Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Walmart

I don't like shopping at Walmart. They don't have anything I want. But then I generally don't like shopping, and I don't need much of anything.
My objection to Wal-Mart is that they put the screws to their employees as much as they do their suppliers. Witness the classes Wal-Mart offers their employees on how to get public assistance. For the suppliers, they don't have to do business with Wal-Mart, but the employees work there because they can't get jobs anywhere else because Wal-Mart has run all the other businesses out of business.
Free market economy has it's advantages, but without a social concience it can be reek havoc with people. Look at the workers riots in the earlier part of the century. Unions can get to be big and too powerful and become a burden. They did and that's why there was a big backlash against them for the last 20 or 30 years. But I think now is the time to start bringing them back. Or we really will have a 2 class society.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Rolaids

I just came up with another reason/excuse why I'm fat: indigestion. Sometimes my stomach doesn't feel quite right, and I think, I'll just have a little something to eat. That will quiet it down. And it works, and so it became a habit. Recently, I'd been having a little more indigestion, and I started taking Tums, and somewhere along the way, I realized I was eating because of an upset stomach, not because I was hungry. Didn't like to think that I needed a constant supply of Tums, after all something must be wrong with me if I have to eat Tums all the time, and there is nothing wrong me. Maybe being in the hospital last summer opened my eyes. Or maybe all the purple pill ads on TV did it. And there's nothing wrong with me that life on a primitive farm wouldn't cure.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Rocket to the Moon

One of these days an astronomer, somewhere, is going to discover a planet that might habitable. It probably won't happen this year. It may not happen for 100 years, but I am confident that, if our civilization doesn't collapse, someday such a planet will be located. When that happens, someone is going to want to go take a look at it. That will be a big undertaking.

More powerful telescopes are constantly under construction. Though not necessarily bigger than current telescopes, the technology that is going into them is making them more effective. Some Earth based scopes may soon challenge the Hubble for power and resolution. At the current rate of improvements we will soon be able to read license plates on Alpha-Centuri.

Given our current level of understanding of physics, traveling to another star would be an enormous undertaking. Before we actually try and send someone, we might want to send a probe to take a closer look. A probe would be smaller, cheaper, and perhaps faster. But eventually someone will want to go in person. And that will be a trick.

A trip to another star might take decades, so any expedition we mount should be prepared to survive indefinitely on their own resources. It would need to be a self-sufficient community, a colony even. A spaceship to carry such an expedition would need to be very large, and due to it's size, massive. Building such a ship on the surface of the Earth and then launching it into space would be difficult. Just launching all of the construction material from earth would be a major undertaking. It might be easier to build it in space, or on the moon. The largest part of the mass/material needed for this project would be the reaction mass needed for the propulsion system. Another large part would be the materials for the construction of the body of the ship itself. If automated factories could be built on the moon to deliver these two items, the most massive, and expensive part of the project would be taken care of. Building automated factories on the moon would not be an easy task, but it could be done.

Here's what we do. We build some semi-autonomous mining robots and send them to the moon. Start them digging an underground cavern. While they are trying to dig this first experimental cavern, we do a geological survey of the moon looking for useful minerals and ground conditions that are suitable for a large system of underground caverns. Why do we want caverns? Because of the radiation. Machines may not care about radiation, but for anyone living on the moon for more than a few days, radiation is going to be a big concern. Forget about domed cities on the surface. Any long term moon facility will need to be underground. When the survey is complete, and we have our second generation of mining robots, we can start on the real project of building a long term facility for human occupation.

After radiation, the second big problem with long term life on the moon is the weak gravity. To compensate for this, we build a circular tunnel a mile or two in diameter and put a train in it. The train would run some 200 kph, which would give it a time of about one minute to travel the length of the tunnel and would produce a full gravity of centrifugal force. The train would be running more on the wall than the floor of the tunnel due to these forces. If people stationed on the moon were able to spend half of their time on this train, the physiological problems that occur during prolonged periods of low gravity should be minimized.

