Thursday, February 26, 2009

2-26-09: Technology Thursday: Nano Radios

One of my co-workers told me about this new technology that involves nanotube radios. This stuff is simply amazing.

I won't even begin to attempt to try to explain how it works, so check out this article from Scientific American.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

2-25-09: The Constitution is not just an old, wooden ship

If you're that guy who's been reading this blog intermittently for the past year or so (thanks, by the way), you may have guessed that I'm a bit right of center on the political scale. I wouldn't go so far as to call myself "right wing," since I do hold some liberal social policies like pro-abortion (actually... that's more of a "this isn't the government's problem" scenario for me). I guess you could call me Libertarian, as I voted for Ron Paul in the primaries.

One of my pet peeves during conversations with some of my more liberal friends is the subject of the relevance of the United States Constitution. It bothers me when people treat it as some antiquated document that people used to use back when things were simpler. They sometimes refer to it as a "starting point," and to be a strict Constitutionalist is similar to participating in the re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg. It's just for nostalgia.

I find this sort of thinking quite troubling. To me and people of my ilk, the Constitution defines the bounds of the Federal Government's powers. That's what it's there for: to tell the Feds what they can't do. It was constructed by men who, for the most part, wanted to avoid following in the footsteps of an empire that had overstepped its bounds. Some historians say it was out of survival that the Constitution was drafted in the manner that it was, not necessity. I don't remember who said that, mostly because I don't agree with that.

The Constitution is still quite relevant today because human nature hasn't changed all that much in the past few centuries. Despite all the advances in technology and the growth of the population, humans in mass tend to act the same now as they did back then. The Constitution was written to allow for flexibility and growth, but its core principles are to limit the government to allow for individual freedom. That's something we can still relate to as individuals.

Now, a lot of people say Bush pretty much destroyed the Constitution. I think that's a bit exaggerated. I won't defend the warrantless wiretaps and other things he put forth as being legal, as I'm not an expert in Constitutional law. But I don't think Bush single-handedly destroyed the Constitution, because the Constitution prevents that from happening. If anything, it's been a slow and steady march towards ignorance, and no single person or party is at fault. But that doesn't mean it's right.

Monday, February 23, 2009

2-23-09: Hockey Monday: Hockey East Tournament

I've been a University of New Hampshire ice hockey fan for over 20 years now. I lived in Durham for about nine years as a child, and just loved going to games. Things have changed quite a bit since those times at Snively Arena; good memories of loud students chanting on bleachers and cheap food. Nowadays, at The Whittemore Center, food isn't as cheap, and every one wears UNH jerseys and brings thunder sticks. What happened?!

Anyway, UNH plays in Hockey East, which is, in my opinion, the best conference in all of men's Division I college ice hockey. It contains defending national champions Boston College (who are now tied for sixth in Hockey East and are likely not to repeat), Boston University (top ranked school in the nation), Northeastern University (ranked fourth), and my beloved UNH Wildcats, who are currently ranked 12th in the nation.

UNH helped its cause this weekend by sweeping a home-and-home series against BC, which was a joy to watch. Friday night's game, a nerve-wracking affair, was televised on NESN. I waited until Saturday to watch it on my new big-screen TV (that I got because my parents are moving); thank God for my DVR... Good game, and I was obviously heartbroken to see BC lose...

Right now UNH is ranked third in Hockey East along with Vermont, and are hoping to stay there to obtain a home ice advantage for the Hockey East Playoffs, which begin March 12th; the top eight (of ten) teams make the playoffs. UNH last won the tournament back in 2003 by beating Boston University 1-0 in overtime. I hope they can pull off something special this year. Can't wait to see it.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

2-22-09: Brew Night

Last night I had the pleasure of participating in "Brew Night" at the lovely home of the lady friend's co-workers and good friends Marcus and Kristen. Marcus, who has a PhD in Aerospace and is working towards an MBA from Carnegie Mellon, has been doing home brews for years, and I believe last night was his 25th batch. Let's just say he knows what he's doing, and the stories he told of his mistakes were pretty good.

