Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest

Monday, December 31, 2007

Blogdom

After I installed a counter on my blog I eventually realized that my readership is very small. So I decided I would go out into the blogosphere and see what other people are writing. A lot of it holds no interest for me. A lot is involved in arguing for nothing more than arguments sake. A few sites have something interesting to say. One of my favorites is dustbury.com from Oklahoma. I have also come across a few sites written by right wing wackos who occasionally have something intelligent to say, which goes to show that even a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while:
This guy is not quite so prolific, but he posts some fairly esoteric stuff.

This one is a collection of links to other web sites which gets updated daily, some of which are pretty cool.

Most of these sites I found by following links from dustbury.com.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Sauvie Island Bridge

Friday afternoon my wife and I drove downtown to the Wicke's warehouse to pick up a piece of furniture. While we are waiting for warehouseman, I am looking around outside and I see this bridge where there should not be a bridge. Okay, so maybe I don't get downtown that often, or maybe it's a bridge I've forgotten about. Portland has a bunch of bridges over the Willamette River that runs through downtown, but is certainly odd that there is a bridge there.


I read the paper this morning and it turns out that it is the new Sauvie Island Bridge. They built it at an industrial site just North of downtown. It is now finished and they have jacked it up fifty feet in the air and they are going to haul it down river on a barge and set it in place. Except the wind was a little high today, so maybe they will do it tomorrow.

Sauvie Island Bridge being barged underneath the Burlington Northern Railroad Bridge
Map showing Wicke's warehouse, the Willamette River, Terminal 2, where the bridge was being built, and the location of the old Sauvie Island Bridge where the new one will be installed.


View Larger Map

Update September 2016 replaced missing picture, added photo of bridge being transported, deleted dead stuff.

Storage




I have always wanted one of those complicated Chinese opium chests. They are old and dark and have all these little doors and compartments for storing stuff, but I have never found one that really looked like it could be useful. They were more like storage chests you could put stuff in that you didn't need, stuff you would keep just because you might need it someday. And they were always a little expensive. Hard to justify buying one that you do not really have a good use for.


For Christmas I got a little plastic three drawer storage box. It sits on the one foot of kitchen counter that is reserved for my junk. It is wonderful in all aspects except it's appearance. The pile of stuff that had accumulated on the counter and in my little cupboard all went easily into this little box of drawers. I can now find anything I need quickly and easily. It is really a dramatic improvement. The only problem is that it doesn't look like an antique Chinese opium chest.

Update December 2016 replaced missing pictures.

"The Kingdom"

When I first heard about the "The Kingdom", I thought I would like to see it. Later I heard some hype that really put me off. It sounded like a really cheesy thriller, kind of like "24", whose target audience must be twelve year olds. It's out on DVD now, and my wife and I like thrillers, so we rented it at the local video store.

Turns out it was pretty good. There were a couple of corny bits, but most of it agreed with my view of reality.
  • Big shot politicians interfering with police work? Check.
  • Big shot politician sounding like a complete fool? Hmm, a little corny, or maybe not.
  • Terrorists bombing US installations in Saudi Arabia? Check and double check. Photos of one blast site I found on the web look very similar to the scene in the movie.
  • Small group of FBI agents sent to investigate the bombing? Check.
  • Totally incompetent Saudi Arabian police work? Perhaps not quite as close to the mark as we would like to believe.
  • Fabulous palaces? Check.
  • Bureaucratic interference? Check.
  • Home grown (Saudi) terrorists? Check.
  • Four FBI agents taking out a couple of dozen terrorists in the firefight. Arguable. We hear stories about agents muffing a gunfight, and for people who have never been in one, I can understand that. But put four combat experienced, trained agents against a bunch of fanatical amateurs, and I will bet on the agents any day.
There were other things though, that I would to like to know about, one way or the other.
  • Was the convoy technique realistic? That is, four black Suburbans tailgating each other at 100 MPH down the freeway.
  • Was there a firefight when they finally tracked down the mastermind of the attack? Was it is a big as it was portrayed?
Then there were some other items that I doubt actually happened and were probably just added to make a better story. These did not bother me, and they did make it a better movie.
  • Having a woman on the FBI team allowed the movie makers to show what kind of problems they would encounter if there had been one. Besides, I enjoy watching Jennifer Garner. I used to be a big fan of "Alias", at least before it got turned into a soap opera.
  • Having the FBI in on the firefight.
  • Having one of the FBI agents kidnapped.
One thing that I do not understand is why the FBI insists on calling all of their agents "Special". I mean we never hear about ordinary agents. Is this some kind of secret self esteem program the FBI is working on?

We do not hear much about why Osama (bin Laden) has declared war against us. As near as I can tell his biggest complaint is that we support the Saudi government, a government that is essentially a corrupt tyranny. Of course, we support the Saudis because they supply a large fraction the oil we consume. Some people complain about the amount of money we spend on our effort in Iraq, but it is roughly the same amount of money we send to Saudi Arabia for oil. Any time you have that much money concentrated in that few hands, you are going to have trouble.

It's interesting that the oil business does not seem to cause as much corruption here as the drug trade, even though the oil business is several orders of magnitude larger. I mean you do hear about high level corruption, but you don't have people running up and down the street shooting each other over a tank of gasoline. In oil producing countries in the Middle East, you do, but the tanks of gasoline they are fighting over are much bigger: the tankers that hold a million gallons of oil for shipment to the US.

I suspect Osama is secretly pleased that the US invaded Iraq and took out Saddam. I wonder if he is really attached to his Jihad, or whether he is only really interested in changing the government of Saudi Arabia.

There is one positive aspect to the war in Iraq, and that is a few more people in the US are aware of something beyond our borders. Without the war, I doubt whether this movie would have been made.

Sierra Glass

Originally posted July 12, 2007. Now with pictures.

Took a couple of window screens in for repair this morning. While I was there I asked them to fix the side view mirror on the van. They had replaced it several years ago when the original had fallen off. It took them about fifteen minutes, but the next day the silver backing in the center of the mirror became discolored. It looked like the glue had reacted with the mirror coating.



It was ugly, but it still worked, so I didn't bother to get it fixed. But when I was there this morning I thought I might as well get it fixed. When the old mirror was pulled off we were surprised to see that the glue had been applied all around the outside of the mirror, but that the center where the silver backing had been damaged was completely clear of glue. Matter of fact, the glue defined the boundary around the damaged area.



However, the glue did not go all the way to the edge of the mirror, and the uncovered area around the outside was undamaged. Best we could figure was that the fumes from the glue were trapped by the glue all around it and the fumes are what caused the damage. Around the outside the fumes were free to escape, so there was no damage. How about where the glue actually contacted the mirror? Well, that is a puzzle. They used silicon glue, which is the wrong kind of glue to use for this application. This time they used glass mastic, whatever that is. Still only took about fifteen minutes, and there was no charge. Very nice.

Update December 2016 replaced missing pictures.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Good Book or Lunch with Gang?

I missed lunch with my gang today. I got caught up reading "The Lonely Silver Rain" by John D. McDonald. I was enjoying myself too much to break away. I had been reading "The Embezzler" by James Mallahan Cain. It had promised to be a good story, after all this is same guy who wrote "Double Indemnity", which is a famous movie, and as I recall, a pretty good story. But "The Embezzler" has been slow going. I wish I could tell what the problem was. It might be that the guy is captivated by the girl. I do not know if you could call it love, but he has fallen for her and will do anything for her, even stuff that is patently a bad idea. Or maybe the story line does not ring true. Everything else about the story is told with a certain detachment, but then he does something out of character and his actions get blamed on his infatuation with the girl. It is all being told in the past tense, by an older and perhaps wiser protagonist, and maybe that is the problem. The passion that would impel him to engage in those foolish actions is missing. Just saying that someone is passionate about something is not convincing enough to make it believable.

