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Archive for November 2010

Thinking about thinking: Glenn Beck and Thomas Sowell on Congressional Pay

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Glenn Beck and Thomas Sowell have both weighed in on the issue of congressional pay.  They have arrived at completely different points of view. 

What’s even more interesting is how these two individuals arrived at their positions.  And further, the influence that each of these people have on the general populace and voting public.  That is, how many millions of people do each of these people influence; how does it affect the views of society in general; and how are elections influenced by these ideas?

Glenn Beck

According to the Wikipedia Glenn Beck is described as “… an American conservative[4] radio and television host, political commentator, author, and entrepreneur. He is the host of The Glenn Beck Program, a nationally syndicated talk-radio show that airs throughout the United States on Premiere Radio Networks; He is also the host of a self-titled cable-news show on Fox News Channel. As an author, Beck has had six New York Times-bestselling books, with five debuting at #1.   Beck is also the founder and CEO of Mercury Radio Arts, a multi-media production company through which he produces content for radio, television, publishing, the stage, and the Internet”

Glenn Beck provides these data points related to his postion of congressional pay:

The typical pay of a soldier in the Military – $22,000/yr
The average pay of a working american – $50,000/yr
Congressional Pay – $174,000/yr  ( read it )

The Pitch

Glenn Beck wants to limit the pay of  individual members of congress to no higher than what the average americanworker  makes – $50,000.  He further wants to point out the disparity of pay between an individual serving in congress and an individual serving on the front lines in Iraq or Afghanistan – $174,000 vs $22,000.  Limit congressional pay to no more than an average working american.  Sound like a good idea?

Thomas Sowell

According to the Wikipedia Thomas Sowell is described as  “… an American economist, social critic, political commentator and author. He is currently a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. In 1990, he won the Francis Boyer Award, presented by the American Enterprise Institute. In 2002 he was awarded the National Humanities Medal for prolific scholarship melding history, economics, and political science. In 2003, he was awarded the Bradley Prize for intellectual achievement.” 

The Pitch

Thomas Sowell says we should pay every member of congress $10 million/yr.

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Curiosity: Take your PC to a Party OR Burning Man for Computer Folks

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Between discovery and serendipity I ran across this customer review of a computer case at an on-line retailer

PowerUp G54-8019 Executive ATX Mid-Tower Case

Product was not very well made. If you are a gamer and like taking your computer to computer parties, don’t buy this case. I expected better quality. I gave this case to my brothers wife and used and older more sturdy case.

All of this was noise to me until I got to “… taking your computer to computer parties…”  Do people take their computers to computer parties?

“Gee Jack”, the host would say when opening the door, “that’s a nice case on that honey you brought tonight”.

Ok, so let’s get serious.  I searched “Computer Party” on the Internet to see what came back.  Surprisingly, I got this

It’s a computer party cruise ship… with 5,000 participants (see link below)

As some of you may know, I’m attending as crew at a large computer party in Norway this easter called The Gathering. I just arrived after a two hour train trip, which was spent on IRC and sending off a few e-mails using my cell phone over GPRS. The party has almost 5000 people attending, and a good 200 people responsible for making the party happen. In just under 24 hours, the Vikingship will start to fill up with enthusiastic computer nerds of all ages, to attend the party for five full days. It will be a party filled with all types of different elements, that make up the computer scene as we know it.

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Written by frrl

November 11, 2010 at 1:41 am

The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow – A few comments part 1

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The local public library in my area is pretty good.  They have a new books shelf and generally have just about every new book on the New York Times best seller list within weeks. 

A couple of weeks ago I saw The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow on the new books shelf.  No one had snatched it so far.  So, I checked it out to take a read.

When this book was released, there was a singular item in the news about this book.  The news item did not focus on the physics of the book but that the book denied that God had anything to do with the creation of the Universe. 

Let me be clear about this.  Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow do not deny that God exists – they just want to say that God was not necessary for the creation of the Universe.  It goes a little beyond this.  The authors want to make the point that it’s not just their opinion that God was not necessary for the creation of the Universe but that this assertion is a product of a series of discoveries by modern physics.

The Mystery of Being and the Rule of Law

The really great thing about this book is not the (superficial) history that you can find in this book or the (superficial) physics that you can find in this book but, for the average reader, how it sets the stage for readers to appreciate the larger issue of the sociology of knowledge and the concept of paradigm shifts over time.

