Monday, December 8, 2008


Wide Tires Are Bad on Snow

From Clayton Cramer:

The source of the C5's problems with traction on snow and ice is the combination of rear wheel drive and very, very wide tires. As the tires get wider, the amount of force per square inch declines. There's roughly 700-750 pounds of force per rear tire--and with the standard tires of the Corvette, this spread over an enormously wide piece of rubber. My measurements suggest that the contact patch is about 30-40 square inches--so roughly 19 psi of pressure. At a certain point, the down force is so little that the tires simply have no hope of getting any grip on either snow or ice.

The way that chains work, and studded tires, is by concentrating the roughly 750 pounds of force per tire into a relatively tiny area--perhaps as little as three square inches for chains--so 250 psi, or a square inch for studs (so 750 psi). That's enough to break a hole in the surface of the ice, and allow you to move forward. Ditto for brakes.



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Thursday, December 4, 2008


"The Mom Song Sung to William Tell Overture"

My wife showed me the good YouTube video, "The Mom Song Sung to William Tell Overture".

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008


The 2008 Christmas List

1. The BFG, by Roald Dahl (1982). The Big Friendly Giant is good for kids and adults both. It has the flavor of science fiction, and the way the BFG talks is hilarious.

2.Netflix instant movies. Netflix appeared in a previous list, but what is new is being able to watch movies instantly on your computer.

3. The Coincraft coin shop across from the British Museum. Roman coins for only one pound each, and wonderful browsing in the shop, catalog, and website.

4. The TeXbook, by Donald Knuth (1984). This famous computer manual will teach you TeX, typesetting, and a lot of good quotations. It's for reading through, not looking up.

5. Evidences of Christianity, by William Paley (1794). Paley's watch-in-the-forest argument for God, from another book, is better known. This book argues for Christianity specifically, using historical rather than design arguments. Free at

4. Economics and Jewish Law: Halakhic Perspectives, by Aaron Levine (1987). The questions in this book on ethics and economics are as good as the answers.

5. Stomp Rockets . It's amazing how high a rocket powered merely by jumping-propelled air can go. Even Faith could make it rise a few feet. See

6. Youth hostels . These are better than hotels for families, as well as cheaper. We stayed at the Eu castle kitchens in Normandy, Melrose in Scotland, near the Abbey (the best), and Hawkshead in Cumberland.

7. English country walks. The countryside and weather are ideal for walks, with varied scenery, marked paths, villages, and sheep.

8. Britanny's gites (farmhouses). We rented one near Languenan. In France, having your own kitchen is good.

9. To Teach the Senators Wisdom; or, An Oxford Guide Book by J.C. Masterman (1952). This is a mix of travel guide and novel, as college fellows converse about what sights are the essence of Oxford. It's the best Oxford guide I have seen.

10. Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behavior by Kate Fox (2004). Dr. Fox is an anthropologist who studied English manners and conversation and wrote them up humorously but analytically.

11. Wacky Wednesday, by Theo LeSieg (Dr.Seuss) (1974). I didn't know the LeSieg Seuss books, a bit different from his usual style. This one is about a day when detached feet appear on ceilings and mice chase cats.

12. Portsmouth. The Victory, other old ships, helicopter simulations, the modern naval base, naval museums, an artillery museum (the Royal Armoury), a partly Roman castle, the sea... It's easy to get to and good for many visits.

Lists of good things from other years are at Some other items this year: Fraser's Flashman, McCall-Smith's African mystery books, Sights of Britain, Salisbury Cathedral, Bern, St. Malo, Walking with Dinosaurs, HREF=""> Rummy, English sausages. The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends music CD. The Silver Chair movie (1990, Alex Kirby), pommeau aperitif, Harry Potter books. British Museum coin exhibit. Bernard Cornwell's Sea Lord , Richard Fortey's The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum , Carreg Cennen Castle .

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Saturday, November 29, 2008


Analog vs. Digital Controls

I thought I must have posted on this, but I can't find it using my search engine. I'll have to post more, but here are a few thoughts:

1. Notoriously, digital readouts for speedometers were tried and rejected. Old people liked them, not young people, because old people think slowly anyway.

2. Digital clocks are inferior.

3. Digital controls generally are inferior except when precise numbers are important and speed of response is not.

4. One place where a digital control would be useful is for the gas gauge. Somehow, a digital readout is *never* available for that.

5. Old analog radio controls were vastly superior to the modern digital ones-- even to pseudo-analog twist-dial ones.

6. Twist dials should have one complete turn take you from zero to the maximum level. For some reason, my Eclipse radio doesn't do that-- it takes many turns. You want to be able to instantly switch to the desired level.

7. Knobs should be used for pre-set stations on car radios. You need a control that sticks out and can be felt without having to take your eyes off the road.

8. Analog tuning is better than digital because it is much faster, and more accurate.

9. Important controls such as volume and tuning should be large, for finer control and easier finding, especially in cars.

10. Engineers are idiots not to notice these things I've been describing. Why? Probably because controls are an afterthought and because designers don't test devices as users. Also, because analog controls are lower-tech, single-use devices, and are hardware controls, not software ones. The modern ideal is to have no moving parts and to have one control that does everything via complicated nested menus.



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Full Spectrum Daylight Light Bulbs

In the past couple of years "daylight" light bulbs have started to be generally sold. These are bulbs which have less yellow light and thus are closer to daylight. The Solux company website persuasively and toughly claims that its competitors all do a bad job of replicating sunlight, as the diagram here shows. If they are being truthful, their own $8 bulb is far better, though it needs a two-prong, non-standard fixture. I wonder whether any normal-fixture bulbs are better than the Reveal brand?

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Sunday, November 2, 2008


Surviving versus Living

I told my Bible study group about this Bill Stuntz post today.

