Sunday, January 30, 2011

How some environmental regulations increase pollution and carbon emissions.

Environmental regulations that establish the operating parameters for industrial operations are intended to minimize the impact to the environment by the emissions from the facility.  But it doesn't always work that way.  Yes, it may come as a shock that a Government program might actually not achieve its intended goal, but it can happen.

A particular case is regarding the operation of coal fired steam generation plants.  If a steam plant is coal-fired there is likely some verbiage in the air quality permit that the boiler must operate at some very high  temperature to control the NOx emission concentration to a certain ppm level.   That's well and good.  But suppose the plant doesn't need to generate a lot of steam on a particular day and the boiler could support the operation with a lower temperature setting.  That would reduce the amount of coal burned and tons of carbon emitted into the atmosphere.  Good thing right?

No, that would put the plant in violation on the NOx regulation.  To stay legal the plant has to run the boiler hotter than it needs to and make more steam than it needs to and then dump the heat somewhere (as in outside).  And that would be OK I suppose if the object was to minimize the amount of NOx emissions.

But here's the problem.  In order to reduce the concentration of NOx in the boiler exhaust, the plant has to burn more coal than it needs to, so it ends up emitting more mass of NOx.  The slight reduction in concentration that comes from running the boiler hotter does not compensate for the increased amount of coal that was burned to make the boiler run hotter.

It would make common sense if people enforcing these sort of regulations could have some leeway to use common sense and determine the optimal operating point of temperature based on the load to minimize the amount of coal burned and the total amount of NOx emitted.  Maybe Adam Smith's "invisible hand" concept could actually help reduce energy consumption and reduce the environmental impact from factories.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Family Photo Album.. 1943 Alabama Squirrel Hunt

Squirrel.  The other, other white meat
The family tree from my dad's side is based in Baldwin County Alabama, Foley to be exact.  Here is a nice old photo of some of the kinfolk from way back in 1943 after what appears to be a successful day hunting squirrels.  mmm. squirrel meat.  Tastes like chicken I'm sure ..

As for the way they all held their shotguns during the photo, all I can say is the "lay it on the ground with the barrel pointing at your head" method is probably not in the gun safety handbook.

Oh, and ... Roll Tide!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Daniel and the "ghost" from Seul Choix Point Lighthouse..

Click twice to look close up
So back in 2004 we took a trip to the UP to see Cherie and Ted in Gould City and made a few day trips to see Lake Superior at Grand Marais, hike the trails at Tahquamenom Falls, and climb up the lighthouse at Seul Choix Point lighthouse in Gulliver on the Northern shore of Lake Michigan.

The Seul Choix Point lighthouse might just be the last working lighthouse where they let you climb the winding stairway up the tower to get a firsthand view from the tippy top.  (during the day!)

Steven and Daniel reflecting on the light bulb and lens

Part of the tour includes a stroll through the home where the Lightkeepers and their families used to live at the base of the tower.  There are antique pictures, clothes, furniture and appliances all on display in this working historical museum.  A few things for sale in the store, but this is no tourist trap.

Another part of the tour goes into how the Lighthouse is allegedly haunted by the ghost of Mr. James Townshend a Captain of a Great Lakes ship who suffered a mysterious and tragic death in 1910 at Seul Choix while visiting his brother Joseph, the Lightkeeper at the time.  There are all sorts of anecdotes about cigar smoke drifting in from nowhere and silverware moving around and unexplained tapping noises.  It was featured on an episode of Scariest Places on Earth.  Cool side story to go along with an exhilarating trip up the stairs and a spectacular view of the Lake.  Highly recommended for any visitors to the UP.

Now the story about the picture at the top. We didn't think much of the legend of the ghost of Seul Choix until we got home and looked at the pictures. The one of Daniel near the trees below the tower shows an odd purplish blur over his head.   Maybe the ghost knew how much Daniel hated and tried to avoid getting his picture taken back then.  Look at the kid's glare in the photo.   I would just write it off as reflected sunlight, but it was a cloudy day and we were between rows of trees out of the direct sun. One coincidence, it was the 94th anniversary of Townshend's death. hmmm.

Anyway, we liked the place so much we commissioned artist Leo Kuschel to make a painting of the lighthouse using some of our pictures to refresh his memory. He called a couple months later to tell us the painting was done and to come pick it up.  It's hanging in the house next to the Westcott II.  FYI,  Leo is still selling prints of it.  I think it is his finest painting of a lighthouse, and that is saying something. 

