Thursday, December 11, 2008

I Told You So

It would be nice to read articles like these that validate things I have said before, if it weren't for the fact that the validation takes the form of drought and water shortages.
"The demand for water has gone up," Christy says. "The demand has skyrocketed in places like California and New Mexico because they've tried to grow crops in deserts."

Unclear what we will do about it. The farm lobby is very powerful in California, but they can't create water from thin air.
“Given that agriculture accounts for about 80% of Delta water consumption, no economic, environmental, or policy assessment can be complete without a serious examination of agricultural water withdrawals from the Delta,” said Heather Cooley, senior research associate at the Pacific Institute (original article)

Maybe rice and alfalfa aren't such great crops for California after all?

Monday, December 08, 2008

Where My Tax Money Goes

I often have discussions (or perhaps gripe sessions would be a better term) with Jon and others about where all my tax money goes. With sales and income taxes that are both among the highest in the nation, and property tax to boot, it feels like we're getting dinged at every turn.

So, after a little coffee-time debate at work, I decided to harness the power of the internet and find out. What I found were these links.

First, a study of the California total tax burden versus that of other states concludes that while we pay more than the national average in taxes, it's not a lot more (11.5% versus 11% average for the nation). This article on wikipedia argues that prop 13 has had a disruptive effect on the state economy by making it more advantageous to hold on to your property than to sell it, thus chilling the housing market in many areas.

As for where the money goes, the Governor's budget office has a nice income/expense graph. This shows that, for all their complaints, schools get about 41% of the state budget, with the next biggest item being health services at 25%. Bond funding isn't shown on this graph, elsewhere I found a figure of $4.4B, which would put it at around 3% of the budget. Corrections is also a big chunk of the budget at 7.3%.

However, all of this may be moot if the legislature can't break the deadlock and come to some agreement on the state budget for next year; otherwise the budget for everything will be zero.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Goodbye Performance Review?

Article by a professor and management consultant that performance reviews are counterproductive. Given the way they are run at most companies I've been in, I'd have to agree -- the good managers I had either glossed over the performance review process or ignored it entirely.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Around the Bend

Joahnna and I flew up to Bend, Oregon over the weekend to visit her Aunt Vicki and Uncle Jim. The weather was exceptionally nice for this time of year -- clear skies and calm winds all the way up and back.

We flew up saturday morning, arriving at 2PM after a three-hour flight. They gave us a tour of the area, including a nice upscale mall in Bend, and a quick drive out to Mount Batchelor. On sunday we drove out to a nearby ranch, owned by a friend of Jim's, who breeds Clydesdales for competition. They are apparently very friendly and docile horses, which is good to remind yourself of when you're next to one, because they are huge.

After visiting the horses, we had a quick lunch at the local brew-pub. I didn't get to sample the brew, naturally, but Joahnna had a sampler, and afterwards we launched off into the wild orange yonder. We took off at around 3pm but the sun was already beginning to set behind the clouds.

On the way hope we took a slight detour and flew over Crater Lake, which was quite pretty. We got some nice reflections off the water and I flew a few s-turns so Joahnna could get some good photos.

After that we watched the sun set as we neared Redding, and wrapped up another hour of flight for a nighttime touchdown.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Postcard Shot

Joahnna and I flew to Santa Barbara on tuesday to celebrate my grandfather's 93rd birthday. We had some low clouds coming out of San Jose, and Joahnna shot the photo above as we were flying south in the morning.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Flying Prius

Well, it won't be made by Toyota. In fact it may not be made by anyone, but a company called Falx is working on a hybrid tilt-wing design with a gasoline generator powering two electric motors.

It's a pretty cool looking aircraft, but browsing through the website shows that they're still at the early-concept stage (as in, "We have cool ideas, give us money and they might turn in to a product"). Maybe they could build it out of Buckypaper.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

How To Run an Election

It seems funny that the U.S. should look to another country about how to run an election, but Brazil seems to have a pretty good handle on how to do a trusted election on electronic voting machines.

The article details how the hardware is provided by a private company (Diebold), but the software is written by the government election office, and is then reviewed and digitally signed by members of both political parties.

This is, in my opinion, the right way to run an election -- the process of how the election is run is completely under the control of the government and monitored by the affected parties. Colluding to fix an election would require the involvement of three parties, one of whom would presumably be harmed by the result.

Santa Barbara Approach

Joahnna and I flew down to Santa Barbara on sunday to visit my grandparents. We had a quick trip down courtesy of a strong tailwind that set my current speed record for the Comanche (178 knots over the ground). We had an interesting landing as the tower worked us in between a bunch of Air Tractors spraying mulch on the hillside.

Spent the afternoon chatting with my grandparents and Uncle Gregg, who was in the area, then headed back to the airport for the flight home. Joahnna slept all the way back, which was a bit longer since we were now fighting the winds that helped us down, and doing 125-130 knots most of the way.

Touched down at sunset, in what were forecast to be gusty winds but were calm for the moment I landed in. We did hear an ominous call from the tower as we were taxiing in, though -- it seems that one of the planes that landed just behind us crossed over an invisible line in the air, and was told to "taxi to transient and call air traffic control about a possible airspace deviation".

That'd be the equivalent of seeing the flashing blue lights behind you.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Bailout or Subsidized Stupidity?

The proposed bailout didn't sit really well with me when I first heard about it, since it felt like rewarding people for making bad decisions, and it didn't help the people that are really feeling the pain -- i.e. the people getting kicked out of their houses.

This is not to say that I think people should get rewarded for buying a house they couldn't afford, but if you're trying to prop up the economy by dumping government money into it, I'd much rather it went to people whose worst mistake is not being able to do math than people who intentionally engaged in high-risk investment and then covered it up with an impenetrable paper trail.

But what do I know -- my expertise is in getting chips to work, not finance. A lot of commentators are blasting congress for not immediately giving Paulson the $700 billion blank check he was looking for, but recently economists are singing a different tune.

Politico summarizes the reaction of a number of economists, and a wide spread of economists signed this letter.

Luigi Zingales summarizes how I feel (with better credentials):
For somebody like me who believes strongly in the free market system, the most serious risk of the current situation is that the interest of few financiers will undermine the fundamental workings of the capitalist system. The time has come to save capitalism from the capitalists.

His full paper is here.


Last weekend I flew to to the Mariposa Airport along with Joahnna and Zach as part of a Tradewinds fly-in to Yosemite. Dave, one of the pilots, organized the whole outing, including figuring out the logistics of how to get from the Mariposa airport to Yosemite.

