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Archive for June 2012


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Enjoy your leap second!

The adjustment is needed to reflect a slowing in the Earth’s rotation which gradually prolongs the solar day. The day has not been exactly 24 hours long since 1820. When dinosaurs roamed the planet, the day was only 23 hours long.

The slowing of the earth did not matter much as long as time was measured in accordance with the average rotation of the Earth relative to other celestial bodies. Modern atomic clocks, however, are based on a consistent signal emitted by electrons within an atom. They are accurate to within about one second in 200 million years.

One challenge is that the slowing of the Earth is irregular, influenced as it is by the gravitational pull of the sun and the moon and by unpredictable changes in the atmosphere and in the planet’s molten core.

As a consequence, the scientists charged with measuring the Earth’s rotation determine the timing of leap seconds only six months in advance.

The extra second will occur at 7:59:60pm CST — that is, between 7:59:59 and 8:00:00.

[h/t: NYT]


Written by camcarlson

June 30, 2012 at 4:46 PM

Posted in Science

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Summer production

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I’m slowly adjusting to my new wakeup time of 5:15am. The sun is up on my drive to work and I can justify lowering the windows as it’s quite warm outside even in the morning. Temps should remain above 90ºF for the foreseeable future. My A/C unit is going to get a workout.

9/10-hour workdays are becoming the norm. With the extra projects and random absences of my coworkers, there’s plenty to keep me busy during the day, so much so that most of the morning breezes by, and I don’t really get a sense of the time of day until I break for lunch.

After work I keep productive with either the gym or bicycling, and random tasks at home in the evening. I’ve revived my longstanding journal archive project, which under best case scenario can be completed within a month. Worse case, maybe the end of August. I’m rooting for July. I’m bribing myself with a subscription to Hulu Plus once I finish the project.

I’m archiving tonight, just copy/pasting entries without really reading them. That will come later. But I’ve skimmed a few entries, around the mid-2005 era, and was amazed how often I went out with Alex, Cory and Blake, which I found rather timely given last week’s reunion. Good times indeed!

Written by camcarlson

June 28, 2012 at 9:32 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

Good times, noodle salad.

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There has been a flood of old friends visiting CF this month: Steph and JJ a couple weekends ago, Don during the week leading up to Damfest; Alex for most of last week, Blake & Hannah and Andrea & Robert over this past weekend, and BCF this upcoming weekend.

I was on vacation from work last week. Aside from Damfest on Saturday and a rare cavity filled on Monday, the first few days were laid back and uneventful. I needed the downtime.

On Wednesday Alex and I made a day trip to Madison. My sole visit to the state of Wisconsin occurred when I was 13 or so, and I figured I was overdue for a return visit. We walked up and down State Street, saw the capital, browsed the amazing library at Four Star Video Heaven, ate lunch at the Old Fashioned (had a delicious spicy burger, a pour of Schlitz and a gigantic $1 cookie with huge chocolate chunks), meandered along Lake Monona, went to the city zoo (due to the intense heat, the animals were rather unlively) and dined at the Naughty Dog in Dubuque on way home. Back in CF we picked up Jill and took her out for a few drinks.

Thursday evening I met up with a dozen of the aforementioned friends for martinis at Soho; Alex and Jill, Blake & Hannah, Cory and Cara, Ben, Micah, Katie and her cousin Kimbra. Half of us followed up with drinks at the PL, and Alex Jill and I closed the night with many unnecessary calories at Perkins.

Friday I met Alex and Jill at the all-you-can-eat Hibachi place on 1st Street (where Happy Chef used to be). OH HOLY LORD, what an amazing meal! $13 for lunch, and nearly everything I ate was fantastic! I will definitely be going back. $13 almost seems like a sin, they could easily justify charging twice that for what they offer.

Anyway, I took my car in for an oil change that afternoon and ended up surrendering it for the rest of the day to have tie rods, control arms and sway bars replaced. $%&@^!#. But the repairs have been needed for some time. I was simply delaying the inevitable on this one. Alex was kind enough to pick me up and chauffeur me around for the remainder of the day.

We went out to the Lodge and visited with Cory and Cara, and drove them into town to get Cara’s car, then met them later for dinner and headed downtown to meet up with Blake & Hannah and Brandon and his ladyfriend and checked out the scene at Sturgis Falls. Things were still being set up and there wasn’t much to see. We walked up 1st St to Four Queens for some much-needed ice cream and then called it a night.

Saturday I picked up my car from the shop. What a difference the repairs made! The clunking noise that has been haunting me for years is gone, the steering is much improved and the alignment is straight as an arrow. Money well spent.

I met Alex and Jill downtown in the afternoon and wandered around with them and Tony. I scoffed at the notion that a tour of the recently renovated Ice House Museum costs $5. To the best of my recollection it used to be free, though donations were graciously accepted. We bought rum balls and strawberry smoothies and baskets of some kind of lamb-meat product. We left downtown for a bit, retreated to Jill’s apartment for a while, then went back downtown to rendezvous with Andrea & Robert, where amongst the five of them (sans Tony) I felt like the short one (a rare feeling for me).

