Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Budgeting Season Comes After Christmas Season.

My 2010 expenses.  The top 20% of categories have 67% of expenses.
Near New Year I always review my budget. This might be because we spent too much on Christmas gifts.

This year I downloaded 850 transactions from Mint into Excel, and sorted through them.  It is good practice using pivot tables.

I spend too much on cable TV and eating out. Although it feels like my DW's indulgences in organic foods are expensive -- grocery spending is not going up.

The mortgage is the biggest expense, then groceries and other household stuff, house repairs, and so on. Taxes would be the biggest of all, but I ignore them. The budget buster this year was the new furniture we bought.

My budget is a legacy of my grad student years when we tracked everything, so we could afford food and toys for the kids both. This system was pretty detailed.

When I came out of grad school, the budget helped us figure out how big a car payment we could afford, and later I used it to help find money for college expenses. These systems got looser and looser.

I used to use Borland Quattro, which was a spreadsheet program. Later I switched to Excel -- then off to Quicken, then Quicken Online and now Mint.  Recall that Quicken bought Mint in 2009, and promised millions of users an automated conversion path to Mint. Quicken never delivered on that, instead they just told me and thousands of others to reapply. It was easy to switch though. Took an hour or less.

Budgets are so easy with -- at least at the level of detail that I am comfortable with. I know some people track down to the last nickel, and I don't do that. My budgets are trying to get the big stuff, and try to make the little stuff average out correctly over time. can't be as secure as PC or Mac based software, but it sure is easier to use. Far far better than Quicken for Mac's offering.

On the other hand, these programs create canned budgets don't answer the questions I want answered, and I can organize it myself in Excel better. That is why I download everything, and replot it myself. I can also compare this year with the last few years, and that is really useful.  For example that is how I know that groceries cost less than last year despite the organic yogurt in the 'frig.

After I look at expenses, I want to look at savings -- so digging into the 401k is next.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Finches of Darwin

I came across someone unfamiliar with the story of Charles Darwin on the Beagle in 1831 and his trip to Galapagos, so I thought I'd post on that.

The birds on Galapagos are very similar in structure, and provided Darwin inspiration for his Theory of Natural Selection. At the time they were called Finches, but Moderns call them Tanagers. They are clearly similar in features and color. Natural selection provided slight differences in bills that allowed them to eat from a variety of food sources.

In 1845, Darwin wrote, "Seeing this gradation and diversity of structure in one small, intimately related group of birds, one might really fancy that from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified for different ends".

I can't say it better than Darwin did.

Darwin's Tanager - by John Gould who
was on the Beagle with Darwin
Darwin's tanagers are not actually an example of speciation, but rather, they are can all still interbred. This is an example of a species with huge variety of traits. This provides huge flexibility and adaptability wthin the population.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

2010 Christmas Poem

Christmas is just another day
when seen from sometime far away.
The winter's dark brings time to pray
and feel the root of my Holiday.

To remind myself that I can be
for a day or an hour during coffee and tea
-- helpful a little more and reaching a little further
As friend, husband, or neighbor or father

Are gifts really bad and simply distractions?
I say they are rather
an increasingly rare reciprocal action
So I buy for you
And you buy for me.

I listened for hints, way back at Thanksgiving.
As I sliced up the turkey, I logged ideas in mind
You mashed up potatoes, and listened for my mine

And together we built and we grew and combined
And all us together built a Giftgiving
So holiday event so grand and so fine
That we remember them all as the best of our times.
-- an emergent holiday meeting of minds

When I gift successfully I feel and I find
That listening and empathy has helped me refine
how to deal with people the rest of the time.

Gifting is best when I've spend time,
-- the time to select, return, and refine.

When I buy gift cards and give cash for propriety,
my money does not built the holiday society

It's really a waste, just a deep well of chaos,
nothing but bother and a flaming deadweight loss.

Jesus' birth and the Christmas story
I hold as dear as piles of money
I love the music, Carol of the Bells
Mannheim Steamroller and the smell of candles
Tinkly lights and front yards all lit
Frank Sinatra and Sarah Brightman

Jesus's birth brings to my mind,
How much better I can be most of the time.
It helps me to focus and helps me to find
A better more moral and higher incline.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Stalker picture

The Stalker (detail) by 'AlsaPaints'.   I found this while looking for Christmas gifts this afternoon.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Michigan Unemployment No Longer Worst in the Nation


Something is going right.

Michigan unemployment is down to 12.4%, from 12.8% last month. Down from 14.4% in 2009!

After years of leading the nation in unemployment, Michigan has achieved 3rd worst. Well, actually tied with California for 3rd worst. So I am grasping for good news -- you can't blame me.

Hopefully this is a sign of improvement in the manufacturing economy, and a better 2011. 

Cute Toy Quorra from Tron

This toy was hand made by Michal Miszta.  It is a  'dunny,' which is like a bunny -- it has rabbit ears.  I have been spending time on gift sites, and I came across this one.

It is based on the character Quorra from Tron Legacy.  It is interesting, because the Tron graphics are so black and cool, and here it is parodied as a toy rabbit.

I have not seen Tron Legacy at this point, but it opened this weekend.


26-January update:  Click here for my movie review.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ethics of Christmas Gift Giving

Why do we need to talk about the ethics of giving?

