Sunday, December 31, 2006

BYBS: Chai

All this and caffeine too!

This Sunday's Blog Your Blessing goes to chai. I've been taking myself a leeetle bit too seriously lately, so I figured I write about one of the simpler things that I'm glad for. Here's also to the friend who introduced chai to me by way of threats until I gave it a try.

I was going to talk about bananas, but the chai got in the way (when you don't watch those things…they move).

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  • The chai may be from Oregon, but the picture is mine :-)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

USDA Food Nutrition Information

For those people who think too much about everything and might have been wondering about the nutrient content of various foods, I have discovered a wonderful site. In yet another disturbing display of competence, the US Dept. of Agriculture has an entire database of foods, what types of energy they contain, vitamins, minerals, you name it.

Not only can you download this whole thing as a PDF, you can also download a nifty little program that will look up something for you and display that information. Now mind you, it's not exactly easy to find this little gem in the rough, but it is there:

The main page for the nutrient laboratory:

Directly to the nifty software page:

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Blog Your Blessings Sunday: Caffeine

It is by caffeine alone I set my mind in motion. It is by the beans of Java that thoughts acquire speed, the hands acquire shaking, the shaking becomes a warning. It is by caffeine alone I set my mind in motion.

Actually I'm not sure if this should really be a ode to Morning Thunder tea, No-doze or coffee. Whatever you call and however you take it, it boils down to one thing: the toxic substance called caffeine.

Yes, toxic. Plants use caffeine as a natural pesticide to keep bugs and the like off of them. In human beings the oral (as in drinking) LD50 (dosage at which 50% of the recipients would die) is somewhere between 10 and 40g. For the sake of comparison, strychnine, a "very toxic" substance, has an LD50 somewhere between 50 to 160mg – about 1/1000th of the LD50 for caffeine.

Without this marvelous substance I would not be the jittery, twitching person I am today. I would not have passed as many exams, written required papers, given presentations, performed emergency cleaning, completed projects and generally achieved all that I have.

Yes I owe it all to caffeine, the wonder drug :-)

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

And Miss Gilligan?!!

I think The Munsters are on after this!

It is a bizarre and disturbing aspect of life that, when I need to do something, worthless drivel that I wouldn't give a second look at becomes interesting. A scene from the movie "Adams Family" sums this up for me. The family has just been evicted from their ancestral home by some rivals and the Adams have been sitting around in a motel for a while.

Gomez, the father, is staring intently at the TV, flipping through channels at a furious pace. Mortica, his wife, has been staring patiently at him for a bit and then says "Why don't we take everyone for a drive?" Gomez looks at her like she's insane and responds "And miss Gilligan?!!"

One comedian put it this way: "When I have to clean up the basement, 'Family Feud'" is interesting by comparison.

Given how much TV I used to watch, it's odd that I don't have one any more. Instead I have the internet, which is somewhat similar. Rather than do anything useful, I can sit around following link after pointless link and learn about useless information.

For example, did you know that if you have two parallel mirrors that some ridiculously small distance apart, that the plates will experience a force between them known as the "Casimir effect?" As it turns out, this force is only interesting to people making incredibly tiny "micro-machines" and the like so this bit of information is almost completely useless. By comparison, Gilligan looks useful.

So now that you're done reading this post, you can do something valuable. Something that will make society better off or at least get the laundry done. Or…you could check out this Gilligan link…

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

BYB Sunday: More Friends

At the risk of doing another BYBS on friends, recent evens have underscored how lucky I am to have them. This past week I was feeling kind of low for no good reason when a bunch of friends did something that really made me feel good. Given some of the places that I have been over the past year, I realized that things don't have to be this way – I could be in a much colder, less happy place than I am. Here's thanks thank I'm in a better place.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Why We Don't Need the EV1

A Diesel engine built by MAN AG in 1906

The EV1 was an all-electric car designed to avoid the emissions problems with traditional gas engines. Canuckistani has a good article about it on her web site. This article is partially a response to her post, though it staggers off in its own direction before too long :-)

The problem with the EV1 was simple: it used batteries. Batteries simply cannot store the amounts of energy that are required by cars, therefore the EV1 failed. I think that this, more than anything else, caused it to fail.

While I suppose you can find people who don't mind having to spend 8 hours recharging the EV1's batteries every 100 miles, the fact is that most people would prefer to use a gasoline engine.

