March 29, 2008
Clifford Stoll became somewhat famous shortly after his first book, The Cuckoo’s Egg, was published in 1990. It’s the story of his success at tracking down a hacker who had infiltrated the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory computer network in 1986.
Stoll, a University at Buffalo graduate, is a Robin Williams-esque character: energetic, brilliant, and very eccentric. A few years ago I had the privilege of meeting him when he was the recipient of the Pioneers of Science award from the Hauptman-Woodward Institute. I remember the hushed moment when he thanked the presenters, his mother, Cooley and Tukey – at which point I laughed so hard that those seated around my table got really annoyed. When I spoke with Clifford afterward he thanked me for getting the joke.
This brief presentation by Stoll is a wonderful look at what happens when you mix a mad scientist and an effervescent, almost innocent, personality. I would like to know how much of this is a rehearsed act (it is obvious that some of it is) and how much is on-stage ad-libbing.
If you like Klein bottles (you can buy one here), bad-tasting vitamin water or inspirational science, this is a fun watch.
March 27, 2008
My older brother blogged about grammar today, in particular, whether the word none was singular or plural (correct answer: it depends on usage). His point was that worrying to this level of detail was irrelevant when the average American can’t handle the basics of the English language.
Or balance a checking account.
Or find Iran on a map.
As a society we often mistake our global preeminence as a sign of superior intellect, but on that issue we are steadily losing ground to most industrialized countries. (Or are we?)
Regardless of who’s on the correct side on that debate, I do think that our educational system is on the wrong track, as evidenced by No Child Left Behind – a national program built on a false pretense to help some guy win the governor’s seat in Texas. I think that such programs – testing for testing’s sake, and teaching for the tests – steal time away from the fundamental task of education, and as such dilute the end product. I also think that mainstreaming children who just can’t cut it, or blending classes to mix the over- and under-achievers is a recipe for mediocrity. And I think that as their economies grow and they are able to pump more money into their educational programs, it is only a matter of time before China and India eat our shorts.
Our kids need more quality teaching time. And parents who instill in them the importance of a good education. And better accountability throughout the system. And yes, even proper use of the word its.
Instead, it often seems like we care more about the condition of the high school football field than the condition of the social studies books.
March 27, 2008
An unarmed, angry, irrational, emotional wreck of a person is dangerous to me only when he’s an arm’s length away. The same person with a gun is deadly to 50 feet.
Utah allows college students to carry concealed weapons on campus. Nine other states are considering allowing the same. Georgia state Representative Tim Bearden, a gun-rights advocate, recently stated “How many kids must die before we realize that firearms in law-abiding hands actually save lives?”
The key words being law-abiding.
…So 19-year-old, law-abiding college student Joe Jones, who just happens to get dumped by his steady girlfriend, decides to get drunk, then drunker, then confronts the ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend Mitch. How might that encounter end? I guess it might depend upon who’s carrying concealed handguns, and how freely the alcohol has flowed.
An argument occasionally escalating to a fight occasionally escalating to weapons fire doesn’t see the light of day very much; yet as emotional, irrational beings who tend to become more emotional and irrational – and less inhibited – while under the influence, we know that it happens often enough.
To have it happen on campus, even rarely, should be justification enough to take a long hard look at this issue and rationally ask if the cure is worth the price.
March 25, 2008
Well, that didn’t take long.
March 22, 2008
No more pickled peppers from this guy.
Peter J. Pieper of Hamilton, a longtime Buffalo travel agent, died Friday in Masonic Care Community, Utica. He was 77. He owned Pieper Travel Bureau in the Brisbane Building for 50 years before retiring in 1998.
Born in Flushing, Mr. Pieper grew up in Lancaster and graduated from Lancaster High School in 1948. He attended the University of Buffalo for a year before joining the travel agency founded by his father, Emil.
After his first flight in a single- engine Piper J3 Cub in the early 1950s, Mr. Pieper developed a passion for air travel. He also explored U.S. highways and attended the 100th anniversary of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally on his Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic.
