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Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

Ahoy, Maties!

Avast, it be Talk Like A Pirate Day. So, swab your decks and batten down the hatches as ye prepare to step out today, you bilge rats, and be prepared to talk like a pirate!

Aaaaargh!

Posted by Greg as Current Events at 05:44 PST

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Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

Tumult

The last couple of weeks – well, month plus – have been full of stress and challenges on a personal front that I decided that I didn’t want to blog about. As part of it, I felt obliged to go back to San Diego and ended up staying there far longer than I wanted to.

I took care of things there as best I could and left when I had to. I drove the 2700 kilometers (1700 miles) from San Diego to Kansas City in 34 hours.

On the recommendation of a friend, I tried taking a shortcut between Tucumcari, New Mexico and Wichita, Kansas. I left the interstate and took Highway 54, a mostly two lane highway that has a speed limit of 65 mph most of the time, but slows down briefly as you pass through little towns in New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

One of the little towns was Greensburg, Kansas – where an F5 tornado had alighted just four days before.

All I can say is: Holy shit.

Posted by Greg as Current Events, Posts About Me at 07:14 PST

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Saturday, March 24th, 2007

New Hotel in Honolulu

Because I dallied in booking my hotel in Hawai’i, the place that had been recommended to me by one of our other engineers, Derek, told me that they were full on the Friday and Saturday night in the middle of my planned two weeks.

So yesterday morning I checked out, went to work at MCBH Kaneohe Bay, and last evening, checked into the place I had found for the intervening two nights. This place is just a little more expensive, but the last place was charging an extra ten US dollars for parking, plus I needed to tip the valets. I think it breaks out even, maybe a tad cheaper. I was unprepared for the elevator – glass walls, running up and down the exterior of the building. I’m still afraid of heights, but I used the determination that got me through jumping out of airplanes and rappelling – trust in your equipment, remember the favorable statistics, and don’t give in to the fear.

When I got into my new room, I immediately starting thinking about how I could cancel my reservation for next week and finding out if I could stay here instead. My new room is a cozy little studio with a small refrigerator, microwave, two burners and even a dishwasher. The cupboards contained an adequate set of cookware and eating ware. The view of the Pacific is spectacular. And the internet is hard-wired.

However, this is a non-smoking hotel, and my room is on the thirty-second floor. Although my window cracks open, it faces the ocean and the breeze flows into the room.

When I checked in, I asked for a smoking room, but the clerk told me that smoking in hotels in Hawai’i was prohibited by the new anti-smoking law, called by many one of the nation’s strictest. I protested that the hotel that I had stayed in the night before had let me smoke in my room, and she responded with surprise, sawing that they would be fined if anyone found out. I asked if it was law or hotel policy, and she insisted that it was law.

Well, she had either been duped or was lying to me. I thought that is was very strange that the last hotel would have deliberately violated the law to let me smoke in my room, especially when they had been strict about enforcing regulations in the bar and lobby, so I had to look it up. The law does not prohibit smoking in hotel rooms, but limits smoking rooms to 20% of capacity. I think this sounds reasonable, because it’s fairly aligned with the percentage of American adults who smoke.

But apparently, many hotels are using the crackdown as an excuse to ban smoking entirely. I was able to find a listing of these hotels at Travel-Hawaii.com, and several major chains are starting the policy nation-wide.

It’s hard for me to understand the business sense of this move. Smoking is down, but despite the trend towards outrageous taxes on cigarettes and restrictions, there is still a significant portion of hard-core smokers that are not giving it up. Why would any business want to deliberately exclude 20% of their market? Tolerance towards second-hand smoke by non-smokers is way down, and I understand that, and don’t condemn it, but how does it affect whether someone can smoke in the privacy of their own room? I find it hard to imagine that it’s done out of sympathy by management towards the traditionally underpaid hotel cleaning staff, who have to empty dirty ashtrays and endure the lingering odor. The only thing that makes sense is bigotry on the part of hotel management.