To think, it all happened because a ghost photobombed a camera-shy kid.

See the purplish blur in the sky?


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Most Un-PC Kid's TV Show Character Ever..

Ali Assassin, from "Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp"

Back in the day us kids would sit around the TV on Saturday mornings and watch cartoons and other kid TV shows like "The Hudson Brothers", "H.R. Puffinstuff", "Land of the Lost" and one of my favorites, "Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp".  Talking chimps driving cars and playing in a band.. Yer killin me!

Lancelot Link and all the other characters were chimpanzees wearing people clothes who were made to smack their lips (probably with peanut butter) to make it look like they were talking.  Then they would dub in voices and a script to coincide with the smacking lips.  On the show Lance was a secret agent spy who was always bumbling around trying to foil some nefarious plot by the bad guys.  Kind of like "Get Smart" or "Pink Panther" without the SAG pay scale.

The particular bad guy character whom I have dubbed "The Most Un-PC Kid's TV Show Character Ever" is from an episode from Season 1 "There's No Business like Snow Business" which first aired on December 31, 1969.  Ali Assassin. I don't know his bird's name.  No, Ali was not a terrorist nor an assassin, just a run-of-the-mill diamond thief.

I can't even imagine a kid's show these days featuring either talking chimpanzees wearing clothes, or worse yet, a talking chimp dressed up like a Saudi prince with a fake mustache hanging out in a tent plotting crime with a bird perched on his shoulder.       

Saturday, January 22, 2011

From the set of "Another Happy Day" aka (insert other names here..)

Molly in her Bridesmaid dress
Molly had a featured extra role in a film that will debut at the Sundance Film Festival this Sunday.  "Another Happy Day" written and directed by Sam Levinson, starring Ellen Barkin, Ezra Miller, Demi Moore, Thomas Haden Church and the one and only George Kennedy.  Molly played Samantha, the younger of two daughters of Demi Moore and Thomas Haden Church.  Not a big part by any stretch, but a nice start for her working the long afternoons and all-nighters while filming on location in Rochester and Oakland Township.

The movie is about a hot mess of a family wedding featuring a variety of flawed characters who don't like each other very much. It looks to be a pretty dark film about family but I think it will be pretty funny as well. Look for the scene where a tipsy Demi Moore in a little black dress bumps and grinds on the dance floor at the wedding reception with some dorky extra. The director actually asked Demi to redo the scene and tone it down a bit. Try not to look like you know what you're doing out there . Or the catfight scene in the ladies room with Demi and Ellen. Try not to look like you know what you're doing there either..

Sam is a likable young man.  Polite and nice to everyone and always, always on the move.  He once came up to me to apologize for all the foul language Molly had been exposed to in the script and during filming.  I was like no worries Sam, nothing she hasn't heard from her mom.  (Sam knew I was joking btw).

Adult language was present, or more correctly soaked through the script.  I saw Sam's adorable 4 year old niece Lilah (who plays the flower girl at the wedding) walk up to Sam during a break and ask him in the sweetest little voice, "Uncle Sam, why is there so much bad words in the movie?"  He got down and put his arm on her shoulder and told her "Unfortunately Lilah, thats how some people really talk to each other."  Fuckin A right they do.  I won't get into the descriptors Sam allegedly used when giving Molly tips on how she should approach a scene flirting with actor Daniel Yelsky, but safe to say, Sam drops more bombs than a B-52.  Not in anger, more just for filler.

Molly came away from the filming with some cool stories about her experience.  Like when Demi Moore first came to the set at the Rochester Chop House and sat next to Molly.  Molly introduced herself and they shook hands.  After a pause, Molly asked "So.. what's your name?" to Demi.  She had heard the name before but didn't know what Demi looked like.  I bet Demi doesn't get that reaction very often on the set.   They were pals.  Chatting it up with girl talk about school and boys and dance and what she wants to be when she grows up and Demi snapping pictures on her iPhone.  I kind of assumed Demi would be a bit distant and aloof, but not at all.  She was a real sweetheart.

And Thomas Haden Church was nice to her as well.  One evening, they practiced improvising some random scenes sitting around the house between filming.  What a cool guy to give a young actor some free impromptu training.  He was a personable guy, a storyteller, and wanted to know about her goals and aspirations.  And he liked to talk about surfing.  He only works to support the surfing habit. 

