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21st June 2017

7:37pm: sunrise, sunset
Today was the longest day of the year here in the Northern Hemisphere. But it wasn't the earliest sunrise, or the latest sunset.


The length of a day -- 24 hours from sunrise to sunrise, on average -- comes mostly from Earth's rotation. But a few minutes of it comes from Earth's orbiting around the sun. It takes Earth 23 hours, 56 minutes, and a bit over 4 seconds to rotate 360 degrees, at the end of which time the stars will be in the same positions in the sky as they were the previous day. But because the sun isn't in the same place in the sky as it was the previous day, Earth has to rotate about 3 minutes and 56 seconds more to bring the sun back into the same apparent position it had been in 24 hours previously.

The catch is that "about". Two things affect this number. First, Earth's orbit isn't perfectly circular. It's closest to the sun in early January and furthest in early July. When it's further, it moves more slowly in its orbit, so it doesn't have to turn as much extra to make a day. When it's closer, it moves more quickly, so it has more to make up. Second, and right now more importantly, at the equinoxes some of the sun's apparent motion is north-south so Earth doesn't have to rotate as far to catch up to the sun's new east-west position. At the solstices, Earth has to turn quite a bit further to make up for same amount of orbital motion, because all of the sun's apparent motion is east-west. This makes the day/night cycle longer than average -- right now, it's about 24 hours 15 seconds from one sunset (or sunrise) to the next. The effect is even more pronounced in December when it's aligned with the eccentricity effect instead of opposed to it.

The longer days mean that here in Boston, though we've missed the earliest sunrise by about a week, we have until June 26 to celebrate the latest sunset of the year.

1st May 2017

10:59pm: open studio
For the first time, I am exhibiting my work as part of Somerville Open Studios! I'll be open 6pm-9pm Friday night, and noon-6pm Saturday and Sunday.

I'll be showing over two dozen framed photographs on the ground level of Mad Oyster Studios, including this pieceCollapse ).

5th January 2017

1:09pm: volunteer shaming
Can we please please please stop responding to negative feedback with "If you want better, volunteer to do the work yourself"? Not everyone can and no one should have to. People have more important things to do, maybe even more important within the frame of the conversation, maybe just more important to them. Maybe they just don't want to, and that should be fine too. It's not that people are entitled to have everything better. Negative feedback might go unaddressed. But the feedback is valuable whether it comes with an offer to do something about it or not, and volunteer shaming stifles a useful flow of information, most often accomplishing nothing but a little bit of false comfort.

11th December 2016

9:22am: the four noble truths, reframed
In the past month my Buddhist community has been working with the difference between acceptance and acquiscence, the former (as the opposite of denial) being an important step towards action and not the passivation that Buddhism's inward focus brings to its reputation. Equanimity is important, but so is anger.

Yesterday I sat a retreat with Rod Owens on the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. That wasn't the reframing one might imagine from Rod, but the reframing came easily to mind, so here it is:

  1. There is injustice in the world, in good times and in bad, endlessly and in endless variety.
  2. Injustice is caused by people. All people, individually and collectively, intentionally and unintentionally.
  3. Injustice is a call to action, always. The opportunity to act may change but the obligation does not.
  4. The fight against injustice is not a ticky box. It must imbue every aspect of your life. No single action absolves you of responsibility.

28th June 2016

5:36pm: typical nasa efficiency
NASA isn't interested in building big rockets, but Congress is interested in them spending a lot of money in Utah, so they're developing some Shuttle-derived solid rocket boosters there. The boosters behave differently at different temperatures, so they test them once at 40 degrees and once at 90 degrees. It was 90 degrees out for today's cold-temperature-limit test, requiring lots of expensive airconditioning to get the motor down to temp. And it was 40 degrees out for the hot-temperature-limit test in early March of 2015, likewise requiring lots of expensive heating equipment. I'd say this is why private space can operate so much more efficiently than NASA, except actually NASA is being super efficient at its mandated task: spending as much money as possible. Maybe the equipment can even be put to some useful purpose now that this test is over.

2nd June 2016

3:39pm: progress
I've mentioned before that one of the major ways to frame my 2011 transcontinental ride is as a tour of US energy policy. Among other things I rode across Iowa, then and now a leader in wind power. I saw and photographed a great many windmills, and some of the roads I traveled seemed to carry more turbine parts than any other kind of traffic. At that time they boasted that 4% of the electricity generated in the state came from wind power, and that it was doubling every 24 months. 5 years later and sure enough, 25% of electricity generated in Iowa comes from wind.

