Friday, September 26, 2008


My back yard is being invaded by strange bugs. I can't actually figure out what they are doing, they just seem to like to congregate in large groups, mostly on the pavement. When you scare them away it appears that they are just standing on empty ground. Most mysterious.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Trains Verses Planes

A professor here, Francis Vanek, gave a talk last week mostly supporting plug in hybrid vehicles. In it however was a graph that was pretty shocking to me. It is comparing the energy use per passenger mile on trains, planes, and buses.

You would expect that trains would be significantly more efficient than planes than planes are, and in fact they are. However not many people use the train meaning you are comparing empty trains to full planes. This makes me feel a little better about all of those plane rides. A shame the graph doesn't have cars though.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Talking to Dead People

I haven't been writing much on here recently and I thought I would talk a little about what led to that. I decided to try to as much as practical cut off contact with dead people, and people I don't know.

That may seem an odd way to live, but it is how most of people through most of history have lived. The real difference between the modern world, and the stone age is that at some point we learned to transmit information over vast distances in space and time first through painting and writing, then later through radio, tape cassettes, video games, the internet, television and dozens of other forms. Without this transmission of information we never could have created the world we live in today.

So, why cut off from all of this information if it has created so much? Well, perhaps the biggest reason is to see what happens. To the best of my knowledge no group in modern society has actually gone out of the way to live like this. I for example managed to live without a computer or television in my apartment for several months right when I started graduate school. What did I do with that time? Primarily I read books. One person I don't know telling me what to think was replaced with another! There has been no point in my life where I have cut myself off from all of this useful information, propaganda, and entertainment.

Another reason has been the realization that I know too much and do too little. Outside of a tiny number of technical subjects my life would not improve with more information. There was a time in my life where this was probably not true. Not because I did a lot then, but because the only expectation on me was to learn. Was I to cut myself off of information at that point in time the results on my life would most certainly be destructive. That no longer appears to be true, I could forget for decades and still know enough to function in society. It makes more sense to focus on actually doing something.

Watching myself and other people whenever they are not doing something interesting or productive they seem to be taking in information from, or being entertained by people they don't know. They watch TV, surf the internet, read cheap romance novels, read the newspaper, play video games, and so on. Even much of the apparently unproductive time people spend when they are not taking in information from strangers is actually fairly productive. The best example I have is drinking. You might expect that regularly going to the bar would have a general negative effect on your life. In some ways it may well, but if you compare the incomes of people who drink socially with those who do not you find that up to around an astonishing 35 drinks a week people who drink socially make more money than those who either do not drink, or drink alone. It is not the alcoholic who spends his time at parties or in the bar who ruins his life, its the alcoholic who gets drunk and watches television. Cutting the television from his life may be the more prudent move.

I have decided upon a complex set of rules for this experiment. Any activity that is primarily used to contact people I know is fair game. Email, Instant Messages, Phones, and so on. I decided to keep the blog because lets face it, no one I don't know will ever read it. Posting to reddit, or arguing on its comments section is clearly out as it is primarily me communicating with people I do not know. With works of art such as paintings and music I have decided to keep originals, even if the painter is dead, but as much as reasonable limit duplicates and recordings. Going to a concert, or museum sounds close enough to productive for me to keep it as an option. With books and articles, I try to cut it off if it is not directly related to my courses or research. I used that fudge word at the start of this blog, practical, it is not practical for me to enter a new field without a great deal of reading on the subject. The goal is not to be anti-technology, or in some sense even anti-information it is to be pro doing something interesting with my time. I have also instituted a rule to not be an asshole about it. If you are at someone's house and they want to watch a movie, it is rude to apply pressure to do otherwise. Not going to a party, or requesting someone turn off the music at a party are both not options that will improve life.

Starting was particularly difficult. My alarm was initially a radio station, I changed it to that annoying beeping. Car radio got turned off. The first day I drove in silence it was really really hard to not turn the thing on and flip through stations. Within a week I stopped noticing it. I took to turning off my computer to increase the amount of effort I need to get onto it. While you are motivated turning the monitor so it is facing away from you is also particularly effective as a way to break you down when you are less motivated. I stopped carrying headphones with me so listening to Audiobooks stops being an easy option.

In some ways I have done really well, in other ways not as much. I haven't been to reddit in two weeks, which opened up a lot of time in my life. I never started listening to audiobooks or the radio again. I haven't played video games in the time period either. I was doing fairly well with newspapers, forums, and television until I got sick. In the last few days I have not done very well at that.

