Some will buy more efficient cars. Some will decide that the bus or a bicycle isn't such a bad alternative.

If it is clear that such increases are long-term, some may make bigger decisions with those prices in mind. I might move 30 miles closer to work, saving 2 gallons of gasoline each day, 10 per week, 43 per month and 520 per year.

Car companies will invest more into efficient and/or plug-in Hybrid cars, because there will be a huge demand for them. They would need no government tax incentives to do so - because the force of the market would move them that direction.

Solar, Wind, Biomass, Nuclear, Geothermal, and Hydro power would become more attractive, not because of any heavy-handed system of incentives and reimbursements - but because they would be more cost-competitive.

The consumer would (I suspect) save more in this path because while oil would be more expensive, the consumer has the ability to choose how best to respond to that cost. The government does not need to waste millions creating a new bureaucracy to administer or police its new programs.

Final concern, almost tangential. Hydrogen and ethanol are highly desired fuels because they emit no/less CO2 as a result of combustion. But they do emit something. Right now we consider it harmless. But H2O is a decidedly more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. My long-range prediction? CO2 controls won't do squat to address global warming, because we will trade a lesser problem for a greater one.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Small Things

The sort of person you are is something that is not just proved in the big things, like jumping in front of a subway to save a man who fell onto the tracks. It is something you resolve to be in everyday life, and you have to make the choice again, and again, and again.

You do not invite someone over once and call yourself forever hospitable. You do not forgo unmarried passion once and forever call yourself chaste, you do not hold your temper once and call yourself peaceful.

C.S. Lewis has described Jesus as a man who must have faced seemingly infinitely strong temptation, because temptation is often something that yells louder and louder in your ear the longer you resist it - this he said to answer those who claim that Jesus, in being perfect, must have had an easier time resisting than those of us who fall.

Faithfulness is something I must choose daily, and it is always the harder road. To believe God for another day, though the disappointments cry for me to walk away. To set aside my money, my time, my leisure and serve others is not something that is done once and then becomes a new autopilot.

To follow the path of least resistance is a broad, easy way that leads to destruction. The narrow, difficult path that leads to life is one where everything tells you to turn aside to the other path but, like climbing a mountain, though there are many paths that are easy and downhill - it is the one that is difficult and uphill that you have to take to reach your destination. And so it is in choosing to go up when you want to go down - and doing so again, and again, and again, and again that we show ourselves to be faithful or unfaithful.

It is not easy. And I do not know what the destination will look like in my life. I have only the written records of a man who said it would be worth it.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

On Gay Sheep

Premise: Sin is the domain of moral actors - angels, and humans.
Fact: 8% of male sheep look for sex only with other males.

What possible conclusions can we reach? One is that the Fall affected all of nature, and so unnatural things happen in nature as a result of our sin.

But homosexuality is interesting, in that the desire is listed in Romans as an offshoot of man's turning away from God. "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator— who is for ever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion." Can the same be said of sheep? Were they given over to the same shameful lusts for the same reasons?

How do we deal with animals who behave in ways that are immoral? When chimps attack and kill each other, seemingly out of anger; when rams look for sex with other rams; when monkeys pay for sex?

If the biology is the same, do we simply say that as moral creatures, we do not have the excuse - we are expected to control our passions. What other alternatives might there be?

Income Inequality

I found this article in the New York Times. I'll let you read it if you like, but I love the punchline:

"The broader philosophical question is why we should worry about inequality — of any kind — much at all. Life is not a race against fellow human beings, and we should discourage people from treating it as such. Many of the rich have made the mistake of viewing their lives as a game of relative status. So why should economists promote this same zero-sum worldview? Yes, there are corporate scandals, but it remains the case that most American wealth today is produced rather than taken from other people."

One of those mornings

After going to bed hours earlier than normal last night to try and get up on time this morning, I overslept again.

As I was tying my shoe in the car before going in to work, my shoelace snapped.

