April 17, 2014


The whole hooraw about some people refusing to vaccinate their kids because of urban legends about the dangers really strikes me as strange. I understand the situation and have no sympathy, in part because I grew up in the 1950's and most of those vaccines didn't exist then.

We got vaccinated for smallpox, though, which they don't do any more. We got vaccinated for diphtheria and tetanus and pertussis. And the polio vaccine came out while I was a kid.

That was a big one. I remember my parents taking us all to one of the local high schools one evening and we had to stand in a long line, and when we got to the front there was a big tray with a huge pile of sugar cubes, must have been ten pounds of sugar there. And my parents told me to take one cube and eat it. OK fine, if you insist.

But there were a lot of what we called "childhood diseases" for which no vaccines existed, and it was considered routine for any kid to get them all. So I've had measles. I got it four times, in fact, because there are four strains, or so I was told. We called them "7 day measles", "14 day measles", "21 day measles" and "German measles" (i.e. rubella).

In a couple of cases it was considered to be desirable for kids to get infected and get it over with. I remember one time my mom took my sister and me to see a boy who was just getting over rubella, and we spent an hour with him in his bedroom in hopes that we'd get infected. (It didn't work. I guess he was past being infectious.)

Mumps is like that, as well. It's a lot more serious disease in an adult than in a kid. And I've had the mumps.

In theory a lot of those diseases have a low probability of killing, but I don't remember it ever happening to anyone I ever heard about. (Though I myself nearly died from "stomach flu" when I was maybe 3; I had to spend a couple of days in the hospital with an IV in my arm getting rehydrated.)

But I did spend a lot of time sick in bed, and so did we all back then. I'm glad those days are gone. Vaccines are a medical miracle and people who refuse to vaccinate their kids are blithering idiots.

(Inspired by a swarm of vaccine posts over at Instapundit.)

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I didn't need this

Someone decided they needed to fork TVTropes.

I won't be using the new site.

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April 16, 2014

I invoke Rule 34

Are you ready for this? A Japanese Yaoi dating game about pigeons.

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April 15, 2014

Evolution of language

New meanings all the time. For instance:

"brick" -- noun or adjective, a rectangular block of ceramic used for building construction. "We live in a brick house."

"brick" -- transitive verb, to render a computer totally inoperative. "Damn it, that last update bricked my phone!"

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April 03, 2014

Bad luck

I tell you... I was using Google Street View and stopped in the middle of a freeway -- and got rear-ended.

And I don't even have insurance!

UPDATE: They're demanding I pay off in Bitcoins!

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March 29, 2014

I'm an old man...

I keep running into references that I'm not sure young people would even understand.

Here's one: I wonder how many 16 year olds know what "carbon paper" is, and what it was used for?

Or the fact that "cc:" stands for "carbon copy:", and what that means?

I bet most don't know. Me, I've used the stuff, which makes me a dinosaur.

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March 24, 2014

A factoid

Ex-convicts account for at least 1 in 10 D.C. residents.

That is a truly astounding thing. I wonder if there's ever been a city like that before, let alone a national capital?

That seems like the kind of thing you'd find in a dying city like Detroit.

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March 14, 2014

20% renewable

God, I love writing about renewable energy. (Moan)

I keep seeing a statistic being thrown around by advocates of renewable energy: "20% of our energy already comes from renewable sources".

Well, yes, that turns out to be true. But they're palming a card when they say that.

There are two kinds of renewable energy: hydro, and sources which can't be used for base load. When they say 20% of our energy comes from renewable sources, it's true, but nearly all of that is hydro.

Hydro is very practical and there is a lot of it. We've been using it for a hundred years, and, unfortunately, nearly all the potential hydro has now been developed. It's not an infinite resource, and to get much more we'd have to do things like turn Hell's Canyon into a lake.

The Columbia River is probably the single biggest source of hydro power in the US, and there's only one site remaining on the Columbia where a new dam could be built. The government made a conscious decision not to use it because it's the last remaining stretch of wild water on the river, and they decided to preserve it.

The Mississippi contains more energy, but it can't be dammed for most of its length. The terrain is wrong for that. (Also true for the Missouri.) The Colorado is fully developed, and it doesn't actually produce all that much power because it doesn't actually run all that much water. (My local river, the Willamette, runs 50% more water.) The main reason the Colorado is so valuable is that it runs right through the middle of the biggest desert in North America, so it's a prime source of irrigation and tap water. (And all of it gets used. It's been decades since the Colorado reached the sea. It dries up 10 or 15 miles short.)

The Rio Grande is similarly overutilized, and there have been times when it hasn't reached the sea, either. And it doesn't run enough water to be worth using for hydro. There just isn't much power there. (It's less than our Santiam River, which none of you have even heard of.)

The St. Lawrence river and the other large rivers in the NE (e.g. the Connecticut river) are like the Mississippi; the terrain they run through doesn't permit dams to be built.

There are a lot of decent rivers in Quebec which have been dammed, and the power they produce is mostly sold to the US.

So yeah, 20% of our power comes from hydro. But it isn't going to increase any more, and as our energy use increases, it will make up a smaller and smaller proportion. By 2050 it will probably be less than 10%.

And the other kinds of renewable energy are too intermittent and/or unreliable to be used for base power. (What do you do in the middle of the night when the wind isn't blowing?)

I hate this, but seeing that factoid over and over again got my temper up. It's so deceptive as to approach an outright lie.

UPDATE: "So you use intermittent energy sources and store a lot of it, and use the stored power when the primary source can't be used."

The problem is that storing vast amounts of energy isn't easy. I know of only one practical way of doing it that can handle the amount of energy needed, which can consume or produce power at the kinds of rates needed.

You use excess electricity to run pumps and push water up to a reservoir or a system of tanks at the top of a hill. When you need to get power back, you run water back down the hill and push it through a turbine. Leakage is negligible; we know how to build tanks that don't leak. So the water can be stored at high elevation for however long is required.

Siting is a bit of a headache, but not too bad. You need a reasonable hill or small mountain next to a reasonable river (which runs ten or more times your pump rate). But there are a lot of places like that. (Of course, such sites are nowhere near where people propose to build big solar plants.)

That works, and it scales nicely. Need more capacity? Build more pumps, tanks, and turbines. The reason I don't like it is efficiency: most of the energy put into it to pump the water is lost. You only get a minority of the energy back at the end.

"So make it more efficient" says the renewable energy freak who hasn't heard of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. It can't be made super efficient. The laws of Physics don't permit it.

And that's true for any energy storage system which is large enough to make a difference. Which means it isn't a practical solution.

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March 10, 2014

Wonderduck, this one's for you!

A video of a Boeing 777 wing being tested to destruction. Watch carefully; there's a cookie.


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March 03, 2014

Hubris and Nemesis

At this point I can say that there's only one thing good about Obama being reelected in 2012: it means he's still President when the consequences of all his idiotic policies came due, and has to suffer the results.

Not as much suffering as the people of the US and the world, of course, but suffer he will.

Nemesis should result in humility, but in this case it probably won't. No matter what goes wrong, for Obama it won't be his own fault.

What's worse, from his point of view, is that he's well on his way to establishing a record to be ashamed of. Part of what has motivated Obama was that he was the first non-white to be President, and he wanted to leave office with a positive, praiseworthy legacy. But at this point he's right on track to leave office with the reputation of being the worst, most incompetent President in the history of the nation.

But it won't be his fault, you know.

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