Giving is an absolute good.

Decisions to keep wealth for your selfish little self is clearly less good than giving it away. Isn't it?

Is it ever bad to give?

Well, yes if you are truly impoverished, or if giving food away meant that you could not feed your kids, then yes -- it would be bad to give food away. 

Maybe that is a special circumstance, not like the circumstances most of us live in. 

Giving is bad if giving creates an unhealthy dependency upon handouts, like American sugar farmers, or other beneficiaries of governments.

If the gift were really a veiled extortion, more like 'Trick or Treat, then giving is not really giving. It is just a bribe or kickback. 

Economists talk about the inefficiencies of gift giving because the gift I receive is always an imperfect reflection of what I would have bought for myself. This means some of the gift money is wasted, and to an economist all waste is bad. 

It is not especially good to give if I am just expecting an equivalent gift back. That is even in the Bible, Luke 6: 34-36.  I'd argue that while it is not actually charitable to do that, but it is still good for the society to trade in this way. It helps build relationships, and society is founded on relationships.

"It is more blessed to give than to receive."  Acts 20:35

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Yeast Cancels Toxic Acrylamide Threat in Bread not Crackers

Remember headlines like, "Is Eating French Fries Deadly?" from 2002. It might be, but there is a simple nearly-natural solution for bready foods.

First, the dangerous chemical in french fries and in baked bread is acrylamide, and it is a carcinogen. It ts found in many starchy foods after cooking, including french frieds,  crackers and non-leavened baked goods like pancakes.

Second, the normal fermentation of wheat with yeast reduces the toxic acrylamide by 88%. It does this by feeding on the amino acid asparagine, and using it up. The acrylamide forms during baking over 121C (250F.)

Aspargine is a good food source for yeast. Now Canadian yeast maker, Functional Technologies, has a yeast that works even better. It is only nearly-natural because it is a genetically modified yeast which uses up asparagine more effectively that natural yeast.

asparagine, an amino acid
This looks like a solution for wheat breads, but it does not work on rye bread where asparagine is evidently better protected.

While yeast is good news for bread. It is no help for french fries and coffee which also have an acrylamide problem, and no simple way to use yeast.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Greg's Favorite Christmas Songs

I put up the Christmas tree yesterday, and to get in the mood I broke out the Christmas songs. For me, that means taking Christmas Songs playlist out of its folder and back to the main iTunes menu.

I am looking for better Christmas songs. Why? Because I have not got all the good ones yet. 

I poke around on the internet looking for recommended Christmas songs, and I never find much. I thought I'd put mine out there. [It occurs to me that is what iTunes's Ping is all about, but I don't like Ping.]

Greg's Top Christmas Songs

1. Gaudete by Mediaeval Baebes - Great a capella hymn; Happy and pretty. One of my favorite songs of all time. It's the only a capella song on the list.

2. Pat A Pan by Mannheim Steamroller; I'm never tired of hearing this one. Mannheim Steamroller are modern Christmas classic, but they are overplayed.

3-5. Carol of the Bells by The Bird and the Bee
Two more versions of Carol of the Bells: Harry Connick Jr, and the classic by Vienna Boys Choir. This my favorite traditional Christmas hymn.  I have a dozen versions.  Honorable Mentions are by Celtic Woman, Los Lonely Boys, and Mannheim Steamroller.  This will give you a big variety of music styles in the same song.

6-9. The whole album The Christmas Eve by Trans-Siberian Orchestra, but especially Christmas Canon Rock, What Child is This, The Lost Christmas Eve, and Anno Domine.

10. Greatest Time of Year by Aly and AJ  -  Adult singers are too cynical to sing such happy music. Their "Little Drummer Boy" is pretty good too.

Honorable Mentions

A. Linus and Lucy by Vince Guardaldi Trio - great song, but not Christmassy enough for the main list.

B. Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel by Enya - Very slow and quiet, so you need to be in the mood for it.

C.  Soul Cake by Sting - This song was new last year, and I really like it. It is a folk song, so it not church music, but still traditional in feeling. It has a great mood. I can picture the poor people in the English countryside asking for food.

D. Baby Its Cold Outside by Dean Martin - This is the best of the Rat Pack Christmas songs.  So cute. The lyrics are so well delivered. I don't know who the female singer is, and I have looked.  This is better than all the other versions.

E. Christmas Time is Here by the Boston Pops Orchestra - Very traditional and very nice

F-G. The Holly and the Ivy and The Little Drummer Boy by Mannheim Steamroller; Two more of my favorites from the large body of good Mannheim Steamroller songs.

H.  Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring by Sarah Brightman; very traditional and pretty.

I. Santa Claus is Coming to Town by the Jackson Five, as a placeholder for the whole Christmas Collection Album. These songs are a little too gimmicky and dated, but they have such a free-spirited feeling that I put them on. I also expected static from the family if I left it off. "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" is really good too. "Little Christmas Tree" is the most sincere on the album.

There are so many others. Snow Angel by Tori Amos is a nice song, but not quite at the level. Tori is probably a Druid anyway.

Sorry Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra fans. Your guys did not measure up.


