Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Happy Birthday Johnny

Took the family to see the latest Bruce Willis Die Hard movie this evening. Even took my daughter who definitely prefers frilly girly movies. It was great, though I embarrassed her continually by laughing out loud. But it was a comedy, wasn't it? I wonder where they got the freeway to destroy. Yippee Ki Yay.

Johnny wanted a big LCD monitor for his birthday, but it was too big for my budget, so we compromised and bought him a large selection of little stuff. We started a week ago with an industrial cube shaped chassis the size of an end table. Then we ordered a used motherboard from someone on the overclockers internet forum. Next were some parts from Newegg, and some special standoffs (for the industrial chassis) from another Internet supply house (parts $3, shipping $5). Today we followed up with a regular computer chassis from Iguana Micro, a local computer shop. We tried "Surplus Gizmos", but their selection was pretty meager. The stuff was either really old, or weird/dirty/ugly, or actually valuable, which meant it cost more than we wanted to spend. Once everything arrives he claims he will have enough parts to assemble four computers. Right now he only has one, a P2 system screwed down to a piece of plywood. He has got it running Windows XP, and it actually runs. He continues to surprise me with what he is able to accomplish. Meanwhile we have the parts for these four computers scattered around three or four rooms of the house. You can't even walk in the family room, the floor is covered with bits and pieces.

His siblings got him a CD (Russian Circles?) and a book: "Zombie Survival Guide".

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Criminal Credit Card Behavior

About once a week I receive in the mail an advertisement from a credit card company. This envelope often contains three preprinted checks that I can use to draw on my credit account. I inevitably shred them.

But why should I have to shred these papers? I did not ask for them. I shred them to protect myself from the inconvenience and hassle I would encounter if someone else managed to incur charges on my account.

I am tired of hearing about identity theft. If credit card companies continue to behave in irresponsible ways, they should be carrying the burden of responsibility for misuse of their documents. Maybe that will discourage them from their current irresponsible behavior.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Stairs

Generally speaking, I prefer to take the stairs instead of the elevator. Elevators you have to wait for, and then you have to stop and let other people on and off and sometimes they are crowded and sometimes they smell, but mostly you are just standing there. I prefer to be moving. I will admit that when we stayed on the 47th floor of the Westin in downtown Seattle, I did not even think about taking the stairs, but four or five floors does not phase me. I may have to stop at the top to catch my breath, but that is okay.

There is a large quantity of talk these days about the large number of people in America who are overweight and how we should all be getting more exercise. I am one of them, and I am working on it. One of the common recommendations is to take the stairs instead of the elevator. What I have noticed is that most stairwells in modern buildings these days are fire stairs. All concrete, steel and big pipes with maybe a splash of paint.

If we are really serious about people using the stairs, buildings should be designed so that stairways are the first option, not the last. I have been in a number of buildings recently where you cannot use the stairs to go up. Some places the ground floor door to the stairs is locked from the outside. Some places the door to the floor you want may be locked from the inside.

It may seem foolish to equip skyscrapers with easily accessible stairways, but if you build it, they will climb, especially if the stairs are on the outside.

Near as I can tell, stair climbing burns about 4 Calories for every 10 steps, or 15 Calories for 3 flights of stairs. Walking on level group consumes about 100 Calories for every mile. So walking up the stairs of a 10 story building should burn as many calories as a walking one mile. 10 stories times 25 steps per story equals 250 steps, divided by 10, and then times by 4 gives you 100 Calories. Does not seem quite fair, does it? I would be beat after climbing 10 stories, but climbing stairs is harder work, you are burning energy faster, and that is what makes you tired.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Accuracy

I have an old automatic from Eastern Europe that I like to shoot. When I first got it, it was very difficult to hit anything. As time went by, I seemed to get better. At the beginning, I suspected the gun was not very accurate, being as is was old and worn. I do not think my technique improved that much, but maybe it's that last few percent that makes all the difference. After all, accuracy with a firearm is only measurable at the target, not at the shooter. Well, you might be able to measure a shooter's accuracy these days without looking at the target, but I think it would be very difficult. What I am trying to say is that accurate shooting technique only comes with practice. It is not something you can learn just by following step by step instructions. Kind of like ice skating.

Friend of mine wanted to learn to ice skate. Tried it once, had a terrible time. Thought to go read a book on the subject, maybe that would help. First paragraph in the book says ice skating is best learned from someone who already knows how.

So practice with a particular gun would make you more accurate with that gun, and perhaps with other guns of the same make and model. Practice with a variety of firearms might make you a better shot in general. And some people practice a lot. We watched "Down in the Valley" (with Ed Norton) the other night. A bit slow at first, but pretty good overall. As the old guy at the movie store says: "Ed Norton doesn't make a bad movie". Anyway, Ed demonstrates some first rate gun handling. The movie uses this to support the idea that he is really good with a six-gun. It is one thing to be able to handle a gun and shoot it, it is another to actually be able to hit anything with it.


Headlight Conspiracy

I imagine you have noticed by now that all new cars have their headlights on all the time. I find this really annoying, especially when they have the new extra bright xenon headlights. For Pete's sake, we're in the city, all the streets are illuminated with street lights. You don't even need headlights at night around here, but now the law says they will be on all the time. It is probably not even a law, just some bureaucratic regulation.

