Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Obama is a jerk

When Obama got elected and Verizon dropped their Robocop phone answering system, I was pretty pleased. Maybe this Obama guy will be okay. But today I got a letter marked "Returned To Sender". It was an envelope I had dropped in the mail earlier this week that was addressed to my bank. The sticker on the envelope says "CORRECT ADDRESS ERROR". What address error? I addressed it the way I always do:
Sumdoods Bank
If you want to be persnickety, and evidently they do, the correct address is:
Sumdoods Bank
P.O. Box 3200
Beaverton, Oregon 97175-3200
If you know the zip code, you really don't need the city and state. That is just window dressing. And it looks to me like that zip code goes to one, and only one P.O.Box. So putting the P.O.Box number in the address is redundant, and redundant is stupid. For the last eleventeen years it has been redundant. And now all of sudden it's not? Must be that new guy in the White House. Jerk.

Elvis Presley. Man, is this song old. It even sounds old. I thought for sure somebody had covered it, but I found nothing. I'll bet Mr. Dustbury would know. I'll have to ask him.

The video was just a static picture, so I thought I would see if I could cut the video portion off and save some space on the screen. As you see, I could. There is a width and height specified in the html, twice. I set the height to 25, which is just enough space for the control bar. Of course, it probably doesn't do anything about the bandwidth requirements. The whole video stream is still being shipped to your computer, but you don't see it. Not that there was anything to see.

Update December 2016 increased height of embedded video to 100 pixels to make it playable. Evidently something had changed that made the old code unplayable.

The Power of O

Called one of my credit cards in an attempt to get a late payment charge dropped from the bill. The phone is answered by one of those Robocop menu systems wanting me to "input your account number" or something. You know, that would be okay, except they are never satisfied with just one thing. Once they get you to comply to their first request, they start making more requests, until they finally get to the end of their script and they run off the end of the page and drop your call. So, no, I don't want to enter my account number, or any other numbers. I want to talk to a person. However, from previous experience I have learned that yelling at Robocop accomplishes nothing, other then straining my vocal cords. So I push 0. Robocop doesn't understand, and restarts its' spiel. So I push 0 again. Robocop still doesn't understand. So I push 0 for a third, and lo! And behold! I get connected to a real person! I'll be durned. Robocop can be beaten!


Thursday night I took the Max (the local train) downtown to a software developer's get together at the Thirsty Lion. I got off the train at the Oak Street station and my short walk to the pub took me by a couple places I knew. I would never have guessed that I would find so many places I knew all in one go. First was McCormick & Schmick's (Seafood Restaurant). My wife and I eat there occasionally, but I have never been able to find it reliably. I know where it is approximately, so I drive to the general area and then wander around till I stumble on it. Practically next door is Apple Music. I was just down there with my son looking at guitar amplifiers. I bought one of those $100 specials they throw in when I bought him an electric guitar. He has outgrown it. He claims the sound is terrible. I wouldn't be surprised, but I really have no idea. After all, the sound of screaming hot rod engines is music to my ears. I don't claim to appreciate the finer nuances of actual music.

Around the corner I find a whole bunch of TV news vans pulled up along the curb. Oh, s**t, this must be the "Zone" where we had several people shot the other night, two fatally. What an effed up thing to happen. One of the girls who was shot goes to my son's high school. She is an exchange student from Ecuador. She caught a bullet in the thigh, but she is going to be okay, physically anyway. They released her from the hospital and she is planning on staying on.

The shooting was a friggin' disaster. Near as I can tell, the shooter wasn't a gun nut, wasn't even a nut case, just an ordinary guy who went off the deep end.

View Larger Map

In the next block was the pub, where SAO's DevSIG was meeting. I stayed for an hour or two, talked to several people, and then walked back to the train station. Took me about an hour and $2 each way, door to door.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Trackpass Raceview

I was talking to Brian Schatz of this morning. He's in the video business, so I mentioned my idea for panoramic video recording. He sent me a link to Trackpass Raceview, a NASCAR production, where "... video gaming meets live racing." It's got to be one of the strangest things I've ever seen. I like going to races, but I go for the extreme auditory experience. There is just nothing like hearing a pack of high powered engines rushing by you at full song, especially if you've had a couple of brewskis. I know there are cars and drivers and teams and big crowds, but that don't really signify. NASCAR racing has become a big production with relentless commercialization and hero worship just like all other professional sporting events. But the sound! That is something you can't get anywhere else!

Cars go fast at Talladega

Update March 2016 replaced video embed code.

Job Hunt

Letter from Anytown, USA:
I realized my new job hunt is not a project to find satisfying work, but rather a game to try to trick people into hiring me.

It became clear after a recent interview. I schlepped down to (some-other-town) to this fancy biotech firm. I didn't like it very much -- kind of pretentious, open-space offices (no privacy), and the bosses seemed real demanding. Nonetheless I thought I had a good shot at the job.

Well, I never heard back, and my reaction was, I got really mad. And my next impulse was to start scouring the ads for someone I COULD trick into hiring me.

This doesn't seem healthy.

During my sabbatical I tried to gain some clarity into what I might "want to do." But I realized I'm doing it: relaxing, keeping up with the news, cooking, doing odd projects, reading, and fiddling with the stock market.

So I guess I'm just a person who is unmotivated and has no vision, but who needs income, and will have to posture and compromise to get something that pays.

I think this describes most workers. But for most people, satisfaction is achieved by buying houses and TV's and clothes and trinkets. So for these people, the work/money contract is satisfactory.

The whole employment exercise affirms this: the emphasis is on trickery -- how to dress, how to banter, the "right" questions to ask -- basically how to manipulate everything you need to, in order to get an offer.

Many employers, too, seem to perversely demand conformity in interviews -- they only want certain pat responses and questions. Which indicates they aren't really interested in your answers, but rather your ability to conform and internalize routine.

Have a great day!
I think that last line is sarcasm. (No! Not really! Is it?)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


I thought I had a pretty good idea of European geography around the Baltic sea. On the West you have Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Poland. On the East you have Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Also, tucked in between Finland and Estonia, you have a small opening to Russia and Saint Petersberg. But now I find there is a small piece of Russia tucked in between Poland and Lithuania that is cut off from the rest of Russia, and that's where you find Kaliningrad.

View Larger Map

Hope for the Brain Dead Record Industry?

In Europe at least someone is trying:

Feargal Sharkey, ex-pop star and now head of the pan-industry body UK Music, has said that he believes 80% of file-sharers would be prepared to pay for a legitimate file-sharing service.

The challenge for the UK music industry was to find a way to "unlock the true potential of digital music", he said at an industry talking shop at the beginning of the year.

From BBC News.

Excellent pen! Some issues...

By Matthew R. Balousek
Chicago, IL USA
10 Dec 2007

Upon receiving my order, I carefully opened the box and dug through the packing peanuts in order to get to the pen contained therein. 'Beautiful!', I thought, and promptly opened up my moleskine notebook to jot down to myself some notes. My previous pen had ran out of ink four weeks prior and I didn't want to splurge on expensive shipping, which meant I had a lot of notes to catch up on writing.

But, when that quality carbide ball touched the surface of the paper, it was not ink that came out. From a distance I heard the screams of men and the cackling of innumerable ravens. I stopped, cold and sweating profusely. I looked down at the Bic Crystal black medium ballpoint pen which I held in my hand, only to see darkness. I dashed it against the wall, recoiling in horror. I saw in the corner of my eye my faithful notebook, which now lay on the ground. Once unmarred, I saw now the small mark which I had made with the devil's own pen. It spread across the page like a plague, and looking at it I gazed upon true horrors. For, what I thought had been ink was in fact a portal to a dark, unforgiving dimension. A portal whose maw was now widening to engulf all hope and joy in the world.

'God, what have I done?' I exclaimed as I weeped and fell to my knees, 'What have I done?'