This ended up being a cab ride from the airport, with three trips to get all 11 of us to the Mariposa visitor's center where the YARTS bus stops.

The bus ride in took around two hours, and we ended up in Yosemite around noon. We grabbed a quick bite to eat and I pushed for the waterfalls hike. Once on the hike we split up into two groups, with the three of us as well as John S. and his girlfriend Cathy outpacing the rest of the group.

On the way up the stairs to get to the Vernal fall, the group started flagging a bit. John and Cathy turned back and I egged on Joahnna and Zach to keep going for the top. The steps to the fall are reasonably steep, so it's a pretty good workout to get there.

Once at the top I gave Zach a quick briefing on what I had in mind, then posed for a "photo" with Joahnna. Before the photo was taken, I said "just wait a second, I have a question for you" and pulled the ring out of my pack. I gave my proposal on bended knee and, fortunately, it was accepted.

Joahnna bubbled for a bit while I grinned, and passers-by congratulated us. We talked to one couple that said that they had proposed at this spot ten years ago, which we thought was a good sign.

After that we started back down, since time was short and we weren't sure if we would be able to make the bus ride back. We pushed down at an aggressive pace and managed to make the 3:30 bus with a minute to spare.

Joahnna napped for part of the bus ride back and spent the rest of the ride playing "I Spy" with Joshua, the grandson of one of the other pilots. We received another round of congratulations from the pilots in the Tradewinds group. Back in Mariposa, we woke up Zach, everyone piled out and we caught the first taxi shuttle back to the airport.

I took the opportunity to gas up the plane with the cheapest avgas I have seen recently ($5.07) while the taxi shuttled in the other two groups, and then we posed for a quick group photo before taking off into the evening sun. We landed just as sun set, at 7pm.

Afterwards we invited Joahnna's family over to our house for drinks and chatted a bit before heading to bed. After a full day of flying and hiking (plus a couple of gin and tonics) we slept very, very well.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


This link is an article about 5 steps (modeled on the "DEFCON" system used by U.S. strategic command) from situation-normal to Great Depression-style economic meltdown.

The steps and descriptions come courtesy of Nouriel Roubini, a professor of economics. The interesting thing about this article is that it was originally published in february, and at the time of writing we were at Defconomy 5. Now we're somewhere around 3 or 2, and it's played out almost exactly as described.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Emergency Preparedness

I spent some time over the weekend preparing a survival pack for my car and updating the one in Joahnna's. Partially this was just an excuse to go poking around in Steven's Creek Army Surplus, which always has lots of odd and entertaining military gear to look at mixed in with their outdoor stuff. But it's also that it seems rather short-sighted to live in one of the most geologically active regions of the world and not take at least some minimal preparations.

What I was aiming for is a version of the 72-hour urban survival kit, the idea being it just has to get you through the time from the earthquake hits to when FEMA gets their act together. Note that, after seeing the Hurricane Katrina performance, this may end up being more than 72 hours. Towards that end I bought a 5-gallon jug of water for the garage. We normally have a bunch of bottled water around the house, but Murphy's law says that the quake will hit just as we're about to go to Costco for more.

What ended up in my pack was:

  • 6 16oz bottles of water

  • Folding knife

  • Beef jerkey (although I later read on the site that trail mix would be better)

  • Plastic canteen survival kit (has a few useful items, including poncho, survival blanket, whistle and matches)

  • Water purification tablets

  • Hydrogen peroxide

  • Trauma bandages (2" to 6" thick gauze pads)

  • Hand-crank flashlight

  • Duct tape

By my quick estimate, this cost me about $65, although some items are hard to tell (the trauma bandages I split across 3 different kits). The most expensive item was the canteen survival kit, at $15. A used backpack to store it all in was also included, which was about $12.

Hopefully I'll never need it, but since California has a 99% chance of having a major quake in the next 30 years, it will probably come in handy at some point.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Unusual Names

I've always felt that unusual names add a bit of flavor to one's personality. Partially it's personal bias, since "Guy" is at least a moderately unusual name in the U.S. (although I'd fit right in in France or the U.K.). But there is such a thing as taking it too far.

And the parents in New Zealand who named their child "Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii" arguably have gone that far, and then some. A judge sensibly allowed the child to change her name to something more reasonable.

Also entertaining from the article were some of the other names that people have attached to their offspring -- my favorite is "Number 16 Bus Shelter."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Instrument Pilot

After almost a year of instrument flying lessons, I finally took my instrument practical test (and passed, more importantly). The instrument rating means that I can now fly into regions of low visibility, fly through clouds, and land at airports that are overcast. It also means that I have at least a basic knowledge of the many pages of regulations specifying under what conditions I cannot do those things.

The picture (courtesy of FlightAware) shows the exact path my aircraft took over the course of my check-ride. My clearance was KRHV RV SJC V-334 SUNOL V-195 ECA KSCK. We flew from Reid-Hillview to Stockton, did a GPS approach at Stockton, followed by a failed-instrument approach to Tracy. I missed my initial call to turn and join the course on that one, so the controller took me through a 270 turn to come back and join the course. I go straight west until joining the 220 radial off of ECA, then fly towards the Tracy airport until we hit the missed approach point.

Normally at that point I would fly north along the SAC-157 radial, but when I tried to dial in the SAC VOR, I got nothing, so the examiner told my to use the GPS to fly to the TRACY intersection and hold. You can see my holding pattern as the part that looks like a scribble in the middle of the trace. After holding for a bit and getting my act together, we flew the ILS into Livermore (hard to see, since the track is very close to my outbound track).

After going missed at Livermore, the ride was basically over, so I flew us back to Reid-Hillview while chatting with the examiner. After pulling off a nice no-bump landing, the examiner signed my temporary certificate and asked, "So when are you going for your commercial?"

Friday, July 18, 2008

Almost There

So I tried -- for the second time -- to have my instrument flight test today, but I was stymied by an uncooperative aircraft. Last night I tried to start the plane and it wouldn't turn over (dead battery), so I pulled the battery, bought a battery charger at AutoZone, and hooked it up to the charger overnight. This morning I went out to the airfield early to reinstall the battery and prep the aircraft. After filling up the tires with air, I got in the plane and tried to start it. The battery was nice and healthy, but the engine wouldn't go.

