Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest

Monday, December 1, 2003

Kung Fu Fighting

I went to the video store Saturday and picked up a movie. I thought I was getting some typical action packed cops and robbers shoot-'em-up: "China Strike Force". Well it was and it wasn't. It was made in Shanghai, not Hollywood. The actors, almost all Chinese, were speaking English, it wasn't dubbed. The writing was abysmal. The stunts were amazing, so over the top that I laughed, harder than I have in a long time. The one non-Chinese actor was an old rapper by the name of Coolio. His character was abysmal. I don't know if he did a good job of playing a complete idiot, or whether he really is one. But he got in some Kung Fu fighting. Not as good as the Chinese, but not bad for a rapper. It was like they were trying to make a Jackie Chan movie, but they didn't quite. Some good shots of Hong Kong and Shanghai, which is one of the attractions of James Bond movies and the TV series Alias. And then there were the Arnold Schwarzenegger quotes. I can't recommend it, unless you really don't have anything else to do for a couple of hours.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

PBS: Bridge on the River Kwai

I saw your show tonight. Interesting, but it didn't answer my one big question: did the Hollywood movie have any basis in reality? i.e. was there any kind of commando team sent in to blow up any of the bridges? Or were all the attacks from the air? Did the Allied prisoners stage a strike? Did the locomotive plunge dramatically off the destroyed bridge into the river? Strike that last question. The one thing I learned was that the bridge in the movie wasn't built using the same construction techniques as the real bridge on the River Kwai, but it appeared to be similar to other bridges on this railway line.
A little more geography would have been nice. Like what did the railway line connect? If it was such a good thing for the Japanese, why did it fall into disuse? Did it ever operate after the war? Did it ever operate during the war?
While I'm at it. I have another question. I'm curious as to why you differentiate between "us" and "them". Is it a tribal thing? A marketing thing? A racial thing? A political thing? The show focused almost exclusively on the 16,000 Allied deaths, and just mentions at the end the 80,000 Asian deaths. That's almost 100,000 PEOPLE.
I see the same thing in the my local newspaper ("The Oregonian"). They report every single American death in Iraq in headlines on the front page, but hardly ever do I see any mention of how many Iraqi's died. They are people too, aren't they? What gives? We killed some large number of Iraqi's in the first war with Iraq. I've heard rumors of 100,000 to 300,000, and that barely got a mention.


Watching "The Hard Word" Friday night, the accents were almost indecipherable. So we go to setup and turn on the English subtitles. Helped a whole bunch. Except for the backwards speak. Some of the characters were convicts in prison and they had developed their own secret language which involved pronouncing words backwards. For instance "money" became "yenom" (rhymes with venom). The subtitles helped with some of that, but in some cases, even if we paused the movie so we could study the text, the message remained indecipherable.

Watched "Finding Nemo" with Kathryn Monday night. They sold $100 million worth of DVD's the day it was released.


Dad worked on the Bomarc anti-aircraft missile when I was a kid and we were living in Seattle. Recently I discovered the it carried a nuclear warhead. Manfred (one of the guys that I worked with at Stevens) was an electronics technician in the military working on Nike anti-aircraft missile systems. While he was in the military he took a course in thermonuclear warfare, and the Bomarc was one of the weapons they covered. Seems that the Bomarc was to be used against a group of enemy bombers. The Bomarc would be set to detonate above the squadron of enemy bombers. The explosion would knock the wings off the planes and they would fall into the sea.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Entertainment Weekend

Watched "The Hard Word" Friday night at home on DVD with Anne. A pretty good robbery caper movie. Guy Pearce, from Memento and a few other films I've seen. There were a couple of love interests along the way that just got dropped, very unsatisfactory. And we never did find out what happened to the money.

Dad and Johnny and I went to a production of "An Inspector Calls" at Aloha High School Saturday afternoon. Well done, the players did a good job with their parts, they didn't muff their lines. Well done, but a bit tedious. All talking, one set and one subject.

Watched "Hollywood Homicide" Saturday night at home on DVD with Anne and Johnny. Action/Comedy? It was like two movies in one. There was the basic story line of a murder and investigation and the cops tracking down the bad guys. But then there was the second story about the private lives of the two cops, and that brought in all the humor. Enjoyable.

Took the boys and a couple of Ross's friends to "Matrix Revolutions" Saturday afternoon at the theater in Cornelius. There was a lot packed into this movie, so much that I can't remember it all. Lots of action, not as much kung fu fighting, though there was plenty of that. Lots of mechanized warfare. A couple of existential bits. And it still leaves me with a couple of questions. Maybe if I watch it again, I'll figure out the answers.

