Friday, May 31, 2013

OK, that's clever!

I had to laugh at Burger King's new advertising campaign in Puerto Rico for the 50th anniversary of their Whopper burger.  Apparently they actually gave away 50 of these contraptions to loyal customers!  They've even set up a Web site about it.


Looks like "F Troop" did it again . . .

It seems the BATFE(IEIO) is up to its usual bumbling yet again.  After a messy scandal in Milwaukee, which revealed incompetence and mismanagement to an appalling degree, it's now been reported that:

The U.S. Department of Justice inspector general will investigate the mistake-ridden ATF undercover sting in Milwaukee as part of a larger review of the agency's handling of sensitive cases after its flawed "Operation Fast and Furious."

Inspector General Michael Horowitz wrote to two members of Congress that the Milwaukee sting appeared to raise "significant management issues relating to the oversight and management" of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The issues, the letter said, were especially troubling coming after the agency had promised reforms.

There's more at the link.  A full breakdown of the ATF's Milwaukee fiasco may be found here.

Ever since the Obama Administration took power, the ATF has been in the forefront of illegal operations, official incompetence and bumbling stupidity.  I've never forgotten (nor forgiven them for) the murder of US Border Patrol agent Brian Terry as the result of the ATF's botched 'Operation Fast & Furious' - and he wasn't the only casualty.  At least 150 Mexicans were killed as a result of the same operation.

Having worked in a law enforcement capacity for the Federal government myself, I can tell you that most Federal officers' honest opinion of the BATFE is unprintable (mine is too!).  Frankly, if the agency were shut down and its employees disbarred from any further law enforcement service whatsoever - down to and including deputy acting unpaid second assistant dog-catcher - this country would be a lot better off.


Highway to . . . well, Heaven or Hell, I guess!

A couple of years ago I wrote about an English pastor who'd converted a Triumph Rocket III motorcycle into the world's fastest hearse.  It seems his efforts have been outdone.  A recent comment on that post informed me that someone's taken a Suzuki Hayabusa (the world's fastest production motorcycle) and attached a hearse in sidecar fashion.

How fast does it go?

OK, that's fast!


Do stupid things, pay the price

I'm frustrated and angry to read that a man in Washington state is facing charges after firing a warning shot at someone trying to break into his home.  This is something that's stressed in every shooting course I've ever taken, and in every qualifying course for a concealed carry permit.  If you fire a shot, whether or not it's aimed at anyone (or no-one), you've just employed lethal force!  It may not have caused lethal (or any) damage, but it still had the potential to do so, therefore it's legally classified in the same way.

I've taught for years (and been taught) that the only reason you're legally allowed to use lethal force in almost every state is to prevent or avert an illegal, immediate and otherwise unavoidable threat of death or serious injury to you or those for whom you are legally responsible.  Some states stretch that a bit with 'stand your ground' laws, or allow you to intervene to protect even a stranger if you believe they're the victim of a criminal assault;  others don't.  A warning shot does nothing in and of itself to avert danger - it only delivers a warning - but since the use of a firearm is classified as lethal force, it means you may well be charged with the inappropriate or illegal use of lethal force.  That's the way it is, Hollywood notwithstanding.  If you're convicted, you may have a felony charge on your record for the rest of your life, and lose your Second Amendment and other rights forever.

I hope many gun owners learn from the plight of Mr. Thompson.  I'm sorry he didn't think this through ahead of time.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Rosso Fango

As I promised yesterday, here's the second of two short movies from the Sundance Film Festival.  This one describes an unlikely encounter in a shellhole during World War I - but it's based on fact;  an incident like this really happened.  'Rosso Fango' is described as follows:

Lest we forget the old adage "War is Hell," successful commercial director Paola Ameli brings us rushing directly into the maelstrom with highly stylized production value and bracing emotional intensity. Rosso Fango (translated to "Red Mud") begins deep inside a mud hole in no man's land during World War I. A British soldier is trapped inside with imminent danger around him. Scared and alone, he is running out of options. Suddenly, an enemy comes hurtling down upon him. Our man acts quickly and connects with his bayonet. But as the soldier begins to sputter and expire, our hero is faced with startlingly moral choice. Based on a frightening true story that you won't believe until you see, Rosso Fango details the ways in which a simple act of compassion can alter the entire course of human history.

Here it is.

Makes you think, doesn't it?


Video from inside a tornado

No Silence Here has put up a video clip of a storm-chaser vehicle that found itself directly in the path of a tornado in Oklahoma recently.  One can't see much, but the violence of the storm is very obvious.  It's worth watching.

Personally, I think anyone who deliberately puts themselves in close proximity to a tornado has issues best dealt with by a psychiatrist . . . but to each his own, I guess.


More of this, please!

I was delighted to see Tea Party activists in Texas working together with Democrat legislators to defeat a law that would have given politicians in that state concealed carry privileges denied to ordinary citizens.  That's outstanding!  If something's wrong, it's wrong, period.  It doesn't matter what party affiliation one espouses - to oppose such measures is the right thing.

Why aren't we seeing more of this?  Why can't Republican legislators work with OWS activists to pass measures that are right in themselves, irrespective of who introduced them?  Why can't more right-thinking (and left-thinking!) people ignore party political dogma and think for themselves, then work together to get things done simply because they're the right thing to do?

I know, I know . . . any minute now I'll break out in idealistic spots!


The civic anatomy of murder

DNAInfo has published a remarkable timeline of murders committed in Chicago during 2012.  Each victim is identified by name, age and race, the location of the crime is noted, and where possible links are provided to further information.  Here's one example.

The most interesting thing as far as I'm concerned has been to correlate the race of the victims with the area in which they were killed;  and also, where I have access to such information, to check on the criminal record of the deceased.  Overwhelmingly, the violence is concentrated in predominantly minority areas of the city;  and overwhelmingly, those murdered have not exactly been choirboys or angels themselves.

That's the sort of information that's not politically correct to provide these days.  However, unless and until the city fathers of Chicago and similar urban jungles take it into account and act to clean up those neighborhoods, and keep criminals behind bars where they belong (instead of, for example, killing each others' children in a dispute over stolen property), things aren't going to get any better.

