Archive for October, 2008

Happy Halloween

Friday, October 31st, 2008


Earlier this week, Nate and I went to the Moms Club Halloween event, and Nate had a blast running around in his costume with the big kids, and thought it was super neat that people put stuff into his pumpkin. He’d been carrying around the pumpkin ever since I got the Halloween decorations out of storage. He also carried around his little Cookie Monster talking doll, that did most of the talking for him.

This evening Chris took Nate out in the neighborhood to go trick-or-treating. Nate started off strong walking down the street carrying his pumpkin, but by the second house, Dad was carrying the pumpkin, and soon after he was carrying a very tired Cookie Monster too (Nate refused to take a nap today, and we knew he wasn’t going to last long tonight). Chris said that when they walked up a driveway, Nate would say “ding ding”, but when they got to the house, he wouldn’t say anything and just looked startled. We’d practiced saying Trick or Treat all day, but I think the situation was just too unfamiliar for him. He did sign Thank You and say “B-Bye” when prompted though. By the time they got back home, Cookie Monster was asleep. He ended up with a fairly good haul of candy, most of which Chris and I will enjoy. He did get some little kid friendly snacks too (Teddy Grahams and Goldfish), so he won’t be completely treat-less.

Thanks goes out to those who offered a little kid option. It wouldn’t have been anything I would have thought to do, but I will remember to in the future when I know there will be little kids coming.

Yesterday was that day.

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

Have you ever said “there will come a day when…” or “one of these days…” something similar? I have and yesterday was that day.

First some background. We live in the Central New York snow belt and at medium elevation. By medium, I mean higher than the city of Syracuse and the Mohawk valley, but lower than the Tug Hill plateau and the Adirondacks. Our village sits near the top of one of those long hilly ridges that Central New York is so famous for (our house is roughly 1350′ of elevation). Unfortunately that mean my commute climbs the roughly 1000′ of elevation gain on the way home. About half of that occurs in a short stretch right at the border of Onondaga and Madison counties. Certain times of year, particularly towards the beginning of the snow season, this stretch of road can be treacherous for several reasons:

  1. Afternoon snow: Obviously our winter weather can make any driving hazardous, but when it falls heavily late in the afternoon, it seems to not get cleared as effectively as other times of day.
  2. Elevation gain: As I said, there’s about 500 feet of rise in a mile or two.
  3. Traffic: A fair number of commuters use this roadway to return from their Syracuse metro jobs to their Madison county homes.
  4. Road width: The uphill run on this road is two lanes to allow for slow hill-climbing traffic. This causes some inconsistency in where the ‘optimal line’ gets carved in the accumulating snow. The net result is a hodgepodge of crossing tracks and chunked up snowy slush.

All of this combines at 6PM, late in the commuting cycle, to a very polished slick roadway covered in freezing slushy ruts and snow.

Combine that with the fact that my car is small, light and has some heavily worn semi-performance tires… and… Yesterday was that day when I was unable to make it up the hill.

I was making good progress at first, but as each slushy rut caused a slip, I had to back out of the gas to maintain traction. A few downshifts later and I was crawling up the hill at the edge of stall. A few seconds later I was slipping forwards with my wheel turned about 90 degrees to the right to keep from sliding into opposing traffic. A few seconds later and I was smelling hot rubber. This, as they say, is a bad thing.

I managed to turn around and make my way safely back down the hill to a gas station. I called K to let her know I was going to be a while and took stock of my options.

My left front tire had essentially no tread left on the outer edge, but was fine in the middle and inner edge. These tires actually come with less tread on the edges for cornering, but that is far from ideal for snow. The right side was fine which explained somewhat the wanting to spin on the left… and the spinning didn’t help the left tire any I’m sure. So I filled up the gas tank, which was nearly empty anyhow, adding weight to the car. Then I rotated the left side tires (they’re directional) in the parking lot of the Rite-Aid next to the gas station. Remind me not to rotate the tires in a wet snow-storm in a parking lot again. Finally, I opted to take a different route home. Obviously just as much elevation needed to be climbed, but I was banking on LESS traffic being better for the road conditions (snow being less slippery than packed/slushy snow).

This also took me home past The Manlius Formation in case things went horribly wrong on the climb. On multiple occasions I had to make two runs at hills that followed stop signs or right angle turns, but I crawled my way up the hill and on to the home stretch. Of course, I was not out of the woods yet, because a half mile from home, I hit a tree.

Really. It was lying in the middle of the road and I was pointed at the thin branchy end. Doing some quick calculations in my head (there would be no steering around it while staying on the road) I decided that the branches would not wreck my car. WHACK! as the branches slapped off the windshield and I was through. One small dent on the hood (to add to the collection) and a nice bend in my (long since non-automatic) antenna, but I can live with that.

By 9:30PM we lost power at home and went to bed.

Welcome to old man winter.


Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

just after lunch, when Nate took his nap, it was cold and rainy. 3 hrs later when he woke up, we had several inches of wet heavy snow. Since I had to go out and get the mail anyway, I decided to bundle Nate up in his new snow suit and boots so that he could experience this first snow fall of the season. He thought it was pretty cool, except when he fell down and couldn’t get back up.
We stayed outside for a good 15 minutes until the wind picked up and was pelting little ice crystals at us. That sensation neither of us enjoyed.

