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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The FEPCA Story

Victor Davis Hanson has a post at his "Works and Days" blog asking "Where did the Tea Party Anger come from?" I left a comment on one of the sources he mentioned:

RE: “The old idea that a public servant gave up a competitive salary for job security was redefined as hitting the jackpot.”

The story of FEPCA (Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act of 1990) may shed some light on this subject.

FEPCA set up the “locality pay” system in which Federal employees in high cost-of-living localities get extra pay to maintain “comparability” with private sector employees in the same area. If you work in the Boston area, you get 24.8% above your base pay. However, there is a “Rest of the US” category for all non-high-cost-of-living areas, and Federal employees in those areas get 14.16% above their base pay. So every Federal employee in the US makes more than the supposed base pay.

FEPCA also scheduled pay increases above cost-of-living. Essentially feds were to get an extra 3% per year for 10 years, with the usual proviso that the President could suspend the increase by declaring a financial emergency. The Clinton administration formally declared the US to be in a state of financial emergency each of the last 7 years of his Presidency, and suspended the FEPCA boost for those years. Not a peep out of the public sector unions.

This suggests that much of the increase in Federal pay is Republican administrations buying off the bureaucracy, where Democrats don’t have to.

Also, Presidents named Bush give feds a lot more extra days off -- the Friday before three-day weekends, for example -- than Clinton did.

Wallpaper of the Day, July 1, 2010

The Thursday blonde. 1280x1024, 192KB.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

From Enemy to Friend

Famous blog babe Megan McArdle is bemused by the Russian spy ring that was recently exposed by the FBI. The best she can do is "In fact, the only parallel I can think of is the possibly apocraphyl allegation that during the Cold War, Soviet intelligence subscribed to the Village Voice for several years . . . in an attempt to find out about rural life in America. "

I commented:

A non-apochryphal version of the Village Voice story can be found in "From Enemy to Friend" by Bui Tin. Bui Tin is best known as the North Vietnamese colonel who accepted the surrender of the President of South Vietnam. But one of his earlier jobs was translating American magazine articles for consumption by North Vietnamese leadership.

He said that he was never able to get across to his superiors the insignificance of individual magazine articles, and the lack of influence by, say, the New York Review of Books on the Nixon White House. He was continually horrified to hear top leadership debating some article he had translated as if it were American gospel.
Bui Tin crossed the authorities in postwar Vietnam and found it advisable to move to France. The book is his FAQ, answers to the questions he's always asked about the Vietnam War.

One of the most interesting chapters is about the secret treaties between China and North Vietnam. China promised to help defend North Vietnam against attack by the US on a tit-for-tat basis. If the US attacked North Vietnam by air, the Chinese air forces would come in to defend North Vietnamese air space. If the US Navy shelled North Vietnam, the Chinese navy would intervene to stop the shelling.

Of course, China didn't do any of this. They just looked the other way and whistled tunelessly as their North Vietnamese friends went out on the limb and got pummeled. If you ever wondered, "What's more worthless than a treaty," the answer is "A secret treaty."

The book is short and a worthwhile read if you're interested in the history of the Vietnam War. If you can find it; it's currently listed as unavailable at Amazon.

Wallpaper of the Day, June 30, 2010

Your Wednesday kiss.

1280x1024, 351KB.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Office of the President-Elect is VACANT!

Over at Ace of Spades HQ, there is smug condescension toward the Obama administration's discovery that like math, being President is hard. The "Office of the President Elect" thing is dredged up. I pointed out the real problem:
But he was right. President-Elect is more important than President.

You realize, since Obama's inauguration, the Office of the President-Elect has been vacant. And look what's happened to the country since then!

If only we still had Obama as President-Elect. We finally found the flaw in the Constitution.

Wallpaper of the Day, June 29, 2010

1280x1024, 192KB.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

What illegal immigration is really about

Timothy B. Lee, at his Bottom-Up Blog, does not understand why people are so against illegal immigration. It's my experience that knowing the purpose of something makes understanding it so much easier.

Your attention has been thoroughly misdirected.

Instead of asking, why do Tea Party types oppose unrestricted illegal immigration, ask: why do both party elites support it, and refuse to enforce existing laws against it?

It’s because both parties want to use it to shape the electorate, the way the UK Labour Party tried. You know that line about “the government will dissolve the people and elect a new one”? Not actually a joke.

Once enough illegals are in place, there will be a race to legalize them and give them the vote. If history is any guide, whoever gets the credit will have those votes for at least a generation. This is most acute for the Democrats, since the votes they bought with Social Security are dying off and need to be replaced. But it was also W’s plan. W opposed Prop 187 in California, and supported “comprehensive immigration reform,” for this reason.

