Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Weekend

Just got back from Eugene, took Ross back to school. 230 miles round trip in 215 minutes. Traffic was relatively light. Still the occasionally dummy I had to slow down for.

Saw three movies with Ross this weekend. Anne and John went with us to see "The Last King of Scotland" Saturday afternoon. Starred Forrest Whitaker portraying Idi Amin.

Ross and I had dinner at Tosis restaurant on Sandy Boulevard in Northeast Portland. Nice standard restaurant. Ross noticed the menu had lots of meat on it, which suited us fine. Ross had prime rib and fries, I had a cheeseburger and fries.

We went down the street to the Hollywood Theatre to see David Lynch's "Inland Empire", a three hour nightmare. Lots of good acting, lots of interesting photographic work. There was something of a plot, but it got pretty lost in all the confusion. There was no coherent story at all. And it was three freaking hours long. It was interesting for the first hour, and for the second hour I kept hoping all these bits were somehow going to be tied together. The third hour I was just waiting for it to be over, and when it finally did end, some people applauded! I was shocked! I would have booed, but I was in shock, and all I wanted was to get out.

Sunday afternoon Ross and I went to see Clint Eastwoods "Letters from Iwo Jima", the Japanese version of the pair of movies he made about the World War II battle.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Sales Tax

Oregon is one of the few states that does not have a sales tax, and I am perfectly fine with it. Periodically though, someone raises the issue that we should have a sales tax for one reason or another. Perhaps we should. But let me tell you what I think is the big problem with sales taxes: it is not that it raises the prices of goods, it is that the price you pay at the register is not the price marked on the item. In other words, the merchant has an item marked for sale for a dollar and you go to check out in a state with sales tax and they tell you they want a dollar and so many cents. This is stupid and annoying.

There are any number of other items that are taxed by the state and federal governments that do not suffer from this kind of annoying sticker shock. Things like gasoline, cigarettes and tobacco are all taxed, and the taxes never show up, they are practically invisible.

So if you are going to put in a sales tax, make it invisible. Make it a percentage of a store's gross receipts. Now I am sure there are some sharpies who are going to quibble about a tenth of a percentage point here or there. Don't let that bother you. We are not concerned about hundreds or thousands of dollars the accountants will shave their tax bills by, we are concerned about the millions of dollars of tax revenue we will receive.

And while you are making laws, make one that causes the total tax to be printed on each reciept, especially cigarettes, alcohol and gasoline. That would educate people.

Coinage

I went for a walk this afternoon and saw a penny lying on the ground. I am in the habit of picking up bits of metal, screws, nails and such when I am out walking, but I walked right by this penny. It is worth less than on old nail. We should do away with the penny. It is useless. It costs more to make than it is worth. While you are at it, do away with the nickel and dime as well. Well, that may be a bit extreme. But at least one of them needs to go.

The way I see it the dollar has devalued by a factor of 10 over the last 50 years or so, so we should realign our currency with it's real value. I see two ways to do it:

1) Go back to using bits. Get rid of the penny, nickel and dime, and bring in the bit. It would be worth 12.5 cents, or one half of a quarter (formerly known as two bits), or one eighth of a dollar. The advantage here is we would still use quarters, we could replace three coins with one, and people would be using dealing with bits, similar to the way they are used in a computer. Eight money bits make one dollar, eight digital bits make one byte of data.

2) Go to the decimal system. Get rid of the penny, nickel and quarter. This would have the advantage of being consistent with our decimal number system and the stock market. We would not need a new symbol for bits, though I am sure someone could come up with one. The disadvantage is that you would need a bunch of dimes, which are almost too small to handle easily. You could add a couple of new coins like 20 cent and thirty cent pieces, but I don't know how well that would go over.

Anyway, the penny has outlived it's usefulness and needs to be retired.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Window box for cats

I want a window box for our two cats.

I was thinking about building one myself, but like all my other projects, it would likely take me forever and a day to get it done. Whereas if I could find someone to build it for me, it might actually get built in a timely fashion.