I had a few conversations around the set with Ellen Barkin, the main character and producer of the film.  She was also very nice, upbeat, and down to earth.  Good people.  Same for Ashton.  He seemed like a really smart cool guy.  He likes talking about the '85 Bears.

Molly's sister in the movie is a young lady from NYC named Lola Kirke.   Stylish, pretty, outgoing, brash, all Big Apple.  One day she got a call on the set from Paul Stanley who invited her and some of the others from the movie to be guests of KISS at their concert at DTE Theatre, an outdoor concert venue in up the road in Clarkston.  I had to ask her, "How do you know Paul Stanley?"  She said Stanley was a friend of her dad.  She went on to tell me her dad is Simon Kirke and he was a drummer in a rock band way back in the '70's called Bad Company and asked if I had heard of them.  Ha.    
Molly and Lola take a break with Sean Rogers looking on.

My impressions from watching the whole operation.. Its chaotic and tedious but it all gets done.  They like to keep a well stocked snack cart round the clock and the first meal of the day is always breakfast even at 3:00PM.   Just about everyone smokes when they get a chance and the prop lady even gives them away.  The extras get herded around and fed like cattle and they like it.  Movie stars are just regular people with really cool jobs.  And you damn sure better be quiet on the set when they yell "Rolling sound!"     

Best wishes to the cast and crew from "Another Happy Day".  I can't wait to see it.

Molly and Demi right after their picture wrap.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Traffic Congestion.. Like a speed governor on the economic recovery

A report was issued from the Texas Transportation Institute that analyzes and trends traffic congestion data and its impact on commuters.  Here's one story on the report from You Wasted 34 Hours in Traffic in 2009
No, it wasn’t your imagination. Traffic hasn’t been quite so hellish since the economy imploded, but now that things are picking up, you can expect congestion to increase as well. It’s already gotten so bad that the average American spent 34 hours sitting in traffic last year and paid $808 for the privilege.

So say the brains at the Texas Transportation Institute in their annual Urban Mobility Report (.pdf). The study found traffic in 2008 was better than it had been in at least a decade, but the stop-and-go grind returned in 2009 as the economy improved.
I've pointed out in an earlier post here how traffic congestion caused by poorly timed stoplights is an enormous waste of fuel in the USA.  If we could only get the road crews around the country to time the stoplights at major intersections to keep traffic flowing, it would benefit all drivers by reducing their fuel consumption which would also reduce the demand on gasoline, which would help drive costs lower.  And that would put money in consumers' pockets which would help feed the economic recovery.

As this report also points out, as the economic recovery builds momentum, it will lead to more drivers on the road which will increase traffic congestion.  This will have the effect of increasing fuel consumption which will drive gasoline prices higher.  So it acts essentially like a speed governor on the economic recovery.  The more the economy heats up, the more people will drive, and the more time and gasoline and time we will waste in traffic, thereby reducing the average consumer's disposable income and increase distribution costs that will negatively affect the recovery.  Money spent at the gas pump can't be spent elsewhere.

To avoid this, we need to do all we can to reduce our collective fuel consumption and a big part of that has to involve alleviating systemic traffic congestion problems.  That is not an impossible task.  Timing the stoplights and eliminating the predictable logjams at the lane merge points near road construction projects would be a great start.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Random and evolution...

I'm somewhat of a math geek.  OK, more like a wannabe, but I try to represent.  And I have a small bone to pick with the use of the term "random" in evolutionary science.  Here's my case..

Swiping some excerpts from Wikipedia... (My emphahsis added)
The modern evolutionary synthesis ascribes the observed diversity of life to natural selection, in which some random genetic mutations are retained in the gene pool due to the non-random improved chance for survival and reproduction that those mutated genes confer on individuals who possess them.
Why do bioligists drop the word random so easily into that definition?  I don't think they can say the genetic mutations driving evolution are random unless they intend to twist the definition of random to include things they haven't figured out yet.  I don't see anything like that in this explanation of random..
randomness implies a lack of predictability. Randomness is a concept of non-order or non-coherence in a sequence of symbols or steps, such that there is no intelligible pattern or combination. 
We do know genes can mutate for a reason ...
In molecular biology and genetics, mutations are changes in a genomic sequence:  the DNA sequence of a cell's genome or the DNA or RNA sequence of a virus. Mutations are caused by radiation, viruses, transposons and mutagenic chemicals, as well as errors that occur during meiosis or DNA replication. They can also be induced by the organism itself, by cellular processes such as hyperpermutation.
So why refer to the the beneficial gene mutations responsible for evolution as random and overlook potential patterns between environmental effects and  gene mutations? Why is that slight distinction even important?  Here's my thinking.. Genes mutating similarly among many individuals within a species due to a common environmental cause are more responsible for evolution than genes that just mutated randomly among individual members of a species.  

