Stale Thoughts and Broken Links

Old posts from my weblog.

(Click here for posts on geophysics and the energy industry.)


Oh, I love this time of year! It's the start of the college basketball season!

Houston Chronicle: LSU nips Houston 61-59. Bright sinks winning bucket with less than a second to play.

"LSU, whose non-conference schedule is generally loaded with home games and tournament contests, earned its first non-conference win on an opponent's home floor since a victory at Maryland on Jan. 2, 1989."


What the Internet really needs is more pictures of my kids.

Here they are!


I haven't posted any new family pictures in a couple of months, so I'm going to try to post a new batch before Thanksgiving. For now, here's a picture from August of Christopher at Texas Children's Hospital, checking in for minor surgery.

New York Times: The Next Stage in Supercomputing.

"... the widely publicized, semiannual list of the world's most powerful supercomputers is misleading at best. Companies that do well in the listing use it for bragging rights - most recently, I.B.M.'s presence in the ranking has been soaring - but users and vendors alike agree that it is based on tests that have almost nothing to do with how useful the computers are.

"Users are trying to come up with more realistic bench marks to help explain to Congress and other sources of financing why expensive computers that look slower on paper might be better buys. To underscore their concerns, they note that the record for sustained performance on a real application was set two years ago by a Cray computer running at little more than a fifth the speed rating of the I.B.M. computer that currently tops the raw speed rankings."

eWeek: Ding, dong, the witch is dead (almost)!

"With its next Windows client, code-named Whistler, Microsoft at last moves to end the tyranny of mediocrity with which Windows 95, Windows 98 and now Millennium Edition have reigned."

Physics Today: Supersymmetry: Squarks, Photinos, and the Unveiling of the Ultimate Laws of Nature.

"... our models of nature can be expected to be valid only within a limited domain of energies, because our basic framework--relativistic quantum field theory--gives answers that are insensitive to physics at energies much higher than those we are studying.... Thus, biologists need know nothing about atomic nuclei, chemists and atomic physicists need know nothing about quarks, and so on. This notion is one of the greatest advances of 20th century physics. It puts us ahead of the 19th century giants who thought physics was complete."


Houston Chronicle: For elder Bush, pride in his son beats politics.

"Bush had been hunting in Spain with former Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight, among others, partly to get away from the attention and the fallout from the election.

"`This is on everybody's mind, all around the world,' he said. `But I have just stayed out of it. One reason I was glad to be in Spain with calm figures like Bobby Knight shooting red-leg partridge was because I wanted to calm down and not be in the cross fire...'"

From the archives:

ESPN: Bob Knight career timeline.

"1999: Knight accidentally shoots hunting partner in the back and is cited for failing to report the incident and hunting without a license in Wisconsin."


Physics Today: Chandra X-Ray Observatory Examines a New Kind of Black Hole.

"For decades, astronomers have been accumulating increasingly strong evidence for the existence of black holes in two distinct mass regimes: `stellar' black holes, weighing a few times the mass of the Sun (Msun), and `supermassive' black holes with masses ranging from 10^6 - 10^9 Msun, always sitting at the centers of galaxies. There seemed to be nothing in between.

"But last year, two groups of x-ray astronomers presented tentative suggestions of something quite new: a middleweight class of black holes much more massive than the stellar black holes but distinctly lighter than the supermassive giants."


One more political story ...

WSJ: Some Electors Are Being Coy About How They Will Vote.

"Out of 21,291 electoral votes cast since 1786, only nine went against the wishes of the states they were supposed to represent -- the handiwork of what presidential scholars call `faithless electors.' But none of those votes determined the outcome."


I've noticed comments all over the web in the last week -- by Gore supporters -- proclaiming that the electoral college is an anachronism that should be replaced by a direct popular vote.


If you think the current situation in Florida is a mess, imagine if we needed a recount of the entire country. That would be a possibility if the president was chosen by a direct popular vote. Talk about a constitutional crisis!

For a more complete defense of the electoral college, read this [pointer via Slate]. And be sure to read this history of the 1888 election. Although often cited as a breakdown of the electoral process, it was actually the e.c.'s finest hour.

CNN: Bush goes to court to halt hand ballot recounts in Florida.

