27 March 2015

Rainfall Map

I like maps in general, especially those that combine great graphics with good information. Here's one of the best in that category. It would be great if this were on the wall of every school classroom and city council in the America West.

The one problem with the map is that it doesn't have a good legend. The scale goes from purple (more than 100 inches) to blue, green, yellow, orange, red. The darkest reds in Southern California are less than five inches.

For a bigger version that also is interactive ("click on your state to get state data"), go to this site at Oregon State University.

Treating Soil Like Dirt

As you may know, I've lately been paying more attention than usual to soils and land-restoration issues. It seems that in general, we are doing to the actual land/dirt upon which we live and farm the same thing we're doing to our air and our rivers and our oceans and our climate—i.e., destroying them little by little. Fortunately, there are some "voices in the wilderness" pointing out the stupidity and futility of our ways, and even more fortunately, taking steps to stop/reverse the destruction and improve the land.

Here's more commentary on that same general subject.

26 March 2015


We all know people—including, perhaps, ourselves in certain contents or at certain times—who seem just a little too attached to their opinions about politics, economics, social affairs or whatever. "A little too attached" is not exactly a precise term, but there's definitely a difference between "here's my best guess at understanding the world, though I reserve the right to change my mind if/when additional or new information come to my attention" and "I know for certain that this is the way the world works and that's all there is to it."

Is it reasonable to define the holders of those two opinions respectively as "interested observer/interpreter" and "ideologue?"


A friend sent me the following quote this morning, which helps me understand why the ideologue's arguments have a zeal and determination that I never seem quite able to match.

One might say that ideology is the construction and presentation of mirrors to meet certain predetermined purposes, none of which is  the valid self-understanding of the viewer.

24 March 2015


I saw this cool picture on a photo site that I monitor, where there are lots of great / interesting / unique pictures. I'm linking to this one because (a) it is cool, and (b) the subject matter may be known to some of our readers. Try to figure out where the picture was taken before scrolling down and finding out. (And click on the picture once it is display, and the background will turn black for better viewing.)

23 March 2015


"LHC" refers to the "Large Hadron Collider," a giant machine in France/Switzerland that physicists use to run high-energy experiments. As you perhaps heard in the mainstream news a couple years ago, the LHC confirmed the existence of a particle called the "Higgs boson." This was a pretty big deal to physicists, in that the Higgs boson had never been seen, but was required to exist by the prevailing model of "how everything works." So finding the Higgs particle allowed physicists to breathe a sigh of relief and say, more or less, "things actually work like we've been thinking they work." Had they not found the Higgs boson, the Universe would have disintegrated.

If that kind of stuff interests you, click here for a very good article on the LHC and what's happening with it now. And by "very good article" I mean one that explains what's going on in enough depth and detail to provide a good understanding, but without being overwhelming with physics-talk.  I liked it, anyway...

22 March 2015

Dear Readers

Notes to blog readers:

1. If you recently signed up for blog notifications via email, thanks.

2. It's really great to get feedback, both about individual topics and about blog itself. At the bottom of every post is a Comments section that says either "Comments" or "No Comments." If you click on that link, you can make a comment anonymously or by signing in with a Google account. I appreciate that you read the entry, and would like to hear anything you have to say in response—as other readers of the blog likely would also.

3. If you read the blog entry via email, DO NOT "reply" to the email message. If you do, that message just disappears into the great Google void in the sky and I never see it. You can reply, of course, but make sure that you send the message TO ME and not to the blog.

4. Again, if you're reading from email, you can click on the link and then go to the blog, where you can both read and post comments.

If you have any questions about any of this stuff, please let me know.

Thanks again for reading.

Restoring Earth

I recently sent out an email on the subject of a book called "The Soil Will Save Us." If you got that message, you can ignore this blog entry. If you did NOT get that message, then:

A. I strongly recommend that book. It's an intriguing story of what's going on in the soil/dirt and how, when attended to and encouraged, the little critters and natural processes will restore the soil to not just health but fabulous health and productivity. Here's the link to Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Soil-Will-Save-Scientists/dp/1609615549

B. Please see the following encouraging and hopeful pieces about land being restored to health:

1.  Allan Savory, a Zimbabwean scientist, on large-scale grazing lands restoration. This is a 22-minute TED talk.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpTHi7O66pI&sns=em

2. David Bamberger, a Texan rancher, on a different kind of lands restoration.  I was told about Bamberger by a friend who is moving to the area of Texas where he lives ("Texas Hill Country" near Austin). So I sent him a copy of the "Soil" book. Here is a National Public Radio article which you can read or listen to.  http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=123068681

3. I saved the best for last. If those two stories make you feel a little hopeful, this one will make you laugh and cry. "How Wolves Change Rivers:"  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysa5OBhXz-Q

11 March 2015

New Word of the Day

A great word seen on a popular blog today:


def: bullshit opinions and arguments agreed upon and made by people from many countries.