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Mac Excel 2011 Paste Special Bug Work-around

Macros are back in Microsoft Excel:Mac 2011
As mentioned in a previous post, the paste-special shortcut does not work in Excel:Mac 2011, but it is easy to write a work-around since macro recording is back (!) in this version of Office.

I have not been able to make a shortcut to open the Paste Shortcut menu, but one can address each of the individual options with an individual macro.  Post a comment if you figure out how.

Here is a macro for paste-values, and it is about the simplest thing in the world.  It is useful for when you want to save the result of a calculation, without moving the formula itself. 

Sub PasteSpecialValues()
' PasteSpecialValues Macro
' Paste SpecialValues
' Keyboard Shortcut: Option+Cmd+v
    Selection.PasteSpecial Paste:=xlValues, Operation:=xlNone, SkipBlanks:= _
        False, Transpose:=False
End Sub

The Paste Format one is similar.

Sub PasteSpecialValues()
Sub PasteFormats()
' PasteFormats Macro
' Keyboard Shortcut: Option+Cmd+Shift+F
Selection.PasteSpecial Paste:=xlFormats, Operation:=xlNone, SkipBlanks:= _
False, Transpose:=False
End Sub

I could build a little menu in Visual Basic to similar the real Paste-Special function. It would be better if Microsoft would fix the bug, so that Shift-Command -V would operate Paste-Special, as the menu indicates.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Podcast Playlists in iTunes 10

Do you listen to a lot of podcasts? I do, and sometimes I get behind, and want to put them into a playlist so I don't lose them.

I was planning to drive to Grandma's over Thanksgiving, and ran into the problem of how to make a playlist for podcasts in iTunes 10.  This has changed from how it was done in earlier versions.

At first I was sure that Apple was withdrawing support for podcasts as some attempt to get us to buy more paid content. And there still maybe some of that. However, it is really just done differently.

In the past, one just made playlist (File-New), and dragged the podcast into the playlist. This probably still works on the iPod Classic if you set the iPod to transfer your whole library automatically. For smaller iPods, the procedure is different.

In iTunes 10:

1. Creates the playlist with the File >> New Playlist menu item.

2. Click on the iPod in iTunes, and select the Podcast tab.

3. Check the box on the iPod's Podcast tab to enable transferring the playlist to the iPod.

4. If you have music on the playlist too, click the playlist's box on the Music tab as well. Similarly for TV Shows.

The new confusing part is that playlists with music and podcasts are on the Music tab and the Podcast tab. You should to check that podcast on both tabs to have it work correctly.

I did not figure it out in time for Thanksgiving this year,  but I had a good time anyway.  Nonetheless, life is better when I can find things on the iPod.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

21th Century Humans are the Weakest Ever

Writer Peter McAllister in his book Manthropology, claimed that men are physically weaker than our ancestors. McAllister does not say "people" he says "men," maybe to be provocative, or maybe because Australians are not so politically correct.  

McAllister says "for some reason our muscle fibers got weaker over time."  He argues primarily for nurture rather than nature, saying that  a lifetime of hard work induces stronger muscles and bigger bones.  For example, he points out the Nepalese hill porters are much stronger than "modern men."  Seems racist to me; aren't Nepalese guys modern? I suppose he means Nepalese porters are stronger than journalists from Western Australia.

Normally I favor nurture over nature in debates like this, but nature has alot on its side. There are three factors, smaller arms, and  two disabled genes.

First, chimps have relatively bigger arms than humans. Anyone can see their arms nearly reach to the ground. Longer arms mean they can have longer muscle fibers, and they can work over a longer range of motion. This alone could double the strength of the arm.

Second, chimps have two genes that are deactivated or relatively rare in people, one codes for weaker jaw muscles. Speculation ties this to the development of cooked food. Chimps literally spend hours a day chewing.

Third is the ACTN3 gene which has been found to be enriched in Olympic sprinters. Most people have a non-functional version of this gene. This gene makes the muscle react faster. Africans are most likely to carry the gene, and Asians are the least likely.

It is unclear why ACTN3 is mainly deactivated.  Alan Walker, of Penn State, suggest we are wired for fine muscle control instead. He sites differences in the spinal cord as seen by Ann MacLarnon. 

This all reminds me of devolution, and an old favorite song, Jocko Homo by Devo. People are deevolving in that we are physically weaker, but we are evolving to adapt to other traits too.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Why Not Alcohol and Caffeine? Curmudgeonly FDA Bans New Products Keeps Old Ones

By now you may have heard that pre-packaged drinks that have alcohol and caffeine are prohibited by the FDA. 

Why? FDA is the Food and Drug Administration, and they keep our chicken free from bacteria, and medicines "safe and effective."

The reason isn't really medical; it is behavioral. The drinker does not feel as drunk, so s/he drinks more. Officials claim the feeling of the caffeine is an illusion, and the  drinker is really extra drunk. 

I think there is self-selection going on. Last night I drove to a restaurant in midtown, and so I only had one drink -- it was a craft-brewed stout.  If I were going to get drunk, well, maybe I'd drink something caffeinated so the night did not end too early. 

Here is what the FDA says;

"FDA does not find support for the claim that the addition of caffeine to these alcoholic beverages is 'generally recognized as safe,' which is the legal standard," said Joshua M. Sharfstein, the FDA's principal deputy commissioner. 