Current sales of gas/electric hybrids demonstrate that you can sell a vehicle similar to the EV1. Newer battery technologies like "nickel metal hydride" allow for greater range (150 miles as opposed to 100), but also make them more expensive than straight gas powered cars.

The big problem with things like the EV1 is that they miss the point: we already know how to cause less pollution or to gain better efficiency in transportation; it's just a question of making the required sacrifices.

How can we make a more efficient car? Use a train instead. A train requires roughly 1/3 less fuel than a car because it exploits economies of scale.

How can you get less pollution? Use a renewable fuel like ethanol or biodiesel. Either of these alternatives are much cleaner burning and their production consumes at least as much CO2 as is created by using them.

Things like trains, buses and renewable fuels are not new. Trains predate automobiles, but people switched to cars because they are more convenient.

With a train or a bus you have to wait around for the thing to arrive. If it's raining or snowing that's your problem, and there's not a whole lot you can do about it. With a car, you leave when you want to. If it's raining or snowing, you stay nice and warm.

Housing, stores, health care, etc. all have to be designed around mass transportation. Having a house that is 2 miles from the nearest train station is a major problem. With cars, the layout is much more flexible.

Renewable fuel sources have been with us for quite some time. The original diesel engine, for example, ran on peanut oil instead of a fuel derived from a fossil fuel. Fossil fuels were chosen over renewable fuels because they were cheaper.

Nevertheless, renewable fuels are still in wide use. In order to reduce car emissions during the winter months, about 10% of the fuel used in the US is ethanol. Ethanol is made from plant sources like corn so whatever CO2 a car produces by burning it, will be consumed by the plant making the fuel. The original diesel engine used peanut oil rather than fossil fuels.

So why are fossil fuels used at all? Simple: they are cheaper. It is currently estimated that using mostly ethanol would cost about 20% more than gasoline. In the past the difference was even greater.

More efficient engines or cleaner fuel sources are not the problem. The basic issue is whether or not people are willing to sacrifice convenience and flexibility in order to get less pollution and more efficiency. When ocean levels have risen 10 feet and gas costs $10 a gallon the answer will be "yes." For right now, the answer is "no."

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Is It Just Me?

Is it just me, or could there be something better that we could be doing with our time? Take a look at missile submarine. On the one hand, here is a technological marvel. It can stay submerged for essentially as long as it wants to – the limiting factor is the crew – speed along a pretty fast clip, launch missiles from half way around the world, etc. This vehicle represents decades of development on the parts of thousands of people. On the other hand, a sub like this is insanity incarnate: this is a weapon that if used will kill millions of people and cause the target country to descend into a state of anarchy. These vehicles are hideously expensive. The costs for crew, fuel, support systems, etc. should easily be over a billion dollars a year. Now consider that there are entire fleets of subs like this that a country like the USA maintains. We live in a world where the time, effort and resources could be better spent. Instead of creating weapons to destroy somebody, we could eliminate poverty in this country or at least take a damn good chunk out of it. Research into energy technologies could result in cleaner fuels, or perhaps waste free production. Work in medical technologies could produce cures for diseases that continue to plague the world. There are many, many things that could be done with the time and effort put into supporting a bunch of weapons. The state of the world being what it is, things like missile subs are necessary. There are some pretty crazy people who've been running countries in the past 100 years. People like Kim Jong-ill, Pol Pot and Joseph Stalin. These are people so crazy that it takes a threat of total annihilation to restrain them. But that's just the point: why is it that we have nut-cases like that running countries in the first place? People always have a choice – the generals, soldiers and people do not have to follow orders. People have free will; they can decide not do crazy stuff. So why do we do it? Tags: , , , . Sources: I got the image of the sub from but, for some reason, it wont let me create a link.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

BYB: Writing

Writing is a blessing for me because it's something I enjoy for its own sake. The opinions of others are important to me, but as I talked about in "What's the Blog about, Alfie?", I write mostly because I like to.

Writing is not always easy for me. One story I tell people about is the time that I had to write a report or suchlike for school. I carefully put my keyboard on a desk. I put my desk in the middle of the room. I walked around the desk. For about six hours. That was the point that I realized that, though I might enjoy it, if I had to write to make a living I would starve to death.

