Thursday, July 31, 2014

Nothing To Worry About Here

There was a joke told in the Soviet Union in the late 1970s that in the event of nuclear war, Soviet citizens were supposed to put on burial shrouds, and slowly crawl towards the cemeteries.  "Why slowly?"  "To avoid causing panic."

The Centers for Disease Control are issuing this useful set of guidelines:
Interim Guidance about Ebola Virus Infection for Airline Flight Crews, Cleaning Personnel, and Cargo Personnel
Overview of Ebola Virus Disease
Ebola virus disease (also known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever) is a severe, often-fatal disease caused by infection with a species of Ebola virus. Although the disease is rare, it can spread from person to person, especially among health care staff and other people who have close contact * with an infected person. Ebola is spread through direct contact with blood or body fluids (such as saliva or urine) of an infected person or animal or through contact with objects that have been contaminated with the blood or other body fluids of an infected person.
The likelihood of contracting Ebola is extremely low unless a person has direct contact with the body fluids of a person or animal that is infected and showing symptoms. A fever in a person who has traveled to or lived in an area where Ebola is present is likely to be caused by a more common infectious disease, but the person would need to be evaluated by a health care provider to be sure.
The incubation period, from exposure to when signs or symptoms appear, for Ebola ranges from 2 to 21 days. Early symptoms include sudden fever, chills, and muscle aches. Around the fifth day, a skin rash can occur. Nausea, vomiting, chest pain, sore throat, abdominal pain, and diarrhea may follow. Symptoms become increasingly severe and may include jaundice (yellow skin), severe weight loss, mental confusion, shock, and multi-organ failure.
Nothing to worry about!

Flat-Screen TVs: No One Should Suffer

From July 31, 2014 KRGV-TV, where the illegal immigrant flood will be staying:
The feds said the immigrants will be referred to as "residents" and the rooms as "suites." The suites are furnished with flat-screen television sets and landline telephones. The center has a soccer field covered with artificial turf, ping pong tables and a weight room.

Whoever Ordered This 3D Printer Through My Amazon Referral Program Link

Wow.  This 3D printer contributed mightily to referral income for the month.  But all the little things that people bought as well--they add up, too!  Thanks again!

And some of the stuff that you guys and gals are ordering, like this parking aid, I did not even know existed!

Solar Power Finally Makes Sense--Even Without the Tax Credits and Deductions

Here's the spreadsheet:

This involves buying this 400 watt system, which includes a 1000 watt pure sine wave inverter and 30 amp charge controller, cables, and mounting brackets.  It does not include a battery, which I really don't need since the goal is not to become completely independent of the grid.  It would, however, provide enough power to keep the well pump and pressurization pump running at least part of the day.

My assumptions, based on my experiments with solar panels at my location over the last few years, are 3.5 hours of full sunlight in winter (we get snowstorms, but many days of clear blue skies that are below freezing), 7 hours in spring and fall, and 10 hours in summer.  I am also assuming that the current Idaho Power electric rates are not going to drop.  The Idaho income tax deduction is 40% of the cost first year, and 20% for the next three years.  Strictly speaking, treating this as 100% first year is wrong, but inflation isn't so high as to make this too far off.  I am assuming that the costs of having my neighborhood electrician install this to my breaker box are not going to much at all, and I will install the panels on the roof myself.  I am assuming that the system will net 100 watts per panel, even with inverter losses, because a number of buyers of this panel report actually measuring 120 watts per panel.

Notice that it pays for itself in less than two years, and even without the tax benefits, in less than three.  (Tax credits can hide a host of bad ideas, but in this case, it makes sense.)  It looks like it scales pretty linearly if I install more equivalents in future years.

The primary goal is to reduce dependence on the grid, but it at least seems to make sense as well.

UPDATE: The 400 watt system above includes a charge controller (which I don't really need).  I might get the cost down by $30 by purchasing the inverter, cables, and mounting brackets with the panels separately.

UPDATE 2: In case you are wondering why this kit includes a charge controller but no battery, I suspect that it is because enough deep discharge battery to store very much of this power would take the price way, way up there. It certainly makes it nice to be able to just add as much battery as makes sense for you.  This 28 aH battery would store 336 watts--less than an hour of output from these panels (assuming no losses in the wiring and perfect output from the panels).  The cost of enough battery to store several days energy production is as much or more than the 400 watt system, which is an argument against using batteries unless you are seriously interested in getting off the grid on a regular basis.

UPDATE 3: The panels alone are about $600.  This 400W pure sine wave inverter is $144.95.  With the cables and mounting brackets, this could be done for about $800, which knocks payback down to a year and a half.

UPDATE 4: I am waiting to talk to my electrician, but I suspect that I am going to need a 220V inverter to feed power into the bus on the panel.   To my surprise, while pure sine wave 220V inverters are rarer than 110V inverters, they are not dramatically more expensive in the same wattage range.

UPDATE 5: I just can't take seriously an inverter with eye candy in the picture.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review of FBI Expert Testimony Finding Serious Trouble

The July 29, 2014 Washington Post reports that a federal government review of FBI crime lab "expert" testimony is finding really, really serious problems:
Nearly every criminal case reviewed by the FBI and the Justice Department as part of a massive investigation started in 2012 of problems at the FBI lab has included flawed forensic testimony from the agency, government officials said.
The findings troubled the bureau, and it stopped the review of convictions last August. Case reviews resumed this month at the order of the Justice Department, the officials said.
U.S. officials began the inquiry after The Washington Post reported two years ago that flawed forensic evidence involving microscopic hair matches might have led to the convictions of hundreds of potentially innocent people. Most of those defendants never were told of the problems in their cases.
I first became aware of how severe the problems at the FBI's much publicized crime lab when reading the transcripts of the McVeigh trial.  There were really, really serious problems.  The bomb range was adjacent to the lab where they were doing nanogram level detection of explosives on evidence--and people could and did walk from the bomb range, where they had been handling explosives, into the room where the gas chromatographs were supposed to be doing this very sensitive testing of evidence.  Some of the evidence from the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City was placed in the same paper bag as some of the evidence taken from McVeigh's person, with no serious attempt to separate these items.  And yet we were supposed to take seriously their evidence?  Worse, it made me wonder how accurate some of the other "expert" testimony involving lock cylinders and tool marks were.