It would catch and turn a few times and then stop, which I couldn't figure out. Eventually I tapped one of the mechanics on the shoulder and had him try; he couldn't get it started, either.

So I called up the inspector and cancelled the test, and pulled (literally) the plane over to the hanger of another mechanic. I gave him the keys and headed into work, and just about the time I got to the office, the mechanic gave me a call. Apparently he looked at the magnetos, which were fine, tried starting the plane and it started right up.

Go figure.

Will try again next week.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Return Leg

I'm just finishing up my last day in Israel and getting ready for my return flight. I had a fun weekend poking around Tel Aviv with my co-worker Lior (more on that later), and now am looking forwards to my outbound interrogation at the airport and red-eye back to Newark. Managed to nap a bit on the way outbound, hopefully I can repeat the trick on the way back. I've found that even a couple hours of sleep puts me in much better shape once I hit the ground.

Due to the plummeting dollar, the exchange rate here is not so good, and I may be deprived of reading material for the simple reason that I can't afford to buy any more books. I picked up one book for the flight -- a history of the battle of Stalingrad -- for around 80 NIS, which works out to about $25 USD for a book that's marked as $7.99. I've heard of reading being an addiction but this is just silly.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


I arrived in Tel Aviv monday evening (local time), and took a taxi from Tel Aviv to Haifa, where I am staying for my trip. The hotel is on a hill overlooking the sea, which gives a nice view from some of the rooms. My room is on the side of the hotel, so I get a little slice of sea mixed with the hillside.

Haifa seems to be mostly built on the local hills. According to my local informants, this is because it is very humid at sea level, and the climate on the hills is cooler and generally much more pleasant, so most of the hotels and nicer houses are on the hill. It's still relatively humid at the hotel, though.

I walked around briefly last night to stretch my legs and try and tire myself out for bed, but haven't really looked around the city. Tonight I may go for a lengthier excursion, including finding somewhere to eat other than the hotel restaurant, whose prices are murderous at the current exchange rate. The 130 NIS for dinner may be a normal hotel price, but it turns into $40 for a buffet dinner. I suspect I will have a fight with the reimbursement department when I get back.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Same problem, different continent

According to El Reg, my favorite sarcastic news site, the British are having some of the same problems we are in convincing their Generals to fight the war they are fighting right now, as opposed to some theoretical war in the future that requires lots of fancy toys.

I could almost take my post from a couple weeks ago and replace "F-22" with "Eurofighter Typhoon" and be done with it. They say misery loves company, but for some reason it doesn't make me feel any better to know that another country is blowing their taxpayer dollars on less-than-useful kit, too.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Odd Times

Today has certainly started out on a bizarre note. For starters, you can tell the economy is getting bad when strippers feel the need to drum up business. After all, this is not normally an industry segment that advertises much (outside Vegas), as there is, shall we say, a built-in demand for their services.

Which is why I was surprised (and amused) this morning as I turned on to Lawrence Expressway, and saw two young, relatively attractive women holding up pink signs that said "Kit Kat Club -- $15 Lunch Buffet".

Afterwords I got in to work and began my early-morning work-avoidance routine (reading the news). While doing this I saw this CNN article about the D.C. handgun ban being struck down. There were a variety of supporting and opposing opinions filed by various groups. Coming in on the side of gun owners was not only the NRA, but a group called the Pink Pistols -- a group which promotes gun ownership for "gay, lesbian, bi, trans, or polyamorous persons".

I wonder what the rest of the day has cooked up for me. It's not even 10AM yet.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Not Lacking in Chutzpah

I have to admit, Blackwater has really outdone themselves on this one.
The widows of three U.S. soldiers filed suit against Presidential Airways after Blackwater Flight 61 crashed in 2004 while carrying the men over Afghanistan. The National Transportation Safety Board blamed the crash on procedural problems at Presidential.

But the News & Observer says lawyers for the military contractor argued in a recent court filing that the case should be decided based on the laws of Afghanistan.

After securing agreements in Iraq that their employees there should not be subject to Iraqi law for their actions, it wants this case tried under Sharia law because the plane owned and operated by a U.S. company operating for the U.S. government carrying U.S. soldiers happened to crash into Afghani soil.

When trying to be despicable, they really pull out all the stops, don't they?

Cool or Cold Fusion?

A researcher in Florida claims he is on the path to having a workable flying saucer. It works by ionizing the air around the saucer, causing air currents that provide lift. The best part is that it's all solid state, with no moving parts.

Initially I laughed it off, although apparently this is the culmination of years of government-backed research into this area of fluid dynamics. Now I'm at "I'll-believe-it-when-it-flies".

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sexy, but...

Just read a couple news articles on the launch of the new ICON amphibious aircraft. It's a good-looking plane, with nice lines and clearly a lot of auto-type industrial design having gone in to it. I just wonder if they remembered the "plane" part.

Once you get past the sexy looks, the proposed specs don't look so attractive. First, all the numbers are estimated, so should be taken with a grain of salt. Compared against the closest competitor, the Czech Aircraft Mermaid, it's about the same speed (120 mph vs. 118), both of which are slow relative to other light-sport aircraft, which can cruise at 135-140mph. That seems to be the price of the amphib.

At $140k, it's fairly pricey relative to competitors at $85-110k, and 420 lbs of load makes it effectively a one-seater, since you can't carry 2 180lb adults and reasonable fuel. The Mermaid has a load of 505 lbs, and non-amphibs are usually good for 600lbs.

The dash is a triumph of design for non-pilots. To the uninitiated, I suppose it looks futuristic but comforting in a sports-car way. To a pilot/owner, it looks like a bunch of useless plastic taking up perfectly good panel space that will have to be ripped out at the first avionics upgrade. Speaking of which, if I'm going to pay top dollar for an aircraft, it should come with top-of-the-line avionics, and not gussied-up steam gauges. Important items such as an audio panel, transponder and 2nd comm radio are absent and have no obvious home. I can only hope that the interior is a mock-up and that sanity will prevail once they start rolling down the production line.

In short, I won't be lining up to buy one, but then again I already have a plane. The styling and the automatic swing wings are attractive, and I have always liked the amphib's ability to use any water area as a runway. But ultimately the ICON seems overpriced for what you're getting.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Pretty, But Pretty Useless

It's no secret that I'm not a huge fan of the current administration, but it seems like defense secretary Gates has got his priorities straight. He is seeking to curtail production of advanced fighter aircraft like the F-22 and focus on the needs of immediate conflicts, which run more to UAVs and transport aircraft.
Gates has often singled out the cutting-edge Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor as a prime example of what he deemed misplaced military priorities. "The reality is we are fighting two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the F-22 has not performed a single mission in either theater," Gates told a Senate committee in February.