We meandered some more around Gateway Park and the beer garden and the carnies and all manner of citizens, then walked to the Parkade and grabbed a drink at the Cypress. Blake & Hannah met us there and we made our way to Tony’s, where McCrea was seated outside with a scotch. We moved to the back patio and ordered a round of drinks. Cory and Cara, Micah & Alice joined us later. We were moved inside for our meal; I split a delicious goat cheese specialty pizza with the Girards and a couple glasses of Goose Island Matilda. Afterwards we all migrated out to the Lodge. Cory gave the several newcomers the dime tour. We opened some bottles of Iowa wines and sat around the campfire until past midnight.

Sunday… despite wanting to sleep in, I was awoken to the sound of hundreds of runners stampeding past my bedroom window — the Sturgis Falls 5K ran through Lookout Park and I foolishly left the windows open. I met Alex and Jill at the new Indian place on 1st and Hudson (pretty good food), then took care of some errands and did some light reading in the afternoon. Alex picked me up in the evening to see “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”, a historically preposterous yet oddly entertaining movie.

Today I returned to work, bright and early at 6am. I expected the day to be a drag but much to my surprise I handled it very well. The first half of this year has felt like quite a drag, especially in comparison to the awesomeness that was 2011. This past week off from work, along with the week I had off at the end of May, has successfully recharged my internal batteries. I feel refreshed and ready to take on the hot, humid summer months.

I intend to work a shitload of overtime over the next 10 weeks, until my next vacation on Labor Day weekend. Between now and then I’d like to find a few weekends to visit Chicago and the Twin Cities and Kerri in Sac City. Now that my car drives a bit better, I feel slightly more confident about taking it out on the highway!

Tonight: Quartermania with Cory, Micah, Blake & Hannah.

Personal & Public Debt

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[Prepare for a rant…] I’ve seen an online petition on Facebook and other sites arguing in favor of forgiving the nation’s student loan debt, which is currently around a trillion dollars (making it higher than all outstanding credit card debt). My gut reaction is that this is a horrible idea.

Granted, I am one of those college graduates with outstanding student loans, and I could definitely find better uses for my income instead of handing it over to the federal government. But you know what? That’s the deal I made way back in the summer of 1999, before I began my first semester of college: I would receive a quality education in exchange for paying tuition plus interest when I graduated. I knew the burden I was taking upon myself and I agreed to it. I signed on the dotted line. And I’ve been dutifully paying it back over the past eight years, and am very close to paying it off (I seem to be perpetually three months away, but trust me, at this point I could cut a check from my savings account and wipe the loans out, if I didn’t care about my rainy-day fund).

I live within my means. I have a credit card (through Veridian) but only use it to pay for groceries and gas and other monthly expenses, and I pay off the balance every week, before interest can accumulate. Aside from the student loans and an auto loan for $1000 I took out in 2001 (and which was paid off in 2 months), I don’t borrow money. If I want something, I save my money until I can afford it. Thankfully, ever since adopting a lifestyle philosophy centered around simplicity and minimalism, it’s rare when I feel the need to buy something anyway. If I do, I obey the “one in, one out” rule I set for myself, so my apartment doesn’t become cluttered with junk I don’t really need in my life. Luckily, my monthly loan payments are less than 10% of my discretionary income.

All this is to say I have been faithful in paying back my student loans rather than being the dutiful consumer American capitalism wants me to be. I am going to feel very good when I finally pay off my loans because I will have done so all on my own, without the assistance of anyone. I took on this obligation and I am determined to see it through. It’s my moral responsibility to repay this obligation, as it should be for every college graduate.

I think that’s what chaps my hide about this petition to waive student loan debt. With very few exceptions, college students knew the terms of the loans they were taking out. These loans are totally voluntary!! Now they have a degree, which they get to keep for life, but they want out of their end of the deal. Their main argument centers around the supposed stimulus such a waiver would have on the economy:

Forgiving the student loan debt of all Americans will have an immediate stimulative effect on our economy. With the stroke of the President’s pen, millions of Americans would suddenly have hundreds, or in some cases, thousands of extra dollars in their pockets each and every month with which to spend on ailing sectors of the economy. As consumer spending increases, businesses will begin to hire, jobs will be created and a new era of innovation, entrepreneurship and prosperity will be ushered in for all.