I have to balance my avarice – how much money I could save from my per diem by cooking in my own room – against the inconvenience of submitting to my addiction. I’ve already had to take a break from writing to run downstairs for a smoke break (writing about it puts it front and center in my mind.)

Posted by Greg as Current Events, Travel at 12:37 PST

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Tuesday, November 14th, 2006

Fighting Security Theater

Something has finally come up that I cannot ignore. If you’re unfamiliar with the term security theater, you may as well stop reading now. The rest of this post won’t make any sense to you. You’re the sort of person that thinks that not being allowed to carry a bottle of water onto a plane makes you safer.

The good folks at EFF have filed an amicus brief to a lawsuit to force the TSA to reveal the regulation that requires travelers using air transport within the United States to show photo ID.

Now, I fly on airplanes for business and pleasure. I have always wanted to be able to do my job, and there have been plenty of times that I found it cheaper and more time-efficient to fly to spend time with my family. So I’ve walked up to the counter, and to the security gate, and when asked, whipped out some photo id. I’m lucky in that I have at least three – driver’s license, passport, and a government contractor CAC card, not to mention photo credit cards.

I do it because I wanted to get on the plane. What has chaffed me for a long time is the knowledge that, if I ever had have challenged the airline representative or security official as to why I had to present ID, I would have been told that it was a government requirement. If I had have pressed the issue, and asked for the law or regulation that required it, I would have been told that it was classified.

This may seem to be a fine point. But in the USA, if you’ve ever gotten a traffic ticket, you can look at it and see a citation of the vehicle code that you supposedly violated. If you’ve ever been arrested, you have the right to know the charge against you. You can look up the law or regulation that you have been charged with violating, and read the law; which usually includes the definitions of the terms used in phrasing of the law or regulation that you’re reading. These are conditions that form a part of the social contract that is the basis of Law; we are expected to comply with them as part of living within our society. Here in America we have the expectation that we can know the laws with which we must comply – who has not heard that “ignorance of the law is no excuse”?

But that doesn’t apply if you want to know why you have to show photo ID to get on a plane.

Our Founding Fathers had an inherent distrust of government – that’s why they crafted a governing document that has been a shining example to the world. We’ve only had to tweak it fifteen times in the 200+ years since the Bill of Rights (not including the mistake of Prohibition and fixing it.) That both proves its inherent soundness and its flexibility.

If you agree with those principles, you ought to be on board with me in supporting the EFF. If you want the technicalities, read the entire brief. I just think that if there is a law that we have to comply with, we ought to be able to know what it is. Then we can judge whether it’s a good law or not.

Posted by Greg as Current Events at 21:47 PST

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Friday, August 18th, 2006

Stylish

Oh man, I wish I had have known about this in time to prepare, but Happy Kilt Day.

Damn, if The ScreenSavers was still around, Patrick Norton would have let us know.

Posted by Greg as Current Events at 14:44 PST

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Tuesday, August 8th, 2006

Corrosion in the News

It’s hard not to make comment when you’re a blogger and a corrosion engineer, and corrosion actually makes it into the news. So why try to resist?

I have been a little surprised at how big a splash the news that BP is shutting down the Prudhoe Bay oil field has made. I didn’t notice anything when corrosion problems apparently caused a 4,800 barrel spill in March. But apparently, the media considers this a big deal because the shutdown will have an impact on the price American consumers will pay for gasoline, which has become a sensitive topic. Thus, the story is more about economics than engineering.

If you’re looking for me to have some special insight on the story, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. From my review of the coverage, it appears that the problems in these pipelines were caused by internal corrosion – where the corrosion originates from the inside of the pipe, working out – whereas my specialty is in cathodic protection, a technique that is mainly effective against external corrosion. Moreover, from the few pictures I’ve seen, the pipelines in question are aboveground, mounted on pedestals to cross the tundra, and cathodic protection is only effective on structures that are buried or immersed.