Gates sacked current air force head General Mosely and his suggested replacement will be the first head of the air force in 25 years who is not a former fighter pilot.

Like most large institutions, the Air Force fights for its own aggrandizement rather than looking to the good of the whole, and is actively trying to increase the amount of porkfunding going its way. But the reality on the ground is that the Air Force is increasing irrelevant for modern conflicts -- airpower over the battlefield is most likely to come from a carrier, or from ground-support aircraft like the A-10 or attack helicopters (which the Air Force hate). Strategic bombing is passe for modern low-intensity conflicts, our nuke inventory is being gradually reduced, and cyberwarfare is much-hyped but of improbable use on an actual battlefield. So the Air Force needs to find a new mission or risk being downsized into a military version of UPS.

Would that be a bad thing? Perhaps not.

Engineer Humor

I was reading through the IEEE specification for Ethernet (thrilling stuff), when I noticed the following bit definition: STFU (1.30.14)
When this bit is set to a one, the PMA/PMD sends a message to the link partner instructing it to be silent for
the silence time (see

To translate that into english, there is a bit called "STFU" which informs the other end of the link to cease transmission ("stop talking"). For those not up-to-speed on their instant messaging/texting shorthand, "STFU" is short for "Shut The F*** Up".

I'm sure someone had a laugh when they snuck this one into the spec.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Muddy Water

I generally don't expect to stumble across political controversy when I'm reading my morning aviation news, but this morning read that Blackwater is apparently expanding the scope of its operations by purchasing Brazilian figher aircraft.

This implies that Blackwater is branching out from the basic security work it did previously and planning on being a full-fledged army, including air support. They already manufacture their own APCs.

Most disturbing is the almost complete lack of oversight of a group whose actions represent and reflect upon the American people. Blackwater contractors are not accountable under military law (as they are civilians), are exempt from Iraqi law (by executive order of Paul Bremer), and may not even be accountable under U.S. civilian law (proper jurisdiction, evidence may not meet U.S. evidence requirements). Qui custodiet ipsos custodes?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Moving to Canada

From the I-can't-believe-these-people-also-live-in-my-country column, a coalition of right-wing commentators and columnists forced Dunkin' Donuts to pull an online ad because it supports Islamic Terrorism features Rachel Ray wearing a scarf.

The idiots defenders of our freedom claim that Rachel is a terrorist apologist because she showed up in the commercial looking like this:For reference, a keffiyeh looks like this:

Note that the keffiyeh comes in a variety of colors and patterns; the key element seems to be that it is worn on one's head (I will confirm this after tracking down one of our local Lebanese).

I'm a little unsure as to the logic chain followed here, but I'm guessing that it goes something like:

  1. Terrorists wear keffiyehs
  2. A keffiyeh is a square piece of cloth
  3. A scarf is a square piece of cloth
  4. Therefore, anyone wearing a scarf is a terrorist

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Budget Flying

I found an article discussing a new Light Sport aircraft, the X-Air. This has a list price of $47k, which makes it cheaper than your average new BMW. At this price it even includes a panel-mount radio and good engine instruments, although they don't include a transponder (required if you're going to fly anywhere near a major airport).

Obviously there are some trade-offs in making an aircraft this inexpensive, and the main one they have taken is that it is fabric-covered, and thus not as durable in the long run as an aluminum or composite aircraft. However, it has folding wings and it can fit in a trailer, so you could park it at your house instead of at the airport.

The main thing counting against it is that it's slow, with a cruise speed of only 90mph. But if you're not in a tearing hurry to get somewhere, this seems like it could be a fun aircraft.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Historical Gas Prices

Everyone knows that gas is more expensive than it used to be, but this chart shows the price of gasoline indexed to inflation. At the time the chart was made, the inflation-adjusted price had not broken the all-time high in 1918, although it also puts the average gas price at $3.08/gallon (price as I drove by the gas station this morning: $4.09 for regular).

Wikipedia also has a good article on the 1973 oil crisis (the last time gas prices were this high). A major factor at the time was that price controls were put into effect, causing the rationing and shortages. The article also mentions early on that:
Since oil demand falls little with price rises, prices had to rise dramatically to reduce demand to the new lower level of supply.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Back to the ER

Apparently I was over-due for a trip to the ER, since it's been a few years since I last paid them a visit. So fate arranged for that to happen yesterday at our work offsite.

I was playing volleyball with a few of my co-workers, but I haven't played in quite a while, and I was never really a hardcore player to begin with, so the right reflexes just aren't there. So when a fast ball starting coming straight at my upper chest, I couldn't decide whether to bump it or set it, so I kind of did a last-minute set. BAM! Instant dislocation.

With my right pinkie now in a new and interesting zig-zag shape, I quickly decided that immediate medical attention was a Good Idea. I drove myself to Kaiser, checked in, and waited about ten minutes before they called me. I was a bit surprised at how fast they moved me in -- after all, they let me sit for hours with a dislocated shoulder -- but I wasn't about to complain.

The nurse filled in the paperwork while taking my vitals, and the doctor dropped in a couple minutes later. She tested around a little bit, then looked at me and said "Do you mind if I try and straighten it?" I said sure, give it a shot. She gave one smooth pull, and there was my finger, pointing the same way it was this morning. She looked back at me and said "You just saved yourself three shots."

After that, they sent me to x-ray to see if I had chipped the bone while moving things around, then sent me on my way. I was in and out in less than an hour. I have to say I was pretty impressed.

Friday, May 02, 2008

From The Other Side

Interesting article from Der Spiegel about militants making Quassam rockets in the Gaza strip. From the article:
"The other guys are over in Egypt, shopping," he says, adding that the militants are just ordinary people who want to experience the open border with the neighboring country. Will they be looking for ingredients for building the Qassams? "Hardly," the oldest of the group laughs. "They are buying potato chips. We have enough raw materials to last for a few years."

