Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday Photo

Sometimes, as it did Wednesday night in my backyard, winter in the Northwest looks like this:

Image credit: Cujo359

Usually, though, it looks more like this:

Image credit: Cujo359

That image was taken last November of a shopping center parking lot in Woodinville, Washington, but it's pretty typical of what it looks like on most days here, including today.

Click on the pictures to enlarge them. Hope you had a good Sunday.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sunday Photo(s)

Earlier this week Dana Hunter published some photos of Juanita Park in winter. I thought it would be fun to contrast those, plus a couple of mine, with what things look like there in Summer. Here's a map of the park, which I made using TangoGPS and map data from OpenCycleMap:

Image credit: Screenshot by Cujo359 of OpenCycleMap image data.

There's quite a bit to Juanita Park, including some athletic facilities and a beach (which has been closed for a while now). But if you're looking for scenery, then the walks through and along the wetlands are probably the thing you'll be most interested in.
Image credit: All photos by Cujo359

Here's a look back on the boardwalk that heads out to the marsh, in summer and winter. It's from almost the same location, the summer one may be ten yards (meters) or so further from the entrance. If you look closely, you can see it's the same willow tree that's overhanging the boardwalk.

I'd say it looks better in the summer sun than in the dead of winter on a cloudy day, but then tastes differ. I've written before that winter scenes, even when there's no snow, have a beauty of their own.

Here are contrasting panoramas from the part of the Old Market Street Trail that leads toward downtown Juanita:

and from a few yards further down the trail in winter:

Besides the general contrast between the brown in winter and the green in summer, there's another noticeable difference: the lily pads. I don't know if they had to clear those out after the summer, but the contrast is pretty stark. Here's another picture I took during the summer, from almost the same location as the winter panorama was shot from:

Quite a contrast, no?

Finally, here's another picture that contrasts with this picture of the old pier that Dana took:

I prefer how the park looks in summer, but as Dana's photos show, it has its charms even in the dead of winter.

As always, click on the photos to enlarge, and have a good week.

Afterword: A technical aside: I made the wintertime panorama using photos from Dana's camera, a Sony DSC-HX5V. It didn't provide focal length as part of the EXIF data, which is something of an oversight if you're trying to stitch together a panorama from several photos. Fortunately, Wikipedia came to the rescue, with an explanation of focal multipliers, which are an alternative specification that panorama software can use, and even a mention of the sensor size of the Sony camera. Of course, I didn't need the latter bit of information, because that's information that Sony actually does provide. One might even say they've bragged quite a bit about the sensor on that camera.

Anyway, plug in a focal length multiplier value of 5.62 to the appropriate place in the panorama software, and everything works.

Climate Change Update

This is the same cherry tree that I photographed last year at around this time:

Image credit: Cujo359

As that link shows, this tree was blooming on February 17 last year. Clearly, there are no blossoms yet. From the condition of the buds:

Image credit: Cujo359

It looks like it will be a few more days before they blossom.

I guess there's no global warming this year...

Friday, February 18, 2011


I bet this one hurt:

Caption: On Valentine's Day (ET) the Sun unleashed one of its most powerful explosions, an X-class flare.

The blast was the largest so far in the new solar cycle.

Erupting from active region AR1158 in the Sun's southern hemisphere, the flare is captured here in this extreme ultraviolet image from the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO).

The intense burst of electromagnetic radiation momentarily overwhelmed pixels in SDO's detectors causing the bright vertical blemish.

This X-class flare was also accompanied by a coronal mass ejection (CME), a massive cloud of charged particles traveling outward at nearly 900 kilometers
per second.

APOD: 2011 February 17: X-Class Flare
Here's what that link had to say about X-class flares:
X-class flares are big; they are major events that can trigger planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms.

The Classification of X-ray Solar Flares
Having the Solar Dynamics Observatory looking at the Sun gives us at least a few minutes' warning before all that hits the Earth. That gives electric utilities, communications providers, and computer installations a few minutes to make preparations, at least. Wikipedia says that it takes light, which travels at 300,000 kilometers per second, about eight minutes to reach the Earth from the Sun, and if you just divide 150 million kilometers by 300,000 kilometers per second, that works out about right. It's not a lot of time, but if there are procedures in place already, then at least some measures can be taken.

