Friday, May 29, 2009

NASA Revises Solar Cycle Prediction

I like NASA Science News, because it's written for the non-astrophysicist, and that's what I am. Today's news is the latest revised prediction for Solar Cycle 24, the new-ish solar cycle that started last year.

An international panel of experts led by NOAA and sponsored by NASA has released a new prediction for the next solar cycle. Solar Cycle 24 will peak, they say, in May 2013 with a below-average number of sunspots.

"If our prediction is correct, Solar Cycle 24 will have a peak sunspot number of 90, the lowest of any cycle since 1928 [red arrow] when Solar Cycle 16 peaked at 78," says panel chairman Doug Biesecker of the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center.

It is tempting to describe such a cycle as "weak" or "mild," but that could give the wrong impression.

"Even a below-average cycle is capable of producing severe space weather," points out Biesecker. "The great geomagnetic storm of 1859, for instance, occurred during a solar cycle of about the same size we’re predicting for 2013."

The 1859 storm--known as the "Carrington Event" after astronomer Richard Carrington who witnessed the instigating solar flare--electrified transmission cables, set fires in telegraph offices, and produced Northern Lights so bright that people could read newspapers by their red and green glow. A recent report by the National Academy of Sciences found that if a similar storm occurred today, it could cause $1 to 2 trillion in damages to society's high-tech infrastructure and require four to ten years for complete recovery. For comparison, Hurricane Katrina caused "only" $80 to 125 billion in damage.

Lovely! Is your computer protected from solar flare damage? Mine's not. Here's a cheery story that goes into more detail about the effects of an 1859-type solar flare.

Back to NASA:

Right now, the solar cycle is in a valley--the deepest of the past century. In 2008 and 2009, the sun set Space Age records for low sunspot counts, weak solar wind, and low solar irradiance. The sun has gone more than two years without a significant solar flare.

"In our professional careers, we've never seen anything quite like it," says Pesnell. "Solar minimum has lasted far beyond the date we predicted in 2007."

Just how much this quieter solar cycle will affect our climate remains to be seen. Let's hope the world doesn't take too much action to slow down global warming, though, because we may need that warmth to counteract the sun's cooling effect.

Obama Wants a Cyber Czar

The AP reported today that President Obama has called for a new Cyber Czar.

America has for too long failed to adequately protect the security of its computer networks, President Barack Obama said Friday, announcing he will name a new cyber czar to take on the job.

Surrounded by a host of government officials, aides and corporate executives, Obama said this is a "transformational moment" for the country, where computer networks are probed and attacked millions of times a day.

"We're not as prepared as we should be, as a government or as a country," he said, calling cyber threats one of the most serious economic and military dangers the nation faces.

He said he will soon pick the person he wants to head up a new White House office of cyber security, and that person will report to the National Security Council as well as to the National Economic Council, in a nod to the importance of computers to the economy.

Based on Obama's track record of choosing people like tax cheats to head the Treasury Department, my guess is that he's going to pick this guy. Yes, anybody who can hack into the email of one of those right-wing extremists like Sarah Palin should be first in line for Obama's Cyber Czar choice.

Laying out a broad five-point plan, the president said the U.S. needs to provide the education required to keep pace with technology and attract and retain a cyber-savvy work force. He called for a new education campaign to raise public awareness of the challenges and threats related to cyber security.

He assured the business community, however, that the government will not dictate how private industry should tighten digital defenses.

That doesn't reassure me in the least. With the federal government gettng its hooks into the internet, how long will it be before it starts getting taxed? And how long will it be before they institute some sort of Fairness Doctrine for online commentary?

I don't want a Cyber Czar, especially one selected by Obama, because everything Obama touches eventually turns to crap.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Memorial Day Video

WordSmith from Nantucket has created a magnificent video for Memorial Day over at Sparks from the Anvil.

One word of advice before you watch it: Grab a hanky. Maybe two.

Here are some excerpts from WordSmith's comments about the video. He is far more eloquent than I am.

Soldiers are heroes, plain and simple, answering a call that is greater than self.

It is the nobility of the American soldier who is the best ambassador to other nations; who exemplifies our values and traditions. It is the American soldier who represents the best and brightest our country has to offer.

Let us not forget their sacrifice.

