Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Do You Believe the Claim?

Watch this video. Those who produced this video state that the ball is made up of 5 million lego blocks. Watch the video and decide if you think the claim is true.

I am not convinced that the claim is true. First, as the ball rolls no legos fly off. The stress of a ball that size would have legos flying off. Second the stress would cause large cracks to develop. Third, they are able to lift and roll the the ball to easily. Do the math, there are 188 lego blocks in a pound. Five million blocks would weigh somewhere in the neighborhood of of 2,600 lbs or 1.3 tons. Fourth, a 1.3 ton ball hitting a car would cause major damage to the car. Further, why would not the ball fall apart on impact?

Their claim defies logic. I suspect that a few thousand lego blocks were glued to some lightweight ball (styrofoam or inflatable ball).

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

America Attacked Again, But From Within?

Yesterday and today the millions of citizens and thousands of political leaders of the United States handed a victory to Osama Ben Laden. Yesterday, a 747 flying past the New York skyline caused evacuations of office buildings and panic as people feared another 9-11 attack was underway. The aircraft was one of the two aircrafts used as Air Force One (it is called Air Force One only when the President is onboard). A training flight was turned into a photo-opportunity to update the official White House photo file.

Various political leaders at the local, state and national levels were quick to decry the flight and insensitivity of officials. Each one posturing to appear alarmed to their public. Wolf Blitzer and Jack Cafferty on CNN added their voice by saying that the person who approved the flight should be summarily and immediately fired and that it would be a travesty if the person is not fired.

We need to honor those who died. We need to allow the families to feel their pain but as a nation we need to heal. As a community, a society and a nation we need to pause to honor our lost but not let the pains of the past unduly control the present. If the past pains and attack unduly control the present and cause us our fears to trigger irrational actions, then the victory belongs to the terrorists. On the other hand when we continue to remain an open society and do not allow our fears to control us, the victory belongs to us as the goal of the terrorist has not been gained.

Unwittingly Blitzer and Cafferty, as well as the other political leaders who are alarmed, have functionally admitted that eight years later Ben Laden and his cohorts have and continue to defeat America. We panic and quake at anything that comes close to appearing to be an attack. Our wounds remain so open that in our angst we lose all sense of rationality in our actions and words. Without firing a shot, without doing a single thing Osama Ben Laden has again won a great victory over America.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Getting Older

As noted in the last post, Evie and I visited the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke VA. This is a relatively young museum and they are still building their collection of trains and cars. They have few pre-WWII automobiles.

Following is a 1914 Metz Model 22. The car is still in the process of being restored...not the carts under the vehicle that allows the car to be wheeled off the floor as necessary.

Above is a 1925 Model T Depot Hack, one of the first small mass produced trucks. Below is a 1948 Packard Super Eight. I love the lines of this car.

Above is the famous Studebaker Land Cruiser. This is the 1950 model. The Studebaker's last car was made in 1964. Below is the 1957 Desoto Fireflight Sportman. Chrysler closed down this brand in GM announced that Pontiac will be joining the Desota as Studebacker as names that are a past age.

Above is the 1963 Chevrolet 1963 Impala. I like the look of the Impala and while in college often borrowed a 1971 and 1974 Impala. Below is a car that seeing it in the museum started caught me by surprise. It is a 1970 Olds Cutlass Supreme SX. What caught me by surprise is that a high school friend of mine had such a car and I remember going off to McDonalds on Queen in it. Also Dad had a four door Cutlass for a time, a 1976 or 1977 model I believe.

What really caught me by surprise was the following, a 1983 Ford Mustang. This car should not be in a museum I marriage is four years older. Alas I realized that for my sons, the '83 Mustang and the '70 Cutlass are museum items in the eyes of my sons. For Josh and Jonathan they are the '63 Impala and '57 DeSota for me....vehicles that existed when their parents learned to drive and of which they saw the later versions while in elementary school.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Virginia Museum of Transportation

Today the temperatures hit 91. As I type this it is 87 inside as the maintenance staff does not switch the central system from heating to AC until May. Earlier this week, if we were home we would have been running the furnace.

While we were away, Evie and I visited the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke which is located in some old warehouses just off the downtown area. The museum fits the area as it has been historically a major railroad hub and for that area of the state it serves today as a major highway hub.

Below are some pictures. Later I will be posting some more.

The first locomotive is a 2-8-0 unit that was typical of the largest being being built in the late 1800s and became common in the 1890-1920 area. This unit was built in Philadelphia in 1897.