Houston, Texas 9/12 and 9/13

I will be presenting at the Texas Bar Association CLE on Firearms Law on September 12 in Houston.  I had thought of doing some history research on Saturday, but the sources that I need are not in that area.  The choices were flights home at the crack of dawn, or afternoon flights, so I will have to amuse myself Saturday until about 1:00 PM.  I will be arriving in Houston on a 6:00 PM flight Thursday evening.

Does anyone have any experiences (good or bad) checking firearms with either Delta or US Airways?  Delta's policy on checked firearms seems pretty reasonable, including allowing you to place your checked, locked, hard-sided gun case inside soft-sided luggage (where it is less likely to come to the attention of thieves):
Shooting Equipment

Shooting equipment is allowed as checked baggage only. It must fit within the very specific criteria that we outline below.
  • Declare to the Delta representative that you are checking a firearm.
  • Declare the existence of a firearm to security personnel if there's a security checkpoint before the Delta counter.
  • All firearms must be declared by the passenger to a Delta representative at the main ticket counter.
  • Present firearm(s) unloaded and sign a "Firearms Unloaded" declaration.
  • Firearms must be packed in a locked manufacturer's hard-sided container specifically designed for the firearm, a locked hard–sided gun case or a locked hard-sided piece of luggage. Handguns may be packed in a locked hard-sided gun case, and then packed inside an unlocked soft-sided piece of luggage. However, a Conditional Acceptance Tag must be used in this case.
  • Maintain entry permits in your possession for the country or countries of destination or transit.
  • Ensure small arms ammunition is packed in the manufacturer's original package or securely packed in fiber, wood, plastic or metal boxes and provide separation for cartridges.
  • You are responsible for knowledge of and compliance with all Federal, State or local laws regarding the possession and transportation of firearms. For more information about this regulation you can visit the TSA website.
  • If you are transporting a firearm to the United Kingdom, a permit from the United Kingdom is specifically required. You must contact the United Kingdom for more information about securing this permit.
US Airways has very similar policies:
US Airways will allow passengers to transport firearms in accordance with Federal Law.
  • Items of shooting equipment will be accepted as checked baggage only.
  • A passenger who presents checked baggage that contains a firearm must declare the weapon and sign a written acknowledgement that the firearm is unloaded.
  • Firearms must be packed in a manufacturer’s hard–sided container specifically designed for the firearm, a locked hard–sided gun case, or a locked hard–sided piece of luggage. Handguns may be packed in a locked hard–sided gun case, and then packed inside an unlocked soft–sided piece of luggage. However, a Conditional Acceptance Tag must be used in this case.
  • Baggage containing firearms must be locked at all times and the key or lock combination retained by the passenger.
  • A Firearm Unloaded Declaration form (available only at the airport) must be signed and placed inside the bag or gun case.
  • Checked ammunition may not exceed 11 lbs/5 kg per person. Ammunition clips with ammunition loaded are not accepted. Ammunition must be packed in the original manufacturing package or constructed of wood, fiber, plastic, or metal and provide separation for cartridges. No additional documentation is required.
  • There is no limit to the number of items contained in rifle, shotgun or pistol case, up to 50 lbs/23 kg, 62 in/157 cm in maximum.
  • A passenger who presents a firearm to be checked to an international destination must be in possession of all required import documentation for their international destination city and any international transit points. It is the responsibility of the passenger to acquire the required documentation from the applicable government entity prior to travel (usually a consulate or embassy). Firearms will not be accepted for transport if international import requirements have not been met.
 UPDATE: This is nice.  The last time I went to Texas, I ended up getting a Florida concealed handgun license, because Texas did not recognize Idaho permits (somewhat less strict requirements for training than Texas), but because Idaho issues such permits, Texas would not issue a non-resident permit to an Idahoan.  But because Florida issued to non-residents, and Florida had similar training requirements, Texas would recognize a Florida permit.  Convolution beyond need.

Now, however, Texas does recognize Idaho permits, at least since 2004.

UPDATE 2: One annoying aspect of the rules that most of the airlines have (but which does not appear to be a TSA requirement) is that ammunition has to be either factory boxes, or boxes that separate the rounds from each other.  This effectively means that you can't have ammunition loaded in magazines, which means that when you get where you are going, you need to spend time loading magazines, and unloading magazines when you are ready to get back on an airliner.