The sociology of knowledge is part of a philosophy of science. The philosophy of science deals with the philosophical foundations of science and part of this is the sociology of knowledge.  One of the foundational works in this discipline was written by Thomas Kuhn in 1962 – The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

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Written by frrl

November 8, 2010 at 10:33 pm

The cacophony of the Radio Frequency Spectrum ( and Guide)

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The wireless world is taken for granted – from the low frequencies that deliver the time to your “Atomic Clock” and AM broadcast Radio, through RF frequencies that provide digital television, cell phone infrastructure, and home networking, up through the satellites that guide you through GPS and provide global communications.

If you could see RF it would be a cacophony of signals.  Did you ever wonder how all this is arranged and packed into the RF spectrum?  Well, I found this wall size chart that lays it all out for your scrutiny.  Maybe you want to take a look-see

Look and take a wall chart of the RF Spectrum Allocation from 3 kHz to 300 GHz –

Historical Perspective

When you take a look at the complexity of that RF spectrum allocation chart think about this.  None of that existed 150 years ago.  All of this are the result of  discoveries, formulations, and inventions of great men.

The first comprehensive formulation of the behaviour of Electromagnetic waves was given by James Clerk Maxwell in 1861.  And, as Newton said about his work, “I have stood on the shoulders of giants” so did Maxwell.  Those giants were Faraday, Gauss, Ampere, and many more.

The precise formulation of the time-space laws was the work of Maxwell. Imagine his feelings when the differential equations he had formulated proved to him that electromagnetic fields spread in the form of polarised waves, and at the speed of light! To few men in the world has such an experience been vouchsafed . . it took physicists some decades to grasp the full significance of Maxwell’s discovery, so bold was the leap that his genius forced upon the conceptions of his fellow-workers                                                           —(Science, May 24, 1940)

Much of what Maxwell published is highly mathematical in nature.  However, he did write for the general populace in such places a Popular Science.  For example, here is an article of Maxwell from 1876 … regarding protection of  a gunpowder-manufactory from lightning strikes.  What could be more practical than this?  Compare this to some of his other papers.

What we really wish is, to prevent the possibility of an electric discharge taking place within a certain region, say in the inside of a gunpowder-manufactory. If this is clearly laid down as our object, the method of securing it is equally clear…

Popular Science Monthly/Volume 10/December 1876 – The Protection of Buildings from Lightning


Read more about Maxwell’s equations –’s_equations

Read some published papers of Maxwell –

Written by frrl

November 6, 2010 at 2:39 am

Review of the APC Back-UPS ES 8 Outlet 550VA 120V – APC BE550

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Do you have a desktop PC with a spinning hard drive with unwritten (cached for performance) data?  Maybe that’s a 1 TB hard drive – or maybe a couple of them.  Did you back that up lately?  What if you needed to get everything back?  Not only your data, but the entire configuration of the operating system and all the installed software?  What happens if you just “pull the plug” on that PC with all those open documents and unwritten data?  Do you know why your desktop PC has a “shutdown” operation and not a physical On/Off switch?  There is a good reason for this.  Desktop PC’s and similar equipment do not like being yanked from the power without warning.  Nor do they like power variations or “brown outs”. 

What is your data (pictures, music, documents) worth to you?  What is your time worth?  How long would it take you to get all this back?  And, could you get it all back if you ended up with a corrupted file system due to a “crash” from an immediate and full power loss?

I have pretty reliable power – unless I don’t.  How about you?  You don’t notified in advance of a fatal power outage, surge, or brown-out.  A few days ago I had a very short power loss lasting 2-3 seconds.  That was enough to cause my running PC to crash.  It  placed my DSL modem into an error condition.  I was able to reboot the computer with no loss of data and there was no damage to the DSL modem or the router.  I was lucky. 

Why take the risk?  If you can’t eliminate the risk then mitigate the risk.  How much does risk mitigation cost?  What would be the value of the loss if you did not proactively plan for a power loss, surge, or brown out?  Do the math including the value of your time and tolerance for frustration in recovering from these unexpected and non predictable events.

What about the EMP?  Can people protect themselves from the EMP?  I don’t know.  

Over the past 10 years I got “EMP’d” – twice.