It accelerates the speed we might otherwise predict for the evolutionary processes.  If a beneficial genetic mutation happens only randomly it will be less likely to propagate its entire species than if a large number of a species experience the same beneficial genetic mutation after exposure to the same environmental cause.  Granted the same exposure will create unpredictable mutations from one organism to another, but in a large population patterns will result.
There is some recent evidence to support the case against random..  Lizards Evolve Rapidly Once Introduced on Different Island    Its not even plausible that such useful mutations occured randomly so soon. There must have been some environmental cause that resulted in the genetic mutation and the resulting leap forward in the evolutionary processes.  And in my book, if it happens for a reason, its not random. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

One more way to waste time and annoy people nearby..

Nothing takes me back to 1979 like a game of Asteroids, Lord knows I dumped a ton of quarters into the Asteroids machine at the Big Boys by my house.  So this free online version was a great find.   The jagged rocks and fragments hurling through  space in all directions are enough of a hazard, but the flying saucers firing "lasers" in your general direction make it just about impossible to survive for long.   The electric symphony of the shots being fired, the thruster, rocks exploding, the flying saucer alarm.. it still draws me in like a buglight.  Apparently to others in the room, the game sounds mixed with the mad typing on the space bar and arrow keys are highly annoying.  Which is nice when you want to be highly annoying.  
Mathematically, they dreamt up an interesting time space continuum for the asteroids 2D universe.  When you leave one side of the page, you immedicately arrive at the other side. The geometry gets even trickier when you drive off the page on an angle near a corner. String theory I kinda get, but the Asteroids 2D universe isn't even plausible!      

Ingenuity: The way forward..

Wikipedia says "Ingenuity refers to the process of applying ideas to solve problems or meet challenges."

Its not the same thing as pure research, which often provides the basis for ingenius solutions.  Nor is it as  simple as the work supporting the "New and Improved" label on the box of detergent.  Of course, thats not to say an ingenious approach wasn't involved in the scientific discovery or wasn't applied in creating the formula for the new and improved detergent, but you don't need ingenuity for those things.  Plodding along will get you to the same point eventually perhaps.  Ingenuity and the ingenious approach to solving problems can work in all situations.  Ingenuity is the very thing that drives civilization forward.  Ingenuity is the only way we will continue feeding an expanding population, increase the standard of living for all people, treat diseases in crowded societies, minimize human-caused climate change, and in the end promote a more peaceful coexistence for all people.

Ingenuity requires a mix of scientific knowledge and creativity.  Now most people would associate those two concepts with opposing sides of the brain.  Science isn't typically thought of as being creative.  Creative people aren't typically thought of as being scientific intellectuals.  Thats why ingenuity on a grand scale can be so elusive.  We need to promote the merging of science and creativity.  They need each other.  

In the excellent book, The Ingenuity Gap by Thomas Homer-Dixon, the author cites a couple common examples of how ingenuity dramatically changed the way things are done because the new solution was so much better and simpler than the old way.  It was a radically different ingenious approach to an old problem you might say.

One is the example of digital watches and clocks, which are orders of magnitude more accurate than the old mechanical  devices, and far cheaper to produce as well. Another example is the jet engine for airplanes which replaced heavier, less powerful and far more complicated propeller engines.  I recommend that book for an interesting perspective on how humans need to approach solving the enormous problems looming in the future if we want our civilization to remain stable and standard of living to improve over the long term. We will need a lot of ingenuity to solve mankind's many problems and crisis.

Our schools, government units, businesses, research institutions and every single American needs to be tuned into seeking, investigating, and promoting ingenious solutions.  These solutions will generally cause disruptions to those whose fortunes involve the old way of doing things, so be aware that ingenuity isn't always immediately regarded as good or beneficial.  But they are in our best interests overall, so we have to get past the politics if we want our civilization to survive.      