"The Lonely Silver Rain" was written in 1985 and touches on the cocaine trade in South Florida. There are a couple of very good passages that explain the situation a lot better than you will ever get from popular media. I have a few things to say about this myself, but it will have to wait for another post.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Foodscapes

I was out wandering around on the internet one day and I stumbled across this web page which has a bunch of amazing landscape pictures. Turns out the pictures were made by Carl Warner. Carl has his own web site and so I could not easily find a direct link to the pictures, but you can get there by clicking on the box labeled "Fotographics" and then on the briefcase that is labeled "Foodscapes". The labels on the boxes are hidden until you mouse over them.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Home Theater, Part 2

Wife and I went to Wicke's Furniture today and bought a console TV stand. It was almost that quick. It was the first store we stopped in today. We walked through almost the entire store before we came on this piece. It was what we wanted. Color was not too dark, lots of storage, a couple of shelves for the electronic bits, right height, right depth, right length. (The picture shows the console base and the hutch top. We just got the base. We did not get the hutch top.) Price was more than I wanted to spend, but not too much. Anne was ready to buy it, but I said we should think about it for a bit. So we went down the street to visit a couple of other furniture stores. One was selling Amish furniture. They had maybe two dozen pieces scattered around a big showroom. The place was three quarters empty. They had one table that was about the right size. They wanted $700 for it, which, considering it was only approximately what we were looking for, was too much. Another, more conventional furniture store had several consoles, but nothing that was any better than what we had already seen, and everything was more money, not a lot, like one hundred dollars, but enough to make a difference.

Then we went by Costco to look at a couple of other items we had seen earlier. The console I had found was much too dark, almost black. I do not understand black wooden furniture. The mood of the country? Everywhere we went, there was a lot of it, except at the Amish store. The piece that Anne had seen was a buffet and it was too tall. So we have made our reality checks and we are confirmed in out selection. It's lunch time so we stop at the McDonald's in the Costco parking lot. I'm impressed. It is actually a pretty nice place, and clean to boot. I can't remember the last time I saw a fast food restaurant that impressed me. Usually they are so jammed and busy you are lucky if there aren't bodies of the slower customers underfoot.

We go home and pick up the truck. No point in waiting on deliver, there is only one piece and it will fit in the truck easy. We stop by the store and pay for the console and head out to the warehouse. We are sitting at the light to leave the store and I realize I have no idea where the warehouse is. Back to the store to get directions, then downtown to the warehouse. We have to wait about fifteen minutes for the guys at the warehouse to pull our order and deliver it to the dock. It's heavy. I help him slide it across the few feet from the forklift to the edge of the dock and into the back of the pickup. Oops, I've miscalculated. The box too long to fit in the bed with the tailgate closed. I pull the truck up a couple of feet and try to lower the tailgate by myself, but I can't do it. I have to get help.

Loaded up, we head for home. Now we have to get this box out of the truck and into the house. I was thinking that if there were four of us, we could each take a corner and carry it in, but that does not work. We end up balancing the box on a skateboard to get it to the front door. Then three of us carry it inside. This sucker is heavy. Oh, look at that, the weight is posted on the box: 100 kilograms net, 112 kg gross. That's almost 250 pounds! No wonder it feels so blinking heavy.

My crazy neighbor Larry has been buying custom high priced hardwood furniture for his house. Every time he gets a new piece, Wayne (my other neighbor) and I get to help him carry it inside. I swear that each piece he buys is heavier than the last. Now I have the satisfaction of knowing that my furniture weighs as much as his, but only cost one tenth as much. I mean it's all about the weight, isn't it?

So the box is inside the house, we still need to get it into the TV room. Fortunately, it is only a few feet away. We take off the sides and top of the box and slide the console on the box bottom into the TV room. Now we have the final unpacking and setting up to do. There are three doors and the hinges on two have come loose. One of the hinge pins is trying to escape. The doors do not want to line up. The shelf supports do not want to go in their holes. The shelves to not want to sit squarely. There is masking tape on the glass door that has to be razored off and then I remove the adhesive residue with turpentine. A couple of hours of futzing around and things are squared away enough.

Now there is the matter of stringing the cables. Verizon came by yesterday and hooked up their HD-DVR. The brought some really nice cables, but they are really overkill for what we are doing, and we are really cramped for space, so I pull them out. The Panasonic home theater system has a disk carousel, so the box is really deep. It barely fits inside the console. I am worried that I will have to cut a hole in the back panel to accommodate the plugs from the various cables. It's a tight fit, but we manage. Finally get all the cables sorted out, push the console back closer to the wall, and set the BRAND NEW MONSTER TV on top. Hook up the cables and we are good to go.


Oh wait, how do you turn it on? We have three remote controls. It takes us 30 minutes to sort out what buttons we need to push to get the sound from the new Verizon DVR to the Panasonic sound system. We spend the next hour pushing buttons, changing channels, seeing what God hath wrought. The family finally settles down to watch a comedy and I go to the kitchen to get something to eat. I am not in there for fifteen minutes before my youngest comes to report that the DVR is sparking. I go look. Screen is black. I kill the power and go back to my bowl of cereal. Whatever is wrong is going to have to wait until tomorrow.

Update December 2016 replaced missing pictures.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Automatic Fueling Stations


In California, the hose on the fuel pumps at gas stations are enclosed in a second hose that is used to vacuum up the fuel vapors that are released when fuel is being pumped into an automobile gas tank. The metal nozzle is enclosed by an open ended plastic bellows to help trap these vapors.

We do not have self-serve gas in Oregon, and I have gotten accustomed to the service and I like it. I think our gas costs about ten cents more per gallon because of this, but that is the least of my worries. It keeps a few more people employed and that is good in a state where unemployment is a chronic problem.

I remember seeing a guy filling up his car at a self-serve joint in Houston once. He is crouched down behind his car, pumping gas into the filler pipe behind the fold down license plate, and smoking a cigarette. I drove on by, did not stop.

What we need is a robotic fueling system. Some kind of optical target on the vehicle and a robotic arm with a camera attached to the fuel pump that can locate the filler port, connect up and deliver the fuel without releasing any fumes into the atmosphere. Of course this would put all the filling station attendants out of business, so maybe it isn't such a good idea. But have you ever seen the plume of fuel vapor the comes out of an automobile gas tank when you take the lid off? This can't be good either. Converting all the stations in the country to this kind of system would be a major undertaking and would generate at least a couple of engineer jobs, several manufacturing jobs, and a bunch of jobs for installers. And it would reduce the amount of fuel being lost to vaporization, which would have the side benefit of reducing one source of air pollution.

Shell tried a robotic system ten years ago. Since this is the only place I have heard of it, I guess it did not catch on.

Update December 2016 replaced missing picture.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Home Theater

After years of no cable and nothing but CRT televisions, I finally broke down and joined the rest of America in our headlong plunge into digital nirvana. Comcast is the local cable company and I had never heard anything good about them. You give them a hunnert bucks a month and they give you lousy service and pump a zillion channels of advertisements into your home. That did not sound like a very good deal to me.

Last year Verizon, the local phone company installed fiber optic cables in my neighborhood. This year they are offering digital TV. I am not sure what is was that caused me to finally buy into this. Perhaps it is because I dislike going anywhere, and TV brings the world to me without my having to suffer through all the hassles and inconvenience of actually travelling. Perhaps because it is Christmas and I was feeling generous. In any case, I called Verizon and ordered their digital TV service.

Last weekend, the wife and I went to Costco and looked at the big TV's. They had a bunch: plasma and LCD flat screens and some DLP rear projection units. On that day the LCD's looked better than the plasma, they were also cheaper. I did notice that there was some lagging in some of the action images, but I figured it was something I could live with. I took some notes and later on settled on either a 42" or 47" Vizio LCD.

