Where are all the Bob Ross paintings?07.12.19

Some of Bob Ross' paintings are finally going to be displayed at the Smithsonian. (He claimed it would never happen.) He made over 1000 paintings for his iconic PBS art show, but apparently none of them are for sale. Who would have guessed? This is a fun little video that reveals where are all the paintings are stored and gives a glimpse at some of the people who have been looking out for his legacy. (And apparently making a few bucks in the process.)

If you are too stressed out these days, watching a few Bob Ross videos as he paints some landscapes will definitely help mellow your mood. He is a good antidote to the hectic nonsense pounding on us in these Trump-addled days. It's too bad that B.R. is not still alive — he could run for president. He would be a second-tier TV star that we could all get behind. I'm sure that our lives would be much happier with him as supreme leader.

If you are in need of some chill time, all 400+ episodes of his PBS show "Joy of Painting with Bob Ross" are on a the Bob Ross YouTube channel. If you want some B.R. swag or art supplies, you can visit his store (linked above).


Smile for the cameras.07.11.19

The surveillance state is coming on strong. Maybe it is already here.

Charlie Warzel talks about the K-12 surveillance state, where schools are employing 100% video coverage and other electronic methods to try to keep students safer. It's not clear that any of this actually works to improve safety, but the companies who sell the tech are pushing hard to deploy it. If nothing else, I suppose it will make our kids accustomed to being constantly observed.

As reported in the Washington Post and the NYTimes, the FBI and ICE are using millions of photos stored in state driver's license databases to employ wide-ranging facial recognition searches in all manner of investigations, including identifying perpetrators of petty crimes and tracking down undocumented people. No driver's licence applicant is told that their mug will being evaluated as part of these searches, no one has been asked to give their consent, and no law enforcement official has obtained a search warrant for this activity. Apparently, it "just happens" because there are no laws or policies constraining it. That may change. Lawmakers from both parties have expressed "displeasure" with this practice of data mining faces — now that they are actually aware of it.

Of course, if you are a totalitarian state, intruding into people's business and surveilling them need not be done clandestinely. Apparently, tourists entering western China are required to hand over their Android phones to authorities, who then install malware that vacuums up most of the data stored on the phone, searching for "subversive" materials. I guess that is one way to cut down on over-tourism.


70 is the new 35. 100 is the new 70.07.10.19

Two articles about remarkable older people who are still kicking it.


The solar slog. 07.09.19

Solar energy in sunny Florida – it seems like a no-brainer. However, that state's power companies are fighting against the expansion of solar arrays. It's a story as old as time – entrenched interests protecting their positions by blocking new and better ideas. Right now, there is push-back against solar (and other sustainable energy sources) in many states, including Iowa where a bill proposed by Mid-American Energy would have imposed "grid-usage" fees for new solar installations. The bill was passed by the Iowa Senate but was never brought to a vote in the Iowa House. (It will probably be back next year.)

The long-term benefits of solar energy are so obvious that we should be rushing to install solar arrays everywhere possible. Each new house should come with a solar roof and a big battery in the basement. (California already has this requirement – they are always out front.) And there should be stronger incentives to add solar generation to all existing buildings. But instead of racing forward to do things in a better way, it's necessary to fight inch-by-inch against the entrenched powers-that-be.

In "The Sun Also Rises", (which is NOT about solar technology, by the way) Hemingway had a pithy way of describing the pace of change. When one of the story's characters was asked "How did you go bankrupt?", the answer was "Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly." This succinctly summarizes how many changes come about (not just bankruptcy). I think we will see the same thing with the transition to sustainable energy. Right now, we are moving gradually as technology develops and the old players cling to their old ways of doing things. Then something will happen – another climate-related catastrophe, or a major energy producer changing course and going all-in on solar, or maybe an election – and then change will happen suddenly.


Road Trip! 07.08.19

A century ago, a then-unknown army officer by the name of Dwight Eisenhower went on a road trip with some of his military buddies. They drove a motley collection of army vehicles along the Lincoln "Highway" from New York City to San Francisco. (Highway in quotes because the definition was a bit loose back then – the highway was essentially a random collection of concrete or asphalt or gravel or mud roads linked together on a map. It was decent along some areas and barely passable in others.) A cross-country road trip was a novel idea in 1919. The caravan made the trip in 62 days. Of course, it passed through the center of Iowa, including Ames and Boone, the original home of Dwight's wife, Mamie. The Lincoln Highway later became U.S. Highway 30. Eisenhower's experience on the road trip, (together with his observations of German autobahns during World War II), motivated his desire to improve the basic transportation infrastructure of the U.S. during his time as president. Hence, the interstate highway system. And the entrenchment of our fossil-fuel-powered car culture.

If you are bored this summer and needing something to read, you can try "The Big Roads" by Earl Swift. It's a fun telling of the people and events that brought the U.S. from horse-and-buggy days to the mass highway congestion that we have now. An ISU engineer – Thomas MacDonald, trained by Anston Marston himself – played a big part in the story.


Old stuff