Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Wasteland

Watch CBS Videos Online
The Wasteland. About American e-waste ending up in China. The lead solder is melted off and sold, while giving off dioxins, and the gold is leached out using cyanide. Don't miss the ending with the American business owner complaining about how "you're ruining America's small businesses by not having all of your facts straight."

H/T @thecajunboy

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Book Review: Prisoner of the State, the Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang

Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang
Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang
When I first heard about this book, I was immediately intrigued. It's not every day the head of an insular global power publishes a tell-all memoir. It's taken me a while to get to it, but I wanted to read it to get some sort of understanding of modern China. I've never really read a book on modern (post-Mao) China and I figured this would be a good start. I'll confess to being pretty ignorant about modern China. I started the book knowing a little about Deng Xiaoping, but my knowledge was pretty limited beyond that.

One of my first worries about the book was how accessible it would be. The editors included 2 forwards, 2 epilogues, 2 timelines, and an index of names with brief bio's. They did a fantastic job. Their one mistake was they put the afterword written by Bao Pu (the son of Zhao's secretary) at the end. If you read the book, read his part first. It will make the rest of the book much more clear.

There are a lot of assumptions that I'll have to make for the review. I'll have to more or less take Zhao's word on much of the internal events. It's not like China's state-run news agency is going to start publishing meeting minutes. I'm also going to assume Bao Pu, et. al. left Zhao's writing as it was with minimal editing. The text looks a little rough around the edges, so I think that's a solid assumption. It's also really odd to read about the hardcore Maoists as the "Conservatives" and the Free-Marketeers as the "Liberals," but it makes sense for a lot of reasons (i.e.- classical liberalism).

One of the editorial decisions that was made was to rearrange the book. It starts with the events leading up to the massacre, then his time under house arrest, then the rise of Deng Xiaoping and the "reformers", including Zhao, and the scourge of corruption. The book ends with a careful analysis that the only way for the Communist Party to hold power is to build respect for the Rule of Law, (as opposed to the current Rule by Men), combat corruption, and introduce parliamentary democracy.

I'm not going to sugarcoat it: this isn't an easy read. The editors wanted it to be Zhao's own words. Fortunately, if you get bogged down, each chapter begins with a summary and you can just read the summaries until you get back into familiar territory. One thing that took me ages to figure out was whether Zhao was a canny politician or naive, or what. I eventually decided he was pretty canny and had he gotten a couple of breaks, we'd all (in the West) know his name by now.

I learned a lot in the book. One of the more interesting references, I was able to find on the glorious internet. River Elegy is a documentary that caused a huge stir by criticizing Chinese culture for turning inward and calling on China to turn to the world. Here is River Elegy:

(~60 minutes, with the first few minutes of introduction)

I learned a little about Sun Yat-Sen (the "George Washington of China"), Journey to the West (one of the Chinese classics), and more. Had Zhao just written a book ripping the heads of the Party, the book would be a lot less interesting. He wrote a very thoughtful, informative account of modern China. I was looking for a good primer on modern China and I think I found it. That book is also a lot more dangerous to the Chinese government than an emotional screed.

One thing I'm really interested in is how the Chinese have reacted to the book. Journey of Reforms, the Chinese version of the book, sold its first 14,000 copies out and it's now the most sought-after book in Hong Kong. In mainland China, where the book is banned, a Microsoft Word version of the book is being spread like a virus (immune from the Great Firewall of China).

Anyway, that's the review. I hope you liked it. If you've read it, I'd be interested to hear what you thought of the book.

Found on the Idiot Page

Usually, the Letters to the Editor page is pretty dumb. My dad sometimes called it the "Idiot Page."

There were a few interesting ones recently, though.

James Gill wrote a wonderful little article comparing Congressman turned convict William Jefferson's illegal bribery to Congressman turned lobbyist Bob Livingston's legal bribery. Livingston was not amused, but his response shows how out of touch he is with reality. A couple of readers were happy to point out how asinine his response was.

Violence begins at home. Reader points out how so many parents, whether they are black or white trash, seem to derive plenty of perverse pleasure from beating the shit out of their 2-8 -year-olds.

I saw a future killer Monday. He was about 2 years old.

As he and his mother stood on the corner of South Broad Street and Louisiana Avenue, she was not holding his hand. And as cars passed and he slowly began toddling into the street he tripped and fell (fortunately). His mother pulled him up by the shirt like a rag doll and smacked him in the head, then continued across the street yelling at him as she dragged him by his upper arm with his feet barely touching the ground. This is a common scenario that most of us have witnessed...