Sometimes you get the feeling it's just going to be one of those days.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


I had a post about oil and the State of the Union, but I ran across this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. on The Blind Beggar and thought it deserved uncluttered attention - and reminded me that I have to go back and hit my book of his speeches:

“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority. If the church does not participate actively in the struggle for peace and for economic and racial justice, it will forfeit the loyalty of millions and cause men everywhere to say that it has atrophied its will. But if the church will free itself from the shackles of a deadening status quo, and, recovering its great historic mission, will speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice and peace, it will enkindle the imagination of mankind and fire the souls of men, imbuing them with a glowing and ardent love for truth, justice, and peace. Men far and near will know the church as a great fellowship of love that provides light and bread for lonely travelers at midnight.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Random Thoughts

I'm now the Keybearer for Coram Deo. I feel like the ringbearer from Lord of the Rings, except that I want to hold it up, burst forth with my best evil laugh, and say "SUCKERS!" Not that the key to a plastics warehouse means much. I'd just get a kick out of it.

Basketball loss + Irish Car Bomb on empty stomach + hot french bread pizza with an unusual quantity of pepperoni = 2nd degree burns on my lip. I took a bite, some of the toppong stuck and pulled free from the pizza, landing right on the front of my lip. I spent the next 4 hours holding Otter Pops (still in package, of course) to the affected area. I fell asleep with two across my face to keep the burn cool.

The moon looked cool last night. I always enjoy a thin crescent. Bet you didn't bother to look. That makes it more cool - the feeling that I'm enjoying something most people are too busy to notice. I feel that way about watching the clouds as I lie in my car during lunch at work.

Hillary Clinton is running for president. Am I the only one who thinks that the run-up is starting so ridiculously early that some people will show up at their polling place this November and wonder why no one is letting them vote?

PBS-HD is beautiful. I watched a documentary last night about the relationship between the Fig Wasp and Fig Trees. I wished I hadn't missed the first half. But watching the worms crawl out of the egg-laying wasp as it was dying was stomach-turning. There was a big part of the story I was missing.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Price Gouging, an Editorial, and Reference

In looking for some harder facts to use in discussing North Carolina's anti-gouging laws with Kenny, I came across this editorial.

This paragraph expresses why I think the legislation is in place, and why I think it is ill-considered:

"It’s obvious that lawmakers were responding to concerns and frustrations expressed by North Carolinians during previous disasters in our own state as well as some of the horror stories last year coming out of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast when Hurricane Katrina demolished a wide area interrupting supplies. But as is so often the case, codifying emotional responses in reaction to price increases in the aftermath of such emergencies rarely make good law."

I also found this site, on the other side of the issue. It includes a link to the actual law in question. To the extent that the law is what is says it is, it bills itself wholly as a customer-protection measure "AN ACT TO PROTECT CONSUMERS FROM EXTREME PRICING PRACTICES."

The act references mainly not what prices are reasonable at the time of the "triggering event," but the prices in the 2 months prior, plus additional costs of providing the good or service. This, for reference, is wholly insufficient to calculate what the going price would be in the market at the time, because is utterly ignores the increased demand for the good or service in a crisis. That is why the price this law calls "fair" is not the price that would come about in a fair market in the crisis, and why the law (in my mind) fails.

Thanks, Kenny

I love a rousing debate.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Price Gouging

I have posted before about my opinion of hoopla concerning "price gouging." If it's a point you are interested in, read this article and then tell me:

If the price gouging legislation is good, how does one address why Raleigh had no ice?
If the government should have provided it, why didn't they?
Is the better solution to let individuals handle the shortage in the market, or for government to spend its resources making up the shortage the price controls cause.

Price gouging, and more broadly price controls, prevent people from getting what they want. Oil Controls led to gas shortages, emergency supply price controls led to emergency supply shortages.

A side note on the concept of market-based self-organization of society is this interesting essay: I, Pencil.

Monday, January 08, 2007


One concept that seems to be lacking in politics is real discussion about trade-offs. Doing one things causes other things to happen. Raising the minimum wage has consequences. Denying them does nothing. Trying to figure them out and weighing them in a cost-benefit framework is wholly reasonable.

A good example is a ballot initiative recently passed in Nevada. It bans smoking in food-serving establishments (I believe with the exception of casinos). The intended result: less smoking and healthy people. The poo-pooed result: some places will do that. Others will close their kitchens and lay off staff. That's what this establishment is doing, with 40-50 employees losing their jobs between two locations.

Repeated at a larger scale, is it worth it? That's a real (though ideologically oft' inconvinient) question that ptople in government would do well to consider.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The night flying by

New thing to do in life:

Make something like this.