Now those numbers aren't really as impressive as they look, because three separate nuclear power stations stand within a half a mile of Iowa's borders in various neighboring states, conveniently located for their power to count against electricity consumed in the state but not against the generation count.

Still, it's pretty interesting to read this morning that the biggest of those three is closing because it no longer makes economic sense to keep it running.

21st March 2016

1:06pm: senate calculus
Yesterday morning, The Hill published a list of the top ten most competitive Senate seats. This list looks a lot like a bunch of similar lists people have been publishing. But for people like me who are looking for where to contribute money, it's in the wrong order. What I'm looking for is the race that's most likely to be the tipping-point for control of the Senate. If only Republican states were in play, this would be the fifth state on The Hill's list. But some Democratic seats are also at risk. A 40% chance of flipping for a Democratic seat equals a 60% chance of Democratic control, so ordering the states by chance of flipping isn't the same as ranking their chances of winding up in the D column. Plus, once you identify the most-likely tipping-point state, what's the next-most-likely: the one above it, or the one below? Most of these lists don't have Nate Silver-style probabilities on them.

So, to help you decide where to contribute money, my personal assessment of the ten most likely tipping-point states, in order:

  1. Ohio. So likely that my primary vote for President was based on who I thought would have longer coattails here. The candidate himself, Ted Strickland, does not particularly excite me. But he would be the deciding vote for someone like Jane Kelly to fill the next vacancy on the Supreme Court, and generally for anything getting done in Washington for two years.
  2. Pennsylvania. The Senate primary here is not until next month, but Katie McGinty has a good shot at the Democratic nomination. Might be closer than Ohio, or might be less close.
  3. Florida. An open seat that's also likely to be pretty close. Ranked here for now but will likely move up or down once the primaries are over.
  4. New Hampshire. Maggie Hassan has a good enough shot that this is probably around the third most likely to flip, and thus not the tipping-point. But I'll be contributing money here just in case.
  5. Nevada. Catherine Cortez-Masto is favored to keep Harry Reid's seat blue, but of the seats the Democrats are defending this is the most important.
  6. Wisconsin. A rematch of the very close 2010 election under more favorable conditions for the Democrat. Not a slam dunk to flip, but pretty likely.
  7. Illinois. Tammy Duckworth is the Democrats' very best shot for a pickup, and isn't likely to have trouble raising money. A targeted donation strategy could reasonably consider her a sure thing and skip contributing to her. On the other hand, she's just so awesome.
  8. North Carolina. Back to the less-likely side in terms of chances overall. Deborah Ross might well squeak out a win if the Democratic coattails are long, and it's nice to have some insurance.
  9. Missouri. There hasn't been much polling here, but the state makes a lot of top-ten flip lists, usually in a pretty similar position to the spot I'm giving it in mine.
  10. Arizona. This isn't likely to be the tipping-point race, but a serious threat from Ann Kirkpatrick will certainly help the Democrats' chances overall by making the Republicans spread their resources more thinly, so she's getting some money from me.

You may notice a very interesting trend among the candidates I've mentioned. I don't think it's a good idea to leave Ted Strickland off your list because he doesn't fit it. But I'm mightily pleased at the potential makeup of the Senate nonetheless.

1st January 2016

6:06pm: where i slept 2015
Melrose MA
Somerville MA
Boston MA
North Adams MA
Gaithersburg MD
Montreal, Quebec
Washington, VT
Bloomington, MN
Mankato, MN
Alexandria, MN
St Cloud, MN
Wellfleet, MA
Little Compton, RI
Timonium, MD
Collingswood, NJ

3rd November 2015

8:55am: endorsements
Election day in Somerville today. In ward 6 I like both candidates and wish I could vote for one of them for ward alderman and the other for alderman-at-large. Lance Davis is better organized but Elizabeth Weinbloom is more willing to commit to actual ideas. I'm feeling idealistic this morning so she'll probably get my vote.

For Alderman-at-large my favorite continues to be Bill White and I like what I see from Sean Fitzgerald, who has learned from his past defeats and gotten more progressive and more specific about it. None of the other candidates' web sites seem to say much, though perhaps Dennis Sullivan is a weak third place. If I had a particular candidate I wanted to get rid of I'd vote for the other four. This time around I think I care more about Fitzgerald getting the job than I do about any particular incumbent losing it, so I'll probably vote for just two candidates.

28th September 2015

1:39pm: geek factor 5
Saw 2001: A Space Odyssey last night, and noticed that the lunar monolith is indicated on a shuttlecraft glass cockpit as 'TMA-1' which apparently stands for Tycho Magnetic Anomaly. I don't think it's a coincidence that the fifth generation Soyuz manned space vehicle, first launched in the early 2000s and the first expendable space vehicle with a glass cockpit, bears the designation транспортный модифицированный антропометрический.