Really Important Interview With Former Ambassador to Iraq

At PBS, no less.  Crocker is a career diplomat, and he makes some important points about how the failure to negotiate the Status Of Forces Agreement opened the door for the current and future disaster.  One especially chilling part:
And the consequences are? How dangerous a situation is it?
This is analogous to Afghanistan, say, in August 2001. And this time, it is Al Qaeda version 6.0. They make bin Laden’s 2011 Al Qaeda look like Boy Scouts.
They are far stronger; they are far more numerous. They have thousands who hold foreign passports and require no visas to get into the United States or other Western countries.
They are well funded, they are battle-hardened, and they are well armed. And they now control far more territory exclusively than bin Laden ever did. They have the security; they have the safety to plan their next set of operations; and they are a messianic movement.
Believe me, they are planning those operations. That’s why the Saudis moved 30,000 troops up to their border. They know that ISIS wants Mecca and Medina.
They also want to come after us. And I can tell you, as we sit here today in Washington, they’re sitting in Mosul figuring out how they’re going to get at us next.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

I Hate To Sound Like A Doom and Gloom Sort

But yes, people are getting on airliners with Ebola.  July 29, 2014 CNN reports on the death of a U.S. citizen:
(CNN) -- Patrick Sawyer had one stop to make before heading home to Minnesota to celebrate his daughters' birthdays: a conference in Lagos, Nigeria.
But when he landed in Lagos, Sawyer, 40, collapsed getting off the plane. He had been infected with Ebola in Liberia, where he worked as a top government official in the Liberian Ministry of Finance.
Sawyer was isolated at a local Nigerian hospital on July 20. He died five days later.
The good news is that you are not contagious until you are showing symptoms.  But pretty obviously, Patrick Sawyer wasn't feeling sick enough to miss his flight to Lagos.

New Blood Test For Precancerous Conditions?

There have been some astonishing improvements in diagnostics the last few decades: the prostate-specific antigen blood test that usually catches prostate cancer before it has far advanced, and often before it would be detected by the embarrassing finger where the Sun doesn't shine test; the A1C test for measuring average blood glucose levels, instead of the clumsy fasting test.  The July 29, 2014 Daily Mail reports:
A revolutionary blood test that could detect any type of cancer has been developed by British scientists. 
It is hoped the breakthrough will enable doctors to rule out cancer in patients presenting with certain symptoms - saving time and preventing costly and unnecessary invasive procedures and biopsies. 
Early results have shown the simple test can diagnose cancer and pre-cancerous conditions from the blood of patients with melanoma, colon cancer and lung cancer with a high degree of accuracy.

Read more:
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook
Any time you can diagnose with any high degree of accuracy cancer or other serious illnesses from blood draws alone, that's a big win.

Of Water Pumps, Tanks, and Shutoff Valves

Our water system is a bit more complicated than many.  There is a several hundred foot deep well with a Grundfos variable speed well pump in it.  It pumps water into a 1400 gallon water tank (although we seldom keep more than 1000 gallons in it) buried in the hill behind our house.  Gravity feeds the water down to the house, where a Grundfos pressurization pump in the garage raises it to 60 PSI.  (The amount of elevation required to make gravity do the pressurization pump's work we just do not have on our property.)

The pressurization pump was beginning to leak.  After a few calls, we found Idaho Pump, who came out to repair it.  The seals fail over time, and this pump has been in use since late 2005, so I guess that I am not too surprised.  The surprise was when the repairman went looking for water tank shutoff valve.  Clearly, you do not want to disconnect the water line and have 1000 gallons of water pouring out.  But he could not find such a valve under the house.

Our housebuilder was pretty sure that there was a shutoff valve at the tank--but there was no sign of in on the surface.  I used a metal detector to search the area, and while I could find plenty of copper (electrical), and something of iron, if there was a valve control, it was buried so deeply as to be unusable.

Anyway, Idaho Pump repaired the seal, and put in a shutoff valve just before the pressurization pump.  Of course, this mean emptying the water tank.  This was not terribly fast.  This raised the bill for the whole procedure to about $400, which doesn't seem terribly unreasonable considering how much he spent looking for the shutoff valve, waiting for the tank to empty, and installing the shutoff valve that should have been there in the first place.

The good news: even an end of the world as we know it event that knocked out our backup generator and therefore well pump means that we have a year's worth of water available through a gravity-fed spigot.

UPDATE: After the plumber left, we noticed the gravity-fed spigot wasn't working.  The plumber suggested that some dirt or a small pebble might be blocking the line.  Since the same line feeds the pressurization pump and the gravity-fed spigot (using a T-connection), and water was coming through the pressurization pump fine, this told me that the blockage was between the spigot and the T-connection.  The plumber suggested that since the pressure from gravity feed was not high, getting a female-female hose connector (like this one I bought at Home Depot), and running water from one of the pressurized hose bibs back through the spigot might knock it loose.  It took a couple of tries, but whatever was the obstacle cleared.

If You Need Computer Repair In Boise, Let Me Share a Positive Experience

Northwind Computers, on Hays Street.  A few months back I mentioned that my antique laptop was having overheating problems, and I removed as much dust and cat hair as I could reach from the fan grille.  Then I tried to disassemble it so that I could actually get inside.  The instructions that I found online were not spectacularly useful, and eventually, I settled for what I could vacuum out, and reassembled it.

A few days ago, I discovered that the microphone input jack was no longer working, even though the headphone/speaker jack next to it worked fine.  So I took the computer into Northwind for cleaning, and I told them about the problem that I was having with the microphone jack.  They disassembled it, cleaned, and discovered that the wire from the microphone jack was being run into by the DVD drive mechanism.  They did not have a working microphone, but they thought that this was the problem.  If the circuit board responsible for this was at fault, the parts would be about $6, and their labor just another half hour.

Total charges: $37.

When I plugged the microphone in last night, it again works!

Yes, I really should buy a new laptop, but the prospect of spending many hours reinstalling my applications is a bit discouraging.  I have other work to do.

Monday, July 28, 2014

This Sounds Overstated: Any Running Reduces Your Risk of Early Death

From July 28, 2014 USA Today:
Whether you run 30 minutes a week or two hours a week, your risk of early death will be the same — better than if you don't run. Researchers found that running, no matter the duration or speed, will reduce mortality risk by about 30% compared with non-runners.
If the point of the study was that there is a point of diminishing returns, and it is fairly low (thirty minutes a week of running, or any other vigorous exercise, as the article later explains, gives you all the benefit of two hours a week), then it would be nice to know what that point of diminishing returns is.  Read literally, a person who runs three minutes a week gets all the cardiologic health benefits of running thirty minutes a week.  Sorry, but that is quite counterintuitive.