Friday I took the boys with me to go buy one of these two televisions. Instead, they gravitate to the plasma units. They do not seem to suffer from lagging like the LCD units, and the picture seems better. They have a nice Panasonic unit that has a $300 instant rebate, which makes it only $50 more than the larger Vizio unit I was considering. It is not 1080p compatible, it only has a horizontal resolution of 1300 and some odd pixels, but I think that will be enough for now. The way electronics is evolving it may be obsolete in five or ten years.

I bought a Panasonic home theater sound system to go with it. They had a Sony unit that was a little cheaper, but I thought that by buying the same brand, they (the television and the sound system) might play together better. So far the only glitch is that I need an HDMI cable, which was not included with either unit. Freddie's (the local super market) had one for $60. I passed. Newegg has them for $6. But I will wait on that until Verizon shows up to do their installation, which is supposed to happen Thursday.

So I bought the TV and sound system and the boys and I carted them home. I let the boys unload and set it all up, which they were very happy to do. And we watched movies and the boys played video games all weekend. I watched four movies this weekend, and three of them I had seen before. It was really a big improvement over watching shows on the old TV. And the old CRT is no slouch. It is a 36" monster. It will probably be in our basement forever. No one is going to want to carry it out. I think it weighs close to 300 pounds.

Bringing this big screen TV home has created another problem and that is how are we going to arrange the TV room to accommodate it? The wardrobe has been forced against the window, not that the window was ever used, but it is still a little tacky. I am going to have to buy a new piece of furniture to support the TV and all its' ancillary equipment. And it is going to have to be a decent piece of furniture which means it will probably cost upwards of $300. Oh well, what else is money for?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

If I were King

If I were the King of the United States of America, I would:
  • Stop supporting the military-industrial welfare complex.
  • Decommission and scrap all of our nuclear weapons.
  • Cancel all the big expensive weapons projects like the stealth fighters and bombers.
  • Eliminate income taxes and all other existing taxes and replace them with a resource extraction tax.
  • Replace our current public school system with a voucher program.
  • Cancel all of our current foreign aid projects and replace them with educational aid.
  • Return the great plains to the buffalo and the Indians.
  • Convert all food production to organic.
  • Ban genetically modified crops and animals.
  • Ban raising food animals in constraining cages.
  • Do what we can to prevent the extinction of large animals the world over.
  • Cancel all commercial fishing until all sea life populations recover to pre-industrialization levels.
  • Promote the construction of multi-level city centers to eliminate traffic congestion.
  • Promote the space program to get a permanent base built on the moon and a permanent space station as far out as the moon.
  • Institute two years of national service for everyone.
  • Implement a national health care program.
  • Legalize all drugs.
  • Bring back the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) to provide more jobs.
  • Do what we can to help Mexico become a prosperous country to reduce illegal immigration from Mexico to the U.S.A.
  • Increase the minimum wage to $10 per hour for everyone over the age of 21.
  • Start a government information service to attempt to provide a true picture of what is going on.
  • Money would be reported not just as a total amount, but also on a per capita basis.
  • Likewise, anything involving a number of people would not just report the total number of people, but would also give a percentage, or the number affected per ten thousand people.
  • All reports would be clear as to whether they were talking about the world, the whole country, or some smaller area.
  • Deaths would be reported on the basis of life expectancy. The loss of the life of someone who is terminally ill does not carry the same weight as the loss of the life of a healthy person in the prime of life.
That is what I would do if I were King.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Anonymous Giving

I give a little money to a few charities every year and it bugs me that they spend some of that money sending me mail asking for more money, which I ignore out of a matter of principal. I am not the only one who thinks like this, so it seems like there is a business opportunity here for someone. If you could set yourself up as a transfer point for charitable donations, people could make their donations to you, you could give them a receipt, skim one or two percent off the top, and forward the rest to the charitable organization, you would be doing everyone involved a big favor. It would keep the charitable organization from wasting money on mailings to people who do not want them, and it would keep the people who are donating money from being hounded by repeated requests for more money. Getting such a business off the ground would take some ingenuity and some financial backing. If you were taking one percent off the top, and say you needed to gross $100,000 to make this a worthwhile endeavor, you would need to collect ten million in donations. If you were collecting $100 on average from each donor, that would mean you need 100,000 donors. To contact that many people, you would definitely need a big advertising budget, hence the financial backing.

Another approach would be to contact some charity organizations and see if they would be willing to put you on their advertisements. It would be free advertising for you, and you might be able to sell them on the idea that they could get some additional funding from people who would otherwise not be interested in contributing. You would, of course, have to establish some credentials as a legitimate business and not some kind of nefarious confidence man. I imagine bonding might be in order.

Shop Class

I was musing this morning about a shop class that I took in Bexley Junior High School. I can remember every item I made: a napkin holder, a grocery list holder that used adding machine tape, an inbox for my Dad's desk, a step stool for the bathroom. Okay, that is all I can think of at the moment. Maybe there were more. I cannot even remember if it was one year or two. I vaguely remember there were other things, but maybe not. There was also a drafting class taught by the same teacher. It was a very elementary class concerned with making three view drawings on objects not much more complicated than blocks.

There was one episode where we were drawing a block with a hole through it. The hole was perpendicular to one face, but the opposite face of the block was canted, it was not parallel. I think Mr. Ehrman was making this up as he went and not really paying attention. I say this because I noticed that on one of the views, the hole would have to be drawn as an ellipse, though I probably called it an oval then. Well, that was way beyond the capabilities of such an elementary class, so most of the class drew it as a half circle if they drew it at all.

Later on (after High School) I tried to drill a bunch of semi-intersecting holes in a one inch cube of aluminum. It did not work out to well. The holes were too small: the drill bit would bend when it encountered another hole drilled at right angles so it would not go straight through and the rigid pattern I was attempting to impose was destroyed. Even now, I think it would be a near impossible task. However, drilling a single large hole in each of three adjacent faces might work. A half inch drill bit is rigid enough that it will not flex much. The work piece would have to be clamped in place to keep the bit from wandering, the drill would have to advance slowly. Pilot holes that did not intersect at all would certainly help. The whole point of this exercise is to examine the curves made by the edges of the partially intersecting holes.

All the items I made have disappeared. It would have been nice to have them now, but that's the way it goes.

Friday, November 30, 2007

How many power plants do we need?

China



One one hand there seems to be an endless demand for power. On the other hand we have this project to supply China with an infinite supply of fluorescent bulbs, which is going to cut their demand for power enough that they will be able to get by with fewer power plants. I remember seeing something similar on "Connections", a series of shows on PBS, where they claimed that if India would replace their inefficient refrigerators with new, more efficient ones, they would not have to undertake this enormous new power plant project. Replacing the refrigerators would cost a bundle, but not near as much as a new power plant. Not too long ago I was reading about the economic feasibility of generating your own electric power using your own genset running on natural gas. It would free you from dependence of the electric company and cost less to boot. Of course you would have to put up with the noise of a generator, but I think they quieted them down some. With the recent boost in the price of natural gas, I do not know if it still makes economic sense, but then energy prices are going up everywhere, and if you are in a rural area without power, it probably makes a lot more sense than stringing power lines on power poles. If you have a farm with animals, a methane generator could provide you with all the gas you need and you could be completely off the grid.

India



LED lights are coming. The white ones are still too expensive to make them worthwhile for residential use, but for places that do not already have power, they are definitely worthwhile. A small solar panel and a car battery could illuminate an entire house using these highly efficient solid state devices. Air conditioning, microwaves, refrigerators and any kind of electric heat (including ovens and ranges) are another matter. They all require substantial power.

