Time Tunnel – precursor to Quantum Leap?

Does anybody remember the Irwin Allen TV series Time Tunnel?  It’s so perfectly inane and silly, but still enjoyable as a guilty pleasure.  It’s now available as DVD sets!  Hurrah!

The premise of the series is that the US was developing a time travel machine and 2 scientists get stuck in a different time.  The folks in the control room (surrounded by surplus computer equipment and lots of flashing lights) can’t bring them back, or communicate with them, but they can see what the pair are up to most of the time.  Usually, there is some technical difficulty that makes them helpless to intervene, even though they can and do dig up historical pictures and facts about the time and place where the scientists “landed”.

Almost all the episodes follow this simple format:

  1. The pair of scientists are “dropped” in some random time and place, with predictable rolling on the floor as they always arrive above floor level.
  2. The pair look around and try to figure out where/when they are.
  3. Bad guys show up.
  4. A fist fight ensues.
  5. Our pugilistic scientists are subdued and the bad guys announce their imminent demise.
  6. –commercial usually goes here–
  7. The rest of the episode is chock full of bad acting, cheesy sets and special effects, and serves to educate the viewer about some historical event (somewhat – literary license is frequently employed), and unravel the pair’s predicament.
  8. When the pair are finally out of peril at the end of the episode, their dirty/torn clothes are miraculously restored, and they are transported to the next timezone for a sneak peak of the next episode.

All of this predates “Quantum Leap” by many years, yet there are definitely many similarities.  I must admit though, that the acting improved a bit.  The plots are usually interesting, so if you can get past the cheese, they are worth revisiting.


USGS Constrictor report – ineptitude or unethical practices?

Newsletter from the United States Association of Reptile Keepers: [added emphasis mine]

The Wildlife Research Center of the US Department of Agriculture has recently released a peer reviewed scientific paper in Biological Invasions that casts serious doubt on wild claims made by the US Geological Survey that Burmese pythons are poised to spread out of South Florida. –Avery, M., Engeman, R., Keacher, K., Humphrey, J., Bruce, W., Mathies, T., & Mauldin, R. (2010). Cold weather and the potential range of invasive Burmese pythons, Biological Invasions, DOI: 10.1007/s10530-010-9761-4

In an in-house “Open Report” produced by the USGS (Giant Constrictors: Biological and Management Profiles and an Establishment Risk Assessment for Nine Large Species of Pythons, Anacondas, and the Boa Constrictor) authors Gordon Rodda and Robert Reed claim that the risk is high that Burmese pythons will quickly spread across the southern third of the United States; as far north as the Chesapeake Bay, Ohio Valley and San Francisco Bay.

A panel of independent scientists has criticized the report as, “not a bona-fide ‘scientific’ paper that has gone through external peer review”. Scientists further characterized the report as “not suitable as the basis for legislative or regulatory policies, as its content is not based on best science practices”.

USARK has filed a 36 page Request for Correction under the Information Quality Act demanding a response to 16 serious errors, inaccuracies and mischaracterizations within the report. The Constrictor Report is the sole justification for two federal bills and regulatory rule change that would add Burmese pythons and 8 other constrictors to the Injurious Wildlife list of the Lacey Act.

Now in a paper entitled, Cold weather and the potential range of invasive Burmese pythons, published in a refereed scientific journal called Biological Invasions, scientists question the rash conclusions of Rodda & Reed. 7 of 9 Burmese pythons captured from Everglades National Park and held in outdoor enclosures with heated refugia died in the cold last winter at the USDA facility in Gainesville, FL. One of the authors of the new paper, Michael Avery says, "Our empirical observations cast doubt that Burmese pythons can become established and persist beyond the southern portion of the Florida peninsula."

Currently Burmese pythons are thought to be established in an area restricted to 3 counties of south Florida. Estimates on the die off after the cold winter range from 50%- 90%. Anecdotally no pythons have been found since mid March. This new peer reviewed paper is just one more independent piece of evidence debunking the extremely poor work fielded by USGS on the python invasion question. It begs question of ineptitude or unethical practices on the part of USGS producing questionable science with speculative conclusions on the taxpayer dime with little supporting data.