On Engineers

Joahnna sent me this link about an Engineer's Mind and how it works, which was pretty funny. I also dug around and found a couple other links. This one covers engineers and why they are not usually involved in politics, at least in the U.S., whereas this one responds to some research that purports to show that engineers and terrorists have the same mind-set. The comments on the last article seem to be more insightful than the original research.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Band-Aids for Bullet Holes

When I first heard about Clinton's proposal for a gas-tax holiday, I thought "It's a gimmick. Gas is $4/gal, what good is knocking off ten cents going to do?" I had a lot of respect for Obama standing up and calling shenanigans. These types of proposals are the kind of election-year pandering that bloat the budget and have the tax-code looking like swiss cheese.

After I read this Huffington Post article about supporters of the gas-tax holiday (among economists, it's batting zero), I started to wonder who actually came up with this idea.

Which of the two is more offensive to you: A candidate that's dumb enough to think this will help the economy, or a candidate that thinks we're dumb enough to think this will help the economy?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What Ever Happened to Turkey Fuel?

A few years back, I wrote about a promising technology called Thermal Depolymerization, or TDP. It was supposed to create various types of crude oil from bioproducts, such as leftover turkey parts.

And then we never heard anything about the technology ever again.

Today I read this article about a plant opening up in Gilroy to produce jet fuel from municipal waste (another thing TDP was promising to do), and that made me wonder, "what happened to our old friend TDP?"

Apparently, it didn't work so well.
CWT still exists as a company today. Like cellulosic ethanol, TDP is a technology that actually works. But the technology was hyped beyond reason. People did not apply enough skepticism before embracing the promise of the technology. It was really going to be "the next big thing."
Hope that Solena Group does a better job with its bio-jet fuel.

Monday, April 28, 2008

China Understands Capitalism

A coworker pointed out this article, that the flags being used to protest the occupation of Tibet were made in China. Anyone think they don't understand capitalism?

Along the same vein of "people who don't understand economics", a good commentary on U.S. immigration. Unfortunately the ones who don't understand economics are the public. From the article:
A quick rule of thumb: If it fits on a bumper sticker, it's not a workable policy.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bienvenidos a Mexico!

Although it's convenient and relatively close, stories like this one have severely damped my desire to vacation in Mexico any time soon, at least in my own plane. My next trip to Mexico will probably be on a commercial airliner, assuming all the airlines haven't gone out of business by then.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Beware the Ides of April

Interesting (and humerous) article on taxes by Glenn Beck at CNN. My favorite part:

However, I'm a little unsure which approach is better. Democrats burst through the front door of our convenience store with a gun and tell us to empty the contents of our cash register into their little bag with the dollar signs on it.

Republicans walk through the store and smile at us while shoplifting furiously when we turn our backs. When we catch them on surveillance cameras, they just claim they learned their lesson and won't do it next time. Either way I'm being ripped off, and both parties seem to have the attitude that we should be lucky they graced the store with their presence.

(And in case you're not aware where the reference in the title is from, you can read the Wikipedia article)

Monday, April 14, 2008

One-Way Trip

On sunday, the weather seemed nice and we had some free time, so Joahnna and I decided to fly to Paso Robles and have lunch. After a nice lunch at Matthew's we went back out to the plane and tried to start it up.

Since it was fairly hot, and my plane is a dark color, it had some problems starting up -- vapor lock in the fuel lines is fairly standard, and when it happens the engine needs some coaxing to start. While I was trying various combinations of full-throttle / closed-mixure and whatnot, the engine partially caught and then kicked back (briefly ran in the wrong direction).

And after that, trying to crank the engine only resulted in an ugly grinding noise.

I went out to try and hand-crank the propeller to a different position, hoping this was some sort of transient fault, but when I moved the prop, I saw that the starter gear and the main gear were now just brushing over each other rather than meshing cleanly, so this needed some attention from a real mechanic. Unfortunately, real mechanics don't work on sunday.

So, with some help from the kind people at the Paso Robles Jet Center, we rented a car one-way back to San Jose, and left the keys for the mechanic at the attached shop. He gave me a call today and informed me that I had broken the starter housing, and I needed a new starter.

The new starter is on order, but for the time being my plane is grounded.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

This Has Been A Test Of...

Every now and then, I have a moment of surprise and shock when not only does someone in our government have a bright idea, but they actually implement it. The FCC has started work on a cell-phone version of the emergency alert system.

I remember listening to the old emergency alert broadcasts on the radio, which were a great idea at the time, but now almost no one I know listens to the radio, except for a few that might tune in during the morning commute instead of listening to their CD or iPod. But pretty much everybody has a cell phone these days, and they're always on.

Of course, this now means that every now and then, we'll get a text message that says, "This has been a test of the emergency SMS system. This is only a test. If this had been a real emergency, you would be reading text that is of actual value to you."

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Aborted Flight

On saturday, Joahnna and I had a world-record shortest flight. The plane never even left its parking spot. The air pressure in the main wheels was a bit low, so I hooked up a portable compressor to pump them up a bit. When I removed the compressor fitting, I heard a loud hissing noise, which got louder as I moved the filler tube to try and figure out what was going on. About thirty seconds later, the tire was completely flat.

I didn't have the right equipment to change the tire, and I'm not really supposed to do maintenance in the tie-down spot I'm in, so I decided to skip flying for the weekend and have mechanics fix the wheel on monday. Or whenever they get around to it.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Second First Solo

I finished my check-out for the Comanche last weekend, so I'm cleared to fly without having to cart along that pesky instructor. The weather looked pretty nice today, so I skipped out of work a tad early, grabbed Joahnna, and took a quick flight down to Hollister.

Once we got there we found a fairly hefty crosswind coming across the runway, so I elected not to complete the landing, and headed back to Reid-Hillview. We didn't really go anywhere, but I fulfilled my primary criteria for my first flight in the new airplane -- it was uneventful.

We Want Scum

A green thumb in Texas has figured out a more efficient way to produce algae. While ordinarily known as "pond scum" and not something you would want to produce in bulk, algae turns out to be one of the most efficient ways to produce biomatter for ethanol/biodiesel production. And not just a little better -- they're claiming about 2000 times more output per acre of the next-best crop (soybeans).

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Electronic Privacy

Although it showed up in the very techno-centric "Register", I think this article is a must-read for anyone concerned with privacy rights in general. The author is the former head of the federal computer crime unit, and makes a very basic point on how computers are different than the rest of the luggage we port around with us.