Perhaps this is just a reflection of how tired I am, but bright headlights from oncoming traffic really bug me. I can tolerate the old incandescent, properly aimed, low beam lights of oncoming cars, and I can even deal with the occasional misdirected light because of curves and hills, but the situation has gotten much worse in recent years. We now have high powered lights, brighter lights with more accurate reflectors, more concentrated lights, and more lights out of alignment. The number of people driving around totally oblivious to what's going on around them, much less the effect they are having, has not changed, but their effect, because of the newer lights their cars are equipped with, is much enhanced making them a real menace, er, annoyance.

We have a 2001 car that has some newish headlights. My wife was following me home one night and I noticed that one of the headlights seemed to be bobbling. It would get very bright, and then dim, and then bright again, kind of like it was loose in its' mounting and wavering in its' aim. I checked it out later, and the mounting seemed to be very solid. It took me a few days of thinking about it but I finally concluded that the headlight's aim was just a tad high. If the car hit even a little bump (like a road joint or a pebble), it would be enough to deflect the aim of the headlight. The area of concentrated illumination is so well defined that a small deflection could move that area to include my rear view mirror, and so the light would appear brighter. So I adjusted that headlight down a fraction.

Recently I saw two movies that included: 1) a one legged woman, and 2) horrific automobile accidents involving driving with your lights off. One, as you may have guessed, was "Grindhouse", by Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez, which featured the girl with a machine gun for a leg. The other was "The Lookout" by Scott Frank. So now I am wondering if perhaps the people who were behind this "headlights on all the time" business managed to influence the movie people to use "driving with your lights off" as a plot device. I am sure it is a conspiracy.

Anyway, if we are going to have lights on all the time, could we at least use marker lights or some kind of low intensity headlights in the city? Do we really need airplane landing light strength headlights on residential or downtown streets? And does having lights on all the time actually have a negative effect on the accident rate? Or was this just somebody's political hot button?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Daily Quotation

This is one of my favorite quotes from the Vietnam era:

"I know that you believe that you understood what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."
Robert McCloskey, State Department spokesman (attributed)

I think it sums up the whole Vietnam era double speak perfectly. I had thought that Richard Nixon said it, but evidently not. And this Robert McCloskey is not the same one who wrote "Make Way For Ducklings", though they were contemporaries.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Too much technology

1) Google is now offering to put ads on your blog, and will pay you for it. So, I thinks, that would be cool, but does anybody even read my blog? Maybe I should put a counter on it, see if anybody is reading it. So I looked up counters, on Google, naturally, but it got too complicated way too fast. So (so, so, so, is there a pattern here?), I think I'll work on the other end, I'll put my blog address on my business cards and pass them out and see if I can drum up some business, so to speak. Worry about the counters later.

I am thinking that if there are only a couple of people reading my blog, it wouldn't make sense to put ads on it. But if there are thousands, then yeah, maybe ads would be worthwhile. I might actually generate some income. I would, in effect, get paid for writing. Now that would be cool.

2) I went to a job fair over at OGI the other day, thought I might get some business cards to pass out. I had heard that there was a place that would print a small quantity on the spot, but I could not find them. Only places I found wanted $17 for a thousand and a few days to get it done. So I fired up my word processor. Looked up business cards in the help file, and low and behold, they have a special function for just this purpose. So I tried it out. After fooling around with it for an hour and getting nowhere, I gave up and just used copy and paste. I used an old manila folder for card stock and my wife's paper cutter that she uses for scrapbooking. Turned out pretty well if I do say so myself.

3) I have gotten tired of "Chuck" and am trying to change over to using "Charles". Most everyone I know knows me as "Chuck", and that's fine, but for all my new business/internet contacts I am trying to stick with "Charles". I have an old email address I use for all those businesses/websites that want your email address that incorporates "Chuck". So I logged onto the email website to try and add an alias and I couldn't. I needed a password. I only use this email account at home, and my email program has managed to remember the password, and it is something stinky like rgk4xyz, so I never bothered to remember it. But now I need it and my web browser (Firefox) seems to have forgotten it. It seems to be doing that more and more lately. Probably some kind of virus/spyware/adware crud has corrupted one of the files. Or a bug. Who knows? I've been down this road before. Back to the subject at hand. I have the passwords written down in a folder that has been stored someplace safe, which means I will probably never be able to find it, so it looks like I am stuck with chuck for the time being.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Strong Women / Weak Women

We watched this movie about Richard Speck (Chicago Massacre: Richard Speck) the other night. This was the guy who murdered eight student nurses in Chicago back in 1966. Rather I should say I watched part of it. Anne sat through the whole thing. I could not watch it, and I am not sure why. I do know that I could not understand why the women did not do anything to try and save themselves. That bothered me more than anything. Were they so intimidated by his yelling that they were willing to let themselves be slaughtered? I just do not understand. Maybe they did, but Speck was able to overpower them?

