Recently, the newsfeeds have brought stories of death, dying, and resurrection. None of this is particularly in the religious sense, but it is all interesting in a secular way:
- The Army Green Service Uniform. Those who have worked with the DOD know how to read uniforms: blue for the Air Force, green for the Army. Those days are numbered: The Army Green Service uniform is going away. Specifically, as of Oct. 1, the “Green Class As” are no longer permitted for wear. From 1902 through World War II soldiers wore an olive and/or khaki/tan combination of some sort. But then the Army wanted a sharp, classic and dignified look to distinguish soldiers in a postwar era. Enter the Army Green Uniform in 1954. The dark green color (“shade 44”) was a throwback to the distinctive color for rifle units back in Revolutionary times, and was recommended to the Army by scientists and fashion experts. What is replacing it? Would you believe “Army Blue”? The new ASU’s blue color represents a nod to the first century-plus of the Army, from the Revolution to the Civil War and Spanish American War. The blues became standard issue in 2010 and from there quickly became the most popular service uniform.
- The Card Catalog. The last manufacturer of cards for the card catalog drawers has decided to stop making the cards. The library cooperative, which created the world’s first shared, online catalog system back in 1971, allowed libraries to order custom-printed cards that could then be put in their own analog cataloging systems. Now, according to the cooperative, it’s time to lay a “largely symbolic” system that’s well past its prime to rest. Cross off another learned skill from your youth you no longer need.
- Tap Cards. Specifically, expired TAP cards. TAP (Transit Access Pass) is the system used in Southern California for paying for transit. Stored value is loaded on a card, and used on a bus or train. So far, so good. The problem is: those cards expire, and that expiration date is not printed on the card. You can only discover it when you register the card in the system. Further, there are no easy ways (other than calling customer service) to transfer the stored value off of an expired card. The potential windfall accrues to Metro. According to LA Weekly, It’s estimated that expired TAP money adds up to a whopping $2.7 million. Metro says that about half of those expired Tap balances will be transferred by customers to new cards, leaving the transit agency with $1.3 million dollars in unclaimed money.
- Your Pilot. Recently, the news was filled with reports about a flight that had its pilot die mid-flight. Although it sounds scary, it really isn’t a problem. After all, there are multiple qualified pilots on every flight. But that’s not why the extra pilot is there. Commercial flying has always been a team effort, and the main reason for having two pilots is because the business of flying a plane is difficult and often complicated. Contrary to what everybody seems to think, planes do not “fly themselves,” and even a two-pilot cockpit often becomes a surprisingly busy place.
- US Airways. On Friday, the last US Airways flight will touch down in Philadelphia. This will mark the end of an airlines that included carriers with such well-known reputations as Alleghany, Piedmont, USAir, America West, and of course, PSA. In fact, it reunites PSA with the remains of AirCal (which American swallowed) and Reno Air.
- Reel to Reel Tape. We’ve all heard about the rebirth of vinyl. Next up: Reel to reel tapes. I had a small reel-to-reel when I was young, and made tapes of music before I got into cassettes. But we’re not talking the 3″ reels. We’re taking professional quality tape. Further… the verdict is in: tape sounds better than vinyl. Period. Not the cassette tapes of Walkman era, of course. Not those 8-track bricks from the land of shag carpet supervans either. That crude tech is an insult to tape, the same way Velveeta is an insult to cheddar. The real vinyl killer turns out to be reel-to-reel tape. Played on unwieldy machines that conjure visions of ABSCAM sting operations and Boogie Nights bachelor pads, R2R tape is the latest retro-trend for hi-fi geeks and design fetishists who curate their living rooms like a MoMA exhibit. (yes, that is pasted from the linked article)
- Georgia’s Stone Mountain. If you recall, during the recent confederate flag kerfuffle, there were calls to destroy the images of confederate generals carved into Stone Mountain. That didn’t fly, but there is the next best thing: Adding Martin Luther King Jr. to Stone Mountain. Georgia officials decided Sunday to erect a monument to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the site of a Confederate memorial on Stone Mountain, Ga. There was mixed reaction. The Stone Mountain Memorial Association, with Republican Gov. Nathan Deal’s approval, plans to build a tower with a replica of the Liberty Bell just beyond the carvings of Confederate heroes Gen. Robert E. Lee, President Jefferson Davis, and Gen. Stonewall Jackson to celebrate Mr. King’s reference to the site in his famous “I Have A Dream” speech: “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.”
