Historical census info

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Thanks to Dale, I'm suddenly aware of the National Historical Geographic Information System, from the University of Minnesota. NHGIS hosts census data back to 1790! (An admission of mindlessness: I pulled up 1790 as a test and for a moment thought they only had partial census data, since Michigan wasn't listed. D'oh.)

Now I just need to restrain myself to looking up only the data I actually need, and not geeking out into semirandom data dumps.

Canners: pH testing?


Typical recipe collections for canning include a warning, often in bold, all-caps print, along the lines of, "Follow these recipes exactly exactly exactly or you will die of botulism." Now, clearly, what they mean is, "don't adjust recipes in ways that push the pH high enough that botulism can grow," but they don't want the liability of telling people how to make up recipes.

So, can one simply pick up some pH test strips at the friendly local hardware store and use those to make sure that recipes come out to an appropriate acidity? It seems the magic number for botulism is 4.6. Is "pH lower than 4.6" prior to processing sufficient, or is there some buffer needed to account for changes during processing?

San Diego damage estimates


The news is starting to read like the SoCal wildfires are winding down - at least a few of the fires are still going strong, but some of the early major burns are contained or over.

I was asked the other day what I thought this would do to insurance rates for the rest of us, as the insurers spread their losses. More, or less, than Katrina? Well, the average home destroyed in the California fires is probably worth a lot more than the average home destroyed by Katrina, but the concentrated urban buying power effect kicks in with impressive scale. Let's get the numbers from the sick-fascination-with-train-wrecks department:

Rapid results

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Nothing like being in the basement while a family member is showering and hearing drip...drip...drip... I had meant to spend this past Sunday working on skills like "sitting" and "reading". Instead, I worked on "plumbing", "tiling", "caulking", and "cursing".

Essentially, our showerhead's hose (it's one of those removable hand-held dealies) had sprung a leak at one of the connections, which led to some spraying of water out of the tub, onto the floor, where poorly caulked aging vinyl tiles allowed the water to flow through, and into the basement. Lovely. (Note: I knew the floor tiles had said issues, but was hoping that issues would not become problems before we were ready for the full bathroom gut and rebuild.)

Tracking the Thirstbelt fires

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You can track wildfire size and containment status on InciWeb, a US Forest Service aggregator from various Federal agency databases. They additionally provide a Google Earth feed of fire data. However, I think it's still somewhat incomplete, since it lists only 162,000 acres in 7 active incidents in California, while the media is variously reporting numbers as high as 600,000 acres in 12 fires.

The question is why we insist on calling this a "natural disaster". Fire is good (and necessary) for many natural ecosystems - it's just bad for humans. Additionally, we generally wouldn't think the fire was a problem if there weren't humans in the way. Pop quiz: How many active forest fires are there in Montana right now? (Answer: 16 listed in InciWeb.) How many acres do they cover? (Answer: 411,000.) In Montana, it's not a "natural disaster", it's just natural. And, guess what, it's natural in California, as well. But because humans have gone and put themselves in the way of a (very predictable) natural phenomenon, it becomes a human disaster.

What kind of slime are you?


Your Score: CES: The Advisor!

75% Cuddliness, 30% Introversion, 45% Blobbiness

You are a Cuddly / Extraverted / Sharp slime: the Advisor! Whether it's helping a fellow slime out of a jam or breaking a confused human out of some mental rut, you're always happy to dive into a mess and look for the right way out. Unlike many other slime types, sometimes you can actually come up with solutions -- but it will always be with you slimey good cheer and your unique perspective on life.

Blortrand the Peripatetic was a famous advisor slime. He seemed gruff, but he was never too busy to help someone in need. In 1984 he spent a week in deep dialog with a depressed young university student. Those who were fortunate enough to observe the conversation described it as an epic Socratic duel, in which the student raised every possible reason for one to despair, and Blortrand time and again maneuvered her into admitting that the proper response was "to bounce." The young woman was eventually converted. Scholars consider this to have been the genesis of the rave movement.

Learn more about advisor slimes.

Link: The Slime Personality Test written by inhumandecency on OkCupid, home of the The Dating Persona Test

Who's laughing now, Thirstbelt?!

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After all the abuse that Michigan has taken at the hands of the sunbelt, I just have to indulge in a moment of regional schadenfreude. Here in Michigan, we've been enjoying blue skies and 70-odd degree days, and my tomato plants are still blooming. So, hey, California, how you doin'?

My brain is full, and my extrovert buffer overfloweth

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I'm freshly back from 2 days in Chicago, representing my fair Ypsi at the National Brownfield Association's "The Big Deal" conference, and, after 2 full days of being "on", am quite looking forward to hiding in the office with some nice quiet paperwork. (Chicagoans: yeah, I'm sorry, I didn't let you know. This was a very surgical strike sort of trip, with almost no time spent outside of Navy Pier and Union Station.)

I was there primarily playing marketer - the NBA invited us to bring our 38-acre crown jewel brownfield site to their "property showcase", and was nice enough to waive the $400 registration fee. I was the guy uncommitted for those days, so was the lucky representative - and, while I ordinarily can easily talk up Ypsi's virtues at great length (a former faculty member recently asked if I secretly work for the Chamber of Commerce), it's a little more high-stress when the person you're pitching to is representing a private equity firm that's walking around the conference saying, "Hi, we've got $1 billion to spend - what've you got?"

DTE has gnomes who thwart my attempts to cut into their profits

You may recall my commenting that I needed to insulate the walls where the first floor attic abuts the second floor walls of the house. Today, I measured the estimated area to insulate from the inside side of the walls, checked stud spacing in the crawlspace access, and bought a Sunfire-load of pink insulation from Home Depot. I suited up, including facemask and safety glasses, to ward off the evil fiberglassy bits, and ventured into the attic. Where a surprise awaited.

You see, the first-floor attic access is in the back of a second-floor closet that's cut into said attic. So, from the access, about the only thing you can see without going all the way into the attic is that back wall of the closet, about 7 feet wide, that you're sticking your torso through the middle of. That's uninsulated. Upon crawling around, though, I found that this part is the only uninsulated part - the rest of the backside of the walls is pretty well insulated. Including the closet sidewalls. So this isn't just an issue of somebody installing, and not insulating, the closet after everything else had been done - they just, for some reason, didn't insulate the back wall of the closet, the most accessible part, when they did all the hard parts. WTF?

OCDing on a lazy Sunday...

So I'm sitting here at the kitchen table, immersed in hunting down and merging similar categories in ArborWiki - e.g. moving the pages tagged as Category:Bakery to the larger Category:Bakeries. And I'm thinking that, man, this is an obsessively geeky way to spend an afternoon.

Then I hear, "tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap" over the Radiohead, and look over to Cara, who looks up and says, exasperatedly, "The problem with entering beats into iTunes is that some songs change tempos!" And I feel better.