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Ben McCandless
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Ben McCandless

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I just stumbled upon a fascinating short story: Manna, by Marshall Brain.  It examines the fine line that divides a technological utopia from technological dystopia.  It's pretty short, only eight chapters, with roughly 30 paragraphs per chapter.

What really struck me was how much this echos back to one of my favorite books: For us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs.  This was written by Robert Heinlein in 1938, but was only published in 2003.  (It's an interesting story, that delay, but not one for this post)  The resemblance is clear, despite the 60+ years difference in age.

I don't want to spoil it for anyone, so take a break and spend 30 minutes reading it.  Once you've done that, I'd be interested to hear what everyone thinks.

Once you've read that, check your motivation level.  If things look good, go to the library and check out that Heinlein book.  Take a couple of days and read that.  I'm REALLY interested to see what people think of it, and how the two paint similar pictures of the future.

And what direction you think we are heading . . .
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Ben McCandless

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The white house released it's response to a petition to build a death star.  I think they hit exactly the right note.

https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/response/isnt-petition-response-youre-looking
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I read "floating robot assistants" as "floating robot assasins".  Not sure if I was disappointed or not when I re-read it.
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Ben McCandless

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Testing out Windows 8 - It's mindbending.  Not bad, but strange.

Most recent WTF: Microsoft does not allow spaces in passwords.

http://www.osnews.com/images/comics/wtfm.jpg
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O weekend, where art thou?
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Ben McCandless

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JDS 2819 - The source of my most recent dose of adrenaline.

Pulled out of the traffic lane, into the bike lane, just as I was going by.  Came within a few inches of hitting me.

Gotta watch out, people!
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Ben McCandless

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Waiting for the NRA statement congratulating the child for taking his safety into his own hands, and that if only more kids had guns, the world would be a better place...
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Too much fun.
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Well, we've had a day to recalibrate ourselves after the election.  (No adverts! Still too much election talk though.)  We've learned some interesting things though:

1) Nate Silver had the election just about pegged.  A lot of talking heads demonstrated their ignorance of statistics and polling.  The Cato institute, a libertarian think-tank, has a guy by the name of Julian Sanchez who has a great blog* that I'd recommend to anyone: http://www.juliansanchez.com/.  Today's post is called "A Method to their Mathlessness" and is a better summary of the situation than I intend to offer here.

2) Romney lost every swing state except North Carolina.  This ought to prompt some soul searching on the part of the GOP.  The margins weren't great, but imagine what would have happened if the economy had been slightly better, or if the tragedy in Benghazi had been avoided.

3) The popular vote was fairly close: 48/50 split for Obama (that's a difference of about 3 million votes).  I don't think that there'll be any charges that the election was stolen, and hopefully I won't be waking up with flashbacks to 2000.  However, the GOP is going to have to look into expanding it's base if it wants to take back the presidency and the senate.  Right now, it's the party of old white men, and demographics says that won't work much longer.  They need more youth, more women, more African Americans, more Hispanics.  To appeal to any of these groups, some of the old ideology is going to have to go.  (I know it hurts guys, but so does irrelevance.)

4) The Democrats fortunes sure changed over the course of the election season.  They went from possibly losing control of the senate to picking up three seats in both houses (This despite the fact that they had more seats at risk in the House than the Republicans did.)

5) I'm sure all of you guys out there knew this already, but you piss off women at your peril.  Akin, Mourdock, and Walsh all lost their bids for reelection.  Akin and Moudock's comments on rape and abortion appear to have doomed what were otherwise pretty safe seats.

6) Arizona looks to be experiencing a leftward shift.  Compare the 2008 and 2012 exit polls from that state, and tell me something interesting isn't happening.  (http://elections.nytimes.com/2012/results/president/exit-polls?gwh=1C3D503A017433EEB2E1E5AE3BA78080)

6) The gobs of money available for campaigning after the Citizen's United decision sure made for a nasty election season.  I was somewhat surprised to find out how little effect it seemed to have on the outcome.  Some people who received truly incredible backing still lost.  It's not very often that I find I was being too cynical.

7) Total number of voters in the 2008 election: 129.4 million.  In 2012: 118.3 million.  My read on this is that a lot of people sat this election out for whatever reason (FYI: there's no acceptable reason to not vote, in my mind).  If you break this down a bit further, you can see that Obama got about 8.9 million fewer votes this time when compared to '08 and Romney got 2.2 million fewer votes than McCain.  This suggests some interesting things about demographics that I'm going to have to dig into further.

Anyhow, there's a collection of things that I thought was interesting.  I think my essay will be "An Open Letter to Congress (Raise my taxes)"  We'll see if I work up the enthusiasm for that in the near future.    I'm curious what other interesting tidbits people picked up on, so feel free to leave comments.

-Ben
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* He's a philosophy major, if I recall correctly, and occasionally he'll get a bit too technical for my taste, but when he discusses issues or events, I find that he seems to have good insight.
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Yesterday's "I'm bad at math" or "my priorities are screwed up" moment:

“A full 70 percent of Americans get more benefits in dollar value from the federal government than they pay back in taxes," Paul Ryan, Vice presidential Candidate.