Still: even a bit of exercise is better than none.  In my case, I keep doing forty minutes a night on the treadmill because it helps me sleep, reduces my appetite, and lowers my blood pressure.

My cardiologist has reduced my blood pressure dosages in half because my blood pressure was too low.  Typically, my morning blood pressure is about 113/70, and my pulse is typically 60-66.

It May Be Time To Build Up The Food Stockpiles

The Ebola situation is getting a bit more worrisome.  From July 28, 2014 USA Today:
Still despite precautions, two American health workers have fallen ill. One of them, Nancy Writebol, a mother of two, was treating Ebola patients for the past year in the Liberian capital of Monrovia with the overseas Christian aid group Serving in Mission, before she contracted the deadly virus.
She is now in isolation, according to the aid group.
The other American infected in Monrovia is Kent Brantly, 33, a physician with the North Carolina-based medical charity Samaritan's Purse. Brantly, a father of two, had recognized his condition in its early stages and was in a stable condition in intensive medical care in a Monrovia hospital, according to the group Serving in Mission....
A Ugandan Ebola expert working in Liberia, Samuel Brisbane, died on Sunday, while Shiek Umar Khan, the leading Ebola doctor in Sierra Leone, contracted the virus last week. A Liberian doctor treating patients on the outskirts of Monrovia also died from Ebola on Saturday.
Yes, it's true, as this July 28, 2014 ABC News report emphasizes:
The World Health Organization has yet to impose any travel restrictions on the area, stressing that it’s “highly unlikely” for the outbreak to spread by plane.
“The people who get Ebola tend to be in removed villages and tend not to have the money to be able to get on planes,” WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said, adding that it’s equally unlikely for an American traveler to bring the disease back. “They would be probably be aware of the situation going into it and be advised not to touch someone who looks ill and feverish.”
And the incubation period, according to the Financial Times, is two to twenty-one days.  It isn't likely that a person is going to get out of the African bush or small villages into an international airport before they become obviously sick.  But doctors wearing moonsuits are getting sick.  What are the chances that someone might end up infected, but not yet obviously sick, and leaves the area at 22 days, still asymptomatic?  Small.  But not particularly implausible.

The first clearly recognized case in the West should cause some serious preparation, and not just among paranoid survivalists.

For You Eclipse & MyEclipse Users: If Your Unit Tests Are Running Out of Heap Space

It won't do you any good to enlarge the maximum heap space size with the -Xmx argument on the command line.  This very useful explanation at StackOverflow describes the cause and the solution:
Junit tests are run in a different vm as the Eclipse IDE. So it is that vm that is out of memory and not the Eclipse one.
You can change the settings of the test vm in the run configurations of the test.
You go to the run configurations and then under arguments, you can set the vm arguments.

Trial Going Forward Over FOIA Requests Concerning Oklahoma City Bombing

July 28, 2014 Houston Chronicle reports that a case is going forward concerning whether the FBI is withholding evidence:
He says the FBI won't release videos that show a second person was with Timothy McVeigh when he parked a truck outside the Oklahoma City federal building and detonated a bomb that killed 168 people.
The government says McVeigh was alone.
U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups sent the case to trial after remaining unsatisfied with the FBI's responses in the five years since the lawsuit was filed.
This is a very interesting case.  I was glad that McVeigh admitted his guilt in this matter because from reading the transcripts of his trial, it is pretty clear that the federal prosecutor failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that McVeigh did it.  There was certainly evidence that supported that claim, but it is was not spectacularly impressive, and McVeigh's defense attorney Stephen Jones did a spectacular job of poking big gaping holes in the government's claims.  Perhaps the most important is the questions raised about the leftover leg.  (Did 168 people die in this tragedy, or 169?  The leftover leg raised some serious questions.)

The claim that a second person was involved was based on eyewitness reports (which are often unreliable) and the FBI's initial attempts to locate a second person of interest (of Middle Eastern appearance).   There have long been questions about whether there might have been Iraqi involvement in this bombing.  McVeigh's partner, Terry Nichols was in a Philippines hotel at the same time as some of the people involved in the first World Trade Center bombing, such as Ramzi Youssef, and by some accounts, actually met with him.

I would love to know if there really was a second person with McVeigh when the bomb was delivered.  The spare leg might be all that was left of the guy.  One of those who testified at McVeigh's trial was the former medical examiner for Northern Ireland, who described a paper that he had published about a premature bomb explosion by the IRA that left eight bodies, and nine penises.  The owner of number nine was apparently blown to smithereens, leaving only one body part intact.

There Are Examples of Judicial Misconduct That Just Amaze Me

Instapundit links to a discussion of what happened when a judge was hearing a child custody dispute case, while having sex with the mother in his chambers, and, surprisingly enough, ruling against the father.  Can the father sue the judge?  The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals rules no, that the judge enjoys judicial immunity for his actions.

This really does seem an area where Congress, if it had any integrity, would take action. There are clearly situations where a judge should not enjoy immunity for his actions.

Alan Gura Wins Another Important Case

Palmer v. D.C. (D.C.Dist. 2014): D.C's ban on carrying a gun without a permit--and then refusing to issue a permit--is unconstitutional.  It appears that D.C. either has to adopt a shall-issue permit law, like Illinois was required to do in Moore v. Madigan (7th Cir. 2012), or allow anyone who can lawfully possess a firearm to carry it in D.C., and unlike the Moore decision, this decision does not give D.C. any time to craft a new law.  They are enjoined from enforcement of the existing law.  (I'm guessing that governmental buildings might be off-limits still, and D.C. has some restrictions on magazine capacity that you still have to obey.)  Gura basks in the glory of his victory here.

