Thursday, March 28, 2013

2/3rds of a Hand Per Cube

3 Rubik's cubes, 2 hands, one helmet cam, 6 minutes.  This makes my head hurt.  Not even Sheldon Cooper could do this.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Coastal Parkour

Over the last week, I've been spending a great deal of time down at the Dana Point tidal pools.  They are some of the most pristine, diverse, dynamic, and well preserved tidal pools in California, and according to the rangers with whom I have spoken, the best in Orange County.

My son had taught me that it is always better to hop rock-to-rock when we've been out hiking in remote Arizona, than it is to try and place your feet between the rocks on shifting sand or loose gravel.  So on my treks out to The Headlands of Dana Point and back, I've begun doing what I call "Coastal Parkour" - hopping from rock to rock, to make my way along the shore line.

It's a combination of Parkour, mountain climbing, and the child's game "hot lava", except in the case of the tide pools, the "lava" is sea water the closer you get to the ocean, or wet sand the closer you get to the cliffs.  I give myself extra 'bonus points' if the rock onto which I am leaping is actively being splashed by an incoming wave.  It's more than a kilometer each way, of rock hopping.  And I look at it this way: someday I am going to be old and feeble, or blind or lame, and unable to attempt Coastal Parkour, so I might as well enjoy it now, while I can.  My left knee's cartilage gets a little unhappy with me if I do too many extreme impacts where I land too hard or push off too forcefully, but over-all it is an exhilarating endeavour.

And I do it while carrying a back pack full of binoculars, camera, yoga mat, bottle of water, sun screen, bed sheet to lay down under the yoga mat, whisk broom to whisk away little rocks if necessary, hat, cell phone, wallet and car key (or bike lock, if I ride the 29 inch Diamondback down there, as I have twice already).  Double bonus points are awarded for using wet rocks.  Points are deducted for standing on mussel beds, sea weed, or algae - as these are all living things, and the public should not be damaging them.  Penalties involve removal of skin by barnacles and sharp rock faces when slipping - so far only my right palm got skinned and I was clumsily wearing sandals that day.

When there are young men around, I've started saying "Parkour!" when I jump, and several of the young lions try to mimic me or keep up, but mostly they just laugh at the old man jumping from rock to rock past them.
Sadly, the abandoned sea lion pup below died the next day... and is now decomposing on the trail near the foot of the cliff (Spring High Tides are +5 feet, carrying things that float, high up onto the shore).  I did call the Marine Mammal rescue hotline... but either the pup was not viable, or it died before the rescue truck got there.  There's over 100 sea lion and seal pups, abandoned by their mothers, in shelters in Southern California currently.

Not So Tough As Nails

I've been thinking alot lately about the phrase "Tough as nails".  It makes no sense, in this modern age, today.  Perhaps if I was Amish or a Mennonite and wooden dowels were all I had, "tough as nails" might carry more purport.  Perhaps if I lived 1000s of years ago before bolted joints, hot riveting, brazing, epoxy joining, press-fitting, or arc/mig/tig/friction/and EB welding existed on Earth, "tough as nails" might carry a connotation of "as tough as a bear's nails" or "as tough as an eagle's talon".  But humans today are very disconnected from bears, eagles, or other wild animals (save for their sport teams' mascots).  So just what is "tough as nails" supposed to mean?

Does it mean that it bends easily when not hit precisely square with a hammer, and then it quite difficult to extract without causing damage to the wood in which it was pounded?

Does it mean 'that which should never be used in shear' as the nails under Dr Desert Flower's friend Brook's hot tub were used in shoddy construction where the entire weight of hot tub, water, and drunken revelers was supported solely by three 16D nails into each corner's platform support upright?  (which failed in shear, dumping the hot tub, water, and inhabitants one night in 1997)

Does it mean 'that which if pounded into the wood too close to the edge will indeed cause the wood to Break Out and split'? (Yes, my father and god father are excellent wood workers, a skill that was not passed down to me)

Or is there no construction component whatsoever and instead it applies to mammalian and avian nails?  Bears, eagles, badgers, seals, walruses, hawks, humans, etc?  Most of the quadrupeds and raptors have somewhat formidable nails, composed mostly of keratin, but human nails are fragile, flimsy, transient, ornamental vestiges that break even easier than construction nails.  And the phrase "as tough as nails" has no species qualifier to it.  Humans being as myopic as they are, I think that the phrase must have originally been used to describe human nails.

