Welcome to my musings on whatever topic catches my eye, plus stories, recipes, handyman tips, welding, photography, and what have you. Oh, and analog/digital hardware design, and software. Please comment on the blog post so everyone who visits can see your comments.

Month: September 2007 (Page 1 of 3)

Absurd Immigration Policies

Helena, Montana is growing like crazy with new businesses opening up right and left. In the window of every store and business are “Help Wanted” signs. Some businesses are having to close or curtail business hours and are losing money because they cannot find workers. Some businesses in Helena are now importing workers from Eastern Europe to fill positions.


Does this square at all with the Bush / Republican anti-immigration policies? Bush has gotten behind yet another ill-conceived xenophobic right-wing cause and is hurting the country again? Do the right-wingers study demographics and learn a little bit before acting or are they just following the loudest voice they hear yelling in the mob?

How Many of you Hate Daylight “Saving” Time?

Raise your hands. Better yet, vote in my poll on this topic. (You may want to read this before you vote)

I don’t mind the act of changing the clocks to Daylight “Saving” Time. I don’t even mind the sleep upsets in order to readjust. But what I do mind, a LOT, is the outcome and effect of Daylight Time. I like darkness and nighttime. I like seeing the fireflies and the stars. It should be dark at 6 PM or so, not 9:30 PM. I would much prefer for it to cool off an hour “earlier” in the evening during summer. Kids should not have to go to school and adults should not have to drive to work in total darkness in the morning. It’s bizarre.

Equally annoying is that this is mandated by Congress for make-believe reasons that contradict reality. The main argument used by lawmakers is “energy savings”. But no study has shown that any energy is saved. The major consumers of electricity: refrigeration and air-conditioning run 24/7, as does most industrial and office lighting. Any lighting savings at 5 PM are offset by increased light usage in the mornings. Cooking and showering habits will not change because of a time change. The energy saving argument is pure hokum.

Numerous studies have been done since 1974 on this subject and the results show that Daylight Time actually INCREASES overall energy usage because people drive and shop more when Daylight Time kicks in. Shopping and gasoline sales spike up when Daylight “Saving” Time kicks in. Wal-Mart and other consumer businesses benefit from increased sales and the energy companies sell more gasoline.

Now, what do you think would motivate politicians to put Daylight Saving time in place? And what would motivate them to increase it to a present level that nearly erases Standard Time from the calendar entirely? I think you can figure it out for yourself. (Hint: Concern for the environment is not the answer.)

IBM Joins Open Office Org

This is good news. Open Office, the main challenger to Microsoft Office, has now passed the 100 million user mark. Corporations and governments right and left, mainly in Europe, are adopting OO and the ODF document format, and booting Microsoft out of the game. And the latest bit of news is that IBM has decided to join the Open Office Organization, contribute code it has written, improve interoperability with Lotus Notes, and to push Open Office as a product.

As you probably know, IBM adopted Linux as the standard OS throughout the company some time ago, so this is a logical next step.


Why the Iraqi Government Can’t “Get it Together”

Why? The simple answer is that the Sunni and Shia factions can’t get along, right? Well, that’s true, but it’s not the whole story There’s another issue that’s been making a mess of the process of putting a government together in Iraq–an issue that is rarely mentioned in the press. From the start, the U.S. has insisted on certain provisions in the structure of the Iraqi government with respect to Iraq’s oil reserves. Namely, the U.S. insists that the new government of Iraq must agree to allow two-thirds of the Iraqi oil reserves to be controlled by a consortium consisting of the usual suspects (Exxon, BP, Shell, etc.) This consortium would have seats on Iraq’s governing bodies and have veto power over legislation. Furthermore, the agreement states that if there is civil war or unrest in Iraq, making it too dangerous for Exxon, BP, etc. to operate in Iraq, that they can wait until the problems are solved and then they can jump in, plant their flags, and take over the oil fields. Adding to the complexity, the Kurds very much want to keep 100 percent of the oil reserves they feel are theirs.