Several years ago, let's say in the year 2000, I coined a phrase which I thought nicely summarized the triumphs of American capitalism.

"Capitalism first killed off the communists, now it's killing off the rest of us."

I never once saw the phrase repeated in the New York Times or Comedy Central, so I guess it didn't catch on.

Today another, similiarly-inclined person took a shot at the same sentiment. Fran Lebowitz (Wikipedia says: is an American author and public speaker known for her sardonic social commentary on American life as filtered through her New York City sensibilities.), apparently said the following and is—dammit—getting widely quoted in the news media:

"In the Soviet Union, capitalism triumphed over communism. In this country, capitalism triumphed over democracy."

08 March 2015


I learned a couple things this week that deserve a little sharing. So here they are:

1. Seat belts

I have two cars, a Honda CRV and a Ranger truck. The former is the vehicle I drive, the latter is to carry the camper that I occasionally take out on the road.

A couple years ago I was having the Honda serviced at a Honda dealer, and the service tech said, "Hey that seat belt is not retracting properly, we'll fix that for you." A little discussion ensued and I learned that all Honda cars, if I recall correctly, have LIFETIME warranties on everything connected with the seat belt system. If there's any problem with the seat belts, Honda fixes them. Free. Forever. Damage is excepted, but the warranty applies to all wear-and-tear and normal use. Honda replaced my belts and retractors for about $400 worth of parts and labor, for which I paid nothing.

Last week, I had a problem with the Ranger seat belt. So I took the Ranger to my local mechanic and asked about getting it fixed. $229 for the replacement buckle, $60 for the labor to replace it. "But what about the lifetime warranty?" said I. "Where'd you hear that?" says the service manager. "Regular warranty applies, but you're long past that."

Over the past ten years or so, American cars have improved a lot compared to their European and Japanese competitors. But it seems that American manufacturers just can't build their cars good enough to guarantee essential safety equipment, and/or they don't think it's important that the safety equipment actually work.

I think I'll stick with Honda for my next purchase.

2. I bought a nice belt online a couple years ago. Paid $35 or so, which seems reasonable compared to what I had seen in stores. A few months ago, it started cracking, and then, over time, completely cracked cross-wise across the belt. I cracked it some more to look at it, actually tore it apart a little (how could I tear leather?) and was surprised at what I saw.

I took the belt to a leather shop and said, "Is this what I think it is?" The leather expert said, "Well, if you think it's the 'particle board of leather,' then yes, it's what you think it is."

Further discussions revealed—this from a leather expert—that virtually all belts sold in the US are not "real" leather but instead are leather pieces chopped up into tiny chunks, mixed with sticky stuff, and turned into the leather equivalent of particle board.

As you know, particle board is "wood"—i.e., wood chips and sawdust. So too are belts "leather"—leather dust and glue.

So the take-away from this observation is: be very suspicious of anything you buy that is supposed to be leather. The leather guy told me there are no labeling laws like with food or even furniture, which require the producer to identify the materials used—i.e., they can't label something "solid wood" if it's plywood or particle board with veneer. Unless you know and trust the source, or the item is really expensive, or the labeling eliminates the possibility of "composite leather-like substance," you are possible at risk for buying imitation leather. According to the leather guy, virtually all belts fall into this category.

You'll be happy to hear that I have a new belt which is verifiably "real" leather and came—as one uncut, unadulterated piece--from an actual tanned cow hide.

Nesting Falcon

I've received many remarkable nature photographs over the years, but this photo of a nesting falcon is perhaps one of the best nature shots that I've ever seen.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Nature is truly breathtaking!

I've sent this to most of my older friends.

The younger ones probably have never seen a falcon and wouldn't recognize it.  

