Trek Talk and the DOE

September 25, 2009 at 12:28 pm | Posted in Arts, Science, Technology | 3 Comments

Remember the wonderful tech-talk that the writers were so fond of on Star Trek?  Just reflect on the melodious qualities of this line:   “We’ll be retuning phasers to higher EM base emitting frequencies to try to disrupt their subspace field.”  Ah, music.  And who among us has not slipped into an aesthetic trance mulling over the metaphysical implications of  the Transporter’s Heisenberg Compensators?

So, when I stumbled across this one on an electronics trade mag website, I just had to post it for you all to enjoy. 

Sandia National Laboratories’ project, “Semi-polar GaN Materials Technology for High IQE Green LEDs,” seeks to improve the internal quantum efficiency (IQE) in green nitride-based LED structures by using semi-polar GaN planar orientations for InGaN multiple quantum well (MQW) growth. The DOE said that these semi-polar orientations have the advantage of significantly reducing the piezoelectric fields that distort the quantum well band structure and decrease electron-hole overlap. At the end of this program, Sandia National Laboratories expects MQW active regions at 540 nm with an IQE of 50%, which with an 80% light extraction efficiency should produce LEDs with an external quantum efficiency of 40%, or twice the estimated current state-of-the-art.

Now that’s poetry.

My Life According To…

September 14, 2009 at 3:44 pm | Posted in Arts, Off the Wall, Personal | Leave a comment

I got this “meme” from Rudy Mueller on Facebook.  He did his Life According to Led Zepplin.  So, in keeping with 11th grade English class, I had to try to do him one better….

 

Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, cleverly answer these questions. Pass it on to 10 people and include me. You can’t use the band I used. Try not to repeat a song title. It’s a lot harder than you think! Repost as “my life according to (band name)

Pick your Artist:
Weird Al Yankovic

Are you a male or female:
Such a Groovy Guy

Describe yourself:
White and Nerdy

How do you feel:
I Want a New Duck

Describe where you currently live:
Fun Zone

If you could go anywhere, where would you go:
The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota

Your favorite form of transportation:
Unicorn

Your best friend is:
Gandhi II

You and your best friends are:
Six Words Long

What’s the weather like:
One Of Those Days

If your life was a TV show, what would it be called:
The Saga Begins

What is life to you:
This Is The Life

Your current relationship:
Girls Just Want To Have Lunch / She Never Told Me She Was A Mime

Your fear:
Nature Trail to Hell

What is the best advice you have to give:
Everything You Know Is Wrong

Thought for the Day:
It’s All About The Pentiums

How I would like to die:
Trapped In The Drive-Thru

My soul’s present condition:
The Check’s In The Mail

My motto:
I’ll Be Mellow When I’m Dead

The Tom Sawyer Economy

March 16, 2009 at 3:13 pm | Posted in Arts, Economics, Off the Wall | Leave a comment

Click here for an hour-long explanation from hardline economist Peter Schiff as to why the US economic situation is so dire.  In his eyes, we’ve been charging the rest of the neighborhood kids to paint our fence.  What happens when they chuck their paintbrushes and go home?

Going Galt

March 16, 2009 at 12:43 pm | Posted in Arts, Economics | Leave a comment

I stumbled across this interesting post in the comment section of a conservative commentary

Imagine this story line.
The top 1% wealthiest people in this country go on vacation for six months. I mean everybody just stop working and producing income.
Take some of your wealth, go have fun and live on that for awhile. You’ve already been labeled as heartless and greedy by the liberals..
If RUSH is right and 40,000 people pay 1/2 the taxes of New York w/ a population of 8 million..
just imagine if they simply walked away.
What do you think that would do to tax reveneus?
I wonder what the tax & spend crowd would do then? Anyway, it’s a great story idea.
Keep the faith..

Hmmm….  Sound familiar?  Let’s see….

Oh, that’s it!  Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand.  This is one of those fascinating novels which I have never read but had to find the online Cliff’s Notes so I can follow the zeitgeist.  The author herself is in interesting character.  Born a Russian Jew in the heyday of Bolshevism, she managed to emigrate to America and worked in Hollywood.  Later, she founded an institute dedicated to her own brand of philosophy, which interestingly enough, was never connected to any major academic entity.  Her big claim to fame, however, is the 1100 page Atlas Shrugged, which is routinely cited as one of the most influential books of the Twentieth Century.