Last night Ross and I watched "Kill Bill" again. It is at least the third time for me. Uma Thurman plays heroic assassin-ette. Nothing weak or cowardly about her, no siree bob. Well, there is one scene where she walks into a sushi bar in Okinawa and she is smiling, happy, radiant even. It seems a little out of character, but it is pleasant enough to watch.

Now "Kill Bill" is a comic book film, it has the most tenuous connection to reality. The towns named in the movie really exist, but that is about it. In a movie like this, the story can be whatever you like. You can have sword wielding women who can run up stairway railings and take on army of goons armed with swords and come out victorious. Pure fantasy, but really enjoyable.

I realize that women have their own strengths, and men have their weaknesses, but I am aghast at what people, and women in particular, will put up with.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Used Paperbacks

A couple of weeks ago I was in downtown Portland on some business or other. When I was done I still had some time so I looked around to see if there was anything interesting to do. I spied a bookshop (Cameron's) across the street so I went in. It is an old, funky place, full of old magazines and old paperbacks. I found four paperbacks in short order, all by authors I know and like, so I bought them all for $10:
  • "Generation Warriors" by Anne McCaffrey & Elizabeth Moon
  • "The Ecolitan Enigma" by L.E.Modesitt, Jr.
  • "The Merchants War" by Frederik Pohl
  • "The Left Hand of Darkness" by Ursula K. LeGuin
It turns out the first two books are part of a series, but they are not the first volumes in their series. Well, maybe I ought to start with the first books in the series, so I look them up on Amazon.com and I find the books. The price is one cent. Shipping is four dollars. So two books are eight bucks. Incredible. How can someone make any money doing this? Obviously, they must be making some money on the shipping, but it can't be much. You need an envelope, an address label and postage, not to mention someone to pull the book from inventory and put the package together. Even if you mail it at book rate it still must cost a couple of bucks to get the book in the mail. They must be doing a heck of a volume business for this to be worthwhile. And it wasn't just one store and one book, there are a bunch of places doing this. Shoot, I can't afford to drive downtown and park, much less buy anything, for $8. The Internet is a wondrous thing.

Rocket to the Moon, Part II

If we are going to attempt to establish a base on the moon, we are going to need a reliable transportation system. One rocket now and again is not going to cut it. We need a regularly scheduled transportation workhorse. Our current space shuttle is very nice. It has a large carrying capacity. But this is also its' weakness. It is so big and so complex it takes an army of people of month of Sunday's to prepare for a single launch. We need something simpler that a small contingent of people can prepare and launch on a weekly, or perhaps even daily, basis.

Space elevators have been getting some attention for a while now, but I do not think anyone is going to build one anytime soon, perhaps not even in this century. The difficulties are enormous. We need:
  • a material that would be strong enough,
  • to put this material into geosynchronous orbit,
  • extrude a 23,000 long mile cable of this material,
  • build an elevator car that can climb this cable.
And then there is another difficulty that does not get mentioned much. Just how fast can this elevator car go? At 200 MPH (the current practical limit for wheeled vehicles), it will take 115 hours, or nearly five days to get to orbit. We could go faster using magnets (ala the Japanese Magetic Levitating Bullet Trains) but this technology has a way to go on the ground before we can even start thinking about using it in space. Perhaps by the time we have the means to build the cable for a space elevator, we will have the technology to climb it.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, it would nice to have regularly scheduled rocket service to the moon. I have been thinking that what we need are nice simple solid fuel boosters that lift a couple of tons into orbit. Small rockets are simpler, and if there is a disaster, you do not lose as much. If we have learned nothing else in our 50 years of fooling around with space, rockets are dangerous. Right now the space shuttle uses two solid fuel boosters that are made in Utah, in sections, and then shipped via rail and barge all the way to Florida for assembly and launch. They are made in sections because the rail line goes through a curved tunnel which limits the length of the booster sections. (I did not find any reference to the curved tunnel, but I distinctly remember reading about it a few years ago, probably when we had the first shuttle disaster.)

This business of building the rockets in West and then shipping them half way across the country strikes me as nuts. I am sure there are very good reasons for it, even if they are just political, but I still think it is nuts. I think a better way would be to make the rockets at or near the launch site. I have a vision of having a series of missile silos in the ground, and having a couple of guys in a tanker truck, or maybe something like a cement mixer, driving from one silo to the next, dispensing the liquid version of the solid propellant into rocket booster shells installed in the silos. Leave the liquid version to harden into solid propellant for however long it takes, and then repeat until you have a complete solid booster. Cap on the payload and press the go button. What could be simpler?

Well, actually, almost anything. Putting missile silos in Florida is going to be to like trying to bury bodies in New Orleans. The water table is so high the silos will likely float right out of the ground. Launching a rocket out of a silo is going to create a very hostile environment around the outside of the booster. On the other hand, the defense department managed that for nuclear missiles, but then they have different budget constraints and different requirements. (So what if one out of ten nuclear missiles does not make it off the ground, this nuclear war, d**n it, full speed ahead!) And then there is the problem of making a core burning solid fuel rocket.