Nesting Falcon


07 March 2015

Great Lyrics

Just heard on the radio, tracked down the source.

From the song "Burden of the Angel-Beast" by Bruce Cockburn:

kill for money
die for love
whatever was God thinking of?

03 March 2015

Several Things

First, a great photograph. "Ablaze" by Felix Inden. He says: "A beautiful moment captured at Skagsanden beach on Flakstadoy (Lofoten archipelago) in Norway. The aurora borealis was reflecting in the receding tide during a moonless and very dark night."

Second, here is an NPR story about about the wonders wrought on an abused and damaged piece of Texas hill country by a guy who decided he was going to improve it.

And third, here are a couple interesting videos:

A 22-minute TED talk by the scientist Allan Savory on the subject on desertification (land turning into desert) and Mr. Savory's attempts to halt/change/slowdown/reverse the process.

A 4.5 minute piece called "How Wolves Change Rivers" that is so full of hope and promise and nature at her finest that it might make you cry. It's okay if it does. The over-the-top narrator (i.e., enthusiasm and incredibleness drip from every word) is a little hard to take, but (a) it's worth it, and (b) you may well feel like he does by the end.

27 February 2015


How would you feel about a little


Spring color?

Here's a picture by the photographer "Yara GB" entitled "Spring is Coming." 

After the picture is displayed, click on it to turn background black, which makes for better viewing.

23 February 2015

We're Clearly Exceptional

I've recently been seeing a fair amount of news/internet chatter about "American Exceptionalism." Regardless of your position or opinions on this topic, there can be no disputing that the following graph/map definitively illustrates the condition.

Source: http://www.vox.com/2015/2/18/8056325/bad-maps

18 February 2015

Supporting Conservatives

Yeah, sure. I guess we shouldn't be surprised.

Here is the first paragraph of a great article:

Anyone who follows the conservative movement carefully could tell you that it’s about 25 percent politics and 75 percent mail-order scam. For more than half a century now, charlatans passing themselves off as conservative leaders have exploited ordinary conservatives’ anxiety about a changing America to collect addresses and now email lists in order to sell snake oil and raise funds that followers believe are going to political causes but frequently just line the pockets of the con artists. The conservative tendency to con their own people occasionally piques the interest of the liberal media. Media Matters, for instance, has run exposes on how conservative luminaries like Mike Huckabee and Scott Brown sold their mailing lists to con artists peddling fake “cures” for Alzheimer’s and cancer. Rachel Maddow has been reporting for years on how Newt Gingrich scams money off his followers through direct mail offers of “awards” and by trying to rope them into fraudulent investments.

Here's the rest. Wow.

15 February 2015

Oh Really?

I saw a headline that the big particle accelerator at CERN, Switzerland, had been refitted to run higher energies than earlier tests, and might be ready to produce other never-before-seen particles. The accelerator, I'm sure you will recall, was first used to produce--and thereby confirm the existence of--the Higgs bosun.

The article mentioned that the new particle that might be produced is a "gluino." Not being familar with that term, I looked it up on Wikipedia.

And just loved the cogent description therein. Makes everything perfect clear.


A gluino is the hypothetical supersymmetric partner of a gluon. Should they exist, gluinos are expected by supersymmetry theorists to be pair produced in particle accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider.

In supersymmetric theories, gluinos are Majorana fermions and interact via the strong force as a color octet. Gluinos have a lepton number 0, baryon number 0, and spin 1/2.

In models of supersymmetry that conserve R-parity, gluinos decay via the strong interaction to a squark and a quark, provided that an appropriate mass relation is satisfied. The squark subsequently decays to another quark and the lightest supersymmetric particle, LSP, which leaves the detector unseen. This means that a typical signal for a gluino at a hadron collider would be four jets plus missing energy.

However if gluinos are lighter than squarks, 3-body decay of a gluino to a neutralino and a quark antiquark pair is kinematically accessible through an off-shell squark.

11 February 2015

Negative Info #2

I should have read the rest of Barry's paragraph, it gets better. Here's the whole thing:

That’s before we get to the relentless stream of foolishness that is Fox News, the network that actually makes its viewers less informed than watching nothing at all. My interactions with Fox News viewers have led me to suspect that each day of watching the channel shaves off a single IQ point. Speak with someone who has been watching Fox for many years — then do the math — good luck trying to disprove my thesis.

