Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Movies: "The Bank Job"

with Jason Statham and Saffron Burrows. Her name isn't listed on the cover, and her role is a bit in the background, though crucial to the story. But her picture is on the cover, front & back, though in the background. She's on the splash screen as well, but it's like she was grafted on as an afterthought: she has her own little sidebar. Weird. I smell picture politics.

That's okay, it was a pretty good picture. Based on a true story, it was very believable. We have a gang of second class criminals, getting by on small scale crimes and they get a chance at a really big job. The cars were awfully clean.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

If I only had a plane...

Homebuilt Pietenpol Sky Scout
My friend Marc bought an airplane yesterday. It's a homebuilt wood and fabric monoplane designed back before WWII. Oh, and the engine doesn't come with it. He has another source for an engine. So Monday evening we drive up to Goheen airport North of Vancouver (Washington) to start taking it apart in preparation for hauling it home. Marc and I meet in downtown Portland so we can save a little gas. We spend two hours loosening bolts and disconnecting guy wires so the final breakdown will be easy. We come back Tuesday evening with a medium size truck and a flat bed trailer.

They already have the engine off and hanging from a front end loader when I got there. It takes just over an hour to break down the airplane, load it up and tie all the pieces down. It was handy having three people to take the wings off: two to hold up the wing and one to fight the bolts out of their holes.

Disassembled Pietenpol

At least that's what I tell myself. I spent three hours driving there and back to spend 45 minutes working on this project. When I drove downtown Monday evening traffic was a bit jammed up going into downtown Portland, but it was only a couple miles and was expected. Tuesday evening it started raining and traffic came to a stop at 185th, a good ten miles from downtown. I decided I did not want to deal with creeping traffic for that much distance, so I took Cornelius Pass North to Highway 30, thence South to the St. Johns bridge, across North Portland (look Daddy, those people are black!) to I-5 and then North.

When I left, I am wondering if it might not have been shorter to drive up to Longview to cross the river, but I don't have a map with me. I know we are already quite a ways North, Longview can't be that far. I'll just go ahead and drive up there, then I'll know. Turns out it was another 25 miles. Got to drive across the Lewis and Clark bridge, an enormous 2 lane edifice. It must be a zillion feet high and five miles across. Of course it isn't, but it sure looked that way. Took me an hour and a half to get home. If I'd had an airplane I could have flown to the Hillsboro airport, which is only two miles from my house. It's only 25 miles. It would have taken 15 minutes in even a very slow airplane like Marc's Pietenpol.

Lewis and Clark Bridge, with Mount St. Helens, Washington.
The sharp eyed among you will notice that the airplane pictures are of two different airplanes. The first one is a similar aircraft fully assembled. The setting is similar, though the hanger we were in was much dirtier. The second one (of the yellow plane) is the pieces piled outside Marc's house. And that is Mt. St. Helens in the background of the bridge picture. The plane and the bridge are from the same era.

View Larger Map

Update September 2016 replaced missing pictures, removed dead link.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Useful Ceramic Art

We have a small colander that my mother made and we use it often for rinsing small quantities of berries and grapes. You don't want to rinse off a large quantity because once they get wet they start growing mold, so you don't want to rinse off more than you are going to use in a day. Dry they will keep for several days.

My brother Andy and his fiance Dianne came to visit earlier this month. We were sitting around one afternoon/evening (it does not get dark till around 10PM) and we got to talking about ways to make money and Dianne pointed out that there is probably a big market for useful handmade ceramics, like this colander.

Andy had picked up a necklace for his daughter at the local farmer's market with her initial on a small ceramic square. That gives me the idea for computer keyboards with ceramic keycaps. You could even do a ceramic body for the keyboard, or maybe just a surround to give the keyboard a distinctive look.

Update December 2016 replaced missing picture.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Goto? What's that? Spanish for duck? Greek for tarantula? How would you pronouce it? Got-oh, like in "Got Milk"?

No, no, no. Goto is why programmers can't spell. Goto is short for "go to". Wow, you save a whole space. It's an instruction used in computer programs to arbitrarily change the point of execution. Back in the good old days, when Fortran was the king of beasts, goto's were the only way to change course in a computer program.

IBM Keypunch Machine
Back in the good old days, computer programs were written on punched cards. You sat at a keypunch machine and typed in one line of your program at a time. As you typed, the keypunch machine typed the letter on the top line of the card and punched a series of holes representing the machine code for that letter in a column beneath the letter. If you made a mistake, the card went in the trash, and you started over with a fresh card.

Most of my early programs were pretty small, on the order of a hundred cards or so. You take your deck of punched cards and hand them in to the opertor who loads them in the card reader, one program/job after another. There were always a dozen or two people in there. The computer reads the cards, compiles the program, runs the program, and then queues the output to the printer. The operator seperates the output from the printer into seperate jobs and turns them over to the waiting geeks/students.

You looked at the output to see, first of all, if your program compiled correctly. If it didn't, it was back to the keypunch machine to correct your typing errors. If it did compile correctly, you looked at the output to see if the program performed as expected. Simple programs were easy to debug. More complex programs, well, then you got to strain your brain.

If you were only dealing with a hundred cards or so, things were not too tough. But some people, especially in engineering were running massive programs that might be one or two thousand lines/cards long. These required boxes to carry around, and don't dare drop them. You might never be able to put Humpty together again.

There was one story floating around that this happened to one poor guy, and to ensure that it never caused him a problem again, he added a goto to every line of his program. The version of Fortran we were using was an advanced (!) version: it allowed two statements on each line. What our hero did is he gave each line of his program a label (Fortran uses numbers in the first few columns), and tacked on a second statement to end of each program line. The second statement was simply a GOTO directing the program to the next line.

Take the box of cards, drop it on the ground. Gather up the cards in any random order, just make sure the first card is first, and turn them in. The program will compile and run. A horrible idea, but effective for dealing with a box of a thousand cards.

Update December 2016 replaced missing picture.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Movie: "The Dark Knight"

Well done, but all-in-all a very unpleasant movie. Perhaps it is a reflection of the times we live in where corruption seems to run rampant and even upstanding citizen-soldiers can be corrupted with threats and intimidation. Corruption is always present of course, but the extent of it varies. Sometimes it is tamped down to the point where even a little scandal is big news. Sometimes it flares up to the point where a new household name connected to a scandal is just more of the same, like now.

My memory failed me on the batmobile. I was sure it was a real military prototype that had been co-opted by the film makers for this movie. My son assured me that no, it was a special for the movie, and had actually been used in the previous movie as well. A little more information from my son, and (whipper-snapper can't be right, this is my area of expertise, not his) some research on the web reveals that this is the case. Turns out that the story in the previous movie was that it was a military prototype. So my memory was right about the origins, it just failed to distinguish fact from fiction. Give me a break, it was two years ago.

There were two comments from the Joker that stuck in my mind. One was that he claimed to be more impulsive than a careful planner, but almost everything that happened required a good deal of advance preparation. All of his attacks could have been pulled off within a day or so, but only if a good percentage of the population was totally corrupt, of a criminal bent, or insane. There certainly were a lot of them in the movie.

The other comment was that gasoline and bullets were cheap. Even at four dollars a gallon, gasoline is still one of the cheapest tools of destruction available.

Target practice with a centerfire firearm can get expensive, depending on many hundred's of rounds you expend. But a single bullet aimed with destructive intent can cause untold damage, and being as people are our most valuable assets, killing a person can be a catastrophic loss. Of course, some people, like the Joker, would show up in society's ledger in red ink, indicating a deficit, not an asset.

And don't confuse Christian Bale (Batman) with Christian Slater (not Batman).

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A/C Repair

Last summer the A/C unit started dripping into my basement storage area. The area doesn't get visited often so things were pretty water logged when I finally discovered it. I surmised that the water was escaping from the condensation collection system, whatever it was, and running down into the ductwork in the basement and thence dripping onto the floor. I put some buckets down to collect the water and put a fan in there to dry it up. Summer doesn't last long here, so pretty soon the A/C was shut down.

It's been a little warm this summer so we have been running the A/C intermittently, and, surprise, surprise, the A/C has not fixed itself. Condensation is still leaking into the basement. I had been wanting to open up the A/C chamber and take a look to see if it was something simple, but that would have meant actually doing something, and lord knows we sure did not want that.

My brother from Iowa came out to visit a couple of weeks ago, and not having anything better to do, we decided to take a look. It wasn't too difficult to open up, move a few items out the way, take out a dozen or so sheet metal screws, pull back some rubber insulation on the A/C pipes and all is exposed. Most of it anyway. Only problem is that there does not seem to be anything really wrong. No clogged drains, no big cracks, nothing that would give us an obvious clue as to where the water is coming from.

Brother Andy notices some of the fiberglass insulation has broken down and fallen into the condensation collection tray. It doesn't look like much, but I suppose the water is wicking up into the insulation and thence over the edge and down into the basement. The theory is pretty thin, but it is all we have so we look around for something to put between the tray and insulation to keep things tidy. A thin sheet of rigid plastic would do the trick. What do we have?

We look around for a bit and finally light on some surplus plastic kitty litter buckets. We get out the saber saw, cut off the top rim and the bottom and run a cut down the side and we have a good size sheet of semi-rigid plastic. Estimate the size, cut to length and slide into place, one on each side of the A-coil.

Turn the A/C on, and at first it doesn't seem to help at all, more water than ever is running out. But I check back a couple of days later and there is no water at all! Hooray, we fixed it! I'm still a little skeptical that our Afro-American engineering actually solved the problem, but I have had no more water in the basement. This is just too weird for words.

The A/C A-coil sits underneath the downdraft furnace.

Update November 2016 replaced missing pictures. At some point I realized the problem with the water overflowing the catch tray was that 1) it was very humid so a great deal of water was being condensed out of the air, and 2) the drain pipe wasn't big enough to handle the increase. There is a provision for a second drain pipe but I still haven't gotten around to fitting one.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Planetary Granny Gear for Bicycles

Out here in Oregon long bike rides often mean climbing big steep hills, which means shifting down into granny gear and slogging away for an hour or so till you get to the top. Once you get over the top and start going down, you want to shift to top gear to pick up speed in order to put a big stupid grin on your face. Or if you want to be practical, so the breeze will cool you off after you put in all that work climbing the hill.

The way things are out here is that soon after you get to the bottom, you face climbing another big stinking hill, which means shifting into low-low gear again. After doing this for a while you begin to wonder why you even have the other twenty zillion gears, the only ones you are using are top and bottom.

This wouldn't be a problem except for the way bicycle gear trains are built. You can't shift directly from low to high, you have to shift through all the intermediate gears as well, or a substantial number of them. And using the front derailleur to change chainwheels requires that you ease off on pedalling until the chain has been moved. This can be a real trick if you have misjudged how quickly the hill starts going up. You may even have to stop or turn around in order to be able to change to a smaller chainwheel.

Now there a number of internal gearboxes available for the hub of the rear wheel, but there really isn't anything available for the bottom bracket, and if you want big changes, this is where they need to be made. The reason is you don't want eight inch diameter gears whirling around at wheel speeds on the back axle. You really want to minimize your rotating momentum.

How about a planetary gearset for the bottom bracket using large diameter, very thin gears? You would only need three speeds, which means one of the elements could be locked to the frame. The crankshaft would alternately engage one of the other two elements, as would the chainwheel. I think a device like this could be made as light and durable as the current multiple chainring scheme, plus it would have the added benefit of being able to shift much more quickly. If would be virtually instantaneous, especially when compared to a derailleur.

It would take some figuring and no doubt some fiddling to be able to come up with a design that would fit in the space currently being used by current derailleur designs, but if it worked, and worked reliably, it could be a big hit in the bicycle market. Yeah, and if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. Anyway that's my big idea for the day. Here's a spreadsheet that illustrates the gear ratios you can get from planetary gear sets.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Space Habitat Plan #2

I have this idea that the only way we are ever going to effectively explore the solar system is to construct a giant space craft that can house a large number of people (say a thousand) and protect and provide for them indefinitely. My original idea was to build a sphere approximately one mile in diameter with a one large interior space that would provide a couple of square miles of farm land. Recently I have been thinking more about the asteroid belt and while one large interior space may be large enough to give the illusion of being boundless, it does suffer from being susceptible to total annihilation from a single high impact collision. A craft with several separate smaller spheres, while not offering as good a ratio of ground area to structure mass, might be better able to survive such a collision.

The overall dimensions of the craft would be similar, but the habitation spheres would only be one to two thousand feet in diameter. Whether the entire assembly would be contained in a larger protective sphere is something that will have to be determined. These spheres would not rotate on their axis, but would be attached to the main craft at some distance from the central axis. Each one would have it's own top (pointing to the central axis) and bottom (pointing away).

Update September 2016 replaced missing picture.

T.O.E.: Theory Of Everything

There is a story in this weeks issue of "The New Yorker" about this surfer dude who has come up with the Holy Grail of Physics: a new Theory Of Everything. I would give you a link to it, but it isn't available online, at least not yet. Maybe later. I don't know what The New Yorker's policy is here.

Anyhoo, if you have any interest in science you have probably heard of Einstein's Theory of Relativity, and the theory of Quantum Mechanics (devised apparently by consensus), and you may even be aware that the two theories don't mesh too well and ever since they arrived on the scene people have been looking for a theory that would encompass these two. So it's been a while, and no one has done it. Lots of people have tried, but all theories so far have been found wanting. Super-string theory is the current fave amongst the in-crowd, but it too has it's faults, the main one being that nobody has been able to devise an experiment to test it.

But now we have this 40 year old snowboarder/surfer dude who dropped out of the physics rat race several years ago and has been working on his own pet theory ever since. And now he has written and published some stuff and lots of people in physics world are arguing about it. I like his theory and all I know is that is has 128 points (or is it 256?). The best part is that it is NOT a super-string theory.

Here's a fun video that demonstrates how wonderful this new theory is, though it doesn't really explain anything. I came across this quite a while ago. Since then a lot more people have been listening to Lisi.

Change of State of Mind

I took my son John shooting this afternoon. He has been wanting to go for several weeks, but there was always some distraction that kept it from happening. He is also learning to drive, and I have been spending an hour a day this week with him driving my pickup. There was a City Club Forum in downtown Portland that I was planning on attending today as well, but I could not get out of bed. I didn't get up till two this afternoon. It was almost like I was sick, I was just dragging so bad. But except for being tired, I did not really have any other symptoms. So I blew off the Forum, took a shower, and sat down with John to go through my munitions to see what kind of mayhem we wanted to unleash. It has been a while since the last time we went shooting, so it took us about an hour to sort through it all and pack it up. We didn't actually get on the road till four. We drove out past Timber and on towards Cochran till we came to the washed out bridge, except it wasn't a bridge, it was one of those places where they put a culvert in the stream bed and then build an earthen dam over it to support the road. I imagine there is a name for this sort of thing, but it escapes me at the moment. Anyway, it got washed out, probably a couple of years ago and hasn't been replaced. It is probably 30 feet from the road surface down to the creek bed. Parts of the metal culvert are still there. It will take a bunch of dirt to fix this.

Anyway, I wonder if it was just having to shift mental gears from Science/Politics/Looking for a Job to Driving and Firearms Instruction that caused me to be so tired. I even took a short nap when we got home.

The photo is from a year and a half ago when it first happened.

Update December 2016 replaced missing picture.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Structured Programming

It occurred to me today that perhaps I have been giving program structure short shrift and that this might be causing me some difficulty in locating a job.

I saw an ad for a job the other day where they wanted someone who was familiar with graph theory. Graph theory? What's that? So I go look it up on Wikipedia and it looks like nothing more than state machines: nodes (or vertices) connected by lines. I've used this stuff so much it's second nature to me. Discussing it would be like asking a carpenter about his hammer. It's just a tool, I use it to hit nails. What else would you use it for?

Then I got to thinking about some of the code I have seen that was written by other people. There was one programming project I worked on at school with a small group of people. I took a look at one of the other guys programs and I could not believe how twisted it was. True it was written in FORTRAN and FORTRAN uses lots of goto's, but geez. Jump forward, jump back, jump sideways. I gave up trying to follow it after about five minutes. There just didn't seem to be any pattern to it at all.

At my first programming job my boss asked me to take a look at some code written by one of the other guy's there. He wanted me to do something with it, add something or fix something, I don't recall. This one was written in BASIC and it had the advantage of at least being able to run. I was able to make some headway in deciphering, but it was still really twisted. I went to the guy who wrote it in an attempt to get some help in understanding what was going on. I intended to be tactful, but the first words out of my mouth were "this is twisted", and that pretty much put an end to any conversation or cooperation.

I imagine that those incidents stand out because I was just out of school where I had only been exposed to pristine, well designed programs, and encountering such horrible creations was a veritable shock to my system.

I still run into bad examples. Perhaps they don't bother me as much because I have gotten better at deciphering them. The last one I ran into came from a data logger that had been designed ten or fifteen years ago and had then been updated annually by a different person. Some with talent, and some without, and some with PhD's. Sometimes I think the PhD version is the worst. That kind of code takes a couple of pages to assign a value to a variable. You see, if you are an expert, you cannot do anything simple, you must build enormous imaginary structures and populate them with all manner of wonderful beasts. You cannot refer to anything directly, but only by the imaginary name that you have created to refer to the beast that guards this particular piece of information. In other words, it's mostly horse puckey.

When I write code, I try for simplicity and clarity. Some people make a big deal about design, but for me the design is usually done the first day of a project. It may be that the projects I am working on are so simple they don't require a lot of thought, or maybe it is because I am clear thinker and the requirements for the project just "naturally" shape the design of the program. Or maybe I'm just a frickin' genius.

After the design, it's just a matter of filling in the blanks. Of course some programming projects can have hundreds or even thousands of blanks, but if the design is a good one, then it will work. Now occasionally, something may crop up at a later date that will require revising the design, and sometimes it may render the complete top level code obsolete. But if the design is at all appropriate to the task at hand, all the lower level code should survive unscathed. Sometimes that is just wishful thinking.

The design I did for a data logger was primarily command centric. We had a serial communications port that was connected to a PC running a terminal emulator program like Hyper Terminal. The logger would transmit a prompt character and wait for the user to enter a command. When the command came, the logger would search through an array of data structures for one that contained the command that matched the one that the user entered. When it found the match, it would retrieve the address of the corresponding procedure from this same data structure and call it. The procedure would do whatever it was supposed to do and return. Nothing simpler.

Could have used a binary search to look up the command, but there were only about 100 different commands available, and we are talking about the user interface, so we had plenty of time. We could look up the command before the user had let up on the enter key, a matter of milliseconds at most. The big advantage to this design was that a new command could be added without disturbing the top level code that called it. Write the command procedure and put the command and the address of the corresponding procedure in the table and you are done.

A second part of the design for this program required adherence to some rules. A big part of this project was configuration. There were any number of parameters/variables that could be set at when the device was installed and should remain undisturbed thereafter. These configuration settings were used all over the program, in the most obscure places. How can you protect these variables from being modified after the initial setup has been completed? One way, the modern way, the safe way, is to provide a procedure for reading each of these values. A couple hundred values, you say? No problem, we just add a couple of hundred procedures. What a pain.

True, I could have written a macro to generate all the needed procedures from a list of the required variables, but it would still generate several more pages of code. Do we really need to do this? Well, if we can enforce the rule that the variable is not modified except where it is specifically allowed, then, no, we don't. And as I was chief jerk and bottle washer on the project, I could make whatever rules I wanted, and if anyone broke them, I would have only myself to blame. As all these configuration variables were stored in a structure, every reference to them used this structure name, so as long as the structure name was easy to recognize, the variable references were easy to recognize, and perhaps as importantly, easy to locate. The plan worked very well. I obeyed my own rules and so I didn't have to punish myself.

As far as looking for a job goes, I think some of these people are trying to protect themselves from hiring people who can't write comprehensible code. I've heard rumors that most programmers cannot actually write a program. They may know something about programming, and they might be able to cut and paste, but they cannot actually write a program on their own. On one hand I find this shocking. For me it's the easiest thing in the world. On the other hand, I have seen some truly horrible examples what people produce. So I am ambivalent about this whole thing.

I suspect this whole C++ thing with "structured programming" and "object oriented design" may be a reaction to this problem. On the other hand, there are some fairly bright people out there who can make good use of the new features found in C++. I would love to have an opportunity to try it out. My only problem is I don't have any programming problems, much less a difficult one that would require "advanced features".

Update December 2016 replaced missing picture.

Movie: "Invasion"

with Nicole Kidman & Daniel Craig. Yay! Another zombie movie! With heart rending scenes AND car chases!

So I am thinking this is yet another remake of Heinlein's story, but no, this movie is based on the book by Jack Finney. Oh, yes, I remember hearing this once before. But I was sure Heinlein wrote this story. What's going on?

Well, a little research shows that Heinlein wrote "The Puppet Masters", which has a similar plot and which was also made into a movie or two. Heinlein wrote his story first, and there was some quibbling about the stealing of ideas. But there are two separate books, and they spawned several movies.

There were some interesting moments in this movie. One was the press conference where the zombified government official is issuing soothing proclamations for the consumption of the media. One female reporter dares to ask a pointed question and gets stonewalled/dissed for her efforts. Sounded like a typical Bush press conference.

Ms. Kidman, who is more of a girly-girl than my heroine Jody Foster, actually picks up a gun and shoots some zombies. She manages to hit her targets with one shot each. It is short range shooting, so it is plausible. But she drops the gun once she has dealt with the immediate threat. Of such actions are horror films made.

You are, no doubt, familiar with the delaying tactics some film makers use to increase your apprehension. The enemy is coming closer, closer, closer. You want to yell at the characters on the screen to hurry up and get out of there! But they sit and cry and comfort each other, apparent oblivious to their impending doom. Just in time they get up and go, just steps in front of their pursuers, and the chase is on again!

At least once in this movie the film editor interleaves some action shots with the maudlin tear jerker. You see the crying and the hugging, and then suddenly you see them fleeing, and then you are back to the crying and hugging again. So you get the best (or is it worst?) of both worlds. You get to see that they are going to get going in time to continue to elude their pursuers, but you also get to wallow in the crying and hugging for a while longer. However, the scene cuts are so abrupt and so short that they are a little disconcerting. Are we watching something that is going to happen, or something that might happen, or maybe this is just something that could have happened? Not sure what to make of this.

There is also the distorted sense of time they use. Watching the film it looks like the bad guys are going to catch up with the good guys any second now, but then we cut to a scene where the good guys have gotten completely away and you realize the film maker was tricking you with their timing. The bad guys were never even close.

Then there is the Army. They come in and save the day. Totally competent, totally in control. They look so good I began to suspect this was a propaganda film arranged by the ghost of Karl Rove, or at least a recruiting film paid for by the Army. They only show up at the end of the film however, and for all the grief they have been getting lately they deserve a little good press.

There are a lot of micrographs of biological material. How many were fictitious and how many were real is hard to say. There were quite a few and they varied widely. It would have been a good deal of work to make this all up from scratch, so I am inclined to think most of them were real. Some of them even had the look of pictures from electron microscopes, though I suppose a good graphics designer could fake that as well.

The movie does bring up a question about humans and morality. They bring it up more than once and they do so explicitly. Where the zombies have taken over there is no more war. Everything runs smoothly, no strife, no trouble, no turmoil. See, we are here to help you. Why won't you let us help you? Well, buddy, nobody tells me what to do or how to behave. If I want to be a big baby I will, and you and all your zombie buddies can eat lead. Which pretty much sums up why the world is the way it is, and all this crying about peace isn't going to accomplish much of anything. The only time there is peace is when somebody can make more money from peace than they can from war, which is a dubious proposition. Everybody knows there is more money to be made from war than from peace. As long as you have a few factories running that can make weapons, then you can keep making money selling them. It would take some serious warring to make a dent in the world population. I don't think the aliens-in-charge solution would work. Eventually alien splinter groups would form and then we would have zombie wars. Now there is an idea for a movie!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

SAO: Software Association of Oregon

SAO held an open house at their office in the US Bank building in downtown Portland this afternoon. As part of my expanding job search program I thought I would go by and see if I could manage to talk to some people, just for practice, ya know. As they were serving ice cream (and beer), my son volunteered to drive. He has his permit and needs the practice. I don't particularly care for driving, especially during rush hour, so this looked like a win-win situation to me.

Traffic was light until we got into the West Hills and then predictably it slowed to crawl which lasted all the way into downtown, where we continued to crawl from light to light. We did find a parking spot on the street just a block from the Bank building. There was a central meter half a block away which rejected my first credit card, took my second but failed to deliver a sticker. Back to the truck to get the loose change out of the loose change collector on the transmission hump. John and I scrape together a dollar and that gets us 48 minutes or so.

Over to the bank building and into the lobby. Now where is room 120? Doesn't appear to be right here, maybe it's one flight up. Down a short hall past opposing banks of elevators. Boy, there must be some crowd down here. It gets noisier as we get closer to the end. We come out in another lobby and there it is. From the noise you would think there was a hundred people there, but it looks more like 20 or 30. Granite floors and glass walls do nothing to muffle the sound.

Walk in, collect a bottle of ice cold water, make our way over to the ice cream. Talk to a very nice woman from MBank (formerly Merchant's Bank) dishing out the Cherry Garcia, which is white, not red as one might expect. M-Bank is one of the sponsor's of SAO. They are a local bank. I am beginning to fill in the picture a little bit.

I wander out into the crowd and meet Tim who has a PGI logo on his shirt. He is a salesman for a division of STMicroelectronics that makes compilers for HPC (High Performance Computing). Now this is more like it. HPC machines use multiple x86 processors to attack computing problems with brute force. Some machines have thousands of processors. One of the applications for this kind of computational horsepower is microelectronic chip layout. Synopsis, Cadence and Mentor are all playing this game, though Cadence is trying to buy Mentor. The oil companies are the big customers these days, with the price of oil what it is they have money to burn (ha, ha, I made a funny).

Lot's of companies are building HPC's. I think they may be using CPU's like server blades, or they may be server blades. The important part is that the CPU's are connected using switched fabric communications. There are a couple of technologies that are used for this. One is Infiniband.

Tim moves on to Lou who is standing nearby. Lou works for Halton, the local Caterpillar dealer. He is dealing with an IBM AS400 running an application written back at the Caterpillar factory in Illinois. The application is written in IBM Cobol.

Software is a vital part of our economy. Some of it is doing mundane work like keeping track of parts for bulldozers. Some of it keeps the wheels of finance turning and some of it is being used to attack difficult technical/scientific problems.

John has returned from exploring the lobby or wherever he was and he is ready to go. My brain is full so I say my goodbyes and we head back to the truck. John is tired and asks me to drive. There is a bit of creepy-crawly as we get on 26 and then there is the usual bottleneck approaching 185th. Other than that it is smooth sailing. We stop in North Plains to fill the tank ($85) before we head home for dinner.

Just for grins I ran a search on the web for an image for "IBM Cobol". IBM's page has a tiny image of the Red Fort in Dehli. I don't know why, but it was too tiny to post. Here is a slightly larger one.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Books: Bunker 13

by Aniruddha Bahal. This book starts out intense, rapidly becomes bizarre, eventually goes over the top, and just when you think it can't get any more twisted, does a double back flip, reverses course and becomes completely insane. Don't get me wrong, it's a great story and it takes you along on this wild roller coaster. The cover gives you a good idea of what's in store. The picture is slightly out of focus, like it might be one of those 3-D images you need the red and blue glasses to see correctly. I even tried some. They didn't help.

The story follows a journalist. It starts with him signing up for paratrooper training so he can do an "in depth" story for his magazine, a promotional piece for the military. He obviously has ulterior motives, though we are not quite sure what they are. As the plot thickens, it turns out he was previously involved in the military and has acquired some of their nastier skills, kind of like an Indian James Bond. If there is anything wrong with the story, it is the way author brings in previous training any time he needs the character to do something extraordinary.

The story goes all over India but is primarily about the LIC (Low Intensity Conflict) in Kashmir along the LoC (Line of Control) between Pakistan and India. Kashmir is kind of like Western Colorado. Lots of mountains, and the principal city, Srinagar, is at an altitude of one mile. It has a population of pert near a million.

The story is also about gun running and drug smuggling on a large scale, tons of weapons, tons of heroin and tens of millions of dollars.

There was one element in the story that I didn't quite buy. It is similar to my complaint about "Vantage Point": the ability of an Islamic terrorist organization to plant a mole deep inside their enemy. This is something we used to worry about with the Soviets. Theory was that the Soviets were training people to act like Americans and then come and live in America and pretend to be Americans, until they were called upon to do something for mother Russia. Seems a little hard to believe that terrorists would have the patience to develop a deep cover sleeper. They seem to be more of the instant gratification persuasion. But hey, everyone likes a good conspiracy theory, don't they?

View Larger Map
Update January 2011. The area shown on the map is about 135 miles wide.

Updated (July 10, 2010) note about the picture: it used to link to the website where I found it, but then they dropped that page, so they picture disappeared from the post. I dug through my archives and found a copy, but who should get the credit for it? I did a quick search on Google, but nobody else seems to have as good a copy. Amazon has one, but it has some of their blurbing in the picture as well. So, no credit for the photo.

Update October 2016 replaced missing picture.

AVG 8.0 Crashes Firefox

Most days I use my old Dell Dimension 2400 desktop computer running Windows XP. I have been using it for several years. At the beginning it gave me a lot of trouble, but then I got Firefox web browser and ZoneAlarm firewall installed and things went pretty smoothly. Until this year. Seems like ever since January rolled around things have been going wrong. Hangs, crashes, reboots. I reluctantly installed SP2 (Microsoft Service Pack 2) in order to manipulate some Microsoft files, and that seemed to aggravate the problem. Then it got to the point where if I tried to open more than four or five tabs in my browser, Firefox would crash. Microsoft always wants me to send them a bug report, but given Microsoft's reputation, I was beginning to suspect that they were looking for confirmation that their plan to make Firefox unusable was working. Alas, that was not the case and another fine conspiracy theory bites the dust.

I run AVG anti-virus software, and they have their own automatic upgrade program. A while back I noticed that when I did an internet search, these little green swirly things started showing up by each result. I didn't pay them any mind, I figured it was some new feature from Google and it's purpose would become apparent by and by.

But then Firefox got to be almost unusable. I even went and played with my Linux system for a bit. Finally, I broke down and ran a search and, surprise, surprise, my complaint is being echoed by thousands. Has anyone figured out what the problem is? Hmmm, some people are talking about AVG. Double click the AVG icon in my task bar and what's this? Linkscanner. The icon looks suspiciously like the green swirly thing that is showing up on my search results. Let's disable it. Oh, look, all my problems have gone away.

Of course, now I have a warning icon in my task bar. Oh no! What's the problem? I disabled link scanner. I don't think that's a problem, but evidently AVG thinks so. Bah.

Note about the pictures: Some of the pictures do not link to the source site for these programs: they didn't have the fine byte size logos on them. AVG's logo does link to their site, because they changed the color of the upper right square in their logo from black to blue, and none of the first couple of dozen images Google found had this new color scheme. So I had to copy, paste and crop the image from their website to get it right. It's the least I can do, AVG has served me well for many years.

The "green swirly thing" is actually two images, the first is a "working" icon which is eventually replaced by a green star. So I mentally combined the two into a "green swirly thing". These are GIF images which sometimes confuse blogger. GIF's are sometimes used for crude repetitive animations, in this case the spinning wheel. The spinning part doesn't show up here. Can't say as I am surprised.

Update December 2016 replaced missing pictures.

Movies: "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"

Elizabeth the first, part two. Part one was "Elizabeth" (1998), same director, same lead actress, earlier period of time.

This time we have Clive Owen as Sir Walter Raleigh and Abbie Cornish as Elizabeth "Bess" Throckmorton.

Set in 1585, the movie has a definite pro-Protestant England and anti-Catholic Spain tilt. We have the Inquisition going full bore in Spain under Philip II. We have intrigue, Papist plots within plots, Mary, Queen of Scots, and medieval torture.

All of which is designed to give Philip an excuse to declare war on England, never mind that he has been building his Armada for years.

The battle with the Spanish Armada is given more screen time, more ships and more accuracy than I would have expected from a film which is mostly about the interior goings-on at court. The way I remembered the story of this battle was that the Spanish Armada was devastated by a fearsome storm that sank most of their ships. Given the storm was given short shrift in the movie, I had to go check and found that although there was a storm and it did destroy many of the Spanish ships, it was not the deciding issue. The fireships in the movie did play an important role in thwarting Philip's planned invasion of England.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Movies: "Stardust"

I read the book several years ago and I really enjoyed it. The movie, not so much. I mean, it's a fine film, with some cool special effects, cute girls, nasty villains and heroes you can appreciate, but it's perhaps a little simple minded. I think the problem here is that the book transported me to this other world, whereas the movie was more like a travel brochure. Pretty pictures, but you don't really get the feel of the place.

Update December 2016 replaced missing pictures.

Periodic Table of the Elements

I never really liked the traditional periodic table used in science classes, so one day a couple of years ago I set out to draw my own. I was really pleased with it then, but as time went by I became more dissatisfied with it. Recently I have returned to this subject and talking to my friend Jack I got the idea that I should put it on the net as is, so here it is, warts and all. Clicking on the image will get you a full size version that you can read. I stored this one in JPEG format. I wonder if another format would be better for plain black and white.

Update December 2016 replaced missing image.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Movie: "In The Name Of The King"

A "Dungeon Siege Tale" with Jason Statham, a couple of other semi-famous actors and a good supporting cast. My son came in to watch during the climatic battle sequence and pronounced it a bad copy of the "Lord of the Rings", and to a certain extent he was right.

As I understand it, the story is based on a video game, which means the plot is fairly simplistic and there are a lot of fight sequences. Jason does a good job with the fight sequences.

The dialog was short and sweet. By keeping it short, they managed to avoid sounding stupid, which is something many low budget movies suffer from. This probably was not a real low budget movie, but it could have easily been ruined with additional foolish dialog.

I don't quite know what to make of Burt Reynolds (?!?!) death scene. On one hand he spares us the long drawn out melodramatic death scenes you see in so many movies. On the other hand we look at him once and he is saying something. We look away for a second, and when we look back he is dead.

Long drawn out death scenes are really annoying. You can go through a whole movie with people being slaughtered left, right and center, and none of them go through long agonizing death scenes. It is not until a main character dies that we get that, and they get drawn out and out and out until you begin to wonder if they are every going to die. Geez, man, go on and croak and get it over with, we have important plot details to tie up. We don't need you hogging all the screen time with these vital death bed remarks. Did not have that in this movie.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Movies: "Vantage Point"

A grim look at terrorism, over and over and over again. They replay the same twenty minutes of "real time" for the first half of the movie, watching the situation as it unfolds but looking at it from slightly different viewpoints. Each replay adds another bit to the story, which is good because when you get to the crux of the plot, you are completely familiar with all the characters and what roles they are playing. A lot of movies like to use very complex plots which can leave you confused if you are not paying close attention, and sometimes they are confusing even when you are paying close attention.