That's one of the things that really sickens me about New Orleans.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Rising Tide 4 is in the bag

Rising Tide is done. I had many wonderful conversations about levees, the Saints, the city, politics, and cars.

Ashe Dambala, of The American Zombie won the Ashley Morris Award this year. His (her?) reporting on corruption in the city, especially Greg Meffert and his crooked crew. Many thanks for the hard work and congratulations for being the first to drag the bastards out into the spotlight.

Drove Patches to the Zeitgeist. Every time I drive the truck, a smile comes to my face (despite the lack of A/C). I enjoyed bragging about the truck and showing it off to people. We've spent all the time working on it, I might as well brag about it.

See y'all next year.
Off to RT4

A survivor unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.

(Inspired by a comment from Clancy DuBos at today's Rising Tide)

Ash: You still don't understand what you're dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.
Lambert: You admire it.
Ash: I admire its purity. A survivor... unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.

Where's Ripley to shove this "thing" out an airlock?

UPDATE- A few more things to add:

Peripatetic Engineer notes the rare appearances by Louisiana congressmen.

The Times-Picayune runs a cover story about David Vitter's town halls. Too bad they were punked. Cenlamar (nice job on the politics panel, BTW) points out the panelist questions were prescreened and the only questions Vitter faced were softballs. This has caused the Dems to file an ethics complaint against David Vitter for misuse of taxpayer funds. David Vitter can hold his screeds against Obamacare all he wants, but he can't use taxpayer funds to attack Charlie Melancon.

I applaud Joseph Cao for being the only Louisiana congressman to at least look like he's interested in representing all his constituents.

UPDATE 2- General Honore to run against Vitter? "All he has to do is say, 'Stuck on Stupid' once and Vitter is toast," said one state GOP official.

Rising Tide 4: Harry Shearer

Harry Shearer is this year's keynote speaker.

Quick notes and liveblogging on Harry Shearer's keynote speech below:
* New Orleans has lost the battle in the media over the story of Katrina and the city's recovery.

* His blog posts get filled with comments about how calling New Orleanians to 'lift themselves up by their wet bootstraps, welftard.' He spends and inordinate amount of time rebutting and refuting those commenters (ARE YOU LISTENING, NOLA.COM!).

* Media Bias = LAZINESS ABOVE ALL ELSE! (Ex.- Shearer's rooftop living in L.A. story).

* Katrina as a storm vs. Katrina as a federal flood. Janet Napolitano, on a recent "fact-finding" tour of New Orleans said, "You'll never be able build a levee big enough to protect New Orleans." {Me} Oh really, that's your expert engineering opinion on the matter?

* Bloggers as the successors to journalists.

* Daily journalists/bloggers under a lot of pressure to publish everything immediately, often to the detriment to the story. Often should be tempered by more educated perspective.

* Relationships with sources. Robert Novak story about how, 'you're a source or a target, Karl Rove's "I'm a source, not a target" sign.'

* Harry Shearer's radio show coming to WWNO in New Orleans.

* Harry Shearer tries the inside game and get NOLA some love from the Obama administration. Shearer told White House rep that there wasn't any funding in the Stimulus Bill for finishing the levee work. Tries the inside game, gets the run around (for the most part). Some constructive talks with Janet Woodka, Obama's Gulf Coast Czar (who's office will be dissolved in about a month). The only care that Axelrod & Rahm have for New Orleans is to bash Bobby Jindal. Shearer is done with playing the inside game.

* Shearer talked with Brian Williams about why the Federal Flood story got buried. Brian honestly confesses that emotional sob stories are emphasized over factual stories about New Orleans. Video below:

Harry Shearer @ #RT4: On confronting Brian Williams at Tulane U in June 2006 from Crystal Kile on Vimeo.

* "Dutch Dialog" for New Orleans. Planning committee mentioned in Harry's speech.

* Had New Orleans "won" the media war, people wouldn't think that there was only a problem for people "down there."

UPDATE- Maitri has more.

UPDATE 2- Added video. Minor punctuation edits.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Book Review: Limits of Safety

The Limits of Safety : Organizations, Accidents, and Nuclear Weapons
The Limits of Safety : Organizations, Accidents, and Nuclear Weapons

It's the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Bombers sit fully armed at the end of the runway, awaiting the order to penetrate Russian airspace. At night, a sentry sights a man climbing over the fence. He shoots at the saboteur and sounds the alarm. Linked alarms go off at several nearby airbases, except one alarm isn't the sabotage alert klaxon, it's the alarm to launch the bombers. Crews pile into their aircraft and the bombers trundle down the taxiways. All of a sudden, lights appear on the runway. It's the base commander in a jeep flashing its headlights. He's called over to the other base and found out the situation and stops the bombers.