Saturday, January 15, 2011

In memory of a co-worker..

A co-worker of mine, Jennifer Schons, from Novi, MI was killed by her husband, who also killed their two children, and himself yesterday.  Novi mom slain by knife, her sons by asphyxiation  A senseless horrific tragedy.  I can't even begin to imagine the terror and pain Jennifer or her children had to endure.  What kind of demons would drive someone not only to end their own life, but to murder innocents on the way.

I didn't know Jennifer all that well.  We worked in the same office and occasionally spoke about some project we were working on, or just some casual chit chat at the coffee machine, but I never really got to know her very well.  She was always pleasant, quiet, and had a very professional manner about her.  Perhaps some of the others who worked closely with her knew about some of the difficulties she was having at home, but I never heard anyone mentioning anything like that.  I'm sure if anyone close to her knew or even suspected she and the children were in jeopardy from the husband, they would have advised her to get police protection and even offered to take them in.  Hindsight.

Every year at our Department Christmas party we collect gifts and donations for a local charity in Oakland County that shelters abused women and children.  I believe its called Haven.  And while its generous and honorable to donate to charities like Haven, maybe its even more important that we pay attention around our own circle of friends, neighbors, and co-workers for clues that one of them might need help but don't feel right asking for it or don't want to believe the threat is real.  You never know what sort of challenges the person the next cubicle over has at home or how much just a bit of support and encouragement might mean to them.   

R.I.P. Jennifer, Camden, and Tynan.  Your lives were too short and you will be missed dearly.

Traffic fatalities, the forgotten war..

As a person who has worked in the automobile industry my whole career, there is one aspect of my business that really bothers me.  The fact that many thousands of my company's customers die each year using our products.  And its not just my company's products, this relates to all motor vehicles.

Granted, the numbers have come down in recent years, I'm sure in large part to government-mandated safer vehicles as well as fewer people driving under the influence.  But still, in 2009 almost 34,000 people died in Ameican traffic fatalities.  Before 2008, there had been 40,000 or more deaths per year every year going back for decades.  Think about the magnitude of that number.  The attacks of 9-11-01 killed some 3,000 people and it sent the entire Nation reeling.  Thats about a normal month of traffic fatalities.  The war in Iraq has resulted in some 4,400 deaths in 7 years and people marched in protest across the Country, even though the number of war dead represented only a small fraction of the traffic fatalities over the same period of time.

I think years from now when people look back at our culture, they will shake their heads in bewilderment why no one seemed all that concerned with the carnage from our beloved automobiles.  100 people a day die in car accidents across the USA.   Where is the  outrage?

I don't think it would be that difficult to make a dramatic improvement to vehicle safety, but it would take a new paradign for the automobile.  Look to motorsports.  NASCAR drivers can hit a wall at 150mph and do cartwheels in their cars down the straightaway and survive.  I say we borrow some design cues and start vehicle design with a full safety cage, give it a roll bar, 5 point belts, and full passenger restraints akin to a rollercoaster ride, even for the head, and then fashion a transportation machine around it.  If it lacks copious power, creature comfort, or smooth, quiet ride, then so be it.  If the car can crash into a tree at 60 mph and the occupants can walk away unharmed, a large number of potential customers will overlook all the other stuff.  Lots of people will want the ultra safe car, if not for themselves, then for their kids.

This is the car no one builds.  And my advice to automakers is to get out of the rat race of building cars that are the same thing only incrementally different than all the competition and selling them for little if any profit. Instead, build a car that no one else builds and then the demand for the car will support higher pricing and margins.  The ultra safe car would be a good example of the car no one builds.  Every person who lives through a wreck will provide free testimonial advertising you couldn't buy at any price.  I think it would change the way people view cars.  They aren't supposed to be toys or comfy couches on wheels.  They are supposed to get you to your destination on time and in one piece.    

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Word for the day -- Optimistic

You can try the best you can
If you try the best you can
The best you can is good enough

Perfect Shot, the moment of impact..

Here is a cool picture my sister Janis took of Daniel at bat in a Little League game in 2009.  Incredible timing on the photo.  If you look closely you can even see how the aluminum bat is slightly deformed from the impact with the ball.  You could take that same picture every single pitch, every game all season long and never once be lucky enough to time it perfect like that.  Janis snaps a few shots during one at bat and pulls that off.  Nice.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Still disputed answer to a physics quiz question..