"To the contrary, there is evidence that the combinations of caffeine and alcohol in these products pose a public health concern."

 Tellingly FDA is not banning Kahlua -- hard to understand how a regulation can ban a low alcohol product like Four Loko, and not a higher alcohol liquor. Strikes me as protecting the entrenched sellers.  It is hard to see how this regulation will survive a court challenge because it is so arbitrary. 

Four Loko is made by little guy Phusion Projects, while Kahlua comes from international conglomerate Pernod Ricard who makes Seagrams and Absolut.

My issue is that FDA should protect us against hazards in food and medicine. There is no medicinal interaction between caffeine and alcohol, so they don't have the basis to act. 

Even though the FDA is banning pre-mixed drinks, you can still pour vodka in your Red Bull.  Rum and Coke  is still OK.

While most people may need a curb on their behavior, this is not what the FDA is for. This strikes me as a curmudgeonly  reaction against something new.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cheese Nips, Neuroscience, and Free Will

On Tuesday I threw out a box of Cheese Nips because I believed I would eat to many of them. Having them in the house, being tempted by them, I knew I would eat them -- even though I did not want to. Was I out of control? Was I eating involuntarily? Is there no free will? 

What is will and what is a mind anyway?

Although some metaphysical types disagree, I am convinces that my mind is in my brain, and the chemical reactions in the brain interact with the body to produce thought, muscle control, and volitional action.

This appealing Wikipedia article takes up the topic. This research field is pretty old, about 25 years. It started with electrodes on different brain areas, rather than newer MRI based techniques.

Basically, researchers watched electrical polarizations in the brain in areas associated with motor control, and then were able to predict what subjects would do up to ten seconds before they acted.

And then they raised big-picture questions about the nature of volition and free-will.

In some of the early work, volunteers were asked to record when they felt the impulse to move, and that was compared with the polarization in the brain.

This work seems misinterpreted today because it is not clear how the volunteers reported the timing of their intent to move. This was tenths of a second after the electrical polarization of the brain, and pretty hard to make a big deal about. In other words, the self-reporting muddled the results.

Newer work with better instruments seem to show that thinking about an action can cause the brain to fire neurons as if it is acting. This muddles the interpretation of the 1980's era study. Secondly there seem to be multiple decision making centers in the brain that interact. Motor movement is initiated in the front of the brain (where the higher level thought is), and moves to the back.

In regard to free-will, some behaviors are involuntary like yawning, coughing, and more significantly Tourette's Syndrome tics. Most people can control these things within limits. Of course people with schizophrenia don't believe they are in control of their bodies.

If a drummer is trying to play a fast rhythm, the hands are controlled in a different way. Sometimes I wonder at how quickly my hands can type out a word that I am not quite sure that I can spell right.

People with "alien arm syndrome" are a special case. Strange as it seems, MRI work on people with "alien arm syndrome" seems to show an atypical pattern of brain activation prior to movement. In this case, people don't feel like they are controlling the arm, although their brain really is controlling it. The portion of the brain responsible for the arm is not interacting well with the rest of the brain.

There are limits to the control we have over our bodies, and some decision-making is "sub-conscious." In "normal" people, large strategic activities are under our control, but the details are fuzzy, and how the brain works is less deterministic than it seems.

My brain uses some kind of committee process to decide when to eat Cheese Nips. Sometimes, when my more diet conscious-brain parts leave the room, the rest of my mental committee votes to eat Cheese Nips, or used to.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Twinkies and McDonald's Hamburgers that don't Rot

Different kinds of aging burgers
It is an urban myth that Twinkies don't rot; even Wall-E knows that.

Kenji Lopez-Alt did a test. He took different kinds of hamburgers and left them on the counter. It is pretty entertaining, so I thought I'd put up a link to it.

He showed that smaller portions dried out, and "mummified," before they were infested by mold and rotted. Larger burgers did rot.

It may also be true that the commercially prepared food had fewer mold spores to start with, and that delayed onset of rot.

Twinkies are supposed to last a month until they get stale and tough. They supposedly last a long time because of they are non-dairy, but no one knows.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Microsoft Office: Mac 2011 Review -- A Huge Improvement

Office: Mac 2011 is the product that Office: Mac 2008 should have been. I ranted about how bad Excel 2008 was.  Office 2008 was a light version of Office that was not worthy of the name or the price. Office 2011 for Mac is what I expect the premium and market leading software to be. Office is expensive, but it suppose to work well, and have all the features.

Excel 2011 has Visual Basic Macros back!!   This is the biggest news to me, though I know most people don't care. I kept trying to find other spreadsheet software that ran macros, before I gave up, and tried to learn Applescript. The macros are back in Word too.

I found my old Macros from Excel 2002 and reinstalled them, and they all run.

The second biggest change in Office 2011 is a better, expanded Ribbon, which is a second enhanced button bar or toolbar. The Ribbon displays different buttons based on context. The Ribbon is easier to use than my customized tool bars that I use at work in Office 2003. Microsoft has moved many of the important commands into buttons. They took away the formatting palette which served many of the same functions as the Ribbon. The palette made Office feel more like an Adobe product.

