Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Jared Loughner: Dodging Blame

A little over two years ago, Jared Loughner drew a 9mm Glock in a crowd assembled to hear Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford.  He fired on her and a bunch of other people, killing six and injuring thirteen.  He was apprehended at the scene by bystanders and immediately arrested.

In the news today I saw a statement from Loughner's father that says Loughner experienced a personality change after he was expelled from the college he attended and was fired from his job.  Can't tell for sure whether the firing came before or after the expulsion, or even if it was that he was asked to stop volunteering at the local animal shelter.  He was that unbalanced.  When the recipient of free labor asks to you stop working, you're over the edge.

Another story, also from the LA Times, asserts that Loughner was raised in a hostile household.  That is hearsay and cannot be confirmed, it's just one of Loughner's former acquaintances telling us this.  It makes for great newspaper, so it might be true and it might not.

I think all of this is baloney and Pima Community College, which expelled Lougher, had it right the first time: go away, don't come back until you've proven that you're not crazy and dangerous.  It's worth pointing out that Loughner never came back with any such proof, but more than one person has since stated that they feared he might come back...armed.

I think Loughner was crazy and dangerous and has been for a long, long time.  I think his parents would have been better able to detect that if they hadn't been so absorbed in themselves, but ultimately now that he's an adult, Loughner himself is answerable for his own actions.  But when you look at his mugshot, that's the face of someone who isn't entirely on the same plane as the rest of us.

PCC protected its students by expelling what they perceived, correctly, as an unconscionable threat.  But seeing the need for a psychological assessment, are they then entirely in the clear when that assessment isn't made?  Should such an observation by people who are presumably smart enough to see the need be allowed to simply sit in a file drawer without raising a flag with anyone else?

Obviously we can't hold PCC accountable for this; the legalities run hard up against the rights of individuals.  This is another case where I have to wonder whether people really ought to have all the rights they do.

Lougher's dad wants to dodge accountability for his son's actions, saying the alteration of his son's personality was triggered by his expulsion.  But that isn't the case, Loughner's behavior had begun to change long before that; the expulsion was predicated by his dreadful behavior.  There are people like Loughner's dad who saw this coming, saw it and failed to act.  Loughner is going to die in jail, but he's not the only one who's accountable here.  And you can bet those people are never, ever going to admit it.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Puzzling search results

My most popular blog page is the one about International Nude Day.  That's not a big surprise considering the prurient nature of a lot of internet searches.  Porn is the greatest common denominator among the world's peoples, sex feels just as good to these people over here as it does to those people over there, and we all have it in common.  So everybody looks at, thinks about and has sex, and sexy internet pages are a language everyone understands.

But my International Nude Day post isn't about sex.  It's just about going around with no clothes on.  Nevertheless, the loaded word "nude" brings in a consistent few page clicks every week.

But what's the runner-up on that list?  It isn't the follow-up page about International Nude Day, which is a little odd.  Odder still, it's about former Presidential candidate and Texas Governer Rick Perry.  The next on the hot list is a post with a big picture of a jumping spider.  The Nude Day follow up post is at #7.

Why all the interest in Rick Perry?  That's just strange.  And why, oh why, is the jumping spider so popular? I mean, I know he's an awfully cute little fella but dang, some things in this world are just headscratchers.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


I've said before I don't care for hip hop.  I still don't.  Rap doesn't grab me, either, except to inspire a spasmodic lurch for the tuning knob to set the radio to almost anything else.

That said, I just read the news blurb about last night's episode of Saturday Night Live.  Back in the day I used to watch SNL and enjoyed it, if I could keep the volume down low enough to not wake up the parents.

I really enjoyed watching Al Franken and Mary Gross - I'm not surprised at all that Al would go on to become a member of Congress, the guy's too smart to not be in charge at some level - in the middle 80s, but I was also saddled with Jon Lovitz' "compulsive liar" character, which irritated me no end, not least for the many many imitations it spawned in day-to-day life.

What's all this about?  Justin Timberlake was the guest host for last night's episode of SNL, his fifth appearance in that role.  That catapults him into a lofty, rarified stratum indeed, where few other celebrities have ever been.  Those other celebrities include Tom Hanks, Candice Bergen, Alec Baldwin, etc.  Not a lot of people, but enough that you realize it's a helluva hit parade of heavy comedic hitters.  And they were all on the show last night.

The whole list of five-timers, as they appeared:
Justin Timberlake
Paul Simon
Steve Martin
Dan Aykroyd (not really, but he's an original cast member so seeing him on the stage is a huge rush)
Chevy Chase
Martin Short (also not a five-timer but a member of the extremely popular Three Amigos sketch)
Alec Baldwin
Tom Hanks (big cheers for these last two)
Candice Bergen

It's worth noting that Aykroyd's acting during his portion of the Five Timer's Club skit was top-notch.  The others were cheerfully hamming, but Aykroyd had actual subtlety.