Saturday, November 8, 2003


The mouthpiece in Johnnie's trumpet got stuck. My brother Dan facetiously recommended using Visegrips to get it out. I didn't use my Vise-Grips, I couldn't find them. I had a brand new pair of genuine Vise-grips, too. A few months (years?) ago, I finally got tired of having to make do with old, worn out, off brand Vise-Grips, and went out and bought a brand new pair of genuine Vise-Grips.

But I couldn't find them. So I used a big adjustable wrench instead. Adjusted it so if was just big enough to go around the mouthpiece, just below the flange at the end. Had Johnny hold the trumpet straight up, with the mouthpiece pointing to the ground. Held the wrench with one hand and gave it a wap with a hammer and out came the mouthpiece.

Friday, November 7, 2003

Florida Aquifers

Water's Journey: Hidden Rivers of Florida

This show was on OPB (Channel 10) last night. It's about the Florida aquifers. Interesting for a couple of reasons:
1) they've got people scuba diving in caves, which is always a hazardous business.
2) they are communicating underwater and through rock.

The show is about a group of people who are trying to map at least some of the Florida aquifers. They have two teams. One team is underwater, underground, wearing scuba gear and carrying a special tracking device. The second team is walking around above ground carrying a GPS (to keep track of their location) and a special radio receiver to track the scuba team.

As you may know, sending radio signals through water is a tricky business. The US Navy can send messages to their submarines, but their data rate is so low it makes GOES look fast. You may remember a scene from the movie "Crimson Tide" where they are aboard the submarine. There is a message coming in , character .... by .... character ..... That was not just a dramatic effect, that's about how fast it goes. A few years ago the Navy wanted to bury an antennae under most of Michigan to improve their communications with submarines. Last I heard the residents of Michigan had put a stop to it. Good thing, too, I think. They were going to be pumping megawatts of very low frequency radio waves into the ground so they could talk to their submarines.

Back to the Florida operation. The scuba divers have some kind device that let's them communicate with each other. A little research on the web leads me to believe it is probably an ultrasonic system. See: The divers voice is picked up by a microphone and converted to an ultrasonic signal that is broadcast into the water. The second diver has an ultrasonic transducer that picks up the sound waves from the water. The receiver converts the electrical signal from the transducer, and sends it to the second diver's earphones.

Tracking is done with radio devices. The transmitter and receiver were specially made for this project by (take a big guess) an ex-Navy radio man. These devices were not extremely high-powered, as the divers and the tracking team were able to carry the devices on their persons without having to resort to carts or sleds.

I saw a couple of other interesting things in this show.
  • The divers appear to be swimming very easily, not having to work very hard, which led me to think they were swimming downstream,which made me a little nervous. What happens if you come to a narrow spot? The flow of water could trap you there. But later on I saw them trying to get through a small spot, and you could see from the sand blowing by them that they were swimming upstream. All of which makes me think the current in the main stream is not very strong.
  • At one point they came across the a homeowners well pump on the end of a pipe stuck right through the middle of natural tunnel.
  • At some points in their travels the scuba divers were almost 200 feet below the surface.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Calculating the timezone offset from the Longitude

Here is an example of the kind of math I had to deal with today. Thought R & K might be amused. Or not. OK, so maybe my job is a little oddball.

Calculating the timezone offset from the Longitude that we get from the GPS.

(GPS - Global Positioning System). We have a GPS module we use in our radio to get the current time. But the current time is GMT (Greenwich Mean Time), which doesn't mean much to someone in Timbuktu. We also can get our longitude from the GPS. So from the Longitude and the GMT, we can calculate what timezone we are in, and with that we can figure out what the local time is.

Longitude is given in milli-arc-seconds (mas).
There are 3,600,000 mas in one degree (60 minutes * 60 seconds * 1000)
There are 15 degrees per time zone (360 degrees divided by 24 hours per day).

Divide Longitude by 3,600,000 gives longitude in degrees.
Divide result by 15 gives timezone, which is the same as the hourly difference.
Multiply result by 3600 to get timezone in seconds
Multiply result by -1 to get the direction to agree with Microsoft's timezone variable.

Combined, we have:

Longitude * 3,600 * -1
15 * 3,600,000

Reduced we get:

Timezone = Longitude / -15,000

Monday, October 20, 2003



We are looking for:

  • Chairs for the kitchen
  • Chair for Kathryn's room
  • Computer desk/table for new computer.