Which is yet another benefit of having a real space program.

Afterword: By the way, I found this in a round-about way, by visiting the NASA Satellites blog.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Acts Of Kindness

Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking. H. Jackson Browne

I'm told that it's Random Act of Kindness Week. OK, here's some inspiration:

Calma, pequeno...  Eu ajudo a encontrar a sua mae.

I really don't get into these sorts of things all that much, even when a friend mentions me:
George sent me a rock hammer. Suzanne performed rescue operations. Cujo invited me to the theatre. Lockwood volunteered for field trip duty. And there have been 10,000 other things, great and small, that you've done, things that make me a big squidgy mass of gratefulness and love.

Random Acts of Kindness Week
Here's the reason I'm not much into Random Acts of Kindness Week, though. If I'd waited for Random Acts of Kindness Week, it would have been four months after the play ended. I doubt George or Lockwood waited, either, and as Suzanne's other rescuee, I'm really glad she didn't wait for RAOK Week. Not to put too fine a point on this, but true acts of kindness are probably best done at the time they're needed:

Don't cry, big guy  I helps you find your mama

Plus, in retrospect, my act of generosity there doesn't seem so generous. I helped someone I'd grown fond of thanks to corresponding with her over the Internet. I ended up with a new friend and an amiable traveling companion. That seems like a sweet deal to me.

Some of the acts of kindness I'm most happy to have committed were the ones that probably no one even knew I'd done. No, I'm not telling. Suffice to say, in some cases the individuals who benefited isn't even aware he or she was a beneficiary, which is fine with me. And if some of those people actually did catch up with me, I'd just tell them to pass on the favor - do something for someone who needs it someday, even though you might not see any benefit.

After all, a wise man once said:

He that has done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged. Benjamin Franklin

Making the world a better place is reward enough, and I don't feel like being obligated to do it over and over again. It's a win-win.

So, if someone did you an act of kindness you figure you can't repay, just pass it on. But don't wait until February to do it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Quote Of The Day

Caption: Ask Google for an image associated with the term "reality based community", and this is what it comes up with. The Internet is an inexhaustible treasure trove of crazy.

Image credit: Richard Giles/Creative Commons

Eli sums things up pretty well again, this time discussing all those politicians who are so pints-pissingly concerned about the deficit, except when it comes to actually doing anything that would affect them or the only constituents who matter:
The people who tell us that the deficit is a deadly existential threat that nonetheless does not require their taxes to be raised remind me a lot of the people who told us that extremists in Iraq were a deadly existential threat that nonetheless did not require them or their children to volunteer for military services.

In other words, deadly existential threats that require the little people to sacrifice.

AAAAAHHH The Deficit Will Destroy Us All!!!!
In that vein, I found a recent discussion of the issue of what to do about the banks and other failed financial institutions over at Naked Capitalism to be a fascinating one. It started with a critique of the so-called liberal Center For American Progress's recently unveiled plan for putting the taxpayers on the hook for future misconduct of the banks:
One of my cynical buddies often remarks, “Things always look the darkest before they go completely black.”

His gallows humor comes to mind as a result of the hushed conversations inside the Beltway around GSE reform. While the shiny bright object these days in DC is health care repeal, or perhaps Egypt, in quiet corners in think tanks and trade associations the bankers and their allies are getting ready to appropriate themselves a permanent US credit card worth trillions of dollars. The dynamic that became all too familiar during the bailouts is about to repeat itself.

Wall Street Co-Opting Nominally Liberal Think Tanks; Banks Lobbying to Become New GSEs
"GSEs", by the way, are "government supported entities". At least, I think they are. Sometimes bloggers forget to spell out acronyms. I'm quite sure it's not "Ground Support Equipment", if that helps any. If it were, there would have been a different cloud of acronyms surrounding it, I think.