At the speeds the train is running it would make sense to leave the tunnel open to vacuum. Since this project would need to last a long time with minimal maintenance, it might be better to use some sort of magnetic levitation/propulsion system, rather than wheels. However, wheels might be quicker and easier the first time. The tunnel could be circular in cross section. When at rest the train would sit upright. As it accelerated, centrifugal force would cause it to drift away from the center and so up the outside wall of the tunnel. At full speed, the train would be nearly horizontal. The tunnel would not need to be much larger in diameter that the train itself. If the train were running on wheels, the running surface of the tunnel would need to be very smooth. But robot mining machines should be able to do the job. It may take them a month of Sundays to do it, but they don't really have any appointments to keep, do they?

Now that we have a base on the moon, we can get down to the real job of building a power plant, a smelter and an orbital launcher. We have the mining machines to dig up the raw materials. We have the sun delivering power. All we need now is a large mirror, a steam generator, and a steam turbine driven electrical generator. The mirror could be constructed by digging a pit, smoothing the sides, and then spraying the sides with a reflective coating of some sort.

All this will take time, and will require a good deal of equipment to be shipped from Earth. Mining robots would not need to be very big. Maybe not any bigger than the Mars rover, and perhaps as small as a toy car. Shipping them to the moon would require a large rocket, but it wouldn't require a Saturn V.

Developing a rocket that could put 1,000 pounds into orbit reliably is all we really need. Launch one a week, every week for the next ten or twenty years. Design a second rocket to travel from LEO to the moon. Send it in pieces to LEO and then assemble it in orbit. Might take ten launches from Earth to put together a moon rocket with a mining robot or two. Turn them loose for awhile. In a year or so, we should have some idea of their capability. With more moon rocket and more mining robots we should be able to construct our underground tunnel in a decade or two, and it shouldn't cost that much, relatively speaking. Of course, as with any kind of mechanical equipment you are going to have breakdowns, in which case you will need repair robots. Big opportunity for robotic engineers.

Once we have our circular tunnel in place, we will need the train. I really don't see any alternative except to build it on Earth and ship it to the moon, in pieces presumably. We may be able to recover some fuel tanks used from previous moon rockets to use as bodies for our train, but they may not be large enough. Building the train and getting it operational will be a big task that will presumably require skilled, i.e. human, hands.

With the train operational, we have a real moon base. People can live there indefinitely and return to Earth without any ill effects, other than they may miss the moon and it's low gravity. Now we can start building a real space ship, one that can take us to other planets, and perhaps even to another star.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Weekend

Took the kids skiing Friday at Mt. Hood Meadows. Anne came along and helped with the logistics. Third time this year for Ross, second time for John, first time for Kathryn. Ross went off and skied by himself. I skied with J & K on the beginners hill. We left the house at 9:30 in the morning and were on the slopes by noon. Because the weather report was threatening rain, we didn't rent equipment till we got to the mountain. $140 for three rentals and four lift tickets for the afternoon (noon till four PM). Four hours of skiing was plenty, we were all worn out. We left the lodge about five till four. It was 20 after by the time we had packed the car and were on the road.

Saturday around noon one of our neighbors came over and told us our cat, Amber, was dead. Seems she had a fatal encounter with a raccoon. Tears all around. She will be greatly missed.

Saturday evening Anne and I went to my cousin John's party. It was quite the deal, live band, food, drink and dancing. Several of John's siblings were there: Kathy, Joe and Eyla, whom I'd never met before. Of course she's a youngster, over ten years younger than me. Kathy and Eyla live up North of Seattle in the resort town of Stevens, Washington. Joe has gotten married since the last time I saw him. He's living in Longview, Washington, same town as his father, Ed. Kristen was there, too, taking a break from her work with migrants in Medford, Oregon.

Sunday afternoon our housekeeper called to let us know she wouldn't be able to come this week. Her father passed away.