We looked at a bunch of furniture stores:

  • Dania, the big new store facing Highway 26
  • Dinettes & Office Furniture unlimited next to the Laz-E-Boy store
  • B.J.'s coffee
  • Dinettes & Office Furniture unlimited on TV highway. Same outfit as above?
  • Banner's furniture of TV highway
  • Furniture Mart (?) on TV highway just West of Sunset Esplanade shopping center.

We found a computer desk at Dania just like the one we have for our old computer.

  • $220.
  • Particle board construction
  • Cherry veneer
  • 2 drawer file cabinet: $190 extra.
  • Pencil drawer: $90 extra.
  • Total for all three pieces: $490.

The good points:

  • It looks nice. It's cherry. It is exactly the same as the old one. It has solid end panels so you can't see the mess of cables from the kitchen.
  • The table by itself is only $220.

The not so good points:

  • It's heavy (it's made of particle board), which means it is hard to move.
  • It's made of particle board, which means you have to be careful when you move it that you don't snag a piece of veneer on the vertical end panels and break off a piece. On the other hard, in the five or so years we have had this table, it has survived fairly well. None of the veneer has come loose and none of the veneer has cracked. Of course we haven't moved it much since it is heavy.
  • The table top has numerous dents which makes me think cherry isn't the hardest of woods.
  • The two tables will always be slightly different colors. Cherry wood gets darker when it is exposed to light. So the new table will be lighter in color, and it will probably always be lighter in color.
  • There are a mess of cables behind the computer and they are visible from the open side of the desk.

The table by itself would not be too expensive, but the lack of drawers and the color mismatch would not be good. It would be a quick and easy solution.

I would like to talk to a custom furniture maker and have a desk custom made from furniture grade plywood. Things I would do differently:

  • Mount it on casters so it is easy to pull out from the wall for changing the computer cables.
  • Include a shelf to support the computer so it is off the floor, which would reduce the exposure to dust. Make the shelf adjustable, in one inch increments. That way it can be moved higher so access to the removable media (disks) was easier.
  • On the back side would be a shelf with a fold down panel to hold all the cords. All the cords from the equipment on the desktop would go over the back edge and into a slot above the folding panel. All the cords from the computer would go up into a large hole in the bottom of the shelf. If we want to get fancy we could add a "modesty panel" to cover the back of the computer. With all the cables stored in the tray, the only ones on the floor would be the power cord and modem cable. The only thing lacking is access to the master power switch. I suppose this will have to be bolted to the underside of the tabletop.

Kitchen chairs

B.J.'s Coffee at the corner of Cornelius Pass Road and Baseline has some nice chairs. There are a simple round back design made of oak. You see them everywhere chairs are sold. Fred Meyers has them, all the furniture stores have them. They are solid wood and reasonably comfortable (they don't have upholstered seats). Out kitchen cabinets are oak, so oak chairs would be a pretty good choice. Unfortunately not all of these oak chairs are created equal. At first glance they are all the same, but if you look closer, you see minor differences in the shape of the seats, legs, braces and spindles. None of that matters. What matters is how comfortable they are, and most of them aren't. The backs on most don't so much support you as force you to sit up straight. Not very comfortable. We found a couple that allowed you to lean back a bit and so have the chair support you, but there were other problems.

Color. There are two shades of oak available. One is very light, the other is slightly darker. We would prefer the darker shade, it would more closely match our kitchen. None of the ones that were the right color had supporting backs. None of the ones with supporting backs were the right color.

Weight. Most of these chairs are fairly light, which is nice for easy handling, but we found one model that was comfortable and the right color, but it was made from thicker pieces of wood and was substantially heavier. Also slightly more costly at $90. The cheapest chair we found was $45. My dad and mom bought a table and four similar chairs, on sale no doubt, for $100.

We would buy six chairs, five for our family and one extra that we could squeeze in at the kitchen table.
- 6 * 45 = $270
- 6 * 90 = $540

Chair for Kathryn's room.

We have had the chair Kathryn is using at her desk since before we were married. It may be Dania, it is teak. The frame is still solid, but the upholstery has given out. The easiest solution is to buy a new chair. You would think getting the seat reupholstered would be cheaper, but with the cost of goods made in China these days, maybe not. If you do want to get it reupholstered, you have to find a shop, pick out a fabric, go there when they are open, which means taking time off of work. Or just go to Office Depot and buy a chair for $50 and be done with it. But then Kathryn got on this purple kick, and we got the idea that maybe she would like a purple chair. We found one for like $90, but we don't know if it's the right shade of purple. I don't know what we will do about this.