Later in the show we're treated to a rendition of JT's latest song, "Suit & Tie," which again I must say isn't to my musical taste.  But watching him perform I am struck by one thing: Justin Timberlake may be this generation's Michael Jackson.

His stage presence, his musical ability, even his dance moves all combine to offer up a performer who hits the trifecta, the magic bullet of performing charisma and raw talent, polished with years of experience - don't forget he joined the cast of the Mickey Mouse Club alongside other recognizeable names like Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears back in 1993 - that adds up to a seriously capable force in the cutthroat live entertainment industry.

I'm not a professional entertainer by any stretch.  I've done a little acting and thoroughly enjoyed it, partly because it distracted me from the grind of my real job.  I don't sing in public, which is a public service - though I do enjoy singing, which makes it a little ironic.  I don't dance.  Ask me to sing and dance and I will quickly become out of breath and trip on something.  so much for singing and dancing.

What I can see, though, from my small peek behind the veil of a little bit of entertaining, is that JT seriously works at being the best entertainer he can.  Obviously he'd have to or else no one would pay to see him.  But his dance moves are sharp, his singing is edgy, and the presence on the stage, even though it isn't music I generally like, is electric.  He even acts in movies, and does it well - not like Michael Jackson's cartoonish Scarecrow in The Wiz. Timberlake's characters have depth and personality.

This generation's Michael Jackson.  I said it, I stand by it.  I just hope he doesn't melt down like Jackson did.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

More about lighting

I'm something of a lighting nerd.  I like the whole topic of lighting; not only is it the first invention that heralded the beginning of the age of electricity in human history, but it is also the one invention that permits pretty much all of modern architecture, manufacturing, and other technologies.

Without artificial light, you can't have big buildings.  You can't move daylight very far into the interior of a large building; ask the people who work in the Pentagon, or in some of the middle stores of the Mall of America.  Shoot, ask me - my office is a plywood shack inside the basement of a brick and concrete structure; to get to daylight I have to go through two doors.  There are lots of excellent technologies designed to move daylight from outside to inside, but those only work so well, and the farther you get from an exterior surface the more academic they become.  So for everyone who ever got to work before sunup or had to keep working after sundown, artificial lighting is a huge part of what makes your workday possible.

The original artificial lighting option was fire.  For further reference, I recommend Artificial Sunshine Maureen Dillon, and I wrote about that very good book a couple of years ago.  And fire, the assorted variations of fueling, flame size and carriers were the entire lighting gamut for the human experience for thousands of years.  Eventually Edison and many many others came along and whipped up some alternatives that didn't require open flames.

They still did their thing by getting hot.  A filament energized by electricity to become so hot that it glowed in the visible spectrum, was the device originally invented and demonstrated by Humphry Davy in 1802, but never successfully commercialized until Edison came along and threw his considerable efforts at the problem, culminating in the first practical, mass-produced electric light bulbs in 1879.

The very best incandescent lamp efficiency I can find is about five percent efficient - which is to say, of the power going in, only five percent re-emerges as visible light.  The rest is heat.  And that's for specialized projection lamps, which run crazy hot and don't last long enough to be practical lighting lamps.

Fluorescent lights aren't very new, either.  The last significant development of fluorescent lighting technology, that of coating the inside of a neon tube with a fluorescing material, came in 1926.  Since then, most of what's been going on with fluorescent lighting has been a matter of incremental improvement, both in the materials of the lamps themselves and in the control systems that condition and control the power that runs the lamp.

The most efficient fluorescent lamp I can find mention of is a new, high-output T5 tube generating light at about 105 lumens per watt, which is about 15% efficiency.

So you know, compact fluorescent lamps aren't as good as that, though they are good.

The very best LED lamp delivers light at about the same efficiency.

We can do better: the very best low-pressure sodium vapor lamp produces light with about twice the efficiency.  Granted, the light it provides is orange.

The day is coming when we're going to have a light source that is 50% efficient - only half the energy that goes into it will be wasted.  Look at it from another perspective: next time you're at the grocery store, look up at one of those fluorescent fixtures that has four tubes in it.  Now imagine the exact same amount of light as all four of those tubes provided by only one of those tubes, and that tube still getting the same amount of electricity into it as now.

That's going to be one seriously bright tube.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Cree announced achievement of over 270 lumens per watt in an LED lamp.  In a real-world application you can expect that to be considerably less, but even so consider: to get the same kind of light as a fluorescent tube using 25 watts, I would need an LED tube using only 10.

That's pretty good.

I have a few more comments regarding lighting but that's plenty for now.