Sunday, November 29, 2009

Home Loans, Getting more Straightforward

The best thing to come from this economy is increased consumer protections. A lot of the services we pay for cost a fortune, but we don't notice them because they are funded from hidden fees rather than upfront fees. That results in us spending way more than we should be for financial products that really are not necessary.

This trend continues today, with increased protections for home loans. Not entirely sure how much this matters, but at the very least the companies will have a harder time sneaking in fees such as ones for paying off a loan early.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Rare Turkeys

Turkeys haven't done so well in recent years. They are bigger than chickens, and therefore less commonly raised in people's back yards. Only one breed is commonly raised in factory farms, therefore a lot of the old breeds are really quite rare. Here are some pictures of a few of these breeds taken from

Fish Food

I wish I had a saltwater predator aquarium in LA. There is much more fun fish food than in Fresno. Live snails, clams, shrimp, small crabs and so on are really cheap and available at Asian Markets. $3.99 a pound for live shrimp? I think frozen krill costs that much in Fresno. Watching triggerfish eat clams is rather fun, they must outsmart them. I suppose a sea Urchin would be even more fun though


HIV in retreat

To the list of reasons the world is improving, add the retreat of the HIV virus. New cases have fallen by 17% in the past eight years while death rates have fallen by 10%.

Cheap Cars

I just spent a day with a rented Hyundai Accent. It was depressing. Why is a compass not standard in every car? this is tenth century technology people! I got so lost losing it and my navigation system. I went the wrong way on several roads getting myself quite lost.

Also, come on ringing when I put my car into drive or reverse and don't have my seat belt is fine. But if I want to put on my seat belt after I turn off my car stop beeping at me there is nothing unsafe about this. Also, if I start driving with it off, than I don't want it on. Stop beeping at me. Once is enough! That alone would stop me from ever buying this car. I am good about putting my seat belt on. I realize that for some people cars substitute as a girlfriend, but nagging should not be part of that relationship.

And I really understand why we traded gas mileage for horsepower. I had to fight that poor thing to go 65mph on the freeway.

That's Science

Mr. Ovshinsky knows as much or more about the development and production of alternative energy as anyone on the planet. He developed the technology and designed the production method that made it possible to produce solar material “by the mile.” When he proposed the idea years ago, based on the science of amorphous materials, which he invented, he was ridiculed.

I ran into that quote in a recent New York Times opinion piece about alternative energy. It demonstrates something about science that I feel is not generally understood. That is, every scientist is ridiculed for his ideas. This is normal, this is how science works.

Spend any time at all in science seminars and you will pick out a few people, every department has at least one, who will attack any idea presented to them. They are almost always quite reasonable people, but the vast majority of ideas in science are wrong. It is not the ability to produce ideas that separates science from philosophy or religion, its the ability of scientists to throw out bad ideas. These people are absolutely necessary for science to function. If an idea cannot produce solid statistics from reproducible well controlled experiments it absolutely deserves to be ridiculed. Every idea starts out this way, therefore every idea is ridiculed until someone can set up a good experiment that silences critics.

The case in the article shows how this works quite well. Scientist comes up with idea, idea gets attacked, scientist goes back to the lab with this criticism in mind and produces a device that anyone can test, idea gets accepted.

The biggest issue I see that people uneducated in the ways of science have is that they simply don't understand the standards scientists use. Scientists know that if they want an idea accepted they must set up proper controls, blind or double blind the experiment if possible, produce results that use valid statistics, and write up a procedure that can be duplicated by its critics. The biggest disputes between scientists and non-scientists come from areas where the use of these methods leads to a clear conclusion that the effect does not exist, but not knowing about these methods makes it easy to fall into the trap.

Astrology makes a wonderful case in point. It is really quite easy to use the scientific method to test astrology. Go find astrological data for people, than give people either the correct astrological prediction, or one for another person, and compare the results. If the statistics then showed that people's lives were better predicted by astrology charts made for them, than ones made for strangers than science would have no choice but to conclude there is something there.