There are basically two kinds of solid fuel rockets:
1) end burning
2) core burning
End burning rockets have a solid block of fuel. The end of the block nearest the nozzle is ignited and the block burns steadily towards the front of the rocket. Core burning rockets have a hole through the central axis of the fuel block and the rocket. Ignition is done simultaneously all along this central hole. The fuel burns outward towards the outer shell of the rocket. Core burning rockets burn out much faster and generate much more force than end burning rockets. Shuttle boosters are core burning.

So we are pouring solid fuel slurry into an empty rocket shell casing, but we want to leave a hole in the center. Well, we could put a pole in the center and then pull it out when we are done filling the rocket, but how are you going to do that? The rocket is already in the silo. You would need a large hole under the rocket to pull the pole into when you pulled it out of the rocket.

So there are some problems with the idea, but I really like the idea of two guys in a truck dispensing rocket fuel slurry into a series of rocket silos. 3, 2, 1, blastoff!

Monday, June 18, 2007

A Better City

I want to build a better city, a city where I can walk where I want without having to watch out for traffic, a city where I can drive where I need to without having to watch out for pedestrians. Mixing pedestrian and vehicles is a bad idea, but this is the way we have been doing things for years, and changing it is going to take some doing.

The primary idea is that pedestrian traffic would be separated from vehicular traffic. One way to do this would be to have separate levels for pedestrians and vehicles. Relegate all motor vehicles to the ground level, and build a level above that for pedestrians. You would need a way for people to get from their vehicles on one level to the pedestrian level. However, wherever there are people entering or exiting vehicles, there should be safeguards in place to keep the vehicles out of the pedestrian areas, and pedestrians out of the areas assigned to vehicles.

I would like to see us move to a completely automated transportation system, but given our investment in out current transportation system, I think this is unlikely. I think a better approach is to adapt the way we build cities to a model that separates pedestrian traffic from motor vehicles.

Building a city with separate levels for pedestrian and vehicular traffic would be expensive. However, consider the cost of land in downtown areas, and the amount of land given over to motor vehicles. I think if you look at most any urban area you will find that roughly half of the land is given over to motor vehicles in the form of streets, parking facilities, dealers and repair facilities. Building a separate level for motor vehicles could essentially double the amount of land area available for buildings, parks and sidewalks.

Carry this idea a little further and imagine multiple levels devoted to transportation. We could start by devoting ground level to trains and heavy trucks. The next level up could be devoted to utility lines like water, electricity and communications. Having utilities on a separate level would eliminate disrupting traffic to make repairs. It would also make repairs and installation of new lines much more economical. The next few levels would be devoted to automotive traffic, parking and services. For areas with large populations and high density, we might even want to devote one level to traffic traveling North or South, and a second level to traffic traveling East or West. Finally, at the top, we would have the pedestrian level. It could be indoors like a shopping mall, or outdoors like a park. Narrow walkways between skyscrapers would probably not be a good idea. We are trying to make a better city, not just a more economical one.

To put this idea into action it would not be necessary to transform an entire city all at once. Any moderate size redevelopment effort could make a start. Any adjacent buildings or areas could be redone when the opportunity arose. I just hope we can make a start on this before our cities get any worse.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Performance Video Recording

Yesterday was Kathryn's Spring dance performance, and as usual I bought a video recording of the show. These video recordings fall well short of seeing the performance in person, not because they are poorly done, but because of the format and resolution of a video recording.

Videos are designed to be displayed on a television screen which is nearly square. Performances on a stage are several times wider than they are tall. Dance team performances are done on a basketball court, which are even larger than a stage, though the aspect ratio is about the same. Aspect ratio is the ratio of the width to the height of the image that is being recorded, or displayed.

Video recording is now being done digitally, and there are software programs available to "stitch" together images from adjacent cameras. The remote control for a typical DVD player has surfeit of buttons for manipulating the image on the screen. It would really be nice if you could somehow combine all this so you could:
  • record the entire width of the show
  • zoom in on your area of interest during playback
OK, so dance recitals are a relatively small market, but what about sports? Well, most people want to watch sports live, not much of a market for recordings of last weeks basketball games, except maybe for people who make their living from sports performances, professional athletes, coaches, etc.

Ever watch a game and have someone suddenly come into your field of view and change the outcome of a play? And then wonder: where the devil did they come from? If you were recording the whole field, you could look back and find out.

Playing back a very wide image of a sports or artistic performance on a TV would be a bit of trick. If you zoom out so you can see the whole field, the image on the screen will only be a few inches tall, maybe a fourth or less of the width of the image. If you zoom in to watch someone in particular, you are going to be panning back and forth more or less constantly in order to follow them around the field. That is another advantage of televised sporting events. They do that bit for you, and they have people who are really good at it.

Coming up with a set of controls that would enable you to easily view what you want would be a bit of a trick. Of course, if you had a really high resolution, really wide display, you could just follow the action with your eyes. But I don't think such a display is even available these days. You could use three or four wide angle displays placed adjacent to each other, but you would have these vertical bars interrupting the image, and according to Murphy's law, that is where the critical action will be taking place.

Still and all, I think performance video recording with a very wide aspect ratio could find a very receptive market.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Fairfield, Iowa

My brother Andy has been living in Fairfield, Iowa, off and on for several years now. You are probably thinking, like I did when I first heard of it, where? Why? But it's a bit like when you buy a new car. You never noticed them before, but now you see them everywhere. So it is with me and Fairfield. Just today I came across a street in Hillsboro named after this town.