In brief, the novel is about a wealthy engineer and capitalist, John Galt, who gets fed up with the pettiness of the world around him and retreats to start his own enclave of wealthy innovative capitalists.  Without all these movers and shakers, the rest of the world goes to hell in a handbasket.  I think our poster above is merely making a tongue-in-cheek modern application of Rand’s storyline.

I have been seeing similar sentiments lately in the comments of a lot of Internet websites.  It seems that the new meme for protest by withdrawing one’s wealth and talent from society is called “Going Galt“, mostly in response to the new tax policies of the Democratically controlled government.  Economic considerations of tax policies aside, the question here is: Does “Going Galt” really make sense?

First off, does 1% of the American population really have that level of indispensable contribution to society?  Well, according to the Federal Reserve, in 2004 the top 1% of Americans owned 62.3% of all business assets.  That’s quite a lot of capital.  Should it be shuttered or liquidated while these folks collectively went off into the woods to find themselves, that would put quite a hurt on the economy.

The truth is, regardless of the social engineers’ efforts, wealth has always collected in the hands of the unique individuals who were able to use it best.  Even in tribal gift economies, wealth quickly becomes concentrated in the hands of a few more fortunate and talented individuals, hence the development of potlatch ceremonies to balance the status quo.  Thus, a social contract is reached — to maximize their return, the less-gifted individuals allow their wealth to be concentrated in the hands of a few, who in return retain a portion of the proceeds.  This principle works everywhere, from the local Mafia Don to your local bank account.

Once the social contract is broken, however, the consequences can become rather grim.  If a peasant holds out on his local ruler, he can expect a visit from the Sheriff of Nottingham.  But if the local lord hoards too much wealth, then the local populace start sharpening their pitchforks.  Of course, we are civilized now, so instead we just follow Charles Stewart Parnell‘s advice and “boycott” individually, and then collectively sharpen our ballots. 

But what is the civilized response of the moneyed class to proletariat economic aggression?  One cannot legally hire thugs as in the Days of Yore, though lobbyists and lawyers are an acceptible substitute.  Ballot initiatives, though feasible in a republic,  are doomed to fail in a fully enfranchised popular democracy.  So, is there a form of “inverse boycott”?  Maybe “Going Galt” is the solution the wealth holders are looking for?

But, would it really work?  Well, the first point is that almost complete collusion among wealth holders is required.  This would require some formal resolution of the Nash Equilibrium that keeps them in business, otherwise some entrepreneur will swoop in and scoop up the vacated marketshare.  Either the market capital must be very concentrated in the hands of a few and the barrier to entry very high, or the wealth holders as a group must be very ticked off.  I really can’t imagine a national response of this caliber (nor can I think of any historical precidents), but I could imagine such an action on a local level, even in response to a nationwide tax policy.  Not good news for your beleaguered state and local governments….

But I think that more telling is the fact that capitalistic wealth is inherently competitive.  That is, the more wealth one has, the more it is a target to be acquired and utilized by another capitalist.  If that capitalist can make more productive use of it than the current owner, the rules of the game are biased to take ownership of a larger share of it.  So, “Going Galt” is inherently anti-capitalist.  One must actively protect and develop one’s wealth in a capitalistic economy or watch it vanish altgether.  Thus, it’s kinda like cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.  I can imagine that some would take this drastic step, but it would not be a widespread phenomenon.

What I predict will happen, (since we are seeing this already) is that the “gift economy” will gradually collapse.  The White House already intends to slash deductions on charitible giving, so expect a huge drop in contributions to social institutions, especially liberal bastions such as arts organizations, environmental movements, and academic institutions.  What is this sort of big ticket giving but a form of potlatch, dressed up in a tux for the benefit gala?  The days of public philanthropy may fade with the return of the private club.

Atlas may not shrug, but he might twitch a little bit.

Another American Icon Bites the Dust

March 10, 2009 at 3:17 pm | Posted in Arts, Economics, Technology | Leave a comment

There is sad news in Toyland. 

Resquiat in pace

We <3 Norman Gentle!!1!

February 27, 2009 at 1:00 pm | Posted in Arts, Off the Wall | Leave a comment

 

Only in America could someone appear on television and so completely skewer the top-rated show on which he was competing.  The following is satire at its most brilliant.  Check out this clip:  it’s not just entertainment — it borders on performance art.  Breathtaking!

Tagged With the 123 Meme.

January 30, 2009 at 10:12 am | Posted in Arts | 2 Comments

N.B.  This post has been languishing in my Drafts folder for a while now.  Not very exciting, but maybe it was really an early contribution to Super Bowl hype.  Let’s just accept it for what it is….