I am thinking:
* a solid platform, perhaps two feet by three feet
* Plexiglas, sloping roof
* window screen sides
* removable Plexiglas back, where it opens into the house, with a built in swinging cat door
* easy to install and remove in an existing double hung window

There is a second part to this idea. I looked on the internet for something like this, but I could not find it. I found some similar items, but they were all rather small and flimsy looking, and certainly not big enough for two cats. If this thing could be designed to be easily assembled, then it could be shipped relatively cheaply in a flat package. Which means they could be sold nationwide, via the internet or pet shops or whatever. Such a design may take more work, in which case we may have to build more than one. A prototype to try out our ideas, and then a second one to sell.

If I could line up all the necessary players (manufacturing, advertising, billing and shipping), it might make a worthwhile business.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Collarmite

I often take a walk in the afternoons. My route takes me along a short stretch of railroad. These rail lines have been undergoing renovation this fall. They are replacing the old rails with new, the old creosote wood ties with concrete and they may even be adding a third line. There were a couple of guys working there today and I stopped to chat. One guy was busy driving in clips with a sledgehammer. The clips hold the rail to the iron pad that is bolted to the concrete tie. The other guy, from his accent, was a Mexican. He told me they had made twelve welds this week. Two on Tuesday, two on Wednesday, six yesterday and two today. Yesterday was a hard day. He was very tired when he got home. They are welding sections of railroad track together. There was an inch and half gap between two sections of track and they had to move heaven and earth to close the gap enough that he could weld it. I asked if they used thermite for welding, and he said no, they use collarmite, or at least I think that is what he said. I could find no reference to it on the web. I think it might be a brand name. Anyway, it is similar to thermite, build a ceramic dam around the weld site, fill it with weld compound and light it off.

The new tracks appear to be very wavy as you look down the line. I remember watching them move a long piece of welded track when they were putting in the light rail line in Hillsboro. For some reason they were moving it from one side of the street to the other. This piece of track was very long, hundreds of feet at least. They were using some kind of tractor machine and driving it slowly down the street. The rail had a huge 'S' bend in it, maybe 50 feet wide and 150 feet long. I did not think railroad rails could be bent like that, but evidently they are made of a very soft iron. When I asked the Mexican how they would straiten the wavy rails, he said a machine with a computer would come down the track and do it. This I would like to see. I imagine it is a very slow process.

Snow Crash

This is not about the book "Snow Crash" by Neil Stephenson,
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snow_Crash and http://www.amazon.com/Snow-Crash-Bantam-Spectra-Book/dp/0553380958)
a surprisingly prophetic science fiction novel that portrays a virtual world with similarities to the "World of Warcraft" online video game http://www.worldofwarcraft.com/index.xml

This about the confluence of me starting to work out of my house, the snow storm that would have kept me home anyway, and all the computer system crashes I have been dealing with.

I wrote a status report yesterday using the company's web email. Clicked something and it disappeared. Bummer, man. I think I closed the window, expecting it to ask me if I wanted to save the message in my drafts folder, which I is exactly what I wanted. But this is not Outlook running on my computer. This is some other animal, and it just dumped my carefully crafted dissertation.

I had an old e-machines PC (1.5 GHz) picked out to use for work. I had heard about a problem with random resets on this unit, but they were intermittent. More of an annoyance than a real problem. I thought a good dusting of the inside of the case and a clean install of Windows would fix it, but such is not the case.

Reseated the memory sticks (2 x 128 MB) to see if that would fix the problem, rather it killed it dead. Swapped memory sticks around and found a pair that work, same capacity.

Downloaded several cpu monitoring programs. "Speed Fan" seems to work, the others wouldn't work with this old system (2001). Download a stress test. At idle the cpu temp is reported as 30 degrees Celsius, under load it jumps up to the high 60's. After about an hour the system resets. It doesn't get flaky, or act weird. You can be working along, just typing, and bam, it's like someone pushed the reset button.