Also on Sunday the garage door opener quit working. One of the big torsion springs broke. Had some idle thoughts about replacing it myself, but I couldn't see any way of doing it without taking down the whole spring and pully assembly, it just looked like too much work. Of course everyone will warn you how dangerous it is, but that didn't really concern me. Anyway, called the garage door service and they came out and replaced both springs for $160. Should last another eight years or so.

Yesterday evening a landscaper came over to talk to us about his plan for our backyard. Turns out he has a cat that was a litter mate of our cat. The woman we got our cat from is his Aunt. We have all sorts of mutual acquaintances. His aunt has a couple of pregnant cats, so we should be getting a new kitten in a couple of months.

Movies

Anne and I watched "Wonderland" Friday night, about the last days of the porn star John Holmes. Pretty sad case. Basically the story of a drug-related, multiple homicide, told by two drug addicts, neither of whom can tell the truth.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Fluorescent bulbs

A couple of months ago we noticed that the light fixture in the kitchen was getting a little dim. We opened it up and found that only two of the bulbs were working. So I replaced the two dead bulbs with new ones. A month later we had a repeat. The fixture was dim, so I figured the other two bulbs had failed. Should have replaced all four at once, save myself making another trip to the store. So I replace the burned out bulbs. Now wait a minute, these two bulbs are the SAME ones I replaced a month ago! What's going on? I swap bulbs around a bit and all four come on so I leave it. That lasts for a day or two. So I figure the ballast is probably shot. I could just replace the ballast, which would be a big hassle as it is probably riveted into the fixture and the wires go directly to the sockets, so it would mean drilling and cutting and splicing and all that. Also, last time I changed the bulbs, I wasn't as gentle as I could be, and I cracked the plastic cover while taking it off. I think the plastic has become brittle over time, I wasn't that rough with it. Anyway, it looks like the best solution is just to replace the whole fixture. So we go down to Home Depot yesterday and to buy a new one. We like the fixture we had, and, look, they have the same model here! So we're in luck. Well, not quite. The new fixture uses T-8 bulbs, which are newer and slimmer and, I suppose, better. New bulbs are $5 a piece, for the kitchen/bath color. Fluorescents come in a variety of colors now. The more like natural sunshine, the more expensive they are. The more like old, weird, industrial fluorescents, the cheaper they are.

Bulbs and Ballasts

I'm still ticked off that I have to buy new bulbs, so I look on the internet to see if I can use the old bulbs in the new fixture. I don't find anything definite, but I find a lot of comments about how the new bulbs are more efficient than the old ones, mostly due to the new, more efficient, electronic ballast. I finally decide to go ahead and use the new bulbs. They are only 32 watts and the old ones are 40 watts. Even if the old bulbs would work with the new ballast, they draw more current, and that may overload the new electronic ballast and cause it to fail prematurely, or even worse, spectacularly. So now I have six perfectly good fluorescent bulbs which I may never get to use. I have several other fluorescent fixtures in the house, but given my experience here, those ballasts may fail before the bulbs do. We shall see.

Talk about efficiency. The ballasts in the old fixture were both pretty warm. One was actually hot to the touch. It had been so warm for so long that it had cooked the adhesive holding the label on, and the label had fallen off. The label on the other ballast is still firmly attached. The old fixture had two heavy ballasts, the new fixture has only one, and it is much lighter. This made the fixture so light I was able to install by myself. I had to have Anne help me take the old one down.

Expansion Bolts

When the fixture was originally installed, it was just hung from the drywall, no special brackets connecting to the ceiling joists. The electricians used expanding wing bolts to hold the fixture to the ceiling. When they put these bolts in they made big holes (half an inch square) in the ceiling. You can't use holes that big for any other kind of expansion bolt. So I'm going to have to make new holes or use the same kind of expansion bolts. When I took the fixture down, the wings stayed in the ceiling. Can I get them out? Well, yes, with the judicious use of a pair of needle nose pliers I am able to shift the wings over so one end is visible through the hole. I grasp it at the very end and pull and out if comes. Cool. Not often that such a ploy works. Putting the fixture up with the old wing bolts was a snap.