I have some buddies who have recently gotten into the home brewing scene, and I've seen parts of the process, but never the beginning. It's amazing. The smells, the tastes, everything. It's pretty interesting stuff. Marcus walked me through the routine, starting with measuring and adding the barley and putting them in these, what I call, filter socks. Then there's the hops, which are quite strong. Apparently they've doubled in price since he started brewing, but the price is actually down from quadruple; there's been a "hops crisis" the past few years.

There were six of us at Brew Night: myself, the lady friend, Marcus, Kristen, and Sara-Lynn and her fiance John. All of us currently work or have worked at Sikorsky, so we had something in common. The occasion was originally supposed to be a house-warming party for Marcus and Kristen; they just moved in to their house a few months ago. However, they're still doing some painting and whatnot, and decided just to have a Brew Night. I did not complain.

Most of the work was done by Marcus and myself, with John helping to clean the carboy which is a 50+ gallon glass container that the beer first goes in (it goes into a smaller carboy in about a week for the second stage of fermenting). On that note: the process involves a lot of cleaning to keep things sterile, which is also quite neat to see. Marcus has the whole thing down to a science, and has all the tools and everything set up to make it pretty straight forward; things have to be added with to-the-minute precision during the boiling process (which takes about an hour) and the temperature had to be relatively close (I think he said between 155 and 168 degrees). The best part, though, was the smell. Unbelievable. You can see why I wanted to help out.

After all was said and done, we poured the now-warm beer into the carboy and put it down in the basement in a cool, dark place where it will sit for a week, then to be placed in the second carboy for another week, then into bottles. All in all, a very interesting experience. Perhaps some day I will try home brewing myself. But for now, I'll be taking tips from Marcus the Brewmaster. Can't wait to try the batch.

Friday, February 20, 2009

2-20-09: The Graduate; One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest; Manhattan

I watched three really good movies this week via Netflix (and still have yet to watch The Usual Suspects). I have to say, I like the "Instant" feature on Netflix's website; that's how I watched Manhattan. The other two, The Graduate and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest were seen via DVD.

My favorite of the three was One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. It absolutely flew by (no pun intended), and the cast was incredible. Who knew Danny DeVito was in it?! Nicholson does an awesome job, and the whole film just blew me away.

Manhattan is a Woody Allen film, and he's a bit of an acquired taste. Still, I love his sense of humor, even though this film isn't all that funny in some parts. I do recommend seeing it.

I just finished watching The Graduate a few minutes ago (I'd watched the first half last night) and it's nothing short of amazing. A young Dustin Hoffman really pulls off the coming-of-age, naive youth that I sort of relate to. It's a pretty interesting plot, and the end is great.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

2-18-09: Does Job Satisfaction Lead to Greater Philanthropy?

I had a thought the other day while watching a video from Robert Shiller's "Financial Markets" online lecture series from Open Yale Courses. Shiller stressed the importance of philanthropy for those who do extremely well in life. He summed it up as "You can only consume so much money, so you might as well give most of it away."

I agree with that mentality, but thought that there might also be a connection between job satisfaction and philanthropy. I was working some overtime this past weekend, and will get a little more money in the next paycheck as a result. And, I didn't mind working the OT.

So, let's say some one works an average of 5 hours of (paid) overtime per week. That would work out to 260 hours over the course of the year, which is 6.5 more weeks of pay compared to the person who never works an hour of overtime, or 13% more time worked. This is also assuming it's straight pay and not "time and a half" or "double time" pay. Let's also assume that 5 hours per week is negligible, though that's not quite true realistically.

Now let's make the connection of job satisfaction. One could say that people who are more satisfied with their jobs are "glad" to put in the extra work. They may enjoy the challenge of their job or just don't mind putting the extra time in to get the job done. So, satisfied employees tend to work more overtime, in general. That, however, does not mean people who hate their job don't work overtime. A lot of overtime worked is mandatory.

The big leap in logic is probably that people who don't mind working a little extra would be more likely to donate their extra earnings. Let's say, for argument's sake, they don't donate all of the 13% extra pay. Let's say it's half: 6.5%. That 6.5% extra pay is money they earned, but might not need. There are, of course, other factors that go into how much a person donates, including income level, standard of living, religious beliefs, and several others. But let's just say job satisfaction has something to do with it.