The saboteur was a grizzly bear.

This true story (I'm paraphrasing actually, you can read a sample on Google Books) starts a very interesting book analyzing US handling of nuclear weapons during the Cold War. How the Air Force (and Navy) handled The Bomb is used to teach all sorts of aspects of Safety/Reliability Engineering, from High Reliability Theory, to Complex Systems.

For a book primarily aimed at academic audiences, it's pretty readable. True stories of how we almost set the world on fire keep it interesting. There's also plenty of examples of robustness in the system, too. Taleb in the Black Swan mentioned the one group he's come in contact with that had the most robust view of risk was military officers (far better than bank officers).

I'm now working for a new client and the book should prove useful. This client is so anal-retentive about safety they have pee coloration charts above the urinals to tell whether or not you're dehydrated. This isn't for offshore workers, either. This is for downtown officeworkers.

Note: Image and title link lead to Good Reads.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bucket of Baseballs

It's August and baseball is pretty much the only game in town. Couple of links to peruse between innings:

Scott Boras for Commissioner of Baseball? He'd be better than Bud Selig.

Baseball Prospectus: Give Fehr his due. The relative popularity of Fehr and his NFL counterpart, the late Gene Upshaw, ran in inverse proportion to how good each man was at his job of representing the athletes in their charge.

Hardest throwing pitcher of all time? Some incredible factoids in the article:

- In high school, he had an 18-strikeout, 18-walk no-hitter.

Now THAT would be a game to watch.

Little leaguers visiting Dr. James Andrews. Not good. Some pretty bad parents, too.

Baseball cards about to finally disappear? New marketing agreement might do them in for good.

A safer batting helmet, but will they wear it? Standing in a batter's box with someone like Rich Harden in the mound can be a scary experience.

Mets vow not to shave until they reach .500 It's going to be a LONG season in New York.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

(Not a Project Truck Update)

Haven't done an update on the truck in a while. Weather hasn't cooperated. When it has been nice, I've spent the time restoring a lamp I made in John Gerrets' welding class at Tulane. It went underwater in Katrina (or at least the bottom 18-inches or so) and needed serious de-rusting.



Took a grinder and some sandpaper to it and added a new shade and voila! It's pretty impressive in person. It's about 6 or 7 feet tall, with a 5 foot "wingspan). The base is about a 1/4" piece of plate steel (weighing about 30 pounds). I welded it up all by myself as my final project in class.

Links of the day - 9 Aug 09

Mostly lighter material today:

Americans that know math *GASP* actually make money. 14 out of the top 15 highest paying jobs for recent graduates are engineering or computer science. (H/T Maitri). It pays to learn math. Remember kiddies, do your algebra homework.

How a T-Rex Femur Spawned a Scientific Smackdown. Great article about Bioinformatics.

Nuns get 112 MPH ticket. "But we're on our way to see the Pope!" That's what they all say...

How a differential gear works:

Great 1930's video.

THE must-have gun accessory of the year. Cupholder to hold your beer at the range.

Pete Sessions (R-Texas), fierce earmark critic, earmarks millions of dollars for blimp research in Texas. "Blimp Researchers" background? Yet Ferguson acknowledged that neither he nor his father has a background in the defense or aviation industries, nor any engineering or research expertise. Their qualifications? Being friends with a Representative.

TV is best contraceptive? "80 per cent of population growth can be reduced through TV.”

Port Fourchon still extremely vulnerable to hurricanes. Port Fourchon took a moderate hit during Katrina/Rita, but was able to be repaired in short order. It was critical in quickly restoring oil production.

10 Strangest Movie Sex Scenes. No tree-rape scene? Also, Re-Animator is one fucked up film.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Studying for the P.E. Exam

Last year, I talked about being halfway to the P.E. Exam. It's now a year later and I'm about one year away from being eligible to take the exam.

The 2010 tests in April and October 2010. I think I graduated 2 weeks too late to take the April exam, plus it would be right about the time of a certain special event, so it will probably be October.

I've started to gather materials and start studying. I've got a couple of sample exams and a P.E. prep manual. Lindeburg is what most of my coworkers used during their exam, so that's what I'll start with.

I've started with an older edition of the sample exam and reference manual. They are a lot cheaper and I can get a sense of whether I not I like the book before I buy the latest version next year. I did get the latest sample exam, because the exam has a new format.

