Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cost of Driving

We thought that sending our youngest to the local community college would save us some money. This commuting business is making me wonder if it is worthwhile. Trimet, our glorious transit overlords, want people to take the bus, so somehow they talked PCC (Portland Community College) into restricting the size of their parking lots. Make it difficult to find a place to park and perhaps people will be more inclinded to take the bus. So I sat down and looked up the bus route.

According to Trimet's calculations, it will take 84 minutes to get to the Rock Creek campus of PCC. They figure people walk really slow (1.8 MPH) and they don't count the time between arrival and the time class starts. According to my calculations, he would have to leave 100 minutes before class starts in order to get there on time. That is an hour and forty minutes. If he drives, it takes him 20 minutes to cover the 12 miles.

Figuring 55 cents per mile (the IRS business rate), that comes to $6.60. The bus fare is $1.50. So driving costs an extra $5.10 but saves an hour and 20 minutes each way. That comes to $3.80 an hour, which is less than half the minimum wage. Of course jobs are few and far between, so maybe $3.80 an hour is a good deal.

On the other hand, you could use the IRS's rate for charity work which is only 14 cents a mile. In that case, the excess cost is only 18 cents, and the rate at which you are saving is only 13 cents per hour.

So we buys kids books, send them to school, tell them to study hard, and then we tell them their time is only worth 13 cents an hour? I think there is something wrong with this picture.

Quote of the Day

Heard on Law & Order the other night:
Good liars make good actors.
Or was it:
Good actors make good liars.
Same diff. You watch enough Law & Order and you begin to recognize some patterns, like Detective Green getting a cell phone call in the middle of an interview and telling Lenny they've got to go for some reason, and they hurry off stage. Or the knock on the door when they have a suspect in interrogation. But the characters who aren't regulars are played by some good actors. They do a good job of confusing the issue. Who's lying? Who's guilty? But after a while you begin to notice subtle clues, like that person's response was slightly off, or the camera lingers on someone a fraction of a second too long, and a half hour later you find out you were right! I knew that so and so was no good!

Of course, the guys who are making this show all know this ahead of time, so it's interesting that they can make the clues subtle enough that they don't stand out, but people are still able pick up on them. That they are able to do this week after week and year after year makes me suspect there is more engineering going on than art.

I saw one episode last week that I think was really old because the timing was way different. The lapse between scene changes and the delays between people speaking were slower, or just different. We are talking fractions of a second here. It was interesting to watch.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Spider for the Day

I think this is the same guy I saw on the basement stairs a week or two ago. The basement's okay, the kitchen not so much. I sent him outside.

I figured out a way to get better closeups: bump up the resolution on the camera (10 megapixels gives you an image roughly 3000 pixels square) and then take the picture at a distance that will get you a clear image. Then when you have the image on the computer, pick out the portion of interest using the cropping tool. Presto, real clear, and pretty close. The dimensions of the image here are only about 1/3 the size of the cropped image, which are only about 1/3 of the original. (The file size of this image is just over 20KB, the original is over 900KB.) Clicking on the image will take you to the full size cropped image, where you can see every hair on his (her?) legs.

Update March 2016 replaced missing picture.

Active Suspension

Going around a corner on a two lane blacktop highway, I got to thinking about suspension and roll and thought why don't we have active suspension that will tilt a car into the corner? I mean we know how to build all kinds of electronic and mechanical gizmos, active suspension shouldn't be that difficult. Shoot, I read an article in a car magazine some umpteen years ago (umpteen decades you mean, old man) about how Lotus had developed an active suspension to help with rough roads. The rear suspension on the car was controlled to follow the lead of whatever bumps the front wheels encountered. It made it possible to travel a rough road at a much higher rate of speed. And that was the last I heard of it.

It turns out some people have been working on it, it just hasn't made it to the mass market. Hmmm. I smell a conspiracy here.

Beer, in Green Bottles

After a long dry spell, I've taken to having a beer or two occasionally. My preference seems to run toward imports in green bottles: Beck's, St. Pauli Girl, Stella Artois, Heineken & Tsingtao. They all taste similar to me, and very different from most other beers. So I am wondering if these beers really are similar, or whether I am just seeing green.

Update January 2017 replaced missing image.

Chain, Chain, Chain

Andy connects a couple of dots:
Trader Joes is owned by Theo Albrecht owner of Aldis. 9th richest guy in the world.