I'm Sure It's Just a Coincidence

DENVER (AP) — Officials at some Denver homeless shelters say the legalization of marijuana has contributed to an increase in the number of younger people living on the city's streets.
One organization dealing with the increase is Urban Peak, which provides food, shelter and other services to homeless people aged 15 to 24 in Denver and Colorado Springs.
"Of the new kids we're seeing, the majority are saying they're here because of the weed," deputy director Kendall Rames told The Denver Post ( ). "They're traveling through. It is very unfortunate."
Soon, Colorado can be one big Jamaica!  Admittedly, there are other possible causes, but it does seem to be a magnet for people for whom marijuana is more important than work.

What A Surprise: "Anal, Throat Cancers On Rise Among Young Adults"

From July 27, 2014 CBS Atlanta:
ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS Atlanta) – According to a new study, anal and throat cancers have increased over the past 35 years in adults younger than 45.
“The increase in the incidence of oropharyngeal cancer among younger men and of anal cancer among younger women are disturbing, because there are no screening programs for early detection of these cancers,” Dr. Lorraine Shack, an assistant professor of oncology at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine, and co-author on the study, toldHealthDay....
They also found that anal cancer among women has doubled, going from 0.7 to 1.5 for every 100,000 people. 
Hmmm.  I wonder what might have changed over the last 35 years?  GMO food?  Fluoride in our water?  What could it be?

Ammo Price Survey

A reader pointed me to The Firearms Blog, which has a weekly price check on ammo.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Insanity of .22LR Prices

Over at, .22LR is 22 cents per round, but 9mm is 21 cents per round.  I know that .22LR is not terribly profitable, and so manufacturers are reluctant to invest money in expanding production capacity for it, but this is silly.

Not A Happy Ending, But It Could Have Been Worse

Mentally ill person kills a case worker; psychiatrist at the scene draws and shoots the mentally ill person.  From the July 25, 2014 Houston Chronicle:
Authorities are trying to determine why a man identified as a patient fatally shot a caseworker at a hospital complex in a Philadelphia suburb and whether a psychiatrist who pulled out his own gun and wounded the patient had concerns about him.
The psychiatrist, Dr. Lee Silverman, was grazed in the temple during the gunfight in his office Thursday afternoon with patient Richard Plotts, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan said.
"We do believe that there were some issues between the doctor and the patient, but whether or not he actually feared him is unclear," Whelan said.
Whether "he actually feared him"?   Let's see, the patient had just shot someone and grazed the doctor with a bullet.  I think that qualifies as reason to fear him.  The July 25, 2014 Philadelphia Inquirer reports:
Plotts, according to police and those who knew him, was not just a threat to the safety of others - but also to himself.
Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood said his department had involuntarily committed Plotts for suicide attempts in 2010 and 2013. Court documents show Plotts has at least four firearms violations and a history of drug offenses.
In 1995, Plotts was accused of robbing a Wilmington, Del., bank but got away with nothing when a dye pack in the stolen bag of money exploded and scared him into dropping the loot, according to an Inquirer report at the time. The report said Plotts was a "self-employed contractor" with a wife and two kids.
Pennsylvania requires all handgun purchases to go through a background check, including private party sales.  Potts clearly could not have lawfully purchased a handgun.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Very Grim Paper

"Stained Glass: The Nature and Scope of Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church" from Criminal Justice and Behavior 2008; 35; 549.  This was the first national survey attempting to determine the number of priests and monks engaged in sexual abuse of children, and not just a survey based on clinical data (which of course involves those who end up in trouble). The good news is that only 4% of priests active 1950 to 2002 had allegations of sexual abuse against them.  The bad news is that 4% of priests had such allegations.  The damage that such abuse does to children is horrifying, but when done by someone who claims to speak for God--even worse.  Unsurprisingly, 81% of the victims are boys, and generally, boys were more likely to be postpubescent.  Interestingly enough, priests with a single allegation were much more likely to have abused girls, suggesting that they learned to stop doing this.

The Crusades Were Started With Less Provocation

Their English translations aren't very good, but the tragedies that they are describing match what secular news sources are telling us that ISIS is doing elsewhere.  The Crusades were started with less provocation than this.  But that was when Christianity was still an important force of Western Civilization.  Not now.

Veiling Mannequins: New Law

ISIL has ordered shopkeepers to veil mannequins in shop windows.  From July 22, 2014 Washington Times:
Sunni radicals with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have a new rule of shopkeepers in the Iraqi city of Mosul: Mannequins must have veiled faces.
The decree by the terrorist group was made under the pretext that doing so is in line with Sharia law, The Associated Press reported Tuesday. Members of the group assert that the human form is not to be depicted in statues or artwork.

Read more: Follow us: @washtimes on Twitter
Well, yes, that's correct: depictions of any living creatures (not just humans) are prohibited by the Koran.  While some Muslim societies (such as Moorish Spain) did not strictly follow this rule, generally they have done so.  This is the reason that abstract art has always been one of the strengths of the Muslim world.  But compared to ISIL's orders to Christians in Mosul, this is pretty minor:
There is now one less place for Iraq’s Christians to call home. Since the U.S. military-led invasion in 2003, the country’s minorities have watched as their places of worship have come under attack and the prospects for practicing their religion without persecution have become increasingly grim.
Now, the Islamic State armed group has solidified its grip on the northern city of Mosul and imposed a deadline over the weekend demanding Christians either convert, pay a tax or “face the sword.” With that ultimatum, thousands of Christians fled, leaving most of what they own behind. They made their way to Erbil in the Kurdish-controlled region in the north, as well as the Christian city of Qaraqosh, southeast of Mosul, and also under the protection of the Kurdish peshmerga.
“For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians,” said Patriarch Louis Sako, one of Iraq’s senior Chaldean Catholic clerics. 