The thing I would consider this the most like is breaking up with a girlfriend. You end up with all this time, and no obvious thing to do with it. Think of all that time you spend staring at a screen and consider for a second what you would be doing if you were not at that screen. I spent a great deal of time staring at my aquarium trying to figure out what to do. I now seem to go to bed about two hours earlier than before. Before I would get so interested in what I was doing that I would stay up late. Now I face an empty apartment and sleep all of a sudden sounds like a good plan. However when you are faced with no interesting options to do with your time you eventually go to your list of things you really know you are supposed to be doing and do it. While I still haven't been as productive as I need to be, this certainly helped a lot.

Will I try to go along with this crazy plan for long? I honestly have no idea. Anyone who has known me long knows I am capable of taking crazy ideas to limits that most people would consider insane. Breaking so many habits at once is really difficult to do though and if I end up unemployed in January it may prove really hard to hold up.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Abalone are vicious.

There are still some of the roughest months to go in the year, and there have already been six abalone divers killed in California. Last year apparently the number was Seven. As someone who has spent a great deal of time free diving in Northern California this is almost enough to make me take up SCUBA full time. It might sound more complicated, but you have time. With free diving one little mistake, that would take you just three minutes to get out of, and that is it for you. SCUBA is far more safe because you have some time to handle any issue that should come up. Some of the people who have been killed were quite experienced too, here is a list that includes up to 2007.

I guess the only good thing to know is that divers who have spent as much time in the water as I have rarely get in trouble unless the conditions are really bad, or a Great White Shark comes around. I have not exactly been conservative about when to enter the water however, perhaps I should be.

On the plus side, it really looks like a great time to be a spearfisherman in California. Albacore are at or near record numbers, Lingcod have increased dramatically in population in the past five years, while most rockfish have yet to rebound, one of the most common varieties the Black Rockfish has staged a comeback, Halibut have not returned to their levels a hundred years ago but are doing far better than they were in the 70s, White sea bass are also present in far greater numbers than the 60s-80s. The last time I was in the water in CA, all rockfish populations were at record lows, and ling cod were in really bad shape. With the new marine reserves the situation is only going to be improving. So, I think its about time to escape upstate NY.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Random Facts

Here are some fun facts I found out this week.

The area of the bottom of the ocean is equal to approximately the surface area of two planets the size of mars, and two moons the size of ours. That fact combined with high commodity prices mean that bottom of the ocean mining is starting to look really attractive. The first example of metal mining on the bottom of the ocean is currently planned to begin in Paupa New Guinea in about two years.

You can likely fit a Nuclear Reactor the size of one in a major power plant in your bedroom. My Nuclear Engineering Professor drew a life size cross section of one on the blackboard. From what I could see dimensions of it are a cylinder of about ten feet diameter, and twelve feet in height. This volume is enough to hold 4.5 years worth of fuel! Compare that to the two coal trains a week that head to our local coal power plant. This is why the nuclear waste of several decades time has been able to be stored on site. It is quite low in volume compared to the waste of any other type of power plant.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

iphone applications

I tried to download iphone applications for the first time today only to find that I couldn't on my version of itunes. Even worse, the old hack I had used to install itunes on a computer with an XP-64 operating system didn't work(mostly because I couldn't download the newest version of itunes because apple blocks you from downloading the 64 bit version unless you have vista 64).

I doubt anyone I know will have this problem, but if you do, here is the newest work around for making itunes work on an xp 64 operating system.

As best as I can tell, it is a real pain in the and may take me another few hours to make it stop giving me dumb errors because of sloppy programming, and poor forethought from apple.

Edit: I spoke too soon. My iphone went into recovery mode, and won't come out. I will have to find someone with a 32 bit version of itunes, update my iphone, then it should work again. However that leaves me without a phone, I really have no clue how long it will be before it works again, I think my only option is to ride my bike to school and try to get my computer in the lab to make it work.

Edit: I have my phone back exactly where I started. As far as I can tell it is just not possible to make applications on the iphone work if you have an XP 64 operating system. Maybe I will just steal a friends XP 32 bit disks and go through the pain in the ass process of reformatting my hard drive. Knowing me ill just bitch about it though.


Some of the ten year graphs on yahoo real estate are getting pretty impressive. The bubble has not only burst, but in many cities it is closer to the bottom, than the top. Expect the end of the bubble to equal the inflation adjusted start of the bubble in parts of the country where income did not change dramatically. Nothing changed that would cause people to willingly spend a greater percentage of their income on housing now that it has become clear that housing is not a good investment. The 2000 housing price is the best predictor of where houses will be in five years.