When I have to go through the news articles carefully just to find out whether the issue is internal or external corrosion, it’s clear that there just isn’t enough information available for me to comment on any technical issues. And it would be pretty boneheaded of me to make any sort of public statement that could be interpreted as a professional assessment of this or any other particular incident. I’d like to write more about what I do, but it’s pretty hard to explain without going pretty heavily into corrosion theory, which is extremely complex. In my sixteen plus years in the industry, I’ve seen exceptions to just about every generalization you could make about corrosion control.

Posted by Greg as Corrosion Control, Current Events at 00:35 PST

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Saturday, January 14th, 2006

San Diego Chargers Stadium Issue

Ever since confronting the Union Tribune’s foreboding headline today, I’d like to point out that whether the San Diego Chargers are going to leave our town is an issue that ought to get the juices flowing in all concerned locals, and that SD bloggers really ought to be posting their thoughts about it. Personally, there is no way to express the dismay I feel at the idea of losing the Chargers, especially since they appear to be in an effective (if sometimes stumbling) team-building mode that could make them one of the power players, and quite possibly a dynasty, in the NFL. I know a lot of people are still hurting about the Padres rip-off – how they parlayed a single year’s World Series bid into a taxpayer-financed treasury raid for a new stadium and then traded off their power players – but we stand to lose a lot if we let the Chargers go.

This issue embodies a lot of things that can get people worked up – local politics, incompetence, muckraking district attorneys, and even corruption that have lead us to be called “Enron-by-the-Sea“; environmental issues (who let those tanks farms leak all that stuff into our soil, and in South California?); sports, and the corollary – are sports too violent; public finances, or the lack thereof; and the national and international identity of a community that is seen by many as living in paradise, a cutting edge technological powerhouse, an overinflated real estate market headed for a bursting bubble, a place hurt by a confluence of non-locals, and even the drug-trafficking Miami of the Left Coast! Who could turn from sinking their teeth into such a juicy issue and the fallout, whether from jealousy (I walked the dog last night, in the middle of January, in a t-shirt and shorts) or pride?

I issue a call to arms for all San Diego bloggers – write what you think, criticize the others’ opinions, and most importantly, link and trackback to them!

Posted by Greg as Current Events, Football, Politics, Society at 18:47 PST

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Thursday, September 22nd, 2005

Disappointment

I made reference earlier to reading the Interdictor blog back when Michael Barnett was writing it, documenting the tragedy in post-Katrina New Orleans before the media found out about it. I didn’t mention that I was reading it every day and was captivated by the description and admiring Barnett.

So I was trying to find out what was happening to him since he was rotated out and stumbled across a series of posts discussing his past. It was quite disillusioning. There are accusations of Barnett as not only a producer of Internet porn but an actor, that his best friend and boss is a serious cybersquatter, and that so many of the customers he was struggling to keep on line were porn sites. Maybe the last two are a reality of the Internet today, but the direct porn involvement is disheartening. I’ve known some people in the porn industry, and while I would hesitate to brand them as scum, they did not impress me as business people filling a consumer demand; they were more hedonists who reveled (even if they were astounded) in finding a lucrative means of continuing their debauchery.

I did some checking of the facts and found direct links between the Interdictor and the sites mentioned. The sites are unresponsive or gone now, but the Wayback Machine held records. Particularly depressing is his buddy’s successful manipulation of the system to place the Interdictor blog in the public eye. Again, maybe that’s the way the Internet, and by extension, the mainstream media, works nowadays.

Now, I’m far from an anti-porn crusader, let alone a moralist, but I’ll admit to some disdain for the people who satisfy and profit from my and others’ more base desires. Perhaps that was reared into me, but it was reinforced by exposure to the industry. On a philosophical note, I would say that there is nothing wrong from accepting and acknowledging the dark side of ourselves; but that should not prevent us from using judgment and striving to be better. The word for that (at least, before it became totally associated with its racial aspect) is discrimination (sense 2.)