Yesterday Andy called to tell me about the town's real claim to fame, one that even I, a knower of many things, was unaware of: The Dodge Power Wagon Festival! A power wagon, in case you don't know, is a four wheel drive truck built by Dodge. Big deal, until you see how ugly they are, and then, just maybe, you might begin to understand their appeal. To coincide with the festival, a local art gallery is having a show. Andy took son Nick to the show where they met the last living survivor of the “The Legendary Dodge Truck and the Arabian Expedition” who autographed a book for Nick, with the inscription, because Nick confessed his love for firearms, "don't shoot yourself in the foot". The leader of this expedition was the model for the movie character "Indiana Jones".

Friday, June 15, 2007

Allergies

Drove down to Eugene yesterday afternoon to pick up Ross from school. He has completed his first year of college and Anne and I are pleased. The Southern Willamette Valley, where the University of Oregon is located is known as the grass seed capital of the world. I suffer from hay fever, and grass is one of my prime enemies. So while we are loading the car, my nose is running faster and faster. I had just been to the allergist, and he had given me some samples, including some Singulair, so I took one. By the time we left, my nose had shaped up and was flying right. But then at three o'clock in the morning I wake up and cannot go back to sleep. It takes me 12 hours to get 7 hours of sleep. It is noon before I am feeling human. No more Singulair for me.

While I was wiling away those sleepless hours in the middle of the night, I came across a rerun of a NOVA program on PBS. They were talking about the epi-genome, something above the genome, that controls which genes get turned on and which ones don't. It seems that what you eat can have a big effect on this. Not only that, but what your parents ate, and your grandparents ate, can also affect which genes are active in your body. There is that saying "you are what you eat", well you are also what your parents and grandparents ate. This could explain a great many things, perhaps even allergies.

When I looked this up on the web I realized the PBS show isn't scheduled to air until next month, so I got to see it early. Whoo-hoo!

Note that "wiling" is a variation of "wile", not "while", which is what I thought until I tried to figure out how to spell it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Gyro Bike



I have always liked gyroscopes. Maybe everyone does. My dad worked with inertial navigation systems for Boeing, so perhaps that is where my interest started. My dad also had this kooky idea for a device for overcoming inertia by using some of the principles involved in gyros. He never actually made it work. Perhaps it is time for me to pick up the torch. Maybe it will get me off the ground.

We lived in Seattle when they had the World's Fair there back in the early sixties. In the hall of science, they had a gyro platform you could stand on. There was a large motorized gyro mounted on a gimble on a platform that was free to rotate about its' vertical axis. I never got to try it out, it was either broken, or there was a long line waiting to get on. We went back to Seattle to visit a few years ago and I took my son John with me to the Science hall, now a museum, but it was gone.

My first Christmas after we moved to Ohio I got a flying saucer toy that contained a gear driven gyroscope. Now there was a gyro! You could crank that thing up and you had a really strong gyro. It was great. But like all toy gyros, the bearings were feeble, and it would start slowing down almost immediately. I looked on the Internet, but I could not find a picture. It was about eight inches in diameter and maybe four inches tall, made of yellow plastic with short orange (or red?) posts at either end of the axis. I think it was made by Marx.

Later on, after I had been riding motorcycles for a few years, I discovered a very interesting phenomena. If you are cruising along at a good clip, like sixty MPH or so, and you press forward on one of the hand grips, the bike will go off in that direction immediately. The handlebars will not noticeably move. That is, you press on the right hand grip, the bike will heal over to the right, and start turning right. The reaction is instantaneous. I attribute this to the gyroscopic action of the bike's front wheel. You might be able to observe the same effect on a bicycle, but the amount of force involved would be minuscule compared to the mass of the rider. In all my years of bicycle riding I have never observed it.

A few years ago, flywheels were going to be the new way of storing energy in cars instead of batteries. You would have a three foot diameter flywheel in an evacuated chamber spinning at 20,000 RPM in the trunk of your car. When you wanted to go, the flywheel would be connected to a generator, which would generate electric current which would be sent to electric motors which would drive the wheels. When you stepped on the brake, the drive motors would act as generators, and the current would be used speed up the flywheel. A nice idea, but it never really took off.

I do not ride motorcycles anymore, not that I do not like or enjoy them, but I have responsibilities, and I am afraid of the other drivers on the road. I do not want to end up in an ambulance because I was hit by a car. The problem with motorcycles is you have no protection against impact. A fully enclosed motorcycle could overcome this difficulty, but then you have the problem maintaining your balance when you come to a stop. One way to do this would be to have mechanical struts that you could operate with your feet. A fully enclosed motorcycle would be heavy, so you might want power assist on those struts.

Another solution might be to use a (can you guess?) flywheel! Speed the flywheel up when you come to a stop, connect a vertical gimble to the bike's steering and use the gyroscopic forces to maintain your balance. When you take off, syphon the energy from the gyro to drive the wheels. When you have reached cruising speed, the flywheel would have come to a stop and would generate no gyroscopic forces.