Anyhow, assuming I got the acronyms right, the gist of the article was that the new plan being proffered by the banks and CAP was to change the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac GSEs into something that was somehow purely private but at the same time was backed by the U.S. government. This is such a stupid idea on so many levels that you have to believe that every think tank in DC is behind this, and many of them seem to be.

The CAP responded with a letter a few days later:
We must note that this message mischaracterizes some aspects of our post (for instance, we discussed at length in the our post why we thought the catastrophic risk fund would come up short, and this e-mail does not address our argument). Nevertheless, we thought readers would be interested in his message. From Min:
I don’t suspect I’ll change your mind. That being said, I would be eager to have the chance to try. The key question, obviously, is whether a government guarantee/public option is necessary to ensure broad liquidity and consumer-friendly products (including the 30 yr FRM). I think the answer is no, and I think the evidence supports our view (including both the pre-New Deal era, the 2000s era when PLS took a 38% market share, and commercial real estate, all of which indicate to me private capital’s strong proclivity towards providing mortgage finance to the wealthy, in the form of products with terms that are highly beneficial to lenders/investors and highly onerous to consumers).

Regardless, I would ask that you make a couple of corrections in how you portray our proposal, in the interests of an honest debate.

I think there are two major mischaracterizations in how our proposal is described:

The Center for American Progress Objects to Our Critique of Its GSE Reform Plan
From there, it goes on to mischaracterize what Yves Smith wrote in at least one of those two "mischaracterizations", and to largely miss the point in the other. All of which Yves explained in a rebuttal post today:
Taxpayers will not eat catastrophic risk. We need to back up and explain the CAP plan a bit (which happens to be close to a consensus plan; it’s virtually identical to ones presented by the Mortgage Bankers Association, the New York Fed and the Financial Services Roundtable; one later put forward by Mark Zandi differs only in cosmetic details).

Instead of having the GSEs, which were in a weird indeterminate state between public and private until the box was opened and they were revealed to be public (shame they handed out all that executive comp before they figured that one out), the CAP proposal claims to have a better version: the new GSE analogues will be private!

Peel the onion further and you see how questionable that is. The GSEs 2.0 are an even worse combination of public backstopping of private sector risk. We should know by now this movie ends badly and should be undertaken only when an entity is regulated like a utility (and that includes utility-company pay to the top employees).

Our Response to the Center for American Progress Objection to Our Post on Its GSE Reform Proposal
The main reason we had a financial system collapse wasn't that there were poor people getting mortgages they couldn't afford - that loss represents less than a quarter of the real estate-related losses, which weren't all of the losses by a long shot. What killed the market was that what was supposed to be insurance against loans failing, the so-called "credit default swaps", turned out to not be insurance at all. The companies that sold them couldn't pay off what they were obligated to, so the government, via the Federal Reserve mostly, had to guarantee all those potentially bad loans. I don't know how much we're still on the hook for, but I'm sure it's not chump change. None of that has been corrected by the legislation Congress and President Obama were ballyhooing late last year as a grand reform effort.

In short, it's probably going to happen again, and since there were absolutely no consequences to anyone who made the decisions that got us here, it will probably be sooner, rather than later.

This is where we are two and a half years after the bottom dropped out of the financial markets, and we sent Democrats to Congress and the White House to clean it all up. They didn't. They laughed at us when we complained, called us imbeciles and drug addicts, and pocketed the money the financial industries were offering. Needless to say, they were joined wholeheartedly by their sycophants and enablers in the "progressive think tanks" like CAP.

If you wonder why I've largely given up writing about politics, you have only to look to this situation, and the pathetic response from large portions of the progressive electorate. They won't ever do anything about this or any of the other things that we sent Democrats to DC to do, because that involves risk - risk of voting for third parties and being "irrelevant", or risk of not supporting Democrats and having Republicans in charge for another two years or more. So they'll keep supporting this crew of crooks and drones until they somehow magically become something else. I have news for these people - nothing's going to change until they do.