Freakonomics points out a few reasons why this argument doesn’t hold water:

If we are going to give money away, why on earth would we give it to college grads? This is the one group who we know typically have high incomes, and who have enjoyed income growth over the past four decades.  The group who has been hurt over the past few decades is high school dropouts. … If you want stimulus, you get more bang-for-your-buck if you give extra dollars to folks who are most likely to spend each dollar. Imagine what would happen if you forgave $50,000 in debt. How much of that would get spent in the next month or year? Probably just a couple of grand (if that). Much of it would go into the bank. But give $1,000 to each of 50 poor people, and nearly all of it will get spent, yielding a larger stimulus. … Why give money to college grads rather than the 15% of the population in poverty?

College graduates have demonstrated they have the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in life. The last thing they need is a bailout. I’m sorry if the economy isn’t providing enough job opportunities, but bailing them out won’t change that. And from a moral standpoint, those living at or below the poverty line need government assistance more than college graduates (though I’d still prefer to provide assistance programs rather than a simple handout).

Of course, all this says nothing about how profitable student loans are to the federal government:

According to the scrupulously nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, $37 billion will flow IN to Treasury from student loans made this fiscal year … Treasury can borrow money at 0.5% or less, and lends it to students at 3.4%.   Administrative costs are well below 1%. Prepayment risk is minimal; repayment stretches over many, many years, and the yield spread just keeps on coming.  Interest rate risk is also minimal, given that Treasury can issue debt in a range of maturities.

This video does a good job of recapping some of the arguments against student loan bailouts mentioned and linked to above:


As bad as student loan debt may be, it’s nowhere near the moronic level held by our federal government, currently at $15.7 trillion.

Only one time in our nation’s history have we ever been debt-free. That was during the tenure of Andrew Jackson’s presidency:

In Jackson’s mind, debt was “a moral failing,” Brands says. “And the idea you could somehow acquire stuff through debt almost seemed like black magic.”

So Jackson decided to pay off the debt.

To do that, he took advantage of a huge real-estate bubble that was raging in the Western U.S. The federal government owned a lot of Western land — and Jackson started selling it off.

He was also ruthless on the budget. He blocked every spending bill he could.

When Jackson took office [in 1829], the national debt was about $58 million. Six years later, it was all gone. Paid off. And the government was actually running a surplus, taking in more money than it was spending.

An unreleased government report written in 2000 predicted we could have potentially paid off all national debt by 2012. But it’s unlikely America will ever be debt-free again, for the simple fact that much of our economy (as well as the global financial system as a whole) now depends on the issuance of Treasury bills:

Banks buy hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth, because they’re a safe place to park money. Mortgage rates are tied to the interest rate on U.S. treasury bonds. The Federal Reserve — our central bank — buys and sells Treasury bonds all the time, in an effort to keep the economy on track.

I never would have guessed having no debt (for the country) could be a bad thing. But I still would prefer to have “just a little” debt to the amount we have now.

Written by camcarlson

June 18, 2012 at 6:42 PM

Damfest 2012

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No police, no vagrants, no food poisoning — another successful Damfest! There were only a handful of attendees at the 14th annual event but we all had a good time. The sky looked like it wanted to rain on us, but aside from a few brief sprinkles we managed to stay dry (not hard to do when we’re picnicking under the band shell). Cory’s iPod + amp + speakers drew the attention of several nearby fishermen and random onlookers, but no one bothered to approach us… must have been our aggressive demeanors. If the city is going to keep the dam under lock & key, they really need to do a better job of replacing the broken globes and bulbs, especially with Sturgis Falls coming up next weekend.

Written by camcarlson

June 17, 2012 at 10:10 PM

Posted in Cedar Valley

A matter of perspective

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Cory sent me this link last week, giving a visual sense of various dollar amounts…

That reminds me of this fascinating (though un-embeddable) scale of the universe

Written by camcarlson

June 12, 2012 at 10:33 PM

Summer reading

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Last week I read Insanely Simple by Ken Segall, a fun read about the virtues of simplicity for Apple Computers, both within its design concepts and its management style. Segall has a couple decades experience working as one of Apple’s ad men, so his insights were based on firsthand anecdotes.

I also read Overtreated by Shannon Brownlee, a fascinating analysis on the multiple ways our nation’s health care system is spiraling out of control. Brownlee’s premise is that America’s system is not making us any healthier or keeping us alive any longer than other developed nations, despite the astronomical amount of money we spend compared to other countries. The book was written in 2007, so I would love to read some follow-up after the partial implementation of ‘ObamaCare’ that has taken place thus far.

And now I’m diving right into The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky. It’s one of the rare texts on the field of happiness based on scientific studies, and although I’m only a couple chapters into it, I already like what I’ve read. I took the happiness test in Chapter 2 and I scored about average for my age group… I think my score was down only because I had coming off of a 9-day vacation and was slightly bored by the end of it. Thankfully, I completely failed the depression test in the same chapter, which is to say I’m certifiable not depressed. Which I already knew. But it’s reassuring to be tested as such, I guess.

After I finish this book I’ll get around to checking out Moby Dick, which has been on the deck for over a month now. I guess I’m just on a nonfiction role at the moment.