- Perl. Many of you know that I’m Perl’s Paternal Godparent and the first user of Perl (Larry, Mark, and I all carpooled together to SDC when it was written). After many years, Larry has just unveiled Perl 6. I guess that means I may need to learn it. I still pretty much just use Perl 4 or Perl 5.
A late lunch post: It is rare that I get a threesome-themed news chum early in the week like this, but I just lucked out:
- The Value of Face to Face. A recent study has shown that if you’re feeling depressed, hanging out with friends or loved ones face-to-face is better for your emotional health than a phone call or sending an email. Specifically, people who get together regularly with family and friends are about half as likely to report symptoms of depression as those who have little face-to-face contact. In the study, volunteers who met with family and friends at least three times a week had the lowest risk of developing symptoms of depression, 6.5 percent, compared to an 11.3 percent risk among those who got together once every few months or less when surveyed at the two-year mark. In contrast, the frequency of phone calls and emails had no clear impact on the risk of depression.
- The Importance of Encouragement. Another study has shown that praise from friends and family not only makes us feel good, it actually improves our problem-solving skills. According to the researchers, the study illustrates the positive impact of “best-self activation” on problem-solving abilities: When people are reminded of a time in the past when they were at their best, they’re more likely to rise to the occasion once again. And while thinking back on proud moments can be helpful, the researchers found that best-self activations were most effective when they came from participants’ social networks. Positive memories from friends, family, and colleagues have a real impact on our ability to successfully perform tasks under pressure.
- Cheap, Large Weddings Bode Well. Here’s one more interesting research finding: according to a new study, spending between $2,000 and $4,000 on an engagement ring is significantly associated with an increase in the risk of divorce. On the other hand, to minimize your chances of divorce: You should date for three years before popping the question. Be wealthy, but don’t be a gold-digger. Have a huge wedding, but make sure it’s cheap. And whatever you do, don’t skip the honeymoon. Here’s a great article from the Atlantic that visualizes the results of the study.
[Edited to fix the first sentence: The original (“it is rare that I get a threesome early in the week like this, but I just lucked out”), on first blush and a second reading, made me second blush.]
Now that I’m back from a wonderful CSUN EECS Welcome Back BBQ, time to share some accumulated chum that didn’t theme. That’s right, it’s time for a refrigerator soup news chum stew, starting off with three food items:
- Hydrox Cookies are Coming Back. Now, I was never a superfan of Hydrox like some, although I do remember them from my youth. What memories I have are of a less sweet, more chocolate cookie. In any case, the trademark was abandoned, recovered, and someone is bringing back Hydrox. There was also a great Planet Money podcast on this as well (as well as the previous episode, which explored how Norway engineered Salmon Sushi into popularity)
- Picking a Favorite Apple. What is your favorite apple (and I mean food, not technology or recording company)? Mental Floss purported to guide you with a decision tree on apples, but I object: they completely omitted the best apple of them all: The Pippin. Alas, you can rarely find them these days. If anyone sees them on sale, please let me know.
- Sycophants. One memory from Linguistics 10 is the etymology of sycophant: to show a fig. I mention this because of an interesting NPR piece on how California Fig growers want you to eat more figs, and not just in cookies. They want you to eat more fresh figs; additionally, they are diversifying the use of the fig while introducing it to new consumers. That’s why you can now find figs in chocolate, liquor — even soap.
- 747 Graveyard. I wrote an article a few weeks ago that included a link about the death of the 747. Here’s an interesting article on where 747s go to die. I’ve always found airplane graveyards fascinating places: multimillion dollar chunks of equipment standing empty in a desert, waiting to be choppped for parts, to just disintegrate, or if they are lucky, to be refurbished and fly again… or become a restaurant… or a home. or something else.