Those of my readers living in urban areas of this sort might wish to take note . . .


That's how I remember medicine

I was heartened to read of a doctor in Maine who's stopped taking medical insurance, and is operating a cash-only practice.  He posts his fees online, and those who want to claim back their expenses from their medical insurers have to do the paperwork themselves.  His prices are half what they used to be, he saves a bundle on administrative overhead, and he says he's "freed up to do what I think is right for the patients".

Frankly, I don't know why many other doctors haven't already done this.  I remember this sort of medical practice as a child.  My parents used a family doctor who had a small suite of three rooms above a suburban shop.  They were cream and dark brown in color and decor, redolent with the atmosphere of multi-colored medical solutions in tall glass jars (the sort of thing no-one uses these days).  Dr. Goldberg always had a box full of miniature bars of chocolate for kids who were "good" while he took their temperature, or applied a dressing, or (if worst came to worst) gave them an injection of some kind.  He always seemed older than God to me, a jolly man, always smiling or laughing.  Mom or Dad would pay him directly, either on the spot or on receipt of his monthly bill, and then claim what costs were covered from their medical insurance.  There was no nonsense about 'assembly-line medicine', where one was shunted from nurse to lab worker to physician's assistant - it was see the doctor himself, every time.

I'd gladly switch to a practice like Dr. Ciampi's if there was one available nearby.  I reckon I'd save a bundle, and I don't mind sending in my bills once a month to my own insurer for reimbursement.  Frankly, I think if everybody did that, a great deal of the waste and fraudulent overbilling that's rampant in the US medical system would be wiped out overnight!


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Spitfire 944

This is a remarkable short film from the Sundance Film Festival, one of two temporarily put up on YouTube to mark Memorial Day (I'll put up the second one tomorrow.)  It'll only be available for a couple of weeks before being taken down again, so you might want to save a copy.  It's described as follows:

For aviation fans, get ready for a ton of wonderful archival footage coming your way in William Lorton's Spitfire 944. A true-life story, Lorton has discovered rare 16mm footage of a 1944 spitfire crash and tracks down the pilot, now an 83-year-old World War II veteran to show him the footage. The early parts of this film consists of wartime remembrances and nostalgia for days gone by. The elderly pilot recalls his time spent with his comrades and explains the basic information involved with his aircraft. What he doesn't know is that he is about to see, for the first time in his life, footage of his own crash. When the camera captures the man's honest reaction to what he's viewing, the greater theme at work is suddenly revealed in a flash. The result is an affirming, honest portrait of a man confronted with his past.

Here it is.  I recommend watching it in full-screen mode.

It's suddenly got dusty in here . . . at least, that's what my eyes are telling me . . .


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The night shift clearly has way too much time on their hands . . .

The Cora supermarket in Rennes, France, clearly had too many workers on the night shift with too little to do.  They came up with this domino demonstration, using store stocks.

When it hit YouTube, it went viral, and as a result the supermarket's customers demanded to see it 'live'.  The workers duly obliged, and hundreds of people turned up to watch.

So, what began as a project to amuse bored workers has turned into a pretty massive publicity stunt for the supermarket chain.  Well done to all concerned!


So much for government 'austerity'!

Forbes has just published an excellent article pointing out that all those baying for more Keynesian economic stimulus instead of so-called 'austerity' programs have one major problem:  there is no government austerity to speak of.  Here's an excerpt.

The official Keynesian story is that the PIIGS of Europe (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) have been devastated by cutbacks in public spending. Austerity has made things worse rather than better – clear proof that Keynesian stimulus is the answer. Keynesians claim the lack of stimulus (of course paid for by someone else) has spawned costly recessions which threaten to spread.  In other words, watch out Germany and Scandinavia: If you don’t pony up, you’ll be next.

Erber finds fault with this Keynesian narrative. The official figures show that PIIGS governments embarked on massive spending sprees between 2000 and 2008. During this period, their combined general government expenditures rose from 775 billion Euros to 1.3 trillion – a 75 percent increase. Ireland had the largest percentage increase (130 percent), and Italy the smallest (40 percent). These spending binges gave public sector workers generous salaries and benefits, paid for bridges to nowhere, and financed a gold-plated transfer state. What the state gave has proven hard to take away as the riots in Southern Europe show.

Then in 2008, the financial crisis hit. No one wanted to lend to the insolvent PIIGS, and, according to the Keynesian narrative, the PIIGS were forced into extreme austerity by their miserly neighbors to the north. Instead of the stimulus they desperately needed, the PIIGS economies were wrecked by austerity.

Not so according to the official European statistics. Between the onset of the crisis in 2008 and 2011,  PIIGS government spending increased by six percent from an already high plateau.  Eurostat’s projections (which make the unlikely assumption that the PIIGS will honor the fiscal discipline promised their creditors) still show the PIIGS spending more in 2014 than at the end of their spending binge in 2008.

As Erber wryly notes: “Austerity is everywhere but in the statistics.”

There's more at the link.  Recommended reading.

The same can be said of the United States.  When President Obama took office in 2009, he unleased the biggest increase in federal government spending we've ever seen.  It's bankrupting us, and making our fiscal plight worse every day that it continues.  The only way we can restore our financial health is to spend less - we can't possibly increase taxes to the point where they can cover the expenditure, as that would cripple our economy.  However, the Administration continues to spend, spend, spend as if there's no tomorrow.  Of course, it won't have to pay for tomorrow . . . we, the taxpayers, will.


"Survivorship Bias"

That's the title of a fascinating article by David McRaney at his Web site 'You Are Not So Smart'.  He discusses statistical analysis in World War II, shows how a very bright statistician prevented the US Army Air Force from making a disastrous mistake, and demonstrates how that illustrates a problem in decision-making that affects us all.

Simply put, survivorship bias is your tendency to focus on survivors instead of whatever you would call a non-survivor depending on the situation. Sometimes that means you tend to focus on the living instead of the dead, or on winners instead of losers, or on successes instead of failures. In Wald’s problem, the military focused on the planes that made it home and almost made a terrible decision because they ignored the ones that got shot down.