He was a member of Masonic Master Builder Lodge, Kenmore, Zion Lodge in Orchard Park and Hamilton Rotary. He also was a former member of Buffalo Rotary, Buffalo Executives Association, Buffalo Harley Owners Group and Cornell Flying Club.
He and his wife, Margherita, retired to Fresno, Calif., before moving to Hamilton three years ago to be near their daughter, Peggy O’Connor.
Surviving besides his wife and daughter is a sister, Dolores Kessler.
Services will be private.
March 22, 2008
The new Peace Bridge is coming!
So it says in the state’s new 5-year transportation plan, along with the extension of the Route 219 expressway.
I’m not holding my breath. I doubt that the Peace Bridge expansion will ever occur in my lifetime, because someone else about my age is saying “Not in MY lifetime”, and will hamstring the development process through continued obfuscation, litigation and (lack of) legislation. The Peace Bridge development process, ongoing now for something like 15 or 20 years, is also crippled by ongoing disputes among landowners, issues regarding Homeland Security and a weak political will that, perhaps by necessity, places emphasis on local concerns deemed more important than a better international crossing. The calls for action on Peace Bridge construction by our political leaders remind us that only the names have changed over the years.
In the meantime, urging our congressmen/women to add U.S. Customs inspection stations might help to alleviate some of the hours-long congestion at each of our existing international bridges. It’s discouraging to have to spend almost as much time waiting to cross the border as it takes me to drive home from Toronto.
March 19, 2008
Arthur C. Clarke has died. I am forever grateful to this very best of science fiction writers for giving me Childhood’s End and 2001: A Space Odyssey among many, many other stories.
As a kid he turned me onto the science at the very fringe of the (im)possible, and my curiosity has never waned.
Rest in peace.
March 17, 2008
Quick Money – Come up with a way to demolish Buffalo homes for less than $16K per house. This amount seems really excessive.
The City of Buffalo needs to demolish about 5,000 homes at, they claim, an average cost of $16,000 – but sometimes as much as $40,000. If the logistics of multiple demolitions can be arranged so that there are gains in efficiency (think: pipelining of equipment) some company might be able to rake in some real profit while significantly lowering the average demolition price to the city.
Just a thought. This city could use a lot of demolition. This type of work could keep a small company, with little overhead, busy and profitable for many years.
March 17, 2008
Jefferson is the State that never was. In 1941 the people in Northern California might have taken it further than a whimsical, political stunt had not the bombing at Pearl Harbor focused their attention elsewhere.
Their story is not much different than that experienced by Upstate New York: A governmental decision-making process dictated by more populous counties to the south and a state government that (from our vantage point) caters to those counties first and foremost.
“A lot of the laws and different things that affect us are voted on by people who’ve never been here and don’t know anything about us,” said John Lisle, a barber from Yreka, California.
There are Upstaters who talk about – demand – secession from Downstate; and they have arguments, not necessarily believable, indicating that we would be economically ahead to do so – since legislation favoring NYC tends to suck Upstate dry with, for example, unfunded mandates. Likewise, there are many Downstaters who talk about – hell, try to legislate – secession of New York City and its environs from the rest of the state, using the same arguments. The common denominator is, of course, New York State government, which over the years appears to have legislated the State into a position where taxes and fees from both Downstate and Upstate outstrip these regions’ ability to pay for them. Hence we find it easy to blame each other for our woes.
Perhaps we should try to do away with New York State government, and start over again?
March 16, 2008
A most addictive distraction from the affairs of the week.
For anyone who likes to watch the patterns that the wind makes out of snow or leaves.
March 15, 2008
The Noble Bliss Windpark project in Eagle, New York, will shortly have 67 windmills (scattered across several square miles of farmland) generating 100 megawatts of power whenever the wind is blowing. To put it into perspective, if 24 of these wind farms were built around the Western New York area, you could turn off the Niagara Falls power plant and not notice.