- No Lily Pad He. Speaking of homes, Kermit the Frog is back on ABC. Did you realize he is a real estate tycoon. Some things you just don’t think about. But it’s true. The frog’s portfolio is enough to make anyone green: it includes a New York penthouse, an inner-city mansion, trendy repurposed warehouse, a Brooklyn apartment complex and a self-contained living room.
- Breaking the Rule. Frogs owning homes. What’s next? Magicians telling the secret of their magic. Yup. That’s precisely what Penn and Teller are doing these days. Further, they do it without spoiling the magic, but making you appreciate it more.
- Stop the Internet. Stop the Crime. Here’s an interesting correlation for you: as broadband speeds go up, so does racially charged violent crime. It this just correlation? Causation? Misuse of statistics? We’re just beginning to see how the internet can easily harm as well as help.
- Where’s Victor Borge? The internet has changed many things — not just crime statistics. Just consider how the Internet has changed the meeting of everyday punctuation…. I mean… oh, never mind.
- The Battle of the 80s. As we recall the anniversary of the OJ trial, let’s think about another great battle and faceoff: the battle between the musicals “Dreamgirls” and “Nine” regarding the Tony awards.
As I noted in my highway headline post, it’s been very busy around here. Still, I’ve collected a few articles of interest. This collection is all connected by being related to recent science and health discoveries:
- Detecting Gluten. One article I read recently led me to discover a handheld sensor about to hit the market: the Nima sensor. Nima, is a portable, handheld gluten detector. Users load a half-teaspoon sample of food into a test tube and pop that into a triangle-shaped sensor. (They’ll need to use a new disposable capsule for each test to avoid cross-contamination.) The sensor assesses the contents of the capsule—detecting trace elements of gluten down to 20 parts per million—and then spits out a “yes” or “no” within two minutes. “No” signals that the food is safe to eat; a “yes” indicates that gluten is present. We’ve added ourselves to the mailing list for more info.
- Generic Medicines. Recently, I was prescribed a blood pressure medicine that was almost $100 after insurance (I’ve since switched to a generic that is much cheaper). With that experience, the problem with the pricing of generics was on my mind — and so this article on the pricing of generic medicines caught my eye. Part of the problem is bioequivalence studies. Generic drugs don’t need the excruciatingly drawn-out safety and efficacy studies required of new brand-name medications, but they do need to pass a bioequivalency study proving that their drug is absorbed the same way as the original. According to Wikipedia, the most common type of bioequivalence study is to “measure the time it takes the generic drug to reach the bloodstream in 24 to 36 healthy volunteers; this gives them the rate of absorption, or bioavailability, of the generic drug, which they can then compare to that of the innovator drug”. Making the chemical is cheap. If you also want FDA approval, it costs $2 million and takes two years. There’s also the problem of how pharmacies and insurance companies price things. It’s an interesting read.
- Timing of Medicines. I mentioned blood pressure meds above. Here’s an interesting note related to that: taking your blood pressure meds before bed instead of in the morning lowers your diabetes risk. In one study, when adjusted for age, waist circumference, glucose, chronic kidney disease, and hypertension treatment the researchers found sleeping blood pressure was the most significant predictor of diabetes risk, while waking blood pressure was found to have no predictive value. A second study found, when accounting for age, waist circumference, glucose, chronic kidney disease and specific treatment, that taking the blood pressure medications at night resulted in a 57 percent decrease in the risk of developing diabetes.
- Male Birth Controls. A new approach has been found towards a possible male birth control pill. This approach doesn’t focus on hormones, but proteins. A study in mice focused on a protein called calcineurin, which is found in the sperm-producing cells of the testes as well as other cells in the body. The researchers genetically engineered mice so that they lacked a gene that makes part of the calcineurin protein but is activated only in sperm-producing cells. When these mice had sex, they were infertile, the researchers said. When the researchers tried to figure out why their genetically engineered mice were infertile, they found that the mice’s sperm cells did not swim well and were not able to fertilize eggs. Further experiments found that the midpieces of these sperm didn’t bend normally, which prevented the sperm from penetrating the membrane of an egg. Now to see if this works with humans.