Butterfly Identification

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

I’ve posted some pictures of some of the fall butterflies over the last month or so, but finally got a chance to identify them. Thanks again to Butterflies & Moths of North America. So here goes…

IMG_6945 Nymphalis antiopa, Mourning Cloak
Valley Falls, NY
IMG_6950 Polygonia comma, Eastern Comma[1]
Valley Falls, NY
IMG_6962 Pieris rapae, Cabbage White
Valley Falls, NY
Another butterfly Colias philodice, Clouded (Common) Suplhur
Cazenovia, NY
IMG_7120 Danaus plexippus, Monarch (of course!)
Cazenovia, NY
  1. I’m amused to learn that there is also a “Question Mark” variety, Polygonia Interrogationis []

What spending freeze?

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

That didn’t take long. Remember that spending freeze I just wrote about… and how NASA is squarely in the group of programs subject to the freeze?

Bad Astronomer discusses a Wall Street Journal article where McCain has promised $2 Billion to support NASA.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE NASA. I think NASA should be funded in much larger proportion to the current budget. Currently the non-military space program gets about 0.6% of the current budget, or $56 per American. I think I spend more than that per month on my cable bill.

What gets me going is how somebody can talk about increasing $17B by $2B and call it a spending freeze. I would love a nice 11% salary freeze right about now too.

Some might call it lying.

Freeze spending, really!?

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

So in the final Presidential debate, Senator McCain said “And I recommend a spending freeze that — except for defense, Veterans Affairs, and some other vital programs, we’ll just have to have across-the-board freeze.”[1].

On October 20th, while campaigning in Missouri, he said “I will freeze government spending on all but the most important programs like defense, veterans care, Social Security and health care until we scrub every single government program and get rid of the ones that aren’t working for the American people.”[2]

So let’s break this down a bit:

  • “Freeze government spending…” Ok, that seems meaningful, I won’t say “good”, but at least meaningful.
  • “… on all but …” Uh oh… here it comes.
  • “… defense, veterans care, Social Security and health care.” Woah. Could we have picked any LARGER programs to except from the ‘spending freeze’? I guess “vital programs” really means “expensive programs”.

So how much of the government budget is McCain really looking to control with this approach?
According to the US Government Budget Office historical data for Fiscal Year 2009, in 2007 total government receipts were $2,568 Billion (thousand-million for the Brits) as follows: $1,163B in personal income tax, $370B in corporate taxes, $870B in social security taxes and $46B from other sources.
Outlays were $2,655 Billion (I’m fairly certain this does not include “Supplemental Funding” like the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or bailouts) as follows: Defense $522B, Human resources $1,672B, Physical resources $165B, Interest $227B, Other functions $138B[3] and Offsetting receipts -$68B. We need to break down the Human resources further to get to the Senator’s other line items as follows: $119B is Education, $253B is Health, $330B is Medicare, $549B is Social Security and $70B is Veteran’s benefits and services.
I’m guessing that “Health and Medicare” are wrapped up in the “health care” subject.

So out of a $2,655B Federal outlay (not including the wars which undoubtedly fall under the “defense” bucket), $522B + $253B + $330B + $549B + $70B = $1,724B (65%) is completely free to grow. The remaining $931B (35%) gets frozen.

The items which will be capped include (in order of decreasing size): Education, Transportation, Community Development, Justice, Natural Resources & Environment, International Affairs, Agriculture, Science and others.

So strong talk, but if he said it like this “I’m going to freeze spending on 1/3 of the budget and let the rest grow as needed” would it sound like it meant anything? No? Well, that’s really what he’s saying.

Is that what you want? You decide. Vote.

  1. Quote from transcript []
  2. Remarks by Senator McCain in Belton, MO, []
  3. General science, space and technology gets a mere $23.6B of this pie. NASA gets about $17B of that, but the DoD space program gets more: on the order of $20B. []

Comments fixed!

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

Apologies to those friendly readers who noticed that the comment area was missing from the blog!

This has been repaired. If you didn’t notice, you should comment more… this is intended as an interactive media. If you did notice, but didn’t mention it, well, I guess I don’t need your comments anyways.

It’s the economy, stupid.

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

As seen on digg:


I’m not sure that “Elitist” is really the argument I would be making with this image, but it’s hard to argue which set of statistics is more typical of the average US citizen. I suppose if the economy really tanks he can always sell his jet. Are you prepared to give up your jet?

Lightning… but slower.

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

First, I have to shamelessly (re)link to this fantastic video that the Bad Astronomer mentioned on his blog a week or so. If you haven’t already taken the time to watch, it is truly a beautiful thing: high-speed video of a Saturn V launch set to some nice spacey environmental music.

Of course, then I started flipping along on VideoSift looking at other high-speed video… which of course is a confusing term since it results in slow-motion footage… but anyway I found this clip which is indescribably awesome.

I’ve heard that lightning bolts actually travel up from the ground after an initial smaller charge traveled down, but I’ve never seen video of this before. Of course, once I found this one, I learned that there are many other similar videos on YouTube. Lightning has always fascinated me. I think I’m going to have to rent this cabin some day.

Theme Update…

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

Inspired by all the new theme building that John has been asking me about, and the work K&I are doing for the church website, I’ve updated our theme again.

The difference is subtle, but significant. The entire page now scales with window size rather than being fixed width, so for the growing number of people with wide-screen displays, they can spread east and west to their heart’s content. I also put the side bar on all pages rather than just some of them. I’m not quite sure why I didn’t change that earlier.

Let me know if you have any viewing issues.