It is easy to do. After any process that leaves behind survivors, the non-survivors are often destroyed or muted or removed from your view. If failures becomes invisible, then naturally you will pay more attention to successes. Not only do you fail to recognize that what is missing might have held important information, you fail to recognize that there is missing information at all.

You must remind yourself that when you start to pick apart winners and losers, successes and failures, the living and dead, that by paying attention to one side of that equation you are always neglecting the other. If you are thinking about opening a restaurant because there are so many successful restaurants in your hometown, you are ignoring the fact the only successful restaurants survive to become examples. Maybe on average 90 percent of restaurants in your city fail in the first year. You can’t see all those failures because when they fail they also disappear from view. As Nassim Taleb writes in his book The Black Swan, “The cemetery of failed restaurants is very silent.” Of course the few that don’t fail in that deadly of an environment are wildly successful because only the very best and the very lucky can survive. All you are left with are super successes, and looking at them day after day you might think it’s a great business to get into when you are actually seeing evidence that you should avoid it.

. . .

Wiseman speculated that what we call luck is actually a pattern of behaviors that coincide with a style of understanding and interacting with the events and people you encounter throughout life. Unlucky people are narrowly focused, he observed. They crave security and tend to be more anxious, and instead of wading into the sea of random chance open to what may come, they remain fixated on controlling the situation, on seeking a specific goal. As a result, they miss out on the thousands of opportunities that may float by. Lucky people tend to constantly change routines and seek out new experiences. Wiseman saw that the people who considered themselves lucky, and who then did actually demonstrate luck was on their side over the course of a decade, tended to place themselves into situations where anything could happen more often and thus exposed themselves to more random chance than did unlucky people. The lucky try more things, and fail more often, but when they fail they shrug it off and try something else. Occasionally, things work out.

. . .

You succumb to survivorship bias because you are innately terrible with statistics. For instance, if you seek advice from a very old person about how to become very old, the only person who can provide you an answer is a person who is not dead. The people who made the poor health choices you should avoid are now resting in the earth and can’t tell you about those bad choices anymore. That’s why it’s difficult not to furrow your brow and wonder why you keep paying for a gym membership when Willard Scott showcases the birthday of a 110-year-old woman who claims the source of her longevity is a daily regimen of cigarillos, cheese sticks, and Wild Turkey cut with maple syrup and Robitussin. You miss that people like her represent a very small number of the living. They are on the thin end of a bell curve. There is a much larger pool of people who basically drank bacon grease for breakfast and didn’t live long enough to appear on television. Most people can’t chug bourbon and gravy for a lifetime and expect to become an octogenarian, but the unusually lucky handful who can tend to stand out precisely because they are alive and talking.

. . .

Failure to look for what is missing is a common shortcoming, not just within yourself but also within the institutions that surround you. A commenter at an Internet watering hole for introverts called the INTJForum explained it with this example: when a company performs a survey about job satisfaction the only people who can fill out that survey are people who still work at the company. Everyone who might have quit out of dissatisfaction is no longer around to explain why. Such data mining fails to capture the only thing it is designed to measure, but unless management is aware of survivorship bias things will continue to seem peachy on paper. In finance, this is a common pitfall. The economist Mark Klinedinst explained to me that mutual funds, companies that offer stock portfolios, routinely prune out underperforming investments. “When a mutual fund tells you, ‘The last five years we had 10 percent on average return,’ well, the companies that didn’t have high returns folded or were taken over by companies that were more lucky.” The health of the companies they offer isn’t an indication of the mutual fund’s skill at picking stocks, said Klinedinst, because they’ve deleted failures from their offerings. All you ever see are the successes. That’s true for many, many elements of life. Money experts who made great guesses in the past are considered soothsayers because their counterparts who made equally risky moves that failed nosedived into obscurity and are now no longer playing the game. Whole nations left standing after wars and economic struggles pump fists of nationalism assuming that their good outcomes resulted from wise decisions, but they can never know for sure.

There's much more at the link.  Go read the whole thing - it'll challenge all sorts of preconceived ideas.

This is a truly fascinating article.  I can't recommend it too highly to anyone who has important life decisions to make.  I'm certainly going to apply it to decisions I have to make about my (hopefully burgeoning) career as an author.


Very (musically) punny!

I had to laugh at whoever came up with the name for a trio of young musicians who've made the headlines in France. 

A TRIO of daredevil musicians known as Led Zipline took to the skies for a jam session - dangling 1,000ft above a French gorge.

Mich Kemeter and his crazy mates set up a hammock on a highline 300m above the River Verdon - friend Armin Holzer then serenades Mich with a didgeridoo.

Bonkers axe-man Niccolo Zarattini then plays guitar and sings to Mich and his girlfriend Karine while hanging from the rope with just one safety line.

There's more at the link, including several more photographs.

'Led Zipline', indeed!


Monday, May 27, 2013

OK, that's clever!

Full marks for creativity to the advertising agency (presumably Japanese) that came up with this advertisement for 'beautiful and fast' Windows 8.

It won't persuade me to upgrade to the new version of Windows, but it certainly put a smile on my face!


An unusual aircraft accident

In February 2006, a Falcon 20 executive jet made an emergency landing at Kiel-Holtenau airport in Germany, during which it ran off the runway and was severely damaged.

The reason for the emergency landing had been given as a 'fire on board'.  Now the accident report (published only in January this year, for some unknown reason) has provided details of what must have been a chaotic situation on board.  Briefly, the air hostess (a very inexperienced individual with minimal training) picked up an emergency flare in the galley.  Not speaking very good English, she wasn't able to read the label;  and in the darkened interior of the aircraft, she didn't properly identify the object in her hands.  Thinking it was a roll of plastic wrap (!), she attempted to open it.

This (inevitably) ignited the flare, filling the entire aircraft interior with smoke and starting a fire at the base of the galley.  The pilots managed to descend from their cruising altitude of 38,000 feet and land the aircraft, although the report notes several instances of confusion and incoherent responses from all concerned.  (Personally, if I were at 38,000 feet and found myself suddenly surrounded by smoke, with an ominous red glow at my feet, I'd be a bit incoherent too!)