From beyond the Dark Gate I heard these words, words which I can never forget. A terrible, booming voice said to me, 'Ia! Ia! Cthulhu Fthagn!'

I ran, blindly stumbling, away from that place and never looked back. My only hope is that none shall follow in the path I've walked down, too blinded by hubris to realize my follies.

From via via

Lab Wars

Lab Wars from regcomp on Vimeo. See how many errors in protocol you can detect before they tell you. The last line of the credits at the end is especially good.
Tip of the biosuit hood to Syaffolee.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


All my kids hate math. I am not sure why. I do not think it is because it is particularly difficult for them, though that may be part of the problem. It might be a reaction against their grumpy father who likes to think he is pretty good with math. Both my boys elected to take Statistics instead of Calculus in High School. To my way of thinking, Calculus is what you need if you are going to do real work, like engineering. Statistics is for people who are going to do pretend work, like business administration. Odd how that worked out.

Then I run across this post by Stu Savory, which contains this link to a story about dyscalculia. I would have spelled it without the "i": dyscalcula. It would have been easier to pronounce. The way I figure it, dyscalculia has five syllables, and dyscalcula would have four. Four syllables is plenty. Five and you are just showing off.

Dyscalculia is similar to dyslexia, except that it affects a persons ability to deal with numbers instead of words. It also seems to affect a similar percentage of the population as dyslexia: about 5%.

In regards to Billy Connolly's video rant against math (which Stu posted on his blog). Pbbbbbt! I understand that some people have difficulty with math, and I'm sorry, but I LIKE math, and I use it for something everyday. Mr. Connolly may have some natural talent that makes him a good actor and comedian, but that does not make his opinion on anything else worth a hoot.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Aluminum Cars

I've seen the ads on TV for the Cadillac Escalade, and I have seen them on the street, and I am appalled. They are nothing more than a Chevy Suburban gussied up with chrome, fake fur and gold plating. Here was an opportunity for Cadillac to build something special, and instead it looks like they turned over the design to a salesman.

If they had wanted to make something special they might have thought about making the body and frame out of aluminum. Cut the weight in half, make the ponderous beast manageable, give it a get-up-and-scoot motation to revival some of the hot rods out there.

Or maybe not.

I was looking at a Car & Driver magazine today and they had the results of a long term test on a $100,000 Audi S-8. They had a fender bender with it early on. Cost $30,000 and took five months to get it fixed. They did prang it pretty good, but nobody was hurt and they were able to drive away, but it was leaking coolant.

Seems the body (and frame, which are all one) is made of aluminum, and there is only one shop in all of Michigan that is "certified" to repair aluminum Audis. (Seems that there is only one shop in all of Oregon as well.) Seems there is some kind of contamination issue when you are working with aluminum. You don't want any bits of iron to get in any of the welds, so they have a separate room, and separate set of tools just for working on aluminum cars. At least that's the way I understand it.

It's okay to bolt aluminum and steel parts together, you might get some electrolysis problems with that, but the real danger is in getting iron dust in an aluminum weld. So maybe that's why we don't have aluminum Cadillacs, or any other kind of popular aluminum car.

Drinking & Driving

Mad Dog Summer

One summer shortly after I got out of High School I had three minor traffic accidents, none of which drew the attention of the police. I was hanging out with my n'er-do-well friends and one of our favorite activities was drinking. Mostly we drank beer, three-two beer (3.2% alcohol) as this was Ohio and we were all under 21. Someone must have had a birthday because suddenly we had access to wine, and the most potent wine available was Mogen-David 20/20, otherwise known as Mad Dog, which was 20% alcohol.

Driving the orange and white, 1963 International Harvester Travelall home through a construction site in Newark, Ohio, I managed to center punch an orange 55 gallon drum sitting alongside the left side of the road with my left headlight. Lights out for that light. Driving the red Ford F-100 back from the lake, I pulled up at the curb in front of someones house. There was a telephone pole right next to the curb I pulled up right next to it and as I did I whacked the pole with the right outside mirror. The mirror shattered and the bracket got bent back alongside the cab. Driving the 1967 Buick, I made a left turn onto a gravel road and managed to drop the right rear tire in the ditch which put a crease in the lower right rear quarter panel. That one was the worse, because that was real damage to the body work on the nicest car my Dad owned. The other vehicles were farm trucks and had already collected some nicks and scratches, and the mirror frame, well, it's just a stuck on bit of tubing in the first place. Still, it must have had some impact because I quick drinking Mad Dog.

A year or so later I returned home after spending the summer hitch-hiking across the Western U.S. and I quickly returned to my old ways. A friend of mine and I were riding around in my $150 1957 baby blue Cadillac. We had had a few and I sort of noticed that I was weaving all over the road. I asked my friend about it and he agreed. So I asked him if he thought he could do any better and once again he said yes. So I pulled over and let him drive. He must have done better, because we didn't have a wreck.

John D.

Similar time frame and I was working as a carpenter framing houses. I got a job with a guy I knew. We would drive to Columbus from Granville every day. One day had been extra rough so we decided to pick up a six-pack of beer for the ride home. My co-worker had previously been arrested for a particular nasty drunk driving accident, so we did not want to run afoul of the law. So instead of taking the main road home, we took the quiet backway. Which was fine until we came upon a cop standing in the middle of the road waving us down. So we quickly stuffed the beer under the seats. Seems there had been an accident and the road was blocked. That was a close call.

The nasty accident happened a few years earlier. John had been driving home, blind, late one night. A car going the other way had pulled over on the wrong side of the road. There was another car and some people there and they were standing there talking. John sees the headlights of the car on sitting on the right hand shoulder of the road and wrongly assumes they are in the left hand lane so aims to drive by them on the right hand side. This all happens at 60 MPH. He leaves the road, crosses the shoulder and is in the grass when he passes the car and runs into some of the people standing there. One person was killed outright. His body was torn in two. John was arrested. I have no idea what the sentence was. This was in the early 1970's.

High School Deaths

I knew two people who were killed in drunken automobile accidents when I was in High School. One was John Veetch. an acquaintance from Utica High School. He was driving on the freeway in Newark with three other people in the car when the car left the road. They hit a highway sign 12 feet up in the air. I think John was the only one killed.

The other was Richard Bagley, a friend of mine from Bexley High School (Bexley is a suburb of Columbus). He and some friends had been out riding around in his father's 1967 Chevelle SS 396. Richard decided he had too much to drink, so he let somebody else drive. All I recall hearing about the wreck was that it involved an freeway exit ramp at high speed (100+ MPH).

Sunday, January 25, 2009

"The White Lioness" by Henning Mankell

The White Lioness by Henning Mankell
A provincial murder mystery with international intrigue, conspiracy and some very bad characters. I wrote a bit about this earlier. In the last half of the book I came across a couple of paragraphs that made an impact on me. This book is set in the early 1990's, the period after Nelson Mandela was released from prison, but before he was elected President, when apartheid was on its' way out.

On page 298 Kurt Wallander's old acquaintance Widen tells him about his experience in South Africa.
"The way those blacks were treated. I was ashamed. It was their country, but they were forced to go around cap in hand, apologising for their existence. I've never seen anything like it and I'll never forget it."
On page 308 Kurt is telling his daughter about the first black African assassin.
"I don't know. I sometimes felt I'd made some kind of contact with him. But then he slipped away again. I don't know what he was thinking deep down. He was a remarkable man, very complicated. If that's how you get when you live in South Africa, it must be country you wouldn't want to send your worst enemy to."

A couple paragraphs later, comes this little insight, unrelated to the whole African thing. Kurt's daughter speaks, and he responds.
"That's not what I mean," she said. "I'd like to do something nobody else can do."
"That's not the kind of thing you can plan in advance," Wallander said. "That just happens. When it happens."
There are some things you can do with training and talent that are exceptional, but there are others where you just have to be in right place at the right time and then act on the opportunity.

