Monday, July 30, 2012

Return of the honeybees?

This isn't a very scientific survey but I seem to see even more honeybees around this summer. One of the places I walk at lunch is a meadow of thistle plants (at least I think they are thistle) and it was loaded with honeybees today. I do know that the insects are honeybees and I'm glad to see them making a comeback. As I've mentioned before in a post titled, "I hope this is a trend", Colony Collapse Disorder has caused many colonies to die out. But I think wild honeybees aren't as affected as much as domesticated bees.

I found even better news as I was researching this post. I ran into this article, "Scientific Breakthrough Halts Honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder", appropriately in a newspaper named The Sacramento Bee, about hope that Colony Collapse Disorder may be treatable. A respected scientist in Italy has come up with a formulation for a food that honeybees can eat that protects them from this problem. According to the article, it will soon be available in the United States. Lets hope that this ends the problem.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


I'm posting this on July 29 but I've listed it as July 28 because that is when this took place. July 28 is my daughter Emma's birthday. She is 10 years old this year. She is a wonderful daughter. She loves to help me do things around the house and she is very perceptive. She understands things quickly and learns very quickly. And the morning of her birthday, she challenged me to a game of chess (we play from time to time) and for the first time, she beat me! I wish I would have recorded when my son, Evan, first beat me at chess. I think that was also around the time he was 9 or 10 years old. In the top picture, you not only see Emma getting ready to open her first present but you can see her grandmother enjoying the party, too. As with my son's birthday (see "Sixteen"), my mother-in-law likes coming over to be with the kids. It is a joy to have her. She always has something funny to add to the conversation but is very wise, too. We always learn something from her.

We thought this cake was especially nice. Notice the lettering - the woman who did it put a darker color on the bottom and a lighter color on top. Of course, a cake isn't much good to just look at. It was delicious as well. I'm usually the one who eats the most cake. Not at the party but for the rest of the week. My wife always sends pieces of the cake with me for lunch the rest of the week. It's going to be a good week. Happy birthday, Emma. Not only are you 10 years old but you are a 10.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

When worry is good

I was always taught that worry is bad. Especially we, as Christians, are admonished to put all of our worries on the Lord.
Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. 1 Peter 5:7 NLT
As a matter of fact, it is considered a form of unbelief. And doctors warn us that worrying can cause physical problems,too. This article, "How Worrying Affects the Body", at WebMD, lists the bad effects of worry on your body and mind. And who am I to argue with these knowledgeable sources? I'm going to argue that there are places for worry. I say that not only is it impossible to have a worry free life, but that you need to worry (sometimes) and some people need to worry more! Have I turned to the Dark Side? No. When I say that it is OK to worry, I mean it is OK to worry sometimes and
Worry is only useful when you can do something about it.
I agree that it makes no sense to worry about things you cannot change. I agree that excessive worry drains your spirit and shows a lack of faith in God. The worry I am talking about that is useful is when, for instance, an engineer worries that someone may run a motor with no load and the motor could blow itself apart. I think this is good and useful worry. I also think this kind of worry must be done more. Too many times people make shoddy equipment. Stuff gets made that no one worried about. I'm mostly talking about how engineers go about their job but how about the butcher who doesn't worry about keep his knife sharp and how he is cutting and whether he has nicked the intestine leaking bacteria into the meat? What if he doesn't worry about people getting sick from this? When I write a program, I have to worry about the people using it and what they might be thinking. Have I made the instructions clear enough? Does the program work the way people would expect? One of the nice things about writing software for a living is that it is easy to put double checks and back-up plans into effect. It is a lot harder when it takes months to build a ship and you can't redesign it at the last minute.

I sometimes think that my watching The Twilight Zone when I was younger was a great preparation for being an engineer. It opened my mind to all the possibilities (both reasonable and unreasonable) of a situation. What if the book you are translating isn't a way to help mankind but instead is a cookbook? What if you finally get enough time to read and then break your glasses? What if you think you landed on an asteroid only to find you landed back on Earth? You have to worry about the possible uses and abuses of your product while you can still make changes.

It is important to worry about what you are doing and it is important to worry early and often - about the things you can change. And then, when you are done, it is time to stop worrying.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Polyphemus Moth

We have a fellow at work that is a general "make everything work" guy. He does landscaping and plumbing. He organizes and fixes things. He's the go-to guy when something doesn't work around our building. He noticed this moth around for the last few days and he knows how much I like nature and taking photos. So, he told me about it and I got this picture. Its wingspan is about 5 inches (or about 13 cm). This is a Polyphemus Moth.