What A Surprise: Obamacare Subsidies Available For Fraudulent Applicants

July 23, 2014 National Journal reports that people applying with fake identification, fake social security numbers, and fraudulent claims of low income were usually able to get subsidies for their health insurance: 
Fake applicants were able to get subsidized insurance coverage in 11 of 18 attempts, according to a report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office. The agency conducted the sting operation to test the strength of the Affordable Care Act's eligibility-verification system.
The findings will be discussed at a House Ways and Means hearing Wednesday. They were revealed in an advance copy of the testimony from Seto Bagdoyan, head of GAO's Forensic Audits and Investigative Service, provided to the Associated Press.
The undercover investigators created fake identities by inventing Social Security numbers, income, and citizenship, and by counterfeiting documents.
Part of why I was mildly tolerant of Obamacare's web page failure problem was that what they were doing was hard: opening up secure databases from multiple government agencies to verify the accurate of stuff like Social Security numbers, income, and citizenship.  These databases are secure, and should be.  But if they can't even verify the data accurately, they have less excuse for their failure to do it efficiently.

Medical Personnel Dying of Ebola

The head doctor fighting the deadly tropical virus Ebola in Sierra Leone has himself caught the disease, the government said.
The 39-year-old Sheik Umar Khan, hailed as a "national hero" by the health ministry, was leading the fight to control an outbreak that has killed 206 people in the West African country. Ebola kills up to 90 percent of those infected and there is no cure or vaccine....
Three days ago, three nurses working in the same Ebola treatment centre alongside Khan died from the disease.
I am surprised that al-Qaeda hasn't purposefully infected some of its suicide bombers with Ebola, and sent them into international airports.  For those who don't understand what drove the writing of novels like The Stand and Andromeda Strain (Michael Crichton's first and best novel), read about Ebola, Marburg and similar hemorrhagic fevers.  The Hot Zone is, unfortunately, not fiction.  The guy at CDC whose job it was to deal with an outbreak of Ebola Reston ended up retiring to a remote town in Montana.  He's no fool.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Baclofen: Muscle Relaxant; Body Relaxant; Brain Rexalant

My doctor prescribed a muscle relaxant for my back problem, which started back in the 1980s, but hasn't been real bad until recently.  The stress of 12 hours each way in the car, plus the stress of my brother's funeral, has greatly aggravated it.

A co-worker said that I looked like I had too much to drink.  I have no idea what that feels like because it has been too long to remember what "too much to drink" is like.  But I am definitely not driving home in my current state.  I think it's safe to write JSPs in this state, but nothing more sophisticated than that.

UPDATE: Not even feeling that good now.  This must be a cumulative effect.  Awful.

TANF Funds At Pot Shops

National Review Online reports that:
At least 259 times in the first six months of legalized recreational marijuana in Colorado, beneficiaries used their electronic-benefit transfer (EBT) cards to access public assistance at weed retailers and dispensaries, withdrawing a total of $23,608.53 in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash, NRO’s examination found.
The article does explain that some pot sellers also sell groceries, so it is possible that  this is not as bad as it sounds.  I can see why some taxpayers might get a bit upset about their tax dollars being used to keep dopers happy.  Note that this seems to include both those selling recreational marijuana and "medical marijuana."  (I put that in quotes because while there are some legitimate medical uses of marijuana, I think it is a good bet that much of it is not at all legitimate medical use.)

A Dangerous Malfunction for AR-15s

Shall Not Be Questioned points to this rather serious problem described on The View From North Central Idaho.
The last few times I used my AR it would occasionally “double”. I thought maybe it was just dirty and cleaned it. It didn’t do it for a while then it did it again. I cleaned it then when I hadthe private party last month it did it when it only had a few rounds after being cleaned. I set the gun aside and used a different one.
About three weeks ago I removed the trigger group and was going to replace the springs. That surely was the problem, right?
I was dismayed at the state of the important surfaces.
If you are not a shooter, you may not recognize the term "double."  This means that you pull the trigger, and you get two shots fired, not one.  This might sound really cool--sort of a burst action rifle--but it is a serious problem, both because you are likely not expecting it, and because the BATFE has, on some occasions, prosecuted people with a rifle that would occasionally double for possessing a full auto weapon.  This is a very serious crime.  You do not want this to happen.

In this case, the problem was a worn surface on the hammer and trigger, probably caused by bad heat treating of the steel.

One of the comments on The View From North Central Idaho describes a test that people who spend a lot of time shooting AR-15s should perform every 90 days:
every few hundred rounds perform this function check.
Place selector on SEMI
With Trigger pulled to rear, pull Charging Handle and release.
SLOWLY (as in 1/4 the speed of normal) release Trigger.
Hammer should not fall, should release from disconnector and should ‘catch’ on trigger.
You should hear a ‘click’ but this is the sound of the Hammer being caught by the trigger.
Pull Charging Handle to rear and keep it pulled to rear
Pull Trigger to rear and while keeping trigger pulled to rear, release Charging Handle.
Repeat the SLOW Trigger release.
Repeat this three more times.
The Hammer must hold without falling for five times in a row while the Trigger is being slowly released. 
 This is essentially the M16 function test the government performs.