On page 322 the villain Konovalenko plans his least violent act.
But he also wanted to give Wallander a different picture of the circumstances, something threatening that would leave no doubt as to what he was prepared to do. Cropped female hair smells of death and ruin, he thought. He's a policeman, he'll get the picture.
Women's hair. What a strange thing. Why is long hair so attractive? I can understand that some women cut it because it's a hassle to take care of. Women can be very attractive even with short hair. So what's the big deal? There is something going on here deep in the mammalian brain. Probably any number of graduate theses written about it. I have vague ideas, but none are what you would call outstanding.

Update November 2015. Replaced picture of lioness.
Update December 2016 replaced image of book cover.

Babylon A.D. - Vin Diesel

My brain must have slipped a gear yesterday afternoon: I offered to go grocery shopping with my wife. Madness. As a reward for my suffering I rented a Sci-Fi video that I had noticed at the store the other day. Vin Diesel may not be the greatest actor, but he suits me: he knows when to keep his mouth shut. Kind of like Clint that way.

The movie is supposed to be set in the future, but it really doesn't look too much different from today: perpetual low intensity conflicts, gangs, random violence. When they get to the end of the movie they pull in some stuff that is way out there, but hey, we've already seen the basic story, so if they want to tag this stuff on to the end, that's fine.

There are a couple of things that were pretty well done. One was the high-speed train across Siberia. On the outside it is reminiscent of the French TGV and the armored Soviet trains from a James Bond movie. On the inside it is like any train in a third world country: cramped, dirty, farm animals, cooking, etc. One scene has the train crossing a bridge that has been built over what I imagine is a nuclear bomb crater. No explanation given. Just the way things are.

Another was the refugees scrambling to get aboard an old Soviet nuclear submarine that has just surfaced through the ice. There was a little more artistic license taken here. (I am pretty sure) there is only one manhole in the top of the conning tower, so it doesn't make much sense to drape a net over the side so lots of people can clamber up. You can still only get one at a time down the hatch. But who knows? Maybe people can go down quicker than they can climb up, so the net would actually work by keeping the inbound queue full.

There was a scene of Vin skinning, butchering, cooking and eating a rabbit. I thought that was a fine scene. They didn't go in for a lot of gore, but you got the idea. There was also a shot of a dead dog hanging from something. Once again, no explanation, just part of the scenery.

I won't say anything about the car and helicopter except that it was a clever play on words. I don't think there was a single car chase, though there was a clever shot of a tiny taxi crossing three lanes of busy traffic, but that was just normal taxi operation.

Then we had the snowmobiles zooming across the frozen wastes while trying to avoid destruction by automated drones. Funny thing about automated weapons. If you become a target within their design parameters, you're done for. But if you fall outside the design parameters, machines are just stupid and easy to avoid. Determining just where those limits are is the most dangerous part of the job. In this film, the hero performs some heroic stunts (naturally) of incredible timing and luck and manages to destroy the lethal drones. The stunts are kind of fun to watch, but they are basically unbelievable. If the machines were really that deadly, the hero would be dead. If the machines are stupid, he wouldn't have had any trouble with them and there would have been no need for heroic acrobatics. But, hey, it's a movie, what do you want?

The last thing we had was person specific missiles. We had these a few years ago in another movie starring Tom Selleck, and they were bullets, not missiles. But the same idea. It is programmed to seek out a specific individual. You can point it any which way and it will fly around till it locates the target and then home in on them. Back then it was a little fanciful. Now it is a little more believable.

There is also the big fist fight, and the big gun fight. The gun fight looked like what you might expect from a bunch of punks. Not very professional. But hey, lots of bullets and lots of bodies. I guess that's the effect they wanted, and that's what they got.

Michelle Yeoh acquitted herself admirably in the fight scenes. She was taking the bad guys out left, right and center.

The DVD had two versions of the movie, one on each side. One side was the theatrical release, the other had the unrated version. I Googled a bit to try and determine which one I should watch. I found some quibbling over details, the unrated version is longer, and one person who said the unrated version is better, so I went with the unrated version.

Financial Graphs

Note to Bob:

Since things are looking so grim all around (financially speaking) I thought I ought to take a look at the statement that came in the mail this week. The only part that held any interest for me was the graph of "Sources of Portfolio Growth". At first glance it looked very dire: the value appears to have fallen to near zero. A closer examination reveals that is not in fact the case, it is just the partial scale along the left hand edge that makes it look that way. Using a partial scale makes the graph look really good when things are booming, but on the down side it makes things look absolutely horrible, when in fact there are just awful.

This has been one of my complaints about financial reporting for years. I understand why it is done, and I can understand it when newspapers do it. But I expect better from my broker. I know you guys don't personally prepare the graphs, but you might put a bug in the ear of whoever makes these kind of decisions. And give him (or her) a sharp tug on their ear lobe when you do it.

Update December 2016 replaced missing image.

Car Excitement

My brother down San Francisco way had a little excitement with his Nissan minivan:

I was driving down El Camino this afternoon when I heard a thunk, my tires screeched and the van ground to a halt. Investigating, looks like the right lower control arm snapped, pulled the axle out of the transmission, and the wheel was sticking out at 90 degrees. God knows what else is messed up there. Got it towed to a shop. Awaiting estimate.

Should I be prepared to abandon this minivan?


You might think about how much the van is worth. If the axle isn't damaged, they might be able to just put it back in the tranny, if the tranny isn't damaged. Inner ends of axles on front wheel drive cars ride in slots. Only restraint is on the wheel end, and the axle boot. Axle boots are relatively cheap, but difficult to replace. You made it easier by pulling the axle out (grin).

Usually it isn't the control arms themselves that break, but the pivots at the outside ends: the balls joints. They wear and eventually need to be replaced or things like this happen.

Do you have a mechanic and/or shop you like? With an old vehicle, you need one.


It looked like the control arm was snapped -- damaged earlier, and finally broke. I'll get some pictures if I can. The axle was pulled out and the big CV joint bearings were rolling around on the pavement....Theretically, the labor shouldn't be too bad -- it's all suspension work on the outside. I have no idea what parts may need to be replaced, possibly the control arm, axle, tie rod, strut.....or what those cost. I'll know in a few hours.


Nissan Fixed

Attached are pics of the parts. The ball joint is in its own separate assembly, which bolts onto the control arm. I hadn't seen this but maybe it's common practice. Seems smart, makes replacing ball joints easier.

However it was the flange on this bolt-on assembly that failed. See pic where the flange appears to have been previously cracked/compromised; the blue-outlined area is corroded, and the bright area below was the only thing holding it together prior to my breakdown.

$1000 -- approx. $250 for towing, $750 for parts and labor: control arm, ball joint, tie rod end, axle/CV joint, alignment. I was prepared for much worse. The control arm actually looked OK to me, I don't know that it needed replacing.


Yes, ball joints are typically separate parts from the control arm. Usually they are riveted together. I have never had to replace one. They last a long time. Typically, the mounting holes for the ball joint are arranged around the circumference of the joint, not all cantilevered out on a bracket sticking out of one side of the joint. Bad design, though I suppose if the steel had been thicker it might have been okay. There are bushings on the inside end of the control arm. They are probably worn. It might have been easier to simply replace the entire arm rather than try and replace the bushing. On the other hand, something cracked the ball joint bracket. There could be a crack lurking in the control arm as well. Having it fail in short order after this repair would make the repair shop look incompetent, not to mention costing sometbody another $250 in towing fees. I cannot believe that! $250 for towing? That's a rip. But maybe that's one of the features of living in the People's Republic of CA.

How is the upper control arm and ball joint? How about the other side? Everything else check out okay?