Un-cut baby nails can claw at their parents a great deal.  And humans who have been pre-maturely buried have tried to claw their way through their coffins, when wooden coffin burials were the custom in cultures who did not cremate their dead.  But I just do not see any resemblance to "toughness" or "durability" in human nails that the phrase "tough as nails" incorrectly implies.

If anyone has any insights as to the rightful origin of "Tough as nails" I would be very interested to hear it.   My "comments box" is always open. - JJP

Monday, March 18, 2013

Not Enough To Swallow

When we first moved here to Southern California, and I realized I was within bike riding distance of San Juan Capistrano, and being named "Joe" and having my relatives always PUSH the celebration of "St.Joseph's day" as a counter-weight to "St.Patrick's day" (in some kind of bizarre Reeguhn-esque ethnic tribal feud) I thought to myself: "I KNOW where I'll be this coming St.Joseph's Day! San Juan Capistrano!" you see, the swallows return to Capistrano every March 19th (St.Joseph's day) and leave every October 23rd (some other saint's day, I guess).

Since there's So Much hype about it - parades, bands, celebrities, etc -  I wanted to be prepared. When does it happen on the 19th?  Where's the best place to see it in SJC?  Just how many swallows are we talking about here?  How bad would the traffic be?

Well, since there's a Pat Boone / Ink Spots / multiple-cover-band song "When the swallows return to Capistrano" it made googling it a pain.  There's all sorts of "news reports" and promotional videos, one in which a male senior citizen says "there were so many swallows, they blackened the sky".  In this age of "video recording devices are everywhere" I was sure I'd see some kind of actual video footage of a mass of birds, large enough to blot out the sun.  Well, the closest thing is this:

...and in that video, you can count 12 swallows (13, if you count the swallow nest next to the beehive in the eave twice, since it's shown twice).  In other videos you can see a UCLA (some 30 miles from here) faculty office building's 4th floor being flocked to by swallows (and mudded, and pooped upon).  You can see someone's inlaw's home a "a few miles from SJC" being strafed and nested by dozens of swallows.  You can see poorly shot video of swallows "in slow motion".  But I have yet to find any actual footage of the San Juan Capistrano swallows "returning", nor "circling the mission twice and leaving for the winter" as the legend says.

Lack of evidence does not disprove it, it just makes it even less believable, and gives me so much pause as to make me not feel bad for avoiding SJC tomorrow.  I am sure there will be massive traffic jams into and out of SJC.  There's no shortage of entrepreneurs, marketeers, and hopeful capitalists trying to prey upon tourist dollars there.  Since I am feeling rather under-the-weather with some kind of congestive head cold, attempting to ride my bike up there and back is definitely out of the question tomorrow, and even if I did, I'd probably be run over by a out-of-town tourist trying to see a stray seagull or raven and hoping it was a swallow.   And since they are supposed to return "at dawn's first light" it would be a very chilly ride, on a busy Tuesday work morning, when I am already triple booked with simultaneous conference calls.

The video above (or link here) says that SJC Mission renovations and development have decreased the numbers of swallows that return, but 'have not diminished the festive spirit'.  Hazaah, hooray, how fun for you SJC.     =\  I wanted to see many dozens or hundreds or thousands of swallows, digesting every flying insect for miles around, darting to and fro...  but instead, a 1/2 dozen mud nests in the eaves it all you've got?  On the I-10 and 101 in Phoenix there were 100s of such nests on the west side of town's interchange - I used to see them all the time.  

I do not mean to disrespect SJC's swallows or the massive events surrounding their "legendary" return. But I'll be staying home tomorrow.  I am kinda glad my Uncle Joe (the same one who sends me funny emails often) is not coming to co-celebrate St.Joseph's day here tomorrow... we'd both be rather under-whelemed by the lack of natural phenomenon and over-whelmed by the much-to-do-about-very-little.

If any of my SJC neighbors have actual footage of hundreds or thousands of birds "blackening the sky" on March 19th (or any other time for that matter, in SJC), please feel free to share the link the "comments", and I will happily "eat crow" - but I doubt I will swallow.  =)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Monday, March 11, 2013

Bee Venom Kills HIV

I know this sounds silly, but it is not.  It is sound science, and honestly, it is freaking amazing.   Joshua Hood, a scientist at Washington University (St Louis), took bee venom, loaded with the natural toxin melittin, and put it in nano-particles (he's a Phd MD, but we won't hold the "MD" part against him).  Link here.  The nano-particles were so large, that the normal cells could not get affected by the toxic melittin.   The melittin couldn't harm the normal cells, because they were TOO BIG.  But HIV is a sneaky little virus, encapsulated, with it's own little defense mechanism.