However, building big power plants has another impetus besides providing power for a zillion new homes, and that is a demonstration of commitment to supply industry with all the electric power they need. People who are planning large industrial developments want as firm a foundation as they can get. If there is a reliable source for electric power, then that is something they do not have to worry about. If there is no power, they will have to build their own power plant, and that may be one more straw on the load they have to carry, and that may just be too much. If they can just buy the power, it just makes things that much easier for them.

Update December 2016 replaced missing pictures.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Witches Hat Shape of Politics


Politics is a funny game. It is sometimes very easy to get people stirred up about one issue or another. Ann Coulter is a prime example. Most anybody who has heard of her has a very strong opinion one way or another. Most liberals despise her and most conservatives adore her. I think she should be shot. If she knew how much she was able to enrage me, she would no doubt be very happy about it. She thrives on polarizing the electorate and she is very good at it.

A witches hat is shaped like a sharp cone that comes to a point at the top and is surrounded by a broad flat brim. The political landscape is shaped very much like this hat. At the peak are those who are currently in power, the president, the chairmen of the political parties, speaker of the house, etc. Below them are the senators and congressman, their aides, their supporters, political pundits, reporters and media moguls. The brim is the electorate. Most people do not follow politics too closely, there might be one or two issues that are important to them, but for the most part politics is too remote from their everyday existence to make much difference. They are bombarded with media messages everyday. Those that agree with their feelings make some impact, those they don't care about get ignored, and those they disagree with will bestir some animosity. People who are more concerned about political issues are closer to the center. People with less concern are further away. Notice that the farther from the center you get, the bigger the area the brim covers. All the advertising in the world will not reach the people at the edge. They just do not care and will not bother to vote.

So it is pointless for me to hate Ann Coulter. She is one of the GOP's most effective media stars, and they will keep using her as long as she can effectively stir the electorate. We were talking at lunch today and I mentioned that Ken Starr's prosecution of Bill Clinton had been a complete waste of everyone's time and money. Elliot disagreed. He thought that the Ken Starr show trial had influenced the electorate enough to enable the Republicans to win the next presidential election.

It is not enough to be right, or better, you have to create the illusion that you are right and better, and if you can create that illusion in the minds of the voters, it does not matter if you are right or better or not.

Update December 2016 replaced missing picture.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Assembly Language

One of the first projects I ever worked on was a massive graphics project written in assembly language. I later found out that the only reason it had been done in assembly language is that the lead programmer could not figure out how to get the linker to cooperate with the compiler. The project went down in flames and it left a bad taste in my mouth, but I did learn a great deal about assembly language.

Since then my mantra has been that there are places were assembly language is useful and/or necessary, but otherwise it is better to use a high level language. Assembly language may be required for faster execution, smaller code size, or to do things that are not supported by a high level language. High level languages are better from the standpoint of clarity. However, it is not enough to just use a high level language. It is very easy to write incomprehensible code using 'C'. I have written routines that are only a dozen lines of code, but required four pages of explanation to make it clear.

Clarity is paramount. If someone else cannot understand the code, your project is doomed. Sometimes the code itself is very clear, but it still leaves the question of why do we even have this procedure? I can see what it does, but why would anyone want to do that? If the code works perfectly and no one is every going to look at it again, then I supposed you can get away without an explanation. An unlikely scenario at best.

However much code I write in high level languages, I never get too far from assembly language. Sometimes it is just a matter of using the disassembler in the debugger to understand why the code is not doing what I expect it to do. Sometimes it is an error on my part, sometimes it is a bug in the compiler. Sometimes it is a matter of counting instruction cycles to see that we are executing within the system's parameters. Sometimes it is debugging somebody else's assembly language.

Then there is the case where something needs to be written assembly language. There are two recent cases. One was writing a task switcher for an Atmel AVR. All the registers had to be saved, the stack pointer changed, and then the registers restored. Along with some higher level routines written in 'C', it worked very well.

The other was composing an elementary timing program for a PIC microcontroller. The program was simple enough. The tricky part was loading the chip into the programming fixture. It was one of these tiny six legged surface mount parts. I had to use tweezers to hold it and a magnifying glass to see the orientation marks. To spare manufacturing this ordeal, we
devised a way to program this secondary microcontroller from the main processor. This required another assembly language routine to load the timing program into the PIC.

It seems that every time I have dealt with assembly language I have had to learn about a new chip with a new set of registers and a new set of instructions. Some chips use VonNeuman architecture, some use Harvard. Some have only a couple of registers, some have a whole bank. Some can be made to reprogram themselves, some require external programming. It is usually not enough to just glom on to basic features. It usually requires some in depth study of just how the chip works. Sometimes even something as elementary as loading a register behaves differently on different chips.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

What if drugs were legal?

How would things be different if drugs were legal? I am talking about all drugs here: prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, controlled substances, illegal drugs like heroin and marijuana.

First of all there would be major financial upset to some segments of society. All the people in law enforcement involved in tracking down drug smugglers would be out of work. I think we could probably find other work for them. All the people involved in smuggling and distribution of formerly illegal drugs would find their profits slashed as other people started competing with them. All the people in prison who were convicted of smuggling, dealing, or simple possession would eventually be released and be out looking for work. Pharmacists would pretty much be out of work, as dispensing pills could be left to clerks. But that is all from the money angle.

What about society? Would it collapse in an orgy of drug induced mania? Would we have riots? Or maybe everything would grind to halt because everyone would be too stoned to care? What would all the former smugglers and dealers do for money now that their source of income has dried up? Perhaps they would try and form monopolies, much like they do now, only they would be competing for a piece of a much smaller pie. Perhaps they would turn to forcibly addicting people to drugs in order to drum up demand.

I do not imagine the health care industry would change that much. Insurance companies would not pay for drugs unless they were prescribed by a doctor, and who gets to be a doctor is still pretty much controlled by the AMA (American Medical Association). Manufacturers of prescription drugs could drop their advice to "see your doctor" and just straight out encourage people to buy their drugs. We would no doubt have a slew of tragedies and lawsuits arising from people trying to solve their own problems with easily purchased drugs.

The big change that libertarians like myself would expect to see would be a large drop in the number of violent crimes and property crimes. I suspect a large percentage of violent crimes are committed by people involved in the drug trade. There are large sums of money involved and there is no one you can call to arbitrate a conflict. Any and all disputes are necessarily settled with violence.

By making drugs legal, I would expect the price of addictive drugs to fall to perhaps ten percent of their current prices. Which means a financially crippling habit could be dealt with by collecting some spare change, which would put a stop to a lot of petty property crimes.

Drug testing for most jobs would fade away. No business wants an unnecessary expense. Where safety is involved they might continue, but only if they are compelled. Then again a proliferation of really dangerous drugs might mean drug testing for every employee every time they show up for work. Don't need some drug crazed psycho disrupting the assembly line, that would put a blip in profits.

Legalizing drugs might be a nice fantasy, but it is not going to happen. When I was a kid my friends and I used to talk about how absurd the drug laws were, and how anything that absurd could not possibly survive for long and surely sometime soon the laws would get changed. Now here it is almost forty years later and there has been almost no progress at all. Oh, there has been some liberalization of the marijuana laws, but is it even enough to notice? I do not think so. It is going to take a sea change of some kind before our drug laws change. Our current system is too much a part of the fabric of our society. Perhaps some great evangelist will come and persuade us to change our ways, or some cataclysmic event will trigger a change, but I think it more likely we will continue to muddle along with our insane system that destroys people and generates huge profits. Besides, where else could Hollywood get a plot for their next action movie?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Carbon Tax

I really liked Thomas Friedman's Column in the paper last week . His column is about how a tax on gasoline would be a really good thing and how it will never happen because it is politically untenable. I wrote something along the same lines not too long ago, or at least I thought I did. Of course I cannot find it now. In the final paragraph he takes his logic one more dismal step to an unhappy conclusion.