Friday, September 25, 2009

New PSU Building

Something else I noticed. New building for PSU, almost complete, two large rooms, three stories tall. I would like to think they are for high-energy physics experiments (increase the voltage! Turn up the power! Bwah ha ha ha ha!), but it's probably some kind of airy gathering room so people don't feel so confined. Bah, ignorant fools, they don't know what they are doing.

New PSU Building
More Photos Here
Update January 2017 replaced slideshow with picture and link to album.

Bad Design

I was walking around downtown last night and I came across this fine bit of work. I noticed it because of the warning sign on the people door. If it hadn't been for that I wouldn't have thought twice about it. I would like to think there was a good reason for this, but I'll be darned if I can figure out what it is.

What we have here is a large sliding grill that allows cars in or out, and a smaller door for people to go in or out. Problem here is that the big door slides across the opening for the small door. The sign on the people door warns them to watch out for the big sliding door. No kidding. My problem, and I admit it's a personal problem, it why they didn't put the person door on the other side of the opening where the sliding door doesn't go? I looked for something in the situation that would prevent this and I didn't find one. Matter of fact, it looked like it would have been more logical to put the small door on the left hand side of the opening.

Update January 2017 replaced missing picture.

Duff's Garage

I stopped off here yesterday evening just to check it out and I found these two guys wailing away. They were impressive. I didn't get their names. They were called in at the last minute because the scheduled show got sick. The audio on this clip doesn't really do them justice. I just used my pocket camera.

The guitar man had an impressive array of sound effects pedals.

Update March 2016 replaced missing picture.

Sex Abuse? Or Abuse of Power?

I read a story in the Oregonian today and it got me all kinds of P.O.'ed. Two people, a man and a woman, were convicted of sex abuse of a minor and sent to jail for five years. Well, you say, they got off easy, perverts like that shouldn't ever get out of jail. Then I read the description of the abuse:
Her crime, according to the Supreme Court ruling, was bringing the back of a boy's head in contact with her clothed breasts in a room of 30 to 50 people for about one minute.
Buck touched the clothed buttocks of a 13-year-old girl who was sitting next to him fishing. When the girl stood up, Buck brushed the dirt off the girl's shorts with two swipes of his hand.
WTF? This is sex abuse? I don't think so, it doesn't even sound sexual, must less abusive. Of course this was a newspaper report and we know how newspapers twist things. Still, if this report has any bearing on the reality of situation, there is something very wrong with our criminal justice system. Whoever brought the original charges should be run out of town of a rail. Tar and feathers wouldn't be out of order either.

I know, I shouldn't read the newspaper, it just gets me upset. Probably gonna kill me one these days when one of their stories sends my blood pressure through the roof. If I was prone to hearts attacks, or if I had high blood pressure. Reading these kind of stories makes me want to go out and eat some salt.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

New Music

Whenever I go anywhere with my son in the car, he brings along his iPod and plugs it into the car stereo and I get to hear what he's listening to. That's how I found out about Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Yesterday there was a song by A Place To Bury Strangers called Keep Slipping Away. I try to look it up on net and I find that it is from an album that hasn't been released yet. Hmmph. Once again the weakness of my pirate-fu is exposed. So how did John get a copy? From a friend? How did he get a copy? Unknown. Maybe the song was accidentally leaked? Naw, who would want to generate buzz before an album's release date? That would be unethical, or brilliant, depending on where you stand on ethical dilemmas, er, marketing opportunities.

I thought I posted a video of these guys once before, but I can't find it now, especially since Blogger's search function has died.

Plastic Screw Threads

One of the last steps on the Sebring blower repair was tightening the screws. The two screws that held the resistor were self tapping. The came out really easily, and once I got them in the hole they start to go in pretty easily, but then they quickly become more difficult to turn. Now I could just keep turning them, but I've been down this road before and I know it is going to take some serious oomph. They haven't engaged the old grooves, they are starting to cut new ones. I am tired of fighting with this thing and the last thing I need is to have to exert myself in these cramped quarters. So while keeping an upward pressure, I very carefully back the screw out until I feel a little click. That's when the screw finds the original thread. Now it screws in easily. Worked the same way for the other one, too.