It has been a while since I set up a computer and I had forgotten how long it takes. More likely, I never kept track. This time I was expecting to spend a couple of hours and things would be up and running and I could start on my real job. Such was not the case. There are all the default programs and drivers that need to be located, downloaded and installed. Not to mention having to back up 40 GB of data. That takes a while, even disk to disk, no network involved. Probably the worst time sucker was getting sidetracked while I was waiting for something to complete. Start something going and check on it a couple of minutes later. If it is not done, it tends to be longer before I check it again, and if still not done, it will be even longer before I make the next check. So it might be a couple of hours before I realize that something that took 30 minutes to complete is done.

Meanwhile I will be using my Dells.

My Job

My job just gets better every day. A few months ago we got an order for a system that included a PC and some radios. The radios had to be configured, and the program running on the PC need to be modified to talk to these radios. Nothing very complicated, but tedious, a lot of trial and error. The problem was made a little more difficult by the fact that portions of the system were scattered around the building and all the equipment needed for testing was likewise scattered. But that's okay, once we get this system sorted out, we will know what needs to be done and the next one will be a snap. About a month ago I get called on to help with the configuration. They want to ship the system by the end of the month. I make some progress, but things are not going well. The documentation is not clear, the radio guy is on vacation. I can see that I am not going to get this done by the end of the year, so I take a couple of days off to be home with my kids on Christmas vacation. I come back after the new year expecting to pick up where I left off and find that these systems have been stripped of an essential component. Rumor has it that this was done so another order could be completed, shipped and billed before the end of the year. I almost blew a fuse right then, but I figure, fine. This is just typical of the way things are run. I will let this one pass.

I come into work today and notice that the replacements for the purloined equipment have arrived. No, not quite, I am told. These are the originals that were stripped from the systems I was working on. The other order could not be shipped for some reason, so the these units are being repatriated to their original systems. Is this a great country or what? I mean, I am really, really motivated to get cracking on this project now.

This is the project that they could not wait a month for software configuration to be done. This is the project that is being delayed because we do not have a crucial piece of equipment that will take a month to get.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Face Time

I was talking to Keith a couple of weeks ago. He was telling me about the difficulty in getting face time with university professors. Even when he was a graduate student it was very difficult to get time to speak with a professor. Our company makes a sensor that is of some interest to the scientific community. Getting to talk to people who are actively involved in research where our sensor could be used would be good for us.

Children are wide open to the world, everything is interesting. As we grow we find some things more interesting than others. Some people become more focused on smaller areas. We call them specialists. Professors are one kind of very focused specialist.

Mike Richmond, a marketing manager at Intel, told me a couple of interesting things when I was there (about ten years ago). This was the time of the big flap over the floating point division (FDIV) bug in the Pentium processor. Intel originally agreed to replace the chip for anyone who could demonstrate that their work would be impacted by this bug. Eventually they relented and allowed anyone who asked to get a replacement chip.

Mike said that he could have told them (the board of directors) how to handle the problem, but he did not have the "skill set" to be able to persuade them. I, not being much of a people person, disagreed. I thought they would dismiss his argument out of hand because he was from the systems division. i.e. He was not a chip person, and could not possibly be qualified to make any kind of decision regarding a chip.

I see now that there might be something to what to Mike said. I cannot talk to the owner of the company where I am employed. I am convinced that any time spent talking to him is time wasted. The last time we talked was at the local Olive Garden about eight months ago and the restaurant manager asked me to leave. Evidently I was making a fuss. I could not tell, I was too angry to notice. We have not spoken since then, though we both still come to work. Our desks are in the same room about fifteen feet apart. I think he is a moron.

He is wealthy. While he may not have more money than God, he certainly has more money than Sense. He made his fortune being CFO for Hollywood Video, back in the beginning. He left there about ten years ago. As they say, money changes everything. His house cost more than the annual sales of this company. Why does he even bother with this company? I cannot imagine.

Patrick O'Brian summed it up nicely in "The Reverse of the Medal". In the course of the story one of the characters inherits a large fortune. In a conversation with someone he expounds on the effect this new wealth has on his feelings and perceptions:

Tell me Maturin, do you find wealth affects you?

When I remember it I do: and I find its effects almost entirely discreditable. I feel better than other men, superior to them, richer in every way - richer in wisdom, virtue, worth, knowledge, intelligence, understanding, common sense, in everything except perhaps beauty, God help us.