Towing: tow truck came around 4:00 PM. He asked "where you want it towed?" I said, "You know any good nearby garages?" He balks, says "I don't know anyone who'll take it; whereever you take it, it can't be moved once it's off the towtruck."
I said, "Well, take it to your yard, I'll find a shop and have you tow it there."
I walked home and found a shop down the street. I told them I had a van with a broken control arm, it's immobile, etc. They said, "No problem, we'll put a jack under it if we need to move it, we do this all the time."
Called the tow company and asked them to take it to A-1 next morning. They said "Oh, yeah, we do business with them all the time." So apparently the driver was playing possum to accrue some extra tow and storage fees.
So it was $150 for the first tow, $80 for the 2nd. At least they waived the overnight storage. Shop was good -- clean, pleasant and professional, run by a Hungarian, and the actual came in slightly under the estimate.
Things I could have done to lessen the damage: had a AAA policy for free towing; had a local shop on teh cell phone; perform regular ultasonic inspections of frame and undercarriage to detect imminent failures.
Ultra sonic flaw detectors start at $4500 on ebay. I'm ahead of the game!


I know I've run into this before somewhere, but I can't remember where, where the people who know where to go can't give you any recommendations because of the appearance of favoritism. I think it must be government offices, but tow trucks are heavily regulated (meaning they have to buy an expensive license) so maybe the same sort of thing applies. A competitor finds out the driver is recommending some shop and complains and now the tow trucks license is in jeopardy. Or maybe the tow truck driver has gotten burned before by a customer. He recommended a shop and the customer wasn't happy, so now it's the drivers fault. Best just to keep mum.


Update December 2016 replaced missing images.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Friday Forum

As part of my program to change my stripes, I went to the City Club's lunch at the Governor Hotel yesterday. I talked briefly with an older man before the lunch. He told me he comes to these things when there is a good speaker, and he expected today's speaker to be one. The speaker was M. Lee Pelton, the President of Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. He is black, which makes him the third black person I have seen in Oregon. Okay, I exaggerate a bit, but I would not be surprised if blacks (or African-Americans, if you prefer. "Blacks" has fewer letters, making it easier to type.) were the smallest non-white racial group in Oregon. Mexicans, Vietnamese and Koreans we have in plenty. But I hardly ever see any blacks.

His engagement was obviously planned to coincide with President Barrack's inauguration. His speech was well done, though I think he might have been reading it. But his casual remarks before the speech, and his responses to questions afterward were riddled with "uh"s and "um"s.

I don't know if other people notice this sort of thing, or not. I was in Toastmasters for a year and during my first speech I was shocked to hear that I had uttered a plethora of "um"s. My second speech was much better in that respect. All it took for me was to be made aware of it.

If I go back to another City Club function, perhaps I should wear a coat and tie. I caught a couple of strange looks from people there, though now that I think about it, it might have been my hair. I had walked two miles in freezing weather with a knit cap on my head and we all know what those can do for your hair style. There were no mirrors in evidence, at least to Mr. Oblivious, and I did not think to look for one.

On the other hand, I may not be going back to City Club for another reason. Friday's speech was very nice, but it seemed rather vague and empty. It was more of a congratulatory speech: look how far we have come, look what we have achieved, but press onward, we still have a long way to go. I guess maybe I was expecting something more dynamic, but maybe that's not what the City Club is about. I am thinking that perhaps the Club is more about cooperation between disparate groups, and that is something that is very hard to achieve even in the best circumstances. You certainly don't need some rabble rouser yelling "charge".

"Bangkok Dangerous" with Nicolas Cage

We were looking for an action/adventure movie last night so I picked this one up from the local video store. Even though we have cable, I still prefer movies from the local video store. Bigger selection, no ads, no futzing with stupid computer menu systems. And I don't have to plan ahead. I don't know what I am going to do when they close.

I still have trouble getting our DVD player to give the disk back. Once you've loaded the disk, pressing the open button just gives you an empty carousel. Last night it only took two button pushes to get the disk back, so maybe I'm learning.

Anyway, the movie was just OK. Aging stone cold assassin develops human feelings and chaos ensues. Lots of long lingering looks which I suppose were supposed to convey some meaning, but there really wasn't much there. And what was it with his hair? Don't they have combs in Thailand? Geez, even the bums on the street look better than this.

Instead of the car chase they had the hot rod canal boats which reminded me an old James Bond movie (Roger Moore, I think). I really liked the girl from the pharmacy. That's about all I can say for this movie.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Circuit Board Rework

Marc had a tale to tell at lunch yesterday. The company he worked for built a short run of circuit boards to validate a new design. The boards did not work. After some investigation they discovered that eight control lines had been routed incorrectly. Marc, using a microscope, an extra sharp Xacto knife and a very fine soldering iron, and four hours of time was able to fix one of the boards.

So what? you say. Well, let me describe the problem in more detail. Circuit boards, otherwise knows as PCB's (Printed Circuit Boards) or PWA's (Printed Wiring Assemblies) replaced point to point wiring 50 or 60 years ago. Simple circuit boards have a layer of insulating material coated with a thin layer of copper. A design is drawn on the copper, typically using a photographic process. The parts of the copper that are to form the "wires" in the circuit are protected by a masking material. The board is then exposed to acid and the unwanted material is eaten away by the acid. More complex boards may involve multiple alternating layers of insulating material and metal film. Imagine alternating layers of aluminum foil with sheets of paper. That will give you some idea of the thickness of these layers.

The board Marc was working on was six layers. That is, six metal layers alternating with five insulating layers. The whole board was probably no more than 1/16 of an inch thick. The lines ("wires") he had to fix were on the third layer. So he had to cut through two metal layers and two insulating layers to get to the problem. After he fixed the problem, he had to reconstruct the lines from the metal layers he had previously cut away.

The design for this board was derived from a design from an older board. The problem came about because of a flaw in the rules for routing lines in the old design was carried over to the new board. Most lines on a board have very specific endpoints. They go from pin X on one chip to pin Y on another chip.

However, some lines on a circuit board are interchangeable. For instance: the data lines on a memory chip. Typically the eight data lines will be named D0 through D7. Normally you would connect these eight lines to the same lines on the processor. D0 on the memory chip would connect to D0 on the processor, D1 to D1, D2 to D2, and so on. However, this is not a requirement. We don't really care which line on the CPU connects with which data line on the memory chip. As long as the bit comes out on the same line we use to store it, and we don't have any other devices connected to this line, we don't care.

So after the electronic design is done, it is turned over to the layout guy whose job is figure out where to draw the actual lines on those layers of foil in the circuit board. These data lines can be marked as interchangeable, so that if it is easier to route lines using different data bit numbers, it is okay to do so.

The problem was that back when the original design was done, eight control lines had been marked as interchangeable when in fact they were not. Earlier designs had not taken advantage of this error and so they had been routed correctly and the boards had worked. The new design was more complex and the layout guy took advantage of the design rule and swapped these eight lines around. As a result the new board did not work.

Marc did this rework to verify that this was the only problem with the board, and indeed it was. When the rework was complete the board operated properly. They could have just made the change in the layout and made a new batch of boards, but the risk was that the new batch would still not work because of another problem that had not yet been discovered.

This rework was difficult for a couple of reasons. The first is that the change had to be to an internal layer, which meant cutting through the two outer layers and then rebuilding them afterwards. The other problem, and the one that made it really difficult is the size of the lines. After mark had made his "incision" in the board, he pulled it out from under the microscope to look at it, and could not find the spot he had been working on. It was too small to be easily noticed. Going back under the microscope and taking note of the position, he was able to locate the work site. It was smaller than a bread crumb.

To be able to do such fine work, you need a really sharp knife. While an Xacto is plenty sharp for making cuts that are visible to the naked eye, for this kind of work, Marc had to sharpen the Xacto using emery paper. Before sharpening, the blade looked ragged under the microscope. After sharpening, it looked better.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The IBM Selective Sequence Electronic Calculator

History is so random. Here is the world's first computer, and I had never heard of it, at least not until this morning when I stumbled across this post on "The Adventures of Roberta X". From the link:
"The SSEC was visible to pedestrians on the sidewalk, and inspired a generation of cartoonists to portray the computer as a series of wall-sized panels covered with lights, meters, dials, switches, and spinning rolls of tape (click image to enlarge). The SSEC ran at this location from January 1948 to July 1952, when it was replaced by the first-off-the-line 701, IBM's first "mass"-produced computer (i.e. more than one)."
It's also interesting that though I have heard of other machines that were supposed to be the first computers, I don't recall seeing any pictures of them. Of course by that time we were well into the cold war, so all that was probably blocked out in the name of National Security.