Now we need to put the hush panel in. I took out the floor mat to get rid of the plastic chips from my grinding, and removing that half inch or so of extra thickness made putting the hush panel back much easier. Hold it upside down at about 45 degrees with the back edge up and forward. Slide it up under the bottom edge of the dash. Now swing the front edge down, forward and finally up into position. Now all we need is one nut to secure it.

This nut came off in my fingers, but try as I might I cannot get it to screw on using just my fingers. Finally I resort to a 5/8" socket and ratchet. That works fine until the ratchet bottoms out on the plastic stud. I pull the socket off and then slide it back on about half way so it is resting against the detent ball. It is not secure, or very strong, but it is good enough for this problem and it gives me enough clearance to tighten the nut all the way down. I was surprised at how much force it took. It was only a stamped sheet metal nut screwed onto a plastic stud. They probably just pressed it on at the factory.

Update: see Part 1 & Part 2.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

2001 Chrysler Sebring Blower Resistor, Part 2

Who'd a thunk it? I mean all I had to do was plug in the connector, slide the resistor into the duct, and put in a couple of screws. Five minutes tops, right? Foolish boy. You forgot to sacrifice your knuckles when you started this project and now you will pay.

The connector goes on okay, but the resistor won't slide into the duct. The photo shows why. You can't see it directly, only by using the display screen was I able to aim the camera to get this shot. The slot is only half wide. That works fine for the original, authentic Chrysler resistor, but the off brand one from NAPA is a different critter. It has half a dozen pins sticking out back side, sticking out just enough to prevent it from sliding in easily.

I try carving away at the obstruction with my pocket knife, but the plastic is really hard, and I cannot really see what I am doing. So I get out the Dremel tool and an eighth inch drill bit and proceed to grind away at the offending obstruction. That works fine and then zip, the drill bit vanishes. Where'd it go? Near as I can tell it got sucked up into the duct work. The high speed and the spiral grooves conspired to pull it out of the collet. Put in another drill bit. Tighten the collet, against all that is holy, with pliers. More grinding and we are good to go. Except for that missing drill bit. I dig up a magnet and poke around in the hole, but no go. Insert the resistor.

All we need now is the two screws. They came out easy enough, it should be easy enough to get them back in. No, it's not. Normally in an upside down situation like this, I would put the screw through the hole in the resistor, hold it place with a nutdriver and slide the whole thing into place. But that's not working here. I'm lying across the door sill with my head on the floor so I can see the general area. My arms are folded up in front of me, and I have a rug burn on my left elbow. The drop light won't stay pointed in the right direction and I am having a devil of a time getting the screws into the holes that I can't see.

Just then my wife drives up and asks me what I'm working on. I'll be lucky if she let's me in the house tonight.

I eventually got the screws in, and the new resistor has apparently fixed the problem with the blower, now all I need is to replace the hush panel and the glove box, vacuum up the debris and pick up my tools. When I turned the fan on high I heard the drill bit rattle in the vent.

Update: see Part 1 & Part 3.

Update January 2017 replaced missing pictures.

Email Hijacking

Shortly after darling daughter left on her grand adventure, we got an email from her telling us she was stranded in London and to please send her some money. It was obvious it wasn't from her, somebody had obviously hacked her account and were using it to scam the unwary. My first thought was the North Koreans: following their fearless leader's advice and uncanny leadership abilities, they had contrived to break into the Yahoo email server and were targeting my daughter's account. Then I did a little more checking and realized that the world is full of hackers who are into this kind of thing, so maybe it isn't the North Koreans. (No Mr. President, I think we can call off nuclear retaliation.)

Then I did a little more checking and I realized she had probably used someone else's computer to access her account, and that computer was infected with spyware! OMG! Freak out! Run in circles, scream and shout! Download Spybot Search & Destroy and run a scan, ASAP!

Monday morning I finally got around to talking to one of the people in charge of this expedition and he put a completely different spin on it. He tells me that kids often forget to log out after accessing their account on a computer in an internet cafe. Someone came along after her, saw her account was still open and made up a this message on the spot, just for amusement's sake. I don't think they really expect to get any money from it. The address they put in the message does not seem to be valid. Maybe I'll send them a note and see if it gets returned.

Wake Up

I go to the car wash this morning. The car isn't that dirty, but the front wheels accumulate brake dust and they get kind of grungy looking. Next stop is the gas station. I see the attendant cleaning someone else's windshield. Now he's coming over to my car. I am hoping he is only coming to check on the gas, but no. Before I can stop him, he's cleaning my already spotless windshield. Probably leaving soap suds all over the side frames. I just hang my head and cry.