Being able to talk to the owner could reap great benefits. If we could talk, then I might be able to persuade him of the worth of some of my ideas, and thereby my worth. In other words I might be able to talk some money out of his pocket and into mine. But as long as I am an employee here, I do not think that will happen. We each think of ourselves as superior to the other (I because I am, he because wealth has addled his brain) and so will not listen to what the other has to say.

More Movies

How many movies did I watch this week? Let me count the ways. Sunday night I watched "Cold Case" and "Without A Trace" on broadcast TV.

Saturday night Anne and I went to see "Children of Men" with Clive Owen and Michael Caine. I wasn't sure I had that name right, so I went and checked and it is correct. Clive's last name is the same as that annoying (relatively) new comedian Wilson's first name. Ross really liked this movie. It was certainly realistically gritty. I don't know if I would have enjoyed it or not, my bladder was giving me trouble.

We came home and watched "District 13" in French with English subtitles. The default setting is dubbed English. I like the original language better. You lose a lot with dubbing. One or two of the subtitles were on the screen for such a short time that I did not have time to read them. There is a chase sequence at the start of the movie that rivals the opening sequence from the lastest "James Bond" movie.

Friday night we watched "Snakes on a Plane" with Samuel L. Jackson. It was all I expected it to be, which wasn't much. Some of it was ridiculous, some of it was creepy, some of it was unpleasant. Mostly it was stupid, but some of it was funny.

Last week sometime I watched "A Scanner Darkly" with Keanu Reeves. Robert Downey Jr. plays an amazing babbler. At first glance it looks animated, but then I realized it was filmed and then treated somehow to make it look animated. It was tolerable.

Most all of these movies were very dark tales about forces that are affecting our society, but Samuel L. Jackson swears and shoots his gun and everything turns out all right.

Monday night I took the John and Kathryn to see "Happily Never After", which had some good clips on the TV ads, but turned out to pretty dull. An attempt to give us a different take on Cinderella, but ends up being pretty much the same. Pretty girl stumbles around but ends up living happily ever after.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Movies: Brick, Dreamgirls, The Proposition, Hard Luck

Let's see if I can remember all the movies I watched this weekend. Last night my wife and I watched "Brick", a great little movie. Just like watching an old Humphrey Bogart detective movie, the dialog, the scenes, the characters, the plot was just like an old film noir. Except. It was set in a modern high school in California. The only problem we had with it was that much of the dialog was unintelligible, even when we went back and replayed it a couple of times. Subtitles would have helped. In the movies defense, I have the same trouble with my kids. I often have to ask them to repeat themselves, which they often decline to do, or do so grudgingly. I had my hearing checked recently at a doctor's office and they claim my hearing is fine, though I have lost some of the high frequencies due to my age. I was talking to a doctor about this problem a couple of years ago, and he told me it is a known phenomena that as men get older they have a harder time understanding conversations, especially when several people are talking at once. I have yet to find an explanation.

My wife and I took our boys with us to see "Dreamgirls" Saturday evening. The story was, I hope, educational for my boys. Beyonce had one line that I thought was really good where she states that Effie (Jennifer Hudson) had a much better voice than she did, and during most of the movie, this was true. At the end of the film though, Beyonce has one song where she really lets it out, leaving no doubt about her vocal abilities. It was nice to see Jennifer Hudson getting to show her off her talents.

Friday night we watched "Hard Luck" with Wesley Snipes and Cybill Shepherd, and "The Proposition", a Western from Australia. Didn't get to sleep till three in the morning. Both movies portrayed some severe physical cruelty. That really bothered me. In the end, the good guys triumph, and the bad guys get their comeuppance, but I really did not need to see either one of these. "The Proposition" was a much better movie.

Virtual Monday

Our computer systems here at work are antiquated, slow, and have any number of problems that are constantly getting in the way of getting any useful work done. Christopher was groaning about this situation this morning and Mike, my nominal boss, pops up with "Any problem that should not be a problem has no solution", which sounds so much like this place that we all had to laugh.