- Ringing in the Ears. One side effect of my migraines is tinitus — what some call “ringing” in the ears, but which (for me) is a high-pitched squeal. For the longest time, we didn’t know what caused it…. but now we do. It turns out it shares a common source with chronic pain. Doctors compared tinnitus patients with those who did not have tinnitus and found volume loss in the medial prefrontal cortex, an area that plays a role in the limbic system and functions as a “gate” or control area for noise and pain signals that is also associated with depression. This is an area that also lights up when you play unpleasant noises, so it has to do with unpleasant sensations. They found the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens are part of a “gatekeeping” system that determines which sounds or other stimuli to admit. When the system is defective, affected patients can be subjected to constant stimuli and long-lasting disturbances. The area is also associated with depression and anxiety, conditions often arise “in lockstep” with chronic pain. Because of this, the researchers are now looking to drugs that regulate that system, like dopamine and serotonin, to restore the gatekeeping role and eliminate the chronic pain, but more research is needed.
- Eliminating Plastics. One of the scourges of the model world is plastic. Very useful, it is also not biodegradable and becomes the waste that will list forever. But then again… it turns out the mealworms and mealmoth larvae eat plastic and generate biodegradable poop from it. This explains how they get into food wrapped in plastic. Being serious: Larvae of the darkling beetle will not only feed on expanded polystyrene, but microorganisms in their guts biodegrade it internally. And then, they poop out a seemingly safe product that may be suitable as soil for crops. Another surprise is that the PS doesn’t seem to be toxic to the insects. This work is building on research initiated at the Beihang University in China, where researchers observed waxworms, the larvae of Indian mealmoths, break down polyethylene in the form of plastic bags thanks to microorganisms in their guts. So far, the excreted waste appears safe to use as soil.
- Picking a Boy/Girlfriend. Ever wonder why you don’t think your best friend’s partner is cute? Ever wonder why you think your love is beautiful, but no one else does? Science has figured out why. According to a new study, it’s our life experiences—not a perfectly chiseled jaw or sultry bedroom eyes—that make a person’s face appealing to us. Sure, symmetrical features are generally more attractive than non-symmetrical ones, but an even face only partially accounts for someone’s overall “attractiveness,” researchers find. Physical attraction is highly personal—even among relations who’ve had similar upbringings. Researchers chalked up the differences to our own distinct life experiences, which can vary widely thanks to co-workers, peers, past relationships, and media exposure. Essentially, if you’ve had good experiences with people who have certain facial characteristics, you’ll most likely find them attractive. As time passes, others who look like them will seem good-looking to you as well.
Now, mates, time to swab the rest of the deck. The cookee said that he couldn’t use these tasty chunks in the stew — they just didn’t blend right. He says we should throw them overboard:
Music: Ghost Brothers Of Darkland County (2010 Studio Cast): “Brotherly Love” (Ryan Bingham and Will Dailey)
Aye, Mateys, we’re getting closer. The foredeck has been cleaned and swabbed. Now to swap the aft deck. The next bilgewater we’re going to throw over the deck concerns some questionable ideas:
Music: Piano Ragtime with The Dukes of Dixieland: “Bugle Call Rag” (The Dukes of Dixieland)
Everytime we get a quarter of the poop deck clean, some RSS feed comes along and makes a mess, leaving us to swab it again. Here are some technological arrrrrr-ticles that will soon walk the plank:
- Banner Ads. One of the few articles I remember from Communications of the ACM was an article that discussed how ATM networks work: they collect all the information, and then it is bounce, bounce, bounce till they get the answer and it bounces back to you. It turns out that banner ad networks are similar, bouncing back in microseconds to get bids on what ad to show you. Always need to learn what happens behind the scenes.