Comet Hunting

There's a comet that's supposed to be pretty bright. But it is probably just too close to the sun to see through the winter haze from Reno by now. I went out looking for it this morning anyway. I didn't spot it, but I got some nifty pictures.

This one is probably the best: it had been viewed 3 times on Flickr, commented on once, and made a favorite as I was working through my pictures that I had uploaded (this is on page 3 at present).
Moon over Mount Rose

This is Reno at 6:20 or so in the morning, as seen from a hill beside the parking lot at the top of Mount Rose Highway.
Reno, From the Mount Rose Highway Summit

This is me, bundled up, sitting next to the trees that provided a hint of shelter. Pictured: my hat, coat hood, sweater hood, and cold face. Not pictured: The sheet of ice on my backside from sitting in one spot in the snow for an hour.
Really, Really Cold

This is the moon. Over Mount Rose. Taken on the way back, when the highway is straight and wide, with broad shoulders.
Moon Over Mt. Rose

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Boise and the Fiesta Bowl

The game was a couple days ago, and it's still more interesting than the other two BCS bowls before and since combined. The BCS exists, supposedly, to make sure there are interesting bowl matchups and to pit #1 agaisnt #2. But the best game of the year wouldn't have happened last year, because of changes put in this year only under threat of litigation.

Want a recap of the game? Yes, you do.

The columnist's opening thought:

"Pregame - Please don't suck ... please don't suck ... please don't suck ... please don't suck ... please don't suck ... please don't suck ... please don't suck ... please don't suck ... please don't suck ... please don't suck ... please don't suck ... please don't suck ... please don't suck ... please don't suck."

The columnist's closing thought:

"- It didn't have the implications of the 2006 Rose Bowl, it wasn't as meaningful as the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, but that was the greatest final five minutes and overtime, and the greatest pressure play calling, I've ever seen."

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


I recently took an afternoon off work because of a basketball game at 5:30 - a rush to get home, get my sister, and get to the game when I usually get home at 4:50-5:00. Since I was already in Carson, I decided to head up to Tahoe over Spooner Summit and back to the Mt. Rose Highway that direction.

Overlooking Lake Tahoe

It was a very nice view, the only hairy spot was just on the Reno side of the summit, where the road was steep, curvy, shaded and therefore icy. But the good ol' Subaru handled it beautifully.


2006b was the most boring year ever. The sun never rose, the dark landscape flashed past the car, illuminated by only a handful of semis heading the opposite way.

It was also only about 30 minutes long, and was spent between 45 miles north of the Oregon-Nevada state line and 15 miles north of it. My sister and I were driving back to Reno from Boise, watching Nevada lose a nailbiter to the University of Miami. Midnight, Mountain Time caught up with us at about Rome, Oregon (seen: a bar, a bridge, and a pickup with two old retrievers sleeping in the back) and so we rung in the New Year by passing a trucker who had pulled over to shoot off a bottle rocket.

But we outraced time, leaping back to 2006 as we headed West. Well, south - but that's just where they decided to put the time line.

Driving from Boise to Reno when leaving Boise at 9pm Pacific time means you get in to town very late. Late, like pick-a-song-on-the-iPod-you-can-sing-aloud-to-stay-awake late. From 5:30 pm Saturday night to 4am Monday morning (34.5 hours total), I:

Spent 10 hours sleeping on my cousin's couch.
Spent 3.5 hours talking with my cousin and his wife.
Spent 5 hours at a football game.
Spent an hour getting gas, in the store, eating dinner, and other miscellaneous tasks.
And spent 15 hours driving.

Saving the World at Wal-Mart

Did you know only 6% of households use Compact Flourescent Lightbulbs (CFLs)? It seems like a no-brainer to me: according to the New York Times article I was reading, they save an average of $30 per customer in energy costs over the life of the bulb, as they use 75% less electricity and last 10 times longer.

They cost 8x more than traditional bulbs, but are cheaper in the long run (and Economists have a long love affair with the long run). They reduce electricity demand, which is good for your pocketbook, and would be good for your neighbor's if everyone used them.

We rotate them in as the old lightbulbs in our apartment burn out, though I don't see any savings from the power consumption end (my roommate pays those bills), I do know that 10 old lightbulbs at $0.50 cost more than 1 new bulb at $4.

And Wal-Mart, in a conscious effort to use its power in a way that's good for the Earth (and your perception of them), is commited to convincing you to buy them.