Well, it seems that I’ve been tagged unawares by Anastasia with the 123 Meme.  For the few not in the know, the rules are simple:

Pick up the book nearest you and:

1. turn to page 123,
2. count the first five sentences,
3. post the following three sentences.

Let’s see … what’s nearby…  The closest “book” is the binder with my script for the Golden Age Radio Buff’s upcoming performance of A Christmas Carol at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, in which I have been fortunate to have been assigned some fun parts.  Unfortunately, the script only has 57 pages.

Nearby is my wife’s copy of Smart Moves, by Carla Hannaford.  However, I’ve only glanced at it, and she’s already blogged about it elsewhere.

Moving to the other side of my computer, I find my bookshelf with my treasure trove of Grosset & Dunlap juvenile fiction.  This was the publishing house that was responsible for The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and my all-time favorite, Tom Swift, Jr.  But, oddly enough, the book closest to me is …

Flying Tackle: A Bronc Burnett Story by Wilfred McCormick.  Bronc Burnett was their nod to the sports-minded tween boy, and each book saw him overcome some sports challenge with personal dignity.  In this book, IIRC, Bronc gets moved from his star halfback position to the offensive line, but still manages to lead the team to the championship.  Now, unlike the Stratemeyer Syndicate authors who usually shared a byline, apparently Wilfred McCormick did write all his own material.  But, the prose is still classic G & D:

“And, say,” Pude cupped his hand to Bronc’s ear, “just between you and me,” he whispered, “I happen to know that it would break his heart if they took him out of the backfield.  He’s a sentimental guy, anyhow, and he’s done so well that –“

“I know just how he feels,” Bronc replied thoughtfully.

“Sure. I knew you would.  And, after all, we’ve won every game since he went into the backfield.  As for you, brother!  You’re a cinch for an all-Conference honor if you stay at tackle.  We thought — that is, I thought you might keep that in mind when we start scrimmage this afternoon.  For the good of the team — in the long run, I mean — maybe you won’t try to hard when –“

“Sh-h-h-h! Cap’n Al’s ready.”

The group quieted hastily, save for the sounds of deep, quick breathing.

“You’re a bunch of pantywaists!” the coach began, pretending sourness but with a twinkle apparent in his gray eyes.  “You’re puffing and heaving like a herd of old plow horses!  Gentlemen, I thought we had a football team!”

That’s a bit more than three sentences, but I couldn’t resist the old G&D prose.  This excerpt has it all: tension, drama, a compassionate hero, broadly drawn but loveable characters, and adverbs.  I used to devour this stuff when I was younger.  Maybe that explains why I like using dashes so much in the middle of sentences.  I could plow through a book an hour — it’s a good thing there were literally hundreds of books available.

The G&D series had a mild revival in the mid-Eighties, but they seem to be rather defunct now, except for Nancy Drew who seems to have survived the leap into the Digital Age.  But, there still seems to be countless series of books out for kids nowadays, which is a good thing, given the competition for eyeballs that rages within our living rooms.  Even the most highly literate of readers needs to start somewhere….

City of Ember

December 10, 2008 at 10:14 pm | Posted in Arts, Economics, Technology | 3 Comments

The science fiction trope of the “isolated city“, be it underground, domed over, or hurtling through space, in which the inhabitants know nothing of the outside world, has been quite common in the past fifty years or so.  I’ve lost count of how many stories I have read involving an “isolated city” — some good, and some rather stale.  So, when I picked up City of Ember, I was rather surprised to find a fresh, original story.

I would have completely missed this book had it not been for my son, who picked it up as a prize for a summer reading program at Barnes and Noble.  He devoured it, which piqued my interest since he is usually rather choosy about the books he reads, especially science fiction.  So, I sat down to glance through it, and soon found myself a couple chapters in, marvelling at what the author had been able to pull off.

By and large, “isolated city” stories are the science fiction equivalent of “coming of age” stories, in which the protagonist discovers a wider world outside the oppressive or benighted confines of his insular society.  (For example, Logan’s Run is really a story about how the 1960’s hippies learn to stop hiding from real life and grow up to become commodities brokers.)  City of Ember  is also an obvious coming of age story, as it begins with two graduates of Ember City’s school being assigned to jobs in the city’s infrastructure.  Through their eyes, we quickly learn about the architecture of Ember City, which is lit entirely by electric lamps, and the people who inhabit it.  This is where the book really shines, as the author intricately describes the daily ins and outs of a society that is neither barbaric nor advanced, but rather has an almost Dickensian quality about it.  Ember City is really only the size of a small town, which brings the human element to the forefront.  Her cast of characters is drawn with rather broad strokes, but they all seem to come alive, even as their city slowly dies from the ravages of time and human frailty.