Well HIV, meet BEES!   That's right, Bees!  And the melittin in the bee venom stung the hell out of the HIV, poking holes in it, rendering it useless, while leaving the normal cells unaffected.  Hood hopes to develop a vaginal cream that is loaded with these nano particles that can be applied by women in areas rampantly affected by HIV - like Africa, Haiti, and other hot spots.

This is Science at its best.   Nano-particles, geometry, virology, immunology, biochemistry.  I bet none of the researchers who worked on this think the Earth is 6000 years old.  This is awesome.   This is - as my long deceased grandmother used to say "the bee's knees".  =)

I've been stung by bees, twice in my life, once between my fingers, and once on my arm.  No fun either time.   I was sorry to see the poor bee die, but she stung me.   I know bee venom is no laughing matter. I am delighted to see it stinging the hell out of HIV.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Long Awaited Dose of Reznor

If you've missed exposure to Trent over the last few years.... this link should help you recover:

Mariqueen Maandig's voice is very feminine, somewhat ethereal.   And you still get to hear Trent singing vocals and refrains in the back ground.   The synth and drum tracks are pure NIN.


Monday, March 4, 2013

The Coyote Whisperer

Dr Desert Flower has begun going to bed earlier and waking up earlier, to try and match my schedule a little better.  It enables us to spend more quality time together as a couple in the evenings, and she gets to see the sun rise on morning walks when Southern California weather is pleasant (as it has been this month and last month) while I am engaged in conference calls with Bangalore, Warsaw, Atlanta, and South Carolina.  This morning, DDF was excited to tell me about a coyote who was walking beside her, 5 or 6 feet away, at the park near the top of the hill in our neighborhood, the same park where I've done yoga on the Pacific Ocean vista.

In the past when we've taken walks in Indiana, South Carolina and Arizona, DDF had the nick-name "the cat whisperer" since every cat we encountered on our walk appeared to be inexorably drawn to her.  It appears coyotes are likewise drawn to her as well.  "I was walking at a brisk pace when I thought 'one of the neighbor's dogs must be out without a leash' when I saw what I thought was a german shepherd" as the animal paced her several feet away.  Then she said she noticed the larger ears, the different tail, and distinguishing snout - that was no german shepherd, it was a coyote!  She said the made a jumping motion and waved her hands in the air suddenly to ward off the wild animal, and the coyote took off down the hill and away from her - it was fun to watch her recreate this motion.  ...I think only a shy coyote would have been threatened by it.  =)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

If You're Homophobic, You Probably Won't Try Sushi Either

Over at the ever enjoyable ILoveCharts, they posted this gem (link here) from MotherJones.
Now, while I do not love sushi, I have tried it, and I have liked some of the sushi that I've eaten in advanced countries with reliable refrigeration and food safety standards (like Japan, and the Coasts of the US, but not like China or Mexico or most of Africa).  The further from the source - the longer the supply line and 'chain of custody' - the more dubious I am about the quality & safety of the sushi being served.

So Mother Jones published the Pew Research Center's report about the Public Policy Polling that interviewed 500 registered voters across the country, at the end of February 2013, with a error rate of +/- 4.4%.  The correlation - regardless of age -  of refusal to trying sushi and not approving of gay marriage is uncanny.  I'd say that the P value on this (just from my limited experience in looking at non-homogenious data sets, and working with many homophobes over the years in many red states) would be at least 0.01, or smaller.

Now, while this correlation is somewhat disturbing, it is good to know that the older you get - and the closer to the end of your average life span you are today - that you're more phobic about just about everything, and in another 10 or 20 years, after most of the boomers and silent generation are dead and gone, the rest of us can live in a more accepting society that has less fear of raw fish, less fear of gay people, and more accepting of the diversity that is intrinsic to the world in which we all live.

Hiking or Biking Alone In California Can Be Dangerous

When my son was visiting back at Christmas, he and I biked up to the North end of Aliso Canyon on the new Diamondbacks, and as we sat and enjoyed some Marcona almonds, dried apricots, and Nalgene bottle water, we spotted this lovely sign:
Now that's pretty explicit.  That's also about a mile from where Dr Desert Flower works.  There's a primary school that borders this canyon and a high school that is actually IN the canyon farther south.

At my high school, there was the occasional possum (opossum?), raccoon, stray dog, and (from time to time) skunk, but never did we have a mountain lion or need to warn of any apex predator.