The world is facing some very big problems these days, as usual, and a tax on fossil fuels might help alleviate some of them. A tax of a dollar a gallon on gasoline could provide the US government with enough income that they could dispense with the income tax entirely. It would discourage people from using gasoline, at least a little bit, or maybe not, since they would now have more money to spend due to the elimination of the income tax. Anyway, if they did buy less gasoline, it would mean we would be buying less oil from the Middle East, which would mean that we would not be sending quite as much money over there. Less money might mean less to fight about, though with the tribal mindset, money might not make any difference.

With a tax on coal and natural gas, the price of electricity and steel would go up, which would encourage people to use less. To help poor people we could give everyone a certain ration of electricity, so many kilowatt hours a month, that would not be taxed, but beyond that the tax would apply. Places like aluminum smelters would cry foul, but wait, they don't use coal for electricity now, it's too expensive.

If we can reduce the use of fossil fuels, we can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that we are pumping into the atmosphere, and reduce the effect of global warming. There are, however, any number of other sources of CO2 and methane that may be a bigger factor than CO2. There are big, uncontrolled coal mine fires in China and the United States. There are millions of cattle producing methane. There are bacteria growing on rice plants in paddies all across Southeast Asia that are producing one of these gases. Seems like every time I turn around I am running into a new source of greenhouse gases. Nowhere have I seen any kind of information on the relative impact of these various sources.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Kindle Book Device from Amazon

Here is a news report about the new Kindle e-book reader from Amazon. I suppose the Kindle is a nice idea, but I am not impressed. It "...uses an "electronic ink" technology to mimic paper, not a computer screen". Oh? Okay, so it has a new kind of technology in the screen, it is still a computer screen.

The price is $400 and each book is $10. I buy my books at the used book store. The last time I spent $10 I got four books. It runs on electricity, which means it requires batteries and a charger and a hook up to power lines.

It is an electronic gadget. If you drop it, it is liable to break. Even if it is unbreakable, I would still be afraid of dropping it and having it break. I am relatively old and I was brought up to believe that dropping any kind of electronic device would be the end of it. Paperbacks can be dropped with negligible damage. Hardbound or big books may be damaged when dropped, but the pages will still be readable. And it is only the one book that gets damaged when you drop it, your entire library is not destroyed.

On the downside of books, they take up space. The big bookcase in my basement is full. There is no more room for books, but I keep bringing them home. I have been thinking about getting some kind of cheaper bookcase/cabinet for my paperbacks.

Why do I keep my old books? So I could lend them to my friends, if they ever found out I had a bunch of books. So my kids can read them. So I can pick them up and read them again if I am ever so inclined. Having the books on hand in a bookshelf provides easy access: just reach out and pick it up. So I do not have to maintain a list of the books I have read. Besides, it is sometimes difficult to remember what a book is about from just the title. Having the book in hand and being able to see the cover can help my memory.

I used to sell the books I had read, but then I found I was accumulating books I had not read. Usually I had started them and put them down for some reason. I would have this idea in the back of my head that I should pick them up and finish them sometime, but after several years, I realized that wasn't going to happen. So now I sell the books I don't read and keep the ones I have.

Another advantage of books is that you get about a thousand lines of resolution per inch on the printed page, but only about a hundred on any kind of computer screen. Now for simple text, 100 lines per inch is adequate, but for fine drawings and pictures, it is unacceptable. Of course with a computer, you can zoom in to see as much detail as you want, but then you can no longer see the big picture. For fine drawings, nothing beats paper and ink.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Typing & Keyboards

According to a couple of online typing tests I took recently, I type at a rate of about 48 words per minute. I think these tests subtracted one word per minute for every mistake. I took a typing class during summer school one year, I think it must have been in fifth grade. We used actual typewriters then and when we had a speed test, they took off ten words per minute for every mistake. If we used the old scoring method on these new tests, I suspect my words per minute would be less than zero.

I do not use standard typing techniques. After that summer school class I did not use typing again until I started studying computer science at the University some fifteen years later. By that time all of the typing skills I had acquired in that typing class had withered away.

For some time after I got out of college, I thought about building a better keyboard, one that was more logical, easier to use, faster, cooler, etc., etc. Mostly I wanted a keyboard that could be operated with one hand, so you would have one hand free for dealing with papers and books. I also noticed we were starting to get a profusion of odd ball keyboards on various devices like telephones, adding machines and label makers. We still have the same problem and if anything it has gotten worse.

One idea I had was to lay out the keys in alphabetical order, like this:

A B C D E
F G H I J
K L M N O
P Q R S T
U V W X Y
Z

Notice that the four corners of the square are all vowels, and that the vowels E, I and O form a triangle in the upper right hand corner. A layout like this would certainly be easier for someone who was not familiar with the QUERTY keyboard, where there is no logical order at all. For someone who is unfamiliar with QUERTY, every keystroke is a hunt and peck. With an alphabetical layout, at least you can locate the letter you need.

Having the vowels show up in the corners of the square gave me the idea that perhaps vowels could be used as anchors for the layout. The second thing everyone learns in school after their ABC's is the vowels, so I came up with this layout:

A B C D
E F G H
I J K L M N
O P Q R S T
U V W X Y Z

which puts all the vowels in the first column, except Y, and it is only a sometimes vowel. I came up with any number of fancy variations, but I never found one I was really enthralled with, and even if I did, what was I going to do with it? Tilt at windmills? Look how widely the DVORAK keyboard is used. Not.

By this time I had pretty much gotten accustomed to good old QUERTY, and I developed a perverse rationalization for staying with it. The DVORAK keyboard has put the commonly used keys in the home row, which means the uncommon keys are not on the home row. I suspect mistakes are more often made with keys that are not on the home row, and by putting uncommon keys there, you are doubly apt to make a mistake. By having keys effectively jumbled, the typist must develop a more flexible, and therefor hopefully more accurate, method of typing.

And now we have gotten to the point where QUERTY is ubiquitous and cheap. I think keyboards are now $6 at the local Fred Meyers store. Someday someone may come up with a better keyboard for small devices, but I am not going to hold my breath.

But enough about keyboards, let's get back to typing. Another complaint about QUERTY is that is causes you to hold your wrists at an unnatural angle. Your elbow are at your sides, your forearms are angled in towards the keyboard, and then your wrists must be bent so that your hands come at the keyboard straight on. When I took up typing again, I started with hunt and peck, and have gradually evolved my own method of typing that does not look like the official "fingers on the home row" method taught in school. I really can't say what it is because I do not know. I have thought about video taping it to see what I am doing. One more thing on list of things to do. I do know that my wrists are straight and there does not seem to be any home row thing going on.

Another thing they teach you in typing school is that your keyboard should be at a lower level than your desk. I used to follow this recommendation, but gave it up after a few years as I did not notice any trouble from using keyboards at desk height. I think there are two reasons for this. One is that I am not bending my wrists as I should be, so I am not suffering from a compound bend, and the other is that by tilting the keyboard up, I am not having to bend my wrists down to reach the keys. I do like to have the keyboard tilted. I do not like to use a laptop that is lying flat on a desk. I will prop the base up so the keyboard is at an angle. I find a large, empty, three ring binder works well for this.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Anti-Smoke Stack

One of my big ideas to improve traffic in cities is to build layers in central downtown areas. Vehicles would be confined to dedicated lower levels and pedestrians would have the top level all to themselves. If vehicles were powered by electricity, there should be no problem with fumes. However, I do not see the internal combustion engine going away anytime soon. In this case, we would need to provide ventilation for these lower levels.