There was a guy who built a gyro balanced motorcycle here in Portland a while back. I made an inquiry a few years ago, and it seemed like it used the gyro to stay level like a car in corners. Interesting but not what I was looking for. However, as you can see from the ad, he seems to have updated his device.

Update June 2016 replaced missing picture.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Foreign Policy

Bread and circuses. That was the Roman emperors formula for staying in power. Keep the people entertained and fed and you can pretty much do whatever you want. Things have not changed.

We now have something we call democracy, but it is actually a circus. We have two very powerful factions who are constantly putting on shows in the media, keeping people entertained and attempting to sway them to their own side, not that it will do the people any good, put it will put a stamp of approval on the dominate faction allowing them to justify whatever strikes their fancy.

When I was in high school, I had a government teacher who encouraged us to dig into the issues that were currently being discussed, find out the truth of the matter. Recently I have come to the view this as pointless. The more you dig, the more complex the issue, the less clear the solution, and the worst part is there is no bottom. You can devote your entire life a single issue and never get it resolved. Combine this with the endless number of political issues, and the business of trying to survive, never mind trying to live a little, and there just is not enough time. So I try and filter most of it out, sign up with one faction and hope for the best. And then I write these little missives that might influence a few people.

Foreign policy, like any other government issue, is decided by those who care enough to get involved, and how many allies they can attract to your side. If you can keep the masses distracted with some kind of side show, you can keep most people from even thinking about what you are doing. The thing that puzzles me is how did we make so many really bad foreign policy decisions? At least they look that way to me now, though I have been suspicious of this for a while. There was one movie I saw about American involvement in South America and there was some diplomat babbling about "our way of life", and I thought, what (the blank) is the matter with this guy? "Our way of life"? That is what indigenous peoples complain about when the white man shows up with his 7-11's. I thought America was about Truth and Justice and Freedom, not about whether we danced on Saturday or went to church on Sunday. If this is what the State Department is thinking, no wonder we have so much trouble with other countries.

The other problem was probably the red scare, exemplified by Senator Joseph McCarthy. Senator Joe would not have gotten so far if there were not a lot of people who thought there was a real problem with the red menace, and I have to admit, Stalin was one scary S.O.B. So for the last 60 years we have been fighting the communist menace, and unwittingly, or deliberately, plowing fertile ground for the communists. We support these vicious third world dictators because they claim to be anti-communist, but their ruination of their countries and their growing impoverished masses provide a perfect opportunity for a communist revolution.

My suggestion at this point is to eliminate all foreign aid except education. People who do not understand machinery do not need tractors that break down. Countries that have starving masses of people do not need medicine that cures disease.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Cruise Control

I use Cruise Control wherever I go, even for as short a distance as two blocks. Left to my own devices, there is no telling how fast I might go, so in the interests of public harmony, I restrain my speed and Cruise Control helps me do that. Driving any distance, even as short as two blocks, at 25 miles per hour is tedious in the extreme. Twelve years of living in Hillsboro has inured me to this and it no longer bothers me as much as it did, but it is still very bad.

I like the Cruise Control on our 1995 Ford Windstar minivan because it lets you set the cruise speed to as low as 25 MPH. The lower cruise limit on our other three (!?!?) (all newer) vehicles is 35 MPH, which makes it useless for traveling through these endless suburban neighborhoods. I would like it better if it went even lower, like 20 MPH for school zones, and 10 MPH for parking lots. It can take a subjective hour to get from one side to the other of some of these mall lots at 10 MPH. I cannot do it. With a Cruise that controls my speed down to that level, I could.

The Cruise Control on my 1999 Dodge Dakota has a "Cancel" button, something the Ford does not have. It's function is mostly psychological. It has the same effect as tapping the brakes: it disengages the Cruise function, but does not turn it off, so it retains the speed setting. Pressing resume will return the vehicle to its' previous speed. You can tap on the brakes so lightly as to not have any noticeable braking effect, yet it will disengage the cruise control. However, your brake lights will undoubtedly come on, and you are using a control for other than it's intended purpose. Disengaging the Cruise Control can also cause the vehicle to slow down, but it is mostly a function of wind resistance. Brakes are to slow the vehicle very quickly. In any case I like and use the "Cancel" button.

Another feature of the Windstar's Cruise Control is that you can adjust the speed in one MPH increments. Tap the "ACCEL" button, and speed will increase by one MPH. Tap the "COAST" button, and speed will be reduced by one MPH. Five taps will change your speed by five MPH. I also use this feature. I would rather have a dial that would allow me to set the speed anywhere from five to five hundred MPH (Whoa dude! five hundred MPH! That would be so cool!), but dial controls seem to be out of favor these days. Maybe I will build one someday.

