Monthly Archives: August 2010

Incandescent and Compact Fluorescent Lights

We’ve been replacing incandescent lights with compact fluorescent lights as needed here. So I have a ceiling fan with a light fixture that now has two remaining incandescent lights and three compact fluorescent lights. Here is a picture of the light fixture:

Lights in visible spectrum

I think it is just possible to pick out which are which. Give it a try…

Incandescent lights are not as efficient as compact fluorescent lights. So, where are those watts that incandescent lights soak up going to? Quite a lot goes into heat production. More, in fact, than is output as visible light. Below the fold, I’ve included a photo of the light fixture, this time using an infrared filter on the camera. It will be obvious there which two lamps are incandescent. See if you picked them right from the visible light photo above.

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Another Level of Recycling

I signed up for a couple of recycle / “freecycle” email lists, one for Pinellas County, and the other for Manatee County. If you haven’t seen these, people who want to pass along items that they aren’t using will put up an “OFFER: item” type email, and people interested in using the item can respond and arrange to pick it up. I haven’t put up any “OFFER” emails yet, but I expect to do so as we start going through our boxes here. But I have responded to three of the offered items so far. One was a largish coffee table with a baby-proof modification of a rubber bumper on the edge. The second was for a couple of DVDs and a couple of VHS tapes. The third was the most interesting of the lot, as it was a Sony receiver.

The receiver model was a Sony STR-6065. It is an old, heavy receiver. As far as I can tell, it seems to have been manufactured around 1972 and offers something in the range of 50 watts per channel. The modern trend to digital media players and small plug-in amplified speakers has just about killed the urge to locate and use a largish component amplifier or receiver. The one issue noted by the previous owner was that the tuning knob kept falling off. I fixed that with a screwdriver applied to the set-screw in the knob. I plugged it in for a test this evening. The VU meter lit up, but the tuning panel stayed dark, so if I get ambitious, I might replace the 12V lamps inside. The disappointing news was that despite hooking up an FM antenna, I was not able to tune any stations. The AM side of the receiver worked fine, which isn’t very helpful, as my tolerance for talk radio or salsa music is pretty low right now. Plugging my trusty Sansa E280 digital media player into the auxiliary input worked, too. Even driving a pair of Radio Shack Minimus-7 speakers, the unit sounded pretty good. It would probably sound even better if I went after it with a DeOxit cleaning kit. I’m looking forward to using this for reviewing our compiled audio data. A decent amp is pretty much an indispensable part of an audio research toolkit.

For everybody who is looking at clearing out unused but usable items and doesn’t care to go through the hassle of selling on eBay or via a yard sale, I recommend the recycle “freecycle” email lists. I hope to do my share of sharing soon.

NCIS: LA “Found”: A Demurral

I caught a repeat of the “NCIS: Los Angeles” episode, “Found”, earlier this week. There are synopses and reviews various places, like here and here. Neither of those took any notice of the issue of vigilantism in the episode. I think that it is something that should be a bit higher on the radar.

In case you haven’t seen the episode or read the reviews, the plotline is that one of the NCIS LA team had been kidnapped previously, and now terrorists are demanding that a prisoner in the USA be exchanged for the agent, or he will be killed by a particular and short deadline. The rest of the team goes all out in tracing down leads and trying to find out where he is being held in order to mount a rescue mission. One of the terrorists seems to take pity on the agent, and provides him with a key to his handcuffs. Coincidentally, the rest of the team follows the terrorists’ supporter/organizer to the LA hideout where their colleague has made his way to the roof. A gun battle ensues, with casualties of several terrorists and the agent who had been held prisoner.

Along the way, there were various dodgy interrogation techniques. One suspect gets partially strangled, then later threatened with drowning. In one scene, the operations manager, “Hetty”, tells one of the agents that sometimes extreme measures must be taken to get results, and that often critical questions will fail to be asked if the outcome is right.

I have to admit that the “Hetty” speech really put this one over the line for me. The US market seems to enjoy watching tales of semi- to full-blown vigilantism, and we don’t seem to be particular as to whether our vigilantes are outside the legal structure or operate from within it to obtain whatever it is that they consider to be justice. In general, Hollywood follows a rigid formula that where vigilantism is depicted: the vigilante is otherwise of scrupulous moral character, acts in good causes, and the villain is shown to be especially despicable. For every “Taxi Driver” showing another side to vigilantism, there’s a lot of “Death Wish”-like presentations that stick to the proven formula.