Let's look at a few alternatives to this statement:

1) “A full 70 percent of Americans get LESS benefits in dollar value from the federal government than they pay back in taxes"  This would indicate that the government is a colossal waste of my cash, right?  Glad this isn't the case

2) “A full 30 percent of Americans get more benefits in dollar value from the federal government than they pay back in taxes”  This is the SAME THING AS 1, but sounds a bit more like everyone is carrying a couple slackers.  Glad that's not the case.

3) “A full 30 percent of Americans get less benefits in dollar value from the federal government than they pay back in taxes.” This is the SAME THING AS THE ORIGINAL STATEMENT, and it sounds like a pretty reasonable situation: Most people get more value than they put into it, and the government brings economies of scale to the table that are not otherwise available.  

So, looking at the original statement and the four variants, I'd say it's an easy choice: I want the original or statement 3 to be true.  And it is!  THIS IS GREAT! (Unless you are running for president, in which case you probably shouldn't have brought this up in the first place.)
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lolololol
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So, I just sent this email to JPL:

--------------------------
To whom it may concern,

On the Mars Mission website: (http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/education/marsrover.cfm#mission) the following statement is made:

"MISSION LIFESPAN
The Curiosity rover is planned to operate on the surface of Mars for one Martian year. Because a day on Mars is longer than one on Earth -39 minutes and 35.244 seconds longer, to be exact - a Martian year is equal to 98 weeks, or 687 days, on Earth."

I humbly submit that that a planet's rotational velocity has nothing to do with the length of it's orbit around the sun.  The crucial number here is the distance from Mars to the sun, not any particular relationship with the length solar day.  If you have any questions, please feel free to send me an email.

Congratulations on getting the that rover on Mars! Thrilling work, and I hope to see more exciting news in the future.

Best Regards,

<signature>
--------------------------

I thought that was some interesting reasoning there.  Pretty embarrassing, considering these are the guys who lost the Mars Climate Orbiter due to a units error.  Gotta stay on top of your game, guys.  Don't let your guard down now that the thing is on the ground!

-B
The NASA/JPL Education Office works with educators -- both classroom teachers and informal educators -- to provide tools, resources and ideas for teaching Earth science, space science, mathematics and...
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Second only to the time delay for you to reply to my G+ posts. . .

Incidentally - you are no fun at all.  I said I was sorry at least a month ago! 
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Most exciting and inspiring video of 2012.

If we can throw a nuclear powered SUV at Mars at orbital velocities, hit within a mile of the planned location, using a supersonic parachute and lower the thing from a rocket platform, there's hope for us as a species yet!
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A perfectly reasonable example of a Microsoft store.
Public - a month ago
reviewed a month ago
We stopped in at the Faust Hotel and Brewing Co. after a long day at Schlitterbahn, looking for some German food. Sadly, the selection was not great - though they did have some German-style mini-dogs that could be upgraded to mini-brauts. They were delicious, but most of the menu is standard american pub fare. The do have a selection of German-style beers, but were unfortunately out of the ones we were most interested in. There's no deficiency in their cocktails though! I was served an excellent Sazerac. in general, I'd have no problem going back here for a quick bite to eat, but I probably wouldn't go with the whole family, as the space is very loud - making it hard to converse with the rest of your party.
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Public - a month ago
reviewed a month ago
To the best of my knowledge, this is the only zipline on the island that will take children as young as 5 years old. Our family (grandparents, parents, and children) had a great time with Umauma. The staff was extremely nice, the facility was very nice, the experience was fun, and the views were breathtaking (for many reasons).
Public - 2 months ago
reviewed 2 months ago
We went here for lunch - it was nearly empty. The Steak Burrito was pretty good, as were the re-fried beans. The Margaritas were good as well.
Public - 2 months ago
reviewed 2 months ago
46 reviews
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We were visiting the Austin area, and after an an afternoon on the lake, some friends took us to the Oasis. It has an incredible view of Lake Travis. The food was excellent (the Bacon-wrapped BBQ Shrimp was amazing), and the drinks were top-notch. This is definitely a great place to come relax after spending a day out on the lake. We were there in the afternoon, but it's easy to imagine that watching the sunset from the balcony of the oasis is a spectacular experience.
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Public - a month ago
reviewed a month ago
Amazingly delicious crepes! Amazingly delicious Omelets! I haven't tried their savory crepes yet - but you can be sure I'll be back soon to do it!
Public - 2 months ago
reviewed 2 months ago
We really enjoy this restaurant! The food is always amazing, there's a great selection of beverages, the bartender is good and willing to try new things, and it's usually easy to get a table. Since it is in a resort complex, Saturday and Sunday are "change-over days" - people are usually arriving or departing from their vacations, and aren't usually hitting the restaurants quite yet.
Public - 2 months ago
reviewed 2 months ago