Poison

When I was little, my mom warned me that the insides of fluorescent bulbs was poisonous. A few years ago I replaced some fluorescent bulbs and I tried to find out if fluorescent bulbs really were poisonous, or if they were considered hazardous waste. Couldn't find out anything about this. No mention of being hazardous or poisonous. Now I find that they are both hazardous AND poisonous. They contain a very small amount of mercury. Four foot long bulbs don't contain enough to be considered hazardous waste, but eight foot long bulbs do. I think the mercury is in the form of vapor, at least when the light is on. I suspect is condenses to liquid form when the light is turned off. I have never seen any droplets of mercury fall out of a broken fluorescent bulb, so the amount must me very small. It is, I believe, on the order of milligrams.

From http://www.ccme.ca/assets/pdf/merc_lamp_standard_e.pdf:
The manufacturers of mercury-containing lamps have reduced the mercury content of standard 4-foot T-12 lamps, with the average content declining from 48 mg/lamp in 1985 to 12 mg/lamp in 2000.
T-12 bulbs are the old standard size bulbs, about 1.5" in diameter.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

St.Patrick's Day

Dad came over this morning shortly before 9 and we drove a couple miles towards town (Hillsboro), parked the car and walked about half a mile down to Main street to watch the St. Patrick's Day parade. The parade hadn't arrive so we amused ourselves by looking over the new cultural center which is to open later this week. It was an old church until a year or two ago, when the congregation moved to a new building. The city bought it and renovated it. I suppose the building was worth saving. The walls are made of red stone. The renovation cost a small fortune. When dad and I arrived there were a couple of hundred potted flowers laid out on the ground by the walk. There is a large patio paved with, what else?, pavers. There were three or four large stones with drawings engraved on them embedded in the patio. There were also a fair number of stones with peoples name engraved on them, presumably donors.
After a bit we started walking along the parade route to see if there was any sign of the parade. There wasn't, so after a couple of blocks we headed back to the car. On our way back to the house we went by Hare field and saw the parade forming up. When we got back to the house we discovered that the parade was to assemble at the staging area at 9am, but the parade proper didn't start until 11am. So we had a cup of coffee and then headed back downtown. This time we parked a block from the old church, couldn't get any closer as the road was blocked off. It was a pretty impressive parade, for being on a Saturday in March. Weather was pleasant enough, 50 to 60 degrees and no rain. When we got to the church all the little potted flowers had been planted. Someone was busy!
Preceding the parade came a little three wheeled electric car from the police department. I believe they use it for parking enforcement. Absolutely silent. Dad wondered if he might be able to use one when they finally take his license away.
The parade started with the motorcycle police driving in circles. They made one impressive maneuver. All riding down the right side of the road they simultaneously made a U-turn and formed up in a line in reverse order going the other direction on the other side of the road. All of the motorcycles were BMW's except for one Kawasaki.
There was an assortment of old cars and hot rods. There was one very old car that had a tiller instead of a steering wheel. There was one hot-rod that made from a very old car like (or done in the style of) a Mercer race-about. I liked it. The police department brought their SWAT vehicle. It appeared to have been converted from an old armored car. There was a contingent of 50 (count 'em 50!) PT cruisers, all decked out in green bunting. As the entry fee to the parade was $20, that's a $1,000 to the Boys and Girls Club of Hillsboro, the parade's beneficiary.
There were three or four groups of horses and riders. A dance studio brought their girls. Murphy's Furniture Store (Parade Sponsor) had a large flat bed truck with a man playing an electric organ. There was a small generator set, presumably providing power to the organ. I could here the organ (he wasn't playing very loud). I couldn't hear the generator at all, which surprised me. Now I'm wondering if the generator was even running. Maybe they were getting the power someplace else, like an inverter. There was one fellow on a scooter with an outsized rear wheel. The wheel looked to be about 16 inches in diameter and was spoked, like a bicycle wheel. Unlike a bicycle, the axle was not concentric with the center of the wheel but was offset a couple of inches. Naturally, this caused the rear of the scooter's platform to go up and down as the wheel rolled along. The rider could propel the scooter by simply pumping his legs. Very amusing.