The lightning strike EMP took out

  1. The tuner on a digital TV set.  The TV set works for other inputs – HDMI, Component, Composit – but no tuner
  2. A radio that was plugged into the wall running on 110v power with a built-in transformer
  3. An Astron 35 amp power supply that was plugged-in and operating.  The Astron power supply was plugged into an ISOBAR surge protector when it was damaged
  4. The utility company’s RF sending device that sends them my Water usage.
  5. The network capability of a computer that was running at the time.  This included a nasty smell from the power supply.  The computer booted but no longer recognized the on-board ethernet.  I purchased a PCI based network card for about $14 and all is well.

Even the Astron Power Supply that was on an ISOBAR Surge Protector did not survive the nearby lightning strike.

The APC Back-UPS ES 8 Outlet 550VA 120V – APC BE550 UPS

All I want is enough time for the UPS to take me through a brown-out or short-duration power loss.  I don’t need to run for hours.  If it’s not a short-duration power outage, then I want enough time to do an orderly shutdown of a desktop computer; or, if possible, I want some software to shut down my PC when unattended.  I also want my DSL modem protected as well as my wireless router.  These latter two devices are low power consumption devices.

Based on the above requirements, I picked the The APC Back-UPS ES 8 Outlet 550VA 120V – APC Model BE550G

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Written by frrl

November 4, 2010 at 2:07 am

Quotable: On Creativity and Innovation

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Sadly, this feels all too familiar. I think it is an almost inevitable result of too many years of focus on process standardization, repeatability, optimization, and all those other things that make us so good at being efficient workers.

I have a friend who teaches drawing. She has taught both children and adults. She says that children are natural artists, and accurately (if at times messily) draw what they actually see until about age 8, when they begin drawing what they think they see (and produce stick figures).

When she teaches adults to draw, she helps them recover the ability to perceive edges, spaces, relationships, light and shadow, and to draw those things instead of the cup or chair or face or mountain that they think they see. It takes a few days of practice, but eventually they get it, and they begin to draw like the artists that they always were by nature. (I haven’t yet had the chance to take one of her classes, so I can’t verify that they work for everyone!)

I suspect there is a parallel here with creativity and innovation in general. We are all strongly socialized to NOT be innovative. We have somehow come to accept that being creative is hard and dangerous work, when perhaps all that is needed is a shift in perception.

What if the walls of the box within which we think are not so solid as we perceive them to be? What might we see if we focused on the lights and shadows surrounding us, rather than the planes and surfaces that seem to enclose us?

— Lori (Learning Architect at a Fortune 100 company)

Written by frrl

November 1, 2010 at 4:23 pm

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Learning from the Military: How to excel under pressure

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In October of 2010, Paul Sullivan from Harvard Business School addressed the cadets at West Point.  In the address, Sullivan delivered to these cadets what he discovered over years of research on studying people under pressure – what makes them successful and what causes them to collapse.   Sullivan found that people who excel under pressure share these five characteristics:

  1. Focus. This allows you to block out everything that distracts from your goal. It is not to be confused with concentration. Focus is a laser beam; concentration is merely a flashlight.
  2. Discipline. This allows you to stay the course under pressure and is always an internal battle.
  3. Adaptability. Colonel Thomas Kolditz describes this as “fighting the fight, not fighting the plan”. In other words, don’t let your ego stop you from abandoning the wrong course of action.
  4. Being Present. This helps you respond to anything that comes your way. It also keeps you from thinking about a past failure or the expected glory if you succeed.
  5. Fear and Desire. These two emotions are axiomatic to military leaders. In business, the desire for success mixed with the fear of failure will keep you on track under pressure, particularly for entrepreneurs or leaders trying to take their division or company in a different direction.

From Sullivan…

Now, it’s one thing for a colonel who has commanded an 850-person battalion in combat to talk about navigating extreme situations; it’s a completely different thing for a 20-year-old cadet to grasp the concept of leading under pressure and have a sophisticated awareness of the pitfalls that trap those who fail.

Talking to some of the young men and women after the presentation, I realized that most of them have a better grasp on what being “clutch” means than many seasoned executives I’ve interviewed. This is good for the country, but not great for business.

What the private sector can learn from cadets at West Point

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Written by frrl

November 1, 2010 at 12:55 am

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