Above is a 6-6-4 unit built in Roanoke in 1843. This engine and size became the primary engines hauling the heavy loads of coal, tanks and other heavy war material. It was also the type of engine used to whisk troops rapidly from ports of departure.

Below is a larger 6-6-4 that was built in the Roanoke yards in 1950. It was one of the last of the large engines built before the advent of the diesel engines. Its sides were closed in to make it a more streamlined.

Following are pictures of the Norfolk and Western's "President One" which was used to transport the president of the railroad and other major dignitaries.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Wind Power

I have recently been reading about wind generators. The amount of energy produced around the world by wind increased by about 30% last year. With what is in the planning stages, over the next three years the current level generated could well double. In the midwest and west USA is showing an increasing interest in this type of energy production.

One article speaking against wind power generators spoke of “the dark side” of wind generation. The article pointed out that the wind turbines are not reliable as coal stations because when the wind decreases or stops, the power generated is lost. Advocates of wind power are not saying such generators were to be the primary source of power but a vehicle to augment other carbon based and hydro systems so that when the wind is blowing less coal and oil needs to be burned.

The author, Earl Jones, pointed out that such generators bring harm to birds and bats who happen to fly into the windmills. Tall buildings do the same. Birds are known to fly into one and two story homes.

I was puzzled by the statement that they also add to pollution. In reading further Jones, argues against these generators because CO2 is produced during the production of the materials used to build them. Okay, that is an interesting argument which taken to its logical conclusion means the author is arguing against everything that he uses that produces CO2 in its production, including his home and automobile. Mr. Jones lost the argument when he put forth this as a reason against wind generation.

I am in favor of wind generation augmenting our energy needs. Though they windmills on per acre do not generate the same power as a dammed river or a coal plant, it makes sense to develop this source. They eyesore argument is insignificant to me as they are less of an eyesore that buildings that rise well above the tree tops.

In areas with consistent winds above 8 mph I am in favor of the development of small wind generators that can installed to the roof (examples of items being developed – While two or three of these small units will not meet all of a home’s power needs, they could provide a good portion of the home’s needs, and possibly all non-air conditioning needs when the wind is above 15 mph.

I am also in favor of farms and other rural homes with very large lots to have larger units such
as that could provide the majority of their power needs. If they generate excess power, that power could be pumped into the public grid and thereby earning money for the owner (or offset bills). Such a unit could be ideal for churches that have periodic peak usage.

Obama’s tax credits to encourage the development and installation of wind units in the home is a positive step. Having a host of renewable green energy sources to help augment and decrease our reliance upon coal and other carbon fuels has far more positives than negatives.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


As Evie noted in her blog of yesterday, we have taken this week as a vacation week. One of our stops was Monticello just outside Charlottesville Virginia. Besides his political involvement Jefferson had a scientific and inquisitive mind. I have downloaded his autobiography onto my Kindle to read in the coming months.

Josh in his comment on Evie’s blog asked about Jefferson’s clock at the entrance. The clock has two faces, one on the outside and one on the inside. As the photographs of the interior are prohibited, I could not get the picture of the inside clock. The photo is of the outside face that would greet visitors under the east portico. The seven day clock that he designed runs off two sets of pulleys that run down the wall in the house’s two story lobby. Each day is marked on the wall and the weights progress down the wall. As only six days could be accommodated, there is a whole in the floor to allow the seventh day (Saturday) to be in the basement.

On the ceiling under the east portico is a compass (above) that indicates the direction of the current wind. The system was designed by Jefferson. The needle indicating wind direction runs off the weather vane on the roof above the portico (below). Another interesting feature of the home is a system that closes both double doors at the same time. There are several double doors throughout the home. As you closes one door of the pair, the second via a below floor system will close along with it. Again the system is a Jefferson design.

Monticello is well worth visiting. As the weather was overcast, raining off and one, and chilly we did not take time to walk much of the grounds. I would love to set aside a full day to visit the Monticello and spend time taking in some of the other features of the estate.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Love the Sinner Does Not Apply to Gays

“Love the sinner but hate the sin” as been an evangelical mantra for generations. Preachers point to Jesus as an example of living this out. Jesus ate with prostitutes and tax collectors, both of whom were the lowest of sinners in his culture.

When it comes to the issue of homosexuality I question if this is true. One senior Salvation Army officer said to me back in 2002 that in many ways the evangelical church, including many Salvationists (officers and soldiers) treat homosexuals as the modern lepers. I agreed then and still do so. Jerry Falwell blaming homosexuals for the 9-11 attacks is an example of how homosexuals are viewed as the escape goats for society’s problems. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore in tossing his evangelical rage far and wide has proclaimed homosexuality to be “abhorrent, immoral, detestable…and a crime against nature.”