I remember a dispute I once had with an instructor over an answer to a physics question about potential energy. It went something like this..

A 10 kg monkey climbs a frictionless tree to a height of 10m and then pulls a 5kg weight up from the ground using a massless rope.  What is the potential energy of the monkey holding onto the weight?

My Answer:  Zero.  A monkey can't climb a frictionless tree.

No credit.  wrong answer, Mr. Smartass.

But thats how real world math goes.  You have to understand the question before you can hope to answer it. No point figuring out the right answer to the wrong question.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A couple obscure faves from the 80's.

Kate Bush, Houdini from The Dreaming

Martha and the Muffins, Danseparc from album of the same name

Monday, January 10, 2011

If you buy a kid a guitar, don't forget the tuner.

Korg Digital Tuner.. $15

Yamaha Acoustic Guitar $200

If the kid wants to learn to play guitar and you want to support that effort a bit of simple advice.  Get a decent guitar.  The really cheap ones aren't even worth the bargain price.  But regardless how much you spend, be it $200 or $1,000, don't forget to buy a digital tuner as well.  Without the tuner, your kid will find it more difficult to learn how to play.  Its not good enough to have the store or the guitar instructor tune it for you, a guitar needs to be retuned every time you pick it up to play.  The fine tuning of a guitar will drift a bit due to swings in temperature, humidity, and who knows what else, and unless the strings are tuned correctly, they won't make the right note and if they don't make the right notes the chords won't sound right either.

I have met a few people who could tune very well by ear, but its a rare talent.  Lots of people can get it close, but close isn't good enough.   Use a digital tuner and save on noise pollution please.

Its not that hard to learn to play if the guitar, but it does take a lot of practice to get the muscles trained and to build up callousses on the fingertips. Get the chord charts showing which fingers hold down which strings in which frets and memorize them in groups and practice strumming.  The child will be able to play simple rhythms right away.  Once they can play simple songs, they'll feel more enthused to keep practicing and learning more and more.  On the other hand if the guitar is not accurately tuned, nothing the kid plays will sound right and even if they were originally motivated, they will get frustrated and lose interest.

So, ignore anyone who says you don't need a tuner, spend the extra $15 and include it in the guitar package.   And skip the lessons at the mall or the music store until your child has shown they actually have the desire to learn how to play.. by teaching themselves how to play!   Once they know how, then they'll be ready for lessons..               

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sunday Sermon.. Don't be an anti-government nutjob..

From the New Testament, Romans 13:1-7
Submission to Governing Authorities
 1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Hank Williams, the greatest influence on American music

Hank Williams,  Long Gone Lonesome Blues

I grew up in the 70's listening to classic rock before anyone called it classic rock.  I never ever listened to country music by choice.  It wasn't until I was about 40 that a good friend Ted introduced me to Hank Williams music.  It took a bit to adjust to the twangy voice and the steel guitars (not long though..) but the more I listened, the more I liked it.  Hank had an amazing but too short career, I think he was the first American pop music star and one of America's most important songwriters ever.  His influence on so much music and so many musicians over the last 60 years is undeniable.  You know him even if you don't think you do.  For your listening pleasure, I give you one of my favorite Hank songs,  Long Gone Lonesome Blues...       

Molly and Lincoln...

Bantry Bay's Honest Abe aka Lincoln and Molly in 2001

Friday, January 7, 2011

Jets assistant coach trips cheater running down the field out of bounds. It happens.

If you follow sports, you probably saw something on ESPN about how New York Jet's coach Sam Aliosi tripped Miami Dolphin player Nolan Carroll who was running down the field in punt coverage.   Every single reporter and analyst on TV and radio that I heard cover this story made Sal out to be the worst person in the world for his subtle little trip with the knee as Carroll sped by.

Now I'm not a Jets fan, nor do I really care about what anyone thinks of Sal, but I saw the play happen and I've seen the replay a dozen times and you know what.  I can understand why he did it.   Nolan Carroll was cheating, breaking the NFL rule that says if you get pushed or shoved out of bounds, before you can continue the play, you first have to get back in bounds.  You can't run down the sidelines out of bounds. The referees should have called him for "Kicking team player voluntarily out of bounds during a punt." 5-yard penalty, repeat 4th down.