The Cruise controls on our three American vehicles are buttons on the steering wheel around the central horn button/air bag. Our newest vehicle, a Japanese Mitsubishi Endeavor, uses a short stalk, like a turn signal stalk, which gives it a total of three. One for lights, one for wipers, and one for cruise. I think they moved the Cruise control to a stalk because they put a bunch of radio control buttons on the wheel itself. No more room there for Cruise controls. Interestingly, the buttons for the radio are on the back side of the wheel, invisible to the driver, though they can be easily located by touch. But back tot he Cruise control. The first two stalks (for lights and wipers) are mounted to the steering column housing, that is, they do not rotate with the steering wheel. However, the Cruise control does. It is a little odd. And this little lever has more functions than Carter has pills. It moves up, down, back and it has a button on the end to be pressed.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Run Johnny Run



John and his friend Keven ran the Helvetia half marathon Saturday. Last year John beat Keven, this year, Keven beat John. They both beat last years times in spite of not training for the last month.

Update December 2016 replaced missing picture.

Lost In Translation

When I was in Seattle a couple of weeks ago, I was startled by a serious gap in my children's education, and so, in a feeble effort to correct this deficiency, I purchased a copy of the "I Ching" (translated by James Legge). In his preface I came across a section that illuminated the whole Asian to Western Language translation problem:

"When I made my first translation of it in 1854, I endeavored to be as concise in my English as the original Chinese was. Much of what I wrote was made up, in consequence, of so many English words, with little or no mark of syntactical connexion. I followed in this the example of P. Regis and his coadjutors (Introduction, page 9) in their Latin version. But their version is all but unintelligible, and mine was not less so. How to surmount this difficulty occurred to me after I had found the clue to the interpretation;- in a fact which I had unconsciously acted on in all my translations of the other classics, namely, that the written characters of the Chinese are not representations of words, but symbols of ideas, and that the combination of them in composition is not a representation of what the writer would say, but of what he thinks. It is vain therefore for a translator to attempt a literal version. When the symbolic characters have brought his mind en rapport with that of this author, he is free to render the ideas in his own or any other speech in the best manner that he can attain to."

Last night my wife and I watched "The History Boys", or at least the first 95% of it. Something in this movie prompted me to realize that a large part of poetry is the sound it makes. Not everyone is enraptured by the same kind of music, and for some spoken poetry is very pleasant, perhaps even enthralling. My father liked poetry. It does not do much for me. I might enjoy it, but not enough to make note of it.

I do not listen to music much anymore. I really liked rock and roll when I was growing up, but I have heard all the songs so many times, I do not want to here any of them again. Hearing one once in a while is okay, but I pretty much go without music now. The classics do nothing for me, nor does hardly anything modern. I last thing I heard that I really enjoyed was the soundtrack to "Kill Bill".

And speaking of Uma Thurman (star of Kill Bill), she has followed Clive Owen into the "made for advertising" movie business with a film for Pirelli.

Dog Sled on Wheels

Eskimos use dogsleds in the far North. They stand on the back end and ride when the going is easy, step off and push when the going gets hard. The sleds can carry a good deal of freight, hundreds of pounds even.

In my neighborhood we have baby joggers, three wheel strollers with larger wheels than are found on a typical stroller. People take their babies for rides in these things. They can walk or jog, or perhaps even run while pushing these carriages.

So I am thinking we could use something that combined the features of these two devices: dog sled and jogging stroller.

It should be big enough to carry a useful load, like a weeks worth of groceries along with a toddler. It should have a step on the back that driver can stand on when the going is easy. It would have three wheels because we do not have snow and ice here. Maybe where you are you would want runners. The front wheel would be steerable. It would need to be connected to a steering device at the back. You could have a hook on the front to connect your dog or dogs to, if you had any. It would need brakes for going down hills, and a parking brake of some sort so your groceries do not go rolling away with your toddler when you stop to talk to someone. It should be light weight. Pushing something uphill is hard enough without it being extra heavy.

Mothers could use it for grocery shopping. Fathers could use it for giving their children rides down the hill near their house. The third world could use it for hauling freight. Owners of larger dogs could use it for exercising their animals.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Bad Movies

A couple of weeks ago we started watching "La Haine" (Hate) on Ross's recommendation. Young hooligans hanging out in the projects outside Paris, nothing to do but be obnoxious. May have been realistic, but was still very annoying. We gave up after 15 or 20 minutes.

Last night we watched "Young Adam". Young man having his way with a succession of women and leaving a trail of death and destruction behind him. Not all his fault, but he does not make any attempt to correct for his actions. He is a villain, not a hero.

Reminds me of "In the Company of Men", which I watched a few years ago, and really hated for the same reasons. Looking at some of the reviews for this movie, I am trying to remember if I found anything funny in it. It is billed as a comedy. I wonder who the hell would think this shit is funny? Maybe the same jackasses who would take the villain for a role-model. Well made movies, I just am not interested in stories about jackasses. I run into that enough in real life.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Mother's Day

The band at church ('the music team') had new electric guitar player, and he had some cool sounds. Some kind of electronic distortion whozer-whatsit, I suppose. They played "Get Together" by the Youngbloods. Talk about Peabody's wayback machine! I recognized the song, and the name of the band, but I did not recognize the name of the song, and I was not able to connect the name of the band to the song. Evidently it was part of the soundtrack for "Easy Rider". Anyway it was pretty cool.

Had a long conversation with Ross about books and movies. He recommended a book titled "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy of "All The Pretty Horses" fame. I just finished it myself, and I have to agree, it is a pretty good book. Grim little story of a father's devotion to his son in a very hostile landscape.