The book is obvously written for youth, as the plot, while complicated, is quite easy to follow, and the author carefully tips her hand here and there so as not to lose the younger readers.  But, in this day and age, the adult reader can find much to identify with in the comments of the weary adults the youths encounter as they pursue the McGuffin of Egress from Ember.  The adults intuitively know that their way of life is unsustainable, yet they press for technical or political solutions as their city inexorably runs out the finite store of supplies that has kept it thriving for two centuries.  Some wax philosophical, some riot, some find solace in artificial religion, and some simply give up.  But none have any answers.  And in our own uncertain times, when the great economic boom of the Twentieth Century seems to finally be running out of steam, we hear the same voices ringing hollow in our ears.  But has the Author tipped His hand and shown some of us a way out, or do we just hope against hope as the edifice we have raised to human entrprise comes crashing down around us.  Maybe the next generation will have the answers, as this book is really written for them.

Postscript:  Yes, I know this book has just been made into a major motion picture starring Bill Murray.  We tried to go see it, but alas, it was relegated to the matinee showings only.  It’s on the queue at Netflix….

MadelynIris

October 10, 2008 at 8:31 pm | Posted in Arts, Theology | 3 Comments

Many moons ago, when I would diligently sit at my computer long into the night, writing papers for seminary, I began to listen to the old mp3.com to keep myself awake.  mp3.com was a great website, just what I always wanted when I was in high school — a way for anyone to find and listen to music performed by anyone else, without all the dumbing down brought on by the modern music marketing machine.  Naturally, when people found they could upload entire commercial albums under their own name, the RIAA shut them down.  But until then, it was a musical smorgasborg, and it was all for free.

Of course, I found that my high school dream of unfettered music was not perfect — people uploaded a lot of dreck.  But, if one sifted through the dross, there were a number of gems to be uncovered.  Tracks from completely unknown artists like Bolsa de Papas, 24 Idaho, Dawson Cowals, and relative unknown Flight180 were all there for the listening.  But my favorite of all was MadelynIris.

MadelynIris was a husband and wife duo that combined the best layered vocals with lyrics that transcended the Christian pop or pretentious doublespeak of the day.  The sound ranged from lush electronica to tender acoustic piano.  I figure that they must have had a full recording studio in their basement.  Similarly, the lyrics ran the gamut from chanted Latin to a mother’s love poured out in song … can you guess what it is?.  Each song resonated with strong Christian faith, but never schmaltzy.  They even did a fantastic cover of U2’s Drowning Man, which you just have to hear to appreciate.

MadelynIris had CD’s available on mp3.com, but I was too poor/cheap to buy them.  So, when mp3.com went under, all I had was a handful of mp3 files that I had stashed away.  Later, I was able to collect a few more from the short-lived MadelynIris blog site.  Then, I finally hit paydirt.  Not one but both MadelynIris CD’s were on eBay for the bargain price of 99 cents.  Naturally, I placed my bid, ready to fend off the hordes of MadelynIris fans that would scrap over this digital treasure.

They never showed.  I won the auction uncontested.  Now I can cruise around in style, listening to MadelynIris on my CD player.

They say it’s a tragic ending, I say it’s a new beginning.  When all is wrong, it’s really all right.  When all is right, you’re bound to deny it…

New Day, by MadelynIris

Panihida

September 11, 2008 at 12:25 pm | Posted in Arts, Theology | 1 Comment

Today is the seventh anniversary of the events of September 11, 2001.  I was kinda dreading this day, because I am already tired of election year rhetoric, and I did not want to spend a day listening to the pundits opine about … whatever.  I don’t even want to discuss it.

So instead, I eschewed my usual drive-time occupations in favor of Mikko Sidoroff’s Panihida, which is an Orthodox form of a requiem for the dead.  It was a most welcome change.  The spare but complex harmonies almost bypass the ear  to touch the soul.  There’s something about Finnish musical compositions that are stark but breathtaking.  Maybe it has something to do with the landscape, though I’ve never travelled outside Helsinki to see for myself.

A panikhida (the Slavonic spelling) is generally served the third day, the ninth day, the fortieth day, the first year, and generally every year thereafter from the time of death.  The dead are not lost from us, just separated for a time.  So, it is a fitting thing to offer a panikhida and remember our departed and our own mortality.

Memory Eternal

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