Those eternally grateful automatic votes are so much better tha[n] fickle election-by-election, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately votes. So now you know why Tea Party types are against unrestricted illegal immigration. The purpose of the exercise is to minimize the need for their votes.

Wallpaper of the Day, June 28, 2010

1280x1024, 265KB.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Wallpaper of the Day, June 26, 2010

Saturday wackiness.

1280X1024, 218kb. The 196KB original:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Wallpaper of the Day, June 25, 2010

A high definition, 1920x1080, bikini for Friday.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Let the dead speak

Scott at AMCGLTD.COM has a different take on the recently discovered recording of Thomas Edison's voice. Scott's take is that this illustrates that data isn't lost just because the technology for reading the data becomes obsolete. My comment:

I remember when the Smithsonian decided to store historic images on... wait for it... laserdisc. (My spellchecker doesn't recognize the word!)

But you're right, any kitchen table tinkerer could make a laserdisc reader. Figuring out the irrational mystery that is NTSC would probably be the hard part.

I actually used some laserdiscs recently. I was moving, and used them to protect vinyl LPs.

Eventually, I expect that laserdiscs will be read holographically in one flash of laser light. The NTSC->(something sane) conversion will still have to be done in software.

Wallpaper of the Day, June 23, 2010

Your Wednesday kiss.

1280x1024, 258KB.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Darwin Award Nominee

So he said to St. Peter, "It never did that before...."

Dude. Unexploded ordnance is the bad kind.

Charles Csuri, computer animation pioneer

Ed Driscoll incautiously mentions the historical origins of 3D computer graphics at his blog. I don't know anything about computer graphics, but I did have a brush with its history.

You mention that 3d computer graphics date back to the 1970s. A lot of the early work on 3d computer animation was done by Charles Csuri at Ohio State. His empire was next to the laboratory where I did my graduate work from 1979 on. I’d often catch glimpses of what they were doing as I walked down the hall, and see the final results on TV a few months later.

Csuri was an interesting guy. He was an All-American linebacker for Woody Hayes, then came back to Ohio State as an art professor. But the Art Department refused to support his work with computers since, to them, that wasn’t Art. He switched to the Computer Science Department, and eventually became one of the biggest funding magnets on campus.

Csuri was once contacted about working on a movie called “Star Wars” but turned them down. Couldn’t spare the time. But he gave them the name of a student who was about to graduate and needed a job, and they hired the guy. Worked out real good for him.

That was off the top of my head. The Wikipedia article on Charles Csuri adds some detail. He's an even more interesting guy than I made him out to be.

Wallpaper of the Day, June 22, 2010

1196x1024, 233KB.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Wallpaper of the Day, June 21, 2010

It's the summer solstice, and the start of another work week.

1280x1024, 181KB.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Amphibious Warfare

Richard Fernandez, at his excellent Belmont Club blog, asks Is Amphibious Warfare Obsolete? I pointed out in comments:

Amphibious warfare was already declared dead, after the Gallipoli debacle in WWI.

In the 1930s, the Commandant of the Marine Corps realized that a war with Japan would require amphibious operations. But there was no “book” on amphibious operations, no doctrine. Also, like I said, Gallipoli had convinced many that it wasn’t practical.

There were no think tanks in those days, and the Marine Corps had no budget for such things. So what happened was, a bunch of Marine officers arrived at Quantico to go to school, lieutenants expecting to learn how to become captains, majors to become colonels, etc. Instead they were told their job was, one, to determine if Gallipoli really had closed the book on amphibious warfare, and two, if not, to write it.

They concluded “No” to the question, and wrote the “Tentative Landing Operations Manual,” which became the basis of Marine and US Army doctrine used in WWII, and still used today.

So if history is a guide, a fundamental rewrite of doctrine may be what’s needed to keep the amphibious option alive.

The Marines have long recognized the problems with amphibious landings against modern weapons. That's why they've continued to push for the V-22 Osprey, despite its well-publicized problems. But a technological fix like the V-22 may not be enough.

Wallpaper of the Day, June 20, 2010

Dannii Minogue stars in a 1280x1024, 324KB wallpaper.

The 1MB original.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Music and codebreaking

Joanne Jacobs has a post on "Music students excel in algebra" over at her education blog. The connection between music and math is hardly new, of course. Pythagoras was all about that. I commented:

The USS California was one of the ships sunk in the attack on Pearl Harbor, and her crew was parceled out to whatever units needed manpower. The members of the ship’s band were assigned to the Navy’s codebreaking unit because, by coincidence, the number of band members matched the number of men requested. Fortunately they were very successful at their new job. Apparently, many of the skills transferred.

By the way, ship's band is not a full-time job. Except for the higher-ranking officers and specialists, like the ship's doctor, there are no fulltime jobs. Sailors do different jobs depending on the situation. When "Battle Stations!" is announced, cooks may man antiaircraft guns, and band members join damage-control parties.