This should give you some idea of what a great leap forward this, and how far we have come since:
"It enabled Wallace Eckert to publish a lunar ephemeris ... of greater accuracy than previously available... the source of data used in man's first landing on the moon" [4]. "For each position of the moon, the operations required for calculating and checking results totaled 11,000 additions and subtractions, 9,000 multiplications, and 2,000 table look-ups. Each equation to be solved required the evaluation of about 1,600 terms — altogether an impressive amount of arithmetic which the SSEC could polish off in seven minutes for the benefit of the spectators" [9]."

Utility Bills

I was talking to my brother Andy the other day and it came out that I am paying more for gas and electric for my new-ish, super efficient house in a moderate climate than he is paying for his huge old house in the frozen wastes of the Midwest.

The electric charge is made up of 23 different charges, including Basic ($10) Energy Use (4 separate values), Transmission charge (2 values), Distribution charge (2 values) and Adjustments (14 values for a total credit of $7.04).

That all boils down to 9.2 cents per kilowatt hour.

So either my electricity costs more, which I kind of doubt since we are supposed to have the cheapest electric power in the nation being as it all (or most all) comes from hydro-electric power plants, or I am burning a lot more.

As for the gas, I do not know. We keep the thermostat set at 66 for the upstairs. The basement is heated by a gas fireplace that is also on a thermostat. It is a little vague, so it is hard to say just what the temperature, but it is on the cool side. We also have a gas fireplace that we run in the family room/kitchen that we turn on when we are there. These gas fireplaces are supposed to be something like 90% efficient, so I would not think we are loosing that much by using them instead of the furnace.

So I am wondering what is going on.

A couple definitions are in order here:
  • A Therm is 100,000 BTU's.
  • A BTU (British Thermal Unit) is defined as the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of liquid water by one degree Fahrenheit.
230 Therms at 100,000 BTU each is 23,000,000 BTU. If we have to raise the temperature 23 degrees (say from 43 to 66) we can do it for 1,000,000 pounds of water. Divide by 30 days per month and that is 33,000 pounds of water a day. That is 16 Tons:

So now I am wondering just how expensive electricity is, and in wandering around the internet I found a table which I converted to a Google spreadsheet. I got the data from a government web site. The nice thing about the spreadsheet is that you can sort the data according by a couple of different criteria, like alphabetically by state, or by this years electric rate, or by the amount of change. Mouse over the bar separating the header rows from the data in the column you want to use for your sorting order. The bar will turn orange and the word "Sort" will appear. Click on the little triangle next to the word "Sort" and you will give you a choice of order to use for the sort.

Note on the spreadsheet: It was not difficult to create the spreadsheet, just a couple of points and clicks. The government web site has Excel file you can download, and Google Documents can upload and understand it. I did add a column for percentage change from last year to this, and another column for region. The original spreadsheet has the states grouped according to region. If you do a sort on the original spreadsheet, like I did, you have lost regional affiliation. By adding a column for region, you still know what region that state is affiliated with, and you can also regroup the states into regions. It will not be exactly the same order as the original, but it's close enough for government work.

Note on the video: There does not seem to be any limit to the number of versions of "16 Tons" on YouTube. I picked this one because it hit a chord with me (no pun intended). It : 1) is obviously foreign, 2) is an amateur production, and 3) the small audience really seemed to like it. The words start off being almost unintelligible, but it gets better as it goes along. Makes me wonder if he actually knew the words he was singing, or whether he was just mimicking the sounds, something that is rumored to be common in Eastern Europe. I did not find any versions in a foreign language, which I thought was a little odd. Maybe YouTube is not the place to look for foreign language videos. Tennessee Ernie Ford's version is the original, and the best. When I started this story the only version I could find by Ernie wasn't a video at all, just a single photo. But by the time I finished this story, it was gone: "This video has been removed due to terms of use violation."

Update October 2016 replaced missing image.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Humor is a funny thing, funny as in odd. I can read the funny pages day after day for months on end and never crack a smile, and then one day something will tickle my funny bone and I'll laugh till I cry.

My daughter came home from college for the weekend and we watched three movies together. One supposedly funny, one Coen brothers film, which vary between grim and funny (think "Fargo" and "The Big Lebowski"), and one serious drama. The first two we rented from our local Mom & Pop video store. Probably the last time, they are closing up shop in two weeks.

Tropic Thunder - Ben Stiller. Supposedly funny, and their were some funny bits, but not that great. It was a little confused. On one hand it's satirizing people in the movie business, on the other hand it is replaying bits of the Vietnam era: militray helicopters, soldiers, jungle, violence and Vietnam era Rock and Roll. It was basically ridiculous, and I can see that some people might really enjoy it. Not quite stupid enough for me? A lot of foul language. You remember the old trickle down theory? Well it applys to the language in this film. The guy in charge (played by Tom Cruise. I didn't realize it, the girls had to tell me.) is the most foul mouthed of the lot, and it rolls downhill from there, until you get to the pyro tech who is reduced to swearing at his equipment and his non-English speaking help, both of which ignore him. Jack Black does a revolting bit as a strung out junkie. Tom Cruise plays super-rich, amoral jackass to a 'T'. I think his dancing really says a lot about his character. The best part were the fake movie trailers at the beginning of the movie. Why are farts so funny?

Burn After Reading - Coen Brothers. I've always liked the Coen Brother's movies. They are always a little different. And I appreciate George Clooney. He is handsome enough to play James Bond, but his characters are usually a little flawed. Good reminder that beauty is not always a good indicator of character. Tilda Swinton plays a real bitch, again. Last time I remember seeing her was in "Michael Clayton". George was there, too. I think she's done other stuff, but she is starting to get typecast in my mind. I liked Brad as the empty headed gym instructor. I was shocked and disappointed when ... we'll skip that bit, just in case you haven't watched it. The trailers led me to expect more humor, but it was more grim than funny. You could call it a comedy of errors, except nothing that happened was that funny.

Defiance - Daniel Craig. This is third film I have seen about Jews putting up some kind of fight against the Nazi's in WWII. All three were based on true stories and involved small groups of people, relatively speaking. I am just a little fuzzy on what makes a person look "Jewish", but I am pretty sure Rutger Hauer and Daniel Craig don't fit the bill. How they got picked for these roles I'll never know. I liked this film because, A) the good guys manage some success, and B) it makes a better than average attempt at explaining the situation.

Quantum of Solace - Daniel Craig. Saw this some weeks ago. I think the producers may have lost their way with this one. It struck me as just another action/adventure film. Took itself a bit too seriously. And that hotel in the South American desert? What was that? I think they may have spent more on the explosives to blow it up than they did on building it. Just once I would like to see a realistic car chase. Or maybe I need to read up on car chase stratedgy. Or maybe there isn't any, and I should write a book about it. If you want to take out the other car, why drive on for 20 minutes before you make an attempt? Do it now, before they figure out what they are doing. Ram them, tap them into a spin, whatever, but do something, don't just keep burning screen time. A race is one thing, but if your real objective is to stop your opponent, hoping their car will 1) break down, 2) run out of gas, or 3) run off the road, is a poor choice of inaction.

There were some film noir bits, but I don't recall there being any of the totally over the top kind of fantasy that we used to get in James Bond movies. It is sort of more realistic, but at the same time there are some silly bits. It's kind of like a car being driven by a drunk, it's weaving all over the road. Sometimes it's racing along, and sometimes it's wandering in around in the infield.