The NCIS: LA episode in question is certainly one of the more formulaic presentations, differing only in that the vigilantes eventually come up short, failing to save their colleague’s life. Getting back to the “Hetty” speech, though, what struck me was that the scriptwriter seemed to have to stretch quite a ways to come up with a pretentious, serious-sounding paraphrase of the blunt saying, “The ends justify the means.” For that was the sole content, when one boils it down to its base elements.

While the vigilante formula is widespread in Hollywood and beyond, it is a serial theme in many of the series produced by Donald Bellisario, including the NCIS franchise. Elsewhere, comments about the “Found” episode killing off a credited protagonist showed surprise or disappointment with the outcome. However, for anyone paying attention to previous series, having a fairly major supporting character die or suffer serious injury in a way that may result in some degree of feelings of guilt for the protagonist or protagonists remaining is also a continuing theme in Bellisario series. We saw it in Magnum PI, JAG, and the original NCIS before, so having that come into NCIS: LA is no big shocker.

Cognitive research shows that the vigilante theme plays on some common neural wiring in humans: we really do hate to see wrongdoing go unpunished, and will often do ourselves some harm to prevent that. However, the vigilante impulse in real life tends to be fulfilled not by clear-thinking puritans, but rather by flawed people acting out on their prejudices and fears. We may not know exactly why Michael Enright chose to stab a Muslim cab driver, but we do know he had been drinking heavily before the assault.

As frustrating as “letting” villains have their way with victims is, the alternative of rampant vigilantism doesn’t provide a good way forward. All too often, the vigilante makes mistakes in assigning guilt, and delivers punishment — or death — to the wrong party. Our legal system, with all its quirks and warts and exploitable flaws, is an evolving system aiming to find a balance between holding the guilty accountable for their actions and preserving the rights of the innocent, including those of the innocent wrongly accused. That’s a concern that vigilantes don’t seem to often bear in mind.

For the “Found” episode, the dodgy interrogation stuff wasn’t even essential to the main plotline. They got information on the supporter/organizer villain by casual conversation with an informant, which would have been enough to have them tail the fellow where he went. And where he went eventually was the location of their colleague and the climactic shootout. So essentially the episode’s main message to me wasn’t that this was a team who’d put it all on the line for a colleague, but rather that here are a bunch of people supposedly working on our behalf who are willing to dispense with their principles at the first hint of difficulty. I don’t think that’s what the producers were aiming for.

Allen West: Anti-American, and Proud of It

Tea Party candidate Allen West made clear his disdain for the “Coexist” bumper sticker. West was quoted as saying,

“[A]s I was driving up here today, I saw that bumper sticker that absolutely incenses me. It’s not the Obama bumper sticker. But it’s the bumper sticker that says, ‘Co-exist.’ And it has all the little religious symbols on it. And the reason why I get upset, and every time I see one of those bumper stickers, I look at the person inside that is driving. Because that person represents something that would give away our country. Would give away who we are, our rights and freedoms and liberties because they are afraid to stand up and confront that which is the antithesis, anathema of who we are. The liberties that we want to enjoy.”

West makes clear that what he objects to is the symbol of Islam on the bumper sticker, saying that people choosing that bumper sticker would give away America because they won’t stand up against radical Islamists. It seems to me that he reaches a conclusion without any chain of logic connecting the premises he starts from to the conclusion he wishes to reach. We can reject the extremism of some without trampling on the rights of other citizens; West doesn’t appear to get that.

The Bill of Rights to the Constitution does provide for freedom of religion, and Islam, last I checked, is a religion. There are practitioners of Islam who don’t agree with radical Islam, just as there are Protestants who aren’t in favor of hanging or burning witches and Catholics who aren’t into pederasty or burning heretics at the stake. We aren’t ‘giving up America’ when we tolerate our Protestant and Catholic neighbors, and we aren’t ‘giving up America’ when we tolerate our Islamic neighbors. It is, though, ‘giving up America’ when we let foreign extremists of any sort encourage us to turn our back on freedom of religion here in the USA. It is curious that Allen West can’t seem to see that his attitude is the problem, not the fellow with the “Coexist” bumper sticker.