 Thats what Carroll was doing at the time of the trip.  Running full speed down the field, a full yard out of bounds, on the far side of the wide sideline marker.  He wasn't even shoved out of bounds.  He made a beeline for out of bounds at the start of the play to avoid getting tangled with the two Jets blockers. Even if he had been shoved out, that isn't a license to run down the field out of bounds. Its not like in golf where you can play an entire hole from the wrong fairway!

I'm guessing Aliosi had watched Carroll, the gunner on the punt team, use this same cheating tactic on film from other games without the refs noticing or ever calling the penalty.  This was a bit of vigilantiism brought on by a lack of enforcement of the rules by the authorities.   Not saying I agree with what Sal did, but I understand.     

I find it kind of strange that not one single sports writer, analyst, commentator, talk show host, etc. made it a point to say that what the Dolphin's player was doing at the time of the trip was illegal and should have been a penalty on the Dolphins.  Because if the refs would actually call this infraction, coaches or players wouldn't get the dumb idea to do something about it themselves.  Why have a rule and not enforce it?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

J. W. Westcott II, Original Watercolor by Leo Kuschel

This is a painting we bought at the Wyandotte Street Fair in 2000.  It is an original watercolor by maritime artist Leo Kuschel who resides in the Detroit area. (ed.  Leo passed away on April 12, 2016 at his home in Taylor, MI.  RIP Leo)  The painting is called J.W.Westcott II.  The Westcott is the ship in the painting that actually serves as a US Post Office, zip code 48222.  The Westcott pulls up alongside of ships as they pass through the Detroit River so that mail and crew members can transfer to and from without the ship having to dock.

We are big fans of Leo Kuschel and we already owned a number of prints of his paintings, so when I realized this one Leo was selling at the Street Fair was an original and not a print, I was like "Wow! We'll take it! How much!"  My wife who enjoys negotiating prices at street fairs was not amused by this show of enthusiasm.  Anyway, we paid Leo a deposit and came back later to pay the balance and take home our first original Kuschel.  Very cool indeed.

Notice the ominous green sky in the painting.  A green sky generally means head to the basement because bad weather is coming fast. Notice also the Ambassador Bridge.

So what happens in 2001, the year after Leo painted the J.W. Westcott II and the Ambassador Bridge beneath the green sky?  Well, for one thing the Westcott sank  killing captain Catherine Nasiatka and deckhand David Lewis.  Also, two men painting the Ambassador Bridge  fell to their deaths when their scaffolding failed.  And, in 2001 a number of US Post Office employees were targeted with anthrax attacks.

Too weird huh.   Leo painted the sky green for good reason.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Teaching robots to dance.. Hell Yes.

The phrase "pathteacher" is for the engineers who teach robots how to dance, err.. to perform repeated automated processes with a high degree of accuracy and precision.  Kinda like how these QRIO robots from Sony were taught to dance for the Beck video for "Hell Yes".
I've dabbled in pathteaching with paint robots.  More than dabbled, kind of wallered around in it, but usually only when I had to, to get a robot to quit doing dumb stuff like hitting cars it was painting or running into other robots or missing a spot it was supposed to paint or something like that.  Mostly just touched up paths that were already there. But then every path is pretty much a touched up version of another path anyway...
Its cool how it all works.  You use a teach pendant to slew the robot to a certain position by jogging any of of 7 axis servomotors, then record the node to the path, move it to the next spot you want the robot to pass over, then record the node.  Do that a few hundred times, recording each node and pretty soon the robot has an entire path in its brain.  When you play the path, the 7 robot servomotors work together to move the robot through each of the nodes you taught in a steady smooth continuous manner, almost like its dancing.  Hell Yes.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A look inside a Detroit Public School ..

The 5th Grade science class at AL Holmes in Detroit, May 2010

The most fun I've had volunteering has been with an SAE program called "A World in Motion".  The kids are great.  Super-friendly, respectful, appreciative that people care enough to come into their classroom to spend time with them. Really good kids.  I hope we inspire them to keep learning more and more math and science as they get older and stay in school to get their HS diplomas and move on to College.  Thats the plan.

I encourage everyone to find some way to reach out to underprivileged kids to find some way to encourage them to not give up on their education or the American Dream.  It doesn't do our Nation's or any of our own futures any good if these bright faces don't have a fighting chance to reach their full potential.   