Surprise at the Grocery Store

I stopped at the grocery store (not my usual one) on the way home last night. While I was wandering, trying to find what I needed in the unfamailiar layout, I noticed a man looking intently at the cat food display. Then he turned to me and said, "There's a gigantic rat in there."

I heard all the words he said, but my brain refused to put them together with any meaning. He couldn't possibly have said, "rat." Then I saw it, huge and moving quickly away from me between the tops of the cat food bags and the shelf above.

I asked the man if he was going to report the vermin, and he said he would. I hope they obliterated it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Please Pray (Updated)

Last week I had a job interview. Finally!

I was looking at the job openings at the health center where one of my Medical Billing classmates works. She was a Clinic Biller but as soon as she got her certificate from the Billing class, they were going to promote her, and her Biller job would be available.

But while I was looking for that job, I spotted another opening that looked like it combined medical front office work with some IT and asked for the kind of experience I had at my last day job. So I applied for that job and not the Biller job about a week and a half ago. Then I mentioned it in my Sunday School class.

One of the ladies in Sunday School used to work with and be good friends with some of the HR people at the health center, so she called last Monday and put in a hugely good word for me. Enough that the HR lady found my application, pulled it out of the stack, and gave it to the hiring manager, who called me in for an interview last week.

I think I did pretty well, but they had another person to interview, either this past Friday or yesterday. So that meant waiting. And trying not to get my hopes up so they wouldn't be dashed.

Yesterday, when I got home from working at the shoe store, I had a message on my machine from the hiring manager asking me to come back for a second interview. I called today and arranged the interview for tomorrow morning at 8:30 Pacific Time.

Please pray that I get this job.


The interview went well, as near as I can tell. They said they still have a couple more people for second interviews, so it could be a couple weeks before they make their final decision.

More waiting... Meanwhile, I'm not quitting the shoe store just yet.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Bad Word at the Shoe Store

We had some customers come into the shoe store together tonight. One was short, stocky, brunette, and a little butch-looking but not overly so. The other was tall, stocky, blonde, and only a little better-looking than the short one.

They brought a pair of shoes to the register (like this, only dark brown), and the box had a red $10 tag in the right spot to indicate the sale price. While I was checking the shoes to be sure they were the same size, with a right and a left shoe, the short customer was showing her friend the bottom of one of those generic stickers that all businesses are required to post in a visible spot but that nobody ever reads. She said that she works there, "there" being the Department of Weights and Measures that has some sort of say over something to do with business.

Her shoes being a properly matching pair, I rang them up, but the register said they were $22.99, not $10. I told her they weren't on sale. She argued that the sale tag was right there on the box, and she wanted the sale price. Then the blonde piped in that there were other shoes just like these with the $10 tags on them, and she went off to fetch them to show me how they're on sale.

While she was away, my co-worker (who has much more seniority than I do and who tags the shoes with the sale prices most of the time) came to the register and agreed that they weren't on sale. The blonde returned with a gold and a black pair marked at $10, which was immediately fishy to me, because the store doesn't usually mark down all colors of the same style to the same price (different colors sell better than others, and sale pricing reflects that).

My co-worker explained that sometimes the tags fall off the boxes, and customers put them back where they think they belonged. Then the short one told the tall one that my co-worker was calling her a liar. She said to my co-worker, "Do you know what Weights and Measures is? I could have your store fined for switching prices!"

Finally, my co-worker said, "Just give it to them." So I changed the price to $10, and they stopped their angry tirade.

The short one paid with a credit card, and when I checked her ID, she thanked me for doing that, and then they left.

Then my co-worker and I went over to where the shoes had come from, and there were (gasp!) three pairs of legitimately sale-priced shoes whose $10 tags were missing from the boxes. She said she had just straightened that aisle not too long before that, and the tags had been in the right place.

So these women had committed theft by tag-switching and beligerence and using their knowledge of business regulations for personal gain. There's a word for that, and it's a bad word. I didn't use the word out loud, but I told my co-worker that woman was "a B-word."

Later, after we helped some other customers (Nice ones. Law-abiding ones.), I thought of calling the Department of Weights and Measures to complain about the woman. I wrote down what I could remember of her name from her credit card (Mary? Maria? and a couple options for the last name too), so we can call on Monday. I wonder if she makes it a regular practice to badger stores late on Friday nights, so there's the whole weekend for employees to forget about the ordeal.