Update: I’ve already been told in the comments that West “is not anti-religion”. Here’s another reported quote from West continuing his anti-bumper sticker comments:

– “We already have a 5th column that is already infiltrating into our colleges, into our universities, into our high schools, into our religious aspect, our cultural aspect, our financial, our political systems in this country. And that enemy represents something called Islam and Islam is a totalitarian theocratic political ideology, it is not a religion. It has not been a religion since 622 AD, and we need to have individuals that stand up and say that.”

– “George Bush got snookered into going into some mosque, taking his shoes off, and then saying that Islam was a religion of peace.”

The above demonstrates the very generically anti-Islam sentiment that West advocates. West is not targeting Islamic radicalism or radicalism in general; he is setting himself up as an arbiter of who gets First Amendment freedom of religion rights. That’s about as scary as politics gets in my book.

AiG Responds to Comment; Dog Bites Man

“The Underground Site” passes on some arguments from Answers in Genesis responding to comments made by an ethnologist, Bernadette Barton, who took a few trips to the “Creation Museum” facility. From the looks of the responses, AiG probably should have just kept mum; they seem to be of the “Bridgewater Treatise” sort of reply that leaves one thinking that the original critique is still looking pretty good.

But what comes through is either pure laziness or lack of journalistic drive on the part of the anonymous “staff” writing the piece. Given a “he-said, she-said” situation (literally!), the “staff” goes for “reporting” he-said only. Not only did only AiG’s arguments get space in the article, the author couldn’t even be bothered to link to the original critique that AiG was responding to. That seems curiously uninformative for a site with pretensions of delivering news. Oh, and there is the inability to run a spell-checker. Even AiG managed that. Hey, anonymous staff writer at “The Underground Site”, if you are wondering why Christians often get a bad rap in intellectual circles, you aren’t helping.

I felt moved to leave a comment. I’ll quote it here.

“Enthologist”? When Answers in Genesis can correctly spell “ethnology” and you can’t, I think you lose 50 points in the t.o. home game.


-50 if a C’ist corrects a factual error of yours (This may seem
like a big penalty, but lets face it — if a C’ist has a better
grasp of bio than you do, maybe you shouldn’t be posting.)

[End quote – Chris Colby, ]

But going beyond the title’s spelling glitch, I don’t see much that looks like journalism here. AiG responds to just about anything that might resemble a comment about their facility in Kentucky. Did anybody even consider checking to see whether AiG’s response here made sense in its various supposed points?

Take response (1), for example. AiG doesn’t like the “fundamentalist” adjective. They note that their objection is solidly based on … market perception. Then they equivocate on “mainstream” versus “extremist”, using the demographic connotation of the former to try to deny the philosophical import of the latter. Sorry, inerrantist literalism is still a plank of the fundamentals, and it is still extreme, no matter what percentage of the population happens to be on board with it. All they manage there is to show that extremism is popular. I feel safe saying that Islamic fervor for sharia law in Iran is popular there, but that does nothing to make it any less extreme.

If you want to do some commentary from a Christian perspective on AiG’s curious commitment to plain error, then you can cite St. Augustine’s advice on these topics:


Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.

[End Quote – St. Augustine, “De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim” (The Literal Meaning of Genesis)]

The Visitor in the Night

About 5 AM, I heard an owl outside the house. I went out to check, since owls and hawks don’t mix well. I wanted to make sure the owl wasn’t near Rusty. The owl turned out to be perched high in an oak tree in the front yard.

Picture of owl in tree

The owl proved to be a pretty cooperative subject, continuing to sit in the tree while I got together the camera, flash, and big 12V flashlight. Unfortunately, the owl was still about 75 feet away from the camera, so this is a pretty severe crop of the original image.

David Klinghoffer Gets an Education

David Klinghoffer recently challenged Lauri Lebo to explain how the Discovery Institute’s promotion of “intelligent design” related to creationism.

And Lauri wrote a nice article explaining how. It is a good read. And if Klinghoffer can manage to read it for comprehension, he might even achieve enlightenment.

As Lauri notes, we are fast coming up to the fifth anniversary of the start of the Kitzmiller trial.

New Scientist Article on Evolving Programs

This New Scientist article discusses some really cool results coming out of the Devolab at Michigan State University. In for particular attention was my colleague, Laura Grabowski, who defended her dissertation on memory evolving in Avidians shortly before I left MSU. She is now a professor at the University of Texas – Pan American in Edinburg, Texas, continuing her work on artificial life.

Rob Pennock and Jeff Clune also got attention in the article, and a paper of mine (with Laura and Rob) published last year got a link in the article.