Dr. James Kennedy, another major evangelical leader, has stated about gays in the military, “would you want your son, daughter, or grandchild sharing a shower, foxhole, or blood with a homosexual?” Dr. Kennedy’s statement along with Moore, Falwell’s and hundreds of other evangelical leaders are similar to the racist statements made about Jews, African Americans, Latinos, Italians, etc. Such fear mongering statements were unacceptable back in the past about ethnic groups, they are unacceptable today.

Loving the sinner but not the sin is not practiced by the evangelical church when it comes to gays. Family Research Council’s posture and admonition against church-gay community dialogue is outrageous and shameful. The Family Research Council has more to do with resisting dialogue and acceptance of gays in society than with building of strong families. Their definition of family is narrow, a married man and woman with children who all go to church every Sunday.

Gays are all around us. We marginalize them and those within the church live in fear of being discovered. While at Asbury College four guys I knew were gay, three of whom were Salvationists. One of the four was in the elementary education program and when it became known to the administration he was gay he was not allowed to do his student-teacher practicum. He was thereby shamefully forced to transfer to a secular school.

The evangelical church by enlarge talk of gays as if they have some sort of contagious disease that can be cured once and for all with the conversation prescription. Such a view is naive and is out of keeping with research that indicates for many gay men and women there may be a genetic and a biochemical basis. Regardless of what Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council claims, such research and evidence is not questionable science. Dobson and his friends at the Family Research Council are like the Church during the 1400s in denying that the world was round. They clung to their understanding of the Bible rather than wondering if their interpretation of various passages was sound. Eventually when ships traveled around the world the evidence was so solid that they changed their interpretation.

According to the Barna group 91% of non-Christians between the ages of 16-30 believe that Christians are “anti-homosexuals” and are confused as their meanness towards homosexuals is out of keeping what non-Christians understand about the teachings of Jesus. I agree with these young non-Christians. Fortunately for the church a rapidly growing number of the Christians in the same age group are coming to the same conclusion.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Medical Health and Religious Belief

A recent Newsweek article noted that since 2000 there have been over 6,000 studies regarding healing and spirituality. Studies have examined if there are correlations between the rate of healing, quality of health and religious life. While not all the studies are conclusive there is evidence that prayer and faith does impact recovery and health. The medical community is coming to recognize the value of religious life in the healing process.

People who attend religious services on a regular basis live three to five years longer. Those who have faith seem to recover quicker from illnesses than those who do not.

Evangelicals hold that intercessory prayer works, and several studies show that it does work but with an important caveat. Those who are ill recover quicker with intercessory prayer when they that others are praying for them and the recipients of the prayer have some level of faith. If the person is unaware that there is intercessory prayer taking place, there is no affect.

Before Christians get excited by this news there is another factor we must take into account. The same dynamics happen regardless of the person’s religious tradition. If a person is Jewish, or Hindu, or Muslim, or an animist, as long as they believe that there is some power beyond themselves, that there is a hope of healing, recovery takes place at a more rapid rate.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Palm Treo to Blackberry Curve

After having an unpleasant and frustrating time with a Palm Treo, I am delighted to go back to having a BlackBerry. I love my new Curve 8350i. Shortly after starting to use the Treo I discovered that when talking to someone on the phone other screens would pop-up. These pop-up would happen after I dialed and to the screens would have to be closed in order to go to the speaker, or turn off the speaker.

Frequently listeners kept getting annoying feedback. To cut the feedback I would have to go to speaker and then turn the speaker off. This was an annoyance to say the least to all parties.

At first I liked the Treo’s email system and all was well for four months, except for the occasional few hours where they system would go down. About the four month point the Treo’s email system started to going down more frequently, up to two to three days at a time. The growing frequency became frustrating.

About the seventh month the software on my Treo started freeze. At first taking out the battery and resetting the Treo was all that was necessary to get the system going again. Weeks later, the only way to the email system going again was to delete the software and reinstall it. Sometimes the installation would take fifteen minutes but at other times it would not take multiple efforts. The frequency in the Treo crashing increased to the point where it was happening two to four times a week. The frustrating part was that until the software was installed again, my calendar and phone book were blank.

Others started to experience the same problems. It was nice not to be alone. Three weeks ago DHQ moved all eleven of us on the Treo to the BlackBerry Curve.

