Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Sheridan mentioned Smalltalk in her speech yesterday. It brought back an old memory. About ten years ago, when I was working for Intel, I wrangled a trip to Austin, ostensibly to interview for a job with Sematech, the semiconductor equipment manufacturers consortium. The guy I interviewed with was the inventor of Smalltalk. He asked me what I had learned at Intel, and I replied "nothing". Needless to say, I did not get the job, but it sure got me thinking. Here I had been busting my behind for years, trying to solve an endless stream of technical problems, and I had nothing to show for it. Oh, I had a vast quantity of facts at my disposal regarding the equipment and software I had been working with, but no one was interested, and it wasn't getting me anywhere career-wise. So even if I didn't learn anything at Intel, I learned something from this trip.

Situation Normal

It got a little cool here a couple of weeks ago, so we turned on the furnace. A day later Anne comments that it hasn't gotten any warmer, and the furnace is only blowing cold air. OH! That's right, the furnace quit last winter, and we didn't bother to get it fixed. We had two gas fireplaces, and I had just spent $500 to get one fixed (the automatic valve failed). So we just used the fireplaces to heat the house and that worked fine.

So the furnace is out, we'll just turn on the fireplace. Flip the switch a couple of times and it lights up. Give it a few minutes to warm up and the thermal switch turns on the fan. Great, all is well. Whoops, what is that horrible screeching noise? Bearings in the fan motor maybe? Turn it off, pull it out, take it apart. No, nothing wrong with the bearings, the armature is loose on the shaft. The shaft pulls right out. It is colored blue where the armature was spinning on it. Tried to tie them together with a screw by filing a flat on the shaft and drilling into the armature parallel to the shaft to make sort of rough keyway. Did not work out.

Got some seeping Loctite (green) from work. Supposed to be able to use it on screws that have already been tightened. Put the shaft in the armature and set them up vertically. Put a couple of drops at the joint, they disappeared immediately. Let it set a few minutes. No luck. Shaft pulled right out, Loctite was still liquid.

Ended up using epoxy. I was a little concerned that there wasn't enough space between the two parts to make a proper joint, but so far it is holding.

Kathryn needed more space for clothes so she and her mom went to Target and bought a dresser in a box for $200. Particle board and 500 fasteners. Kathryn and I got the five drawers put together the other night.

Tutoring both kids (John and Kathryn) in algebra. Kathryn hates it, but is committed to finishing the class. John's only problem is that his teacher is SOOO BORRRING that he can't pay attention in class. I give him a little help and he seems to pick up on it pretty quick. Interesting that all the kids have differing views on the same math teachers. What one kid finds horrible, another finds great.

Kathryn is working part time (about ten hours a week) as a hostess at "The Old Spaghetti Factory", so she's driving, but the only car she will drive is the car-car. She won't drive the van and she will only drive the truck under protest. Both Anne and her complain about the visibility in the truck, and I have to admit, they are right. I have almost run down pedestrians at corners because they were hiding behind my mirrors.

Perhaps if I replace the mirrors with smaller ones the girls will be happier about driving the truck. So I call the dealer, they have smaller power mirrors available. $350 installed. If it would save me from buying a new car, it would be worth it. It wouldn't, of course, but I could use that argument to justify buying them. Then I thought I would check on E-bay. $9 for a pair. Of course I have to install them myself. And I have to figure out how to seal them. And I have to make a trip to the store for electrical connectors. And they have fake carbon fiber texturing painted on.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Excitement, twice removed

One of the guys who works here (at Stevens) used to work for Flir
He always had stories to tell about the place.

Today we were talking about motors and bearings (the circulating fan in my gas fireplace is on the fritz) and he tells us this story about the infrared cameras. They used a very small detecting element, a beryllium lens, a couple of oscillating mirrors and a spinning mirror to scan an image. The motor driving the mirror spun at 20,000 rpm on ceramic bearings. The whole assembly is mounted inside a hollowed out billet of aluminum with walls about one inch thick. The billet is about the size of a small coffee can. Sometimes the bearings in the motor would seize up and the whole thing would crater. The OUTSIDE surface of the aluminum block would appear to be covered with pimples from the impacts of pieces of disintegrating motor on the inside of the block.