The exam takes all day and is split into 2 parts. It's open book. No graphing calculators. The new format has 40 multiple choice questions in the morning on general mechanical engineering topics. The afternoon allows you to choose what subject you want to concentrate on ("HVAC and Refrigeration, Mechanical Systems and Materials, or Thermal and Fluids Systems"), once again 40 multiple choice questions. The new format also mixes SI and Imperial units (the P.E. exam has traditionally been strictly Imperial).

I haven't been studying for that long, but here are a few of the useful things I've learned so far:
* UNITS- Checking the units of the problem are critical to getting the right answer they're looking for. Unit Analysis [DOC] a great check to make sure you're on the right track, too.
* Having handy conversion factors is a must. Kurt Geick's book has been great in that department.
* No computer! Not having Google to do unit conversions and quickly look up definitions threw me at first. I've got a decent supply of reference materials to help me out, but I need to get faster at using them.
* One thing that's great about graphing calculators is you can see what you entered and see if you typed something in wrong. I discovered a newer scientific calculator that comes pretty close in idiot-proofing calculations that's proven quite handy. All it really does that a normal scientific doesn't is makes it more legible and easier to track calculations, but that can be a big help in solving problems quickly and accurately.

As far as sample questions, here's one from the obsolete format of the exam to give you an idea. The suggested allotted time for this problem is about 24 minutes.


An electrical generator and an air conditioning unit on a passenger aircraft use 68 lbm/min of compressed air at 100 psia and 640 degrees F bled off from one of the jet engine compressor sections. The air conditioner runs on an open cycle and maintains the passenger cabin at 80 degrees F and 12 psia. The electrical generator is driven by an air turbine whose expansion is a polytropic process with a polytropic exponent of 1.2. The mechanical efficiency of the turbine is 85%. Prior to entering the air turbine, compressed air from the engine is cooled to 250 degrees F in a crossflow heat exchanger using ram air from outside the aircraft. The pressure drop across the heat exchanger is negligible.

Here's my sketch of the problem:

(a) Assuming air is a real gas, what power (in kW) is developed by the turbine?

(b) Assuming that air is a real gas, what is the total cooling load [NOTE: in Tons] from the passenger cabin?

(c) Repeat (a) assuming air is an ideal gas, the turbine expansion is isentropic, and the efficiency remains the same.

(d) Repeat (b) assuming air is an ideal gas, the turbine expansion is isentropic, and the efficiency remains the same.


Answers in the comments.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Louisiana is slipping...

Between New Jersey, Chicago, and South Carolina, Louisiana is losing its street cred. Not even a mention on Stewart:
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Thank You, South Carolina!
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorSpinal Tap Performance

COME ON LOUISIANA! We can out buffoon them!

Maybe Stacey Head and Tracie Washington caught in a bizarre Julie Quinn-esque love triangle! Warren Riley caught doing blow in the evidence room with hookers! Maybe a DNA-encrusted diaper or two?

"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro..."

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Dead Tree Journalism

Finally got around to getting the Times-Pic at the house. Didn't have a place where I thought I could reliably get it delivered (Marigny, FQ, etc.), so it took a while. I figure now, though, I should support my local rag a place that still offers salaries, 401(k)'s, and health insurance for its workers.

Best part about dead-tree journalism? As Candice put it, "Not having to read the [] comments."

One of the front page stories today worth reading is this bio of Paul Pastorek. I've been skeptical of Pastorek ever since I heard of the salary he demanded (a little south of $500K/year). Today's article sheds some light on his background and the end includes a classic little vignette that I wasn't aware of.

He called St. Tammany's academic performance "average, " noting that the system had little competition in one of the nation's lowest-performing states.

He then compared the district's schools unfavorably to KIPP charter schools in New Orleans, an affront to suburbanites' pride in the superiority of their schools.

"You're living in a wonderland here, " Pastorek said, noting the system's relative advantages -- affluent families and ample financing. "I challenge you to do this: Go see what KIPP is doing, and what kind of kids they're doing it with."

He had the balls to compare St. Tammany Schools UNFAVORABLY to ORLEANS PARISH PUBLIC SCHOOLS!?!?! I can imagine the howls St. Tammany residents made to that one. It's pretty true. St. Tammany Schools are propped up by the wealth of the district's population. There aren't as many students sent to M.I.T. and Harvard, to give just one example, as you'd expect for the 'best district in the state.' And yet, you St. Tammany residents love bragging about their school and putting down New Orleans Public Schools. Ah, the joy of watching them twist in the wind!

*NOTE: The author is a proud graduate of New Orleans Public Schools.