Chrysler ME Four Twelve Concept Car

I picked up a model of this car a couple of months ago at an outlet mall. I had been meaning to write something about it, but it never made it to the top of the heap of vital topics that I need to write about. But now Google/Picassa has an embedded slide show, so I don't need to pick and choose which photos to post, I can just dump all 38 on you. Sorry, no photo credits this time. Too many photos, too many sites, I lost track.

I don't know why anyone finds cars like this attractive. I mean, I like it, but what is the attraction? Is it because it is a symbol of power, speed, money? I suppose. Or maybe it's just because it's shiny. In any case these are just a sample of the photos I found. I would not be surprised if more money was spent on pictures of this car than it cost to build the car in the first place.

This car has been around for a year or two. Some of the pictures are of models, most are of the actual car. "Four Twelve" is for (4) turbochargers and (12) cylinders. "ME" stands for "Ministry of Education", as in this car is gonna teach you, bub.

Chrysler, Mitsubishi, Fiat

So it has come to pass that all three of my current vehicles are of the Chrysler/Mitsubishi persuasion. I used to be a GM man, but somewhere along the way I wandered off the reservation. Now via Dustbury I hear that Fiat and Chrysler may be joining forces, or Fiat may be the next sucker to try and rescue Chrysler, however you want to look at it. All of which reminds me of the time I had a Fiat.

Mike came to visit me in Austin (25 years ago, more or less) and came across a Fiat 124 Sedan (below). It was not sexy or cool like the Spyder (above) or the Coupe (left), but it was small, and because it had a blown engine, it was really cheap. Exploratory surgery revealed that the aluminum head had warped causing the head gasket to fail. When he got the head off we discovered that it wasn't warped so much as bowed. The face of the head was bowed up about a half an inch. No way that you would be able to fix it by milling, but Mike tried it anyway. And, no, it didn't work.

He poked around and found an engine from another 124 that could be used. But it wasn't from a sedan, it was from a coupe, so it wasn't the single overhead cam workhorse, it was the double overhead cam racehorse. Made that little tin can run like a scalded cat. It would hit 60 MPH in 2nd gear. But it was still a rattle trap. All of the suspension joints were loose and would need to be replaced which would have meant special order from Italy. I don't remember exactly what happened to it. Perhaps it too wandered off the reservation.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Business Card

Grand Rapids Mike suggests that I exchange "Witch Doctor" for "Minister of Information". I'm going to have to think about that.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Tara & Bella

The last comments by the talking heads are useless, so ignore them, but the rest of it is pretty cool.

Via Dustbury, David (a fellow Portlander) and Best Week Ever. Though this isn't what they were talking about.

Update March 2016 replaced missing video.

The Law Firm from Hell

“Good morning, Avarice, Lechery, Failure and Contempt. How may I neglect your call?”

Stolen from Dustbury.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Commercial Travel Terminals

Design by Committee. That can be the only explanation for why drop-off and pick-up points at airports and train stations are such cluster effs. I can just hear the design committees vague mumblings and their fantasy based logic when they decide which donut they want, er, the design parameters for the next glorious portal to our fair city. I suspect they go out of their way to make using a car difficult "in order to encourage people" to use public transportation. Time is money fools, that's why I am flying, and that's why I am driving to the airport instead of taking the wonderful, but dead slow, cross town train, AKA the "Max". It basically takes twice as long to get anywhere on the Max as it does to drive, even when traffic is really bad.

A couple of weeks ago I took my son to Union Station in downtown Portland so he could catch the train back to school in Eugene. We were a little early so I looked for a parking space and found one in the tiny, congested lot across the street. We walked back to the station and he got in line to get his ticket when I remembered I hadn't paid. Portland has some really vicious tow trucks and parking fines and I didn't want to get snared, so I went back to pay the stupid fee. $3.50 on my debit card. By the time I got back to the station, my son was gone and a few minutes later the train started pulling out.

Okay, I misjudged how much time we time had. I would have been better off dropping him at the curb. But train travel is supposed to be more relaxed, more civilized. We should have had time to chew the fat for a bit before the train left. Well, now I know better, I need to allow more time if that's what I want to do.

Union Station in downtown Portland.

Today I go to the train station to pick up my daughter, home for the weekend. I get there a little early because last time I was a little late. There are like three spots at the curb, and they are all full. Besides, I am early, it would be rude to occupy one of those slots for all this time. So I go looking for a free place to park. I'm still ticked off about $3.50 for nothing. I've got time so I drive, and drive and drive. Union station is in the middle of an urban redevelopment project and every single spot within a mile has a parking meter on it. Never mind that it is Saturday and 90% of the spots are empty. You know as soon as you park without paying some little meter maid is going to be coming by and writing you a ticket.

I eventually find some unmetered spots, but I am a long ways from the station and it's getting to be train time. So I meander back to the station and there's my daughter walking across the driveway. She hops in and away we go.

When I lived in Phoenix we used to fly on American West. They had a pretty good arrangement. They had a parking lot a short distance from the terminal. You pull in, check your baggage right there and then take a shuttle to the terminal proper. You dispense with your luggage, parking and driving all in one fell swoop. Best arrangement I've ever seen.

There are several ways airports and train stations could do a better job of accommodating automobiles.
  1. Automated parking garages. You pull in, check your luggage, your car disappears into the parking machine. You walk to your plane.
  2. Free valet parking. Same as #1 except a person makes your car disappear.
  3. Build a mile of curbside parking for every airliner gate. In order to make your walk to the aircraft reasonable, you may want to make arrange for two, three, four or even more stories.
  4. The terminal does not need to be small. There is no reason to cluster aircraft close together. The flipping runways are a mile long. The terminal building could be that long as well. Shoot, some places, it already is.
The best idea, the one I thought of, is to have numerous slots for cars dropping off passengers. Slots would be side by side separated by sidewalks. Cars would access the slots from a common driveway. A dispatcher would allow a car into the driveway whenever there was an open slot. The sidewalks would extend directly into the terminal building. The slots for the cars would go down an incline and join another driveway one floor down. Big advantage is arriving cars would not be fighting with cars trying to leave. Each car would have it's allocated space. No pedestrians would have to cross the driveways. It would be glorious. It would also be big and expensive, and given the mental capacity of most Americans, too complicated to work. But that's the way I would do it.

Minneapolis / St. Paul Terminal. The blue line is 1.16 miles long.

Update December 2016 replaced missing images.

Failure To Communicate

So I pull up "Bad Dogs and Such" to see what's going on in Iraq and the 2nd thing I see is this:

My immediate reaction is @#$% Iraqi #$%^, etc. In the comments I found this explanation from Abby: I asked my terp when I took it, and he said it was "something like to not shoot the medical persons."

Okay, Gerber had a hard time selling baby food in Africa, because in Africa they put a picture of what is inside the can on the outside of the can. So Gerber putting a picture of a happy baby on the outside didn't really help their sales in Africa. Or so the story goes anyway.

So maybe this is a cultural thing, like everything else about the Mid-East. Black is white, good is bad, stupid is smart.

I don't buy it.

Update December 2016 replaced missing image.

Do, How & What

There are basically three kinds of jobs: Do, How & What. "Do" jobs are basically blue collar jobs, they get the actual work done. "How" jobs are the white collar jobs, engineers and teachers, who figure out how to do the work and teach other people how to do it. "What" jobs are performed by our fearless leaders, or those who just have the financial resources at their command. They decide what is going to be done. Are we going to build cars or steamships? Houses or factories?

There is nothing inherently wrong with beginning rich, though there are certainly enough examples of rich people behaving badly. Having more money at your command allows you to make bigger decisions. If all you have is $5 you choices are pretty limited. Cheeseburger or beer? Gasoline or bread?

The way our market works, if anything in the way of useful is going to be done, some person has to put up their own money to make to it happen. (We'll leave government out of this for now. Though the government does do some useful things, it takes months or even years of wrangling and bungling and fooling around before the results become apparent.) If you want to build big, you need to put up large quantities of money, which means you need to have large quantities of money. Sure, there are promoters who talk other people into putting up their money for some project, but in the end, actual people have to reach into their actual wallets and pull out some money.

