Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest

Friday, November 30, 2007

How many power plants do we need?


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.


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:


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:


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, 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


"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:

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


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



He is heading up the Used Handheld Division.

Saturday, November 3, 2007


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.