And yet, I have come back to writing, particularly fiction, over and over again during my life. I remember writing as a weee lad. I remember writing stories in high school. I didn't write very much in college, though I did some. When I started my "professional life" I wrote a little bit of fiction.

I don't know why it is that I enjoy writing. The grandiose, larger than life images of my imagination look much better inside my head than on the page. But even so, the process of blathering about ideas or writing short stories is enjoyable.

I'd be lying if I said that I don't care what other people think. Recently I felt rather down when a bunch of readers panned a story that I posted on another site. When people compliment me on my stuff I feel good about it. But the overall lack of response to this site (don't get me wrong, I love you guys who come here and read my articles) means that I don't do it simply for attention.

Mysterious and enjoyable, "blessing" seems like an apt way to describe how I feel about writing. The notion of a blessing seems to imply an outside force; that it is something that has been given to you. I like the idea of passing something like that on to someone else.

Of course there are others (The Critic and The Fiend spring to mind) who don't regard my stuff as quite what you would call a blessing. With them in mind I will close with a bit of lyrics from Ricky Nelson:

But it's all right now I learned my lesson well You see you can't please ev'ryone so You got to please yourself

Lyrics from "Garden Party" by Ricky Nelson

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Card Game...of Destiny: Part 2!

An "undersea" city
This posting is intended to be read after

It will not make a whole lot of sense if you read it out of context. It will not make a whole lot of sense if you read it in context either, but at least it will won't seem quite as strange.

At any rate, picking up where the last post left off…

(Great Q-Thulu): Not interested. (Boooodah): No way. (Mr. Octopus): You're sick. (Fred D. Krab, Not Yet King of Atlantis): Awww, c'mon! (Great Q): There are some things even I wont do.

Boooodah shudders.

Moe squirts some ink and tries to blend in with the background.

(FDKNYKoA): Oh all right. How about it if I win you make me King of Atlantis?

The others ponder this.

(Great Q): Fine by me. (Moe): This is not a good idea. (B): And no cheating this time? (FDKNYKoA): Cross my shell, bayyyybeeee.

Great Qthulu prepares an Eldar Magic behind his back. Boooodah summons some gawdlike karma. Moe tentacles a few cards.

(Moe): All right, let's play.

A few minutes later.

(B): This…this is impossible! (Great Q, zapping cards repeatedly): Not fair! (Moe): Bogus!

Fred just sits there, puffing on his cigar and grinning like a maniac. After a few more minutes of exclamations...

(Fred D. Krab, Soon to be King of Atlantis): So, bayyyybeeees: you want to make Fred de King…or pay up another way? (Fred waggles his eye-stalks and makes a suggestive klaw gesture). (Great Q): King it is. (B): Word. (Moe): I knew this was a bad idea.

Thus started an event later known as "The Fall of Atlantis," "The Dark Times," or simply "Fred's Reign."

This may be continued in later postings, but enough from Fred for the time being :-)

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Card Game...of Destiny!

Fred may not have that card but morally, morally he deserves it!

The beginnings of our story, however, take place a few nautical miles away from Atlantis in a shunned and spooky section of the forests where it is said that the Elder Gawds meet to discuss their nefarious plans. One particular dark and stormy night there was a meeting of 3 nefarious…erm….people:

(Great Q-thulu): Got any sevens? (Boooodah): Go fish. (Mr. Octopus): How does this game work again?

At that moment, the flickering light of a torch illuminated a vague and sinister figure in the doorway. This was especially surprising given how hard it is to keep torches lit under water.

(Fred-D-Krab, not yet King of Atlantis): Wey-hey-hey. (GQ): Who the hell are you? (FDKNYKoA): The name is (dramatic pause) Fred. (The thunder rumbles outside).

The three not-exactly elder gawds consider this for a moment.

(B): Piss off. (MO): Go on, beat it!

Fred looks crestfallen (geddit? huh? doya?) and slouches out of the room.

(GQ): That was weird (reaches for the bowl of peanuts).

Pause for a moment to consider them.

Great Q-Thulu is a rather smaller version of the fabled being from HP Lovecraft's works. In this case, "rather smaller" means about 5'6". Unlike his famous brethren, Great Q (as he prefers to be know) does not have wings. He is, however covered in green, slimy skin, with a rather oblong head, clawed hands, and tentacles where one might expect a beard or mustache.