In the end, this woman has made herself a cheat, a thief, a liar, and even a criminal for the sake of $13.00. Will it be worth the thrill of winning the skirmish with our store if she loses her job over such a paltry sum?

America is Pro-Life

The latest Gallup poll on abortion revealed that more Americans are now Pro-Life than Pro-Choice for the first time since this poll began in 1995.

The new results, obtained from Gallup's annual Values and Beliefs survey, represent a significant shift from a year ago, when 50% were pro-choice and 44% pro-life. Prior to now, the highest percentage identifying as pro-life was 46%, in both August 2001 and May 2002.

The May 2009 survey documents comparable changes in public views about the legality of abortion. In answer to a question providing three options for the extent to which abortion should be legal, about as many Americans now say the procedure should be illegal in all circumstances (23%) as say it should be legal under any circumstances (22%). This contrasts with the last four years, when Gallup found a strong tilt of public attitudes in favor of unrestricted abortion.

Good news. I won't speculate (much) about why the strong shift, except to say that the election raised the issue because of Obama's historical stance on it. The lack of change in Democrats' opinion and the move of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents toward the Pro-Life position tends to support this as a possible reason.

On a related note, Ken Blackwell's column today on torture contrasts the way the Obama administration views the "torture" of terrorists (waterboarding) with its view on the torture of babies ripped apart in the womb during an abortion.

A little translation [of Justice Stephen Breyer's majority opinion in Carhart v. Stenberg] may be required: “at least some fetal tissue” translates to the unborn child’s arm, a leg, or maybe her head. “Dismemberment of the fetus with nonvaccuum surgical instruments” means cutting off her arms or legs with razor-sharp implements while the child, still alive, is capable of feeling excruciating pain.

Rest assured, this is not torture. It doesn’t meet the legal definition of torture because under the rule of Roe v. Wade, the unborn child does not meet the legal definition of a person.

It's interesting that the comments to Blackwell's column are split in focus along liberal/conservative lines. The liberals generally talk about the "illegal" Iraq war and the treatment of the terrorists, and the conservatives talk about abortion. There was one comment by a conservative that caught my eye. Fuzzy (comment #30) said:

Sometimes I can't wait
until the muslims take out the liberals. The beauty of it is that after the liberals are hiding back in the holes they should never have slithered out of, we will be left with a strong nation that will then stand up to the muslims.

Liberals - remember not to torture the muslim children that come down your hole wearing bombs on their vest. Just be quiet & explode with dignity. Perhaps while shouting "America sucks" at the top of your lungs.

Too bad we can't have a film reel of bloopers showing you screwing it up. How many of you will only get to say "Oh crap!" & never get the "America sucks" part out in time.

One of the issues the Islamofascist terrorists disagree with the Left over is abortion (as well as the promiscuity that brings up the desire for abortion in the first place). It makes for strange bedfellows, to say the least.

I hope this Pro-Life trend continues until even those Democrats who oppose the torture of inhuman, bloodthirsty killers can transfer that opposition to the torture and destruction of innocent life in the womb. It may take a miracle, but that's the kind of God I serve.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Blast from the Past

When I was a kid, we lived in San Diego because my dad was in the Navy. Sometimes we all had to get up early and take my dad to work, so my mom could have the car for shopping.

The best days were when we went to Mission Valley Shopping Center. We always went to Monkey Ward's, where my mom bought whatever it was she needed to get (probably boring things like socks and underwear for us), and if we behaved, we got to go out the back of Ward's to the Thrifty store and get a single-scoop ice cream cone for each of us. I think they were 10¢ a scoop at the time.

I loved those days.

So tonight I was wandering around a Rite-Aid I don't usually go to, but it was on the way home from Wal-Mart. And I saw these two girls, and one of them had a double-scoop ice cream cone. I asked if they got it there at the store, and they pointed to the front of the store, where a man was standing behind a glass partition. The girls said it used to be a Thrifty, and when Rite-Aid bought out Thrifty, they kept the ice cream counter, and the girls make sure to go to that Rite-Aid, because none of the others in the area have ice cream.