One way to do this would be to build "smokestacks". These would be very similar to the smoke stacks used by coal burning furnaces: essentially tall, hollow pipes. The bottom end would be open to the levels used by the motor vehicles and the top would be open to the sky. Natural convection would cause the air (laden with fumes from the engines) to rise through these pipes and empty out into the air hundreds of feet up. Fresh air would be drawn in from the surrounding area at ground level. This would ensure a supply of fresh air for the people on these lower levels.

On multi-story buildings you may have noticed that they invariably have two sets of doors at each entrance, something like an airlock. Or they may have revolving doors. The reason for this is that with tall buildings the elevator shafts act like air ducts, and without some restraint, air comes in off the street and flows up the elevator shafts. The effect is so strong that it will make something of a windstorm, and in the winter a great deal of heat is lost to air going out of the top of the building. The two sets of doors help keep this breeze from starting.

Our smokestack takes advantage of this phenomena. Of course blowing the fume laden air out the top does not really do anything to reduce pollution, it just spreads it out over a larger area. But there might be something more we could do.

Imagine a smoke stack made of glass, about one hundred feet in diameter and five hundred feet high. Now line the inside wall with planters planted with green plants. Perhaps build a framework inside the stack to support more planters. Add automatic irrigation. Giving the stack a large diameter and a relatively small opening at ground level should reduce the velocity of the air to levels that would not damage the plants.

Now when the air flows up through the anti-smoke stack, it runs into the leaves of plants, where it may interact. This interaction could reduce the amount of pollution in the air. So besides providing fresh air to the vehicle occupants on the lower levels, it would also reduce the amount of pollution being generated by those vehicles. The plants would act something like a filter to clean the air coming through this pipe.

An embellishment would be to integrate this filter pipe into a building. You could make the pipe into a building by surrounding the central pipe with layer of rooms. Each floor would be circular with a circular hole cut in the center. However, if we do that, then there would not be much light to support plant growth at the lower levels of the central pipe. Lining the inside surface with mirrored glass could help with that.

Here is a video about solar updraft power project. It has a couple of features in common with my "anti-smoke stack", though it is an order of magnitude larger. Plans are being made to build one in Spain and one in Australia.


Update April 2015: Replaced video on account of the old one disappeared. I think it's the same video, though.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

There is an ad for Johnnie Walker Blue Label (Scotch Whiskey) on the back cover of this weeks' "New Yorker". The tag line is "For those who know what to look for". The picture is a bit bizarre, so bizarre in fact that I, who pride myself on being able to pick out patterns from apparently senseless pictures, could only pick out a man and a bottle, which amounted to less than half of the drawing. So I pulled up their website, www.johnniewalker.com to see if I could find out what was in the rest of the picture. I didn't, but I did enjoy the music and the video 'liason' I found on the blue label page. I tried making a link to directly to the video, but it did not play full screen, and the music was not the same.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Google Books

I picked up a copy of "Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress" at Post Hip in Multnomah Village today for two dollars. I have been playing with Google Books lately, seeing what it can do and if it is going to work for me. I ran into a couple of problems today that I was not too happy about.

I entered the ISBN number of the book and it pulled it up, but it did not find an image of the cover, which is no big deal, but I could not find a way to load my own image. Admittedly, it was not my image, but one I got from the Barnes & Noble website. Still.

The other issue I had was that I wrote up a review of another book and there was no spell checker, and when I saved it, it eliminated my paragraphs and ran all the text together. Still no big deal, but these are not encouraging signs.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sheep

"Finns' gun policies scrutinized after tragedy" was the headline on an article in the paper today. The title on the linked article is different, but the article is the same. I read it while I was eating lunch today and it occured to me, why did they publish this article? And then I realized that it served to fan the flames of the conflict between the pro-gun and anti-gun forces, which is one of the big hot buttons in American politics. Any time a newspaper can stir up trouble, it is in the interest of their business to do so. The gun control debate, like the conflict over abortion, survives at least partially on inflaming the passions of people. Impassioned people contribute to their cause. Whenever one side makes some headway, their opponents can use this as issue to rally a counter attack. Both sides gain adherents and contributions and the newspapers sell more papers. Neither side gains a real advantage, but everyone makes money. Everyone wins. Finland's geographic position between Nazi occupied Norway and Russia wasn't mentioned.

My son John went to Church camp at Lake Shasta earlier this summer. Someone compiled some video clips and showed them to the families involved. One of the more entertaining segments was of the whole gang singing "I just wanna be a sheep, baa, baa, baa, baa." I've thought about this since and I cannot say I am real happy about it. I just wanna be a sheep? Is that what our civilization is really about? Well, yes and no. Some people really take it heart, keep their head down, do their jobs, don't make waves, much less any trouble, and when it comes time to be shorn, or even butchered, they go right along with the plan. I remember a scene from Caligula, one of the most unpleasant movies I have ever seen, where all the members of the Roman Senate are baa-ing like sheep.

I went to see "American Gangster" a week ago Friday. There were two items that stuck in my mind about this film. One was the talk between the two protagonists in the police interview room after the arrest. Franks asks the cop what he wants. Arresting him (Frank) is not going to make any real difference, someone else will step in to take his place. Now this is a familiar theme in gangster movies, but for some reason his statement makes a bigger impact. Perhaps because he puts it all in business terms. Look at all the people who are going to be put out of business: the producers (in SE Asia), the smugglers, the distributors, the dealers, and all the cops who are employed tracking down all these other people, not to mention all the prison guards.

The other point is that when they busted Frank, they confiscated $250 million dollars. Wikipedia says only a 100 million, but lets not split hairs. He was only in business for six years. He claimed to be selling a million dollars of heroin a day, just in NYC! There is no way the war on drugs is every going to be won with that kind of money floating around. The drug war is another hot button in American politics, but it does not generate a lot of press on pro side, but then it does not need to. Most of the money is on the pro side. The drug war is basically a political move to provide more money to the police. Too bad they have to spend it on such a futile endeavor.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Wrong Again

We had two big measures on the ballot Tuesday: Measures 49 & 50. Wednesday's headline in the Oregonian summed it up pretty well:

ELECTION 2007
MEASURE 49
Yes: 61.9% $4.8 million spent
No: 38.1% $2.3 million spent
MEASURE 50Yes: 40.5% $3.4 million spentNo: 59.5% $11.8 million spent

Just goes to show that if you have enough money you can pretty much get what you want, and the Measure 49 proponents (I am not sure who they are) and the Measure 50 opponents (the cigarette companies) got what they wanted.

Measure 50 issue is a little more clear cut, so I will start there. Measure 50 would raise cigarette taxes. The extra revenue would go towards children's health care. The money spent campaigning against this measure came from the cigarette companies. I voted for it simply because the cigarette companies were against it. Also, raising cigarette taxes would increase the profit margins for people smuggling cigarettes from Idaho, and we always need more good paying jobs. But it looks like the cigarette companies were able to persuade people raising this tax was not a good idea.

I remember visiting Canada 30 odd years ago and everyone I ran into up there rolled their own cigarettes. One truck driver I met had a baggy with about 30 cigarettes in it. He told me he and his wife would sit down and roll a thousand or so and seal them up in baggies. He would have enough to last for weeks. I do not think I have ever run into an American who rolls his own. The point is I don't feel bad about raising taxes for smokers. If they weren't so lazy, they could roll their own and save $4 a pack. Plain tobacco is not expensive, only when it is rolled into cigarettes does it get taxed.

Measure 49 has something to do with land use laws. I voted against this one just because I do not like people clogging up the ballot with complicated measures that hold no interest for me. Oregon has a set of laws that are supposed to contain urban sprawl and preserve land for farming. A couple of years ago Measure 37 was passed that really upset the apple cart. Measure 49 was supposed to correct it. The whole thing does not make much sense to me. If it was really a case of the state taking away value from land, you would think the courts would have settled it a long time ago. And this business of preserving land for farming is a bunch of hooey. Would you like to know what the biggest agricultural crop in Oregon is? It is grass seed! Criminently, we are trying to contain urban sprawl so we can grow more grass seed for golf courses and lawns? Give me a break!