Wallpaper of the Day, June 19, 2010

You have to expect things to be a little loose and wacky on Saturday. Like a 1080x1920 wallpaper for widescreen displays turned sideways.

A 585KB download.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Global Cooling: Threat or Menace?

Cosmic Conservative has a post asking "What's wrong with the Sun?" I commented:

We may get a new Ice Age, but the ninnies won’t shut it. They’ve already switched from predicting a new Ice Age, in the mid-1970s, to predicting Global Warming, without even reducing the volume. In some amusing cases like Stephen Schneider, it’s the exact same people. (Schneider co-authored a paper that debunked the idea that CO2 could cause enough warming to prevent global cooling. But he was one of the first to jump on the CO2-warming bandwagon.)

The only thing that will slow them down is that the Global Cooling script is typewritten, and not machine-readable. If they had any shame, they wouldn’t be who they are.

Back in late 1988 or early 1989, I posted a prediction on the Science forum of the Channel 1 BBS in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Pre-internet, we had computer BBSes then.) The prediction was that the switch back to panicked predictions of global cooling would happen in 2008.

It's taking longer than that, so my prediction isn't a home run. It isn't a strikeout, either. And there's some evidence that the people pushing the global warming scare never expected it to last this long, either. Scroll down a few posts and consider the FAR/AR4 problem.

Wallpaper of the Day, June 18, 2010

It's High Definition Friday, with a 1920x1080, 424KB bathing beauty.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wallpaper of the Day, June 17, 2010

In honor of Thor's day, the very blonde Charlize Theron.

1280x1024, 228KB.

The original 654KB image:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Global warming? Yeah, it's pseudoscience

Warning: long, dense post.

The Daily Bayonet has a post on The Watermelon Agenda (a watermelon being a socialist disguised as an environmentalist: red on the inside, green on the outside). I commented:

The Left has a history of using pseudoscience as a prop. Starting with the Marxist pseudoscience of history, through the original Progressives with eugenics in the 1920s, to Goreism in the past 20 years. It makes sense. If you abjure religion and tradition, what props do you have left?

I do not use the word "pseudoscience" lightly. It took me about 15 years to set that bit on global warming (meaning Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming ((CAGW)), or Goreism).

Global warming became a public issue in the hot summer of 1988. At that time, I was working on part of the HITRAN database of atmospheric absorption parameters. HITRAN was the basis for calculating the increased absorption by atmospheric CO2, and therefore the foundation of the global warming models. (I was working on CO2 frequencies.)

I thought, "Great! Now when people ask me what I do, I can point to something they've heard of." Then I did my due diligence and realized that I didn't want to be associated with work of that quality.

Well, lots of people publish lots of stuff I wouldn't. Most of what's published in solid state physics, for example (I did a 2-year postdoc with a solid state group), which is not a pseudoscience. But I kept paying attention to global warming news, and it just kept getting worse. I had gone through a phase of being interested in pseudoscience, reading dozens of books pushing hollow-earth theories and the like, and even getting a flat-earth newsletter for a while. I started to notice the same behavior in global warming supporters that I had seen in pseudoscience supporters. When I learned about their attempt to expunge the Medieval Warm Period, that was the last straw. I set the bit.

But I like to have multiple lines of evidence leading to the same conclusion. Here's one that doesn't require a lot of technical knowledge, you just have to pay attention.

The first review of global warming results was the 1979 National Academy of Sciences Charney Report. It stated, "We estimate the most probable global warming for a doubling of CO2 to be near 3C with a probable error of +/- 1.5C." This is called the "climate sensitivity," and so, in 1979 it was estimated to be in the range of 1.5C to 4.5C.

Research in this area proceeded in near-total obscurity until that hot summer of 1988. The IPCC was formed, and then issued its First Assessment Report (FAR) in 1990. The climate sensitivity was estimated as 1.5C to 4.5C.

A few years later, GPS technology made it possible to directly measure the amount of sunlight absorbed by clouds, by allowing one aircraft to fly above the clouds in formation with another unseen aircraft below the clouds. It turned out that 6 times as much energy is absorbed as the models assumed. The paper with these results was published in the January 27, 1995 Science (page 496), and was considered important enough to get a companion "Research News" article in the same issue, titled "Darker clouds promise brighter future for climate models" (page 454). The news article admitted the disappointing lack of progress in narrowing down that range for the climate sensitivity, but raised expectations that using the correct value for absorption by clouds would help out.

The Second Assessment Report (SAR) was issued in 1995. The climate sensitivity was estimated as 1.5C to 4.5C.