I went up there just to look at the ice cream (I don't want to jeopardize my 20-ish lb. weight loss by actually eating ice cream), and they took that moment to hand over duties to the new girl I had been chatting with in the back of the store after I complimented her on her sparkly hair clippies.

She served the couple in front of me (pistachio nut for the husband and black cherry for the wife), while I basked in the action of the cylinder-shaped scooping device that transported me back to Mission Valley's Thrifty store. When it was my turn, I just thanked her for the ice cream demo and told her I had some sugar-free, fat-free pudding waiting for me at home. Yum!

Some days come with moments of pure joy, even if those moments are only visual.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Fainting Goats

My son showed me this video when he and his sister were here for Mother's Day (they cooked one of my diet dinners for me: spinach fritatta).

It never ceases to amaze me when I see the different kind of animals out there.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Obama Destroying Rule of Law

Power Line's John Hinderaker calls it "Banana Republic Capitalism."

The Chrysler reorganization is shaping up as another milestone in the decline of the rule of law under Barack Obama. We've said for quite a while that bankruptcy is the only viable option for Chrysler and General Motors, not--as Obama claims--because they don't know how to make the right kinds of vehicles, but because their unsustainable union contracts make it impossible for them to be profitable. That reality has now been turned on its head, as the administration has tried to bully Chrysler's secured creditors into going away, while the United Auto Workers Union, solely on the basis of political clout, would be paid at an implied rate of 50 percent and would emerge owning 55 percent of the company, with the government also holding a stake.

This is banana republic capitalism at its worst. Political influence, rather than the law, dictates the rights of the parties. When some of the secured creditors refused to be intimidated, Obama
libeled them in the press, saying, outrageously, "I don't stand with those who held out when everyone else is making sacrifices." Actually, under Obama's plan the politically favored parties, principally the UAW, will benefit--will steal money, to put it crudely--from the parties who held out. Those parties call themselves the "non-TARP lenders."

Obama's a liar. "[E]veryone else is making sacrifices" is just not true. The UAW isn't making any sacrifices whatsoever.

For Chrysler, the administration's plan spells disaster. It is inconceivable that the UAW, the principal source of Chrysler's problems, will manage the company back to profitability. More likely, Chrysler will become a vehicle through which the federal government provides uneconomic subsidies to unionized auto workers and retirees.

Barack Obama's conduct in this affair has been disgraceful. Our bankruptcy laws are well developed and are fairly implemented by experienced bankruptcy judges. Priority among creditors is established according to legal rules and precedents. The process is transparent and subject to appellate review. But in this case, the law did not favor the parties who have the most influence with the White House--notably, the United Auto Workers--so Obama substituted political threats and bullying for due process.
Il Duce would have approved.

Hinderaker has an update at the bottom of the post, quoting Michael Barone's explanation on how this policy of Obama's is turning the rule of law on its ear.

Hinderaker's follow-up post Saturday has more. He quotes from a Saturday Island Turtle blog post that provides a transcript of an interview with a bankruptcy attorney involved in the Chrysler case, Tom Lauria:

Lauria: Let me tell you it's no fun standing on this side of the fence opposing the President of the United States. In fact, let me just say, people have asked me who I represent. That's a moving target. I can tell you for sure that I represent one less investor today than I represented yesterday. One of my clients was directly threatened by the White House and in essence compelled to withdraw its opposition to the deal under the threat that the full force of the White House Press Corps would destroy its reputation if it continued to fight. That's how hard it is to stand on this side of the fence.

Island Turtle (a retired newspaper man) concludes this way:

There is a pattern here. Financial institutions holding billions of Chrysler’s secured debt are being held hostage by the TARP loans they are not permitted to pay back. They are being forced to accept just pennies on the dollar for loans they made in good faith less than two years ago. Just like mob loan sharks, the administration wants them under its thumb so they can extort more and more concessions.

This is an abuse of power that goes beyond Nixon.

Indeed. And it's just the tip of the corruption iceberg.

Friday, May 01, 2009

May Calendar Photos

It's a new month. Time for some calendar photos.

The family calendar has Port Townsend, Washington, the town where my dad was born. My mom and I went there on our trip, so you may have seen the lighthouse (which isn't a lighthouse) picture before.

My patterns calendar has this display of purple marten houses, from Hannibal, Missouri, another place my mom and I visited.