The pilots failed to activate the aircraft's reverse thrusters when they landed, due to a misunderstanding over the length of the runway.  (I'm not going to make any bad puns about how the plane 'flared' for landing, either!)  If they'd used reverse thrust, they'd have been able to stop safely, but without them the aircraft couldn't brake fast enough.  It ran off the end of the runway and down a steep slope (visible in the first photograph below), almost hitting a metal structure supporting runway lights.

The emergency flare, of course, should never have been in the galley in the first place!  The whole episode appears quite amusing in hindsight . . . but I'm willing to bet for those involved at the time, it was anything but!  (I was also amused this evening, after reading the accident report, to find myself stopping to double-check the roll of plastic wrap as I was packing away the remains of supper!)


Feeling a bit better

A day spent mostly away from the computer screen, more sleep than usual, and a change of pace have helped refresh me.  I'm still fighting off the last of the crud (this current bug really tries to hang around - it's nasty!), but so far, so good.

Thanks for being patient about the lack of blog fodder.  I'll try to get back to a normal schedule now.


Sunday, May 26, 2013


It's been a weird sort of day.  I suspect that several frantic weeks of effort preparing my novel for publication, plus a major edit of the second book in the series (coming out in mid-July), plus preparing the manuscript of the first book for a print edition, plus writing book 3 of the series (coming out in mid-November), and so on, and so on, have simply over-stressed my body.  That's probably why I picked up the head cold that's going around at present.  I've had the crud for over a week now, and I'm shaking it off very slowly - it doesn't want to leave.  Add that to a sore eye (something called 'keratitis', caused by a combination of a viral infection - the head cold - plus far too many hours staring at a computer screen, resulting in over-dry eyes), and it's been a miserable sort of day.  That's why blogging has been light yesterday and today.  I'm just plain worn out.  I'll try to get some better sleep tonight, and put up more posts in the morning.

To keep you amused, check out the 'Top 21 Survival Pick Up Lines' over at Willow Haven Outdoor.  Examples include:

  • Here.  I brought you a bouquet.  It’s edible.
  • Wow, you look hypothermic.  Hurry – let me help regulate your core body temperature!
  • DANG!  I need to come out of my bunker more often!

There are more at the link.  Fun stuff!


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Around The Blogs: 2013-05-25

It's been far too long since I put up one of my 'Around The Blogs' posts.  I can only plead extreme busy-ness with the launch of my first novel on Amazon last week, completing a massive edit of the second novel in the series (due for publication in mid-July, and currently in Miss D.'s hands for critical review), and preparing to publish a print edition of the first book in a couple of weeks' time.  It's been hectic!

Anyway, I've been bookmarking posts that caught my eye on other blogs;  so here we go, in random order.

# # #

Robb Allen tells us how he feels about the poor and downtrodden.  Amen, brother!

# # #

The Miller reminds us that in defensive handgun calibers, top-performing ammunition does just about as well in one as in another.  The days of arguing the superiority of .45 ACP vs. 9mm. Parabellum, or .357 Magnum vs. anything else, are largely over, thanks to recent improvements in ammunition technology.  He links to graphic evidence at PDB's place to back up his claim.

# # #

Kent McManigal bemoans the liberal tendency to reward the bully by punishing his victim.  Word.

# # #

Rev. Paul reminds us of the top 25 ways to tell you're getting older.  Examples include:

  • You think "libido" is an Italian pasta.
  • You wake up with that awful "morning after" feeling, but you didn't do anything the night before.
  • You can remember when the Dead Sea was only sick.

# # #

Captain Tightpants remembers the tension of combat, and wonders "how do you explain it without sounding mad?"  Been there, done that (and had it done to me), got the T-shirt (and sundry scars) to prove it.  It's not fun.

# # #

Old NFO reminds us that "Politics - especially, and specifically in the Obama administration - is all about misdirection ... And what is going to come out next???"  Sobering words, and very true, IMHO.

# # #

On the birthday of Robert Anson Heinlein, the Tireless Agorist remembers his wit and wisdom.  Since RAH was one of my earliest science fiction influences, and I've been told I write somewhat in his mold, I'm grateful for the reminder.

# # #

John Richardson of No Lawyers - Only Guns And Money draws our attention to Stumpies Custom Guns, Inc., a business founded by two comrades-in-arms wounded in combat in Afghanistan.  It's a heartwarming story of two former soldiers who refuse to let their disabilities slow them down.  The name of the business refers to their injuries.  Kudos to them both.

# # #

Miss K. brings us a screamingly funny exchange of the 'Damn you, Autocomplete!' variety.  Caution - it's not safe for work.

# # #

Frank W. James debunks the PSH about 'printable guns', pointing out that you can make a perfectly functional firearm for a dollar or two using a couple of pieces of pipe and a shotgun shell.

# # #

American Mercenary corrects those who think that just by reading a manual, you're competent to perform more or less complex tasks or evolutions.  It's not that simple by any means.  Having BTDT myself, all I can say is, "Preach it, brother!"

# # #

There are two very good articles on the meaning of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution.

Both articles are well worth your time.

# # #

Semiotic Apocalypse offers this photograph (grimly fascinating in our current economic climate) of German children in 1923, using bundles of worthless German marks as building blocks during the Weimar Republic's hyperinflation period.  The site's worth a visit by all who enjoy historic photographs and photography.

# # #

Jeff Carter examines the current state of entrepreneurship in America, and concludes that "Prairie fires are a great metaphor for successful entrepreneurial ecosystems".  He makes an interesting point.  Go read.

# # #

David of Popehat asks what the geographic concentration of human beings implies for US foreign policy, sustainable development and other important issues.  Good question!

# # #

Greylocke brings us two side-splitting stories, one about the church organist and another about a Scottish cow.

# # #

Via a link from Les Jones, we discover '99 Life Hacks to make your life easier'.  Some of them are really clever!  Recommended reading.

# # #

The Silicon Graybeard discusses 'The structural problems taking down the US'.  He makes some telling points.

# # #

Sultan Knish brings us 'The Golden Apple - A Socialist Fairy Tale'.  Indeed!