10th August 2015

5:46pm: site selection
After much deliberation I have finally decided on my first place vote for the site of the 75th World Science Fiction Convention: Minneapolis in '73.

A first place vote for a bid which has not filed papers followed by second and subsequent preferences is exactly equivalent in result to a vote for the subsequent preferences starting from first place instead of second, except that the first place vote is reported in the official voting records. I like to vote this way because I think it encourages hoax bidders to see their names in lights, and also because it gets me out of telling my friends on the various serious bids who I voted for.

The problem: I don't know who'll be hosting hoax bid parties at Sasquan and I'm not attending in person so I can't reward the party-throwers immediately. But it's pretty common for the MPLS73 folks to throw parties at Worldcons, and Minneapolis is one of the small handful of cities with nonstop air service to Spokane which might make that even more likely. I suspect that Chris Garcia will also be throwing a Boston Christmas bid party, but that one sounds a little bit too real.

13th July 2015

8:28pm: paraphrasing the micawber principle
Daily available time 24 hours, commitments 23 hours 45 minutes, result happiness. Daily available time 24 hours, commitments 24 hours 15 minutes, result misery.

16th June 2015

3:27pm: rose brand?
Anyone need anything from Rose Brand? I want to order a $1 sample but the minimum shipping charge is $10.

27th May 2015

4:02pm: Some time ago I suggested that the correct Hugo voting strategy was to read (at least some of) all of the nominees in each category regardless of slate, and also read the most promising entries in the Nebula and Locus award shortlists as proxies for which work was squeezed off the Hugo nominees list by Puppy nominators. Having done that, any work not actually on the Hugo ballot is replaced by "No Award".

I've only just started applying this strategy to my own selections, but I can already say that I'll be voting "No Award" first for Best Novel. Sorry, Ann Leckie, I'm sure you were deserving of the Hugo you won last year but Jeff Vandermeer outdid you this time.

20th May 2015

4:36pm: religious extremists are destroying cultural relics
If you see enough social media to be reading this, you've probably also read some blood-boiling stories about Daesh's wanton destruction of historical and cultural artifacts. What makes my blood boil, though, is that the establishment in Saudi Arabia have been doing much the same (and a lot of other odious things) for decades and instead of bombing them we're selling them weapons.

21st April 2015

6:26pm: what was this?
I haven't done a what's this for a while because too many of the good ones were in Wikimapia (often backed up by Wikipedia research) and you could just look them up.

But Wikipedia isn't real research. It's a consensus of what got published, and if the consensus is wrong Wikipedia presents it as fact anyway. For instance Wikipedia says that Somerville, MA has "the second highest number of artists per capita in America". They're recapitulating countless cites everywhere in the press and even on the City of Somerville's website. But it's a lie -- I know because the wording comes straight from an SOS press release. There is actual research based on census data and we're not even in the top ten (we do have the second-biggest Open Studios weekend in the world, though, after Art-A-Whirl in Minneapolis).

Locations of things are harder to get wrong, but Wikipedia still does it, especially for historical things where someone did some sloppy research and decided on a bogus location and the press picked it up.

So that said:

What was this?

Answer in the comments.

5th April 2015

5:05pm: sjw vs puppies
We sure are seeing the difference between a European Worldcon and a US one this weekend.

17th March 2015

11:51am: progress
Yesterday afternoon I left my desk at 3:15 to meet Ed Council by bicycle at Arisia storage. I got there in time to go upstairs, fetch a hand truck, convert it to four wheel operation, and walk out the door to our meeting point at 3:29:58 against a 3:30 meeting time. Not quite a minute later he pulled up and we unloaded his SUV of six cases of LED lightbulbs. He seemed a little disoriented by how quickly I was sending him on his way, but I was pleased to be back at my desk at 3:47.

When I got home it was recycling night, and there was actually room in our recycling bins so I finally got a chance to put out some old blank Arisia art show paperwork. We've come up with a new, lower-error process and so don't need the old by-hand print shop checkin forms, nor the old and more error-prone format of sales slips.

13th March 2015

2:59pm: train references
Today's news includes a big reveal about Lockheed Martin's bid for the next space station resupply contract. They propose to build a tug that stays in orbit and has a robot arm. Then they'll launch unpowered pods of supplies and have the tug head out from the space station to fetch them, instead of giving each one a docking/propulsion system that has to be launched every time. The tug is built on the platform we're using for most of our Mars orbiters, can be refueled from the pods, and can haul things around between orbits generally. This is the sort of thing that appears early in most 1970s future-histories (complete with ion drive) and it looks like it'd have nice synergy with some of the other interesting work that's going on in the space business these days.