For most things, when we travel, we take the bare minimum with us -- the items we need to enjoy our trip and take care of ourselves. But in our computers we carry around information about our entire lives -- contact lists, email history, personal and legal documents, etc. The idea that the government has unlimited powers of inspection on electronic devices is akin to saying that every time you board an airplane, the government gets a free search warrant for your house.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Too Young To Party

Joahnna and I are in Santa Barbara this weekend, at my grandparent's house to celebrate my grandmother's 90th birthday. We have a small crowd here for the party, including my grandfather's little brother and my grandmother's little sister (which means they're somewhere in their mid-80s), their spouses, my parents, and my grandmother's two sons, with their children.

There is a club house in the complex where my grandparents live, which we rented out for the evening. We had a good time, with some fun toasts and and a basic but functional bar.

It's not that we had a lot to drink. It's just that we're out of practice. Really.

We both woke up a little fuzzy-headed this morning, me with a slight headache, and Joahnna with an unusual aversion to bright lights. The elder generation seems to be all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. So the conclusion is clear, and I'm man enough to admit it -- we just got out-partied by a couple of 90-year-olds.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Change Congress

Lawrence Lessig, a well-known name in the open-source community because of his views and commentary on digital rights and privacy issues, has launched an (ambitious) effort to clean up Congress by using web-based grassroots efforts.

The website is called Change Congress, and aims to get candidates to commit to four pledges:
  1. Don't accept money from PACs or Lobbyists
  2. Get rid of earmarks
  3. Increased transparency in congress
  4. Public financing of campaigns
The four items seem like a good starting point, especially since earmarks have run rabid recently. To help track how well your congresscritter is doing, they have a helpful "sludge map" showing how much PAC money each district is taking in.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

New Player?

I'm not sure if they're actually a new player, but this is the first I've heard of it. The Aptera is a three-seater electric with a gas-electric hybrid option. Admittedly, it's not as sexy as a Tesla or as practical as a Phoenix, but at just under $30k it is significantly more affordable than either one, and it also has appeal in that it doesn't look like anything else out there.

It comes in pure-electric for $27k and electric-gas for $30k, so for that difference the hybrid seems like a no-brainer. It gives you a car that's electric for the 90% of the time you drive around town and still has the long-trip ability of a gas-powered car, as well as peace of mind if you're pushing the limits of your range.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Drivers, Connect Your Batteries

The Tesla roadster is now in production. It sounds like the initial units will all go to people that have reserved them. I'm pretty sure Joahnna wants one, but for $100k a pop, I think I'll wait for a bit.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


After reading this article on The Register, it was clear that we needed a new category of buzzword to toss about in our current discussion on how to power our array of people-movers.

Hence, "Garbofuels" -- fuels made from garbage. It's not really a long term solution, because we don't produce enough garbage to make fuel for anything more than a small percentage of our vehicle fleet, but if it works, it at least would get rid of the trash. At that rate you could sell the fuel at a little bit of a loss and still break even if you were collecting money for trash disposal.

Joahnna and I were talking about this last night while walking back from dinner, and I think that with all the effort that's being put into it, we're about 5 years away from viable, affordable electric cars. Once you get a significant amount of people focused on trying to find a solution, it's only a matter of time before we get a breakthrough.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Call A Spade A Spade

This article in the Jersusalem Post talks candidly about the justification and effectiveness of Israel's attacks on civilian areas. The author starts out with a purely practical argument (it doesn't work), but then shifts to a moral argument later in the article.

In this case, I thought the source was more interesting than the contents.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

My Other Car Has Wings

I took delivery of my plane last tuesday, along with a little shuffle so I could return the pilot of the aircraft to his starting point. This also resulted in my getting my first couple hours of instruction and flying time in the Comanche.

We had a spare seat, so Joahnna jumped in for the ride, and all four of us took off from Reid-Hillview. No problems climbing out -- the Comanche has plenty of power, and climbed out at 1000'/minute even with a full load (by comparison, the Cessnas I trained in usually do about 700'/minute with just the pilot).

I have to do some more training before I can fly by myself, due to a mix of FAA and insurance requirements, but we should be jet-setting about (well, prop-setting, really) in short order.

Monday, March 03, 2008

No Sonar For You

The 9th district court recently upheld a ruling about the Navy's use of high-power sonar while training. Opponents stated (and the military does not deny) that the use of high-power sonar deafens marine animals in the vicinity, and can cause permanent hearing damage.

The part that caught my eye was the justification for continuing training even with the knowledge of the harm it was causing:
"We're a country engaged in two wars. When we send America's sons and daughters into harm's way, we must ensure they have the best possible training," [Lt. Cmdr. Cindy Moore] said.

We're a country engaged in two wars. Since "war" gets tossed around an awful lot these days, I thought I'd look it up.

It turns out we haven't had a formal declaration of war since 1942. Apparently declarations of war are passe, and have been replaced by a more ambiguous (and more defensible to your constituents) "Authorization of Use of Force". Also, we have a long and colorful tradition of congresionally-unauthorized miliary actions.

Just in case y'all thought the war (oops, sorry, military action -- it's so easy to make that mistake when, after all, your own president can't keep it straight) in Iraq was something new.

Friday, February 29, 2008

The Answer to the Ultimate Question

That being, the question of when I am actually going to take delivery of the plane. And the answer is, if everything goes to plan, "tuesday". The plane should be ready this weekend, but we have to do a bit of a shuffle to get all of our people and aircraft back in the right place, so getting the people lined up has taken a few days.

Monday, February 25, 2008

It Had To Happen

After all, what goes up, must come down. And this weekend and Air Force B-2 bomber came down hard.

Now, this isn't the first time the Air Force has lost an aircraft due to a training accident. After all, F-15Cs are dropping out of the air like flies these days. However, it is the first time we have lost a $1.2 billion (that's with a 'B') aircraft.

It makes you wonder if there isn't something better we could be spending this money on. Never mind the possible civilian applications like roads and schools -- how about the fact that the cost of this one aircraft is enough to 7 sets of body armor for each of the 130,000 troops currently stationed in Iraq?

I'm sure that I've written or mentioned before what a useless piece of equipment the B-2 is, now that we no longer have a compelling need to do a sneak nuclear attack on Moscow, so don't take my word for it. In 1995, Congress authorized buying two more B-2 bombers that the Air Force said it didn't need.

There's a four-letter word for this, and it's called "pork".

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

We're Back

We are back at home, after a couple weeks in the Philippines and Singapore. We are still sorting through our load of photos (we filled up nearly 3GB of storage in pictures and movies), so it will be a while before our photos get put up.