I am stressed that the Analysis Toolpack is not available in 2011 as it was not in Excel 2008. Instead there is a third party app called AnalystSoft. This is a problem in that the aforementioned macros can't call a regression routine for example, but maybe not too serious. Of course, AnalystSoft is trying to get people to buy the upgrade to AnalystSoft Pro. I promise that I will put a review up after I get a chance to play with it. Ownership of AnalystSoft is unclear.

Pivot tables continue to work real well, and now have an improved Pivot Table Builder.

The chart editing is easier with easier connections to the data. Chart editing in Excel:Mac 2008 was cumbersome and buggy.

Powerpoint feels much the same as the old version. The Ribbon being the biggest change that I notice. There are more objects to insert, and many have been upgraded -- for example the org chart app is easier and more flexible.

All versions of Powerpoint handle tables more poorly than Excel or Word because they are graphics. In the 2011 version, there are more canned table formats that helps to address this problem. I will probably continue to paste Word tables into Powerpoint though.

I used Word to make some labels, and it behaves as expected. The Ribbon being the most observable change.

I found a bug in Word and Excel: the keyboard shortcut to Paste-Special does not work in either application. So that is a little annoying. There was no keyboard shortcut for Paste-Special in Excel:Mac 2008 at all.

Microsoft is also offering service on Windows Live, and one can edit documents with the web-app, and then edit them with the desktop version, and vice versa -- though I suppose there are limits to that.

Overall, I am very pleased with Office:Mac 2011. It is a welcome experience after spending three tough years with Office:Mac 2008.

See the follow-up post on Excel Macros.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Does Giving Blood Make Me Tired When I Exercise?

I like to give blood because it feels good, and because I can lose a pound of body weight in about fifteen minutes.

I have been worried that giving blood makes me tired sooner so I can't exercise as hard.

There have been a number of studies on this question. One by Birnbaum et al at College of St Scholastica showed that oxygen absorbed decreased by 10% the day after blood donation.

Another article shows 9%. In this article, an exercise that would tire college students in 11 minutes, now tires them in 10.1 minutes. So this means at the end your workout, you are going to feel tired for those last few minutes.

How long does this decrease in performance last? Strangely, it seems to last a long time1.  In women, half of subjects did not recover their original blood iron content in four weeks, however most recovered faster when given megadoses of iron. In men, recover took between 20 and 59 days, with the average being 36 days. That is, the effect of blood donation endures for sometime, and be sure to take iron pills. The effect of gender seems hard to measure. Presumably menstruating women who are prone to low iron, have an especially difficult time recovering from blood donation. 3

A related topic is blood doping, which is transfusing oneself with extra red blood cells so that the blood carries extra oxygen, and presumably this reduces fatigue. There is not good evidence that this actually works because the body removes the extra blood cells quickly. More specifically, capillary pressure removes liquid from the blood increasing its viscosity. Total blood volume equalizes within an hour or so, and blood viscosity rises. There is also a problem with maintaining the stored blood in prime condition.

The same article talks about natural adaptations of endurance athletes, and these include relatively higher blood volume especially plasma volume, so that iron concentration is actually relatively lower. On the other hand blood viscosity is lower, and this improves heart stroke volume, and oxygen transfer. Faster blood flow also aids cooling of the body.

All this is going to slow me down in donating blood. And if I do, I am going to double up on the iron pills.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Images of Jesus 2

The Jesus Photo
This image is said to be compiled from study of the Shroud of Turin and according to the story  Sai Baba in India blessed a paper copy, and manifested it as a color glossy photo of Jesus.

More likely it is a photo of a painting by Paul Tebay based on a 1931 photograph of the shroud by Guiseppe Enrie. The link to the 1931 photo is based on the shadows and the fold.

I still like the feeling the photo invokes.

Jesus the Redeemer or Christo Redemptor
I love the 130 foot tall, 635 ton concrete statue on Corcovado mountain near Rio de Janeiro Brazil.  It was completed in 1931.

It is cool because it is just, plain big.

The statue over the city evokes the idea of God watching over the world.

Stained Glass Window in side a tomb in Green Wood Cemetery  - New York City (Brooklyn)

I have always liked stain-glass. The intensity of color can't be duplicated in other media.

I like this window because of the expression on Jesus' face. Most stained glass Christs have less evocative faces. This is more of a painting on glass.

Cubist Jesus by Jerry Bacik

I like the mystery and the action of this painting. Sometimes less realism is better.

See also Bacik's blog.

Robert Powell in Jesus of Nazareth

Of all the live actor images of Jesus, I like this one.

Yes I know it is a-historical in that we have a green-eyed European, but I still like it.   A BBC program did a sketch of a historically accurate male from Roman Palestine, and he has a big nose, round eyes, and short hair.

One gets a lot of feeling from the frayed hood, and the hollows below his eyes.

I never liked the Jesus of Nazareth movie because of its slow, slow pacing. I liked the visuals though.

This is an image of Jesus that I grew up with. Not literally, I wish I had a photo from my childhood church in Wisconsin.

It may not be in vogue today, but it has a lot emotional impact.

It is affecting on many levels.

See the previous post, Images of Jesus 1

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Why Not Polish Your Glasses with Paper Towels?

I just got a new pair of glass. Yes, they are highly fashionable -- probably too fashionable for me. The tech at the optician's said, "Never clean them with paper tissue." So why?