I'm not trying to prove anything, just thinking. I think it's plausible that there is some connection between job satisfaction and philanthropy. One could say that, in the opposite case, that people who hate their job might feel that any overtime pay is theirs to keep because they see it as a symbol of time wasted. Some one who didn't mind putting the extra time in might just see it as an added bonus to the job. There's some psychology involved.

Anyway, just a thought. And on a semi-related note, check out these other Open Yale Courses:

Game Theory with Professor Ben Polak

Frontiers and Controversies in Astrophysics with Professor Charles Bailyn

Introduction to Ancient Greek History with Professor Donald Kagan

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sunday, February 15, 2009

2-15-09: FA Cup: Swansea vs. Fulham

Pretty amazing game between Swansea and Fulham:

Side note: I've now had my driver's license for a full seven years. Am I a better driver? Probably.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Neil deGrasse Tyson: Was President Bush Innocent in the War on Science?

This guy was a guest at my graduation from WPI a couple years ago, and was the hit of the show. I really like Neil deGrasse Tyson.

2-14-09: Valentine's Day Tribute: "Caught up in You" by .38 Special

This is one of those feel-good songs you hear on the radio and can't help but sing along. The hook is irresistible.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

2-11-09: Bye Bye, Jott

For several months, I used a web service called Jott to keep track of little notes to self and some Twitter and Google Calendar. It's a pretty neat service that allowed you to do speech-to-text notes, and the fact that it let you post to Twitter, Google Calendar, and several other services was really neat.

Within the last week or so, Jott became a paid subscription service, so if I want to continue using it, I have to fork over a few bucks every month.

My inner economist immediately kicked in, and I simply won't be using Jott for the foreseeable future. I knew it was a good decision when I recalled receiving an automated e-mail on two separate occasions saying "You haven't used Jott in a while. We want you back!" I maybe used it every other week, if I felt like it.

The problem with Jott isn't the fact that I didn't use it a lot. I can reasonably see people using this service far more frequently than me. The problem is that their speech-to-text software isn't quite up to snuff. The strange part is that they would sometimes guess what you wanted to say and put "(?)" next to their guess (this happened all the time with proper nouns). That gets a little annoying when you're posting to Google Calendar or Twitter, but they also (for Twitter) include a link in your post to the audio recording. Still, it's a bit inconvenient to clean up Google Calendar entries, but it was a good way to make a placeholder.

Speech to text is incredibly difficult. I did my senior project in college on "voice command recognition algorithms," which was a poor man's way of doing voice command applications using semi-advanced signal processing and analysis techniques. Speech to text is far beyond that, and includes various statistics and linguistic techniques. It's come a long way in recent years, and I hope now that Jott is a paid service, they put some of that capital into advancing their algorithm.

I do recommend Jott for people who post to Twitter all the time or think using their phone to leave notes to self is neat. It's only $3.95 a month, and is well worth it if you use it every day. I just think I fall into the category (similar to Alex Albrecht) in that I don't want to pay for a service that I used to get for free. That's not to say I won't ever use it again, but I can always just find a piece of paper or e-mail myself something if I want to leave a note.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

2-10-09: Flat Tire Sort of Day

One of the side benefits to going to the gym in the morning is that it apparently gives you enough time in your morning to recover from a flat tire without being late for work. That happened to me this morning. I simply replaced a trip to the gym with fixing a flat tire (thanks to AAA, that is).

While getting the tire replaced (well, two tires, actually), I had some time to kill, so I went on a walk. I ended up only walking a couple miles, but it was actually pretty refreshing. Fortunately, it wasn't bitterly cold out today. Quite nice.

One of the things I thought of on my walk was of some goofy statistic I once heard about 70-something percent of car accidents occur within 10 miles of your home. I realized how insanely misleading this statistic is, since you probably do 70-something percent of your driving near your house anyway. Think about that. I did, but I had the time to. I hope you're not that busy.

Anyway, it's an early morning tomorrow. Time for bed.

Monday, February 9, 2009

2-9-09: Hockey Monday: Kids Fighting?!