They Just Do This To Torture Us

I received an email with the subject line "GLOCK Blue Label Discount".  It is the law enforcement discount for Glocks.  Alas, while I work for a law enforcement agency, the discount is only for:
Sworn Law Enforcement Officers or Federal Agents, Retired Law Enforcement Officers or Retired Federal Agents with "retired" credentials, Corrections Officers, including Parole & Probation Officers, State licensed Security Companies, State licensed Armed Security Officers, Active Military, National Guard, or Military Reserve personnel (all branches), including Retired Military with "retired" credentials only, Licensed Para-Medics or EMTs, Fire Fighters (including volunteers) with appropriate I.D., Court Judges, District Attorneys and Deputy District Attorneys, LE Academy Cadets with enrollment documentation from the academy.
How unfair: IT is not included!

Okay, I really don't need another pistol.   But I do like Glocks!

Cattle Damage

We came back from the funeral, and found dozens of cattle hoof indentations in our new asphalt driveway, apparently because of how hot it was while we were gone.  And a dent in the telescope garage door with the distinctive color of beef cattle hair.  The insurance company said that they get more meteor strike claims than cattle damage claims.

Monday, July 21, 2014

What A Surprise: Socialism Seems To Impair Honesty

The July 19, 2014 Economist reports on a study where Germans were asked to take a test which was intended to determine how honest people are, when the stakes are really low:
Lars Hornuf of the University of Munich and Dan Ariely, Ximena García-Rada and Heather Mann of Duke University ran an experiment last year to test Germans’ willingness to lie for personal gain. Some 250 Berliners were randomly selected to take part in a game where they could win up to €6 ($8).
What they found was that those who had grown up in East Germany were more likely to lie (to get the  €6) than those who had grown up in West Germany.  This really does not surprise me.  For all the rhetoric about how concern for others and the elimination of personal gain was going to create "true socialist man," my limited experience with people from behind the Iron Curtain suggests that instead of creating people of higher morals, it tends to do just the opposite.  

Many years ago, I worked with a gal who met a Soviet emigre on an Israeli kibbutz.  Of course, they fell in love (well, at least she fell in love).  They married, returned to the U.S., and he became a U.S. citizen.  She worked full time and paid for him to go to college and get an engineering degree.  She mentioned that it was really hard to get her husband to stop looking for ways to game the system, lie, cheat, and mislead to get what he wanted; it was just such a part of his personality after so many years in the Soviet Union.  And what a surprise!  Shortly after completing his degree that his wife had paid for...he divorced her.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

When Jesus Meets Unix

I saw this bumper sticker on a car as we were passing through Bend.  It's a bit out of focus, but all the cars were moving...  It took a minute to figure out its meaning.  For those who don't write Unix shell scripts, HE>i orders Unix to execute a program named HE, and to write standard output into a file name i.  Because it is > not >>, it does not append the output to file i, but completely replaces its existing contents.

I'm pretty sure that this is a Christian Unix user explaining that the Holy Spirit has (or at least, is) replacing his human nature with something less sinful.  The alternative is that some Unix user is really, really confused about where to enter commands.

Oregon Wildlife

On the road between Drain and Bandon in Oregon is an elk viewing area:

And of course, peacocks further up the road:

I Don't Intend To Post Much More About Ron

But at least a few more postings about events and circumstances that seem especially poignant.  We had a memorial service on Wednesday evening.  Ron had not made any advance funeral arrangements (which are a really good thing to do for your next of kin), but he did have a will specifying that he wanted to be buried, not cremated. 

Ever since Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death (1963), there has been an awareness that the funeral industry often takes advantage of grief-stricken next of kin by upselling absurdly expensive funeral arrangements.  I was a bit concerned that trying to make arrangements for Ron under these circumstances might expose us to this, but I was very pleasantly surprised by Kelly White at Amling/Schroeder Funeral Services in Bandon.  He was compassionate, caring, and at no point did I feel that we were being pressured or encouraged to spend anything unreasonable.  I hope that you don't need those sort of services anytime soon, but if you are in Bandon...

We had some odds and ends from Ron's childhood and military service present.  Some baby clothes, and a picture of Ron with two of his sisters:

 I think this went out of a fashion some years ago, but it used to be quite common to have the first baby shoes bronzed, and of course, that included Ron's, and a picture of him from when he won a "most beautiful baby" contest in the 1940s:

A few other odds and ends, such as this Snohomish County Library card, from the 1950s.

This picture was part of an art project that my sister did when she was working on her degree at UCLA in the 1960s.  We used to keep the picture of just the heads in front of this picture, so people could wonder how it was done:

And yes, that's me on the extreme right of the picture.

Like a lot of other young Americans, Ron served in the U.S. Army during the 1960s. 

Like a lot of other American men, it was not by choice.  Like many others, he received the infamous "Greetings" letter telling him to show up for induction.  But unlike many others, when he completed the Army's general intelligence test, they realized that he was special.  He missed two questions.  They told him, "If we draft you, we have no control over your training or where you will go.  You will probably end up as infantry in Vietnam.  But if you volunteer, you can pick your training."  So he has an honorable discharge dated 24 hours after he was drafted, conditional on volunteering. 

He signed up for electronics technician training.  After Basic Training, he went to Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, where he trained to troubleshoot Nike-Hercules radar systems.  For you kids, this was an anti-aircraft missile with a hydrogen bomb warhead, intended to take out incoming Soviet bomber fleets.  (If you have a hydrogen bomb, you don't need to get real close.)  Originally, Ron was supposed to go to Germany to maintain these systems, but he finished first in his class, and was asked to become the instructor instead, so he spent his time in the service in Alabama.

We arranged for a notice to appear in the Bandon daily giveaway paper, because we knew that Ron had some friends in the community, but we did not really know who they were.  It appears that the entire staff of McFarland's, a bar where Ron spent a lot of time drinking coffee (no, really, going to a bar to drink coffee) showed up for his service. 