Paper tissue is made form trees; trees are made of cellulose. But wait, soft cloths are made from cotton which is made of cellulose too. What is the difference?   I know that a toothpick could not scratch a drinking glass; it just does NOT seem possible that cellulose could scratch glass.

Well there are two factors, first my lenses are polycarbonate, which is much softer than regular lens glass, and second, lens glass is softer than a drinking glass.

Second and more important is that paper is not what it seems. Paper is routinely filled with minerals to make it cheaper -- maybe a little stronger and whiter, but mostly cheaper. So you think you are wiping pure cellulose on your lens, but no!  It's really talc, and clay and titanium dioxide and other cheap filler that the paper maker dumped in. Also wood pulp isn't all cellulose these days either: sometimes there is ground bark which has lignin, sand and the mysterious "foreign matter".

There seems to be a lot of controversy about using Windex to clean glasses. It seems people are worried about Windex washing the coating off of glasses. This is crazy. Windex is about the weakest detergent that there is. It is pretty watery. If a lens maker is using a coating that washes off in Windex -- you have big trouble. No reputable maker would do that. Anti-Windex hype is probably from competitive cleaning solution makers. I don't believe that Windex is a problem.

The cleaning-cloth that people talk about is "microfiber."  Microfiber is finely spun synthetic polyester or polyester nylon blend. (Other polymers are used in engineering applications.) The fibers are 10 microns or less by definition It is quite small as the figure shows. It is used because it weaves into a thin fabric with good conformability. Almost all of it is used for garments including so-called ultra-suede, but also in underwear.  In cleaning, a thin fiber would make finer scratches if it did scratch your lens, it is safer.

Some fibers are made from mixed polymers split after drawing, and split fibers can be 2 microns. As you can see in the picture at left, some splitting is incomplete. I assume the nylon is in the center and the polyester is on the outside. The differential shrinkage causes some splitting, and that gives more surface area for wiping, but only a little more since the splitting is imperfect.

I read a camera site's discussion on lens cleaning and they were all over the map. Some always use microfiber, and some claims it scratches lens. Some use T-shirts and some never do. Some use lens paper, and some only tear the lens paper and use the torn edges. Lens cleaning seems like more of a superstition than a craft.

In summary, I am going to stop using regular tissue and paper towel, and buy some lens paper. I am going to continue to use Windex.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Don't Try to Change the Battery on your Oral-B Toothbrush

Most times home repair projects work great, right? Usually a couple hours of work is rewarded a sense of accomplishment accompanied by monetary savings.  Sometimes not.

I had an Oral-B electric toothbrush which as actually made by Braun. It was a Professional Series 8000 model, which is blue with a white insert.

The battery stopped taking a charge, and so I bought a battery on line at Ebay from Integribiz, who sent me a battery for $15.99.

I opened up the battery by pressing on the little white plastic rivet that holds the insides inside. This was a mistake. I could slide the inside out generally, but I had to stretch and tear an electrical cord.

This should have been a sign. By the time I had the toothbrush apart irreversible damage had been done. I think the interior had been glued in place, and removal had to done by force.

Later I got the whole toothbrush apart, and I was pretty pleased. It was going to be pretty ugly, but I was hoping that I'd get it reassembled.

However, it turned out the battery housing was welded to the battery post. Not solder either, actually welded. This was a problem. I was wondering what to do, when I found  . . . .

I found that the replacement battery was actually too large. That is the store sold me the wrong size.  This was hopeless.

At this point, I took pictures of everything and decided to do a blog post.

I also went to the store and bought a new toothbrush.

So I was out 15.99 plus postage for the battery, and had to buy a new one anyway.

I actually bought another Oral-B though. I hope the battery lasts longer.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cell Phones Can't Cause Cancer -- Why Did Anyone Think They Could?

How many times have you heard a TV newscaster quoting a scientific source that maybe cell phones cause cancer?  Here and here are examples. Here is one to keep your cell phone out of your bra to avoid cancer. Type "cell phone" cancer into Google News and see for yourself.  The reports often say that studies cannot rule out a risk; or studies suggest a link may exist. Sometimes they talk about vague language in the lawyerly small print of cell phone operating manuals.

Michael Shermer in October's Scientific American wrote that scientifically this can't be true. Why didn't someone point this out before? How many people have been worrying for no reason? Shermer point is that the radiation in cell phones is not great enough to cause a chemical reaction. Longer exposure to low energy radiation does not make a given photon stronger in energy; that is higher in frequency --  there are just more low energy photons. Radiation exposure is simply different than chemical exposure.

Cell phones operate between 380 MHz and 1990 MHz. These waves are in the range of 15 - 80 cm in length, and about as dangerous as old-style TV signals. Waves longer than visible light (about 0.5 mm) are not energetic enough to cause chemical reactions, though they might cause heating, as microwaves (about 1 cm) can cause heating. Visible light interacts with a few cell on our retina in a non-harmful way, and also with fresh photographic film, but the vast majority of objects are unaffected. Sunburn is called by more harmful and energetic ultraviolet light. Cell phone radio waves are at least 30 times less energetic and less harmful.

Obviously cell phones don't make your head warm, or you would feel that. Some people say that the energy from a cell phone can be measurable, but it is just a degree. You get as much heat from the battery discharging or the LED display.