That's not the cool part.

They're calling the tug Jupiter, after the Central Pacific locomotive that participated in the Golden Spike ceremony. But that's not the cool part either.

The cool part is that the guy in charge of this project is named Jim Crocker. I wonder what relation he is to Charles.

2nd January 2015

10:09pm: din tai fung
Visiting LA recently I recalled a trip to Harbor Kitchen and suggested we go for Chinese food. My father suggested Din Tai Fung which is famous for their soup dumplings. We got there at 4:15 on a Saturday and were just ahead of what by the time we left was a fairly major line. Yes, the soup dumplings are all that, and there are good non-pork and even vegetarian options. But don't neglect the rest of their menu. We also had the excellent Shanghai rice cakes, which had a sauce sort of half way between a brown sauce and a curry+Szechuan peppercorn sauce like you'd find on Singapore noodles. They have some tasty greens as well. Highly recommended.

Din Tai Fung
1108 S. Baldwin Ave (two blocks south of Huntington Dr)
Arcadia, CA 91007
(626) 574-7068
M-F 1100-2130
Sa 1000-2130
Su 1000-2100
other locations worldwide but mostly in east Asia

1st January 2015

9:36pm: Where I Slept 2014
Melrose MA
Somerville MA
Boston MA
Gaithersburg MD
Northampton MA
Madison WI
Chicago IL
Hyannis MA
Wellfleet MA
South Burlington VT
Brooklyn NY
Altadena CA
San Francisco CA
Virgin America Flight 358

26th November 2014

8:38pm: turning of the season
Yesterday I took part of a personal day and went for a nice long bike ride, in summer kit.

Today I commuted to work, and rode home wearing (besides business casual) long underwear, wool socks, a good foul weather coat, helmet cover, cashmere hat, neoprene face mask, and my new winter gloves. And a sweatband, because that's how I roll. This was just about perfect.

The gloves, Specialized Element 1.5s that I picked for the fit and because they'll take liners, aren't really cold-rain gloves, and I have another pair that are. But I wanted to see how they'd do, and the answer is that for 15 or 20 minutes at least they were just fine. This bodes well for how they'll do in real snow, when the rain gloves are out of their depth temperature-wise.

8th November 2014

7:35pm: hauling
I like to think of myself as a transportation cyclist, but for all that I don't really carry cargo very often. Today made up for that. R and I started out with a trip to Winter Hill to scan a piece of her art with my portable scanner (and computer, of course). Then to Home Depot to fill my other pannier and one of hers with bulbs of the flowering and electrical variety (and a few other electrical bits besides). From there we stopped at Mad Oyster Studios to pick up some art. This was where the clever design of my bucket panniers came in; the hooks are mounted so that the tops of them are exactly flush with the rack, providing a nice large flat surface that we pallet-wrapped a bunch of matted art to the top of. From there we headed out to 13 Forest Gallery to drop off the art, and then to The Shawarma Place for dinner before heading home, where we've installed two of the bulbs so far. Many more, of the other variety, to be installed tomorrow when the weather is supposed to be nice.

3rd November 2014

11:04am: electoral calculus
If you're like me, you may be wondering whether to vote for a third party candidate who will almost certainly lose, or for the lesser of two evils. One factor I'm considering for this is the likelihood that mine is the deciding vote. If the chance of this is better than 1/n, where n is the number of voters in the election, then it seems to me that I'm better off voting for the lesser of two evils. If it's worse, then I might as well vote my conscience.

The statistics behind this comes from modeling the behavior of the voters, and from modeling the accuracy of the polls. It turns out that the latter effect is vastly more significant than the former, and roughly speaking if a tie vote is within the 90% error bars for the aggregate polling then your undecided vote carries more than average weight in the head-to-head race, and if it's outside the error bars then it carries less.

I was a little surprised to see that Nate Silver was giving much chance of winning to the particular lesser evil I'm considering. But as long as that's true, I think the chances of a one vote margin are too high to ignore.

9th September 2014

8:52am: endorsements
I spent a few minutes just now looking over the MA election candidates' websites and also social media about them. As usual, cos gets it right, and I agree with his endorsements of Berwick, Healey, and Cheung, and his lamentation of the lack of a challenger for Galvin. He calls the Treasurer a tie but I think I prefer Conroy (who has a lot more government experience) to Goldberg (who is a little more idealistic). Now to decide who to write in for Secretary of State. Not that there will be enough of them to be tabulated.
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