Barney Google
They are named for Polyphemus, one of the Cyclops in the Greek legend The Odyssey. The moth is named for this Cyclops because of the prominent eye spots on the wings. But it just goes to show that in naming things, some people would rather show that they've read classical literature (or heard about it) rather than give something a name that makes sense. It would be one thing if there was only one large eye-shaped mark on the wings but there are two (and four if you count the two smaller ones on the upper wings). I think it would have made more sense to name this specimen the Barney Google Moth. Barney has two big eyes and he's a famous fictional character, too. But no, that wouldn't go over very well would it? We've go to be a little pretentious about it - like using words like pretentious. Welcome to the club.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

More of the "flat" cats

Last month, I wrote a post about our trip to Santa's Village where we took along pictures of our cats to include in pictures around the park. My wife calls them the "flat" cats. Here are a few more of the pictures.

The top picture shows the cats riding with my wife (holding a picture of Henry) and son (holding a picture of Rosie) on a car ride. Of course, in real life, neither cat likes to ride in the car. I've never met a cat who liked to ride in a a car and I often wonder why dogs like riding in the car so much and cats hate it. Our cats cry the whole time we're driving them anywhere and can't wait to get out of the car when we arrive. My son didn't drive the car with Rosie on his lap by the way. We didn't want him to get a ticket! As with all of my pictures, just click on the picture to see a larger version.

The next picture shows the cats at the entrance to Santa's Village. This is a new structure at the park and is one of the first things you see as you enter. We like Santa's Village for many reasons but one of them is that there is always something new. It gives you confidence in a business when you see them improving things when they can. This goes for a lot of things. It's nice to see restaurants adding new items to their menu once in a while and it's nice to see software makers add new features and make their product easier to use. But too many changes and changes for the wrong reasons is not good. Nothing bothers me more than when something I've used for years changes for the worse or is modified for no reason. I used to love using Safeguard soap because it smelled so fresh. Then they changed it to a perfume-like smell and I've never used it since.

The final picture shows our cats in the life-sized manger scene near the chapel. At first we worried that this was sacrilegious but then we thought, "Why is it worse to have cats in the scene than to have a jackass in the manger scene?" Are smelly, nasty camels intrinsically more proper than clean, gentle (most of the time) cats? I don't think so! Plus, don't you think the owners of the stable would have wanted to have cats around to keep rats and mice from getting into the animal's food? Of source they would. We have cats in many of the manger scenes we have around our house.

I hope to have two more "flat" cat pictures to post some day. I've got to get our scanner working again, though, because those pictures (one with Santa and one on a sleigh ride) only exist as prints. Like all the other pictures we took with our "flat" cats, the workers really enjoyed seeing them with us. It also helped us not miss the cats quite so much. It's always good to get home to see them, though.

Friday, July 13, 2012

How many moons must a real planet have?

The title of this post is a play on the words to Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind":

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, ’n’ how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, ’n’ how many times must the cannonballs fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

In the Dylan song, he is talking about people. In my title, I'm talking about planets - or what have recently been reclassified as Dwarf Planets. And specifically, I'm talking about Pluto. As you may remember, the International Astronomy Union (IAU), in 2006, decided by vote that Pluto no longer met the requirements for its newly created definition of a planet. The vote wasn't unanimous with 237 votes for Pluto being declassified a planet and 157 voting against it (with 17 abstentions). Since when is good science done by voting? Pluto actually meets two of the three criteria of a planet (it orbits the Sun and it is massive enough to have formed a sphere due to its own gravitational force). The only one it doesn't meet is the criteria that it must have cleared out the neighborhood around its orbit (sweeping up other rock around it to make them part of itself). But since we know so little about this area, who is to say that it has or has not met this criteria?

This brings me to the recent news that a fifth moon has been discovered circling Pluto. I didn't even know about their discovering a fourth moon (July 20, 2011)! These last two moons are so new they haven't even been given names yet. In the picture, they are labeled as P4 and P5 (with the new, fifth moon circled). How can something that has five moons not be classified as a planet? Why not amend the arbitrary (in my opinion) third criteria for being a planet to say, "...or have at least five moons"? The IAU is making up the rules as they go along. Since its founding in 1919, it took them 87 years (one year longer than the Red Sox had to wait between World Series victories) to come up with the definition of a planet. Why can they not be a little open to "tweaking" the rule?