No wonder the Iraqi government is a mess. No wonder government officials hardly show up for sessions. No wonder the reception of American soldiers has changed from enthusiasm to where 70 percent of Iraqis feel it’s okay to kill American soldiers. They do not want to give away the sovereignty of their country and its resources. I can understand that. It’s always good to remember that the U.S. does not have a monopoly on patriotism. Iraqis feel just as patriotic about their country as United Statesians feel about the United States. I have found this to be true in every country I’ve ever visited, regardless of whether the government was oppressive or not. It must be a human trait.

Below is an article in the New York Times discussing the latest breakdown in passing the “law governing Iraq’s rich oil fields”, but they don’t touch on the details of this law. What’s the problem with the law? Now you know what the problem is.


Bisphenyl A (BPA), Should we be Worried?

I promised my daughter and some friends to write about what I have learned about bisphenyl A (BPA) and I will keep it as brief as I can and still include everything I know. I learned this via Dr. Jane Adams who is a neurotoxicologist at the National Institutes of Health, (NIH).

Back in the mid-90’s, Dr. Adams noticed that it seemed like a lot of urine samples coming into NIH were contaminated with bisphenyl A. So they did a quick study and found that 97 percent of the urine samples coming in, from all ages of people, were contaminated with what were, to her, alarming concentrations of BPA. What is BPA? The chemical bisphenyl A was first synthesized by a German scientist in the 1890s. No use was found for it until the 1930s when it was discovered that BPA made a dandy artificial estrogen. It was used for that for a few years until they discovered DES (diethylstilbestrol) in the late 1930s and BPA was no longer used for estrogen replacement.

Most of you are probably too young to remember what happened with DES. I remember DES and I also remember when the thalidomide nightmare hit. I remember as a 10 year old, reading through LIFE magazine and being totally creeped out by the teratogenic effects of thalidomide. (Teratogenic means “monster making”). Women who were given DES and women who were given thalidomide started giving birth to monsters instead of babies. LIFE Magazine had big black and white photos that I will never forget.

Okay, so when DES was developed in the late 1930s they stopped using BPA for estrogen replacement. Then during WW II and at the dawn of the modern age of plastics and polymers, it was discovered that BPA makes a terrific polymer material. And it truly is terrific, having really no equal still today. You know this plastic as polycarbonate and its trade name Lexan. Polycarbonate is best known as the “bulletproof plastic”, and it is exactly that. It’s not perfectly transparent or even as clear as acrylic but it is clear enough to see through okay if made well, and yes, this is the stuff you may have seen in the TV ads in the 70’s where a guy stands there and empties a .357 magnum at a window made of Lexan. When he shoots at an angle the bullets just bounce off. When he shoots straight on, the bullet gets stuck in the plastic but does not penetrate. Well that demonstration is real, not a trick. Years ago I had a go at a little demonstration at a security show where they had a window made of 1/8th thick Lexan and you were given a 3 pound ball-peen hammer to do your best to break it. People were swinging on that thing all day for three days and nothing happened. The hammer was provided with a wrist strap that they insisted be used because the hammer would bounce back with as much force as you applied! Not expecting this, people would often lose the hammer and they didn’t want a hammer flying across the convention floor.

The windows of the president’s car, some bank teller windows, the Popemobile windows, and all fighter plane canopies are made of Lexan. It takes a steel cored armor piercing bullet to get through Lexan. It’s still the toughest transparent plastic around. You also find it in industrial filter housings, vandal proof light fixtures in schools and prisons, and lots of other places. It’s really cool stuff. And in your daily life you encounter it in those 5 gallon water bottles you set on top of the water cooler, some baby bottles are made from it, and BPA is used to coat the inside of food cans. Polycarbonate (BPA) is a bit on the expensive side so it’s not used unless you really need it. Refillable water bottles and baby bottles are two examples where it’s a good choice. However, you also find bisphenyl A used as a plasticizer in certain uses of cheaper plastics like PVC. Mixed in with PVC, small quantities of BPA improves the feel and quality and makes PVC much “nicer”. So BPA is not everywhere but it is more common than just water bottles, baby bottles, and food cans. And, just because a plastic bottle or other object is marked PVC (in the little recycling triangle on the bottom) does not mean that it contains no BPA. It might contain BPA as a plasticizer and it might not.