Negative Information

Here's a nice line from a financial blogger I follow named Barry Ritholtz. He's a very very sharp guy, writes at "The Big Picture."

In an article about Jon Stewart's departure from The Daily Show, Barry says:

That’s before we get to the relentless stream of foolishness that is Fox News, the network that actually makes its viewers less informed than watching nothing at all. 

03 February 2015

This Hurts


This really hurts.

Although there are plenty of idiots, demagogues, chest-thumpers, extremists and airheads to choose from in field of Republican party leadership and likely presidential nominees, I would say that Bobby Jindal is right near the bottom of the pack. I don't know that I am aware of a single "redeeming factor" is his portfolio of horrible Republican ideas and plans.

So it is with significant reservations and pain that I have give him credit for doing a good thing.

He's standing up to the all the anti-vaccination morons and stating, quite plainly and directly and without any attempt at mealy-mouthism, that children should be vaccinated.


This doesn't mean I love the guy now, and he probably still denies climate change and evolution. But on this one issue he is being sensible and honest--as well as directly contradicting the other crazies in his party (notably Rand Paul and Chris Christie) who are questioning the benefits of vaccination.

Jindal deserve respect (yuk!) for that.



Posted to Governor Jindal's web site input/comment form:

Dear Governor--

I'm a good California liberal, and therefore dislike pretty much everything you stand for, advocate and have done.

Nonetheless, I have to applaud you for your recent statements regarding vaccination. Unlike Governor Christie and Senator Paul, who are willing to take major risks with public health in order to pander to their anti-science, backward-looking constituency (i.e., YOUR constituency), you've made a clear, strong, unambiguous statement supporting vaccinations and thereby supporting children, society and public health. Congratulations for taking a principled and brave stand on the issue. I'm sure you lost many Republican admirers and votes because of it, as most of your anti-science party seems to think that personal beliefs are more valid than facts. But at least on this one issue, I admire you for speaking out on behalf of reality, common sense, public welfare, fact-based decision making and other such principles that are hard to find in today's Republican Party.


Ty Griffin

28 January 2015


Listening to NPR and The Writer's Almanac this morning, I heard Garrison Keillor talk about the meaning and origin of the word "serendipity." It's a nice piece, which you can read or listen to by following the link below.

But what I really liked was the following explanation, quoted by Keillor and originally stated by a mid-20th-century medical researcher named Julius H. Comroe, Jr:

"Serendipity is looking in a haystack for a 
needle and discovering a farmer's daughter."

And what could possibly be better than that?

Writer's Almanac for January 28, 2015

13 January 2015

Keyboard Story

In helping Nancy (ex-wife) move to a a new computer, I got her a wireless mouse and keyboard. I therefore kind of inherited her wired mouse and keyboard.  A couple weeks later I needed an extra keyboard to set up a computer for another friend, so I hooked up the old clunky wired keyboard that Nancy has been using for the past ten or twelve years.

And was thrilled to be reminded about the great touch and feel and heft of those old keyboards. This one is a standard HP keyboard from, I'll guess, 2000 or maybe 2003, and it's built like a brick shithouse. The feel of the keys is fabulous. So at least for the moment, I've set aside my high-tech, latest and greatest, wireless, curved, etc etc etc keyboard, and am back using this old clunker with it's fabulous feel. My apologies to business partner Jack and anybody else I've tried to convince about the wonders of modern keyboards—although they are, in fact, pretty great in many ways. But they feel like cheap imitations and toys next to ol' reliable here.



PS. If you have any of those old keyboards, think twice before getting rid of them. Reverting to (or continuing to use) an old-fashioned wired keyboard may be not such a bad thing after all.

PPS. Anybody want to buy a top-of-the-line Logitech keyboard with wireless "Unifying" receiver, music controls, programmable keys, special keys for calculator and turning off computer, ergonomic wrist-rest, sculpted keys, .....

12 January 2015

I Love My Yahoo Ads

I'd like to congratulate the brilliant and creative people at Yahoo for designing their headlines, articles and advertisements so cleverly that it's no longer possible to tell them apart. This is a great strategy that will undoubtedly result in millions of clicks on advertisements when people think they're clicking on articles. And that will thrill both the advertisers and Yahoo, and they'll all make loads of money. From somebody else, that is, since I stopped using Yahoo today. For anything. Ever. But good job!