It's nice to be back home, but we also picked up a cold while travelling, so we recuperating some from that. I will post more on the last part of our trip and Singapore in a bit.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Home Stretch

We just finished up our last day in Singapore, with a tour of the southern-most tip of the island. This area is being developed into a resort, with docking areas for cruise ships.

Tomorrow kicks off two long days of travel to get back to the U.S. Tomorrow morning we have a 4-hour flight to Manila, where we will pick up our remaining luggage, meet up with roommate-Alex for dinner, and then around midnight catch another 4-hour flight to Korea.

We have another 12 hour layover at Seoul, so we may catch a quick tour of the city during that time, after which it's back for the long-haul 12-hour leg back to SFO. While this isn't the longest amount of flying that I've done in a day (flying to Banglaore wins there), it may be the longest amount of time I've spent living out of a suitcase.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

More Photos

Joey's camera was getting full, so we have pushed up all the photos from his camera to Joahnna's Picasa account. Here is the first group of pictures, and here is the second.

Uncle Yoyo's Church

Today we drove to Tinambac, which is the town that consistutes Uncle Yoyo's (known to others as Father Gaite) parish. The town has a large church founded in 1781 that was destroyed in the recent typhoon, and Father Gaite has been attempting to rebuild the church ever since.

Since Tinambac is a fishing village, we had a very nice lunch of fresh-caught seafood. Uncle Yoyo made a squid pasta with vegitables which was very good. Joahnna had a couple helpings of fresh crab.

Now we're heading back to Naga to pack our bags. Tomorrow we fly back to Manila, and then from Manila to Singapore.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Hot Springs

Yesterday we visited the local hot springs. And local actually meant local -- it was only 20 minutes drive from our hotel. Joahnna and I spent the morning shopping. She went looking for a new bathing suit, and I replentished my diminishing book supply.

In the afternoon we headed out to the springs. Along the way aunt Lyn spotted uncle Yoyo walking along the side of the road and invited him along, and he said he would drop by. This is normal. Naga is a city of 300,000 or so people and we run into Joahnna's relatives randomly as we're walking around.

The hot springs were possibly the most impressive scenery yet, just because it was so different than anything I have seen previously. The springs are located next to a river which is at the bottom of a canyon 300-400 feet deep. The resort has built small concrete pools to contain the hot water. Immediately above the springs rise a sheer cliff, covered with vegetation. The overall effect felt like a scene from Jurassic Park. If there had a been a couple dinosaurs in the background they would have fit right in.

Because we arrived in mid-week, we were the only people at the springs aside from a couple workers doing maintenence. We lounged in the springs for a couple hours until we were watered-out, and afterwards snacked on some food Joahnna's aunts brought, which was about the time uncle Yoyo showed up (yes, he's really called uncle Yoyo). After some further conversation and snacking we returned to Naga, had some coffee at a Starbucks-esque shop (I had a Freddocino), and dinner at Aunt Lyn's.


On Sunday we drove to Legazpi, which is about two hours drive away from Naga. Legazpi sits in the shadow of Mayon Volcano, an active volcano. We visited the site of a church which was famous for being the last refuge of a many locals when the volcano previous erupted in 1814. We also drove through an area which was devastated by mudslides of volcanic ash in 2006.

After Legazpi we drove on to Tobaco, which provided us with a few amusing puns, and then on to an old resort and shrine on the slopes of Mayon Volcano. The resort looked reasonably modern, but had been abandoned for a while -- at least 5 years. The scenery and views were beautiful, with cool, crisp air. Of course, only Joahnna and I though the temperature (somewhere in the mid 60s) was pleasantly cool; Joahnna's relatives were freezing.

After visiting the volcano, we drove back to Legazpi, where we met up with uncle Alex and his family, and had a nice dinner at a local restaurant before driving home. By this time it was after nightfall, and driving at night (or even being a passenger while driving at night) here in rural areas is a bit of a harrowing experience. There are no streetlights, the roads have no reflectors, the roads are narrow, and oncoming traffic occasionally leaves their high beams on and is frequently in your lane. And that's just for starters. Because in this mix of poor visibility you throw occasional tricycles, pedicabs, and bicycles that are completely unlit and devoid of reflectors, along with pedestrians that wander and congregate along the side of the road with no fear of traffic.

The net result of this is that people and vehicles simply appear out of the night 20-30 feet in front of your vehicle, and the only hint of their presence you have is that sometimes they block out the lights of oncoming traffic.

Fortunately for my sanity, I slept for most of the trip back.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Gun Culture

One of the things I've noticed in the Philippines is that armed guards are very common. In the U.S. you normally see these only around "high security" areas such as banks and airports, but here almost any properous business will have armed security guards at the main door. Hotels, malls, clubs, parks, and restaurants all have a guard or two, who usually do double-duty as a doorman.

The guns themselves are also interesting. When the U.S. does put an armed guard or police officer somewhere, they are usually equipped with a SIG or Glock -- an semi-auto pistol with a large magazine. Police and guards here are equipped with a large variety of pistols, mostly revolvers (complete with Wild West ammo belt). Occasionally you will see one with a pump shotgun. Rifles and submachine guns are noteably absent, even at the airport and president's palace (I saw a single guard post outside the palace with an M-16 leaning inside the post, and a couple guards with MP-5 submachines outside a bank). It's possible this difference in equipment is legislative, but I suspect economics -- guns are expensive and labor is cheap. Some of the guns look fairly battered (taped grips, etc.), and others look well cared for but old (the guards outside the palace had M1911 Colts that look like they could have been WWII surplus).

According to Joahnna's cousin Donna, the guards in front of our hotel do use their guns occasionally (Aunt Lyn lives across the street from the hotel she works at -- hard to argue with a commute like that), but the usual perpetrators are drunk customers at the club next door rather than any organized activity.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Beach Trip

Today we gathered the local branch of the family for a trip to the beach. Food was prepared, and we bundled most of our food and beach gear into two cars, and then rented a jeepney to transport all the people. The beach was about 45 minutes away from Naga.

The weather was very nice today -- probably somewhere in the mid to high 70s. I ended up getting sunburned, despite it being mostly overcast and applying sunscreen twice.

At the beach we rented a small floating hut, as well as a beach house, and spent the day swimming around our floating hut. The ocean was a nice temperature -- slightly cool, but refreshing once in the water. A local kid with a dual-outrigger canoe came by, and offered to rent us the canoe.