# # #

The Jawa Report examines the deeper constitutional implications of the 'Big Brother' policies of a sheriff in Florida.  Disturbing.

# # #

Charles Hugh Smith casts his inquiring mind over 'The Decline of Self-Employment and Small Business'.  He comes to some worrying conclusions.

# # #

The 'store blog' at Rhino Den, 'Ranger Up!', has a useful article on military leadership in small units.  Again, having BTDT, this made a lot of sense to me - although some of it is from a perspective different to that of the armed force in which I served.  Food for thought.

# # #

For those of a mathematical and/or statistical bent, Matt Asher speaks about 'Minding the Reality Gap'.  It's a trenchant look at how official statistics are 'fudged' and falsified.  Worthwhile.

# # #

John Lott looks at 'The Real Unemployment Rates by State'.  Sobering - and bearing little or no resemblance to the 'official' numbers pablum with which we're fed.

# # #

Finally, we revisit Greylocke for an interesting series of facts and figures about the human body.  When the Bible described us as 'fearfully and wonderfully made', it wasn't exaggerating!

# # #

That's all for now.  More later.


Friday, May 24, 2013

A blast from my motoring past

As I've mentioned before, back in South Africa I owned and thoroughly enjoyed a BMW R100RT motorcycle.  This gem gave me many thousands of miles of motoring pleasure, until the danger from other motorists in the large city where I was living at the time convinced me that it was better to give up the bike and remain alive!  I understand things haven't improved since then . . .

Be that as it may, BMW first introduced a flat-twin, horizontally-opposed so-called 'Boxer engine' in its R32 motorcycle in 1923.  The same engine, with a few modifications, continues to power some of BMW's motorcycles to this day.  Recently the company decided to celebrate 90 years of the Boxer engine by producing a custom bike.

This is the result.  I recommend watching in full-screen mode.

You can read all about it here.  Suffice it to say that, despite my fused spine and nerve damage in my left leg, I'd give my eye-teeth to own and ride one of them!  Drool-worthy . . .


'Return of the Jedi' - 30 years ago already!

Tomorrow, Saturday, marks 30 years since the release of the last film in the original Star Wars trilogy, 'Return Of The Jedi'.  I can hardly believe it was that long ago.  1983 was a much simpler, yet also much more difficult time of my life, in the midst of prolonged civil unrest, military counter-insurgency operations (that would eventually escalate, a few years later, into a full-blown conventional campaign), and a host of other memories.  One of them was the tragic loss of my fiancée, only a few weeks after we'd watched this movie together.

Wired has produced a fun article titled 30 Things You Didn’t Know About 'Return of the Jedi'.  It includes gems such as these:

  • The Ewoks occasionally speak Tagalog, although most of their dialogue is loosely inspired by Kalmuck, a language spoken in Mongolia. One of the Ewok songs once was believed to be in Swedish — with the lyrics translating, wonderfully, as “It smells of cereal in here” — but that, sadly, was based upon people mishearing the gibberish the oversized rodents were singing.
  • Carrie Fisher’s infamous “slave girl” outfit was, reportedly, a stylistic response to her alleged complaints that the outfits she wore in the first two Star Wars movies made disguised the fact the she was a woman.
  • An early version of the movie was to end with Luke walking off alone, leaving his friends behind in true gunfighter/Samurai fashion. That idea was dropped in favor of a happier ending, reportedly because Lucas feared a downbeat ending would throw a wrench in the printing press from which truckloads of merchandising money flowed.

There's much more at the link.  Entertaining reading.

Thirty years ago . . . dang, I suddenly feel old!



Miss D. is following the progress of my novel's sales far more closely than I am (I'm concentrating on Book 2 of the series, which comes out in July, and hoping for long-term rather than only short-term sales success).  This morning she giggled as she said, "Guess what?"  This is what she'd found.

That's right - at the time of writing, 'Take The Star Road' is:

  • 17th on Amazon's list of 'hot new releases' in Science Fiction e-books overall;
  • 7th on its list of 'hot new releases' in military SF e-books;  and
  • all the way up to 3rd place on its list of 'hot new releases' in Space Opera SF e-books.

The lists change from hour to hour, of course, so there's no guarantee it'll stay that high:  but just to reach the first page of results in all those categories is wonderful!  As for being in the top 3 in a category . . . that's just too cool for school!

Thank you all very much for your support, and particularly for spreading the word about my first novel.  I couldn't have done any of this without you.  Also, if you've read it but not yet posted a review on, please do so - new readers often make purchasing decisions based upon reviews.  Thanks muchly!


Thursday, May 23, 2013

A musical blast from the past

Whilst looking for something else this evening, I came across the Eurovision song contest of 1967.  It was at this event that singer Vicky Leandros, representing Luxembourg, first presented 'L'Amour Est Bleu', ('Love Is Blue').  There's a recording on YouTube of her Eurovision performance, but its soundtrack isn't very good quality, so I've chosen to use this one instead.  (The French lyrics, with an English translation, may be found here.)

The song was popularized in the USA in an instrumental version by Paul Mauriat and his orchestra.  To date it's the only piece by a French artist to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 (in 1968).

I was still a child then, but I remember both versions.  Lots of nostalgia there . . .


At last, someone gets it!

Perhaps I take my reading too literally, but for many years I've been highly annoyed at sword-and-sorcery or fantasy novels depicting female heroines wielding mighty swords and wearing boobalicious armor, demolishing hordes of opposing warriors without breaking into a sweat or mussing their makeup.  For example, this Red Sonja comic cover is reproduced here courtesy of Wikipedia.

Speaking as a combat veteran, I'm here to tell you, muscle mass counts.  If the average woman takes on the average man, she'll lose any physical fight because he outmasses her and has greater strength.  If she's got extreme skillz, she might hold her own - or she might not.  His superior mass and strength will still wear her down if the fight's prolonged.  Furthermore, she has to get in close to land a telling blow.  If he can pin her at that instant, immobilize a limb or capture the blow as it's launched . . . she's neck-deep in the proverbial doo-doo.