What we have seen recently in the financial news is the result of people making a great deal of money, and then looking around for places to invest this money where they can make even more money. They are not interested in actually making anything except money. Problem is that when you get too far removed from making actual stuff it is like flying in the upper atmosphere. Your support is tenuous. Heavy weather comes in and your high flying aircraft gets thrown to the ground. Your fabulous imaginary profits evaporate.

Meanwhile all the stuff on the ground, people, buildings, farms, cars, are still there, still going about their daily lives. Yes, an airplane crashes occasionally, and sometimes it's a real high flyer, but it doesn't have any real impact, unless or course it lands right on top of you, and as we all know the odds of that happening are pretty slim.

Weather comes and goes. Right now it's raining, financially speaking.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Drug Prices

In my continuing low intensity conflict with my sinus infection, the allergist prescribed some Doxycycline, an old time, low cost antibiotic. I picked up a bottle of 60 capsules (50 milligrams each) on Saturday for $6.70. Monday I picked up a bottle of 30 capsules of Adoxa (150 milligrams each) for another member of my family for $105.15. Looking at the paperwork when I get home I find that Adoxa is another name for, wait for it, Doxycycline. What's going on here?

I did a little Googling and I found Adoxa is made by Doak Dermatologics. I also found this page, so I guess I got off easy paying only $100. I think the dermatologist must be in cahoots with the pharmaceutical, er, sleazy, er, respectable marketing company. Of course, most of their customers probably don't care, it's covered by insurance. I only noticed because it's January and all the medical insurance deductibles get reset to zero, so we get to pay full price for a couple of months until the deductibles are satisfied.

While I'm chasing all this down I come across this outfit:
They'll sell you prescription drugs without a prescription. Curious thing is I could find no actual address for the company. Might not even be on this planet.

Update December 2016 replaced missing image.

Capital & Labor

I took the family to Iowa a couple of weeks ago for my nephew Joe's wedding. The held the wedding and the reception in the lobby of the newly restored Orpheum Theater. I look at this place, or any other old, ornate, edifice, and I wonder why don't we build buildings like this anymore? The answer always comes back that it costs too much. Now, how can that be? Our country is richer than ever, we have all this fancy schmancy hi-tech equipment at our beck and call, and all we can build is tilt up concrete boxes and glass sided office buildings? Something is wrong with this picture.

I was talking to my Uncle Ed a few years ago before he passed away and he was talking about his early years in the baking business. He would change jobs at the drop of a hat. It could be something as little as he didn't like the way the boss looked at him that morning, or even for no reason at all, he would walk out at lunch and not look back. Of course, he told me, back in those days (the 40's and 50's) you could walk across the street and get another job.

One of the things you hear on the news and sometimes see in police dramas on TV (and I hear about from my wife), is people worried about their jobs or careers. This is a sad state of affairs. Maybe it comes from being married, but I think it is more about the times we live in. People put up with a whole lot more (horse manure) from their bosses these days than they used to. Everybody is worried about their stupid job. This is a really rotten situation.

So I am trying to figure out why things are like they are and not like they were? Why can't we afford to build fancy buildings anymore? Why is everyone so concerned about losing their job now? What has changed in the last 100 years?

One thing is productivity, or efficiency, which led to a real increase in wages for a quite a while. Hasn't been true for the last 20 or 30 years, but for most of the 20th century in America, it was. Better tools, better materials, better training, better planning allow people to get more done, which means they can earn more money.

Problem with more money is people like to spend it. Instead of saving for a rainy day they go out and buy the new ski boat or house or vacation. If you had socked away half of what you brought home for the last, say, five years, how upset would you be about possibly losing your job? It might not be good, but it wouldn't be an eff-ing disaster like it is for most people.

Of course, you have to be careful where you sock that money away. There are always people looking to make off with your money. Right now I don't know that there are really any safe places to store your money. Saving accounts are not much better than stuffing your cash under your mattress. Stocks are always iffy, as has been recently demonstrated. US Government I-Bonds, maybe. I've got my money in mutual funds and I took a big hit this fall. I think maybe the way to deal with this is hope for the best and expect for the worst. That way if anything short of disaster happens, you are still happy.

Update December 2016 replaced missing image.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cigarettes & Liquor

Twister Liquor Store, Pampatar, Venezuela
At lunch today my friend Marc tells us about liquor pricing in Venezuela. He goes in a liquor store and as you might expect they have three sizes of liquor bottles: small, medium and large. Also, as you might expect, the small bottle is the cheapest, the large bottle is the most expensive and the medium size bottle falls somewhere in between. However, when he (or more likely his wife) checks the price per milliliter he is surprised to find that the small bottle is still the cheapest.

Now this is completely backwards to what we have come to expect in the US. The bigger bottle is supposed to be the "economy" size. By putting liquor in a larger bottle, the producer saves on packaging, and this cost savings is supposedly passed on to the consumer. There was even a bit of a scandal a few years ago when it was discovered that this was not necessarily the case. That is why you seen the price per ounce displayed with prices in grocery stores.

Marc asks the clerk about this, and given the language barrier and all it takes some doing, but eventually he finds out that she is aware of this discrepancy. Their logic down there is slightly different than here. Poor people can only afford to buy the small bottles, so they sell them as cheap as possible. People who have enough money ("rich people") to buy the larger bottles do not mind paying a little extra in order to get one big bottle instead of a bunch of small bottles. So they are paying for the convenience of having the big bottle. Weird.

And cigarettes? In Venezuela there is no such thing as a "carton of cigarettes" or even a pack. Cigarettes are sold individually. I have seen this in some convenience stores here a few years ago. Haven't seen it recently, but I haven't been in one either.

Update November 2016 repaired broken html

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Durn Gun Nuts

Right again. Good story about government in/and our society. Via Tam.

Polish Computing Technique Applied to Text

There is a technique used in computer programming and mathematics called "Polish Notation" which basically involves putting everything in backwards to the way one might normally think, but which happens to work very well for machines and certain kinds of logic. Normally I like to glom onto Polish things because I am at least partly Polish. But this is one idea I have never adopted.

I just figured out this is one of the things I don't like about modern computer GUI's (Graphical User Interface). Anytime you want to operate on text, you have to select the text first, then you select the operation you want to use. This goes against my grain and I have always hated it. For example, working with pen and paper, if I want to highlight some text, I pick up the highlighter and apply it to the text. I don't run my finger over the text and then go pick up the highlighter. Now mentally I have marked the text in my mind, but I can do that on a computer screen as well.

So the "Select Text First" model works well if you want to apply several different things to one piece of text, or if you are experimenting with different effects. But this same thing could be achieved by leaving the last section that was operated on as the current selection until a new section was selected.

The "Select Tool First" would be a more natural model and would be greatly preferred. Using the highlighter for example again. Once I pick up a highlighter, I don't highlight just one phrase, I will continue highlighting until I have no more use for that tool, then I will put it down and pick up another one.

Spring in January?

Must be, there's goose poop on the back window.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Air Travel Notes

Miscellaneous observations from our recent flight to Iowa. More evidence that air travel is the very peak of technology and the very pit of civilization.


I have an aluminum watch, aluminum case and bracelet. Used to be I could wear it through a metal detector and it would not set it off. This time it did. Of course it could have been in combination with my belt buckle that triggered the alarm, but taking the watch off is easier. Belt buckle alone did not set off the alarm.

Annoying unattended luggage announcements. We are in the secure section of the airport. All the bags were supposed to have been checked. Why are we being subjected to these stupid announcements over the PA (Public Address) system?

At the gate there is black woman with two crying children. The crying sounds like they are acting, not hurt, or scared. Perhaps each one was trying to cry louder than the other. The mother did not look too happy. I offered her a smile, which she returned. I've been there. Father shows up and she tells them they've been fighting.