There are curmudgeonly, (generally) old people who think every new thing is dangerous. The frightening talk about cell phone cancer is completely uninformed -- just compulsive worriers babbling.

See the follow-up post from 7-June 2011.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

How Much Does An Artist Make on Itunes UPDATE

----------------Update of my June 2010 post---------------------------

The new iTunes 10 logo. Do you like it?  Seems too generic to me.
The Eminem lawsuit and its settlement made public the funding arrangements that Apple uses with labels.  We see that generally it was the same as I listed in June:  labels get 70%; artists 12% of that ($0.108/song for $1.29 song or $0.083/song for a $0.99 song.)

Music Biz Academy has a few more details.  In its jargon, the $1.29 songs have a "wholesale markup," which seems like a euphemism for "surcharge." The charges for both are the same as above.

They address the producer's 3% share of the label's cut too. Thus the producer and artist together get 15%.

    Artist iTunes Royalty (without wholesale markup)  $0.99 download single song price to the consumer less         $0.29 to Appleleft          $0.70 x 12% (net artist net rate) = $0.084 cents per download
    Producer iTunes Royalty (without wholesale markup)  $0.99 download single song price to the consumer less         $0.29 to Appleleft          $0.70 x 3% (producer rate) = $0.021cents per download.

$1.29/song with so-called "wholesale markup"

    Artist iTunes Royalty (with wholesale markup)  $0.99 download single song price to the consumer less         $0.29 to Appleleft          $0.70 x 130% (wholesale markup) x 12% (net artist net rate) = $0.1092 cents per download Producer iTunes Royalty (with wholesale markup)  $0.99 download single song price to the consumer less         $0.29 to Appleleft          $0.70 x 130% (wholesale markup) x 3% (producer rate) = $0.027cents per download.

CDBaby and Tunecore

CDBaby is an independent music distribution company which promises to get music on iTunes, and only take a 9% cut for themselves leaving the artist with $0.63/song @$0.99/song.  The artist is responsible for royalties to the producer or songwriter. Artists pay CDBaby to post an album at $55/album or $9/song, and they need to mail physical CD's to CDBaby. CDBaby also has a site for fans to download albums directly. The artist would need to sell  only 15 copies to be making money. 

A competitive service is Tunecore for which artists need to pay an annual fee of $20/yr + $10/song. Tunecore might be a better deal for prolific artists, and they don't require the old fashioned physical CD. iTunes songs with Tunecore yield the artist $0.69/download (@$0.99/song), and this would be great after selling 43 songs to pay off the fees.

----------------See my June 2010 post---------------------------

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Canada Condemns Bis-Phenol As A Toxic Chemical!!

Fans of Depth of Processing know that I have tracking the condemnation and fall of bis-phenol A for some time. Today, Canada reclassified bis-phenol A as a toxic chemical -- opening it for severe regulation, and possible bans.

The official government Canada Gazette said:

Concern for neurobehavioural effects in newborns and infants was suggested from the neurodevelopmental and behavioural dataset in rodents. Given that available data indicate potential sensitivity to the pregnant woman/fetus and infant, and that animal studies suggest a trend towards heightened susceptibility during stages of development in rodents, it was considered appropriate to apply a precautionary approach when characterizing risk to human health. Therefore, it was concluded that bisphenol A should be considered as a substance that may be entering the environment in a quantity or concentration or under conditions that constitute or may constitute a danger in Canada to human life or health.

... regulations, guidelines or codes of practice to protect the environment and human health. These instruments can be developed for any aspect of the substance’s life cycle from the research and development stage through manufacture, use, storage, transport and ultimate disposal or recycling.

Bis-phenol A is used in a zillion materials, most notably the lining of beverage cans and in polycarbonate plastics. Polycarbonate had been used to make unbreakable kitchenware, but is fading away quickly due to issues with extraction. Polycarbonate is a clear plastic.

I would avoid microwaving in clear plastic containers, and probably not put them in the dishwasher either.

It would seem that the hazard is that bis-phenol A bioaccumulates, so that low dosages can turn into higher dosages in the body. Higher doses trick the body's hormones, and affect development of children especially girls.  It causes precocious sexual development in girls, undersized male parts in boys, and low sperm count in men: at least in high doses. A question is how high is high. 

The next step will be for Health Canada to issue regulations limiting where industry can use bis-phenol A. This will cost millions, but industry should have known this was coming. 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rabbit Duck Illusion in Taxidermy

This is a 3-D recreation of a drawing by Joseph Jastrow in 1899. (Sadly I don't know who made the sculpture.

Joseph Jastrow was a professor at my Alma Mater, the University of Wisconsin.  Jastrow used the figure and one of the worlds first randomized experimental trials to show that perception was not the same as stimulus. The original duck-rabbit was in a Munich humor magazine from 1892.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

New Airport Screening by Long Wavelength X-ray and by Microwave

Two weeks ago I was full body scanned as I passed through airport security in Detroit. The operator as in a little closet right next to the unit. It seemed silly to have the poor operator all enclosed in this little showstall sized booth.

There are two kinds of full-body scanners. There are Millimeter Waves and Back-scatter X-ray.

