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Thursday, December 28th, 2006

High Desert Snow

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately, but today, instead of flying, I was driving. I was passing through the Galiuro Mountains east of Tucson, heading for New Mexico, and it was snowing lightly.

Snow in the high desert is just the icing on the cake of the beauty of this land. I’m sure there are places in the American Southwest that are even more spectacular, but it sure was nice being distracted from the things that are going on in my life by a few incredibly picturesque scenes.

Geography has a major consideration in my work of late – I’ve been tracking cathodic protection readings by GPS readings. Although I first started trying to get geographical coordinates on CP facilities (and by extension, the structures that they’re on) back in 1995, the available technology has improved substantially over the years to the point that very accurate information is easily obtained. The trouble is, the tools to manipulate this data have not been so forthcoming. I’ve been keeping my eye on GIS systems for a while now, but the software has been prohibitively expensive for me to use with what I’ve been doing. But that’s changing – GIS has become a foundation for all kinds of civil engineering work and other fields, and now corrosion control data analysis is being dragged into it. Clients are just now starting to demand their data in a GIS-importable format, and I’ve got a whole new skill set to acquire.

But this skill set combines a lot of things that I’ve already been interested in – map reading, computer graphics, and databases. I’ve been boning up lately on the fundamentals, particularly on the basics of geodesy (projections, datums and coordinate systems). I’ve been trying to get a high end open source GIS system installed on my computer, but the Windows version just doesn’t work, and the Linux version seems to be having a lot of problems with dependencies, which is also helping me get more familiar the nuts and bolts of Linux, because I’ve been trying to configure and compile source packages instead of installing rpms.

But if that wasn’t enough to keep me busy, while researching the geography of the region, I couldn’t help but get drawn into the history. I ended up with a fascination in Sibley’s 1862 New Mexico Campaign, which turned out to be the historical setting for one of my favorite movies – Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Yeah. Distractions. May as well put them to good use.

Posted by Greg as Corrosion Control, General Science, OS, Posts About Me at 21:59 PST

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Saturday, December 9th, 2006

Hacking Democracy

I’m watching the HBO documentary Hacking Democracy. Anyone who votes in the US should watch this program. It should be required viewing for election officials.

I’ve been seeing concerns expressed about the security of electronic voting machines for a long time in various security forums. But this documentary blew me away. The system is way more flawed than the input devices. It can be manipulated, hacked, at any point in the process. And hardly anybody is doing anything about it. Hell, I thought I was keeping an eye on it, and I had no clue just how bad the situation is.

Posted by Greg as Politics at 07:54 PST

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Tuesday, December 5th, 2006

2006 Chargers Playoffs SuperBowl Hopes – Week 13

Four regular season games to go, and although the San Diego Chargers don’t have it locked up yet, it’s going to take a plane crash (knock on wood) to keep them out of the playoffs. But thanks to the recent losses by Indianapolis, Baltimore, and Kansas City, my vision of how we’re going to win the AFC Championship and the SuperBowl is now hopelessly muddled. The AFC wild card slots are up for grabs in a (currently) five way tie between Cincinnati, NY Jets, KC, Denver, and Jacksonville. As for the NFC – who cares? Let them put together a dream team out of all their playoff winners – the Chargers will still beat them.

There are too many crucial games left, even to the final week, to guess at the final seeding, so I’m just going to give up on that. And without a grasp of the seeding, I can’t make specific calls on the post season. With a charged-up Cincinnati taking on Indianapolis in two weeks, the Chargers are looking at a possible number one seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

So this week, I’m turning to an increased focus on power rankings – those arbitrary, often capricious, weighing of the abilities of the top teams by the so-called experts. And this week, I can proudly proclaim that almost universal recognition has finally come to the Chargers – even CBS’s Pete Prisco has become a believer!

Here’s the current rankings of the top five teams, in order:

ESPN/ABC (Editor’s Poll)
San Diego
Indianapolis
Dallas
Chicago
New England

USA Today (Covers.com)
San Diego
Indianapolis
New England
Chicago
Baltimore

CBS Sportsline (Pete Prisco)
San Diego
Indianapolis
Baltimore
New England
Chicago

Fox Sports (Peter Schrager)
San Diego
Indianapolis
New England
Baltimore
Dallas

NBC (uncredited)
San Diego
Chicago
Indianapolis
New England
Dallas

NFL (Vic Carucci)
San Diego
Indianapolis
New England
Chicago
Baltimore

Sports Illustrated (Dr. Z)
San Diego
Indianapolis
New England
Chicago
Dallas

Pro Football Weekly (Editor’s Poll)
San Diego
Chicago
Indianapolis
New England
Dallas

I’m going to leave out the statistically based rankings (Football Outsiders, Aikman Efficiency) this week, where San Diego ranked 4th (?) and 2nd respectively. Although I have a engineer’s esteem for statistical analysis and calculation of probabilities, the closer I examine American football, the more I realize how much the intangibles matter. Perhaps that’s what draws me so much to this sport.

My observations this week focus on the opinions of the experts. Since I started monitoring them, I was struck by the variance in their views, and how even the best (highest paid? Most visible?) struggle to break 70% in calling the game winners each week. That’s not enough to consistently win the office pool. So why am I putting so much stock in them now? Well, for one, they’re saying what I want to hear. But for another, if you look at the rankings above, you’ll see a clear pattern – San Diego is first, Indianapolis is second, and the rest is a muddle. When you get this much consistency, there’s generally a reason. Sometimes the experts are right.

Although I hate to admit it, it is possible that I have consistently underrated the Colts all year long. Maybe it was jealousy from the accolades they have received. But as things stand now, I have to call a San Diego – Indianapolis AFC Championship game. And in that, I’ll go back to my gut – the Chargers are, and all this year have been, a better team than Indianapolis.

Posted by Greg as Football at 19:53 PST

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