Thursday, July 28, 2011

Transfers of wealth

It really does seem to me that the government has been spending less and less tax payer money to actually do something and more and more money to transfer money between different groups in society. Still, I did not realize quite the scale of the change until I read this:

In 1960, national defense was the government’s main job; it constituted 52 percent of federal outlays. In 2011 — even with two wars — it is 20 percent and falling. Meanwhile, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other retiree programs constitute roughly half of non-interest federal spending.
That is pretty impressive. With how large the generation going into retirement is right now and how large the debt already is, I imagine the next decade will get a whole lot worse before it gets better.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Fairbanks Alaska

I am going somewhere in January. Not sure where. At some point I suggested Fairbanks Alaska somewhat as a joke. The more I read about it though, the more likely I will actually go through with it:

“They do things like throw boiling water in the air and watch it freeze like marbles before it hits the ground. They blow soap bubbles, which freeze solid and roll around on the ground like Christmas ornaments. They put bananas outside to freeze and then use them as hammers to pound nails into two-by-fours.”

If nothing else it would make a whole lot better of a story than just about anywhere else.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Physics Works

While I generally trust that physicists do a good job in working out the details in their equations (at least the ones more than fifty years old) I am always impressed when I see them work.

At my job I was asked to produce a calculation of Induced Voltages on power lines. The problem was based around the idea that if a de-energized power line runs in parallel with an energized one than the magnetic fields from the in service line will induce a voltage in the other line. This is important because with large enough distances away from where a line is grounded, the voltage is high enough to electrocute a worker.

I set up a model entirely from Maxwell's equations and making some assumptions about power lines being straight lines. Then, since people's lives were on the line with the outcome of this calculation, we went out and measured actual induced voltages where several circuits were in parallel on the same poles for about a mile to compare with my calculations.

I just ran the calculations today in an excel program which includes the configuration of the conductors and the exact current on the parallel lines. Sure enough, Maxwell's Equations agree with experimental measurement to within about 5%. Remarkable. A few scribblings on paper and a few excel calculations actually do predict outcomes in the real world.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Reality Astronauts

It is amazing how every idea I have was already thought of.

A few months back while watching some silly show or another I determined that a trip to Mars would make an excellent reality TV show. Just put in 6-20 interesting and single young adults and film the chaos that ensues when they are all locked in a tiny space for years at a time with a high probability of dying.

Of course, I didn't think of exactly the idea that was mentioned in a recent New York Times article. The first part of that reality TV show could be the astronaut selection process. You could easily set up a Survivor or American Idol type show to pick who will be on the trip.

A shame that the billions that could be made with this funding mechanism is such a tiny fraction of the price of the trip. Maybe in 30 years.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Employment verses Manufacturing Output

Since this is one of my favorite graphs, I have probably posted it before. Here is a great graph of manufacturing output and employment in manufacturing:

The same trend has been occurring for centuries in farming. Retail and sales seem to be getting hit pretty hard too as technology wipes out jobs.

The article I found that graph in was pretty disturbing. If it is typical of the views of business owners I may start predicting a return to Marxism sometime in the next century... More likely though is those people who are willing to hire and train huge numbers of people will take over and out compete those who avoid hiring.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I may have just had the high point of my athletic accomplishments. Or at the very least a close second to free diving to 50 feet.

I tapped out a guy who wrestled for four years in College. Sure, he was 50lb lighter than me and obviously knew little about Jiu Jitsu. Sure, he got me about a minute later. Still though, I spent too many years being beat up on by athletes greatly inferior to him to not be impressed.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Engineers verses M.B.A.s

There will always be disputes between engineers and M.B.A.s. Both groups are of the opinion that they know everything, they often are asked to weigh in on the same subjects and they don't exactly have similar cultures.

This article in Time magazine
arguing that more power should go back to the engineers therefore amused me. He certainly has a point that people in power at a company need to be those most fanatical about what the company produces. Often those people are engineers, after all these people typically went through years of schooling just to learn more about a particular technology.

A similar article in Forbes argues that doctors make the best hospital administrators.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Real estate declines over the past year.