This looked a lot like me at pick-up hockey last night. Man, I need to get in shape.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Snow Patrol - "Crack The Shutters"

I heard this on the radio this morning and have had it stuck in my head ever since:

2-8-09: Louis Armstrong and Johnny Cash

I will give credit to Tyler Cowen from Marginal Revolution for this one:

Saturday, February 7, 2009

2-7-09: Bill Gates at TED

I like his points regarding education (8:00 in).

Friday, February 6, 2009

2-6-09: XKCD Explains the "Base System"


Sent to you by Pat via Google Reader:


via on 2/5/09

I once got to second base with a basketball player.  She was so confused.


Things you can do from here:


Thursday, February 5, 2009

2-5-09: Technology Thursday: "Inside the GPS Revolution"

Pat Canny thought you'd like to see this on

I personally like the astronomy app and iNap app.

Click here to see the page on

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

2-4-09: Firing Gays and Lesbians (and using my taxes)

On the radio this morning, I heard a story of a woman who was fired six months into her job with a church group because the group saw a picture of her with her partner. Up to that point, they had let her interact with their children and had no idea she was gay.

The story went on to explain how a bunch of religious (or "faith based") groups are all up in arms about how they should be allowed to fire gays and lesbians despite receiving federal funding. President Obama is likely to change the rules that President Bush set forth, which allowed religious organizations who receive federal money to discriminate based on religion and sexual orientation. Obama had said in his campaign that he didn't like seeing that happen.

My take on this is simple: it's fine that your group doesn't like gays and lesbians. No law outright says you have to like gays and lesbians and include them in what you do all the time. BUT… when you receive taxpayer money, and since gays and lesbians also pay taxes, you're out of luck. It's that simple. Either you don't take federal money, like how the Catholics used to do all the time before all the expensive scandals (and still mostly do), or you play ball and don't discriminate.

One of the arguments being made by these religious groups is that it's a violation of church and state to force them to act a certain way. That is accurate. But so is the act of funding religious organizations with federal money in the first place. If you look at it more closely, how strict are they? If religious groups know gays and lesbians pay taxes (at least, I hope they know that) and they know they're getting money from a federal grant, aren't they partially funded by gays and lesbians? Either way: gays and lesbians are helping your group. You're not completely excluding them, no matter how hard you try.

Religious groups also make the argument that "Well this would be like if they forced PETA to allow butchers to join." That, my friends, is a good example of hyperbole and false logic. Butchers hate animals and likely wouldn't want to join PETA (unless they wanted to take it down, I suppose), whereas a lesbian or gay man may still believe in religious principles. There are also laws protecting civil rights which get thrown in to the mix with the gay / lesbian argument; you're not violating a butcher's civil rights by saying "Hey, you can't join PETA because you completely stand against what we do by choice." Since being homosexual is a natural occurrence (despite whatever religious groups say), it has different protection than just saying "I choose to be a butcher and you have to let me join."

Don't forget: this is for groups that receive federal grant money. Private groups are still private groups.

Monday, February 2, 2009

2-2-09: Logan's Run

My most recent Netflix rental was a classic sci-fi movie from 1976 called Logan's Run, starring Michael York as Logan 5.

It's not the best acting in the world, but the film itself was entertaining enough to pass for a pseudo cult classic, I suppose. The story is pretty wild, and I can't help but think that The Island was a blatant rip-off with marginally better acting.

The story takes place in the 23rd century after a series of wars has basically forced people to live in a giant domed city. There's a lot of sex and drugs and every one is under 30. The film starts out showing this bizarre, sacrificial ceremony called "Carousel" in which people who are turning 31 pretty much get electrocuted to death while floating around in the air. It's supposed to be some "renewal" or reincarnation ritual, and most of the people buy it.

The character Logan 5, played by York, is what is known as a "Sand man," and his job is to kill "runners," or people who are supposed to die in Carousel but choose to, you know, live. Logan eventually becomes a runner and tries to escape, bringing along his friend Jessica.

The film has a lot of promise, and is done decently, but even for 1976, it was just goofy. The acting wasn't that great, and the story, even for a 2 hour film, felt rushed. It's still worth seeing, but only for those in the mood for some classic 70's sci-fi.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

2-1-09: G.I. Joe?

Whoa. Between this and Star Trek, I should be all set for the year.