I could probably reupholster the chair if we could get the fabric. It shouldn't be too difficult.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Stop lights on Evergreen Road

It has been my fate to commute between Hillsboro and Beaverton for the last ten years or so. First I lived in Beaverton and worked at Intel in Hillsboro. I eventually moved to Hillsboro, close enough to Intel that I was able to walk to work. That lasted a year or two. Now I have a job in Beaverton, about a mile from where I used to live, but I still live in Hillsboro, about a mile from where I used to work.

So I have driven up and down Evergreen Parkway a few times.

I would like to see the timing of the traffic lights on this stretch of road improved. (Evergreen Parkway between Shute Road and Glencoe.)

The light at the corner of Evergreen Parkway and Dawson Creek Drive is particularly annoying. A horde of cars can be descending on that light on Evergreen from both directions and one car will appear at the cross street. Two dozen cars will have to stop to let this one car out. Anyone who pulls up to that light and wants to turn left onto Evergreen should be forced to wait for at least a minute, just to balance the waiting time they will cause all the people who have to stop for them.

Even worse is when the light changes when there are NO cars at the cross street. This has happened at least twice in the last six months. Almost as bad is when the light changes to stop Westbound traffic when someone wants to turn right from Dawson Creek.

Next is the light at 25th street. I pulled up behind 4 or 5 cars in the left lane (Eastbound on Evergreen) at this light this afternoon. The light turned green. By the time the third car had gotten into the intersection, the light had already turned yellow! This was to let TWO cars from 25th street turn onto Evergreen. Talk about aggravating. This happens to me on regular basis, at least once a week.

Last is the left turn light that allows Westbound traffic on Evergreen Parkway to turn South onto Jackson School Road. I was glad to see a traffic light installed at this intersection, it certainly needed it. But I am not sure we need a separate left turn control light. I have never seen the need for it. Perhaps there are times of the day when it is needed, or maybe it will be needed in the future. But mostly it's just an annoyance.

Enough about traffic lights. I have a couple of suggestions about other problems.

The stop lines at some intersections are too close to the light. The stop line in the left turn lane on Northbound Jackson School Road at Evergreen Parkway is too close to the light. Many drivers turning left from Evergreen Parkway cut across this line if there are no cars there. To avoid crossing the line, a driver would have to drive straight into the intersection for a distance and then turn sharply to make the turn. Moving the stop line back could improve this situation.

The same problem exists at the intersection of Shute Road and Highway 26. Westbound traffic from 26 turning South onto Shute face the same problem.

Another bad spot is the intersection of Northbound exit from Highway 217 to Allen boulevard. Turning East onto Allen is handicapped by the visibility. I'm not sure what the problem is, but I've noticed that when I am trying to turn right on red (after a complete stop), I will creep up until I can see well enough to see that there is no traffic coming before I turn. Problem is that by the time I can see well enough, I almost completely across the first Eastbound lane of Allen. And I drive a pickup truck so I am sitting up high. I suspect the problem is amplified for people in cars.

Speed Limits

Shute Road (between Evergreen Parkway and Highway 26) concerns me a little bit. The speed limit is 55 mph (as high as it is on Highway 26!), and there is no shoulder on either side of the road, in fact there are large obstacles lining the road on both sides. Telephone poles on one side and trees on the other. If the trees are not be large enough to stop a car now, they will be soon. I suspect that one of these days some yo-yo will jump the curb and collide with one of these immovable objects. I don't know what you would do about this one either.

I think the speed limit on Harewood Drive between the apartment complex and Glencoe Road could be raised. I realize this is a very short stretch of road, but I can see no reason for the speed to be limited to 25 there. Speed trap is the word that comes to mind. Or maybe I'm just scared of driving through the woods.

Monday, July 21, 2003

Modern electronic equipment

Modern electronic equipment is like a house of cards held together by faith. Any little thing, a breath of fresh air, a slight lapse of faith, and the whole thing will collapse. In our modern temples (offices) where we worship our electronic deities, such sacrilege is forbidden, and, for the most part, our electronic symbiots work as they should.

However, out in the field, where our customers place our products, faith is not as strong, and fresh air, with all it's attendant phenomena, is rampant. It's a miracle that our products work in the field at all.

I was talking to one of our customer's a while back and they were planning on replacing a server in their office because it was three years old, not because they had had any problems with it, but because they didn't want to have any trouble with it.