...Medical care is usually about maximizing time itself, about keeping the patient’s heart beating as long as possible. But time isn’t what I want to maximize. Longevity is fine, but life is what matters. And those two words are definitely not synonyms.

Which leads to a crucial characteristic of chemotherapy, at least as I’ve experienced it. Chemo is a strange beast: it restores life by first killing it....

“Killing” is the right word. Forget the many side effects that are too gross to describe. Chemo drains the life from its recipients. ...

... I’ve read and heard a good many stories of stage 4 cancers over the past few months, and in more than a few of them, the patient spends his or her last years—the number of years can be considerable—oscillating between yet another surgery to remove the latest tumor, and more months of chemo to slow the cancer’s spread. They call it “extending life,” and sometimes, that’s what the treatment does—but other times the label misleads; patients survive but don’t really live. Which is why this week’s news seemed so joyous: my oncologist told me that, when I resume chemo after this summer’s thoracic surgery, the dosages of the drugs can be dialed back, and if I so choose, dialed back a lot. Thanks be to God: I can do more than survive; I still have some living to do. Before I heard that news, I was starting to wonder.

... Doctors see their job as fixing the broken places in our ailing bodies. When it comes to the kinds of brokenness that can be repaired, that is as it should be. But there is another set of medical problems that cannot be fixed: cancers that won’t disappear, pains that will last as long as life does. When it comes to those problems, repair is not the proper goal. A better word is redemption: the enterprise of carving out some space, however small, for life—not mere survival—in the midst of diseases that seek to squelch it.

Oncologists are better on this score than most doctors, probably because they see the destructive character of the treatments they administer up close. Even so, the tendency to equate success with survival is strong. Too much so, I think: that tendency needs resisting. I suspect I’m far from alone in saying that survival holds little appeal for me. I want to live—for as much time, or as little, as I have left.

That mind-set follows naturally from my faith, I believe—but a good many of my fellow believers seem to disagree. One of the more surprising aspects of Christian culture in our time and place is the widespread embrace of longevity and survival not just as moral goods, but as moral imperatives. That embrace seemed all too evident in the Terri Schiavo controversy of a few years back, and in the long-running conversation about medical treatment of dying patients. I’m no fan of euthanasia, but I’m also no fan of the idea that physical longevity is a morally proper goal in circumstances like Schiavo’s—or in circumstances like mine. Just because medicine can sustain the body for awhile longer, that doesn’t mean it should always do so. Life is more than a beating heart. And life is what we should be seeking. The good news is, if you look in the right places, it’s usually there to be found.

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Monday, January 21, 2008


Motherhood. My sister forwarded me this email, which is funny and wise.


Answers given by 2nd grade school children to the following questions:

Why did God make mothers?

1. She's the only one who knows where the scotch tape is.
 2. Mostly to clean the house.
 3. To help us out of there when we were getting born.

How did God make mothers?

1. He used dirt, just like for the rest of us.
 2. Magic plus super powers and a lot of stirring.
 3. God made my Mom just the same like he made me. He just used bigger parts.

What ingredients are mothers made of?

1. God makes mothers out of clouds and angel hair and everything nice in the world and one dab of mean.
 2. They had to get their start from men's bones. Then they mostly use string, I think.

Why did God give you your mother and not some other mom?

1. We're related.
 2. God knew she likes me a lot more than other people's moms like me.

What kind of little girl was your mom?

1. My Mom has always been my mom and none of that other stuff.
 2. I don't know because I wasn't there, but my guess would be pretty bossy.
 3. They say she used to be nice.

What did mom need to know about dad before she married him?

1. His last name. 
2. She had to know his background. Like is he a crook? Does he get drunk on beer?
 3. Does he make at least $800 a year? Did he say NO to drugs and YES to chores?

Why did your mom marry your dad?

1. My dad makes the best spaghetti in the world. And my Mom eats a lot.
 2. She got too old to do anything else with him. 
3. My grandma says that Mom didn't have her thinking cap on.

Who's the boss at your house?

1. Mom doesn't want to be boss, but she has to because dad's such a goof ball.
 2. Mom. You can tell by room inspection. She sees the stuff under the bed.
 3. I guess Mom is, but only because she has a lot more to do than dad.

What's the difference between moms & dads?

1. Moms work at work and work at home and dads just go to work at work.
 2. Moms know how to talk to teachers without scaring them.
 3. Dads are taller & stronger, but moms have all the real power 'cause that's who you got to ask if you want to sleep over at your friend's. 
4. Moms have magic, they make you feel better without medicine.

What does your mom do in her spare time?

1. Mothers don't do spare time. 
2. To hear her tell it, she pays bills all day long.

What would it take to make your mom perfect?

1. On the inside she's already perfect. Outside, I think some kind of plastic surgery.
 2. Diet. You know, her hair. I'd diet, maybe blue.

If you could change one thing about your mom, what would it be?

1. She has this weird thing about me keeping my room clean. I'd get rid of that.
 2. I'd make my mom smarter. Then she would know it was my sister who did it and not me. 
3. I would like for her to get rid of those invisible eyes on the back of her head.




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Thursday, January 17, 2008


The Simple Life. Something worth thinking about are the transactions costs of daily life. Should we make, or buy? Coase (1937) pointed out the importance of this choice. If we make it ourselves, we avoid transactions cost, which are especially onerous if we have to think about the transaction each time. If we buy, we get better division of labor-- in the household, or the firm. Have people thought about this in the context of the household? (surely! both are Old Chicago favorites). Hiring a nanny means determining quality, doing tax forms, etc. It is simpler for the mother not to work. Hiring a plumber is a hassle too. Simpler for father to spend twice as long as the plumber would and do it.

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