I do not like urban sprawl, but I would rather see us building compact cities that attracted people to live in them rather continuing on in our inept manner that causes people to move to the suburbs in search of affordable housing.

I saw one sign supporting Measure 49 that said Open Spaces or Urban Sprawl? Open spaces are an illusion, around these parts anyway. There are open fields around here, but they aren't really open, they belong to some farmer, and he has crops planted on it. So you can't just go wandering around in these fields. Of course, any kind of open land does not have houses on it, which means there are no people there, which means there are fewer cars on the road, but that is just a temporary condition. With more people, there are going to be more houses somewhere. Maybe not right here, maybe they will be farther out, which means people will be driving farther to work. I do not see a good end to this.


Thursday, November 8, 2007

SR-71

Ramon Itardes made a Google Earth Video that shows about a dozen SR-71's. Images from Google Maps are clearer than the ones on the Video. I could not determine where the planes were from just watching the video, so I stepped through the video and followed along on Google Maps and tracked them all down.

Some of the them I was able to locate by stepping through the video and then following along with Google maps. This worked well for those locations that were close together, like the six in California.

For the rest of them I had to track them down using the latitude and longitude posted along the bottom of the video, but the numbers were indistinct and hard to read. Sometimes I would guess right, sometimes it took two or three tries, and sometimes I had to backtrack and replay the video and watch the numbers change in order to figure out what they were. Google Earth lists the latitude and longitude in degrees to six decimal places. I only used the first three and that was adequate to locate the aircraft.

One degree of latitude (anywhere) or latitude (at the equator) equates to about 70 miles. Two decimal places it gets you within a mile. The third decimal place gets you to within about 100 yards, which is close enough to recognize individual features in an aerial view at the resolution we are working with. Any closer than that and we are talking planning for wheelchair access.


View Larger Map

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Big Bicycle Tools

If you do much work on bicycles there are two big tools that can make your life a lot easier: a work stand and an air compressor.

I made a work stand using some old steel and a "Park Tools" clamp. It was great. I still have it and still use it occasionally. I recommend a pro model that you can set up in your heated garage (or living room). Get one with a large flat baseplate. Do not get one with the tripod legs. Only useful for field work.

I have a 2HP Sears air compressor. To pump up road bike tires (100 psi), I have to crank the regulator all the way down, dump enough air to get the compressor to start, wait till it finishes and then pump up the tires. I have a 12v I use sometimes, but it is really noisy. The big compressor is very noisy as well, but you do not have to be around when it is running, you can go outside. The 12V runs while you are pumping and it is right there. It is obnoxious.

We had a compressor at work. It was really noisy. They built a big plywood box and lined it with fiberglass insulation to make it quiet enough to keep inside. The box wasn't big enough and it overheated and cooked itself. Then they built a dog house outside for it. Every morning someone wheels it outside to the doghouse, and every evening someone wheels it back in.

Most bike people recommend a good quality hand pump. I would like a quiet, high pressure compressor.

Used Handhelds

My brother Andy got a new job in Fairfield, Iowa, at

http://www.usedhandhelds.com/store/main.php

and

http://stores.ebay.com/usedhandhelds

and

http://www.pocketpcmag.com/defaults.asp

He is heading up the Used Handheld Division.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

RIAA

Story in the paper yesterday morning: "UO refuses to ID people accused of music piracy"

I don't think the RIAA is too bright. They had this great deal going on, making tons of money off of a few recording stars. When the world changed, they were not able to adapt. They are struggling to try and hold on to the past and they are failing miserably.

The movie industry adapted. It used to be that when a movie was released on VHS tape, and even on some early DVD's, they wanted like $60 for a copy. Now there is a pretty standard release strategy:
  1. Movie is released en-mass to multiplexes around the country. Depending on how well it does it may stay there from a couple of weeks to a couple of months.
  2. Then it goes to the second run, discount theaters. Where it runs for another month or so.
  3. Then there may be a dead period where you can't get it at all, and
  4. Lastly it comes out on DVD for $20.
If the recording industry would cut the price on their CD's to $5 they would sell a whole lot more CD's. It costs less than one dollar to make a CD and put it in a box with a label. There is still plenty of room to make money. And the sales volume would more than make up for it. But they are stuck in the past and are unwilling to try and change.

It could be that they have some lawyers who see an opportunity to make a lot of money suing people. On the other hand they are mostly suing people who do not have a lot of money, so they are probably not making any money doing this, it is probably a net cost to the RIAA, which means they are hoping the intimidation factor will work in their favor. But I think that just irritates people.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Terror

Near as I can tell, Islamic terrorists are being educated in Saudi Arabia in extremist schools funded by the Saudi Government, which is a dictatorial monarchy, not a democracy. But we cannot attack Saudi, they are our "friends" and supply us with a large fraction of the oil we burn every day. Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, made no bones about being an enemy of just about everyone, and certainly an enemy of freedom. So the US government made up some excuses to justify attacking Iraq. Knocking out Saddam did not take long, but I was surprised by the chaos that ensued. A lot of other people were also surprised. Some people say they were not surprised, and they like to point out that they knew this all along. I never heard a word of it. Perhaps I blithely ignored anything that did not agree with my way of thinking, but all I heard was arguments over the excuses the administration used to justify going to war. Are there weapons of mass destruction? Who knows? Who cares? It does not matter to me whether Saddam ever had them or not. He was a scumbag who poisoned the minds of an entire society. Death is not good, but it is not the worst thing in the world. There are plenty of things that are worse, things that will drive people to desperate measures, like blowing themselves up.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Natural Gas

LNG - Liquefied Natural Gas

This is going to be more work than going to Mars:

http://www.offshore-technology.com/projects/shtokman/

My brother reports:

The Russian news station had a 10 minute piece on the [joint venture] on the "Barents sea Shtokman gas fields." Seemed to be a big deal. Can't really remember what they said about it, other than that it's like 51% Gazprom, and 25% each Total and Statoil. A complicated deal, with big engineering challenges, but everyone is optimistic that it's going to be an epoch-shattering success.

Natural gas requires more infrastructure than oil. It is inherently more dangerous. Everything is done at high pressure, like 1000 psi, or at cryogenic temperatures. By lowering the temperature to -160 degrees Celsius (halfway to absolute zero), pressure can be reduced to nil. Shipping requires special cryogenic ships. Pipelines require special pipes and compressor stations. The US government was trying to get more LNG (liquefied natural gas) ports built, including one near the mouth of the Columbia. There was some fuss about it a few months ago.

There was a high pressure main gas line running across our orchard (in Ohio). Dad paid to have a tap and a small residential line installed to the house. Tapping into the main line was like defusing a bomb: a tension filled endeavor.

On the other hand, gas used to be really cheap. Mom always preached the virtues of cheap gas for heat. So I got gas heat here. Because of cheap hydro-electric power, a lot of people have all electric homes. And now gas has gotten a lot more expensive. I now notice the gas bills in the winter.

And that business of trying to kill yourself by putting your head in the oven? Does not work so well with Natural Gas, but there used to be gas made from coal that was really deadly. Not used much anymore, though I am sure it is still used some places, probably in industrial processes.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Big Stores & Little Stores

I shop at Hank's Thriftway, which is probably the smallest and most expensive grocery store in Hillsboro, other than 7-11 and some Mexican stores. I like Hank's because it is small, and because I have been going there for as long as I have lived in Hillsboro, which is like twelve years. I am sure their prices are higher than most of the other stores, except for their meat, which generally seems to be cheaper. I recognize most of the people who work there. I cannot remember their names, but I know them by sight. I think the service may be better. There are seldom long lines for anything and oftentimes if I am waiting in line, a cashier will come up to me and offer to check me out at an adjacent register. I really do not know whether their prices are higher than other stores or not. I figure if I am buying food at the grocery store, it is cheaper than buying meals at a restaurant.