"The Gore campaign, which was criticized Friday by the Bush camp for considering its own legal options, stressed Saturday that it is now the Bush campaign that is going to court. "

Well, so much for Bush taking the high road. My wife told me yesterday I was being too kind to him. (My wife hasn't been very kind to Dubya. For the last day, she's been making fun of his big zit.)

I think this is obvious to most people around the nation, but for the record: Florida needs to make the most accurate count possible of valid presidential ballots, including absentee ballots. It doesn't matter if it takes one or two or three weeks. The electoral college doesn't meet for another five weeks anyway, and the process isn't over until the e.c. votes.

To suggest that it is more important to crown a victor quickly than to count all the votes is ludicrous. Nowhere in the constitution does it say that the television networks have to declare a winner the night of the election. In fact, the electoral process was deliberately designed with a six weeks delay between the popular vote and the electoral college to avoid a constitutional crisis in a situation like this.

[After I posted this, the CNN page I'm pointing to was updated with the following tibit:

"Bob Crawford, who replaced Gov. Jeb Bush as commissioner of Florida's Canvassing Commission, said Saturday that if a county misses the state's deadline for certifying results, the entire county's vote will be thrown out.

"`The statute is very clear that if a county's results are not to us by 5 p.m. Tuesday we shall ignore that county's vote, and the counties need to be very aware of that,' Crawford told reporters. `Candidates asking for recounts need to be aware of that.'"]


CNN: Bush moves forward with `responsible' administration planning sessions.

"Speaking for a few short minutes with reporters at the opening of an afternoon planning session in Austin, the Texas state capital, Bush said: `I understand there are still votes to be counted, but I am in the process of planning in a responsible way a new administration....[S]hould the verdict that has been announced be confirmed, we'll be ready to assume office and be prepared to lead.'"

O.K., although I am a Gore supporter, I must admit that this is the perfect response and exactly what I've been hoping to hear from the Bush camp. A modest acknowledgement that all the votes must be counted before a victor is crowned.

Of course, it would be more perfect if Bush wasn't so damned insistent on immodestly referring to himself as a responsible leader.

Now it's time for Gore to call off Warren Christopher and his hoard of lawyers. Take a deep breath, Al, and face the facts:

Assuming Bush's lead holds in Florida, he will take the Presidency in January, even having lost the popular vote. And he will have won Florida by the slimist margin imaginable. A margin that would certainly have been reversed if thousands of voters hadn't lost their votes due to balloting errors.

It's a shame, particularly if you are a Gore supporter. But those are the rules of the game. We all have to abide by them.


The Late Show With David Letterman" Top Ten Things Overheard Last Night at the Florida Election Commission.

1. "Heads Bush... Tails Gore"


WSJ: Historic Deadlock Leaves Bush, Gore Awaiting a Florida Recount.

"Said President Clinton with a grin: `The American people have now spoken, but it's going to take a while to determine exactly what they said.'"


It's election day. If you don't vote, I'll hold you personally accountable for the next four years.

I voted last Thursday. For Gore, of course. (If you know me, you probably knew that.)

Scripting News has pointers to lots of sites following the election.


On Friday afternoon I attended a talk at UH by Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg. It was run-of-the-mill stuff, but my expectations weren't high; the title was "The Limits of Knowledge." The questions from the audience following the talk were really disappointing. Bogus philosophy stuff.

[Aside: most of the classic philosophy questions that college freshmen think are "really deep" really aren't. These are the "meaning of life" questions. In the end, these questions are usually just examples of language abuse -- putting a group of unrelated words and concepts together into questions that sound logical, but are fundamentally meaningless. This is also true of most "really deep" physics questions.]

I had a physics question I wanted to ask about ... well, maybe I'll write about it later. In any case, during the reception after the talk, I spent 15 minutes working my way over to Weinberg, with the intention of asking my question. But just as I was about to introduce myself, he took off his glasses and started groping his way toward a seat, complaining that he needed to sit down. And he really looked like he needed a seat; watching him, I was worried that he might be about to faint. So I discarded my physics inquiry, and instead I asked, "Do you need something to drink?"

He answered no. A few minutes later he left.

Another bush with greatness.

The latest presidential polls are out. They show that Bush is up point one zero percent.

har, har, har.

Walter Kessinger

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