Sunday, January 2, 2011

Photo from California Trip 2010. General Sherman and the kids.

Standing 275' high with a circumference at the base of 102', the General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park in California is the most massive tree in the world.  Its volume is estimated at 52,500 cubic feet, (my rough calculation says thats around 400 cords of wood!)  and its age is said to be between 2,200 and 2,700 years.  An awesome sight to behold along with all the other giant sequoia trees in the park.  The 45 minute drive up mountain roads to the Giant Forest is incredible as well.  My daughter thought otherwise about the drive and promptly deposited her lunch in the parking lot as soon as we got out of the car. 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Common ground on climate change policies?

I'm not going to waste my time debating climate science with people who wish to remain willfully ignorant (and there are lots of them!).  But that doesn't mean we can't find some common ground between the "greens" and the "deniers" and work to enact policies that will benefit all.  To boil the whole issue down, there are those who want us to reduce carbon emissions to lessen mankind's impact on the climate and those whose primary interest is increasing economic activity with little or no regard how it might affect the climate.  Currently, the main green initiatives involve making energy more expensive to force reduced consumption.  It would accomplish that, but in doing so it would kill off a good chunk of the economy, which is why many on the other side want to derail this agenda. But perhaps there is a strategy in which both sides could acheive their goals; Lower consumption of energy and economic growth.  

This will require a different focus than just making energy more expensive for consumers via fees and taxes.  The key is to focus on reducing waste in fuel usage.  Reducing waste will lead to lower consumption.  Taken far enough we could create downward price pressure on the energy market. Lower prices on energy would benefit all individuals and companies that buy fuel and it could also help generate investment for a new energy infrastructure to help us wean off the ICE and ring in the era of the electric vehicle.  We need to invest enormous sums of public and private capital into new efficient facilities and energy infrastructure but there won't be any capital to invest if Government approaches this problem by simply increasing energy costs to consumers.     

But how can the Government actually do anything to help reduce waste in energy usage?  To date, the Government has focused on forcing vehicle manufacturers to design, build and sell more fuel-efficient vehicles.  The problem with that approach is that it takes many years to turn over the fleet and as vehicles get more efficient, there will be diminishing returns in efficiency gains.  Its a very slow process and time is something we don't have.  To reduce waste quickly, we need to identify how fuel is used in a non-productive manner right now and find ways to reduce or eliminate those causes. These efforts would provide immediate benefits to the environment and to consumers and Government can play an important role here.

I've listed a few low-tech but far-reaching strategies that would go a long way to reducing waste and cutting our Nation's fuel consumption and carbon emissions.  There won't be any silver-bullet solutions, rather hundreds of small ideas that chip away at the waste.  Here are a few:
  • Get the local road crews in cities across the USA to time the stoplights at the major intersections to improve traffic flow.  All those cars and trucks stopping and starting at successive red lights wastes fuel.  This would also make our roads and intersections safer.   
  • Reduce the US Mail delivery from 6 days per week down to 3 days a week.  Every other day would be adequate.  What arrives in the mailbox mostly ends up in the trash anyway.      
  • Promote 4 day school weeks where feasible to reduce busing costs and building utilities.
  • Promote 4 day work weeks where feasible to reduce commuting costs and utilities. 
  • Improve traffic flow around highway construction zones.  The long traffic back-ups can be prevented if there is a good plan for merging lanes efficiently.
Shouldn't people who call themselves conservatives promote policies that actually conserve something?  Wouldn't it be beneficial to the USA to reduce our dependence on foreign oil?  If anyone should be on board with the green agenda, it should be conservatives.  Perhaps if they can be shown how reducing energy waste will put more money in their pocket, they will stop dragging their feet and join the effort.

An interesting point is that to enact initiatives such as these, Democratic Party leaders would upset part of their traditional voting bloc.  To date the Democrats and the Left have conveniently laid the blame for excess energy consumption and carbon emissions with unscrupulous "greedy" corporations, but the truth is if we want to reduce carbon emissions, it will eventually affect the employment status of a number of core constituencies of the Left.  It remains to be seen how committed the green political leaders will remain to this cause when the elimination of waste starts to affect the union rank and file. Perhaps that is one more reason conservatives might decide to promote waste reduction efforts, to see just how committed their political opponents are to this mission that allegedly transcends politics.