As long as the wind is blowing.
This web site doesn’t seem to buy into wind power as a usable or cost-effective way to generate electricity. From the use of many inflammatory adjectives, I would say that the authors may have an agenda or perhaps believe that fear-mongering will sway the average reader to their side of the argument. There’s an interesting video you can watch, here. Be forewarned: You can be easily nauseated if you suffer from motion sickness.
Wind power doesn’t make much economic sense when a barrel of oil costs $25. It does, however, make sense to plan and build the infrastructure to help minimize the impact of sudden increases in oil prices to, say $100 a barrel.
All that is now past tense. Last week the cost of oil reached $110 a barrel, and there is little to indicate that the instability in the Middle East and Venezuela, the corruption in Nigeria, the economic growth in China, the lack of refinery capacity in the U.S. or the decline of the dollar on world markets will end any time soon. All these put upward market pressure on the cost of oil. The growth (and threat) of alternative energy sources – wind and solar in particular – may help keep petroleum prices in check, or at least lessen our dependence on foreign oil.
I’m all for it. Even if they are in my back yard.
March 15, 2008
This year’s American Heart Association Heartwalk will be held in Buffalo on Saturday, September 20th. My company will be participating and we hope to get virtually every employee to go.
Heart disease and stroke, the #1 and #3 killers in America, are more prevalent in the Western New York area than statewide – it probably has something to do with a combination of obesity, poor diet and poverty in this area. The Heartwalk brings awareness to the issue of heart disease and also to the simple things – diet and exercise – that can rein it in.
Even if you’re not much of an athlete, it’s an easy 5K walk and a great way to celebrate the end of summer; and to perhaps think a little about wellness in general.
March 15, 2008
The Spitzer fiasco certainly enhances, just a little, the disdain that the voting public often feels for its elected officials. But I wonder if the leaders of both the Democratic and Republican party machines are pleased about Eliot Spitzer and other political scandals. For them, it’s a means to greater political control.
Here’s my logic. The more demoralized the average voter becomes with the political process, the more disinclined he/she is to go and vote (too little reward for the effort; see this Wikipedia article). A smaller turnout improves a political party’s influence on an election by getting its most partisan members to cast ballots for their slate of candidates, no questions asked. The party machines gain power and greater control over their party’s elected officials, and therefore can more easily set the political agenda to keep the cycle going. Essentially, they get to put and keep elected officials into their pockets.
Tammany Hall and Boss Tweed did it out in the open. Doing it by getting me to stay home is much sneakier. New York voter turnout is below the national average (which itself is not very good), our state government doesn’t seem to work very well yet nothing seems to change. I wonder if this is part of the political parties’ hidden agenda and the almost guaranteed re-election of incumbents a demonstration of its success?
March 3, 2008
Today, for the very first time, I put $5o worth of gasoline into a vehicle. First. Time. Ever.
Gasoline in Western New York is typically 10-20 cents more than the national average, and at least a few pennies more than in other upstate towns like Albany, which I’m somewhat familiar with. I’m told that it’s because we’re at the end of a long gasoline pipeline and so we pay for the cost of that extra pumping. Sounds fishy. More likely, gasoline suppliers jack up the prices a bit because they can.
The average New Yorker pays over 17 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity (I pay 15 cents, yippee), the most expensive in the country except for Connecticut and Hawaii. The national average is almost 40% less.
Solar power costs in the sunbelt states are currently about 38 cents per kilowatt hour, higher here because we get less sunshine – on average, about half as much. We really can’t get a break when it comes to energy expense.
But we do have plenty of cheap water, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.
Nonetheless, before I die I still hope to be completely off the grid.
March 2, 2008
Worth a quick look. Eye as Art. Courtesy Rankin at www.art-dept.com.
March 2, 2008
For those of you who thought high school chemistry class was mysterious but boring, go check this out.
Why didn’t they do stuff like this when I was a kid?