There was an island about a mile offshore that looked like a classic island-inhabited-by-cannibals from a B-movie. We tried to row out there in the canoe, but (like so many other things on this trip), the canoe was about two sizes too small for me, so I couldn't row very well, and I started to be very concerned about whether we could make the trip back. There was a strong wind at our backs on the way out, and rowing against it on the return trip would have been dicey, so we called off the full trip.

After a full day of rowing, swimming, eating, the jeepney returned, and everyone piled in for the return trip. Before too long about half the passengers were asleep. Both Joahnna and I ended up with a pretty good sunburn.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Riding Around

Spent another day kicking around Naga city. Walked through a couple open-air malls (and closed-air malls, I'm developing a new appreciation for air-conditioning), and did some shopping for souvenirs.

On our way in to Naga today, I borrowed Raoul's motorcycle and got a little taste of riding in third world free-for-all traffic. The area I rode in didn't have much traffic, so nothing was really hairy until I had to drive across a street full of tricycles. All intersections in Naga are uncontrolled, so the only way to cross a stream of traffic is to stick your nose out and kind of shove your way through. Takes some getting used to.

Speaking of tricycles, the tricycle and the jeepney are the two dominant forms of transportation here. A tricycle starts its life out as one of a variety of stock motorcycles, and then has a sidecar and a roof welded on, the driver's seat extended to form a large bench, and a number of handholds welded on. You can cram at least 8-9 people on a tricycle, which then crawls along as a poor, suffering 125cc motor tries to move its load. Tricycles operate like taxis in urban areas, but if you want to leave the city and go to a rural area, the tricycle won't leave until it has a full load.

A jeepney is the tricycle's big brother. The original jeepneys started their life as a surplus U.S. army jeep, which was then extended in every direction to create a small bus that can haul 20 or more people. Jeepneys take the place of local bus routes, and run everywhere.

Tonight we're going to Shakey's Pizza for a group dinner. Although Shakey's is almost unknown now in the states, in the Philippines it is a popular chain of higher-end restaurants -- like a nicer Chili's.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Trip Photos

We've found some time to relax and sort through some of the photos we've taken so far. This is the group that went on the tour of the Malakangan palace:

The front of the palace:

After pushing these two photos up, I've decided to change tactics. Posting photos through Blogger is just too painful to do more than one or two at a time, so I'm putting the photos on Picasa web,

Presidential Gifts

When we visited the presidential palace in Manila, they had on display a number of gifts to President Arroyo from the heads of state of other nations. For example, Myanmar gave this jade dragon:

And what did we provide? The United States, the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world, provided...

a casserole dish.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

On the Road

Yesterday we spent in Manila. First we managed to get a quick tour of the presidential palace and museum. They had the old presidential office, which was used until the end of the Marcos regime, as well as the nearby cabinet rooms and the small ballroom. They had a display containing many of the gifts to the government of the Philippines by other governments, as well as other clothes and personal effects of previous presidents and first ladies.

After the presidential palace, we walked through Fort Santiago, an old spanish fort. We walked the old walls, looked through gun ports, and spent about in hour in the memorial to Jose Rizal, a famous Philippine patriot and nationalist.

After the fort we stopped off in a local mall for lunch, and then found an internet cafe where I could check in with Alex and fire off a couple quick emails home. Afterwards we went to the Mall of Asia, which is billed as the largest mall in Asia. We spent some time and money taking advantage of the favorable exchange rate (there aren't many places left you can do that, after all), then headed back to the house for showers.

We finished up the day with dinner at Joahnna's aunt in Paranaque. I didn't manage to make it out to meet up with Alex, as he was out dancing with his performance group and we ended up fairly far apart, time-wise.

We are on the road to Naga city, which is a full day's drive from Manila. Most of Joahnna's relatives live in this area, so we will be spending a week in and around Naga. Along the way we stopped and took a look at Taal, an active volcano in the middle of a lake. There was an old Marcos palace called “The Palace in the Sky”. It's at the top of a nearby peak that overlooked the lake and volcano, so spent a while admiring the view.

After the peak we stopped at at a food stand by the side of the road and bought bananas, pineapple, chico, and jackfruit. The last two were new to me – chico is a small brown fruit that looks a bit like a kiwi, but inside is brown and tastes a bit like dates. Reputedly if you eat enough of it you will get drunk. The jackfruit looks a bit like a pineapple the size of a watermelon. We just bought portions of one – I'll have to check in later with how it tastes.

Update: Just tried some jackfruit. The taste is difficult to describe – the closest we could come is a combination of banana and pineapple.

Arrived in Manila

Woke up early in the morning to the sounds of roosters crowing back and forth. It's still quite dark outside, but my body insists that it's time to be up and about (according to the world clock on my computer, it's about 5AM). I slept a total of about 2 hours on the two flights over here, and probably not much more than a few hours last night, so I have a feeling this is going to catch up to me pretty fast in the next day or two.

Weather in Manila is as expected – hot and humid. Since our plane arrived last night at around 11PM, I didn't get to see much of the city as we drove to our present location (a rental house in southern Manila, owned by one of Joahnna's relatives). However, from the airport and what I did see, it reminds me very much of the Yucutan. Most houses in this area are walled and gated, with a small drive in front where you could park a couple cars, and a decent size back yard.

So far cell phone operation is a complete bust – it's able to come up and detect several local service providers, but registering with one of those providers doesn't seem to have any effect. I get no signal, and attempting to dial out produces an error message. There is no internet access at the house we're staying at, but some experimentation last night picked up a weak wireless signal. Since this is a pretty nice area, there's a good chance of finding an open access point around somewhere.

My plan, prior to departure, was to have dinner with Alex, my old college roommate, either today or tomorrow, somewhere in the vicinity. I had disucssed it briefly over email and chat with him prior to leaving, but had planned to figuring out the details today. My current lack of communications ability puts me in something of a bind. One of Joahnna's aunts took down his phone number and said she would give him a call, which sounds like a setup for epic confusion, since she has no idea who Alex is, nor he she.

Somehow it will all work out, I'm sure.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


However, in defense of her profession, Katie forwarded to me the sociologist-compiled list of the Top 25 Censored Stories.

Engineers Blow Things Up

According to recent research, that is: The Register quotes an Oxford study stating that disproportionate numbers of Islamist terrorists are engineers. The methodology used to arrive at this conclusion appears to be somewhat suspect, although there is a certain perverse logic to it. After all, if you want something blown up, who are you going to ask -- a sociologist?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Driving on Sunlight

An interesting research project aims to generate ethanol or diesel directly from sunlight: