Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest

Monday, June 30, 2008

Books: Above Suspicion

Above Suspicion by Lynda La Plante
by Lynda La Plante. An English murder mystery, very much like the stories they show on the PBS series "Mystery" where they have paired the dashing older male detective with the younger, new on the job female detective. Set in London, and surprise, surprise, it is about a serial killer. It formed a coherent story, it was well put together and very smooth. I was able to read it for an hour at a time, and would only stop because I needed a break, not because of a glitch in the story. There were a couple of glitches, but they were understandable, because there was a lot going on in the story and it was plausible that these items could have been temporarily overlooked. And it was quickly apparent that someone had caught on to these lapses and was going to follow up on them. Not a great story, but good enough. The only thing I wondered about was the female lead's emotional reactions. Would someone really be that affected by the people she was dealing with? Did the author include this to try and make some connection with her female readers? Are women really like that? Or maybe I am just older and not so susceptible to such flights of fancy. Was I when I was younger? Bit hard to tell really.

Looking on the net I found this is a very popular title. There are at least four different movies with this title, and at least four different books.

Update December 2016 replaced missing picture.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Books: The Aviator

by Ernest K. Gann. A slim volume, only 148 pages. Didn't take long to read it. The ever ubiquitous "they" made a movie of it with the same name back in 1985 starring Christopher Reeve. This is not the movie of the same name made in 2004 that starred Leonardo de Capria as Howard Hughes. This story is about early aviation, flying the mail over the Western United States, crash landing with a little girl passenger in the mountains and surviving. But like all good stories, it is more about the people involved and what's going on in their minds. Some of the details of the story don't hang together perfectly, but it could have happened that way, truth being stranger than fiction.

The regularly scheduled mail flight is from Elko in North Central Nevada to Pasco in Southeast Washington. This is high desert and pretty desolate. The Black Rock desert, scene of all kinds of craziness, is in this neighborhood.

View Larger Map

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Pain In The Neck, Part 3

I finally figured out that it was the way my computer was set up that was causing all the problems. I had the monitor set on the left side of my desk to leave the center clear for papers. When I was only using it for a few hours a week it was tolerable, but when I started using it several hours a day is when it became a problem. So while my posture may not be too good, it wasn't 30 years of sitting in front of a computer that screwed me up, it was a year of reaching for the keyboard because the desk pedestal was in the way of my knees. So there is some hope I will recover from this in relatively short order.

Since I needed to move the monitor, I thought I would use this opportunity to try out the 19" LCD that I liberated from my daughter since she got her new go-to-college-toy (Mac Laptop). I spent about 20 minutes futzing with it and though it looks pretty good, I am not sure I am happy with it. When it was connected to Kathryn's machine (a virtual clone of my Dell), it looked pretty terrible. There was a shadow under the mouse pointer that would not go away. I now suspect that it may have been a "special effect" enabled by a check box somewhere. Text also looked terrible as it did when I hooked it up to my machine, but I don't have the pointer shadow.

I spent the better part of an hour surfing the web looking for advice on how to make an LCD display look decent. You wouldn't believe how much useless non-information there is out there on this subject. I finally found one site that spelled it out pretty clearly. Set the display resolution to the same as the native resolution of the display. Set the DPI setting to 120 and turn on Clear Type. I also turned down the contrast and the brightness using the controls on the display itself.

Okay, but what's the native resolution of the display? Well, it has five chrome buttons below the screen. The one in the middle is bigger and there is a green light above it. Think that might be the power switch? The two to the right have triangles on them, one pointing up, one pointing down. The ones on the left, well, they have squiggles on them. Some judicious poking brings up a menu and the native resolution: 1280 x 1024. These two buttons are supposed to number one and number two, and now that I know what they are supposed to say I can sort of make out the numbers. But then I am old.

The display is much better now. I can read the greyed out entries in the Windows menus that I could not see at all before I started futzing with this thing. I am still not sure I like this display better than the CRT. It still looks a little odd. Things look a little blurry, but they aren't. I imagine it is some trick of my eyes trying to read stuff on this LCD screen.

Update November 2016 replaced missing picture.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Light is a form of electromagnetic radiation and as such, forms a part of the electromagnetic spectrum. A chart of the electromagnetic spectrum labels types of radiation with their corresponding frequency and/or wavelength. If you look at such a chart you may observe that visible light forms a very small part of the spectrum. This is often remarked upon, but I have never heard any explanation as to why that might be. But this evening as I was out for my daily constitutional, I thought of a reason. Lower frequency radiation is more vague, it behaves more like a wave. It spreads out in all directions from it's source and flows around obstacles in its' path. Light is the lowest frequency radiation that travels in straight lines and does not exhibit this flowing characteristic. This means that visible light will reveal the precise direction of its' source. Radiation at lower frequencies will give you a vague idea of the location of the source. The lower the frequency, the vaguer the location. Infrared radiation, which is just below visible light on frequency spectrum, can be seen by some instruments, but the pictures they produce are a little fuzzy. This could be a limitation of the instruments, but I suspect it is more because of the nature of infrared radiation.

Radiation above that of visible light (ultra violet) and above is too energetic. It takes too much energy to produce and when it impacts living tissue it can cause damage. We survive because there is not too much of it around.

So the fact that we can see is a fluke of nature. Visible light is energetic enough to travel in straight lines and not flow around objects, and it is of low enough energy for it to be produced in enough quantity that being able to detect it is worthwhile.

Note that the frequency times the wavelength is equal to the speed of light, which is very nearly 300,000 kilometers per second, or 3 x 10^5 km/s. The wavelength in the chart below is given in meters. The speed of light in meters per second is 3 x 10^8. You can multiply the values show in the chart below by adding the exponents. Note that this chart uses a logarithmic scale and is only an approximation of the spectrum. For more detailed information, you might want to try Wikipedia.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum

Price of Oil

I have been enjoying the reduction in traffic since gas prices have gotten so high, but I was reading some flapper doodle on the net today and it got me to thinking. Why have gas prices gone up so much? Because the price of oil has gone up, silly. But why has the price of oil shot up so much so fast? Is it because demand has gone up so much, or is it that demand is running just a little ahead of supply? According to Aramco World, Saudi Arabia is the one country that can easily increase production to meet increased demand. Could it be that they are holding down production to force prices higher? Why would they do that? Well, more money in their pocket, and more money in every other oil producing nations pocket as well. I mean that was the whole point of OPEC in the beginning. Now Saudi Arabia is supposedly an ally of the United States. We sell them boatloads of military hardware, and they send back a portion of the money we send them for oil. The current administration is a friend to big business, so I would not be surprised if good ol' Dubya asked them to hold down production to push up prices, so his buddies in the oil business could make a few quick bucks before Dubya loses his kingly position. I supposed the Saudi's could have done this on their own, but that wouldn't make much of a conspiracy theory would it? And then what would we talk about?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Books: The Draco Tavern

The Draco Tavern by Larry Niven
by Larry Niven. Science Fiction - Short Stories. Larry Niven was required reading in my basic astronomy class back in school, many years ago. Many of his stories featured unusual stellar objects, and his stories made use of some of their properties. It added some life to what could have been some very dry subject matter.

This book uses the tavern and its' patrons as props for some philosophical speculations on things like the nature of knowledge, how much you can know, have there been any civilizations here before us? Most of the characters are aliens and pretty sketchily drawn. If you don't get bogged down in the philosophy, it's pretty light reading. I finished it in a day.

He does make some attempt to make the aliens alien. They come in different sizes, in different constructions, use different atmospheres, speak different languages. Some of them even live on a different time scale. There was one alien that took two years to come through the door. But they were all able to communicate (using the universal translator).

I sometimes wonder if we will ever meet any intelligent alien life. I also wonder if we would be able to recognize it if we did come across some. Shoot, we may have some sort of alien life here on earth right now that we don't even know about, and they might not even recognize us as intelligent life forms.

View Larger Map

All this makes me wonder about SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). They are listening for radio signals. But how powerful a radio would you need to be heard 100 light years away? In all directions? If somebody out there was listening, would they even be able to hear us? And what if their transmission methods are far more efficient than ours? Do we have the technology, or even the knowledge to recognize a signal? Much of our current radio transmission technology revolves around being undetectable, and we have only been doing this for 100 years. What are we going to be doing with electromagnetic radiation in another 100 years? I guess it doesn't hurt to listen, but I wonder if anyone is going to want to foot the power bill for a radio that can be heard on Alpha Centauri.

Update December 2016 replaced missing picture, autofix map html.

PPT: Parts Per Trillion

Our local water department sent out a big full color brochure this week talking about what they were doing and what all was involved in delivering water.

One of the things they are looking at is detecting chemicals with a presence in the range of parts per trillion.

Seems like I heard something once that said there were about a trillion atoms in a cell in a human body, a trillion cells in a human body, and a trillion stars in the galaxy. It may not have been a trillion, it may have been more or less, but the idea was these numbers were all on the same order of magnitude.

The brochure gave some examples of what one part per trillion would look like, but I didn't particularly like any of them, so I worked up a little spreadsheet to try and generate my own example. One part per trillion is like one teaspoon of your mystery substance in square field two and a half miles on a side flooded with water to a depth of one foot. I suppose the question now is how many molecules are in that teaspoon?


Paul Sorvino in Goodfellas
It used to be that gambling was against the law, then governments figured out they could raise money using it and now it's everywhere.

From the movie "Goodfellas" I got the bit about how the mob boss provides protection for all those people who can't go to the police. They pay him a cut and he protects them, after his fashion.

When I was in school I had a class where we were studying old civilizations. The teacher told us about warlords providing protection for farmers and other peasants, and he asked the question: how much did he charge? People made various guesses, but no one got the right answer, which was half. One half of everything they produced. I don't think much has really changed. If you add up all the taxes you pay these days, I would not be surprised if it came pretty close to 50%. You've got your state and federal income tax, your social security, medicare, property taxes, taxes on beer, wine, liquor and gasoline. You probably also have sales tax. (I don't, I live in Oregon, neener, neener, neener.) Anyway, it's a bunch and it adds up to a big chunk of your income.

The mob makes their money off exploiting people's weaknesses. Gambling, prostitution, drugs, are all things people engage in, but they don't do it for any good reason. It is something innate with people that causes them to engage in these behaviors, not because they have decided that this would be the best course of action.

I heard something recently that said that the bulk of the profit from gambling casinos comes from the small percentage of people who are compulsive gamblers, and that makes some sense to me. Most of what you hear about casinos is that the games are setup so that, on the average, the house makes some small percentage on every game. What doesn't get mentioned as often is the flux.

If you are playing for small stakes, it doesn't make much difference, but if you are playing for large sums of money, the flux can make a big difference. On average, the house makes a small percentage, but sometimes you may get on a streak that can make you or break you. That is the flux. If you don't have enough money to stay in the game through a long losing streak, the house will break you. The house wins, and you have to go make some money somewhere else, probably by working at a job.

So every time the flux goes against someone to the point where they are broke, the house wins big time. And if you have someone who is compulsive, someone who can't stop when they are on a losing streak, the house wins easily. This is were the enormous profits come from, not from Grandma playing the nickel slots day in and day out. She might end up paying for the rent on her chair and the machine, but that's about it.

Now if compulsive gamblers were content to simply lose their own money and then go back to work, that would not be such a big problem. The problem is that they are similar to heroin addicts: they will do anything to get their next fix, beg, borrow or even steal. How many embezzlement cases have we read about where the culprit had a gambling problem? So maybe the Puritans had the right idea. Prohibit everything and maybe they will be able to survive even when the wolves are trying to seduce them into poverty.

So what, if anything, can we, or should we, do about any of this? Well, I don't think you are going to stop it. Gambling has been around as long as there has been money. Prostitution and drugs probably even longer. One thing we could try would be to try and identify those individuals who suffer from compulsive behaviors and try and help them learn to cope. This would be one of those expensive, feel good, liberal programs that the Republicans are always arguing against, and it would be very difficult to show any positive results for a long time. One measure of success might be the reduction in the number of embezzlements over a period of ten or twenty years. Of course, lax accounting or lax prosecution could have the same results. Many embezzlements go undiscovered for years, and who knows how many are never discovered?

Or maybe we should do nothing and let every man look out for himself. If you are so oblivious that someone can be robbing you blind for years, maybe you deserve to be relieved of your financial responsibilities, and more power to those who can exploit human frailties.

Update November 2015. Replaced picture with different one.

Helmets & Statistics

There has been a great deal of debate about the use of helmets by cyclists, both the pedal type and the motorized type. There have been large numbers of statistics quoted, but I have never seen a really good statistical picture of the situation.

However, even without the numbers there are some questions we might want to ask, like: What is the cost associated with a person who ends up permanently crippled because they were were involved in a cycling accident and were not wearing a helmet? Or maybe we don't want the answer to that question, and that's why we argue about the statistics.

Death is easier to deal with in some ways than a crippling injury. If you die in an accident your life is prematurely over, but so are all your problems. People you leave behind will grieve for you, but they should eventually recover enough to get on with their lives. The financial burden is finite, unless you were the chief provider for others and failed to make provisions for them.

Severe injuries can go on forever, and so can the associated costs. You may be unable to work or you may require on going medical care. You may not even have enough brain function left to maintain any kind of relationships with your family or friends. For me that would be the very worst scenario. I think I would rather be dead, but at that point you don't have even that option. I suspect that anyone with a severe brain injury will die prematurely. That is bad when that is the best you can hope for.

Silent Air Compressor

I have two air compressors and both of them are very loud and noisy when they are running. One is a two horsepower home-shop unit and the other is small fractional horsepower inflator. Why can't they build silent, or at least quiet, air compressors? I mean what is making all that racket anyway? It's not like there is combustion or any other intrinsically noisy operation going on.

I did a little search on Google, and there are silent air compressors available. One guy made a hobby unit using an old refrigerator compressor. Those are certainly quiet enough. You often don't even notice if it is running or not. Compressors for dentists offices seem to another popular item. Of course they are more expensive.

It looks like manufacturers of regular air compressors are starting to realize how obnoxious their products are and are starting to do something about it.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Gyro Balanced Dirt Bike

I have seen the recent proliferation of 4x4 ATV's with displeasure. I'm wondering why people are buying these things when there are perfectly good motorcycles around? Motorcycles, I like to think, are superior in almost any situation. Simpler, less stuff to break. Larger wheels enable them go over bigger obstacles. Narrower means they can get through smaller openings. So why are people buying all these ATV's? I think the answer is slow speed handling. Balancing a motorcycle at any speed below about five miles per hour can be a tricky business, especially if you are trying to manouver around obstacles or over uneven terrain. Skill can help, but even a skilled rider can get into messy situations that result in falling over. This is not good.

A four wheel ATV is very hard to upset at slow speeds. Of course people succeed at upsetting them at high speeds, but that's the nature of people, not the machine.

If we could mount a small but powerful gyroscope somewhere within the limited confines of a dirt bike, we might have the best of both worlds. It has been done for that over priced two-wheeled abomination, the Segway. The Gyrohawk has managed it for road bikes, so it should be possible to adapt one to a dirt bike.

Update December 2016 replaced missing pictures.

Embedded Calculator

Every so often I come across some math in an article or story, and more often than not I have some doubt about their results, so I want to check it. This means punching the numbers into a calculator and comparing the results. Since we have all these fancy schmancy computers, I was thinking it would be helpful if someone could come up with a calculator that you could embed in your web page that could verify the writers calculations on the spot. Of course you could still fudge the figures, but you would have to supply your own bogus calculator. And it could be a great help for writers too by giving them a standard format for displaying numerical data and performing the actual computation as well. Something like a miniature spreadsheet might be just the thing:

To be useful, you should be able to change the input value and it should compute the result. This one does not do that. To be really useful, you should be able to change any of the calculated values as well and have it recompute the other values, i.e. it should run forward or backward. The constants and the operations would have to be locked, and somehow the operation that is being performed would have to be shown. A web search for "Embedded Calculator" turned up some results, but they all got rather complicated rather quickly. There is definitely room for improvement here.

Update December 2016 'fixed' embed html.

Friday, June 20, 2008


Syaffolee put together a bonfire of science writing called "Tangled Bank" and I submitted a piece I wrote some time ago. After I sent it in, I realized that maybe it wasn't really about science, maybe it was just about technology. I think the reason I originally classified it as science is because it was about radiation, which every one knows is really scary and dangerous and only scientists are allowed to mess with it.

There used to be a lot of science going on regarding radiation, and there may be some still going on. We don't hear much about it any more because all the physics news is about particles and particle accelerators. Radiation has pretty much been reduced to technology, though it is still controlled by the government. Even microwave ovens need to have some kind of government authorization.

I grew up working on cars and farm machinery. I would never take a car to a repair shop, I would fix it myself, or junk it. Many of them were real beaters, but I always had wheels. Back then you didn't need anything more sophisticated than a test light to diagnose and repair just about any problem. If something didn't work, you could take it apart until you found the broken part. You replaced the broken part and then put it back together and it would run. Abstraction was pretty limited: what you saw is what you got.

Then along came computers. Now you can no longer tell when something is broken by looking at it. A part that does not work can look just like one that does. Now our level of abstraction has increased. If you replace a part and the machine starts working, then the part you removed must be broken. It becomes much more of a hand waving operation than real diagnosis and repair. It is even more so when the problem is with the software. No physical parts are replaced. The repairman just waves his hands and everything starts working. Just like magic!

Radiation is even more abstract. There are some kinds of radiation that we can generate by using electricity, like X-Rays and microwaves, and electricity is fairly well understood in our culture. People grow up with it and are taught that it can be very dangerous. How well they learn is a matter of conjecture. Power lines are pretty well insulated, and access points are pretty well restricted. So radiation that is generated by a machine that runs on electricity is not too bad: you can always stop the radiation by turning off the electrical power.

Radiation that comes from radioactive material is another matter. You cannot turn it off. It is in the nature of the material. This is scary stuff. You can't see the radiation. Material that generates ionizing radiation, like high speed neutrons and gamma rays, looks just like ordinary material. You can't feel the radiation. Only after you have been exposed and accumulated a fatal dose are you likely to notice any effects. You cannot control it, that is you cannot turn it off and on. You cannot detect it except with special instruments whose operation is so arcane as to be considered voodoo. All you can do is protect yourself from it with shielding.

So we have different levels of complexity and abstraction. The industrial revolution was achieved mainly by things whose operation could be seen and felt. Then came electricity and the electronics revolution. Here we have things whose action can only be detected indirectly, but were under our complete control. Now we are trying to deal with nuclear power and we are not doing too well. Part of the problem is that we do not have a real solid understanding of what we are dealing with. Another is that it requires belief in something that can neither be seen or touched. It is almost like a religion that way. You have to believe in some abstract concepts in order to have any hope of being able to work with this stuff successfully, which includes not killing yourself.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


My son and his gang of hooligans went dumpster diving at Peter Bosco school yesterday and came away with a whole bunch of treasures. One of these treasures was a pristine oversize globe, or at least it was pristine until John drop kicked it down a flight of stairs by accident. It is actually still in pretty good condition. If you look close there are a couple of damaged areas, but hey, it was in the trash.

I have a big pile of stuff here I should get rid of. Stuff that works, that I am not using, that is taking up space and should be worth some small amount of money. Some of it I could give to Goodwill, but some of it is stuff that Goodwill won't take, mostly of a technical or mechanical nature. If I was really strapped for cash, I would expend the effort to take some pictures, post them on Craig's list, answer the phone and/or e-mail, wait for potential buyers to show up, and negotiate the sale when they actually did come by. It isn't difficult, but it is time consuming, and I wonder if it will actually be worth the effort. Guess this means I'm lazy. But it also explains why the globe ended up in the dumpster.

Update September 2016 replaced missing pictures.

Books: Generation Warriors

I finally finished "Generation Warriors" by Anne McCaffrey & Elizabeth Moon today. I read "Sassinak" by the same people a while back and I really enjoyed it so I went looking for a sequel and found there were a couple stories that preceded this one. I happened to remember that when I stopped in a book shop in Seattle some months ago and managed to pick up the rest of the series. This book marks my completion of the series and am I glad. None of the other books was as good as "Sassinak". Although Sassinak comes in the middle of the series, I think it was the last one written. I stopped in at Powell's a week or so ago and I noticed that Elizabeth Moon has a whole bookcase devoted to her books, so I am thinking that maybe it is Elizabeth Moon's writing that appeals to me and not Anne McCaffrey so much. I have to admit that this "Dinosaur Planet" series was written some time ago. My paperback copyright is 1991. Now wait a minute, the cover says the authors are "Anne McCaffrey & Elizabeth Moon" but the title page says "Anne McCaffrey & Jody Lynn Nye". What's going on here?

Some time ago I put together a Google spreadsheet to keep track of the books I have read and the movies I have seen. Then I came across Google Books, and I started entering my books there. Neither one seems to work very well. The spread sheet is good for data, but not very good for extended comments. Google books is good for everything except that it does not have a method for presenting the data in a list.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Kubuntu Install

I have finally gotten around to setting up some of my other computers. I plugged this one in and installed Kubuntu this afternoon. Had to run over to Iguana Micro to pick up some ethernet cables so I could hook up more than one computer. Everything seems to be working okay, except this keyboard, which is from an old E-machines systems. I picked it because of all the keyboards I have, the layout on this one is most similar to the one on the Dell keyboard I have been using. Most of the differences are inconsequential, but the backspace key on some of the others is half the size of this one. Problem is it keeps dropping characters. Typing really hard seems to alleviate the problem, but I don't think I want to keep doing that. On the other hand, maybe it's simply because this keyboard hasn't been used for a while. Maybe it's just that the contacts are dirty. We shall see.

The g-mail display is different here as well. Kind of surprised by that. I would have thought that html was html. But then I heard that Microsoft changed something to make Firefox incompatible, and Firefox has been crashing on my XP system lately. So maybe I will just keep using this one, but my fingers are getting tired.

Of course, when I tried to add the Iguana Micro link to this post, the Linux web browser (Konqueror)crashed, so I thought I would try good ol' Firefox. I was able to download it, but install, well, all the pieces are on the disk, but that seems to be as far as it will let me go without the secret handshake. So now I'm back on my old XP system and it's working fine, so far.

Plugging the video cable into the other box required using a DVI-to-VGA adaptor. I imagine there is some reason for this, but right now it's just an annoyance. The little thumbscrews don't want to turn and I want them tightened down because I don't want the video cable falling out because the adaptor came loose. Naturally I don't have a tiny slotted screwdriver handy, but wait, what do we have here? An X-acto knife with the blade reversed. The tip is stuck in the collet and the square end (the mounting end) of the blade is exposed. I do this to protect the tip and to keep from slicing my fingers. But the square end should work as a screwdriver, and it does. Actually works pretty well. Thin wide blade fits easily in the slot and doesn't slip out. Can't make more than half a turn at a time, but it is easy find the slot again. I like this.

The sex of the connectors on this adaptor are wrong. I included this picture because it shows what the VGA end of the cable should look like, and what the DVI socket on the computer looks like. The previous picture (with the pins showing) does not really show enough detail.

Update December 2016 replaced missing pictures.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Pictures & Politics on the Internet

I originally used this picture in a post I made last month, but then the web site where I found it replaced it with a political statement. This is the second time in the last week that I have had a picture I used in my blog replaced with something else. Well, this is the second one I have noticed. Who knows how many others have been changed?

So once again I went to the internet archive and found the original photo. This time I noticed something a little odd. If you look in the shadow cast by the mule you will see what looks like some white zigzags. Turns out it's a watermark: If you look closely you make out some of the rest of it going across the picture. It just happens to start in the donkey's shadow. Never noticed it before. In any case I downloaded the picture before I inserted it, so won't be able to change it out from under me anymore. However, clicking on the picture will now take you to their web page instead of just to their picture.

Update December 2016 replaced missing picture. Did not keep the link.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Renaissance Man

It used to be that a fairly smart person could know just about everything there was to know about science and technology. Such a person was called a "Renaissance Man", as least to my way of thinking. I never looked up the definition, but that was the impression I gathered. I don't know why they were called "Renaissance Men", instead of just really smart people who knew everything except, well, it's considerably shorter. There is also the bit about being a "know-it-all", which is more of a personality flaw than having anything to do with how much actual knowledge one had accumulated. And let's not forget that the term was Renaissance Man because back in those days women didn't count.

I think that impression stuck with me until about twenty years ago when I began to suspect that the total accumulated knowledge of the human race was more than one person could handle. Note only that, but knowledge was increasing at an exponential rate. Now it could be that I was just a naive youngster, and the actual amount real knowledge available to the human race has been more than one person could handle for thousands of years.

Just to be clear, I am talking about real scientific knowledge. Not the day to day minutiae of people's lives. Every minute of every day people produce more gossip than anyone can handle, but fortunately, gossip has a half life of about 30 seconds, so after a day it just so much heat energy being dissipated into space.

And there is another thing about knowledge. There is knowledge in books and there is knowledge in people's minds. Information stored in books is good. Printing multiple copies of books and passing them around is a good way to disseminate information (whether you do it with paper and ink or magnetic dipoles, electrons and phosphorescent particles is immaterial). But it is only when that information has been been absorbed by a person's mind and integrated with the knowledge that they already have that it becomes useful. So part of the exponential growth in knowledge is because of our increasing population and the generally increasing level of education.

Another part is the growth of the internet. For the last several hundred years, people have been establishing trade routes across the globe and devising ever more efficient ways of moving goods. You could look at these trade routes as blood vessels of the human organism. Over the last hundred years or so we have been developing electronic communications. This can be likened to the growth of nerve fibers in developing organism. So are we all part of Gaia? Or are we becoming a new form of multi-bodied life? Or perhaps as Agent Smith in "The Matrix" put it, we are a cancer on the face of the earth?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Protestant Work Ethic

I just had a revelation! The Protestant Work Ethic is what got us where we are. It is not so much that working is good, and it produces useful things, but that it takes up people's time and energy so they aren't inclined to go out making trouble, which is their natural inclination.

Disk Death

My daughter's computer bit the big one the other day: great big Blue Screen Of Death. It restarted well enough, but bad things kept happening. So I pulled the hard drive out and copied all her pictures off to my external backup disk. I think we got everything she needed.

Now that I have her disk hooked to my machine, I want to run some tests to see if I can figure out what is wrong here. I run scandisk, including search for bad sectors, but it does not find anything. One of the security programs complains about some kind of bogus boot record, but we aren't booting from this disk right now, so that should not be a problem.

Okay, I did not actually run scandisk. That must be my ancient history showing. I don't know what they call it now. On Windows XP, which is what I am using this week:
  • Open "My Computer".
  • Right click on the drive in question. A menu should pop up.
  • Select "Properties", which should be the last item at the bottom. This will give you a tabbed dialog box.
  • Select the "Tools" tab. There should be two boxes displayed. The upper one will be labeled "Error-checking".
  • Click the button labeled "Check Now ...".
Properties says the disk is almost full, and that's not good, so I start looking for things I can delete. I add up the sizes of all the directories and files in the root and it comes to 22GB, 15GB less than the capacity of this drive. Where did the 15GB go? I use Google to look for a program to fix this problem. I download two or three and try them out. They can do this, that and the other, but none of them is even as good as scandisk at finding problems. Run scandisk again, still no problems.

But now the noise this disk is making is getting to be annoying so I turn it off. It is a very high pitched, loud, whine. Could it be a bearing going bad? I have all the important stuff off this disk, so I could reformat it and reload it, but it would be my luck that just about the time we got all the new software reinstalled, the bearing would crater and that would be end of that disk. I wonder if bearings can be replaced? I am sure it would not be practical, this disk is only 40GB, and you can buy a new one for $45, but I wonder what it would take. I am sure there is someone out there who has done this.

It's a moot point, really. She has graduated from High School and will be going to college in the fall, and all college students need a laptop, right? So I'll probably be buying her MacBook sometime in the near future. Meanwhile I have too many computers, I need to sell some. Anyone need an aged Dell with a noisy hard disk?

Update December 2016 replaced missing pictures.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Turbine Wheel

So I was writing about driving an old Buick through the flooded streets of Houston. It was practically submerged, but it kept going. Which reminded me of my idea of making a boat out of a car. There are two problems with that idea:
  1. Cars are heavy, which means they displace a lot of water, so if you are going any speed at all, you are constantly pushing this big, heavy weight up hill.
  2. You have a lot of wetted surface, which is a big drag. Literally.
Which reminded me that Art Arfons built a jet boat to break some kind of speed record and he put wheels on it, because when you are traveling 150 MPH water is as hard as concrete. The rolling resistance of the wheel would be less than the resistance of a pontoon sliding along the water.

So this got me thinking about why they use jet engines for all the high speed land records instead of driving the wheels, and I realized that the drive train must be the weak link. All those shafts and bearings and gears whirling around with these tremendous loads and speeds, it is just too expensive. And then I had an idea!

How about we drive the wheel directly? And just how would we do that, you ask? We make the wheel a turbine, and we direct a high velocity stream of air at the fins to make the wheel spin. Mechanically the only connection between the wheel and the car would be the bearings, the same as in a jet propelled car. You mount a series of cups inside the rim of the wheel. These cups would also function as spokes. You would mount a nozzle so that is pointing forward at the top of the wheel and into the cup. The force of the gas entering the cup will try and turn the wheel forward. The cup will redirect the gas to the rear of the car, effectively doubling the useful work of the gas.

Now where do we get the high pressure gas? Now this is the genius part: we the use the exhaust from a conventional automobile engine. Normal engines exert all their power turning the flywheel. This engine will exert all it's power pushing the exhaust gas out the nozzle at a very high velocity. Turbocharged engines use a somewhat similar principle to spin the turbocharger, but that is small potatoes compared what we are trying to do. This will mean high pressure in the exhaust manifold, and may even cook the exhaust valves, but this is for the world speed record, and sacrifices will have to be made.

Update December 2016 replaced missing pictures.


I don't know what brought this to mind today. Maybe I overheard someone talking about cruises, or bad weather or something. Anyway it reminded me of this little adventure we had.

Several years ago my in-laws took my family on a cruise of the Caribbean during Christmas vacation. We flew to Orlando the week before to visit Disney World for a few days. The first night we got there they had a record low which killed all the poinsettias by the front gate. The next day the gardeners were out in force replacing them. It was supposed to be warm and we were not prepared for cold weather. I ended up buying a Mickey Mouse black knit hat. The one good thing about the cold weather is that there were no crowds.

The cruise took us to the Bahamas, St. Thomas and the Virgin Islands. The weather was a bit rough. The Captain told us it was the roughest cruise they had ever been on. Most of the passengers and a good part of the crew were seasick. Even I who hardly ever gets seasick was suffering from it. I took some Dramamine and it helped, but it made me very sleepy. My wife was absolutely miserable and spent most of her time on the upper deck by herself, wrapped in blankets. This was the pool deck where you see all those pictures of happy people playing in the pool. Not this time.

I spent quite a bit of time exploring the ship with my daughter. The inside of the ship was seven stories tall and my daughter has an aversion to elevators, so we would take the stairs. After climbing up and down several flights, I developed a technique for going up the stairs that made it much easier. The ship was pitching quite a bit, the bow would go up and then the bow would go down. Each cycle took several seconds. If you were on the forward stairs and you wanted to go up, you would stand and wait while the bow was going up, and then when the bow started going down, you would sprint up a half a dozen steps or so. It made it very easy to climb the stairs. The pitching ship did all the work.

On the way back to Florida we stopped at a "private island". There was a smallish boat standing by to ferry anyone wanted to visit the island. I watched it tossing on the waves and decided I did not need to visit the island at this time.

Sometime later I read that the same ship we had sailed on was now doing cruises to Alaska. While on a such a trip they had a rudder malfunction somewhere North of Vancouver B.C. Caused the ship to make a sharp turn and go in a circle. Lot of damage to the crystal in the gift shop, but that was about the extent of it.

Note regarding the picture: between the time I found this picture on the internet and when I finished posting this entry, the picture disappeared and was replaced by some business logo. I really like the angle of view and the sky in the background, so I was a little irritated that it got pulled. I also was surprised that blogger hadn't made a copy. A friend of mine had told me that somebody was archiving the internet, so I looked up the web site and after a couple of clicks I was able to locate the picture and save it off on my hard drive. So now the link from the picture points to the archived page instead of the current page.

Update April 2015: Replaced the picture again.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Pain In The Neck, Part 2

So I went back to the Naturopath and he worked on my neck again. This time he tells me he doesn't like the way my back looks and would really like an X-ray of it. Insurance won't pay for it if he prescribes it, so I make an appointment to see my regular doctor, who I haven't seen for several years. He is a DO (Doctor of Osteopathy) and runs a spine care clinic, so this might be a better bet. I don't actually get to see him, but I get to see one of his nurse practitioners. All they have to hear is that I am having trouble with my neck and they run me through a whole gamut of tests including half a dozen X-rays.

The X-ray machine is really noisy, it sounds like there are some ball bearings that are getting ready to fail. These things make me nervous. How do you know if they are emitting X-rays or not? You have to trust the technician and the machine. I would like it better if there was a little red light that came on when the high voltage was on, or something to tell you what's going on. Sitting there in front of this machine with bearings grinding away is just a little disconcerting. Maybe if the bearings were quieter it wouldn't bother me as much. I suppose it's the theatrics I've been conditioned to. In the movies, bad things are generally preceded by bad noises. Here I am all alone in a room with a possibly dangerous machine making bad noises. This sounds like the scene from a Science-Fiction/Horror movie. I can see the fake newspaper headlines now: "Man accidentally exposed to massive X-rays turns into drooling monster".

Examiner puts protractor/level on my head and has me tilt my head this way and that to measure my "range of motion". Not very good. Okay, that much I agree with. Nurse-Practitioner Karen comes in and crunches my back a couple of times, or least tries to. It's pretty tight. She shows me the X-rays. Spine looks good, neck vertebrae not so good. Prescribes six weeks of physical therapy.

So I was trying to figure out what I could have done to cause this problem, and I finally remembered the console we bought last Christmas to use as a TV stand for the brand new monster TV. It appears to be made out of wood, and looking at it you wouldn't think that it weighs more than 50 or 75 pounds. It doesn't, it weighs a whole heck of lot more. It was made in China and the Chinese must have been using furniture to get rid of their surplus depleted uranium because this little old console weighs over 200 pounds.

So I think back to last Christmas and remember loading and unloading this beast and thinking I must have pulled a muscle or something that is just now showing up. Talking to the physical therapist this morning, maybe not. More like 20 years of bad posture sitting in front of a computer has finally caught up with me. This bites big time. Just when I was really getting into using my computer for something I wanted to do, instead of just for work. Hopefully you can still teach an old dog new tricks and I will somehow learn to sit up straight. We shall see.

Physical therapist told me a couple other things I did not like hearing. Evidently I cannot spread my fingers very far, not good hands for a piano player. Well, I don't play the piano, but this may explain my unusual typing technique. My legs are little short for my torso. I always thought I was of average proportions. Well, my legs are average length (I wear trousers with a 32 inch inseam), but I am slightly above normal height at a fraction of an inch short of six feet. I don't care what he says, I am not a drooling/misshapen monster, everyone else is. I walk with my right foot splayed out about 30, maybe 45 degrees. He predicted that my shoes would wear unevenly, but this is not the case. Maybe my walk has been influenced by my stiff neck (everything is connected to everything else), so maybe my walk is normally fine.

Update December 2016 replaced missing pictures.

Dental School

Talking to my physical therapist this morning. He has triplets that have just graduated from college. One of them is going on to dental school in San Francisco. Tuition is $100,000 a year. He doesn't have the money, so he has signed up with the Army. Once he graduates he will owe the Army three years of service. If he instead borrowed the money his repayment schedule would be $4,000 a month for ten years, or roughly $500,000, which means the bank would get roughly $100,000 in interest. That must be a special low interest loan. About 25% of students at this dental school have signed up with the military in order to get their dental training. One of the reasons dental school is so expensive is all the equipment they need. You might think that the manufacturers would be providing the equipment free, or at least discounted, but evidently that is not the case.

Update December 2016 replaced missing picture.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


My daughter put together a video for a class project. She and her co-conspirators wrote a script, put together the props, filmed the action, edited the results into a coherent story, and wrote it all to a single video file. Okay, now all we have to do is burn this file on a DVD and she should be ready to deliver this to school. Simple, eh?

No, it is not. You might think with the proliferation DVD burners, Windows would have built in support for this kind of thing, but you would be wrong. I got roped into this project about 10PM Sunday night and I spent the next three hours chasing my tail and burning disks, none of which met the criteria for delivery: we had to be able to put the disk in the DVD player connected to the TV and have the movie play.

I was able to create a DVD disk that would act like that on my wife's laptop, but it would not play in the SONY combination DVD / VHS player connected to the TV. I was also able to burn a CD that would play in the DVD player, but it would not play until you selected item #1 (the only item) and pressed the GO button.

Once you cross over into the realm of making DVD's it is like entering another world. Nothing is normal, everything is arcane jargon, no one is interested in what you want. I imagine it is something like being in the middle East. I did learn a couple of things. Burning DVD's is a slow process, and converting video files from one format to another is an even slower process. There do not seem to be any free software packages that support this operation either. I did download one program for a two week free trial. It seems to support all the necessary operations, but it has so many options I was just shooting in the dark when I burned a disk.

I think I got pretty close, after all I was able to play one in the laptop as though it was a movie disk, but it would not play in the SONY. Of course, this may have been due to the media (a ten disk package of DVD-R disks from Office Depot for $8) or to the burner I used in the laptop.

Eventually I got together with my son and we burned a CD using Imgburn that met the requirements. Much easier than burning a DVD. I probably could have done it myself if it hadn't been one o'clock in the morning.