I really like the ease and feel of the Curve. It is sleek and I like the feel of the keypad and the roller ball. I like the idea of being able to download a Powerpoint or slideshow to the Curve and then hook it up to a projector for group showing. It also has a voice dialing feature that I have yet to activate but may get around to doing so in the coming weeks.

The curve also has a GPS feature that while I would not see it replacing my GPS, it is a nice feature for if I was walking along the street and needed some help. I like the ease of going on the net using the Curve and its bedside wake-up alarm feature. One issue I do have with it is that it does not seem to have the capability to assign specific ringtones for specific people.

Another feature I will not like use is that one can download the mp3 files. I may eventually install a dozen or so files but I have my ipod with an extensive list. One feature that I will be using is the recorder that allows me to record notes to myself while out of the office…a nice feature considering that we often think about something at one point in the day and forget it later.

Overall, I am very pleased with the Curve.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

That Sinking Feeling

About six weeks ago, a friend of mine and his family was flying to Europe. As he neared the airport he had a horrible sinking feeling as he realized his wallet and passport was at home. He dropped of the wife and two kids and headed home. He knew he was going to miss the flight but arranged for the airline to get him on the next flight with the hope of connecting with his family at the airport from which they would go to Europe. He got on the next flight, but it would only give him less than fifteen minutes to make his connection, which he did make thanks to airline attendants and passengers who allowed him to be the first off.

Tuesday I had a flight to Atlanta. I grabbed my luggage and kissed Evie goodbye. As she is pulling out I reached for my wallet….and the sinking feeling hit. I immediately called Evie…her cell was off. My initial thought was to get a cab, go home get the wallet….but Evie was driving my car and had my house keys. I called Jonathan and left a message for him to call me when he got off work (he does a split shift) and I called Evie’s work left a message for her to call me when she got to the office.

When Evie received the message that I had an emergency, she knew what happened. She drove home, got my wallet and got back to the airport 8 minutes after my flight left. After paying $50 a change of flight fee, I caught the flight an hour later (fortunately there is flight to Atlanta every hour) and made my meeting with 5 minutes to spare.

Will I forget my wallet again….not likely. I am sure that every time I am walking out the door, whoever in the family is driving me to the airport will ask as I walk out the door for me to do a wallet check.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Talent Searches

I am not a big fan of American Idol and other such talent searches. Too often individuals are encouraged by friends and family to try out even when they have no talent. For the public show and to the person's humiliation the "talent scouts" often put forward individuals onto the national stage who at the regional contests clearly lacked talent. If the show started with the best, I would likely watch but the mingling in of individuals who lack talent, and even advancing a few marginal individuals to the second round keeps me from watching. I know friends and family who like the show, but for me I cannot enjoy it.

That said, you really need to watch this show from Great Britain's version of American Idol. Simon Cowell was one of the judges. As you see this lady, Susan Boyle, before she performs, what do you think Simon, and the other judges are going to do to this lady? What do you think the audience would think about her? Simon's reaction as well as the other judges becomes evident in short order. Our understanding of perception and reality is challenged.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Waning of the Church?

This past weekend while in Leola visiting Evie’s mother I read in Newsweek an article stating that the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as Christians has decreased from 86% to 76% since 1990. That 10 point decline is nearly a 12% in an eighteen year period, or about .6% per year.

The decrease is not a result of immigration from the Far East of Islamic countries as the influx of Roman Catholics from Central America has been at a much higher rate. The Latino population is strongly church focused. What would have been the decrease if the Latino immigrants were not included in the calculation? The study has not examined that factor, but it does not take much to realize that the decrease is much more significant if one took out the Latinos population which has boomed in the last two decades. It may well be that decrease could be another 2 points lower.

The number of people who are not affiliated with any faith tradition has grown from about 8% to 16% of the population. Any observer of church attendance should not be surprised by the decline. As noted in prior blogs, church attendance has been declining, particularly in the mainline churches. The evangelical churches, particularly the Pentecostal and Southern Baptists streams, have not evidenced the same decrease but even there a close examination reveals that much of their new membership is drawn from people who have left the mainline churches. The demographics of the evangelical churches are also changing in that the ratio of the younger membership between the ages of 18 and 30 has been in decline.

The article notes that church attendance has not increased as anticipated during the economic crisis.

It is interesting that the decline has taken place during a period where the Moral Majority and the Christian Right has had a greater influence is American political life than it has ever had. The decline has also taken place during a period where the nation has had its most strident evangelical Christian.