Electronic devices can be very reliable, but that reliability depends on a safe environment. No temperature changes, no stray electrical currents, no stray electronic signals. Deviate from this ideal, and flaws will appear.

Most electronic circuits probably use about 10% of their circuitry 90% of the time. If a fault should appear somewhere outside the core 10%, it may not be noticed for quite a while. And it may not even cause a problem every time, it may be intermittent, one of the electronic technician's least favorite words.

Lightening strikes, even if they do not directly strike our equipment, produce large currents and high voltages in their immediate area. These currents can cause damage to electronic components that is not visible to the naked eye, but will none-the-less make them inoperative. If the damaged component is not in the core 10% (and there is a 90% probability that it isn't), the damage may not be immediately noticeable, and may even be impossible to detect except under a specific set of circumstances.

Given the preponderance of lightening in Florida, we might want to offer periodic replacement of electronic equipment. If an electronic device has been in the field for three years, they should send it back to us, even if it appears to be working fine. We would replace all of the electronic circuits with new ones and send it back to the customer. Naturally, there would be a charge for this service, perhaps half of what the original unit sells for.

The failures in Florida seem to be intermittent and sporadic. Very difficult to track down. Planned replacement of aging equipment could alleviate these problems.

An alternative would be to redesign our electronic equipment so that all circuits were equipped with parallel diagnostic circuits that would enable us to detect any time any component or trace or solder joint failed. This would make our equipment at least four times more complicated and probably twice as expensive to produce. But it could make it more reliable and would make service and repair a snap.

Wednesday, June 4, 2003


I have a stock broker now at one of your full service brokerage houses. Will this work out? Time will tell.

E*Trade and Schwab are great if you are paying attention, but evidently I wasn't. If I had been I would have sold more Intel stock two or three years ago. I blame it on my health. Right now I try to stay healthy enough to do my job. Anything else I get done is a bonus. Not sleeping well puts a real crimp in my ability to get things done. So I blame my poor health (my trouble sleeping) for my failure to pay attention.

Signing up with Chinook Capital Management a year ago might have worked out if they had been competent, if I hadn't been margined to the hilt, or if the market hadn't been in a landslide. If any one of those factors hadn't been true it might have been okay, but with all three working against me, it was doomed.

The big advantage of the broker is it's someone to remind me of reality. It's much easier to be objective about other people's money. It's more difficult to be objective when it's your own money. It's very easy to get stuck in non-productive modes of thought. Like hanging onto stuff hoping it will go up, a common fault among investors, at least according to some studies.

Foreign Policy

I am in favor of the war we started with Iraq. From all accounts Saddam Hussein is an evil man. I think we will be doing the Iraqi people a great service by removing him from power. Removing him will not be enough. To prevent someone of similar nature from coming to power, it will be necessary to establish a new government, and to see that it is firmly established. Constitutional democracy seems to be the preferred form of government these days so that might be the form to pursue. So we can look at an extended stay in Iraq, probably five years or so.

Back in 1970 I turned nineteen years of age, and my lottery number was 30, which almost guaranteed that I would be drafted. I wasn't having any of it. I didn't have any particular objection to the war in Vietnam, but I didn't like people telling me what to do. Fortunately I lived in Ohio and Ohio State University had a policy of admitting anyone who graduated from a High School in Ohio. So I signed up for school. Didn't really want to go to school, I'd been bored out of my mind in High School, and I couldn't see that college would be any better. But given the choice of going to school or going to Vietnam, I chose school. Call me a draft dodger if you will. I was young and ornery, and probably wouldn't have made a very good soldier anyway.

I stayed in school for a year and a half and then I heard a rumor that if you dropped out of school in December, you would be eligible for the draft till the end of the year. If you made it to the end of the year without getting drafted, your period of eligibility was over and you were no longer subject to the draft. The kicker was that nobody ever got drafted in December. So I dropped out, waited out the month, and I was deferred.

John F. Kennedy was supposed to be one of greatest presidents. I'm not so sure. He got us into Vietnam, and he backed out of supporting the Cuban exiles in their attack at the Bay Of Pigs. Richard Nixon is supposed to one our worst presidents, but I'm not so sure. He got us out of Vietnam. I really didn't like his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. I can't really say why, except perhaps that there was too much news about him.

Until this war on Iraq, I was very much opposed to US foreign policy. Our single minded support of any regime that declared itself to be anti-communist seemed to be causing more trouble and grief in the world than the communists were. El Salvador, Iran, Vietnam, the Philippines and Mexico are my favorite examples.