San Jose



Friday, September 5, 2008

San Jose Housing

In April 2006 the median house price in San Jose was $739 000, and the 25th percentile home was $599 000. Today, the median price is down to $530 000, and the 25th percentile is at $375 000 and falling fast.Source

This means I would have roughly needed a $185 000 a year income to afford a median priced house in 2004, but today it only requires around $132 000. A 25th percentile home would require around $93000 a year today. Still more than I am likely to make, but not so unreasonable as to be unattainable would put me into the right range. I better start saving, I see every reason to think my income will rise fast enough to intersect with the price of a median price home within a decade. A wife making equal income to what I expect to make next semester would even push me over the edge now, although I somehow don't see that happening.

I suspect at least another year of falling prices, followed by at least a decade where people are going to be thinking of homes as a horrible investment keeping new bubbles from forming.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Nature and Nurture

It has been obvious to anyone who has watched the nature verses nurture battles of the last few centuries that the final answer would be that both are important. As time has passed measures have been getting better and better however about which is most important. Today the New York Times had an interesting article that I believe is about the cutting edge of the field. It is actually pretty shocking just how much actually is genetics.

Dr. Segal has found that identical twins were the most alike in their thinking, fraternal twins somewhat less so, and virtual twins strikingly different. When it comes to intelligence, for example, her research has found that only 25 percent of the differences between twins — virtual, fraternal or identical — can be accounted for by their environment, 75 percent by genetics.

Of course there will always be brilliant children born to dim parents, and dim children born to brilliant parents. But it is nice thinking that Makayla has the odds stacked in her favor.

Stupid cars

My car has been in the shop for a week as they try to work out exactly what is wrong with it. First it was an ignition coil. That was cheap enough to fix. Then they claimed it was a fuel injector which would be $175, a pain but whatever.

Then yesterday I call to see if my car is done. The mechanic didn't believe the Jaguar representative who said the fuel injector needed replaced, so he didn't replace it. But while digging around they found a huge problem, that I admit I didn't completely understand, that they said would be $2200 to fix. I sort of freaked out when I heard that, I was already paying more than $1000 for routine maintenance that needs done every hundred thousand miles. So I asked if there were any reasonable corners I could cut since the car is at 210 000 miles. I get put on hold. Five minutes later he comes back thinking he can do it for 600, as long as certain parts are in good enough shape. OK, a pain in the ass, but not the end of the world. I will probably get out of there under 2k in the hole.

Then I get a call this morning. Some bolt in the engine is too tight. They think they might be able to get it out, but it is at a high risk for breaking. If it does break the only option is to remove the engine and send it to a machine shop. There is a risk that they even cannot fix it though and I will need to replace the engine! However they are currently looking for ways to avoid this problem, so all I can do is wait around for more news. I am still really hoping this car holds out until I can buy a plug in hybrid, but it is starting to worry me.

Daily Show

This is among the best clips the daily show has ever managed to do:

In other news, what were the Republicans thinking last night when they had so many speeches about how they will fix Washington. Wasn't eight years of a Republican President, six of that with a Republican Congress enough? What could possibly have stopped them from balancing the budget for example?(don't say the Iraq war, military spending as a percentage of GDP is half what it was in the cold war, it didn't help but it hardly broke the bank)

The difficulty for the Republican ticket in talking about change and reform and acting like insurgents is that they have been running Washington — the White House and Congress — for most of the last eight years. Source

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Finding Dive Sites:

Justus is in Florida, and I am not. Because of this I have spent a bunch of time online looking at dive sites I wish I was at. As a result of this I just found out about an amazing use for google maps. Finding dive sites!

Often in Florida you are simply looking for anything but sand. Sand can be somewhat interesting, lots of rays, and schools of fish come every so often. But it is not anywhere near as impressive as a reef. Usually the technique is to sit on the shore and look for black dots in the water. That sort of works. But, for example, it took me quite some time at red reef park to find the little blocks of rock on the big beach.

However take a look at google maps. Sure enough, one look and I can see the submerged rocks.

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I can even look at a more zoomed in image of it.

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Knowing that in advance makes it seem a whole lot easier to find.

Now to show off here is the massive Breakers Reef:

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and a zoom in on a tiny section of it:

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And the reef at Dania Beach

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John U Loyd State Park

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Sadly it isn't much use in California due to the poor quality pictures, and lack of water clarity.

Here is one of my favorite dive sites, at coral street in Monterey.

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Work Longer!

There was a New York Times article today that helped convince me that despite all the talk, the American dream where you work hard and you will go far in life is still alive. Finally, the connection between work hours and high income seems steady.

Perhaps for the first time since we’ve kept track of such things, higher-income folks work more hours than lower-wage earners do. Since 1980, the number of men in the bottom fifth of the income ladder who work long hours (over 49 hours per week) has dropped by half, according to a study by the economists Peter Kuhn and Fernando Lozano. But among the top fifth of earners, long weeks have increased by 80 percent.
Maybe someday ill have to work harder.