Monday, October 9, 2006


Manfred got thrown in jail over the weekend. He had started drinking again. Then he started calling 911. They would come pick him up and take him to the emergency room where they would give him an IV which would hydrate him and give him some nourishment. He couldn't eat anything. He did this a couple of times and then the Fire Captain told him not to call 911 anymore. And he called 911. So they threw him in jail. He is out now. Maybe he was released because of overcrowding, maybe someone bailed him out. I don't know.

Addiction is a terrible thing. I remember a story I read about an anesthesiologist who worked in a hospital. He started "playing" around with Fentanyl a hyper-addictive anesthetic. He wasn't worried, after all he was a professional, he knew what he was doing, he had it under control. And then one day he noticed that maybe he was using a bit more than he should. So he took a two week vacation, which removed him from the hospital and put the fentanyl out of reach. The two weeks passed and he went back to work. The first thing he knew he was in the medicine closet shooting up and he had no idea how he got there. An addicted brain cannot be trusted. That is what makes addiction so bad.

Friday, October 6, 2006


Ross now has an expensive laptop, and I have encouraged him to get a lock, and being as you work for Kensington, and Kensington has lots of great stuff like laptop locks, perhaps you can arrange for one.

But I wonder whether locks are really worthwhile. They get in the way, they are clumsy, in short, they are annoying. And do they stop any thefts? You can lock something up reliably for years and the one time you leave it unlocked is the one time someone will try to steal it, and because you left it unlocked this one time, they will succeed. Murphy's law, you know. So you end up putting up with all this nonsense for naught.

Or maybe if you hadn't kept it locked it would have been stolen the first week you got it. That would be a drag.

What I really don't like is air travel. The security checks, the endless waiting, the cramped seating, but most of all the stupid annoying security announcements in the terminal, the ones where they warn you over and over again that unattended bags will be confiscated. I don't want to hear about it. If you are going to confiscate them, just do it. You don't need to warn anybody.

And people who drive around town with high beams and/or driving lights on. Good lord almighty! Parking lights are good enough for most purposes. There are street lights, you know. But the law says you can't drive with your parking lights on. "Lights on for safety". Does this really work? How about if everybody just turned all their dang lights off and we drove around in the dark. Would we have any more accidents?

Anyway, the whole point is reduce or eliminate as many annoyances as you can from your life.

This rant is now over. Thank you for listening.

Medical Card Idea

I am thinking that my idea for a medical credit card is going to have to remain just an idea for now. It will need some fertile ground before it has any hope of becoming more than just an idea. Finding that fertile ground is going to take some time and some luck. More effort would increase the chances of finding a suitable spot, but I don't have the resources to spend on it, so I am going to fall back on serendipity.

The basic idea is to be an ombudsman for people with medical bills. I know I hate dealing with medical bills, and I suspect many other people have the same view. I have a family and I probably get a dozen bills month. Keeping track of who has been paid, whether insurance has paid their part or not, whether the billing agrees with the insurance statement, and whether the bill has any real basis, is a real pain. I finally hired a bookkeeper to take care of this, among other things.

The idea is that the ombudsman would take care of people's medical bills. It would collect all the bills from all of their doctors, file with all of their insurance companies, and send out one bill a month to the concerned party. The big problem with this is how do you make any money AND represent the concerned party? I do not think it likely that you would be able to sell this service to people for what it would cost to run it. The only other way to generate any income would be to do it the way medical billing services do it now, and I suspect that is done on a percentage basis.

The solution may be to form a non-profit, or not-for-profit, organization, and have a charter that lays out the purpose of the organization. I think Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield may be set up like this.

Another model that might work is Costco. They sell memberships and ostensibly represent their members interests, but they make their money from sales.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Star Status


Dare Obasanjo that the talent meritocracy at Google sounds disturbingly similar to the one outlined in Malcolm Gladwell's The Talent Myth

    This "talent mind-set" is the new orthodoxy of American management. It is the intellectual justification for why such a high premium is placed on degrees from first-tier business schools, and why the compensation packages for top executives have become so lavish. In the modern corporation, the system is considered only as strong as its stars, and, in the past few years, this message has been preached by consultants and management gurus all over the world. None, however, have spread the word quite so ardently as McKinsey, and, of all its clients, one firm took the talent mind-set closest to heart. It was a company where McKinsey conducted twenty separate projects, where McKinsey's billings topped ten million dollars a year, where a McKinsey director regularly attended board meetings, and where the C.E.O. himself was a former McKinsey partner. The company, of course, was Enron.