Click here to read press release in Conservation Maven.

[Tim’s note] I find it very disturbing that our governmental agencies adopt such a slipshod and inaccurate assessment of the situation and then proceed to try to make laws based on these assumptions.  The laws they are talking about making will disrupt the livelihoods of many breeders, pet stores, and pet supply industries.  This is not something that should be done with such a cavalier attitude.

Texting etiquette and other electronic rudeness

With the advent of portable devices such as cell phones, netbooks, and self-contained video games, an interesting thing has been happening.  Users of these devices seem to be drawing inward and have less and less regard for the real world around them.

Texting (sending text messages via a cell phone) has really taken off in the last few years, especially with kids.  It may be that they are now so used to being able to contact anyone and anyone instantly that it’s inconceivable not to be able to do that.  As somebody who grew up without cellphones, this is amazing to me.

Is it really so urgent to toss off a text message that you can’t put the stupid phone down and talk to a waitress (who BTW is a real person and deserving of a measure of respect)?  After all, the main feature of sending a text instead of calling somebody is convenience.  You don’t get dragged in to a long conversation and you can respond or not on your own schedule, allowing things like … eye-contact with a bank teller.

It’s sad to see two people sitting in a restaurant, at the same table, totally ignoring each other and either talking on their cellphones or texting away.  What’s the point of being there together?  How rude can you be?  What you are really saying by this behavior is “you are unimportant – some other person is more deserving of my time and attention even though I’m stuck here with you”.

Kids do this at home in spades.  It used to be that when company came over, kids either were out playing in the yard (I’m not sure young people are even familiar with this concept, so let’s change that to “playing on the computer in their room”), or joined the conversation and interaction with the guest(s) in the living room.  These days, it seems acceptable for said kids to be present in the living room, but totally absorbed rapidly pushing buttons with their thumbs.  Rude much?  Personally, when this happens to me, I think that if the brat isn’t interested in whether I’m there or not, then I’m not interested whether he/she is there or not and would prefer to do without their presence.

Part of being a parent is showing your young how to behave with other people.  It’s called “social skill development”.  Too many times these days, electronic gadgets are used to keep kids quiet and out of the parent’s hair.  I have to wonder, if that’s the goal in life, then why have the kids in the first place?  If you really want to abdicate your role as a parent, then don’t BE a parent.  It’s very simple.

Email disclaimers

We’ve all seen these at the bottom of an email.  There are many variations on the theme, but generally they go something like this:

The information contained in this e-mail message is intended only for the personal and confidential use of the recipient(s) named above. This message is privileged and confidential. If the reader of this message is not the intended recipient or an agent responsible for delivering it to the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that you have received this document in error and that any review, dissemination, distribution, or copying of this message is strictly prohibited. If you have received this communication in error, please notify us immediately by e-mail, and delete the original message.

Now I find this amusing on several levels.  Let’s list them, shall we?

1. “if the reader is not the indended recipient” – wow, is that as silly as it seems?  When was the last time  you even heard of an email system delivering an email to somebody other than the address listed at the top?  Now this isn’t to say that people don’t sometimes send an email to the wrong person, but that only happens when the sender puts in the wrong email address.  As a recipient, all email to my email address comes to ME, and I have no way of knowing (except perhaps by context) if the sender actually intended to send it to somebody else.  So, there is simply no way for me (or anyone) to comply with directives like this.

2. Let’s say that your server has a massive problem and does in fact deliver emails to incorrect inboxes.  Sure, it’s far-fetched, but work with me on this.  A person receives a confidential email in error with all kinds of juicy information.  Are they really going to read the disclaimer and say to themselves “oh dear, I should delete this”.  Really?  What planet are these disclaimer writers on?  I’ll tell you what will happen: The person will read the email, and make maximum personal use of the information in it.  They might even share it with selected friends so they can benefit too.  Welcome to the real world.