I think Ross told me he was reading, or had recently read, "The Sound & The Fury" by Faulkner. He had also read a detective story for one of his classes called "Bloodshot" by Paretsky which he did not like at all.

Movies:
  • Man Bites Dog
  • Das Boot (Director's cut. Four hours long!)
  • Army of Shadows
  • Painted Veil
  • King Maker
I read "Das Boot", or saw the movie, or maybe both, I can't remember. In any case the story left an impression on me. I cannot tell whether the images that I hold in my mind are from the film or ones I imagined from the descriptions in the book. I definitely have not seen the four hour long version.

Ross brought home a copy of "Army of Shadows" so Anne and I got a chance to see it. Grim little story of the French Resistance in WWII. As Ross put it, there was no Hollywood to it. Stark realism. Very sad when you have to shoot your best friend in cold blood.

"Painted Veil" we rented at the video store. Based on a story by W. Somerset Maugham. This was a new writer to Ross. He had heard of Faulker, Steinbeck and Hemingway, but not Maugham. I have heard of this guy since forever, probably from my parents, though I could not name any of his books.

"King Maker" was not very good. It takes place in the mid 1500's, and places the Portugese in Thailand. I found it interesting because I had recently finished "Quicksilver", which is all about the goings on in Europe one hundred years later, and trade with the Orient is a key element.

I do not know anything about "Man Bites Dog" other than Ross recommends it.

As far as music goes, all I can do is mention the names of the bands we talked about:
  • Sergio Mendes (Bossa Nova)
  • Sonic Youth
  • Flint

News & Foreign Policy

Jonathan Nicholas writes a column for our local metropolitan paper "The Oregonian". Normally I do not read his column, but a couple of days ago I did. It is one of his more substantive columns. Here is the column, and here is my response:

Normally I do not read your column, but I did today. I think you hit the nail on the head. This might be one of the problems with democracy, or maybe it is just the nature of people.

It is hard to tell, but I think "The Oregonian" has moved farther away from hard news and international news, and more towards the "USA Today" model, that is, all fluff and nonsense.

I susbscribed to "The Wall Street Journal" for a couple of years and I really enjoyed it. I canceled my subscription this year because I found I was not reading it. Either there was not enough time, or I did not have the energy. It takes energy to read serious articles. I suppose that is one reason "fluff" is so popular, it does not take much energy to read it.

I saw a copy of "The Columbian" (a suburban paper printed across the river in Vancouver, Washington) the other day and I was suprised to see that it seemed to be full of hard news and international news. I would not expect that sort of thing from a suburban paper. The "Hillsboro Argus" (our local suburban paper), for instance, does not seem to be bothered by that.

As for our foreign policy? Money talks, and it manages to buy the silence of many.


Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Iraq

I read something about Iraq the other day that was more than a little disturbing. Ever since we invaded all I have heard is how Iraq's infrastructure was badly damaged and how they were having trouble producing any oil. Poor little Iraq, no oil revenues, oh dear, they need our help. Now I hear that, oh yes, they are having trouble producing oil. Back before the war they were producing 2.4 million barrels a day. Now, because of the war and all destruction, they are not producing anything like that. They are down to 2.1 million barrels a day. Oh my, goodness, ONLY 2.1 million barrels a day. My heart is just torn. That is 70 million dollars of revenue a day. Two Billion Dollars a Month. This is for a country with a population of 27 million. Just where in name of Allah is all that money going? Somebody's pocket, I'll bet.

Another thing I heard recently is that it only cost $5 (five dollars) to produce a barrel of oil. The rest of the 60 odd dollars that they charge for oil is profit. Oh, there are drilling and exploration costs, and they can be huge sums, but I suspect they do not impact the price significantly.

All these madmen running around Iraq with guns and bombs? Somebody is financing all that because they want to get control of the oil revenue. Every time you buy a tank of gas, you are buying a madman a case of explosives. But the madman is on the other side of the world, so it is okay.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Immigration

Seems to me we would not be having such a big problem with illegal immigration from Mexico if Mexico was not in such bad shape economically.

I suspect the United States foreign policy has something to do with Mexico's economic condition. I suspect there are a few large American business interests (Republicans, no doubt) that guided our foreign policy (or lack thereof) regarding Mexico, and that these polices helped keep the PRI in power for so long and prevented any real progress there. So, hooray for Vincente Fox for breaking the PRI's stranglehold. Maybe Mexico can start making some progress.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Radioactive Tobacco

Some time ago (days, years, decades?) I read a story where the fertilizer that was being applied to tobacco plants was being blamed as the root cause of cancer for smokers. The idea was that the fertilizer contained radioactive lead (!?), it was absorbed by the plant, and lodged in the lungs when the leaves were smoked. To support this theory, they had mapped the radiation deposits (using some sort of imaging process) in smokers lungs and found that they had much higher levels of radiation than non-smokers. So the problem wasn't the tobacco at all, but the fertilizer the growers were using. Now I find this report that asserts something similar. It does not mention fertilizer, but I suspect that just means the secret organization that really runs things still has some power to suppress the truth (grin).

http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn11974&feedId=online-news_rss20