Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Rain and Victor Hugo

Rain is falling steadily outside. After thirty-something days without rain, we are getting our fair share this week. reports only 0.01 inches yesterday, but we'll get much more than that today, with a forecast of over an inch in the next day and a half.

It is a pleasant-sounding rain, if that makes any sense, with no thunder or wind, just rain. It almost sounds like a creek in the North Carolina mountains, though the intensity does sometimes slightly increase, unlike the unvarying music of a creek. A good rain for taking a nap.

The rain did slow traffic this evening on my way home (along with an accident on MD 450 just outside Bowie), so I made it to the end of Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame before I made it home. It is an extremely good novel, though quite sad. The flaws of the characters (including those with power and education) lead to ruin, though there are also figures of innocence and of virtue. Quasimodo is an especially good man, who exemplifies the incredible difference between outer beauty and inner goodness. Especially inspiring is Hugo's description of Quasimodo's care for the innocent outcast Esmerelda, who will not return his love and who is indeed afraid of him and his misshapen body.

Otherwise, the novel is an excellent introduction to fifteenth-century Paris and its inhabitants, in the years just before Columbus discovered America. It covers life from the King of France to the judicial courts to the noble families to vagabonds and thieves.

For more about Hugo and his life, the August/September 2007 issue of First Things included The Sacred Heart of Victor Hugo, an article about Hugo and Les Miserables.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Air Force scheduling error

At the end of August, a U.S. Air Force B-52 took six nuclear weapons from North Dakota to Louisiana. The Washington Post reported Saturday that the Air Force has finished its investigation into the error. According to the article, Air Force Major General Richard Newton said that the problems began with a breakdown in the formal scheduling process. The crew loading the airplane used an outdated paper schedule instead of referring to the electronic scheduling system, so the crew loaded the wrong cruise missiles. The loading crew and others also failed to perform required safety procedures.

As someone who studies production scheduling, this case highlights the interesting nature of scheduling systems, which are complex decision-making processes. The use of informal methods or shortcuts is widespread in scheduling systems. Printing out the schedule a few days ahead of time and using that (instead of getting the most recent schedule from the software) is probably widespread. Of course, that doesn't excuse the behavior, especially when one is dealing with nuclear weapons. It just points out that scheduling systems are only as effective as they are actually used, not as they are necessarily designed.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Gopher tortoises

On Sunday the Washington Post had an article about gopher tortoises and how developers in Florida were given permits allowing them to build over the animals' holes without moving them, essentially burying them alive. Fortunately, no more such permits are being issued.

On that topic, if it's October, it's time for the San Antonio Rattlesnake Festival, which is always the third Saturday of the month (this year that's October 20 and 21). We raced a lot of gopher tortoises there when I was a kid.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Columbus Day

For Columbus Day weekend, Laury, Colleen, and I went to visit some family. Laury's mom went with us on our flight to Houston, where we rented a car (a nice silver Pontiac Grand Prix with the Neverlost navigation system) and drove to Fort Polk, Louisiana, to visit with John, Carrie, Kyle, and Katrin. I-10 was nothing special, but we left the highway at Sulphur, La., and traveled north on LA-27 through some small towns and woods of pine trees. It reminded me of central Florida, I even saw a cypress stand. No oak trees or Spanish moss in that part of Louisiana, however.

On Sunday we left Mom with John and Carrie and returned to Houston via Woodville, Texas (just west of Jasper). We met Karen at her townhouse, which faces a grassy courtyard (instead of the typical layout facing a parking lot or street). She has a small rat terrier named Pippin, who is extremely quick. Then we were out to have dinner with Kevin, Stephanie, Ben, and Zachary.

The next day we went to the Children's Museum of Houston, which had, among its exhibits, a Mexican village (Colleen put math problems on the blackboard of the school), a television studio (where she did the weather report in a parka and hat), and an exhibit with replicas of works by Marc Chagall. The last of those reminded me that, in some art history class I took somewhere in college, we had to study Chagall. At the museum, an actor impersonating Christopher Columbus was busy greeting everyone in the main hall.

Home again on Tuesday, where Maryland was having one last episode of summer weather. (We are back to autumn today, buying pumpkins and apples and raking leaves.)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Global Warming

Global warming is in the news - Albert Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won a Nobel Peace Prize. However, a British judge noted that Gore's film has nine errors. The blog The Fact Checker discusses this ruling and provides links to more about it, including a link to the text of the British judge's ruling.

Just this week, I received at work a letter and some material from the Global Warming Petition Project, which is encouraging American scientists to sign a petition against the Kyoto protocol's limits on green gases. The petition also states that there is no convincing scientific evidence that the human release of greenhouse gases is causing global warming. Moreover, the warming that is occurring will have benefits to the environment. Accompanying the letter is an article that reviews the scientific literature on the environmental effects of increased atmospheric CO2. (I am concerned about the economic impacts of CO2 limits - see previous post on conservation - but don't plan to sign the petition; U.S. ratification of Kyoto appears to be unlikely.)

After a Google search on this project, it seems that the petition project has been around for nearly ten years (the Kyoto protocol was passed in December, 1997). I also found Clouds of Conspiracy: Is Media Bias Real? Look No Further Than Global Warming, an article in Salvo magazine, which is published by The Fellowship of St. James, the folks who bring us Touchstone, the Journal of Mere Christianity. The article, by Raymond J. Keating, concludes: "The point here is not whether global warming is truly occurring, but whether the media covers the topic in a fair and complete fashion, which they do not."