 The owner, Moxie, and I spent some time talking before the service.  It was obvious to Moxie and the rest of the staff that something was off about Ron, but his sometimes odd behavior was not odd enough to be a problem for them.  Moxie told me that when she talked to Ron, she was really impressed how very intelligent he was, in spite of whatever problems he had.  We talked for a few more minutes about Ron, and the problems of schizophrenia, then Moxie suddenly asked me what I did for a living.  I told her.  Her eyes widened and then she asked, "Is everyone in the family a genius?"

I suppose that her eyes probably widened a bit more when my sister shared about one of the electronics projects that Ron did--an undercover device that used foot switches to input the number of tens and non-tens already played in blackjack, and then used electrodes on his back to tell him the correct betting strategy.  (For those who have read Edward O. Thorp's Beat The Dealer, this should all make sense.)  The state of electronics was still pretty primitive in the early 1970s when he built this device, so it makes it all the more interesting.

Here's the saddest part of all.  Ron, because of his schizophrenia, would not allow anyone to clean his bedroom, nor did he do so himself.  He collected rocks, occasionally interesting, but overwhelmingly, only interesting in the separate reality that his mental illness had created.  The juxtaposition of his books from before he became ill, and the rocks that became his obsession afterwards, and the dirt everywhere, really captures the tragedy of schizophrenia: it overwhelmingly takes some of the brightest minds, and reduces them to this.

News You Can Use

For a long time, I have turned off collision coverage on the Corvette in winter (when I can't drive it), and for the Jaguar the rest of the year (when I don't drive it).  This saves quite a bit of money on car insurance.  Turning collision back on again is easy; we drove the Jaguar to the funeral, so I called Progressive Sunday evening to turn it back on before driving to the Oregon coast.  (My wife prefers the Jaguar for road trips over the Corvette, and the TrailBlazer has a lot of miles on it.)

I learned something new this week while helping to wind up my brother's affairs.  When I called Progressive Insurance to remove him from the policy, and then to remove his car after we sold it, I discovered that what they were calling "vacation hold" was not just "no collision" but also removing public liability, uninsured motorist, etc.  So this morning, when I called to change the coverage on the Jaguar (which is now back in the garage), I talked to Policy Services at Progressive, and they confirmed that at least in my state, I could remove everything but comprehensive coverage.  As long as I don't drive the car, this handles everything that could go wrong: garage collapse; meteor collision (yes, this happened in upstate New York a few years ago); even car theft that leads to a collision.  The net effect is to save an additional $20 a month beyond just turning off collision coverage.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Home. Exhausted.

There are no good funerals, but driving 12 hours each way just adds to the misery.  It is possible to fly into North Bend, Oregon, airport, but departures on Monday were either way too early, or way too late. 

There are funerals where you can honestly say, "This is a person who lived a full and satisfying life, but every life comes to an end."  Ron's life, however, was a tragedy--a person with enormous potential largely wasted by schizophrenia.  One of my sisters described it well: the brother she knew and loved died decades ago, and a complete stranger had taken over his body.

Adding to the tragedy is that parents should not have to bury their children.  It is out of the natural order of things.

I am writing this at 4:15 AM, my sinuses on fire, as bad as I can ever remember them being.  Ron's bedroom, which he had not allowed anyone to clean, was much like the interior of his car: filthy in a way that was utterly repulsive.  I spent a number of hours with my wife and siblings on cleaning his car in preparation for sale, and making a small dent on cleaning the room.  I suspect that my sinus problems are connected.  I should have worn a dust mask before going in to either.

I have become quite unsympathetic to decriminalization of marijuana over the years because it is certainly one of the triggers of schizophrenia.  (Alcohol is likely another, and LSD certainly so.)  Watching the last forty years of my brother's life play out makes me utterly unsympathetic to those who are prepared to tolerate an increase in such tragedies so that they can get high.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

My Brother Ron Just Died

My mother has been his caretaker for a number of years, and we just assumed that he would outlive her, but that was not to be.  He has been suffering some intestinal distress for the last couple of days, and suddenly died on the couch at the home they share in Oregon.

Don't expect much posting for a few days while I head to the funeral.

UPDATE: Thanks to all for kind words and prayers.  I try to remember the brother who taught me to read, took me on my first airplane flight, and worked with me on making guncotton and distilling alcohol over a kitchen stove using beakers and condensers.  That brother died long, long ago, replaced by one who was tormented by mental illness.  He is doubtless at peace now.

Many Peer-Reviewed Journals Expect The Author To Pay For Publication

One of my readers mentioned this in response to a recent article about a recent scandal involving authors reviewing their own papers under false names, and I am now even more unimpressed than I was before.  My few experiences with peer-reviewed journal submissions game me the distinct impression that peer review is a method by which the established voices in the profession make sure that nothing too contrary to the orthodox thinking gets published.  The prospect of having to cough up several thousand dollars to get something published makes me even a bit more cynical than I was before.

I Guess We'll Have To Invade

From July 12, 2014 Associated Press:
SINGAPORE (AP) — A children's book inspired by a real-life story of two male penguins raising a baby chick in New York's zoo has been deemed inappropriate by state-run Singapore libraries, and the conservative city-state's information minister said he supports the decision to destroy all copies alongside two other titles.

The National Library Board, which runs 26 public libraries in Singapore, pulled from the shelves and said it would "pulp" the copies of three titles, citing complaints their content goes against Singapore's family values.

The books are "And Tango Makes Three," about a male-male penguin couple in the Central Park Zoo; "The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption," which involves a lesbian couple; and "Who's In My Family: All About Our Families."
Increasingly, American foreign policy is as much focused on imposing what are now American values about homosexuality onto the Third World as it is about U.S. national security.