X-Rays are 10 femtometers to 10 nanometers in size. This is 100 times smaller than one millimeter, yet this technology is being called "Long wavelength X-Ray" scanning. The "millimeter waves" don't penetrate very deep, so they are good for picking out stuff on the surface of the body. The waves are 30 to 300 gigahertz, which is 10 - 100 millimeters: as advertised. Since these millimeter waves penetrate, somewhat the collectors need to be spread out, and the result is a 3-D image.

They do penetrate several centimeters though, so this is a little disturbing for medical reasons. These airport scanners have been in experimental use since 2007.

The other technology for full body imaging is "Back-scatter X-ray." A backscatter X-ray is the same as a regular x-ray except that the film is beside the camera rather than on the opposite of the body, that is, it catches the reflected X-rays not the transmitted X-rays that shine through your bod. The X-ray is a stronger kind of radiation, so it is a little more hazardous.  This kind of imaging makes a regular two dimensional image.

I don't think that 3-D images are appreciably better than 2-D images. You can see a gun on either one.

These scanners cost $150,000 each, so they are expensive, but if they last a several years, it is not too bad. The biggest value is making the inspection process less predictable.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Falling Cats

Cats like high places, and they often fall. Clinics often see cats injured in falls, but they survive falls that would splat people into ketchup.  A good post on falling cats is from Don Burleson, and another is Wikipedia.

A cat falls more slowly than person does, because of its fluffy fur catches the air and light bone structure. Cats have a terminal velocity of 60 mph where as a person falls at over twice that or 130 mph. (Actually ski divers fall more slowly facedown with arms extended, and about 200 mph in a vertical diving position.) Remember that kinetic energy is proportional to the square of the velocity, so the potential damage on hitting the ground is over four times greater for a human than for a cat (on a per pound basis).

Of course cats, orient themselves to land on their feet, as shown at right these cool photos from Berkeley.   The physics of the cat turning involve extending its legs to change it moment of inertia.

  1. Bend in the middle so that the front half of their body rotates about a different axis than the rear half.
  2. Tuck their front legs in to reduce the moment of inertia of the front half of their body and extend their rear legs to increase the moment of inertia of the rear half of their body so that they can rotate their front half quite far (as much as 90°) while the rear half rotates in the opposite direction quite a bit less (as little as 10°).
  3. Extend their front legs and tuck their rear legs so that they can rotate their rear half quite far while their front half rotates in the opposite direction quite a bit less.
  4. Repeat if necessary.
The ability to live though a fall like this certainly gives an advantage to the cat evolutionally. I wonder how this reflex is encoded genetically. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

Factory Farms

This pile of dead pigs is sometimes used to illustrate factory farms.
It actually is from a Mexican farm after a swine flu outbreak in 2009.
I have tried for three days to write something interesting on factory farms, but I am giving up. This entry is an excuse to post the swine flu picture at right -- which you must admit -- is a pretty striking image.

My basic notion is that most large scale industrialized farms are actually "family farms" too. Sometimes statistics are shown about how corporations control large sectors of agriculture, but these only refer to meat packing and not to real agriculture.

"Factory farm" has become a pejorative for anything bad about farming.  Wikepedia says has a hard time defining the term too. They say that large scale corporate farms differ considerably around the world and by the type of animal raised.

I know people who have given up eating meat because of factory farms. It strikes me that so-called organic farms are not likely to be meaningfully different or better. There are probably better reasons to be vegetarian than factory farms.

This report from the Pew Center is on factory farms is pretty good. Not very interesting though:

So that is what I have to say about factory farms. If you have anything more interesting to say about it, leave a comment.

I bet no one does.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Welcome to the Methanol Economy

Remember back in aught-three when GW Bush, proposed the Hydrogen Economy in a national speech. I was so proud of him. He even knew what switchgrass was. The hydrogen economy is when hydrogen is generated from electricity, solar energy or biofuels. The energy is stored in the form of hydrogen, and then burned directly or in a fuel cell. Burning hydrogen produces only water as a by-product, and this is even carbon neutral -- although Mr. Bush in 2003 did not care about that.  Bush got a fair amount of criticism for being too fringy green, but he was actually ahead of his time.

From Wikipedia
Sad thing was, this was about the last gasp for hydrogen advocates. Making hydrogen from electricity was not that easy, and then burning it for fuel was wasteful as well. On top of that, hydrogen is a bulky gas, and it was hard to carry enough of it to power an automobile. In the jargon, its energy density is low.

The advantage of methanol is that it is a liquid at room temperature with far higher energy density of 15 MJ/L vs 0.013 MJ/L for low density gas or 5.6 MJ/L at 700 bar. This means you could pump it into a regular gas tank like gas. You would need a larger tank since gasoline is three times more energy dense.

Methanol can be made by bacteria from sugar just as easily as ethanol can. Methanol can also be made from synthesis gas. Naturally BASF, my employer, makes catalysts for that. Synthesis gas can be made from nearly any biomatter like corn stover, switchgrass, or aged biomatter like coal.

What I just learned was the methanol is quite efficient in a fuel cell. Although it produces carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas. If the methanol is originally made from waste carbon dioxide, the whole process could be carbon neutral though.

See my recent post on the stalling of cellulosic ethanol. For further reading on the methanol economy click here.