I could have researched all this stuff on the internet and probably discovered just exactly what I needed to know to successfully perform this operation, but you know, I did not really want to know all this arcane flim-flammery. This is the kind of stuff I get paid to know, and right now my brain is full. Anything new I push into my brain pushes some old, hard won knowledge out. Of course, learning new stuff is good mental exercise. It keeps you flexible and prevents ossification. But gol durn it, you have to draw the limit somewhere, and I really don't want to know any more crap about computers. There are too many other things in life that are more interesting.

When I worked for Intel in Phoenix lo these many years ago, we kept a room full of microcomputers for testing. We probably had two or three dozen of them, and they were all different. There were Multi-Bus I & II, 8086, 80186, 80286, 386 and even some 486 CPU's, and there were probably two or three models of CPU board for each CPU chip. There were IDE and SCSI hard disks and controllers, tape drives, multi-channel serial controllers. One and two board ethernet controllers, etc. etc.

Some of these systems got used extensively, some rarely. What I found was that I could keep about three systems current (with all the latest updates) and operational. Any more than that and I wasn't getting any work done. It was a matter of how much useful information your brain can store and how many hours are in a day. Three systems may not seem like much, but that was my practical limit.

Update December 2016 replaced missing pictures.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Glencoe Honors Night

The Ecolitan Operation
From "The Ecolitan Operation" by L. E. Modesitt, Jr., page 56:
Celia: "Every Imperial Special Operative falls within certain clearly defined parameters - male, with an optimum muscle, fat, and bone ratio that never varies by more than five percent; never less than one hundred eighty-one centimeters nor more than one hundred ninety-five centimeters; primarily Caucasian genetic background; strong technical education and mechanical skills; generally between twenty-eight and forty-five standard years; and always with surface carriage index of between seven and eight."
Jimjoy: "I understood everything until you got to the last item."
Me too. I take the term "surface carriage" to be the way a person carries themselves. The way people walk is quite distinctive. I have been at cross country meets where I could identify a runner by the way they moved even though they were too far away to be able to see distinctly. "Surface carriage index" I take to be pure science fiction. I have never heard of anyone trying to classify the way people walk, much less trying to correlate that with any personality traits. Last night I got to observe a great deal of "surface carriage", but since I only knew a few of the participants I wasn't able to draw any great conclusions. Besides, I did not hear the term "surface carriage index" until today.

Last night Glencoe High School had their awards ceremony for their graduating seniors. Quite the show/ordeal. Three hours of speakers and presentations. At least the scholarships awards were more substantial.

I went to this same show two years ago when my eldest son graduated. Same sort of deal, but I remember there being lots of feeble old duffers getting up and giving ten minute bumbling speeches in order to award a measly $100 scholarship. This year the speeches were shorter and the awards were more substantial. $200 was the smallest. There were several for $500 and $1000 and at least one for $2500.

Marine Corps Emblem
The military was present in the form of a marine who gave, I believe, two scholarships for $500 each. This is in contrast to the last Science Fair award ceremony I attended, where all four arms of the military each gave several big awards.

Anyway this show was a mix of two parts: scholarship awards and academic achievement awards. I think half the student body was there, at least 200 students. Each one had their name and their honors read as they walked across the entire width of the stage. Of course the person who got picked to read all these names and awards sounded like he was coming down with something. After this event I would not be surprised if he was hoarse for a week.

Watching the way the students carried themselves ("surface carriage"?) as they walked across the stage was interesting. There were marchers, and shufflers, and those who scooted along on tip-toe (girls, mostly). There were those whose nervousness showed, and those who managed to conceal it well. Several of the teachers handing out rewards received hugs from their students. The principal received the most. Some teachers shook hands with the students, some gave them a pat on the arm, some just handed them their award.

Farmers Insurance Logo
Farmers Insurance got a lot of publicity. There were two awards from OSAA (Oregon State Athletic Association) that were evidently sponsored by the insurance company, so every time one of these awards was handed out, the announcer dutifully read the name of the insurance company. I think about half of the students got at least one of these awards.

They gave out the awards in order of the number of honors earned. There were probably ten or so different awards. They started with those students who had earned one award, which was the largest group by far, and then went on to those who won two, and then three and so on. MY DAUGHTER WON FIVE. The last group were those students who had qualified for eight awards. There were only four people in this group and they were all girls. Easy to tell, girls gowns were dark red, boys were black.

The student body president got a special mention from Principal Carol Loughner. He is basically a good kid, though he does wear his hair long, down to his shoulders. I think he probably has the longest hair of any of the boys at Glencoe. But he has the respect of his peers. The Principal gave an example. They had an assembly of the entire school the other day in the gymnasium, over one thousand students. Austin asked them to be quiet, quiet enough that they could hear a pin drop, and they did it. I can hardly imagine such a thing, but according to the principal it really happened.

Update November 2016 replaced missing pictures.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Blue Hammer

by Ross MacDonald. I finished this book yesterday. There were a couple of memorable lines which I neglected to mark, but which went something like this: The members of some families should all live in different states and write letters to each other once a year. The members of some families should all live in different states and write letters to each other once a year and then tear them up.

I thought, yes, that is very true. I wonder if it applies to my family. I live with my wife and kids. The only other relatives who live in the area are my cousin and his family. My brothers, Aunts, Uncles and other cousins are scattered all over the 50 states, well, not Hawaii. I wonder why that is. Are we more disagreeable, or just more independent? Some families all stay in the same place. Why is that? Comfort? Family ties? Having a reliable sparring partner?

Update May 2012: Rereading this book and I come across the same passage, which I once again failed to mark. Looked it up on Google Books, which found it on page 187. Reading it there gave me enough context to find it in my paperback copy on page 194.

Update November 2015. Replaced missing picture.