Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks as always to Pirate’s Cove and The Other McCain for the Rule Five links, and to Darkness Over The Land for the pingback!

Moving right along: Ever been frustrated by a left-lane vigilante driving exactly the speed limit in the left lane?  It seems that those speed limits may be based on some pretty outmoded science.  Excerpt:

In the US, our speed limits are derived from old studies, like this one from 1964 by traffic systems researcher David Solomon that looked only at rural roads in the 1950s. In line with conventional thinking, Solomon’s study fuels the premise that speed limits should be based on the speed at which 85 percent of the drivers on a road are maintaining. That means, if most cars on the highway are going 60 mph, that’s what determines the speed limit.

But with around 40,000 people dying in car accidents on American roads every year, something isn’t working, John Lower, a transportation engineer in California, told me. That includes the 85 percent formula, which traffic advocates have called for to be repealed. They’re calling instead for a data-driven system that reflects the actual traffic using sensor technology. In many cases, this will force us to drive slower.

Lower has spent decades as a city transportation manager, and now works at Iteris, an analytics company. He believes it’s time to reinvent the way we implement speed limits. “The way it works now, there are higher-than-expected crash rates along the system,” he said.

Lower’s solution is in line with Vision Zero, a network of traffic safety advocates he is part of, who want to use more recent data and technology to inform our speed limits. (The network is funded by entities including Kaiser Permanente, a health insurance company.)

In an ideal scenario, Lower said, we would be using smart sensors to collect the information from vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians to understand traffic flows. (A quick spin around the internet reveals multiple sensors are already on the market like this, including this one from Urbiotica and another from SMATS.) This data would then be analyzed to set speed limits based on the traffic flow, and the presence of the most vulnerable vehicles (bicycles) and people on the roads.

“Every traffic signal has to have some form of detection,” Lower added.

I have a question:  Who the hell is going to pay for all these detectors?

I’m generally in favor of using technology to make our lives better, but in this case, no thanks.  At present, our roads are publicly funded, and we don’t have the tax dollars to spare to be completely, totally revamping our system for determining speed limits.  Besides, improvements in car design have made driving much, much safer than it was in the 1950s – or even the 1970s.

For now, I’d say we should just stick with our good old-fashioned way of figuring speed limits.  And, on that note:

Rule Five John Browning Friday

(I found this some time ago, and being a 1911 fan myself, I rather like it, and reproduce it here from time to time.)

In the beginning was the 1911, and the 1911 was THE pistol, and it was good. And behold the Lord said, “Thou shalt not muck with my disciple John’s design for it is good and it workith. For John made the 1911, and lo all of his weapons, from the designs which I, the Lord, gave him upon the mountain.”

“And shouldst thou muck with it, and hang all manner of foul implements upon it, and profane its internal parts, thou shalt surely have malfunctions, and in the midst of battle thou shalt surely come to harm.”

And as the ages passed men in their ignorance and arrogance didst forget the word of the Lord and began to profane the 1911. The tribe of the gamesman did place recoil spring guides and extended slide releases upon the 1911 and their metal smiths didst tighten the tolerances and alter parts to their liking, their clearness of mind being clouded by lust.

Their artisans did hang all manner of foul implements upon the 1911 and did so alter it that it became impractical to purchase. For lo, the artisans didst charge a great tax upon the purchasers of the 1911 so that the lowly field worker could not afford one. And the profaning of the internal parts didst render it unworkable when the dust of the land fell upon it.

And lo, they didst install adjustable sights, which are an abomination unto the Lord. For they doth break and lose their zero when thou dost need true aim. And those who have done so will be slain in great numbers by their enemies in the great battle. And they didst chamber it for cartridges who’s calibers startith with numbers less than the Holy Number 4. And lo the Lord did cause great grief amongst these men when their enemies who were struck in battle with these lesser numbers didst not fall but did continue to cause great harm.

And it came to pass that the Lord didst see the abomination wrought by man and didst cause, as he had warned, fearful malfunctions to come upon the abominations and upon the artisans who thought they could do no wrong.

Seeing the malfunctions and the confusion of men, the lord of the underworld did see an opportunity to further ensnare man and didst bring forth pistols made of plastic, whose form was such that they looked and felt like a brick, yet the eyes of man being clouded, they were consumed by the plastic pistol and did buy vast quantities of them.

And being a deceitful spirit the lord of the underworld did make these plastic pistols unamenable to the artisans of earth and they were unable to muck much with the design, and lo these pistols did appear to function.

And the evil one also brought forth pistols in which the trigger didst both cock and fire them and which require a “dingus” to make them appear safe.