I stop at the grocery store to pick up a couple of things. I get to the checkout and there is only one cashier on duty and there are three or four people in line. Am I not living right or something? These are like the only people in the store and they have all managed to arrive at the checkout line just before me, even though they have probably been there for hours. Okay, I am putting a negative spin on the situation. Still, it's like the grocery store god hates me.

I am prepared to be patient, but the checker is not. She puts in a call and the manager comes trotting up to the front of the store and opens a second check-out line. That's one reason I like Hank's.

The total comes to $20.05. My pockets are empty except for the cash I got from the ATM. I'm getting ready to break a second $20 to cover the nickel when the guy behind me in line offers me a quarter. He has a whole handful of them. So maybe today is going to be alright after all.


I like waffles, not enough to make them from scratch, but I like eating them. Home made waffles hot from the grill are great, but frozen waffles, hot from the toaster are good enough, and there isn't much in the way of clean up. The one thing I don't get though is why there are two kinds of frozen waffles. There is your "homestyle" and then there is your "buttermilk". In all my years of eating these things I have never noticed any difference. Of course, I have never run a side-by-side comparison test. I'll get two out of a box, toast 'em, and eat 'em. And they taste like waffles, whether they are "homestyle" or "buttermilk".

So if you can tell the difference, you can call yourself a connoisseur, of waffles anyway.

They are pretty cheap, too. I bought five boxes of ten this morning for $2 each. That's 20 cents per waffle. That's pretty good when the smallest denomination of useful currency is a buck. The waffles were Western Family brand, not Eggo, but that is fine with me.

Update January 2017 replaced missing images.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Library Thing

I don't know about Library Thing. Every time I try to use it to add a book it seems I have to turn around three times to get it to work. First time I search it finds the book, but when I try to add it, it tells me I'm not logged in. So I log in. Now I have to re-enter the search. Now it can't find it because it's looking in my library. I know it's not in my library you nit-wit, I want to add it! Poke around until I finally find the search-the-world page. Enter the ISBN number a third time. Now it wants me to select an information source. I already did this once, my selections are listed right there at the top. Why are you asking me again?

This is a free service, but only for a limited number of books. The way things are going, I am not going to be subscribing.



Audrey Tautou in front of Buda Castle
So Jack & I stop in at Post Hip after lunch today, and I'm looking through the murder mysteries and I pick up Cobblestone by Peter Lengyet. There's a blurb on the back: "... until the story returns full circle to Buda and Pest." What!?!?! Is this some kind of joke? I've heard of Budapest, but I've never heard them referred to as separate cities. Jack assures me that is the case, kind of like Minneapolis-St.Paul. Two cities, on opposite sides of the river, one metropolitan area. Kind of like Portland-Vancouver, except nobody ever says that. Maybe because there are only two bridges across the Columbia in the metro area, and both of them are interstate highways.


Viviana Vasadi, Pest, Hungary
I did not find a map that showed the two cities as being separate entities, but I did find these two girls. Whether they reflect the character of their respective cities will take more research.

Update September 2016 replaced missing pictures, added captions.

Quote of the Day

"And curse Sir Walter Raleigh, He was such a stupid get."
John Lennon, in "I'm so tired", via Dustbury.

This line was in one of Mr. D's posts the other day, and it drove me to distraction trying to figure out what the heck he was talking about. See the comments for an explanation.

A Day At The Races

John started at PCC (Portland Community College) today. I went with him. He had dutifully obtained a parking permit ahead of time, and we arrived 30 minutes in advance of his first class. We then spent half an hour cruising around the various parking lots looking for a place to park. There wasn't any. I ended up just dropping him off. That was fine for today, but what good is a parking permit if there aren't any parking places?

These are some fancy parking lots. They have little medians and dividers with trees and shrubs, and all the spaces are clearly marked, and there are plenty of spaces for the handicapped, most of which were empty.

View Larger Map

You know, I don't understand this. What is it with the little bits of landscaping in the parking lot? Whoever thought that was a good idea? Oh, occasionally you can find a shady spot under a tree, but more likely you will find a bird using the tree a rest stop, or the tree will be dripping some kind of corrosive sap on your car. Or you want to get out of your car, or cut across the parking lot on foot, and your way is blocked by some stupid bush.