While worshiped as one of the "Great Old Ones," he is always short on followers because he tends to eat them...though he only manages to gnaw on the larger ones.

(B): Wonder what he wanted…

Booodah looks like a fat man wearing a loincloth. His followers say that he is wise and can spread enlightenment. He's actually not that bright, but he does manage to "enlighten" the wallets of those who follow his advice.

While his name may sound familiar to Buddha, a similarity that he will exploit at any opportunity, his "teachings" have about as much to do with inner harmony as a coral reef has to do with a blowfish...hmmm...that wasn't a very good simile.

(MO): What's that smell?

Mr. Oct-o-pus (or "Moe" as his friends call him), is the current prime minister of Atlantis. Like your typical octopus he has 8 legs, suction cups and has a tendency to squirt ink when he feels threatened.

(GQ): Whose deal is it anyways? (FDKNYKoA): What say we try a different card game…any of you guys heard of "poker?"

The other three slowly turn to regard the Krab, who is busy puffing on a foul, seaweed cigar, shuffling cards and grinning insanely.

(Moe): How do you play that?

Several hours later...

(B): HA! Three aces! Read it and weep! (FDKNYKoA): Ah well, I'll have to make do with 5…

Booodah frowns, considering this as Fred rakes in his winnings. Great Q tosses down his cards with a sigh. Moe throws his away with a look of disgust and squirts a bit of ink.

(B): I'm pretty sure there are only 4 aces in the deck. (FDKNYKoA): Yeah, stop cheating!

The other three glare at de Krab as he shuffles the cards again.

(GQ): Well, I'm out of money. (Moe): Me too. (B, under his breath): punk. (FDKNYKoA): Weeeel you know we don't have to play for money, bayyy-beee.

Moe narrows his eyes. Boooodah drums his fingers. Great Q steeples his tentacles.

(GQ): What did you have in mind?

To be continued

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Credits, etc.:

  • "dogs_playing_poker" is the painting "A Friend in Need" by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge and was obtained from this site.
  • Great C'thulu is the product of HP Lovecraft.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


The Crab Nebula

Some people have asked what the heck the whole thing with the crab on Canuckistani's nifty certificate signifies. Others (well, actually nobody) have scrutinized the pictured document and noted a rather strange "signature" on it that talks about a certain "Fred D. Krab."

By way of explanation, the whole Krab theme is a reference to a posting I made a week or two back. I (sometimes) try to have a sort of ongoing story in my posts: for example, the struggles of the author to maintain a positive front despite the negative feedback and mounting evidence :-)

At the risk of losing even more readers, here is a bit of introduction:

Do you know what a hero is? It's a person who gets other people killed.


(Examining some dead bodies) Colon: It could have been worse. Vimes: How's that? Colon: It could have been us.

"Men at Arms" by Terry Pratchett

Every generation faces a challenge.

There are those few who, despite the cost, ignoring the odds, rise to the occasion.

They stand for those who cannot stand for themselves, guarding the weak, freeing the oppressed, they struggle and die for no other reason than because it is the right thing to do.

They are Heros.

And then there is…Fred.

Picture, if you will, a water-covered planet, orbiting a small star in the Crab Nebula. It is home to many water-borne species of intelligent fish, octopi, crabs and other aquatic life. To the inhabitants, the planet is called "Nerts."

The capital city of Nerts is known as Atlantis. It is a beautiful, shining city located in the shallows near some seaweed forests. At noon the sun shines through the water and illuminates its towers and streets with an unearthly glow (appropriate since it's not on Earth).

The city is ruled or perhaps governed by a rather hide-bound group of elected leaders who believe in commerce, regular meals and a vague sort of duty. Made up mostly of octopi (hey, four lobed brains have some advantages), the council overseas (couldn't resist the pun) the operation of the city and trade between neighboring cities. There is even some commerce with some nearby star systems, Atlantis being the cosmopolitan, happinin place that it is.

Despite the more-or-less benign nature of the cities government, there persist certain rumors among the seaweed forests and lilly pads that the King will one day return to reunite the warring tribes and bring an age of peace to Nerts for a thousand years.

Now mind you, some people will believe anything. Furthermore, planet Nerts has enjoyed a basically peaceful and prosperous existence for over 1,000 years.

When faced with this, poets, story tellers others who spend a good deal of time drinking will often times responds with accusations that, when beauty and reality clash, beauty should win, even when it doesn't. Ordering another round of drinks will usually shut them up.