The same applies to the fantasy armor worn by so many of these babes.  It's precisely the opposite of what armor should be!  Now Tor, publisher of many books in this genre, finally spells it out.

Assuming that you are avoiding the blow of a sword, your armor should be designed so that the blade glances off your body, away from your chest. If your armor is breast-shaped, you are in fact increasing the likelihood that a blade blow will slide inward, toward the center of your chest, the very place you are trying to keep safe.

But that’s not all! Let’s say you even fall onto your boob-conscious armor. The divet separating each breast will dig into your chest, doing you injury. It might even break your breastbone. With a strong enough blow to the chest, it could fracture your sternum entirely, destroying your heart and lungs, instantly killing you. It is literally a death trap—you are wearing armor that acts as a perpetual spear directed at some of your most vulnerable body parts. It’s just not smart.

There's more at the link.

Now, if they can just get their authors, marketers and cover illustrators to listen . . .


Boys and their toys - kitty edition

Although I don't think I'd want to get any closer to their enjoyment . . .


The Benghazi scandal - another warning signal

I'm sure readers have been following the unfolding of the Benghazi scandal (among others) in Washington over the past few days.  Personally, there's so much smoke in DC right now I'm thinking it's a sign, not of a fire, but of a deliberate smoke screen, intended to divert attention while the united Left (both Democratic and Republican) tries to ram through immigration reform while everyone's distracted.  That would be a national catastrophe, so we need to be very much on our guard.

Be that as it may, reader T. D. sent me a link to this 2008 article, reminding me that anything Hillary Clinton says about Benghazi should be taken with more than a few pinches of salt.

The former general counsel and chief of staff of the House Judiciary Committee, who supervised Hillary during the Watergate investigation, says her history of lies and unethical behavior goes back farther – and goes much deeper – than anyone realizes.

. . .

'A lifelong Democrat, Mr. Zeifman supervised the work of 27-year-old Hillary Rodham on the committee. Hillary got a job working on the investigation at the behest of her former law professor, Burke Marshall, who was also Sen. Ted Kennedy’s chief counsel in the Chappaquiddick affair. When the investigation was over, Zeifman fired Hillary from the committee staff and refused to give her a letter of recommendation – one of only three people who earned that dubious distinction in Zeifman’s 17-year career.'


"Because she was a liar," Zeifman said in an interview last week. “She was an unethical, dishonest lawyer. She conspired to violate the Constitution, the rules of the House, the rules of the committee and the rules of confidentiality.'

There's more at the link.

Two idioms come to mind:

1.  A leopard can't change its spots.
2.  Forewarned is forearmed.

Trusting Hillary Clinton's testimony about Benghazi strikes me as being just about as wise as trusting Richard Nixon's testimony about Watergate.


Microsoft as Big Brother?

If you thought Microsoft, Google and other big data and software companies respected your privacy (insert hollow laugh here), think again.  Microsoft's Skype subsidiary has been caught red-handed.

Anyone who uses Skype has consented to the company reading everything they write. The H's associates in Germany at heise Security have now discovered that the Microsoft subsidiary does in fact make use of this privilege in practice. Shortly after sending HTTPS URLs over the instant messaging service, those URLs receive an unannounced visit from Microsoft HQ in Redmond.

. . .

In visiting these pages, Microsoft made use of both the login information and the specially created URL for a private cloud-based file-sharing service.

In response to an enquiry from heise Security, Skype referred them to a passage from its data protection policy:

"Skype may use automated scanning within Instant Messages and SMS to (a) identify suspected spam and/or (b) identify URLs that have been previously flagged as spam, fraud, or phishing links."

. . .

In summary, The H and heise Security believe that, having consented to Microsoft using all data transmitted over the service pretty much however it likes, all Skype users should assume that this will actually happen and that the company is not going to reveal what exactly it gets up to with this data.

There's more at the link.

This is potentially a very serious breach of not only privacy, but also user security.  Note that Microsoft used the actual login ID's and passwords of users who linked to Web sites over the Skype service.  That means it recorded those logins and passwords, which are now stored somewhere on its servers.  One more successful hacking attack against Microsoft (it's happened before), and those logins and passwords could be in the hands of criminals, doing heaven knows how much damage.

A word to the wise;  don't trust Big Data, or Big Software.  They're in this to get whatever they can out of you - not for your benefit.  In particular, if you must transmit such sensitive information over open networks, change your ID and/or password - using a secure network - as soon as possible after you do so.  It's the only way to be safe.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

For steam train fans

Someone had waaaay too much fun setting this up!


Take that, Big Brother!

Courtesy of a link provided by In The Middle Of The Right, I learned of a canny company that's taking full (and legal) advantage of the current regulations governing gas cans.  Readers may remember that these banned old-style jerrycans in 2009 - I stocked up just before they took effect.  They've also affected the design of the plastic gas cans and pouring spouts sold by many supermarkets and auto supply stores.  Since they came into effect, pouring has been much more difficult, thanks to the new anti-spill features.  (I find I spill more gas with the new cans than with the old ones!)  See 'How Government Wrecked The Gas Can' for more information.

Anyway, EZ-Pour has come up with an alternative for modern plastic gas cans, and another for jerrycans.  The company warns in capital letters:


That's to clear their legal yardarm, of course.  The company notes, in more than one place, that a few minutes' work with a drill and a half-inch spade bit produces a vent hole in a plastic water can that accommodates the EZ-Pour 'push in vent' perfectly.  Do please note the emphasis on water can.  It would be illegal to do that to a post-2009 gas can, thereby converting it to the much more efficient pre-2009 design.  Furthermore, the company warns, 'Even though our spout will thread on the new cans, we do not promote using our spout to bypass the EPA emission standards on the new cans'.  So there. Srsly.

The company's jerrycan adapter allows its spouts to be used on such containers.  Since one can no longer buy (new) original, efficient-design clip-on spouts (which won't fit post-2009 jerrycans anyway), it's nice to have a viable alternative.  They offer a flame arrestor that works with all their spouts, and may be (ahem) 'used as a filter screen on our water spouts'.  I'm glad to hear that.  In that regard, the company warns (very seriously) (ahem) (underlined text is my emphasis):


The water can spout is, of course, sold with their helpful 'filter screen' included in the kit.

