Wednesday, November 24, 2004

National Treasure's time is off

I saw National Treasure last night. It's silly, but fun if you can suspend enough disbelief to let it work. I noticed an interesting mistake having to do with the time on the clock at Independence Hall. The treasure-hunters wanted to be in a certain place at the same time of day as it was 200 years ago. And they remembered daylight savings time - but they forgot about time zones!

Time zones weren't invented until 1878. Before the invention of time zones, clocks reflected "sun time", varying by about a minute for every 12.5 miles you traveled west. Noon was when the sun was directly overhead; there wasn't a single noon for a huge region.

The invention of the telegraph necessitated knowing how many minutes apart various cities were and this information was printed in calendars at the time; my family has one such calendar. It was the creation of the railroads that necessitated standardized time zones - it was hard to make a decent railway schedule without them - and eventually these time zones were simplified into the set we have today.

Thus, we can be pretty sure the time that the treasure hunters looked for the shadow of the Independence Hall tower was wrong. The easiest way to find the proper time they should have been there would be to look at a local sundial and calculate the offset between the time that shows there and the time on your watch.

Maybe that means there's another treasure yet to be found!

Monday, November 22, 2004

Darth and Me

The second CPAP unit worked, so I've now had a couple nights of the, um, interesting experience of sleeping with a gas mask feeding me air through the night.

First odd observation: I sound a little like Darth Vader. For good reason - my breath is being amplified by a robotic device that forces more air in and out than my lungs alone would do. Maybe Darth had apnea too! I feel a new sympathy for Darth. No wonder he's so peevish, having to put up with CPAP all day! Who in that situation wouldn't feel like blowing up a planet now and then to let off a little steam?

Second odd observation: When I wake up, I pass through a half-awake state in which I realize I'm wearing the CPAP device - because I can hear it and feel it - but I'm still asleep. I decide to disconnect the device, because it's annoying. I separate the hose connection, which should cause the motor to stop running. Yet I still hear the CPAP. I realize this is because I'm still asleep and I only dreamed I disconnected the device. So I wake up and disconnect it again. Nope, still dreaming. Finally I wake up for real, disconnect the device, and it stops. Phew!

Friday, November 19, 2004

Heavy breathing at night

I have sleep apnea. So I went to the doctor's office today to pick up a CPAP device to try at home for a bit. Set it up, turned it on, tried to use it, and...it doesn't work. All I can get out of it is a "check hoses" message and a "System error- call service" message.

So I call the numbers I have to see if I can straighten it out, and sure enough, I get a voicemail message that says "This is the sleep monitoring clinic. Our hours are 9am to 5pm..." and I'm thinking: Who, exactly, are they monitoring who sleeps between 9am and 5pm? And if somebody DOES sleep between 9 am and 5 pm -- so they can monitor them -- ISN'T THAT THE PROBLEM???

If I ran a sleep monitoring clinic, It'd be open from 8pm to 10am. I smell a market opportunity. :-)

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Armed and dangerous at the airport

Suppose you like to have a pocketknife handy when you travel. Well, why wouldn't you? Useful things! A small blade, screwdrivers, maybe a bottle opener. But when you have to pass through security, they'll confiscate it. What to do?

Technology to the rescue! I found this at Brookstone's last week:




Open, it's a knife (serated and straight), a Phillips screwdriver, a wide flat screwdriver, a tiny eyeglasses screwdriver, and a bottle opener. Closed, it looks almost exactly like a key. Put it on your keychain with your other keys. When you get to security, toss your keychain in an outside pocket of your carry-on bag along with your other metal items -- watch, glasses, spare change, cellphone...it goes right through. And if they /did/ catch it, not a problem. Tell the security goons you forgot it was there and let it be confiscated; it's a mere $15 to replace!

Not that I personally would ever do such a thing, mind you...

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Libertarianism - the movie!

Here is a very cool and colorful flash-animated introduction to libertarian philosophy.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Groundhog Day!

Bush poked his head out of the White House and didn't see his shadow, which means there will be four more years of war in Iraq.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

On Voting

All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions[...] I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority.

-- Henry David Thoreau, On the Duty of Civil Disobedience

Performancing