Here in Orange County, humans have encouraged upon the edge of the desert where all the critters used to live.  Many of those critters still have canyons, drainage tunnels, dense landscaping, and mountain ranges Very Nearby, where they can sleep, live, raise their young, and thrive.  Mountain lions, bobcats coyotes, red tail hawks, raccoons, rattle snakes, road runners, and of course multiple murders of crows upon crows upon crows all reside here.   The little barking dogs and "outdoor cats" of humans the new comers leave in their back yards over-night become easy-pickings protein supplements for the indigenous predators, helping to keep the predators and their young well fed with sustained populations.

I looked up the recorded attacks of mountain lions on Humans in California (they're all over the web) and they are real.  The more humans hike and bike out in the remote countryside, the more often they get attacked, and sometimes killed.  I don't want to become a protein supplement to a den of hungry mountain lion cubs.   What appears to happen, is that lone hikers, or lone bikers, are attacked by hungry mountain lions.  Rarely do the felines attack a group of 2 or 3 together.  But if one biker or hiker is 100 yards or more ahead of or behind the rest, then they're a prime target to become prime rib.  There's been multiple instances of hikers or bikers getting separated from their group, mauled, and their screams bringing other hikers or bikers to their aid.   Likewise, sometimes a lone hiker or biker is killed, but because of the American obesity epidemic, is too heavy to be carried back to the den by the cougar and instead, is dragged just a few yards off the beaten path into a thicket or patch of bamboo.  Then a 2nd group of hikers or bikers stumbles by (clumsy bipeds that we are) and the mountain lion - not yet done with eating their first kill - defends itself, instinctively thinking the 2nd group is coming to take away all that fat and protein it just brought down.

While I would love to bike all over the remote wilderness here, the mountain lion density is Much Much higher in Southern California than it was anywhere in Maricopa County AZ.  I don't want to become lunch, and while I think I am in pretty good shape, the American Mountain Lion has a strength to weight ratio in her claws, jaws, arms and legs that is 8 to 12 times more powerful the average human.  As all big cats tend to do, the Mountain Lion goes for the back of the head (severe the spine with incisor bites), the eyes (disable & blind your prey), and the throat (bleed it out) preferentially before going for arms, legs, thorax or genitalia while the prey is still able to fight back.  Once the prey is subdued... well... let the highest amounts of protein and fat be eaten first, before any other competitors approach to try and take your lunch away.

One of my Apple Trainers (Joan) last month told me she saw a Mountain Lion at Crystal Cove State Park - the same park where DDF and I hiked last weekend!  I asked Joan if she was alone or in group when she saw the lion, and she said she was alone - I told her she was lucky, and recommended to her to not hike alone in the future.

Links to:
Mountain Lion Sightings in Aliso Canyon
National Geographic Accounts and Recommendations to survive California Mountain Lion attacks
Recorded CA Mountain Lion Attacks through 2007
Orange Trail Safety Tips
North American Mountain Lion attacks, 2001-2010

The Crazy Busy Apple Store On A Sunday

So Dr Desert Flower needed to return some things to several of the Mission Viejo mall stores, I signed up for a Apple "Open Training" class, so I could work / blog / email in the mall with the free Wifi and not have to hang around various retail Service counters waiting for her.  The Apple store is normally pretty busy, but on a Sunday, it is more akin to Bedlam... or the week-before- Christmas-busyness, compared to the much more tranquil atmosphere during the weekday afternoons.

Now, if I wanted to have total serenity, I guess I could go down to the Windows store, where there are very few customers, tons of employees standing around with not much to do...  but I don't think they'd welcome my AirBook in there with open arms.

The Giant butcher-block-like training tables have equally massive & solid legs on the ends.  While this makes for excellent stability, it also blocks off the end of the table so that only 4 people can crowd around it, instead of 5 using the table more effectively. But it still works pretty well.

I took this photo as I arrived with my Sony camera.  I plopped the card into the USB reader, copied it to my "pics" folder, and then tried to find it with my Google Blogger.  No can do.   Google Blogger doesn't like it.  But if I "open with" Firefox, copy the address, and then cut-and-paste that address into the Blogger "Choose files" then it finds it.

I Just now showed this conundrum to "Shannon" our friendly trainer,and she pointed out the hand Mac feature inside of Finder that lets one sort by date created, date modified, name, kind, application, etc... which is Much More handy than the old PC way of "open in Firefox" or "open in IE8" or wherever, and cut-and-psate.   This picture was 'hiding in plain sight' in the middle of the pack, sorted alphabetically until I toggled the sort-by display setting.