Hmmm . . . I'm in need of a few more gas containers . . . and now I'm aware of my need for some accessories, too!  Don't you just love being legal like this?


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Doofus Of The Day #705

Some school science experiments should be planned more carefully.  Just sayin'.


Tragedy in Oklahoma

There's not much I can add to the outpouring of news stories, sympathy and aid about and for the victims of yesterday's devastating tornado in Oklahoma.  There's no reliable count of the dead, injured and missing yet, but it's very large.

I'd like to ask all my readers to please contribute what you can - even if it's only a prayer - to help those affected.  There are many places to donate (although I personally won't support the Red Cross, thank you very much, having experienced their 'assistance' after Hurricane Katrina!), but my money will be going to the Salvation Army.  They don't use donations to pay grossly inflated salaries to their administrators, or to cover massive 'overhead' expenses.  Click here for their donation page for the Oklahoma disaster.


Invisible drums?

If Rowan Atkinson is to be believed, yes indeed!


Still crudded, but here you are

This is a really nasty head cold/flu, but I'm working my way through it as best I can.  Blogging will be lighter than usual until I can concentrate better - and as for working on the next novel, that's on the back burner until I stop sneezing all over the plot!

I had to laugh at this report from Milwaukee.

You get a sense of the bawdy but beloved tradition at the Holler House. Female customers, particularly first-timers, are encouraged to remove, autograph and leave their bras behind because, well, just because. Typically, they modestly wriggle out of them right there on a bar stool, or they retire to the ladies room.

It's a practice that Skowronski herself began one crazy night in the 1960s.

"We all got bombed, all these girls. And we just decided to take our bras off and hang them up," she said.

Dozens of bras dangled from skis, a coal bucket and other odd objects attached to the ceiling. Men's underwear was up there, too. But this week, Skowronski's son-in-law took them down for fear that city inspectors would return and slap them with a fine, which according to the official "order to correct condition" can run from $150 to $10,000 a day.

. . .

The Milwaukee Department of Neighborhood Services has inspected the Holler House many times in the past but has never before deemed the bra display a potential inferno. The written order from last month's visit said "curtains, draperies, hangings and other decorative materials suspended from walls or ceilings shall meet the flame propagation performance criteria of NFPA 701."

. . .

Realizing its straps were twisted on this one, the department Thursday dismissed the order. The official explanation for the DD-sized mistake says something about the bar having a smaller occupancy rate than originally thought, and therefore a less stringent fire code.

There's more at the link, including pictures of the . . . er . . . apparel in question.

Bureaucrats!  Talk about boobs enhancing themselves . . .


Monday, May 20, 2013

Crud defeats blogging

I've been running a fever all day, and my tired, sore eyes are finding it hard to focus on screens or books right now;  so there won't be much blogging tonight.  I hope I'll be able to put up more posts tomorrow morning.

To keep you amused, Brigid has written a very nice review of my first novel, 'Take The Star Road'.  I think she and Sarah Hoyt have both seen more clearly what I was trying to achieve with it than many younger readers, who haven't grown up steeped in the works of the 'Big Three':  Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein (those of you who don't know their work, but who enjoy good literature, are in for a treat!).  Thanks, Brigid!  Much appreciated.

As of the time of writing, five full days (i.e. 24-hour periods) after publication on Amazon, the book's sales performance looks like this:

It appears to be holding steady in the top 30 sellers in both of its categories (Space Opera and Military science fiction). It dipped below 20 over the weekend, when sales slowed, but it picked up again today. As more reviews are posted, both on Amazon and on other blogs, I hope it'll continue to improve.

I'm most grateful to all of you for your support and kindness in reading it, and encouraging others to try it. I'm selling about 97 copies for every one borrowed through Amazon's Prime program, so that's a really healthy ratio. I'm not making a huge amount per book, because I deliberately priced it low to attract readers. The second book, of approximately the same length, will probably also be low-priced for the same reason. The third and subsequent books will be longer, and be a little (but not much) more expensive. I want people to keep buying and reading them, after all!  In today's economy, it behooves me not to be greedy, and to give my friends and readers value for their reading dollar.

Finally, for those interested in the food we eat (and who isn't?), see the article 'Dear American Consumers: Please Don’t Start Eating Healthfully. Sincerely, the Food Industry' over at Scientific American.  It's a telling exposé of how we, as consumers, are manipulated by the producers of everything we eat - and how they profit from every fad and fashion, whether it's good for us or not.  Recommended reading.

Take care, friends.  I'll be back later.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

A man-made snowstorm

Here's a video clip of an Airbus A380, the world's largest commercial jetliner, taking off from a heavily snow-laden Cologne airport in Germany.  I reckon it cleared the runway and its verges for the next several aircraft to follow it!

That's quite a cloud of snow it kicked up.  I wonder if they had to repeat the brushing-off and de-icing of the aircraft waiting behind it at the threshold of the runway?


Naval history comes to the surface

I was astonished to read that a vintage brass 19th-century Howell torpedo has been recovered from the seabed off Coronado in California.  What's more, its discovery was both serendipitous and probably unique.  Stars & Stripes reports:

The so-called Howell torpedo was discovered by bottlenose dolphins being trained by the Navy to find undersea objects, including mines, that not even billion-dollar technology can detect.

. . .

At the Point Loma facility, 80 dolphins and 40 sea lions are being trained for mine detection, mine clearing and swimmer protection. When the U.S. led an invasion of Iraq in 2003, dolphins were rushed to the Persian Gulf to patrol for enemy divers and mines. Dolphins guard U.S. submarine bases in Georgia and Washington state. This fall, dolphins will deploy for a mine-hunting mission off Croatia.

To train the dolphins, Navy specialists sink objects in various shapes in rocky and sandy undersea areas where visibility is poor. The shapes mimic those of the mines used by U.S. adversaries.

A dolphin is then ordered to dive and search. If it finds something, it is trained to surface and touch the front of the boat with its snout. If it has found nothing, it touches the back of the boat.