The 1996 update to HITRAN contained a clerical error in the water vapor parameters, which changed the calculated infrared absorption by about the same amount as doubling CO2 would. After some time, a researcher contributing new water vapor data to HITRAN noticed the error and it was corrected. It had no effect on the climate models and was never noticed by climate modelers.

The Third Assessment Report (TAR) was issued in 2001. The climate sensitivity was estimated as 1.5C to 4.5C.

Tens of billions of dollars were spent on global warming research, using supercomputers whose merest operational parameters, the computers of 1979 were not even worthy to contemplate.

The Fourth Assessment Report (FA... er, lack of planning there, I mean AR4) was issued in 2007. The climate sensitivity was estimated as 2.0C to 4.5C, immediately followed by a statement that values less than 1.5C were highly unlikely. So, 1.5 to 4.5, then.

Follow all that? The output of the model doesn't depend on the input. This isn't even "Garbage In, Garbage Out." This is "Anything In, Same Old Garbage Out." This isn't even a model.

You don't need to know any climatology to know this isn't right. You just need to know something about computers, and if you got here, you probably know enough.

Wallpaper of the Day, June 16, 2010

A Wednesday kiss.

1280x1024, 176KB.

Monday, June 14, 2010

NBA Playoffs: Why a Celtics win will be bad for the NBA

I've been a Celtics fan since the John Havlicek days.

But I have to say that, if they win, it will expose how little the NBA regular season means. Given the tendency to copy success, will we see more teams designed for the playoffs, treating the regular season as a distraction? This can't be good for the NBA in the long run.

The Celtics acquired Rasheed Wallace this season, and told him "We don't care what you do in the regular season." And he played that way in the regular season. He isn't playing all that great in the playoffs, but he's contributing.

The Celtics got off to a fast start in the regular season, then coasted with a 27-27 record in the last 54 games. They rested older players the last few games. They flew under the radar into the playoffs.

If they win a game in LA, they will have beaten the team with the best regular season record, the second best, and the third best, to gain the NBA championship.

Of course, when you eliminate so few teams from the playoffs, the regular season is inherently devalued. The Celtics are just making it obvious.

(Comment to this post at Brothers Judd Blog.)

Yes, the Library Police are real

James Rummel has a post describing the massive fire department response to a kitchen fire in his neighborhood, over at Hellinahandbasket. I tossed in my story:
I used to live in Washington, DC. There were seven police jurisdictions within a few blocks of the National Mall, which stretches from the Capitol to the Washington Monument. (Park Police on the Mall, Capitol Police in the Capitol, Secret Service in the Treasury Building and the White House, US Marshals in the Supreme Court, Library of Congress Police in the Library of Congress, FBI on any remaining Federal property, and DC Metro on non-Federal property.)

I happened to be walking on the Mall one fine summer day when they were setting up for some foreign head of state to do a photo-op on the Capitol steps. Not the kind of police work that they make TV series about. A Ford van had a fender bender with a Chevy sedan in an intersection next to the Capitoil and at least three contingents of law enforcement converged at the run to claim jurisdiction. Also not likely to be the basis of a new NCIS spinoff, but better.

I left them to it. Jurisdictional disputes are not exactly news in DC.

Protip: avoid even the most minor violations in the presence of bored law enforcement personnel.

Wallpaper of the Day, June 15, 2010

No information on this one. Are you even reading this?

1280x1024, 268KB.

Guilty Pleasures, book division

This post at Ace of Spades asks for morons (commenters at AoS are called "morons") to admit to their guilty pleasures in books. My reply:

The difficulty for me is that I don't feel guilt for my pop-culture tastes. I have "Julie Andrews Greatest Hits" on my mp3 player, along with Petula Clark singing the theme to "Gone with the Wind" in French. What are you gonna do about it, punk?

But if I try to imagine what would make me feel guilty if I were that sort of person...

I think I've read all of the Doc Savage reprints. All the Keith Laumer I could get my hands on. All the "Stainless Steel Rat" stories. All the Desmond Bagley. Several "Stargate SG-1" novelizations. Is Oliver Lange too mainstream to be guilty about? Dick Geis's "Canned Meat" stories (he's an old SF fan writer). I have the complete run of "Astounding Stories" on microfiche.
I could have added all the 70s jazz fusion on my mp3 player, the fact that I'm watching Season 1 of "Smallville" on DVD, and I'm reading... well, a book on thermodynamics. I don't suppose anyone would feel guilty about that.

Yeah, this is the kind of post you're going to get on this blog: me commenting on comments I left on other blogs.

Wallpaper of the Day, June 14, 2010

Emma Watson just wrapped up her first year in college (Brown University), and the last day of principal photography on the last Harry Potter movie. I'm guessing that Hermione Granger will not be her last movie role.

The original from which I made this 1280x1024, 267KB wallpaper is from the I(heart)Watson fansite here.