Some people will wonder why I include Mexico. Mexico is pretty much poverty stricken, a third world disaster like any other. It is right next door to the United States. The most powerful nation on Earth. Although I cannot say exactly how or why, I suspect Mexico's current situation can be directly traced to US policy.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003


Every time we go see the folks they always argue. Mom says something, Dad disagrees "jeez", mom comes back. It gets old fast.

Speaking in a forceful voice was the norm in our family. Not the norm for some other families.

Just driving down the road, I get angry with other drivers, sometimes for no other reason than they are on the same road as me. I hate driving, and I think this is why. I am tired of being angry all the time.

I try and I try and I try, but things never go as well or as fast or are as rewarding as I like. So the either I or the world do not meet my expectations, so I am angry.

So I try to stay calm. At least outwardly. And especially around the house. It is difficult, but it becomes easier with practice. Staying away from sugar and getting enough sleep helps.

I try not to answer the phone at home. If someone else answers the phone and tells me I have a call, I do okay. I guess the few seconds of preparation I get are enough that I can prepare my mind.

Monday, May 19, 2003

Big Idea: Universal Car Computer

Nanotech is on the rise, I wouldn't be surprised to see pills with embedded stuff become common the next five or ten years.

We got a chip put in our cat. Perhaps this could be used for your secure cat door? You could probably use the same thing for humans, though it was stinking big needle they used to implant it.

Don't worry about car systems, ever year there is something new, the stuff that's ten years old becomes completely obsolete.

Current law requires automobile manufacturers to provide repair parts for their cars for ten years. After that you are on your own. I suspect this results in very high scrap rates for cars over ten years old. Computers are the problem. They are unique to make and year, no one but the manufacturer carries them. So here's another million dollar idea:

The universal replacement computer for older cars. It would take a substantial engineering effort, but there is probably lots of expertise available in this area. They've been putting computers in cars for how long now? Ten years? The basics are all the same, naturally there would be variations.

Friday, May 16, 2003

Cheery Stuff

These days I'm thinking there are only two forces at work: instinct, and diversion. Diversion is what you think of to keep you occupied when you aren't listening to your instincts. Sometimes diversions are "good": people build things. Sometimes diversions are "bad": people break things, start wars, torment other beings.

Andy was talking about Margie's deism versus his humanism. Going to church is a social thing. It doesn't make you more religious or a better person. It just makes you more social, whether you want to be or not. I believe in God the same way I believe in Santa Claus. ("Yes, Virgina, there is a Santa Claus"). It's a spiritual thing. I don't believe in an afterlife. Jesus Christ? He was a good example who lived a long time ago.

If there weren't any people, there wouldn't be any God. I look at God as kind of the collective subconscious of all the people in the world. Anything that furthers the human race is good, anything that harms people is bad. Each person contains a vast sea of information, emotions and instinct. Only a small fraction can be directly expressed. Much more is expressed indirectly through movement, expression and lack of expression/action.

People reinforce each other, if they have similar views. This is why we sometimes have these spontaneous uprisings.

Social interaction is a two edged sword. I often hear people extolling the virtues of small town communities, but I also hear about the negative aspects of small town communities: every knows everybody else's business. There are some people who thrive on this kind of social detail. Other people have little or no interest in it.

People can accomplish more if they can work with other people. It's called cooperation. It's a social thing. You can accomplish little or nothing by yourself. When I was a kid in school I remember them talking about the mountain men and explorers and how they were so wonderful and great. I never understood what the big deal was. I think that's the difference between the socialites (those doing the extolling) and the anti-social (who would rather just do it themselves). In any case the mountain men weren't true loners. Their lifestyle was made possible by the gun, a product of a socially cooperative civilization.

Wars get started because a large part of the young male population doesn't have anything else to do. No work, no prospects, no entertainment, just plain miserable dirt boredom. Someone comes along and says it's all the neighbors doing, let's go burn down their house, and lacking any other influences, off they go. One of the TV channels has been advertising a show about Hitler that will air Sunday night. It is probably drivel, but it might be interesting. The angle is how he got started and came to power.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Big Idea: Medical Diary Program for Palm Pilot

Here's a program that could make you a million. Or not.

There are a number of medical conditions where it is advisable to keep a diary of some sort. What you ate, what you drank, what pills you took, how do you feel, how well did you sleep, etc, etc.

Palm Pilots and their ilk are cheap enough to be used for something like that. I don't imagine a program to help you record information would be too difficult to write. There may already be a suitable program out there.