The one thing that did not make much sense was the high speed car chase through the crowded, narrow streets of Salamanca. In a situation like we had in the movie, and especially in Spain, I would have expected complete gridlock. But we have these guys screaming down the streets banging into things, chasing people off their chairs, knocking over the fruit peddlers cart, all the standard car chase elements. But hey, what's a thriller without a car chase?

They covered many of the essential elements of terrorism, and one that I am a little doubtful about: having a mole inside the secret service. This is something we used to worry about with the Soviets. Theory was that the Soviets were training people to act like Americans and then come and live in America and pretend to be Americans, until they were called upon to do something for mother Russia. Seems a little hard to believe that terrorists would have the patience to develop a deep cover sleeper. They seem to be more of the instant gratification persuasion. But hey, everyone likes a good conspiracy theory, don't they?

Although the setting is Salamanca, Spain, it was actually filmed in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Movie: "In Bruges"

I had overheard someone reading a review that recommended this movie, and it looked like some kind of screwed up crime caper, so I picked up a copy at the rental shop a couple of days ago. Finally sat down to watch it last night. Can't say as I was impressed. The first 30 minutes dragged so bad I was ready to pack it in, but my wife said lets give it a few more. We ended up watching it to the end, so I guess it did pick up a bit. But it wasn't very entertaining. There were some action bits, some very violent & gruesome bits, some funny bits, and there were some sexy bits, but the overall tone was pretty miserable. Most of the characters were unpleasant in one way or another, rude, mostly. The only good character was the fat man (Brendan Gleeson). He manages a bit of heroics. Well, no, not the only one. The pregnant hotel owner managed to put a couple of gunmen in their place.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Movie: "Flawless"

with Michael Caine and Demi Moore. A very good heist movie. It was set in the 1960's, which lends it an air of authenticity, but the story is pure fiction, at least as near as I can tell. Michael Caine plays an aging janitor who has been working on a plan for revenge for 15 years, and it comes off flawlessly. Now we all know that the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry, but Mr. Caine's character is absolutely confident that it will all go according to his plan. There are several psychological angles to this plan, and I could see that if you were watching your intended victim(s) for fifteen years, you could acquire some insight into their behavior and you might be able to predict what they would do in a certain situation. I say victim(s) because while there was only one actual target, a scheme this audacious is bound to have a wide impact that could easily result in collateral damage, and it does, though it couldn't have happened to a more deserving character.

Water Bomber 00

That is Water Bomber number zero zero. Who are these guys who design these fonts where the number zero looks like the letter o? They deserve to be splattered with ink.

There was a picture of a water bomber dropping a load of fire retardant in the paper today. The aircraft appears to be similar to a C-130 Hercules. It has four turboprop engines and is land based, but the wing is a low wing, not a high wing like the Hercules. It is not a flying boat.

This photo accompanied an article about the wildfires in California. The picture was striking for several reasons. The plane is flying at very low altitude, very close to a house, and you can see the individual propeller blades. I don't think I have ever seen a picture of an airplane with the engine running where you could see the individual propellar blades like this. Usually the prop is turning so fast that the blades are just a blur. Could this be an artifact of digital photography? It is so striking that I thought perhaps it was photo-shopped. I looked on the newspapers site, but I could not find the photo. I did find some similar photos on the web.

This one is similar in many respects including the markings on the airplane. The difference here is that this plane only has two engines, is steeply banked and appears to be flying into the ground.

This plane has four engines and you can see the blades, but it is a flying boat.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Zimbabwe & Mugabe

Zimbabwe & Mugabe have been in the news lately and it hasn't been good. There has been lots of speculation about what could be done, but I don't think there is much consensus. Some people are proposing economic boycotts, but it seems that Mugabe is doing a fine job of destroying their economy without any outside help. I read one suggestion that said someone should go in, take out Mugabe, install a new leader, and then get out. Ummm, isn't that what we tried in Iraq? Maybe somebody other than the US could do a better job of it. I doubt it.

An armed insurrection might be able to topple Mugabe, but something like that is liable to result in civil war. That might be what it will take to put things right, but it might just as easily end up with things as wrong as ever.

This is the sort of thing the communists used to try and do. Find a country where the mass of the people were unhappy with current government and start supplying them with weapons and ideology. There are still communist inspired guerilla wars going on all over the planet.

I suspect that the Zimbabwe culture cannot support a democracy. Democracy requires an educated population with some sophistication, or is that cunning and experience with duplicity?

Before we got involved in Iraq, I would have said go for it, go ahead and send in American troops and take out Mugabe. Now I am thinking we need to support the opposition with weapons, training and ideology. Put the opposition on an even playing field with the evil Mugabe, but if we do that much we dasn't dare back down. We have a history of leaving people in the lurch and that really stinks. Bay of Pigs, encouraging the Shites in Iraq to revolt after the first Gulf War. I am sure there are others.