Bottom line: This provides NO protection at all to emails which end up in dishonest hands.  So why bother?  Just because other companies do it doesn’t make it clever.  Let’s all try to stop being stupid together.

Ridiculously loud rock concert – thanks for the pain, Foreigner

At the severe risk of being off-handedly dismissed by everyone as “an old fart”…

I have been to quite a few rock concerts in my years.  Some are good, and some are bad, but the good ones are so good that you keep trying and are sometimes rewarded by another good one.

My wife and I went to the Styx / Kansas / Foreigner concert in Ontario, CA on May 19th.  Kansas led the charge with 5 band members on stage, and did an admirable job.  The music was great, and the talent of the musicians shone through.

Styx came second (a little odd, putting the “headliner” in the middle, but I don’t mind).  They also started with 5 band members, then brought Chuck Pannozo (one of the founding members) on stage where he remained for the rest of the set, adding a his bass guitar to the fun.  Again, the music was great!

Third, came Foreigner with 6 band members, and they proceeded to run down their considerable list of hits.  The music was great yet again!  However, one thing spoiled it.  It was too loud.  Yes, I know rock concerts are loud, but this was stupid loud.  Kansas and Styx were loud, but at a good listening / experience volume.  The guys running the mixing board for Foreigner have apparently been doing this for way too long without earplugs.  We saw several other people around us grimacing from the audio onslaught from time to time, so I’m pretty sure it’s not just “old fart syndrome” on my part.  For me, being uncomfortable ruined my enjoyment of an otherwise great band.  It’s now a week later and my ears are still ringing (no I am not making it up).  That is ridiculous (see what Men’s Health has to say on the subject).

Not only was it too loud, but the mix was poor.  The vocals were frequently buried in the instrumentals.  Somebody on the mixer apparently really liked guitar.  What a shame.

GoDaddy hosting – garbage!

I have been using GoDaddy as a registrar for years, and have always been very pleased with the service.  So, then I thought I’d give their hosting a shot.  Bad idea.  The performance is consistently horrible, and their dumb server throws errors for no good reason.

I finally got fed up with them and moved all my websites to PowerDNN.com and the performance difference was amazing!  I also just moved this blog to my own server collocated in Los Angeles.  Performance seems as good or better than GoDaddy, so that’s good.  Pretty Links were a bit of a pain to get working with IIS.  If you have the same trouble, look here.

So, I’ll fiddle around a bit and make sure everything is really humming along properly, then I promise to get back to posting, as I know my pithy commentary on life has been missed lately.

Spell Check – the buck doesn’t stop here

I saw this one today on a geeky website: (emphasis mine) “Calling this the database layer or the persistence layer loses site of the fact that the  model might be virtually any time of information in virtually any format.”

After re-reading this a few times, it becomes obvious that “site” should be “sight”, and “time” should be “type”.

So, the moral of the story is: Just because the spell checker doesn’t complain, doesn’t mean you are done proofreading.

Beeping Gas Pumps

What’s with these really annoying beeping gas pumps? You put your credit card in <beep>. You push the “credit” button <beep>.  You punch in your zip code <beep>.  You select the gasoline grade <beep>.  You move toward the nozzle <beep> <beep>.  You insert the nozzle in your tank and turn it on <beep> <beep> <beep>.  When done, you put the nozzle back <beeep> <beeeeeeep>.  You say “no” to a carwash <beep>.  You walk back to your car <beep> <beep> <Beeeeeeeep!!>

I have two problems with all this.  First: the beeps are loud, high-pitched, and very annoying.  So much so, that the temptation to carry a screwdriver with me to shove through the little grill and crush the blasted sonalert unit is very strong.

Second: They are seemingly random.  They do not seem to be to attract your attention to something in particular, and they beep away regardless what you do.  Ergo, they cry wolf, and people try to ignore them.  What’s the point?  Does Chevron and Shell really get enjoyment out of pointlessly annoying customers?