But the really useful part would be a program that could analyze this data and point out any correlations (every time you eat some of Aunt May's pudding) you always wake up three days later with a hangover).

So there's the big idea. Go run with it.

Friday, May 9, 2003

Disposable goods

The air compressor at work gave out today. Not a big piece of equipment, just a small one, about three feet long and a couple of feet high. Five horsepower though. It's about the same size the one I have at home, but mine is only like two HP. It hasn't given up completely, it still runs, but it won't develop enough pressure to trip the shut off switch, so it just runs and runs and runs. It's a noisy bugger, too. When we first got it, which was about five years ago, when we first moved in here, the guys in the shop built a big wood box with fiberglass insulation to contain the noise. Box wasn't big enough though, and it cooked itself. So then they built a "doghouse" so it could sit outside in the rain. So every morning when we open up, someone has to wheel the air compressor outside and turn it on, and every evening when we go home, someone has to turn it off and wheel it back inside. No one has stolen the dog house.

But after five years the compressor is worn out. We were thinking about repairing it, but a new one only costs two or three hundred dollars. We could fix it, but you add up the cost of the parts, the time we would spend fixing it, and the delay in obtaining parts and it is probably cheaper to buy a new one.

How much life is left in the old compressor? I suspect motor and/or switch would be next component to fail, and they should last another five or ten years being used as they are. For home use they would probably last forever. So is it worthwhile to fix it? We shall see.

Monday, April 7, 2003

Good Job

What you want are lots of interviews. Doesn't really matter where or for what position. Point is to get out and talk to people. Always learn something from an interview, even if it's just that you don't want to work there.WHO would you like to work for? Are there any companies that are doing anything interesting? I wouldn't put any stock in a companies reputation as "being a good place to work". The kind of stuff caters to the lowest common denominator, which means stability, order, and good benefits.I find that the manager you work for makes all the difference in the world. Great company, lousy manager, your life will suck. Rotten company, good manager, life couldn't be better.- What kind of work do you enjoy?- What companies in your area need that kind of help?- Which ones seem to be the most dynamic?Call em up and ask for a tour. Tell them you are writing a book. Don't tell them you are looking for a job. If you don't get any leads, you can always write the book.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

I hate Philips

I have a Philips VCR. It can't play half the tapes I bring home from the video store. Take the tapes back and they try them and they work fine.

I have a Philips boom box. There is a hinged lid on top that covers the CD. There is no button to release it. Simply pull up to open and push down to close. But it doesn't snap open or shut. It has one of those drag deals built into it so it opens slowly, and closes slowly. Pain in the neck.

I have a Philips DVD player. The remote control has 47 buttons on it. There are like three that I use, and they are small, hard to find and are awkward to reach. Turn it on and it takes five seconds to figure out that there is no disk in the drive, and it won't let you open it until it has figured this out. Stupid design.

Now I'm trying to look up some information on a Philips electronic component on the Internet, and I've got this fancy schmancy web site that tells me everything I never wanted to know, but nothing that I do need.

What is it with these guys? The bigger the corporation, the stupider the people that work there? I'm never buying any more Philips anything.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Mechanical Failures

Sump Pumps

We have two sump pumps in the crawl space under our basement floor. One was put in shortly after we built the house. The other was put in when we finished the basement. They both sit in perforated five gallon buckets that have been sunk into gravel lined holes about two feet deep and two feet in diameter. When we finished the basement, a perforated drain pipe was installed across the uphill side of the basement. It drains into the newer sump. Both pumps are controlled by float activated switches. When the water reaches a certain depth, the pump turns on and runs until the sump is empty, or nearly so. The switch on the first pump is inside a float that is attached to the pump by a power cord. It is free to flop around. The newer pump has a float that runs up and down a guide attached to the side of the pump. The five gallon bucket it sits in is just barely big enough to contain it, and sometimes the float would become stuck. When this happens the pump runs continuously, it never shuts off. I would periodically go down and check it, but it wasn't enough. After a couple of years of this abuse, it finally failed. I think it cooked itself. I pulled it out thinking I might be able to fix it. However when I took the top off the motor, I discovered that the motor housing was full of oil. Even if I could have fixed it, I wasn't prepared to deal with oil. So I put the lid back, set it in the garage, and went to home depot and bought a smaller pump with a floppy type of float switch. So far it seems to be working okay. And what I am going to do with old pump? It will probably sit in the garage till I retire, and then I'll throw it out. I called a couple of dealers about getting it fixed, but no one was interested. All they wanted to do was sell me a new one.