When a dolphin named Ten surfaced from a shallow-water dive last month and touched the front of the boat, Navy specialists were nonplused. "It went positive in a place we didn't expect," said Mike Rothe, who heads the marine mammal program.

A week later, a dolphin named Spetz did the same thing in the same area. This time, the dolphin was ordered to take a marker to the object.

Navy divers and then explosive-ordnance technicians examined the object, which was in two pieces, and determined that the years had rendered it inert. On one piece was the stamp "USN No. 24."

The torpedo pieces were lifted to the surface and taken to a Navy base for cleaning and to await shipment to the Naval History and Heritage Command, located at the Washington Navy Yard.

There's more at the link.

The Howell torpedo was one of the first designs that actually worked as intended.  You could 'fire it and forget it';  it would run in a straight line (albeit not very far) at the depth you pre-set, and explode on striking its target.  Only one was previously known to exist, at the Naval Undersea Museum in Washington, DC.  Here's a picture of that unit from the Museum's Web page about it.

There are more pictures at Wikipedia's article.

Kudos to the dolphins and their trainers.  I hope they got extra fish for that - and not the 'tin fish' variety, either!


The crud, she is not nice!

Just got up from my third session of sleep today.  My body can handle a work period of about 4-6 hours, then it just collapses on me.  I'm still running a low-grade fever, with severely blocked sinuses, but so far nothing's spread to my chest.  I guess I should be grateful for that!

Oh, well . . . at least I'll be able to get in several hours of writing on my second novel in the small hours of this morning;  then it's heigh-ho to wake up Miss D. for her workday, and I go back to bed.  I'm sure she'll say something rude about that!


Doofus Of The Day #704

Courtesy of reader J. M., we find this excruciatingly funny newspaper excerpt from a police blotter:

I suppose it could have been worse.  Icy Hot is bad enough, but he might have used Bengay - and think of the implications of that name under the circumstances!


Remember the Trayvon Martin affair?

It's looking more and more as if the prosecution's case in the Trayvon Martin affair is falling apart at the seams.  Human Events reports:

The release of evidence in George Zimmerman’s murder trial quickly made a mockery of his second-degree murder charges, and threw a further layer of shame upon media and political opportunists who misrepresented a tragic, but fairly straightforward, case of lethal force employed in self-defense.

It is remarkable to take stock of this evidence and realize that it supports every single aspect of Zimmerman’s statement to the police.

. . .

Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit relates the discovery of video from Trayvon Martin’s YouTube account, removed at some point during the last month, that shows he was actually involved in some sort of underground “fight club.”

Also fatal to the prosecution’s case is the discovery that Martin had THC in his system – he had apparently been smoking pot that night.

. . .

Despite the prosecution’s awareness of the autopsy reports and eyewitness testimony, they included none of it in their affidavit against Zimmerman.  Criminal lawyer and Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, who has been beside himself ever since the Zimmerman charges were filed, writes in the New York Daily News that it’s time to drop the charges, but doubts State Attorney Angela Corey “will do the right thing,” because “until now, her actions have been anything but ethical, lawful, and professional.”

. . .

Dershowitz also mentions a suspicion I’ve harbored since the weird, circus-like press conference at which Corey announced the charges: they’re a political instrument designed to buy time for everyone to cool down, leading to a long trial that dismantles some of the hysteria built up around the Trayvon Martin case.  If true, the strategy is understandable… but utterly outrageous.  The United States does not do “show trials.”  The justice system is not a safety valve for releasing unhealthy levels of political tension.  Individual citizens are not pawns to be shoved around in media games by gun-control advocates, race hustlers, or opportunistic politicians.  The purpose of law enforcement is to protect the public, not appease certain segments of it.

There's more at the link.  Bold, underlined text in the last paragraph is my emphasis.

This is perhaps the most significant element of the case at present.  If it emerges that the appointment of the prosecutor, and her dogged pursuit of charges against Zimmerman, stem from nothing more than a witch-hunt designed to appease a potentially volatile part of the local community, it makes a mockery of Florida's legal system.  If Federal authorities are also involved, it does the same to the Federal legal system.  I hope that this will attract the attention it deserves, and that all the facts will be uncovered.  If they are as they appear to be at present, heads must roll - and I don't mean Zimmerman's.


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sorry about the relative silence . . .

. . . I've been fighting off the galloping crud that hit me last Wednesday.  It returned last night.  I've spent several hours sleeping, and I'm popping pills and spraying stuff up my nose to be able to breathe.  Not fun.

I hope more regular blogging will resume in the morning.  Until then (and because I need something to smile about!), here are seven of the encounters between Chief Inspector Clouseau (played by Peter Sellers) and Cato (played by Herbert Kwouk) in the 'Pink Panther' comedy movie series.  The underlying plot line is that Inspector Clouseau has instructed his servant, Cato, to attack him without warning, so as to keep his reflexes sharp.


That's an operator who knows what he's doing!

It always amazes me to see how some of the biggest machines can be handled with delicacy, even grace, to get in and out of tight spots, or do complex, finicky tasks.  Here an excavator driver shows us how it's done.

I'd have been petrified of unbalancing the thing, so that it fell off to one side . . .


Friday, May 17, 2013

Getting the cops' goat???

Or is it the other way around?

... on Monday a goat was found trespassing into a resident’s garage ... Chief Kyle Aspinwall [of Mont Vernon, NH] responded to the scene and captured it, but not without a fight: The goat, which is believed to be a female even though it “refused to identify itself,” resisted arrest.

“The goat really did try to head-butt the chief,” said Sgt. Aaron Daigneault.

. . .

The brown-and-black goat’s owner wasn’t identified so the escapee was placed in a local resident’s home. That is, until it escaped for the second time, on Tuesday morning.

There's more at the link.

Hmmm . . . in Mexico (where goats are frequently encountered on the menu), in days of yore attempted escape from the law - real or staged - often led to 'ley de fuga'.  That being the case, and given the Obama administration's efforts to legitimize illegal aliens, I wonder if New Hampshire cops know that goats - which aren't native to that state, and are therefore (presumably) illegal aliens - make pretty good eatin'?  Just sayin' . . .