Learn something new everyday.  =)

USBs Unite, For Cthulhu

I want to get one of these... just for fun: (link here)
Me thinks it would be great to plug in at an internet cafe or Apple Store training session.  =P

Only thing that would make this better, was if it was also a multi-gigabyte storage device... or if could double as a "mouse" or "pointer".  Now THAT, would be really cool.

Release the Kraken!  (but make sure your battery if fully charged first)

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Greed Zombies

Yes, the creation of fictional wealth, out of derivatives, collateral default swaps, modeled future behaviour, mergers & acquisitions, as well as the legalistic BS, political BS, and promotional marketing that surrounds these imaginary concepts are all far more important than making actual, real, quality products.  Far more important than teaching our young people how to learn to build and fix and improve real things.  Far more important than helping other citizens to improve their lives.   The pursuit of infinite wealth, gained from imaginary & conflated concepts, without any trace of humanity or scruples, has taken over not just the US, but on a global scale.

I used to worry that someday my grand children will inherit a polluted environment, ruled by greedy bastards, who have corrupted the world.  But I've stopped worrying about that, and I've begun to come to grips with the realization that maybe I won't have any grand children at all - a thought that used to depress me, but now one which is perhaps the least sad out-come.

Friday, March 1, 2013

California DMV = OMG!!!!

So today I tried to go to the California DMV.    Sure, the CA DMV has a "make an appointment" feature on their web page.  But the "make an appointment" doesn't work in San Clemente, since they are closed until March 15th.   So I go to the Laguna Hills office.   I arrive at 1pm

1pm - I get in the line, that stretches around the building
1:45, I get a number "B121"  .. there is hope
2:45pm, I get notified that window #20 will see me
I need to register a 2011 Volvo a 2007 Mazda, and get my CA driver's license.   I got to window #20, and talk to Chinese Immigrant "William".   "William" summarily dismisses my application for a CA driver's license, because I do nor have not have passport or birth certificate.  My VALID AZ Driver's License (good to 2031) is NOT GOOD ENOUGH.  No, I need my birth certificate or passport.   Ok....

He makes me pay for my $360Volvo registration, but won't give it to me because
a) it is not PRESENT to be verified (VIN # and mileage)
b) has not been CA smog tested (even though it is less than 2 years old)
C) the odometer cannot be verified
D) the "engine serial number" cannot be verified by a CA state bureaucratic
... okay, so I need to get it smog tested AND I need to have the CIN number checked.  Ok.   I am not a terrorist.

Then, "William" sends me out to "get my Mazda verified".    I WAIT 45 minutes, outside.  I pretend I am a "tomb of the unknown solider" enlisted man, and I pace, pivoting, 90 degrees, at each 8 steps, for FORTY FIVE MINUTES, waiting for SOMEONE to come out to check my VIN number, my mileage, my vehicle ID.   Finally, a nice lady from the temporarily closed San Clemente DMV office comes out to methodically check my vehicle.  "Are you pacing impatiently, or patently?" she asks me.  I reply, WITH SILENCE.     (Yes, I was VERY impatient after my THIRD Hour).

So I GOT THERE at 1.   Got my number "B121" at 2pm.  got called to "Window 20" at 3pm.   Got rejected for my DL at 3:10, and sent out to my Mazda at 3:15, where i waited  for 45 minutes, for SOMEONE to come out and verify my VIN number, mileage, and license plate.   Then, at 4pm, I go BACK IN to Window #20.   BUT no, "William" helped a a woman who had the appearance of a crack whore right before me to get a temporary tag and a handicap tag for her disabled boy friend who "can't walk".   I approach "William" who tells me flatly "I cannot help you, I spent too much time with the last person, and my manager will write me up, please go sit down".

So I go STAND next to the seats (where there ARE NO seats) and wait impatiently.   I talk to a 16 yr old and her mother who confirm that Once I take my written test, later in March, I get to wait FOR AN HOUR for the results of my written test.     It has now been more than 3 hours since I got to the DMV.

"William" finally calls me back up, it is 4:25 pm, almost 3.5 hours after I arrived.   He starts to process my request for registering my Mazda.   After 15 minutes William charges me, takes my money, then tell sme I need to go get an emissions heck.   I walk out at 4:30 with
- no new CA license
- no new CA registrations
- no new CA documents

I drove home (after spending $250 dollars at the liquor store, with no meaningful DMV documents in hand) and began drinking wine.   I am on my 2nd bottle.    I DESPISE CALIFORNIA's bureaucracy.   it is SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO Annoying!!      Someday, I will get my Driver's license, and both vehicles registrations....          government interference and bureaucracy be damned.

Sometimes, I miss Arizona.