- Windows 10. Speaking of behind the scenes, did you know that if you have a non-Windows 10 machines (i.e., Win7 or Win8), Microsoft has been using your disk storage and bandwidth to download the Windows 10 image just in case you decide to load it. I’ve confirmed they’ve done it on my machine — and I haven’t even reserved a copy of Windows 10. It’s not even clear if they keep that image up to date. If you are tight on disk space (it takes multiple gigs), you should learn about it and how to remove it.
- iPod Classic Update. Just a few items related to the iPod Classic. First, here’s a review of 5 of the best iPod Alternatives, as well as a writeup of yet another alternative (Tidal) to hit the market. Then again, you could just upgrade your iPod: Tarkan has just launched iFlash-Dual — an adapter that allows you to replace your hard disk with 2 SD cards (yes, you can do 2 x 256G). Given that my response there has provided me a connection in West Covina that can do the upgrade, I might do this at the end of the year. Supposedly, if I do, the next limit I’ll hit is the 60,000 song limit — remember, I’m already over 36,000 songs. (more on this upgrade here)
Music: The Sammy Davis Jr. Show: “Sam’s Song” (Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin)
We’re continuing to swab the deck of this pesky news chum. This time, we’re making some things that might be of retirement age walk the plank. Let’s see if they sink or swim:
- The Boeing 747. One of the books I keep rereading from the early 1970s deals with the birth of the Boeing 747. After 45 years, the old lady of aviation (of the current “models” in heavy use, only the 737 is older) may be ready to retire. It’s engineering is from the past: people are astonished when they see the analogue instruments. The flight controls are all dependent on old-fashioned mechanical linkages. A 747 captain once explained that, if hydraulic assistance on the control yoke is lost, you can still put your feet on the instrument panel, give a big tug and wrench the plane about the sky. You cannot do that on a solid-state Airbus. Airline economics have also changed: International flights can now avoid the big hubs and go directly on long, thin routes between secondary cities. The first generation of high-bypass turbofans made the original 747-100 possible, but it was only ever economical when fully loaded, its efficiency tumbling disproportionately as seats were left empty. In the 45 years since its first flight, engine reliability has so dramatically improved there is no need for four thirsty engines. In any case, the fundamental appeal of the original 747 was its range rather than its capacity. Boeing’s own efficient long-range modern twinjets, the 777 and 787 have made it redundant. And the A380 makes it look crude.
- Quicken. If you are like me, you probably have years and years of data in Quicken. I think I started using it back in 1994, perhaps even a bit earlier, with a version running on MS-DOS. Well the markets have changed, and you and I are dinosaurs. All the cool kids use online money management, and Intuit (born of Quicken) has put Quicken on the market. Intuit has decided to focus on its small business and tax software, represented by QuickBooks and TurboTax, respectively — both have strong cloud- and subscription-based businesses — and is ditching Quicken because, as a strictly desktop product, it has neither. Some predict Quicken to be dead in two years. After all, the three units Intuit plans to sell — Quicken, QuickBase and Demandforce — accounted for less than 6% of the firm’s fiscal 2015 revenue, and just 2% of its net income during the same period. For the last 12 months, Quicken contributed just $51 million to the company’s total revenue of nearly $4.2 billion. They want a buyer that will keep the brand up. It will be interesting to see. I still use Quicken — and their long-retired Medical Insurance Tracking software — and it would be a pain to transition that data (and the data does not belong online).
- Vinyl Records. On the other hand, vinyl records (which were written off for dead), are seeing a comeback. The NY Times reports that the business of record pressing is now experiencing so many orders they cannot keep up (warning: autoplay video). The problem: how to capitalize on the popularity of vinyl records when the machines that make them are decades old, and often require delicate and expensive maintenance. The few dozen plants around the world that press the records have strained to keep up with the exploding demand, resulting in long delays and other production problems. It is now common for plants to take up to six months to turn around a vinyl order. Still, vinyl is a niche market, albeit a valuable one.
Music: The Slightly Fabulous Limelighters: “Aravah, Aravah” (The Limeliters )