Radio Buttons

Saturday Ross and I fixed the radio in Mom's (Anne's) van. The volume on this radio is controlled by push buttons. One button increases the volume, another button turns it down. Every so often the down button gets stuck, and you can't turn down the volume anymore. You can still turn it up, but you can't turn it down. As this is the third or forth time this has happened, I have the repair procedure down to a science. Basically it involves removing the radio from the dash, taking the faceplate off and take it apart. The push button action is implemented with a flexible rubber sheet with bumps in it for each button. The problem is the bump for the down volume control gets stuck. Taking the faceplate apart allows it to pop back up. So now it's fixed, and it's just a matter of reassembling the faceplate and reinstalling the radio.

Taking the radio out is normally a onerous chore. On the Ford it is relatively easy, however, you do need a special tool. The special tool is a couple of pieces of wire, about the thickness of old wire coat hangers, bent in the shape of a "U", about three inches tall and an inch or two across. The ends of the "U" are something in the shape of crochet hooks. The ends of the U's go through holes in the front of the radio and disengage latches that hold it place. Theoretically speaking, you simple slide the special tools into the holes until the latches disengage and then pull to remove the radio. In practice, there is a good deal of pushing, pulling, yanking and muttering, but it eventually works, and it is much easier than having to take it out from underneath and behind, which used to be standard practice.

Tiny Screws

Sunday Ross and went shooting with a friend of mine in the Coast Range, about thirty miles west of our house. We found a gravel pit to shoot in, actually a hillside. A few years ago I bought a high-powered rifle with a scope in the expectation of going deer hunting. This is first year I have even shot it. It is very loud. It is at least twice as powerful as any of my other weapons. When I shoot it, I can fell the shock wave it produces in my entire body. Anyway, before you attempt to use a weapon like this, it is a good idea to "sight it in", i.e. to verify that the sights correspond with the trajectory of the bullet. So my friend and I tried a couple of shots each (Ross didn't want to have anything to do with it. The 22 caliber rifle is more to his liking) at some targets set up about 75 yards away, with inconclusive results. So we set up a larger, closer target, a sheet of particle board about four feet square about 25 yards away. We marked a spot
on the board and I fired about four shots at it. When we went to look at the board, it was apparently unmarked! But then we looked at the back side of board, and it was obvious that the board had been hit. There were large, ragged bunches of splinters sticking out. But even when we knew where the bullets hit, it was difficult to see where they had struck on the front side. And these were relatively large bullets, 30 caliber, almost 5/16" in diameter.

Anyway the four hits on the board were in a nearly vertical line, but they were spread out vertically over nearly two feet! What could cause this horrible inaccuracy? And then we look at the gun and notice that one of the scope mounts had come detached. The scope mount had been secured to the barrel of the gun with tiny flat head, Allen screws. Allen screws have a hex shaped recess to accommodate the driver. The cone shape of the screw head combined with the hex shaped recess combined to reduce the attachment point of the head to screw body to almost nothing, which made the screw very weak, and given the smallest task, it failed.

Ovenized Oscillators

At work I am working on a new radio transmitter. This radio uses a 10 MHz (ten megahertz, or ten million cycles per second) crystal controlled oscillator. Crystals are used in oscillators because they are very stable. If a crystal is generating a 10 MHz signal today, then it will be generating a 10 MHz signal ten years from now. However, the frequency generated is temperature dependent. If the temperature goes up, the frequency goes up. Not much, but for our purposes even the smallest deviation is unacceptable. So we use ovenized crystals. This means these oscillators contain a heating element that raises the temperature to the highest temperature that the crystal is expected to operate at, in this case about 140 degrees Fahrenheit (most Microsoft fonts don't have a degree symbol). I am working with on old prototype board and the crystal was attached to the board with double sided mounting tape (the kind used for hanging pictures on walls). This tape is made of foam to accommodate surface imperfections. This board had been used so much that the heated crystal had cooked the tape, which caused it to fail, which left the crystal dangling by its' wires, one of which broke. No big deal, we glued it back down using super glue and soldered new wires on.

Super Glue

A few weeks ago I tried to repair a die cast model tractor using super glue. It didn't stick the first time, so I filed the mating surfaces flat and tried again. Still no luck. Ended up using epoxy. Now the part I glued on has itself come apart, so I need more epoxy. Super glue is funny stuff. It will definitely stick to skin and to most other surfaces, but occasionally I will come across something that it won't stick to. Die cast metal for instance. A friend of mine speculated that it was because the metal is porous.