Just about everywhere around me seems to have had home prices which fell a lot more last year. I just summed up numbers from Zillow:

Alhambra, 35k drop in median home price
Anaheim 23k
Brea 44k
Chino 18k
Chino Hills 30k
Claremont 19k
Corona 10k
Diamond Bar 27k
Fullerton 38k
Orange 51k
Pasadena 21k
Pomona 5k
Rosemead, 10k
Rowland Heights 38k
San Gabriel 35k
West Covina 16k
Walnut 38k
Yorba Linda 42k

About the only places in the area I am looking at living in which had their prices hold up this last year were

Pico Rivera, median home prices rose $1k.
Riversida 3k

It seems like the really poor areas are done with their real estate crash, while wealthier places still have a beating. I really do not expect much more of a decline in Pomona or Riverside as the prices are back to pre-bubble levels. Outside these areas I would be terrified to buy right now. The price of the home is dropping faster than I could make payments. If it stops falling for two years, or if prices where I buy are at pre bubble levels than I will reconsider.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


I have long thought homework was unnecessary and unfair. Kids from chaotic families are punished unfairly, more normal kids are taught to hate learning as they are forced to complete busy work and teachers get more workload since they must grade these assignments.

Apparently at least someone in the world thinks the same thing. LA Unified School District has just mandated that home work be no more than 10% of the grade of any student.

Monday, July 4, 2011


This aquarium has given me hope that it is possible to make a real ecosystem in a glass box. I didn't feed it at all for the few weeks I was in Costa Rica and while my cherry shrimp still won't breed they all seem to be alive. The tank is now being taken over by tiny seed shrimp. There must be two or three hundred of the tiny things.

I imagine with a slightly larger aquarium you could make an ecosystem dependent on only light and if you are trimming plants occasional nutrient additions to make up for what you lose. Still, to make an actually nice aquarium I would need to buy a new aquarium and get more diversity of plants.

Full aquarium pictures:

A Cherry Shrimp:

Some Seed Shrimp:

This would make a particularly good refugium. I could connect this small aquarium up to a larger aquarium separated by some sort of mesh so only small creatures could get out. Baby snails and shrimp would then feed fish in the larger aquarium.

Firework bans

Seeing a firework stand in Westminster made me think that would make a good criterion for picking a city to live in. Any city which still has legal fireworks has a much lower chance of driving me crazy with silly demands by local government.

List of cities in LA county which allow fireworks.

List of cities in Orange county which allow fireworks. In addition Westminster just legalized them.

Cities in San Bernadino and Riverside county which allow fireworks.

Bonus points to Rosemead, La Puente, and Chino for being cities near where I work which have the guts to only punish those who cause fires by irresponsible use of fireworks not the entire population of reasonable adults.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Can't find anything

I have only used the wikimedia commons a few times to try and find images. I always found it to be remarkably hard to find things on it. I always assumed that they simply didn't have enough images. Submitting pictures it became obvious that this is not a problem of too few images, it is a problem of having a silly organization.

Typically when you are searching for something you first check the most general term. Then if you can't find something you go to more and more specific terms until you find it. That just doesn't work in the wikimedia commons though. You can't skim images easily. Lets say you want an image of a scorpion. You don't care about what kind of scorpion, so you type in scorpion into their search engine. You only get four images. It is easy to conclude that they simply don't have many images of scorpions.

If you are more persistent you might try a different key word. Scorpiones does better. Still, you only see ten images of scorpions. Are there only ten images of scorpions?

No, you have to click on one of 18 additional options to find all the images of scorpions. There is no option to see all the scorpion images at once. The system works pretty well if you want to find one particular species of scorpion and has some hope if you want to know pictures of scorpions from a particular country. It completely breaks down if you are just looking for a picture with a particular attribute, say the prettiest picture to put on the scorpion.

This is a shame. Most people would quickly give up and use google to find an image. That would leave them with an image which they probably don't have the legal right to use, while a wikimedia commons image would serve their purpose without being bound by copyright law.

To fix the system all they would need to do is automatically tag each image with every tag above it. For example if you tag a particular scientific name of scorpion, it would add the tag for kingdom, phylum, order, class and so on. Instead the rules of the wikipedia commons specifically say you should not do this. They should only be labeled with the most specific labels you can get.

Last year before an election

I have been proven too optimistic time and time again when it comes to the economy. A broken clock is right twice a day though so if I just keep trying I should eventually be right. Here is a historical trend which might help things out soon:

The stock market returns less than 5% from October of the first year of a President’s term through September of the second year, but more than 25% over the following 12 months.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Pictures in Costa Rica

I had a camera with the ability to take some pretty impressive macro pictures and a lot of free time. So I determined that I should take as many pictures of the local insects as I could, then publish them to the wikimedia commons. Most of the images didn't turn out, but I submitted quite a lot to the site.

Here are a few of my favorites: