Eric's Thoughts / Paroxysms / Rants / ...

by Eric A. Hulteen

Table of Contents:

Error in the plot of Carl Sagan's Contact

Tuesday 26 October 2021

A significant part of the plot of Carl Sagan's Contact involves arranging international cooperation to capture the signal from Vega because no one country could "see" Vega above the horizon all day. As a result, radio-telescopes were required around the globe to listen to the signal 24 hours a day. I believe (but can't quote) that there was even the assertion that they needed countries in the souther hemisphere to capture some of the signal. Either of these implies that Vegas' position in the sky is somewhat close to the equator -- rising and setting over each longitude and seen from both the northern and southern hemispheres.

Elsewhere in the book, in an attempt to establish some connection between Earth and Vega, Sagan tells the story that while Polaris is currently the Earth's northern pole star, that due to the precession of the Earth's magnetic axis that 10,000 or 15,000 years ago Vega was the pole star (and will be again in 12,000 years).

Both of these can't be true at the same time. If Vega is high enough in the northern sky to serve as as pole star then (1) most countries in northern hemisphere (such as the United States or Russia) would have Vega in their sky 24 hours a day and could capture the whole message themselves and (2) countries in the southern hemisphere (without a presence near the equator) would never have Vega in their sky. So the international message consortium wasn't necessary to capture the message from Vega or Vega wasn't once the Earth's northern pole star.

The story about Vega being the pole star was left out of the Contact movie and the movie explicitly calls on Australia (in the southern hemisphere) to capture the signal from Vega after is sets on the United States.

There is no labor shortage

Sunday 3 October 2021

I keep hearing that there's a labor shortage -- retail stores can't find people to take the jobs they're posting and farms need to start to use robots because there aren't enough people to tend and harvest crops (I'd put links here, but they'd be out of date soon -- do your own search if you're not hearing this narrative in the news). The fact is that there is a more than adequate number of people who need jobs. The actual crisis we're having is that employers are not willing to pay people enough to take those jobs. The hiring managers should raise the pay they're offering until they gets the applicants they want. That's called supply and demand, something that companies love to quote when they're talking about the prices of their products. But they haven't done that because the parent corporations refuse to do that. They prefer the narrative of complaining that they have jobs open that no one will take (forgetting to mention that they wouldn't take them).

Members of the Republican Party love to say that "the government" is paying people not to work, but those Covid emergency payments were voted for by the Republican Party which was in control of "the government" at the time. What employers who "can't find workers" willing to take jobs are offering is a useless amount of money to earn (by "useless" I mean "can't support even yourself, much less a family"). And if that's not enough money to encourage someone to take that job, who can afford to not work on $300 per week (the paying-people-not-to-work-payments)? I sure couldn't. And besides, some comedian in "the government" picked Labor Day of 2021 to be the termination date of the Covid "paying people not to work" payments (so no one is being paid not to work anymore).

It's supply and demand. Raise what you're offering to pay people until they take the job. When the cost of tomatoes goes up the store manager raises prices in the blink of an eye. Labor is a cost of doing business. But no, employers want to control labor costs in a way they don't feel the need to (or accept that they can't) control their product production/material costs. The control of people (employees) -- keeping employees beholden to employers and not earning enough money to live on -- is more important to employers than having employees take the jobs they're offering. What else explains why employers won't raise employee pay? It's easy enough to see that they raise product prices when other business costs rise. It's part of the corporate desire to hold down wages for low-level employees; a desire that they feel inversely as the job increases in responsibility within the company such that CEOs are vastly overpaid. They feel that's "as it should be," but then they're making those decisions so it's no surprise that their decisions benefit themselves disproportionately.

What are the odds of double yolks?

Sunday 26 February 2006

This is a short tale of astronomical odds. I don't know exactly what those odds are, but if you do please send them to me. This morning I decided to make scrambled-eggs. I took out a container of a half-dozen eggs ( Judy's Family Farm Old Fashioned Organic Extra Large Grade AA Brown Eggs, to be exact). One of the eggs had previously been used so there were only five eggs left in the carton. Everything started out perfectly normal — I cracked one of the eggs into a bowl and then there was an egg in the bowl. When I cracked the second egg into the bowl is where it started to get weird because after I did there were three yolks in the bowl. Two of the three yolks were clearly smaller (about two-thirds the size of the first one) and I concluded from this that both yolks had been in the second egg. I had never seen an egg with two yolks in my whole life and I remarked upon this to my breakfast companion; we talked about the odds for a while and that was that. I cracked the third egg into the bowl and now there were five yolks. Another animated discussion ensued followed by suggestions that I purchase a lottery ticket immediately. Also, we started to discuss whether it was possible for this to happen again. I cracked the fourth egg into the bowl and now there were seven yolks. Three double-yolk eggs in a row; there's one egg left in the carton. We'll see.

"In the past, the future has always turned out okay."

Monday 28 November 2005

This is a quote of myself. I made this up in the early 1990s to describe my life, at a point where it wasn't going very well and I needed a reason to be optimistic. I've posted it here so that the person smart enough to look for it will find it.

Compact Fluorescent Bulbs

Tuesday 8 November 2005

I like compact fluorescent bulbs. I like efficiency in most everything, particularly in energy use. The thing that upsets me is the claim on every box of compact fluorescent bulbs that they last for seven years (plus or minus two). Mine don't last that long. I'm sure that in some vibration-free laboratory environment where they turn each bulb on once per day and leave it on for six hours and then turn it off that the bulbs last for seven years. But in my real life, where the bulbs are turned on six or ten times a day and the house vibrates from walking, music, and airplanes flying overhead they don't last seven years. Now I, of course, have not done a controlled study, but when I moved into my current residence two and a half years ago I installed thirteen new compact fluorescent bulbs. Since then four of them have burned out; that's a premature failure rate of 30%. The remaining nine bulbs are going to have to last nine years each in order make up for the early failure of those four.

American Airlines Dis-AAdvantage

Sunday 31 July 2005

Three times recently (over the past two months) I have tried to make reservations to use my American Airlines "AAdvantage" miles. Each time I have found that there are no AAdvantage seats available, not just on the days I wanted to travel but at anytime for weeks before and after the dates I wanted to travel. I have reached the conclusion, therefore, that my AAdvantage miles are worthless.

Bay Area Bridge Tolls

Saturday 2 July 2005

Think about this the next time that you're sitting in a traffic jam at a tool booth. The bottom line is this — the money the State of California collects from you at the toll booth ultimately gets spent by the State on whatever it wants to spend it on. It's not for the bridge or whatever other construction they attached the toll booth to (it may be for the first few years, but eventually the construction is paid for and they keep on collecting the money). The toll booth is simply an additional manifestation of the power of the State to point a gun at you and demand money (with the "consent of the governed", of course). So then let us stop and ask a question: If they're going to take the money anyway shouldn't they do it in the most efficient manner possible? I mean, why put up a roadblock and make us wait in a State-created traffic jam every day when they could simply take the money out of our paychecks like they usually do? The answer is that if they announced that they were going to "raise taxes" we'd object (some), but if they raise the tolls we won't. So let's object! Tell the State of California (or whatever State you find yourself in) to pay for the roads and bridges out of the General Fund and stop wasting our time collecting it along the freeway.

And while you're at it, tell them that you'd rather pay all your taxes at once in the same way, so you can see how much it actually is. There are two reasons that there are thirty-two different kinds of taxes: First, so that the taxpayers won't know how much they're actually paying in taxes — sales tax, meal tax, cigarette tax, alcohol tax, income tax, tolls, fees, luxury car tax, etc. And second, to use the principle of divide-and-conquer, to get people to vote for taxes that will be paid by other, less good people than themselves. This is why politicians will propose taxes for specific minorities in our society: smokers, drinkers, drivers, the rich, etc.

Kamin's Third Law: "Combined total taxation from all levels of government will always increase (until the government is replaced by war or revolution)."

The Declaration of Independence

Friday 1 July 2005

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

Have we reached this point yet in America? I feel we are approaching it.


January 1998

I'm not going to offer an analysis of what Apple Computer, Inc. did wrong or what they need to do to make it right; if I had all the answers I'd have a different job. What I will say is that I don't want to work with computers in a world where every piece of software I buy comes from, or only with the permission of, Bill Gates and Microsoft. If the only reason to keep Apple alive is to avoid that, then that's reason enough. The way you keep Apple alive is to buy their products and contradict the people that say Bill's copies are just as good.