James Reyes on technology, language and the human experience.

16 Nov 2012

Dole/Kemp ’96

Did you know the website for Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign is still up? Pretty fascinating! I still remember, during my period youthful Republican indiscretion,  standing on the street in my hometown of El Paso waving Dole/Kemp signs and getting booed by pretty much all of the passing cars with the less than occasional honk of support. Good times!

Notice the site is optimized for 600px wide resolution.

13 Nov 2012

Sworn in four times

For only the 7th time ever, the next presidential inauguration will fall on a Sunday. President Obama will take the oath on Sunday in a private ceremony and again on Monday during the public ceremony. He also took the oath twice in 2008 due to Chief Justice Robert’s flub in administering the oath the first time.

This will make Obama along with Roosevelt the only presidents in US history to have taken the presidential oath four times.

8 Nov 2012

A fun presidential fact

This is only the second time the United States has had three successive two-term presidents (Clinton, Bush, Obama). The last time this happened was when James Monroe was reelected in 1820. He succeeded two-termers Thomas Jefferson and James Madison during the Era of Good Feelings, the only time this country experienced one-party rule for any significant period of time.

6 Sep 2012

How much would it cost to build a Death Star?

I was recently watching Kevin Smith’s Clerks for the something-th time. There is this scene where Randal and Dante engage in a chat about the fate of the contractors working on the Second Death Star in Return of the Jedi.

Dante. And you figured it out?
Randal. Well, the thing is, the first Death Star was manned by the Imperial army-storm troopers, dignitaries- the only people onboard were Imperials.
Dante. Basically.
Randal. So when they blew it up, no prob. Evil is punished.
Dante. And the second time around…?
Randal. The second time around, it wasn’t even finished yet. They were still under construction.Dante. So?
Randal. A construction job of that magnitude would require a helluva lot more manpower than the Imperial army had to offer. I’ll bet there were independent contractors working on that thing: plumbers, aluminum siders, roofers.
Dante. Not just Imperials, is what you’re getting at.
Randal. Exactly. In order to get it built quickly and quietly they’d hire anybody who could do the job. Do you think the average storm trooper knows how to install a toilet main? All they know is killing and white uniforms.
Dante. All right, so even if independent contractors are working on the Death Star, why are you uneasy with its destruction?
Randal. All those innocent contractors hired to do a job were killed- casualties of a war they had nothing to do with. (notices Dante’s confusion) All right, look-you’re a roofer, and some juicy government contract comes your way; you got the wife and kids and the two-story in suburbia-this is a government contract, which means all sorts of benefits. All of a sudden these left-wing militants blast you with lasers and wipe out everyone within a three-mile radius. You didn’t ask for that. You have no personal politics. You’re just trying to scrape out a living.

This got me thinking about the costs of a construction job of that magnitude. The proposal would be to build a large steel weaponized and habitable sphere in space with a diameter of 140 kilometers (87 miles). Some economics students at Lehigh University decided to take the materials calculation on. They estimate that it would take 1.08×1015 tonnes of steel or 1,000,000,000,000,000 (one quadrillion) tonnes of steel. Consider that today, the sum of the planet’s steel production is 1.3 billion tonnes per year. At our current production levels, it would take 833,315 years to produce the steel needed and would cost, at 2012 rates, $852,000,000,000,000,000 (852 quadrillion dollars), which is 13,000 times the world’s GDP.

It’s unlikely we could extract enough iron from the the Earth’s crust to produce that much steel. Fortunately, the interior of the planet is full of enough iron to build two million death stars. However, extracting too much iron from the Earth’s interior would be really bad. Remember, all that iron makes Earth into a huge magnet, whose magnetic field protects life on Earth from solar wind, cosmic rays, ultraviolet radiation, charged particles and other really harmful space stuff. Then again, if you built just one Death Star, turned it toward the Earth and fired, it would be a moot point.

23 Aug 2012

“I’d shut Apple down”

Hindsight is a funny thing.

This week Apple became the most valuable company in human history with a market value of $623 billion. In 1997, however, Apple’s situation was a bit more precarious. After ousting founder Steve Jobs 12 years earlier, Apple experienced a period of long decline with a series of failed products and poor business strategy. Apple was on the verge of joining the junk heap of history with other failed competitors to the PC platform.

In 1997 Jobs returned to the helm and was able to turn the company around leading to an impressive comeback. During those dark days of the late 90′s, Dell was on top and Michael Dell gave the returning Jobs a bit of advice saying, ”What would I do? I’d shut [Apple] down and give the money back to the shareholders.”

And here we are, 15 years later, with Apple, the most valuable company in human history, worth 30 times more than Dell.

22 Aug 2012

A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!

Today is the 527th anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth Field. This was the decisive battle that ended the 30-year long English Wars of the Roses with Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond defeating Yorkish King Richard III. Richmond would assume the throne himself as King Henry VII ushering in the Tudor Dynasty which would end 118 years later with the death of Henry’s granddaughter Queen Elizabeth I.

The Battle of Bosworth Field is famously portrayed in Shakespeare’s Richard III where we find one of Shakespeare’s best known lines.


Rescue, my Lord of Norfolk, rescue, rescue!
The king enacts more wonders than a man,
Daring an opposite to every danger:
His horse is slain, and all on foot he fights,
Seeking for Richmond in the throat of death.
Rescue, fair lord, or else the day is lost!


A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!


Withdraw, my lord; I’ll help you to a horse.

The Battle of Bosworth Field