Of course, I’m old enough, and have been involved enough, to lay claim to some indignity about the commercialization (in particular, saturation by porn sites) of the Internet. My first modem, purchased back in 1983, was 300 baud. I met my wife online in 1992, when the World Wide Web had technically been invented, but wasn’t yet a big deal. Yes- those aren’t “founding fathers”-type dates, but I think they should earn me some street cred.

I don’t think this issue is ever going to hit the mainstream media – the effect of the Interdictor’s blog has been fixed and anything else will be just a footnote in history. And I actually wish Michael and Crystal well – but I won’t be checking up on them anymore.

Posted by Greg as Current Events, People, Posts About Me, Society at 19:20 PST

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Saturday, September 10th, 2005

Ophelia Watch

I woke up yesterday morning and watched a little CNN before going to work, and unexpectedly they showed a map of the predicted track of Hurricane Ophelia. The map had a complex loop and showed the track going directly through Savannah, Georgia, and the prediction was for landfall on Wednesday next week.

Since reading up on chaos theory I felt like I know a little about hurricane prediction; or rather, the immensely complex factors that have to be considered, the computing power that is required to process those variables, and an appreciation for the element of chance that it’s all trying to conquer. So I wasn’t immediately distressed about this 5-6 day out prediction, but I thought that that map, if I could get it, would make a good posting. I did find a reasonable facsimile that I passed around the office later that morning, but I was too busy to post it. So now that I have the time, I looked up a fresh map from the National Hurricane Center, and was a little disappointed to see the track has been resketched quite a bit further north:

Hurricane Ophelia predicted track, 9-10

I was watching CNN instead of the local news because I, like so many others, having been trying to catch imagery of the effects of Hurricane Katrina. Not from schadenfreude, but to address the dismay I feel at the blase attitude I had taken regarding the victims’ suffering on the first few days after Katrina passed through. Unlike our president, I was quite aware of the effects of the demolition of all infrastructure on a civilized society. I started reading Michael Barnett’s account last Thursday and wasn’t at all surprised, but I guess that since the more humane feelings about human life that I have felt since watching Boo grow up, I expected that I would have had more concern. It seems that I have not yet escaped the impact that The Lord of the Flies had on me when I read it at such a young age.

I do give a shit about those poor people; I feel a little relieved that the last reports indicate that casualties are lower than predicted by the now rediscovered doomsday scenarios, and I am impressed by the outpouring of support from not only the American people but the rest of the world, who have demonstrated once again that even if they resent the wealth and power of the United States, they have compassion for our pain.

What I am resisting being interested in, but know that I will be, is the political and strategic implications of this disaster. I can see that Michael Brown, the head of FEMA, is already being slated as the goat by this supposedly no-nonsense, “compassionate conservative” administration, but have little confidence that the transparency will become seen by the electorate. I could go on – there’s lots of opportunity here for me to pontificate – but I am not trying to become a political blogger, and I take little solace in being right when attempting to predict the future. I know my own predictions would be intensely shaped by my own libertarian (and thus, non-mainstream) politics, and am too resigned to disappointment.

OK, I doth protest too much. Let me squeeze in just a little prediction. Clinton in ’08. I don’t particularly like it (after all, I am a Republican), but that’s what it is. I said it five years ago without knowing about a lot of things that have since come to pass, but it seems more and more likely. Maybe I’ll yield to more predictions later, but since I don’t have the drive to attempt to become a shaper of politics, I’ll settle for the historian’s approach of being an observer, and hope to be a good analyst.

Besides, I have more immediate concerns. I need to feel empathy for the victims of Katrina, I need to pack for my trip to Savannah, and I need to invest in a good rain jacket, since the gortex I have relied on since leaving the army was purchased when I was 60 pounds lighter (thank the gods, not 80 pounds any more.) When moving to San Diego was influenced by the less than 10 inches of rain a year, it became hard to motivate myself to keep up on rain wear.

Posted by Greg as Current Events, Politics, Posts About Me at 17:16 PST

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