According to most recent polls, most self-identified liberals and progressives think that President Obama is doing a fine job, still believing that he is somehow just fighting a tough battle against all those forces of darkness, when in most cases he's clearly not only working with those forces, but continuing to curry favor with them even when they've told him to take a hike.

Most self-identified progressives and liberals are clearly not part of a "reality based community".

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hey, Guess What ...

Is anyone surprised at this?
Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, codenamed "Curveball" by German and American intelligence officials, now admits he made up tales of mobile biological weapons trucks and clandestine weapons factories in Iraq, information that was used by the Bush White House to press the case for war. He also says he'd do it again.

"Maybe I was right, maybe I was not right," Janabi told The Guardian. "They gave me this chance. I had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime. I and my sons are proud of that and we are proud that we were the reason to give Iraq the margin of democracy."

'Curveball': I Lied About Iraq WMD To Help Topple Saddam
Anyone who thinks that someone from another country wouldn't lie to a foreign intelligence service to serve his own agenda, or that of his country, is a damn fool. Anyone who would believe someone who says something like this with no credible corroborating evidence, which is what the situation clearly was even at that time, is a flaming idiot.

Of course, "flaming idiots" is a good description of many of the "serious" people we see on TV being offered up as experts on foreign policy. I really wonder if they have ever been anywhere more foreign than the next nearest supermarket to their own houses.

Mark This One In Your Calendar

Yesterday may mark the day when Republican hypocrisy on health care reform finally surpassed the Democrats':
Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) was recently able to get an ad from a liberal group, attacking him on his vote to repeal health care reform, taken off the air on the factual ground that he has not accepted federal health care benefits as the ad stated. However, it turns out that he gets even better government-provided health benefits -- from the state government in New Jersey.\

GOP Rep. Didn't Take Federal Health Insurance -- He Already Had Better State Benefits
Yes, you read that right - this guy demanded that Blue America PAC, a political action committee that supports Democratic candidates, retract an ad because it said that he had government-provided health insurance, because he gets better coverage from his state.

It's going to be a while before anyone tops that one, I think.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentines Day

Image credit: Cujo359

Hopefully, you'll be able to spend part of the day together, like these two were yesterday at Juanita Bay Park, along Lake Washington.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Football's Almost Over, 2011 Edition

Caption: How some folks will be dressing this Sunday. I will not be among them. My Steelers jersey is at the cleaners.

Image credit: daveynin

As I mentioned the last time I cared enough about this subject to write a post, neither of my "home" teams will be in the Super Bowl this year. I put "home" in quotes for two reasons. The first is that one of them is all the way across the country from where I live. The other hasn't really been a team I've followed for many years. And, thanks to the far away "home" team's hiring someone who seems to think that torturing animals is a fun thing to do, I'm not likely to be following them, either. Plus, we seem to spend way too much money supporting professional sports these days, and I don't want to add to that any more than I already have.

Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers will be playing the Green Bay Packers in Dallas for the championship. It's a good thing they're playing in Dallas, I think, because if they were playing in either Green Bay or Pittsburgh, they'd be running the risk of being snowed in. provides the basic information you need, which was nowhere I could find on the NFL's website that's supposedly devoted to the game:
The 2011 Super Bowl XLV (45) is scheduled to be played on Sunday February 6, 2011, at the Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The game is between the Pittsburgh Steelers vs the Green Bay Packers.

The official broadcast starts at 6 p.m. Eastern Time, but (judging from past years) kickoff will be slightly after 6:30 p.m.

In the US:
Super Bowl XLV (45) will be hosted by FOX

What is the date for Super Bowl 2011?
That's 3PM Pacific time, just in case you don't live on the East Coast. If you're in the middle of the country, you'll have to work out for yourself what time that will be, but I suspect you're used to that by now.

A close relative of mine is a Steelers fan, so I'll be tuning in for at least part of the game. If it's interesting, I may even stick around for the end of it. Who knows.

UPDATE: Incidentally, if you happen to be in the United Kingdom on Sunday, you can watch the game on BBC One. It will be on kind of late, though.