I have a parking place I use consistently. It is at the very end of the sidewalk fronting the video store adjacent to Hank's. This works well for me because I visit the video store most every time I go to the grocery store. There are often other spots that are closer, but I like it because I do not have to cross the parking lot, which means I do not have to keep an eye out for cars trying to run me down.

I go to the other grocery stores occasionally, usually only because I am on a mission to get some brand of something that only the other grocery store carries. I do not like the other stores. I don't know why that is. A little bit of everything I suppose. No people I recognize, which isn't surprising since I may only go there once a year. The stores are bigger and I have to walk farther to find what I am looking for, often much farther, because I am not familiar with the layout. And there is never a parking spot at the sidewalk in front of the store.

A year or so ago we were in Sherwood looking for a place to eat dinner. We came upon a shopping center that looked it had just been plopped down. Brand new and nothing around it except empty fields. Sometime while we were there I fell into a conversation with a guy who apparently really liked this brand new shopping center. He was glad to see the big chains coming in and opening stores and forcing all the little mom and pop businesses out. I was appalled at this. I believe I concealed my disgust, but I did not continue the conversation.

I have no use for such shopping malls. They do not sell anything I want or need. I hate going to Target, it is like the worst of them all.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Big Money

For some reason I was thinking about bail bonds and policemen this morning. It is a world very far removed from everyday America. Jay Leno was making cracks about $3 a gallon gasoline and all the profits oil companies are making. Everybody likes to complain about the price of gas, but compared to Europe, it is a pittance. Of course, America is very much bigger than Europe, so land is cheaper, we are more spread out and we have farther to travel. Paying European prices for fuel would put a definite crimp in our lifestyle.

My brother was looking at stock for a Norwegian oil exploration company. I looked up their web site and realized, for the umpteenth time, how much money gets spent on drilling for oil. It must be in the billions of dollars a year. Perhaps a trillion dollars in a decade.

Computer chip factories (fabrication facilities, or fabs) cost billions of dollars to build, so they can make zillions of chips that sell for next to nothing. I imagine the life cycle of a fab goes something like this. Five years of planning, one year to build, one year to get everything sorted out, and three years to make enough money to pay for building it. After that, someone else will have built a more efficient fab and yours will be obsolete. However, it is now paid for so you can continue making money as long as you can continue to sell the chips you are making. That may be another five years. After that it will either slide into abandonment, or it will need to be overhauled. I suspect that the big expense is in the equipment that goes inside, so it may just be easier all around to build an all new facility than to try and refurbish an old building.

And don't forget about trains. They are like something from the dark ages, nothing new going on there, but the investment in infrastructure is tremendous. There are the rail lines, and the engines and rolling stock, but the really big item is the land. Thousands of miles of rail lines are sitting on thousands of miles of land. I would not be surprised if the value of all this land in America was a trillion dollars.

So what does all this have to do with bail bonds? For many Americans, a bail bond is going to the largest amount of money they will every deal with. Last I heard bail bondsmen charged ten percent of the bond. If the judge sets your bond at fifty thousand dollars, that is how much the court wants, in cash, to let you out of jail until your trial. The bondsman will put up the fifty thousand, but you have to pay him five thousand. Pay him, mind you. You do not get the five thousand back. You give him the five thousand, it's gone. You show up for trial, he gets his fifty thousand back. You don't show up, he sends a bounty hunter after you. The bounty hunter gets the five thousand to track your sorry behind down and haul you back to jail. There may be variations in the details, but that is roughly the way it works.

So a few thousand dollars is the most many Americans are going to deal with, and it is going to be under the most unpleasant circumstances.

Gone Baby Gone

Went to see "Gone Baby Gone" at the Cornelius multiplex yesterday evening. Even on opening night the theater was not even half full. It was playing in a theater at the end of a long hall, which tells me it that they were not expecting a big audience. I was surprised. Guess that shows how much I know about America's taste in movies.

It was really good, very subtle, well played characters and situations. The ending really stunk, but then it gives you something to think about. Can a drug addict reform and become a normal beer drinking American? I imagine some people think so. I have my doubts. I have heard that some people do reform. Some can stay away from the stuff as long as someone is checking on them. But I suspect most of them die addicts.

There was one good scene in a bar when things turn ugly. The hero tries to talk his way out of the situation until someone makes an overt move, and then he pulls out a gun. That settles the issue. Very straight forward, no histrionics, no grandstanding, very real.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

An OHV Engine From Two Flathead Engines

One of my favorite pastimes is thinking of ways to make a machine without having to resort to complex machinery like lathes or milling machines. What could I construct using only mechanics tools, a drill, and perhaps a welder?

Internal combustion engines are one of my favorite interests. They are used to power everything cool, like cars, motorcycles and airplanes. There are innumerable variations on the original Otto cycle piston-and-crankshaft internal combustion engine, but for our purposes they may be classified into two groups: flathead engines and overhead valve engines.

Flathead engines are simpler and more primitive. Overhead valve (OHV) engines are more complex, more sophisticated and more efficient. Flathead engines are still used for some lawn mowers and other small, powered machines. OHV engines are used for all high power applications, and are even making inroads into the smaller machines.

Here are a couple of pictures from http://auto.howstuffworks.com/hemi1.htm that show the differences between the two engine designs. The Hemi is an overhead valve design.







Flathead engines suffer from one malady that does not afflict OHV engines. That is the accumulation of carbon in the combustion chamber. Due to the shape of the combustion chamber, flathead engines tend to accumulate substantial carbon deposits directly opposite the valves. Periodically the cylinder heads must be taken off and the carbon deposits removed. Failure to do this in a timely manner will result in damage to the engine as the valves will start to impact the carbon deposits.

Apart from the unfortunate cylinder head configuration, a flathead engine is otherwise perfectly sound and, this is the important part, cheap. If there were only some way to fit an OHV arrangement to the top of an inexpensive flathead engine, you could have the benefits of both. It took me a while to come up with an idea on how this might be done without having to resort to casting and machining.

Take two single cylinder flat head engines. Remove the cylinder heads. Take a piece of plate metal and cut two oval holes in it. Each hole would be big enough to accommodate both the intake and exhaust valves. When the valves open they protrude into the combustion chamber. The plate would need to be thick enough to accommodate this motion. The plate would be set on top of one (headless) flathead engine, one hole over the valves, and the other over the piston. The second engine would be inverted over this and set on top. The valves of the second engine would be positioned within the oval that is over the piston of the lower engine, and the piston of the lower engine would be positioned above the valves of the lower engine.

In cross section the combined engines would look something like this (Please ignore the line across the middle of the drawing. My computer picture editing skills still need some work):





The crankshafts of the two engines would be connected with a chain to synchronize their rotation. We would now have a horizontally opposed, two cylinder, OHV engine!

There are numerous details that would have to be dealt with, but I think that it could be done. First would be spark plugs, or rather holes to put them in. I do not imagine our new plate would be thick enough to accommodate a spark plug hole drilled from the side, but it might. Some other device may be necessary. Head gaskets would need to be fabricated, but they could be cut from a sheet of copper. As the engines themselves would be blocking access to the former bolt holes for the head bolts, holding the whole assembly together might require running long bolts from the bottom of one engine to the bottom of the other. The chain would be rather long and might be subject to stretching. For a small engine like this it might be possible to use a toothed rubber belt. That would also eliminate the need for the a sealed chaincase. (A chain would need lubricating oil.) If horizontal shaft engines were used, internal engine lubrication would have to looked at. It would not be a problem for vertical shaft engines.

Update December 2016 replaced missing pictures.