Sure enough these experiments have been done. For example one study gave half of people their own astrological reading, and the other half the reading for the birth date of a famous serial killer. They then asked the subjects how well the astrological reading applied to them. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people said that astrology readings were quite accurate. Only they said they were just as accurate when they were given their own reading, or when they had been given the reading for a serial killer. The only reasonable conclusion any scientist would make is that the descriptions astrologers make are so generic that they describe everyone equally well. Scientists have known this for hundreds of years, but the general public just knows too little about science to ever even realize that just because an astrological reading describes them well, does not mean it has anything at all to do with the stars.

Similarly, The phases of the moon could predict how people behave, this is an easily testable hypothesis. Only they don't. It has been well established by several mechanisms such as watching crime rates and comparing them to the phases of the moon, comparing admissions to psychiatric clinics or emergency rooms. Sure enough, no connection. This is not surprising, there is no clear mechanism that the time of day on the moon could alter human behavior. However people are quite poor at statistics without being really careful. Normally we count the hits and ignore the misses. A crazy day with a full moon might get blamed on the moon, but a normal day will not be used as evidence against the hypothesis.


I have way too much fun watching superstition that passed as science getting debunked. Sports are particularly full of such wisdom.

Anyways, another article about how stretching is not really much good unless you plan to be a gymnast.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Lead Acid Batteries

I spent two days this week learning about Lead acid batteries. One particularly interesting fact I learned is that Lead dissolves in water but not acid. This has some odd consequences.

When a battery is charged it consists of Lead sheets in acid. When you discharge the battery the acid reacts with the lead leaving behind just water. This is a big problem, in a reasonably short time the plates will have dissolved enough to be useless. The battery cannot be recovered.

So, if your car battery dies because you left your lights on, it might be alright for a day or two, but leave it for a month and you have one very dead battery. Even a week would be pushing your luck... Also this means that batteries must be stored while charged. For long term storage they need to be recharged every couple of months. Otherwise they slowly lose the acid needed to keep the Lead out of solution.

Nice Homes

I have spent a lot of time in some really ugly homes in my life and am starting to notice a trend. The difference between a nice house and an ugly house is not the construction, it is not how nice the furniture is, it is not even how much time the occupants spend cleaning(although that helps more than anything).

The big difference between a nice and an ugly home is that most ugly ones hold too much stuff. I used to think this was some defect of my family. There are a great many of these places among my relatives, places with junk crammed into every corner. As I have spent more time in the homes of other people though it has been made clear this is a common problem across many races and income levels. Some of the homes are full of stuff from Yard Sales and others with stuff from Luxury Stores but the result is the same, a home that would be really nice if someone would just throw away two or three tons of useless junk.

This is a trap I am trying really hard to not fall into. I start way too many hobbies. As long as it is a closet full of junk I feel like I am ok, but if any spills out I will be over the edge. Right now I have an exactly optimal amount of furniture though. Any more and things would start looking bad. I might be able to fit an aquarium, a TV, some kitchen equipment, and some pictures on my wall but that is about it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Different toolsets

At one point in Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman he mentions how he taught himself Calculus from a really old textbook. This turned out to help him a great deal, everyone else learned the same methods to solve problems, but he learned different ones. Every so often he would encounter a problem that was simple his way, but almost impossible using more common methods. This would allow him to solve problems that stumped some brilliant people, helping him make a name for himself.

I feel like I am encountering a similar situation. I am surrounded with power engineers. For the most part they are damn good power engineers but typically they have all learned the same subjects. This means that as an electrical engineer it is really hard to make a contribution, but it also means that where they get stuck is often when the problem is not an electrical engineering one. When that happens often a little Chemistry, Math or Physics knowledge can make a big difference.

This came up at an IEEE meeting I recently attended about a standard. In a room of about 30 electrical engineers they brought up a materials science problem in the standard. They had a table showing the specific heat of a composite material. No one had any clue where this data was coming from, so they were considering taking it out.

Now, this wasn't a hard problem. Any Chemist or Materials Engineer could have given an answer in a few hours at most. But there just weren't any in the room. So the other day I went ahead and did the math, confirmed the table was correct, and found mistakes in the standard that had been there for at least thirty years making it impossible to reproduce the values in the table as they describe.