Monday, February 9, 2004

This and That

Ross and I went skiing two weeks ago up at Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood. I was going to take Johnny up this weekend, but I had too much going on and couldn't cope, so we postponed it till next weekend.

Stayed home and took it easy this weekend. Spent all last weekend hooking up a computer network in our house. We now have four computers all connected to the Internet using one DSL connection. Still have to set up Email and printers and file sharing, but it will have to wait.

We had a visitor at work from Australia for a couple of days. He likes one of our products so much he is working on an improved version for us. I'm not quite sure whether this means more work for me or less, which makes me a little edgy, because I seem to have more work to do than can possibly be accomplished in the next hundred years.

Ross's basketball team had a tournament this week. They won the quarter-final on Tuesday, and the semi-final on Thursday night. The final was on Saturday. What a game! My Dad went with me to watch. I was hoarse from yelling by the end of the game. It was neck and neck the whole game, one team not managing to get more than a few points ahead of the other. At the end of the fourth quarter is was tied. Ross's team finally won in the second overtime period.

Ross and I watched a Science Fiction movie called 'Avalon' Saturday night. Movie was made in Poland, had English subtitles and Japanese computer graphics. The movie was about a woman involved in playing a virtual reality computer game. Most of the movie was shown in not-quite-black-and-white, and had a gritty Eastern European flavor to it. But when the heroine reaches the top level of the game, everything turns to full color, full sound and full
of life. Just a little odd.

John prepared a Science Fair project about electricity. His teachers were so impressed that he is one of five students from his school selected to go exhibit at the science fair at Liberty High School. Good job, Johnny.

Kathryn and Anne spent all day Saturday at a dance clinic in Northeast Portland. Left the house at seven AM and didn't get home till after six at night. Finally got the Christmas lights down off the house yesterday.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Who was a good President and who wasn't?

As for Bush, I'm of two minds. Environmentally, I think he's a stinker. As far as foreign policy goes, I think the War in Iraq is the first good thing the US has done since WWII, or maybe Korea. As for his deception, I never cared. He was going to get rid of Saddam Hussein, which was a good thing all by itself. All the rest was just window dressing.

Who was a good President and who wasn't?

President Kennedy was "good" President, but he failed to support the Bay of Pigs invasion after he promised to do so, and then it failed. This was bad. He got us into Vietnam. This was bad.

Nixon was a bad President, but he got us out of Vietnam, which was good. Henry Kissinger was his Secretary of State. I can't stand the man, but I can't tell you why.

Carter was a President, but he canceled our participation in the Olympics, which was bad.

The old Bush had a chance to liberate Iraq, but he blew it. Killed a couple of hundred thousand Iraqi soldiers just to put Kuwait back in our pocket. Encouraged Iraqis to rebel, but when they did he didn't support them. The reprisals were bad. This was bad.

Reagan was an actor and he put on a good show, he got the battleships out of mothballs for a while. He sent the marines to Lebanon and when they got killed, he gave up. Yassar Arafat is a thug. Maybe the Palestinians are finally coming to understand that.

The Republicans hated Clinton so much they gave us Kenneth Starr and his show trial. What a load of horse hooey that was. And now poor Ken can't get a job. I read one article that said everything Clinton might do was analyzed for the potential political advantage, so he never did anything out of principle. This was bad. He got more gun control laws passed. This is bad.

I suspect Bush of being deeply in the pockets of big business. I suspect he is an environmental menace. This is bad. But he is liberating Afghanistan and Iraq. This is good.