Flight attendant giving the "buckle your seat belt" instructions had a very thick accent and/or a speech impediment. It's bad enough we have to listen to these stupid safety instructions every time we get on a plane. Now they are making them incomprehensible as well.

Flight was not full. Out of 21 seats I could see from where I was sitting (3 and a half rows), 8 were empty.

Pilot told us flight would be 2:33. It took 3 hours.

Minneapolis - St. Paul (MSP)

Clear and cold at MSP. Land and sit on runway, they've changed our gate. We get to the gate and it takes a long time before people start getting off. I don't know what the hold up was. For some reason having to wait after we have landed is the most annoying. We have over an hour here before the hopper (twin engine turbo prop) takes us to Fort Dodge (Iowa). This is good as the boarding gate for the hopper is a long way off, relatively speaking.

T3 Mobile Defender from Lamperd Less Lethal
As we are walking through the terminal we see a police tricycle. Looks kind of like a Segway, but it's a trike. It appears to be driven standing up.

There is an automated train that takes us part of the way, and after we get off the train there are a series of moving sidewalks. The train worked very well. Much better than the one I rode in Dallas maybe ten years ago.

On the way we went by the world's largest parking garage. Well, it looked that way to me. Ten stories and a half a mile long, maybe?

The Humphrey Terminal SRF Consulting
We finally get to Gate A-9. There are maybe a dozen seats there and most of them are filled. Well, now we know where it is, so we go look for something to eat. There is a small food court three slidewalks back. There are three or four food vendors and some tables. Most of the tables are full, but I managed to secure a double with four chairs. There are crumbs on the table from the previous visitor. I look around for cleaners or cleaning supplies, but find nothing, not even napkins. True, I did not look very far. But I did find some napkins in my pocket and used them to sweep the debris off the table and into my hand, which I dutifully carry over to the trash can. Three people get sandwiches from Quiznos. Anne shares her sandwich with me. Kathryn has some left over, buy it is less than half and I have already had enough. I don't like to eat too much when I am flying, it gives me grief.

There is a young couple there with small children. The wife is speaking harshly to the kids. The father is wearing a ball cap with BERETTA written across the front. I'm surprised they let him through security.

Burger King does not have milkshakes here. Bummer.

On the whole trip there were only three annoying cell phone talkers, and they quickly shut up. No, I didn't growl, or even glare at them. MSP has a "cell phone area", for people to talk loudly on their cellphones, I imagine. Good idea, if it works.

I'm looking for a restroom but all I see are "Companion Care" rooms. I open the door on one, but I decide against it for some reason. But now my hand is sticky. When I finally find a restroom I go to wash my hand and it is cover with black stuff. I have to wash my hands twice to get it all off. I got this from just touching the door handle on the "Companion Care" room.

The paper towel dispenser was missing it's knob. It was one of those with the lever you pull down to unspool a short length of paper. On the end of the lever there is supposed to be a plastic knob which is easy to grip. This one was missing, leaving me with having to push on the narrow edge of the sheet metal lever. Grrr!

The attendant at Gate A-9 has a big black mole on her face. I wonder why people put up with these things. Maybe the cure is worse than the disease. I suppose they are used to it. Maybe it doesn't bother other people as much as it bothers me. I wonder if it would bother me if I knew her.

They have an abbreviated Jet-Way that leads to the door. The last time I was here we had to walk out across the tarmac to the plane. The hood at the end of the Jetway does not completely seal against the fuselage. It leaves a gap a foot or two tall. Along the side of the Jetway there is container with shelves to store your "checked" baggage. While we are standing in line to board the plane the door to the container slams shut with a big bang. The "container" is an elevator that takes the baggage down to the ground and the baggage handlers.

Hopper (short range turboprop aircraft)

The plane is a Saab-34. The doorway into the airplane is not very tall and Anne bumps her head. Loading seems to go very slowly, especially since there are only a dozen or so passengers. There are two seats on the right hand side of the aisle and one on the left.

The engine nacelles seem enormous considering the relatively small size of the props. The props have four blades and look to be about 12 feet in diameter. The inner half of the leading edge of the props appears to have some kind of rubber coating, anti-icing system, I assume. The nacelle looks to be about five feet tall, 12 to 15 feet long, and two or three feet wide. The air intake under the prop looks to be about 6 inches by 12. The exhaust looks to be about 12 inches in diameter. The nacelle also holds the main landing gear.

When the engines start up I can see where the blades are spinning. The outer tips are marked by yellow. The spinning circle shifts up and down by fractions of an inch. Once we are at cruising altitude I can no longer see the outer parts of the blades. I can still see a smear where the inner parts of the blades are.

I watch six airliners land while the hopper is taxiing prior to takeoff. The come in one after another, alternating on parallel runways. We have to cross one of these runways and we do so at a good clip.

On the way to Fort Dodge (Iowa) I see numerous power generation windmills. I couldn't count them all. 50? 100?

Iowa is flat. The whole Midwest is flat. Flat as a pancake clear to the horizon. As seen from an airplane anyway. From a bicycle it's a different story.

Saw what looked like some kind of ice fishing camp on a frozen lake. Tried to get a better look and the whole place erupted in a cloud of smoke, or snow. Look again and all the "smoke" is gone. Shift my head and it's back. Oh, it's craze or scratches on my window. There isn't any smoke. It really fooled me for a second. Amazing.

Fort Dodge

Driving through Fort Dodge on a four lane concrete road and in half a mile I only see maybe ten cars.

On our way out of Fort Dodge, I see a couple of railroad gondolas equipped with big yellow snow plow blades. Makes for a quick way to get a snow plow. Just hook up an engine behind the gondola and push.

Just down the road we drive on a bridge over a good size river. There are automobile tracks going up and down the ice.

Update December 2016 replaced missing pictures. Minneapolis parking picture is not the original.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Arab Airbus Crash

A little over a year ago an Airbus airliner was damaged (destroyed?) during a delivery checkout. A friend forwarded an email to me today that contained a story and some pictures. The story blamed the stupidity and arrogance of the Arab crew for the disaster. As much as I would like to believe that story, I thought I would try to verify it. The best explanation I found was on, and the most damaging piece of evidence is that the person in the left hand seat (the captain's seat) was a member of the Arab flight crew. That's enough for me, safe here in suburbia. Another nut-job Arab screwing things up.

I remember hearing another story, a long time ago, about involving a jet fighter being sold to Saudia Arabia. Some inconsequential warning light came on in the cockpit during flight, and the Arab pilot panicked and bailed out and the $16 million jet aircraft went into the sea. I imagine if I dig around enough I could probably find the story, and possibly some basis for the story. But the truth or falsity of the story does not really matter.

I suspect that most Moslems and most Arabs are reasonable people. But it only takes one nut-case to paint an entire nation/class/race of people as incompetent/stupid/irrational.

While we are on the subject of race, you might want to read the following paragraph. I found it in my son's homework assignment.
Although the wonderful developments of human history teach that the grosser physical differences of color, hair and bone go but a short way toward explaining the different roles which groups of men have played in Human Progress, yet there are differences–subtle, delicate and elusive, though they may be– which have silently but definitely separated men into groups. While these subtle forces have generally followed the natural cleavage of common blood, descent and physical peculiarities, they have at other times swept across and ignored these. At all times, however, they have divided human beings into races, which, while they perhaps transcend scientific definition, nevertheless, are clearly defined to the eye of the Historian and Sociologist.
If this be true, then the history of the world is the history, not of individuals, but of groups, not of nations, but of races, and he who ignores or seeks to override the race idea in human history ignores and overrides the central thought of all history. What, then, is a race? It is a vast family of human beings, generally of common blood and language, always of common history, traditions and impulses, who are both voluntarily and involuntarily striving together for the accomplishment of certain more or less vividly conceived ideals of life. (W. E. B. Du Bois, “The Conservation of Race” 1897)
So much for hi-brow meditations. Here's some pictures of the wreck. The first one is from