While it is still unclear if my changes will be added, two of the leading engineers have agreed with my math, and none objected, so it almost certainly will make the next revision. For a recent graduate to correct a similar error in Electrical Engineering would probably not happen. Just too many good Electrical Engineers had seen it. But I doubt one person with a Chemistry degree had ever read the standard making those mistakes much easier to fix.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Gathering Signatures

I spent thursday night collecting signatures for the Tax Cannibus 2010 initiative at the art walk in downtown LA. It made for an interesting night, me and two other people working together managed to get 100 signatures in two hours. Something like one in six people who walked near the booth signed. There were some odd ones who didn't sign, like a guy who wouldn't sign because he was an anarchist and didn't believe in involving himself with the government. Over all though it wasn't too hard to get signatures. 

One thing I noticed was how much the medical marijuana laws lead to the present state. From what I can see the bill was written by, and most the volunteers are affiliated with Oaksterdam University. Which mostly seems to teach classes about marijuana. Without the semi-legal status this level of organization simply would not exist.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

It has been a few years since I have contributed, but I still am a top twenty reviewer at Looking at it, the site really is a lot more useful in areas I have spent a lot of time in. Southern CA has the more popular sites, but completely lacks the sort of entries where you park at a mile marker and climb down a long trail. For hunting these are always the best sites. I shall have to consult dive site books and pages such as Francko's maps and add to it as I explore. The site really does have potential to be amazing for such information.

Fruit Juice is not healthy.

I am glad media attention is being given to the fact that fruit juice is no more healthy than soda. As much sugar as soda, more calories, I have been amazed by the propaganda machine that has managed to make most Americans think of it as health food.

Overdraft fees

One of the best things to come out of the financial crisis is strong consumer protections from financial institutions. The Federal Reserve just made one of the most important rule changes yet.Starting July 1st if you over-spend with a debit card the transaction will be turned down instead of charging you $20-$40 in fees like they currently do. Those few consumers that prefer the current system can opt out, but I for one don't want a $40 dollar fee if I overspend by even a penny.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tax Cannibus

I was bored last night, and decided to go to a meeting for volunteers to help with the tax cannibus ballot initiative. This is the ballot initiative to legalize and tax marijuana in California. I was rather expecting a disorganized group of stereotypical pot-heads. And there were some of them there. But more impressive, these people really have their act together. 

The meeting was smaller than I expected, maybe a dozen people. This made me think the gathering of 650,000 signitures would prove nearly impossible. Quickly it was clear I mis-judged though. The meeting was only for new volunteers, they clearly have a much larger force at work elsewhere. They are actually half way through gathering signitures after only a month, they have until Feb to finish!  

Tomorrow I will go out with some people to collect signitures. Should be exciting!

This will be a fun election.  

Sunday, November 1, 2009

iphone not playing music

My iphone stopped playing music at all for a few months. Whenever I would hit play, it would hesitate for a little while than go back to the main menu. It was as if it never even tried to play the MP3. The speakers clearly worked. I could play youtube videos just fine, and the ring tones sounded normal. I just couldn't play music.

I never was able to find a solution for this problem online. Mostly because it was hard to find proper keywords to describe this problem. Anyways I did find a general solution guide for the iphone. One of the more simple solutions they offered managed to fix the problem. I simply had to restore it to factory settings. After that it worked just fine.

The phone is now in the best shape it has been in for ages. It was giving error messages "This accessory was not made to work with iPhone" and asking me to enter airplane mode every few minutes. For no apparent reason these errors have disappeared. Now essentially every feature on this phone works like new, despite being a first generation phone that has been used a great deal. A good excuse to not bother buying a new phone for a few more months.

2.5 gallon planted aquariums

This is added to my post-credit card debt list of things to do. A 2.5 gallon planted aquarium:

From Here

From Here

From Here

From Here

Perhaps ill upgrade in size if I find an apartment where it is not necessary to hide the aquarium. If I am forced to tear it down though I don't want to have it be a real chore. Also at this size I think I might be able to keep the aquarium nice. A nice small aquarium seems a better deal than an ugly big aquarium.