Well, in about three years, the New Horizons probe will be near Pluto and it should tell a lot more about this planetary body then. My hope is that it will convince the IAU to change the classification. But whether they do or not, the fact that we could send a machine that far away for that long a time (the probe was launched in 2006) is amazing to me. And the fact that we might find more information about the distant, mysterious object is exciting. But it will probably raise more questions than it answers. That's the nature of things.

[Update: Here is my version of Mr. Dylan's song for the astronomy community: ]

How big and round must a real planet be
Before it's a planet for sure?

Yes 'n' how many moons must a real planet have
Before it's demoted no more?

Yes 'n' how much debris from around it must go
Before it's a planet once more?

The answer my friend is in the solar wind
The answer is in the solar wind.

Sunday, July 08, 2012


I'm posting this three days late. But I've labeled it as July 8 because my son, Evan, turned 16 years old on July 8. In the picture, if you look at the numbers on the cake, you have to realize the "16" is facing him. When I first looked at it, I thought the numbers were backwards or that my wife got mixed up and put my age, 61, on the cake. Perspective changes a lot of what we think we know.

I am proud of Evan. He is turning into quite a smart young man. He definitely has his own ideas about everything and can be very stubborn. But nothing makes me happier than those times when I tell him something and he questions it with a logical argument. He can be very persuasive. Not in the Godfather way of "explaining" things to you but in the "I want to explain my point of view" way. He is learning to accept the things that need faith and to question the things that need to be investigated. He is learning to work hard on the things he loves. And have I ever mentioned that he is taller than I am?

Also in this picture is Evan's grandmother, my mother-in-law and I'm so glad she lives with us. She joins in on most things we do. She is a joy to be with.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Wednesday holidays

Yesterday was a holiday - Independence Day in our country. Yesterday was a Wednesday. So, this week, we worked Monday and Tuesday, got Wednesday off and will be working on Thursday and Friday. I thought I was not going to like that but it turns out, I've completely changed my mind about it. It's a good thing I'm not a politician. I would be accused of flip-flopping. That's a subject I'd like to take up another time but for now, I want to extol the virtues of the Wednesday Holiday.

Tuesday this week was like a Friday because we were getting the next day off. And now, tomorrow (the real Friday) will seem like Friday, too! Where else can you get the Friday Feeling within three days of each other? Another good thing about it was that I knew I only had one day off so I couldn't push things off until the next day. I used to do this in school where I would be feverishly working on things late Sunday night that I should have done on Saturday (or even Friday). I'm the same way now. As you can see from this old post titled "That's why God made tomorrow". As I said in that post,

I don't mean it as a way to justify procrastination. I don't need any help in that!
Not having another day off forced me to get a lot of small jobs done that I might not have done otherwise. And now, here it is Thursday and there are only two days to work until the week-end. I've liked this so much, I'm going to go out on a limb and say we should move all of the so-called Monday Holidays and make them Wednesday Holidays.

Back in 1971, the holidays of Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day, Columbus Day, and Veterans Day were moved to Monday and since then, Martin Luther King Day was added to the list. You can read more about this on Wikipedia in the Uniform Monday Holiday Act article. I think it's ridiculous that these holidays were moved from their meaningful dates (I mean, come on, was George Washington born on February 22 or not?) to something made up so we could have a longer weekend. But since we've already done that, let's make it a better day that doesn't encourage procrastination and gives us that double Friday Feel. I know that everyone is just like me and puts things off on three-day weekends.

So, since we've established the fact that everyone is just like me (there's a logical leap for you), then everyone should like the change to all Wednesday holidays. As matter of fact, I think we should expand the list! We should always celebrate Independence Day on the closest Wednesday to July 4. The Continental Congress did a lot of work before and after the fourth of July. They voted for independence on July 2 (John Adams thought that's when the country would celebrate independence in the future) and the first public reading of the document wasn't until July 8. And why Thursday for Thanksgiving? Is it the alliteration that got them to do it? Probably. And since we're pretty sure Jesus wasn't really born on December 25 (due to the shepherds being in the fields at the time and that wouldn't happen in winter), why not make that a Wednesday holiday as well? How about Labor Day? Why should that always be on a Monday? I think the only holiday we'd have to leave alone is New Year's Day. But give me a little time. Maybe I could could up with an argument for moving that, too.