But man being stupid did not understand these new pistols and didst proceed to shoot themselves with the plastic pistol and with the trigger cocking pistols for lo their manual of arms required great intelligence which man had long since forsaken. Yet man continue to gloat over these new pistols blaming evil forces for the negligent discharges which they themselves had committed.

And when man had been totally ensnared with the plastic pistol, the lord of the underworld didst cause a plague of the terrible Ka-Boom to descend upon man and the plastic pistols delivered their retribution upon men. And there was a great wailing and gnashing of teeth in the land.

Then seeing that the eyes of man were slowly being opened and that man was truly sorrowful for his sinful misdeeds, the Lord did send his messengers in the form of artisans who did hear and obey the teachings of the prophet and who didst restore the profaned 1911s to their proper configuration, and lo, to the amazement of men they didst begin to work as the prophet had intended.

And the men of the land didst drive out the charlatans and profaners from the land, and there was joy and peace in the land, except for the evil sprits which tried occasionally to prey on the men and women of the land and who were sent to the place of eternal damnation or hell by the followers of John.

Animal’s Daily Birth Control News

I’m inclined to agree with this:  If you can pay for aspirin, you can pay for birth control.  Excerpt:

Religious concerns aside, the new White House rule leaves the birth-control mandate in place. Trump’s “tweak won’t affect 99.9 percent of women,” observes the Wall Street Journal, “and that number could probably have a few more 9s at the end.” Washington will continue to compel virtually every employer and insurer in America to supply birth control to any woman who wants one at no out-of-pocket cost.

Yet there is no legitimate rationale for such a mandate. Americans don’t expect to get aspirin, bandages, or cold medicine — or condoms — for free; by what logic should birth control pills or diaphragms be handed over at no cost? It is true that a woman’s unwanted pregnancy can lead to serious costs, but the same is also true of a diabetic’s hyperglycemia. Should insulin be free?

By and large, birth control is inexpensive; as little as $20 a month without insurance. For low-income women who find that too onerous, the federal government’s Title X program provides subsidized contraception to the tune of nearly $290 million per year. American women are not forced to choose between the Pill or the rent. And access to birth control, as the Centers for Disease Control reported in 2010, was virtually universal before Obamacare.

The White House is right to end the burden on religious objectors. But it is the birth-control mandate itself that should be scrapped. Contraception is legal, cheap, and available everywhere. Why are the feds meddling where they aren’t needed?

Condoms are cheap.  Wal-Mart offers birth control pills at greatly reduced prices.  But that’s not really the issue here; the issue is more simple than comparative costs.  The issue is this:

Why the hell does anyone think it is the proper role of the Imperial government to subsidize people’s sex lives?  Our poor – and mind  you, we have little or no abject poverty in the U.S., only relative poverty – have cell phones, game consoles, laptop computers and microwave ovens.  But for some reason, they expect the taxpayers to subsidize an elective medical product that costs less than a weekly cup of coffee at Starbucks.

Lunacy.  Sheer lunacy.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

It’s sad and stupid, but apparently people thinking the Earth is flat is still a thing.  Excerpt:

The Flat Earth Society’s site — which posits that the idea of a round Earth is somehow related to the faking of the Moon landing — is remarkably well-designed and professional-looking, eliminating some of the old hallmarks of disinformation on the internet. The ease of creating a website as clean as this one is a problem that has been well-documented by information scientists. As recently as five years ago, high schools were teaching that you could identify a disreputable source by its cheap-looking site, bad design, and messy URL. That no longer holds.

Digital newsrooms churn out coverage of flat Earth truthers using tools that make it easy to find stories bubbling up from the depths of Reddit. Here’s how it works: conspiracy theories get people fired up enough to comment promiscuously, bringing them to the front of Reddit where journalists see them, says The Verge’s editorial director Helen Havlak. When a reporter writes an explainer of a new oddball conspiracy theory, the sharing and hate commenting that drove the theory to the top of Reddit reoccurs on Facebook. And, if the post is coming from a generally reputable outlet or involves a celebrity (e.g., B.o.B. or Kyrie Irving) or a major news event (e.g., a presidential election), it can also get a boost into the Top Stories slot on Google News. “Newsrooms watch each other’s highest-performing stories,” Havlak says. It’s common practice to use a tool that lets newsrooms make lists of their competitors and monitor the popularity of their posts (on services like CrowdTangle, for example) to see what’s doing well for other outlets, and what might be a sure traffic bet if they could find a fresh angle or a reason to weigh in. “People see all the traffic to be had, and look for the next thing trickling up from Reddit,” she says. “Cycle repeats.”