Never the less, the citizens of Atlantis like to tell the story to their children. Mommy Froggies will tell their tadpoles about how they will grow up to become a Princess of the Realm. This can cause a great deal of confusion when the listening tadpole ends up being male.

To be continued...assuming there is any interest...

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Monday, December 04, 2006


Saw Canuckistani's comment on friendship and thought...THE HELL YOU SAY! You now, o-fish-ally have at least 1 there :-)

Sunday, December 03, 2006


Friendship is one of the things that make life worth living, making life a blessing instead of a curse.

Much of the time, the connection between what I do and anything positive in the world is very difficult to discern. I schlep off to work, do a bunch of arcane, weird and specific things, and, if I do it right, nothing exciting happens. When I do things wrong it is very apparent that this is the case, because people run around, scream at me, etc. :-)

With friends, I feel that like there is an immediate and positive contribution to my world. When I see someone smile because they met me, or hear someone's voice pick up because I called, I feel that I've made someone's life just a little bit better. It's a small thing, definitely not life changing, etc. but it's something I can feel good about.

The importance of friends to me, on the other hand is profound. One person noted that I can filter out the positive aspects in life or "steal defeat from the jaws of victory." To have people who seek out my company for no other reason than because they like being around me is a validation that, when I stop to think about it, is very powerful.

It is strange that given how important friends are to me, I sometimes take such things for granted. Like water, air or food, they fade into the background when you have them. It sure is apparent when you don't have them, but when you do, it seems like it's nothing special.

This is, of course, one of the things I like about "Blog Your Blessings Sunday:" that I stop for a second and acknowledge things like this. So here's to friends and friendship.

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Friday, December 01, 2006



In the type of work that I do, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out why it is that things that should be working, are not working. I also try to figure out why things that shouldn't work, work. Some people point to quantum behavior: the whole idea that things behave differently depending on whether your looking or not.

As a friend of mine says, all other things being equal, the simplest answer is usually the correct answer. Hence my theory: Gremlins.

Note the plural. You never deal with just one gremlin at a time, you deal with a whole pack. That way, one "team member" can distract you, while the rest of them work on screwing you up. In my case, it ran something like this:

(Me): (Types a key triumphantly) Ha! Genius I am! Happy! Happy! Joy! Joy! (Gremlin #1): Way, hey, hey! This guy's gonna be fun! (Gremlin #2): Hey boss! You want us to kill him? (G1): No way! I got plans for this guy. Have George distract him. (G2): You got it.

(With an appropriate sound, I receive an email)

(M): Chips and chocolate? Where?!!!

(I leap out of my chair and run off)

(G1): Hee, hee, hee.

(The gremlins tinker with my computer for several minutes, after which I return).

(Me): Hmph…no chips or chocolate! At least my program works.

(Hits a key)

(Me): What the? But…but…it was just working!

(I start typing madly, Gremlin #1 sniggers. After a few seconds G1 waves a flag at G2)

(Me): Now it's working! I guess that one change fixed everything.

(I lean back languorously watching the results flash by, G1 waves his flag at G2 again)

(Me): WHAT? It stopped again! What's going on here?

(I start typing madly, G1 waves again)

(Me): Now it's working… (G1 waves) …now it's not! But I didn't do anything how (wave) can (wave) this (wave) be (wave, wave) happening?!!

(By now I'm pulling my hair out in bunches and the gremlins are rolling on the floor laughing).

(A tired, dispirited person comes wandering by, I jump up and pull him over to my cube.)

(Me): Sludge! Sludge man, you've seen this before, why isn't this working?

(Sludge looks without interest at my computer and pokes the keyboard a few times. The Gremlin waves his flag)

(Sludge): It's working now. (Me): No it's not, it few seconds it stops working.

(The seconds tick by with no change, Sludge gives me a meaningful look)

(S): I gotta go. (Me): But wait, it's going to happen.

(Sludge plods off, I sigh, the Gremlin waves his flag).

(Me): Gaaaaaaaa! They're in my head! THEY'RE IN MY HEAD!!

Perhaps my explanation is unlikely, but I think aliens would be more interested in blowing up the planet with ray thingies than just messing with me…

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  • The image, "watto.jpg" is from Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace © 2001 Lucasfilm Ltd.