In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. The Fantasies That Women's Magazines Sell
  2. Climate Models Written in ... Fortran?!?
  3. Air Conditioning and Civilization
  4. Disneyfat
  5. Age and Political Awareness
  6. Prettier
  7. Recession Note

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Fantasies That Women's Magazines Sell
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Killing time waiting for The Wife at the hair salon, I leafed through some women's magazines. Not for the first time I found myself thinking: What a weird and terrifying world is the mental landscape of the human female! I had a good time noting down some of the fantasies the editors of women's magazines -- and presumably some of these magazines' readers -- enjoy indulging in: Spend a year in a foreign country, and you'll discover your true self. The right combo of leotard and jogbra top will make your workout easier. Applying the right lip gloss and eating some whole grains will solve whatever's bothering you today. Embracing who and what you are -- whatever that means -- will make you look ten years younger. Jobs aren't about selling something others are willing to pay for. Jobs are about personal fulfillment. Plastic surgery won't make you look weird. Driving a Prius and installing compact flourescent lightbulbs will save the world. Drinking green tea and pomegranate juice will ensure that you'll never get sick. Nevertheless, you're always just this far from discovering that you have breast cancer. Emotions -- no matter which, no matter when -- need to be faced and worked-through. Then you'll feel great. Following your instincts and your feelings will always work out for the best. You can eat yourself slim. The troubles of movie stars are just like yours. The right fabric patterns and colors will successfully disguise your fat ass. What did I miss? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 1, 2009 | perma-link | (45) comments

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Climate Models Written in ... Fortran?!?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I was surprised to learn that climate models used by the U.S. government were written in the Fortran programming language. My reaction was: Good Lord! No wonder the results are questionable. Actually, the results of almost any computer model used to forecast or predict should be taken with more than a grain or two of salt. I say this because I myself have designed and programmed a number of forecasting systems (for demographics). Normally the programming language used to write a model is not a factor in evaluation of the model's results. If it accurately transmits the modeler's intentions to the computer, then that part of the effort is fine. The problem with Fortran is that, while it was a major step for programming computers when it was first developed, it contained a number of features that made large-scale programs risky to use. More modern programming languages are built around the concept of what is (or was) called "structured coding" whereby various tasks are isolated functional units that are invoked by more general task blocs (what I just stated is hugely simplified). For many years, Fortran was an "unstructured" language. A Fortran program might take the form of one large unit incorporating line numbers and "GOTO" statements that would change the (top-to-bottom) execution order of the program listing. That is, the computer would be directed to hop and skip all over the listing if that was what was required. The result was that Fortran programs were quite hard to understand and debug if they had very much complexity at all. Structured programs are comparatively easy to deal with, though still subject to plenty of risk of programming error. The Wikipedia entry on Fortran is here, if you are interested in learning more about it. As it turns out, Fortan has been tamed over the years into a structured language. The climate models were done using Fortran 90. It is mentioned in the previous link. Program code can be accessed via links under the first linkage. Indeed, the Fortran used in the climate models seems pretty well structured in that I saw plenty of control statements that had no GOTOs. Even so, I'd be happier if the climate models had been programmed in something more modern than Fortran 90. This is probably irrational on my part, but I can't help it. After all, I'm an APL (and its descendants) snob. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 30, 2009 | perma-link | (24) comments

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Air Conditioning and Civilization
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I noticed a headline that Chicago is having its coolest July on record. Here in Seattle, we've had an unusually sunny summer and right now are experiencing a heat wave; today's high is expected to be a record 101 degrees (F). It has to do with a combination of pressure systems and ridges that brought hot air from desert areas over us. The heat helps evaporate water from Puget Sound, Lake Washington and other large bodies of water; this creates non-desert humidity levels and a good degree of discomfort. Worse, most houses here lack air conditioning because it's really needed only a few weeks a year and doesn't seem cost-effective. As things stand, it's just about too to blog here at the house and the same will be true for the next couple of days. This reminds me of living on the East Coast back in the 1960s. Where I lived lacked air conditioning, but at least there usually was air conditioning where I worked. But what about the almost entirety of human existence where there was no air conditioning? Hot, humid air sucks energy out of one along with all that sweat. No wonder life in the old South was slow half the year. It must have been a struggle to accomplish those tasks that were essential, let along others. Of course, defenses against the heat were used: placing shade trees strategically, creating rooms with high ceilings, having comfortable porches where one could escape hot interiors -- those kinds of things. Nevertheless, I find it something of a wonder that civilizations sprouted in climate hell-holes such as India, Egypt, what is now Iraq, and Mexico-Central America. With heat slowing one to a snail's pace and sweat dripping off the nose, how did they even think of creating writing, arts, and other things we associate with civilized life? And to what heights might they have arisen had they invented air conditioning? Ah, the things we take for granted. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 29, 2009 | perma-link | (12) comments

Monday, July 27, 2009

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Low-carb guru Dr. Michael Eades pays an entertainingly cranky visit to Disneyland. Verdict? "Carb heaven." Eades' book "The Protein Power Life Plan" (which he co-wrote with his wife Dr. Mary Dan Eades) is an excellent place for those tempted to begin cranking back on the carbs to start their reading. The Eadeses also make substantial appearances in Tom Naughton's resourceful and informative documentary "Fat Head." I interviewed Tom: Part One, Part Two, and a return visit. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 27, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Age and Political Awareness
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The old saw about one never ceasing to learn isn't actually a universal truth, but it works well enough in practice. It's also true that the greatest surge in learning begins in infancy and tapers off after ... when? puberty? ... whatever developmental psychologists say will do for now. Eventually, if all goes well, raw input becomes categorized, correlated and tested against an increasing body of life experience and distills into something we call "wisdom." This has everything to do with politics. There was a presidential election when I was five years old and it totally escaped me. Four years later, I knew who the nominees were and who I favored (the one my father did), but was basically clueless about issues. At age 13 I knew many of the issues, but my understanding was bumper sticker thin (though I don't think bumper stickers had come on the scene yet); basically, I was simply parroting slogans. When I was 17, I was able to articulate issues in more depth, but that election (the second Ike-Adlai match-up) had a foregone conclusion and issues didn't much matter. I turned 21 just in time to cast my first vote and was in the heat of youthful certainty that I was part of a crusade to make the world a better place. And so on and so on. How old was I when enough "wisdom" had sunk in that my understanding of politics went beyond the superficial? It might have been when I was 33 and finally voted for a candidate of the party I hadn't voted for previously in presidential races. Certainly it was by the time I was 41 and had definitely changed parties. For me, this benchmark seems appropriate because party change usually requires a good deal of thought about issues and how the world works as well as self-examination of core beliefs. Habits and inertia had to be broken. Folks who never experienced a party switch would have to use some other criterion to mark political maturity. At any rate, my "deep" understanding of politics with reference to issues clicked in when I was in my thirties. When I was younger, I of course thought that I understood. But I really didn't. I've always felt that I was a slow-to-mature person, so it could well be that my political maturity came later than it did for most others. On the other hand, the timing of outside events such as wars, recessions and exposures of corruption might be a factor for others as they were for me. For those of you who believe you have mature political awareness, let us know in Comments how old you were and, perhaps, what event or events brought you to that state. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 26, 2009 | perma-link | (59) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Evolutionary pressures may be creating ever-more-beautiful women. Guys? Well, "men remain as aesthetically unappealing as their caveman ancestors." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 26, 2009 | perma-link | (12) comments

Recession Note
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The economic downturn hits the New York City Ballet. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 26, 2009 | perma-link | (9) comments