It is perhaps belaboring the obvious to note that counting visitors to a loony-tunes web doesn’t necessarily translate to those people believing in whatever brand of nutballery the site espouses.  However – the fact that a site exists is a pretty good indicator that the people who put the site up believe in that nutballery (parody and satire sites like the Landover Baptist Church aside).

And in this case, that’s just stupid and pathetic.

Seriously, folks – Eratosthenes of Cyrene calculated the circumference of the planet thirty-four freakin’ centuries ago.  This is hardly new stuff.  Still – there are people about who believe all manner of stupid shit.  When I was writing Misplaced Compassion, I was frequenting all sorts of Usenet (remember Usenet?) animal rights forums, and once encountered a nutbar who claimed to believe that there was a city of superhuman aliens hidden inside a dormant volcano in (where else?) California.

This is precisely as stupid as believing the Earth is flat.   It’s funny and sad all at the same time.

Animal’s Daily Mr. Sandman News

Ever wonder why we sleep?  I do.  Sometimes it amuses me to ponder how much more I’d get done if I didn’t have to sleep, especially on a day when I have woken up at oh-dark-thirty to head to the airport.

At any rate, here’s an interesting read on the topic.  Excerpt:

…despite all that has been written on the subject and all the effort devoted to studying the phenomenon scientifically, we do not have a clear answer to a question that would seem to be central to understanding the human experience: “Why do we sleep?”

To answer that we need to first ask what sleep is, and what its essential characteristics are. We know that it is probably evolutionarily conserved, meaning that it has persisted throughout evolutionary history ever since it first evolved. Many scientists also think it is universal among animals, though it has been studied systematically only in a small number of species. Sleep may show up under different guises in different species. Dolphins, for instance, may be able to sleep “unihemispherically” — falling asleep with one half of their brains while the other half remains awake. This allows them to perform complex activities, such as swimming to the surface of the ocean to breathe, without waking up. The nematode worm C. elegans enters into a sleep-like lethargus before molting. In many species, including humans, sleep is generally associated with certain postures, such as lying down, and immobility.

It’s not as easy as you might think to tell if an animal is sleeping. A crude but effective way is to test if an animal is “disconnected” from its environment by providing some stimulation that would typically provoke a strong reaction, such as an unexpected noise. If the animal does not react, there is a good chance that it is genuinely disconnected — and thus sleeping, rather than merely resting. Scientists consider such a reversible disconnection from the environment to be a defining feature of sleep. (An irreversible disconnection from the environment would be a coma.)

Why would animals periodically disconnect from the environment?

Maybe disconnecting from the environment is reason enough.

I studied biology years ago, and maintain an interest in the topic.  While behavior was my focus when I was still in the field, I never studied the phenomenon of sleep, other than engaging in it myself.  But here’s the main theory described in this article:

Still, learning, memory, and cognitive ability seem to be promising areas for trying to find an essential function of sleep. One recent proposal that attempts to draw these areas together into a single whole is the Synaptic Homeostasis Hypothesis (SHY), originally put forward by Giulio Tononi and Chiara Cirelli in 2003. (Full disclosure: I did my doctoral research in Tononi and Cirelli’s Center for Sleep and Consciousness at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, though SHY was not my focus.)

To my mind, SHY stands apart from other scientific hypotheses about sleep because of its scope and its explanatory elegance. And, despite the fact that elegance is an important feature of scientific theories, there are surprisingly few elegant theories in neuroscience. This may be because so many neuroscientists treat the brain as a modular kludge, focusing on one specific part of the brain as pertaining to their research specifically. SHY, by contrast, is about neural networks in general.

In other words, sleep fulfills the vital function of sort of “resetting” the nervous system, allowing the collation of information gathered during the waking period.  That’s important in the learning and analysis process.  I’ve experienced it myself; the concept of “sleeping on it” is as old as the ages.

Interesting stuff.  A good night’s sleep my do us a lot more good than we think.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks as always to Pirate’s Cove and The Other McCain for the Rule Five linkery!

An early flight back to (ugh) San Francisco beckons, so I’ll be brief.  Yesterday, while surfing a few news sites, I stumbled on one of the better pieces of anti-gunner trolling that I’ve encountered in some time.

I apologize in advance for linking to, sending you to or in any way drawing any attention to Derpbook, but that’s where this is found.  Enjoy.

This is definitely a case of “ahead Troll Factor Nine!”

And a mil-spec butter knife.  Eh heh heh heh.