That’s all fine and dandy except for one thing. Bisphenyl A leaches / dissolves into the water or food in small amounts and we consume it. This is the source of the BPA that Dr. Adams discovered in urine samples ranging from babies to the elderly. But is it dangerous? Well this is where it gets interesting and a little complicated so read carefully. The teratogenic effects of DES were discovered in rats long before the problem appeared in humans but it was argued that rats and humans are very different, and you cannot make direct comparisons. This is true, more or less. It turned out that to create monsters in humans, the concentration of DES had to be 1,000 times higher than the concentration that causes problems in rats.

DES and BPA both mimic estrogen in the human body and are capable of creating all sorts of problems besides monstrous babies including obesity, heart disease, cancer, mental problems, neural problems and who knows what else. Bisphenyl A creates problems in rats at a concentration even lower than DES. The concentrations of BPA found in humans today is over 1,000 times higher than the concentration of BPA needed to cause problems in rats. Does this mean anything? I don’t know. Nobody else knows either. No proven link to a problem has been found yet in humans but Dr. Adams is concerned because the parallels with DES are striking, to say the least, and the amount of BPA found in humans increases every year. We don’t know all the problems that can occur. It is possible that the epidemic of childhood obesity and unexplained precocious puberty is caused by BPA. It’s possible that BPA is causing mental problems that we have not tracked down to BPA yet. She argues that these chemicals that mimic estrogen are very dangerous things to play with and this one is in general distribution to the public. It’s even found in baby bottles and we really don’t know much about what it might be causing. NIH is just now assembling people to begin to study it, but for the moment it’s up to you to decide whether to be concerned or not. Nothing much is known except the above. The parallels with DES are creepy. You must make your own judgment.

Now if you couldn’t follow the point I’m making above, let me compress it down to a short story:
Back around 1930 we develop a chemical which I’ll call Chemical A. Chemical A functions as a synthetic estrogen. Chemical A is found to cause horrible birth defects in rats. Later, we discover the hard way that at a concentration 1,000 times higher it also causes horrible birth defects in humans. Chemical A is banned. Around 1930 we also develop Chemical B. Chemical B is very similar to Chemical A and also serves as a synthetic estrogen. Chemical B also causes horrible birth defects in rats. It turns out that a very useful plastic can be made with Chemical B. Chemical B is thus found all around us in our daily lives and the concentration of Chemical B in our bodies has now grown to about 1,000 times the concentration that causes birth defects in rats. However, harmful effects in humans has not yet been shown. Should we be worried about Chemical B?

Edit: More info has come out that I wrote about in this blog post:



Pride of Lions has a Bad Day

Here is one of the most amazing videos I have ever seen. It’s eight minutes long but it’s well worth watching the whole thing. There are several different events that take place throughout the video that will astound you. Any one of those events would make a stunning video clip by itself. A pride of lions, a herd of cape buffalo, and two big crocodiles get into a rumble, and you’ll see who’s boss. The lions are young and foolish, and have not yet learned to respect the cape buffalo. But they learn.

I learned 30 years ago from a very good friend who was a lifelong African big game hunter that the lion has the reputation but the real king of the hill in Africa is not the lion, it is the cape buffalo. My friend spent several months every year in Africa, for 40 years, hunting. He taught me that lions have the reputation of being a predator with no natural enemies–top of the food chain. Not true, he told me that while they are at the top of the food chain they definitely have a natural enemy. He said that herds of cape buffalo will hunt lions–not to eat them but simply to kill them and rid themselves of a pest. According to him, cape buffalo will raid dens of lions in an organized fashion and kill every one they can get. Groups of buffalo will locate and set up ambushes on each of the escape routes from the den, and then another group will attack the den in a frontal assault. The lions scatter only to run straight into buffalo that are waiting for them. The attack group then goes in and kills all the cubs. So the cape buffalo know all about lions. In this video you will see behaviors that I’m sure you’ve never seen before. Just one cape buffalo is a very dangerous animal, but as you will see they can also act in concert. Talk about scary.

It’s easy to lose your sense of scale in this video. Remember that cape buffalo are enormous creatures, weighing over a ton, and the lions are 400 pounds or more. One of the lions discovers just how strong a cape buffalo is, the hard way. Ouch!

Prepare to be amazed again and again.


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