The church is still a major factor in shaping society, but its influence upon the society as a whole is waning.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Roots of Financial Crisis

The other day a talk radio host state that the economic crisis was solely the blame of the Democrats and Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac. I will wade into the matter by noting the argument starts blaming Clinton for changing the lending rules to make it possible for more loans to be made to low income families and in marginal communities. The argument continues that Fannie and Freddie “forced” the banks to make hundreds of thousands of bad loans to these people who in the past they banks would have disqualified. The implication is that the banks were “forced” to make these loans and these loans going unpaid are at the heart of the financial crisis.

No bank was forced or required to make loans they it did not want to make. The changes allowed banks to modify their policy. Thousands of banks and credit unions, primarily small local or regional banks, never made these loans. They felt uncomfortable about increasing their risk. Many other banks made the loans sparingly and thoughtfully as a way to help more people to become homeowners. Coupled with subprime loans a large number of regional and national banks strongly promoted the loans. The choice was the banks’. Some did not take the risk whereas others recklessly issued as many loans as possible.

Second, Fannie and Freddie are purchasers of the loans from the banks. They did not make the loans. Banks issued loans that Fannie and Freddie would purchase from the banks via prescribed terms. It was the banks who skewed the process when they did not verify the income information was correct (or in some cases noted to the borrower that the bank was trusting the income was correct…thereby hinting they were not verifying the information on the forms). The banks pushed on a good number of marginal loans to Fannie and Freddie for which the bank had not done due diligence.

Third, the bulk of “troubled” loans are loans that the banks were making before the changes and had more to do with the banks decisions the subprime loans that the changes signed into law by Clinton.

Fourth, the argument should not be accepted a face value. It is clearly an oversimplification and put forward by political operatives with a political agenda of seeing their party as noble and the other as ignoble. What is not articulated in the argument against Clinton is that it was a Republican Congress that promoted, pushed through the changes, and prevailed upon Clinton to sign them into law.

Fifth, we should keep a balanced view by remembering that there are multiple causes that flowed together. Fannie and Freddie are factors, but there are many more significant causes than Fannie and Freddie changing their policies and purchasing a large number of subprime loans. Amongst those factors are:
- The defining of swaps as being investment vehicles rather than defining them as insurance vehicles (swaps regardless of the title they were given were insurance vehicles). The change was pushed through a Republican Congress so as to avoid the higher cash reserve requirements required to back-up insurance vehicles. The prime advocates, including the authors of the bill allowing the change, were Republicans. Various Democrats too supported the change.
- Subprime loans. These loans eliminated the requirement to have a down-payment to secure a mortgage. Subprime loans were based upon the assumption that prices of homes would keep going up.
- The false assumption that housing prices will keep increasingly and the real estate/mortgage industry encouraging potential home buyers do buy now/upgrade now or they will not be able to afford to buy it later.
- Eliminating various regulations that allowed banks to merge and to have investment arms that in some cases engaged in questionable investment practices.
- The rosy view by the Fed Chair and Congressional leadership of financial executives. They held that they executives would never do anything to put their firms at risk. Yah, right.
- Overheated housing market driving prices increasingly higher. Demand being higher than supply of modest priced homes pushed prices higher.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

NHL Rule Change Needed

This NHL season I have noticed again and again players who collide with a goaltender being given a penalty. Goalies need to be protected from players charging through the crease…I have no problem with rules to protect them. That said the current rule as framed and interpreted by referees needs to be examined. There are players who are being penalized for goalie interference who are should not be so penalized.

Last night during the Washington Capitals-Buffalo Sabers game during a scramble in front of the net a Caps defensemen literally body checked a Sabers’ winger into the Caps goalie. Seconds later, the Sabers scored but it was waived off for goaltender interference and the Sabers’ winger given a penalty. Later in the game, a Caps player is cutting in with the puck along an arch from the faceoff circle on the goalie’s right. As he shoots the puck, the Sabers’s defenseman rides the winger out and then body checks him upending him into the goalie. The Caps player was penalized for goaltender interference.

What gives with penalizing an offensive player who has been manhandled by a defensive player into the goaltender? The only way that an offensive player can avoid such penalties is to stay at least five feet away from the crease. Such an expectation is outrageous and the rule needs to be changed. If the defensive player is responsible for the propelling an offensive player into the goaltender, not only should the player be not penalized but the defensive team takes the consequences of their action. In the Caps game the Buffalo goal should have stood. Yes the goalie was knocked to the other side of the crease by the body of the Buffalo player, but it was the Cap player who drove him with a hard body check into the Caps goalie.

By nullifying goals and penalizing offensive players, defensive players are free to ride and body check offensive players into the goaltenders. Again, the rule must be changed.