Rule Five Close Air Support Friday

Our military has, in the years since I served, has gone ever-increasingly high-tech.  The Air Force has gone even more high-tech than the others, which is of course to e expected in the nature of that branch.  But have they gone too high-tech to handle close-air support in the low-tech conflicts we find ourselves fighting today?  That could be.  The Small Wars Journal have some thoughts on that.  Excerpt:

War is expensive, especially when using high-end fourth and fifth generation aircraft designed for World War III to bomb handfuls of sandal wearing men armed with rusty AK-47s. While the United States (U.S.) Department of Defense (DOD) enjoyed the extravagance of seemingly bottomless coffers during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that time has ended. The DOD cannot afford to employ its most advanced high-end aircraft in support of every military operation. The U.S. military is primarily engaged in small-scale overseas contingency operations, characterized by tight budgets and strict force caps. These operations largely involve small teams of special operations forces (SOF) and regionally aligned ground forces deployed to advise and assist U.S. allied and partner-nation forces in irregular warfare (IW), specifically counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, and foreign internal defense. The deployment of high-end jet aircraft in support of these forces is not only impractical due to robust support requirements but also fiscally irresponsible due to astronomical acquisition and operating costs. Instead, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) requires an inexpensive, light air support (LAS) aircraft as a practical and cost-effective means of providing air support for IW in low air threat environments.

The Journal suggests a couple of modest aircraft for this role, and a couple of those have some extensive combat qualifications.  Those two would be the old OV-10 Bronco and the Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano.  Both are inexpensive aircraft, both  have long design histories, both have shown their worth in close support roles.  It would be worthwhile for the US Air Force to consider buying some of those.

Budgetary matters are a concern, after all, when the nation is in debt to the tune of twenty trillion simoleons.  If we could field a few squadrons of close-support planes for the cost of two or three F-35s, then that seems like the taxpayers are getting a bargain.

For that matter, a couple of wings of 1940s-vintage P-47s would be pretty damn useful in close air support.  Eight .50 calibers and a few 500-pounders are just what the doctor ordered for the aforementioned “sandal wearing men armed with rusty AK-47s.”  The original Thunderbolt did some great work in World War 2 against foes more sophisticated than the Taliban.

The article concludes:  “The USAF can procure entire squadrons’ worth of LAS aircraft for the cost of a single F-35. Furthermore, the introduction of LAS aircraft could save U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars in operation and maintenance costs each year, while preserving the nation’s most advanced and expensive aircraft for potential high-intensity conflicts against near-peer competitors. When taken in the aggregate, the advantages of LAS aircraft provide distinct benefits that are both tactically sound and cost-effective.”

Cost-effective sounds like a good idea.  We may still even have some old OV-10s in storage.  Why not dust them off and fire them up?

Animal’s Daily Enforced Pedestrian News

California, does thy nutballery ever end?  Now the Golden (hah) State is considering outlawing gasoline or diesel-powered cars.  Excerpt:

The head of the California Air Resources Board told Bloomberg News that the state is seriously looking into whether and how to make internal combustion engine cars illegal in the state, as part of its self-imposed plan to cut state CO2 emissions in 2050 to 80% of what it emitted in 1990.

That follows announcements over the summer that the UK and France will try to ban the sale of gas- and diesel-powered cars by 2040. More recently, China claims it will impose a ban in 2030.

The CARB’s Mary Nichols says California could implement such a ban in 13 years, and one state lawmaker plans to introduce a bill that would enforce it in 2040.

To put it bluntly, this is one of the most ill-conceived public policy ideas in a state that seems to have them in abundance.

First, some perspective.

According to the EPA, all transportation — cars, trucks, planes, trains and boats — are responsible for about a quarter of the nation’s CO2 emissions. The share contributed by passenger cars alone is considerably smaller than that. In the European Union, for example, cars account for 12% of CO2 emissions.

California’s move would make no noticeable dent in global CO2 emissions. Plus, it would take well over a decade before the entire car fleet turned over to all electric.

What’s more, the CO2 reduction claims from such a ban are wildly exaggerated.

Remember, electric cars don’t run on magic. They run on electricity. So forcing car owners to buy only electric cars will mean a massive surge in demand for electricity, which is generated largely by greenhouse-emitting natural gas and coal. In California, these fuel sources account for 40% of the state’s electricity. Solar and wind add up to just 17%.

Much of the CO2 “cuts” will really just be a shift from one source to another.

Here’s a consideration that the article doesn’t mention; how much of California’s economy depends on tourism, and how many of those tourists drive into that state?  If those people drive into California after the ban, will they find any gasoline stations to greet them, or will they be barred from bringing their faithful benzene-burners into the state?  What will that do to California’s economy?

Maybe whoever dreamed this piece of nitwittery up just believes in putting everybody afoot; perhaps they think there will be less mischief that way.

I don’t really care what China and France do in this regard.  But California has just produced another dumb idea in a long list of dumb ideas.

Deep thoughts, news of the day, totty and the Manly Arts.