Saturday, July 24, 2010

Lessons from Star Wars

I watched Star Wars the other night. The original, now called Episode IV. I was just a kid when it was released and I remember all the hype. The movie has aged well, I must say. My only regret is that I didn't save all my old Star Wars action figures and toys (we had a really nice Millenium Falcon). How was I, as a little kid, to know just how crazy people would be for that stuff?

Anyway, I had some thoughts as I watched the movie. In no particular order, they are:

1. Someday, when we invent hand-held laser weapons, the sound won't be right. Someone will say, that's not how they're supposed to sound. That's not how they sounded in Star Wars. We should change the sound. (I'm sure Star Trek fans feel the same way.)

2. I need a land speeder. Look, I'm not greedy. I'm not asking for a Millenium Falcon or a Death Star. Just a land speeder. And a light saber. :)

3. I need an every day outfit. Look at Darth Vader and Han Solo. They found looks that worked for them and they wore that every day. That's what I need. Even Luke wore the same outfit most of the time, before he became such a big shot. (I'd go with the Chewbacca outfit but I don't think I have enough hair to pull it off.)

4. You know that with the Death Star (just as with the iPhone 4, the BP oil spill, the Space Shuttle O-rings, and so on...) there is an engineer out there somewhere saying, "I told you so."

Friday, July 23, 2010

Age Test, Courtesy of Dilbert

The image has nothing to do with the blog post. I just love that cartoon!

Okay, now for the main post. I read this Dilbert cartoon and laughed out loud. Unfortunately, you might only appreciate it if you are "of a certain age" due to an old TV reference. I didn't find it posted online so I'll just quote the dialogue. Here goes:

The scene: Dogbert as a substitute teacher.
Panel 1 of 3
Dogbert, to class: "Okay, class ... put your weapons away and open your TV guides."

Panel 2 of 3
Dogbert, to class: "Timmy, please read aloud the passage from 'Falcon Crest' under the Friday listings."

Panel 3 of 3
Dogbert, in a thought bubble: "There's got to be a better way to teach sex education."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Why do we use our food to fuel our cars? A lesson in trade-offs

Ethanol has always been a mystery to me. Why do we voluntarily pay more for a less effective fuel that depletes our resources and is harmful to the environment (consumes a LOT of water, requires more energy to produce and ship)? It is the classic example of politics trumping logic, common sense, and science.

As if we needed more proof, check out this blog post from the Congressional Budget Office Director's Blog (I guess it's official, we should ALL be blogging now!).

"The costs to taxpayers of using a biofuel to reduce gasoline consumption by one gallon are $1.78 for ethanol and $3.00 for cellulosic ethanol."

That is just insane. It's not worth it, people! And we wonder why our government is going bankrupt...

There are actually a number of trade-offs that we must consider. EVERYTHING has a trade-off. As Heinlen said in his classic book, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, TANSTAAFL.

Gasoline use is regarded as a bad thing by so-called environmentalists. But when we look at some of the trade-offs, it doesn't look so bad. Cost is one obvious trade-off as mentioned above. There are others. What about water consumption?

Consider this excellent special report from IEEE Spectrum magazine:
IEEE Spectrum Special Report - Water vs. Energy

In this special report, IEEE Spectrum presents a series of articles in which they consider many of the trade-offs between power production and water consumption. This is a real problem that we are facing NOW in many parts of the world, and right here in our country--in the Colorado River basin, for example.

In this article, Biofuel's Water Problem, we see that gasoline consumes 0.26 liters of water per kilometer driven. E85 ethanol from irrigated corn consumes 26 liters of water per kilometer driven. That's right, ethanol consumes 100 times as much water as gasoline. Biodiesel from soybeans is even worse, at 28 liters per kilometer driven.

Another short article in IEEE Spectrum, CO2 vs. H2O in Power Production, shows the trade-off between water consumption and carbon emissions. They sum it up this way, "The trade-off between water and energy is tough, but the trade-off between carbon emissions and water is even tougher."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Blast from the past: 2009 Squiggy Inline Marathon

Stepping back in time for a moment here, I thought I'd post the video from the 2009 Squiggy Inline Marathon, held near Tampa, FL.

You can see me in there a couple times, but my favorite part is right at the end, about 9:12, where I escorted one of my daughters (they did the half-marathon) across the finish line.

And some pictures:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

World Cup Musings, Part 6 - A Simple Project

Okay, this will wrap up my 2010 FIFA World Cup coverage. Yes, I know the thing's been over for a week.

Here is a simple project that will provide hours of fun at work. You too can make your own yellow and red cards, just like the soccer referees have! Well almost. I guess the real cards don't say things like, "1009-2 Classic Red" or "3009-1 Elizabethan Yellow" on them. But hey, let's not get bogged down by the details.

Yes, that's right. Simply go to your local hardware store and grab some (free!) paint swatches. You'll need to get two red and two yellow, because they are not colored on both sides. Glue them back-to-back and you're done!

Now you're ready to use them. When in meetings, when someone mouths off or does something rude, hold the card up high to give them a yellow card (warning) or a red card (kick them out!). Or give people a card for no reason at all! Tons of fun, and totally free!

You're welcome.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Truth Gets a Journalist Fired

This story goes to show you that you always have to evaluate the credibility of your sources. Along the way, it provides some pretty good information about motorcycle helmets.

What a shock. Magazines are influenced by what their advertisers want. I am so surprised. (That's sarcasm, by the way.)

You might say, sure Tom but this is just an enthusiast magazine, it's not a serious news source. Well, I happen to believe that we have to evaluate the credibility of ALL of our news sources. This is just a rare glimpse into how these decisions are really made. I don't believe it is unique to magazines.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

World Cup Musings, Part 5 - Spain Wins (and so do we!)

Okay, it's finally over. Congratulations to Espana!

Some "highlights" of the championship game are here:

This was a very physical game, apparently. Once again, it showed what a flawed "sport" soccer is. We are all familiar with the blown calls from this tournament, and in soccer in general. Here is one aggregation:

But pay attention to the original "highlights" video mentioned above. Watch at around 2:48. If Robben just falls down he gets the call, according to every announcer I heard. Which is just wrong, of course. Either it's a foul or it's not. It shouldn't matter if the guy falls down. Point is, you can see why people take such outrageous dives in this "sport." They have to in order to get the calls, because the refereeing is so atrocious.

And to close the book on the most interesting story from the World Cup, check out this story:

Remember her promise to run through the streets naked if Paraguay won the World Cup? (And how we were all going to root for Paraguay?!) Sure you do. I wrote about it here.

Well, Paraguay did not win. But Larissa couldn't just couldn't keep her clothes on anyway! :)