There is a requirement that a certain percentage of the land area of any project must be devoted to landscaping, and I can understand that. I like trees and bushes as well as the next neanderthal, but I think there is a better way to deal with it. How about carving off a corner of the lot and making a little park out of it, something people could actually use and enjoy, rather than these little decorator bushes stuck up in the middle of parking lots, taking up space and annoying me?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Wild, Wild Hair

Seen at Costco this afternoon.
Update January 2017 replaced missing picture.

2001 Chrysler Sebring Blower Resistor

The vent and the A/C only seem to work when the fan is on the high setting. A little Googling points to the blower resistor as being the likely culprit. I pull out the glove box to see if I can locate this animal. I find one electrical connector plugged into some dohickey mounted in the duct work, but it only has two wires. I sign up for a weeks worth of Mitchell on-line repair manuals ($12) and it tells me to remove the "hush panel". It doesn't tell me where the hush panel is, or how to remove it, just get 'er done. I do a little poking around and there is a soft panel under the dashboard between the dashboard and the firewall above the footwell. I suspect we are dealing with the passenger side, that's usually where you find the heater. I feel around and there is a nut that I unscrew with my fingers. The panel is now loose, but it doesn't want to come out. I wrestle with it a bit and with a little bending I manage to extract it. It doesn't seem any the worse for wear.

Oh, look! Wires! And there is a big fat connector with five wires plugged into duct work. All we have to do is get this sucker out. Tugging doesn't work. A little flashlight and mirror work and I discover there is a red locking tab on the back side of the connector. I tug on it, it doesn't want to move. Look for advice on how to undo this expletive, Google returns nothing, E Auto Repair returns nothing. More flashlight and mirror work. Oh, look! A screw head! Try the quarter inch nut driver, too small. My 5/16 nutdriver is missing, so I pull out the quarter inch square drive set. Put a 5/16" socket on the mini breaker bar and use it like a nutdriver. Surprisingly the screws come out. They weren't that tight. And they were two of them in diagonally opposite positions.

The resistor comes out, a flat, black panel about two inches square, still connected to the wiring harness. Now I can get a grip on the locking tab and it slides up about 1/8" and clicks. Tug on the connector. Nothing. Resort to trying to force the connector apart using pliers. No luck. Tug on the red locking clip, it comes completely out. Oh look, there is one of those devil hook & slot latches. I slide my pocket knife between the hook and the slot to separate them. I still have to use the pliers to separate the connector, but at least now it comes apart. I swear the guys who design these things go to a school run by the devil.

Update: see Part 2 & Part 3.

Update January 2017 replaced missing pictures.

Quote of the Day

"In order to be happy, Nelson, you need three things ... something to do, something to love, and something to hope for."
From Pickles, by Brian Crane, grandfather Earl talking to his grandson. Pickles isn't the greatest comic in the world, but it's not bad, and as for the life advice, it's not bad either.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Restaurant Dream

This only significance of this dream is that it was fairly vivid and I remembered it well enough to write it down.

I was working in a big seafood restaurant. It was a stand-alone building in the corner of a shopping mall parking lot. The building was roughly circular with about ten identical, repeating facades. Each facade was made of vertical pilings (like old telephone poles). In the center of this wall of telephone poles there was a big aquarium, (kind of like a lobster tank) flush with the outside, recessed into the building. The pilings were of uneven height, but tending towards higher on the left hand side (the viewer's left). At the top left hand of this wall of pilings there was a white neon sign that said something like "Ivar's", but it wasn't Ivar's, it said something else. The overall color was brown, like partially weathered telephone poles.

So there are about ten of these facades covering the outer wall of this roughly circular building. In front of each facade there was a deck, like an old wooden pier. As you move to the left, each facade and accompanying deck are at a slightly higher elevation, maybe a foot or so. Between each pair of facades is a dark space. There might be an entrance there.

Inside there were a series of dining rooms (one per facade) that would each hold a few dozen people. I rushed in thinking I was late for work, but the floor was empty and the crew was just starting to set up. The crew leader said he would fix it (evidently I was late, but not seriously late, just a few minutes). There were chairs piled at the back end of the room, and there was a stage at the front end. No sign of the aquarium.

The place had been there for a while, the asphalt in the parking lot was old and worn, but still in good condition. Next to the restaurant there was a patch of woods, maybe a couple of hundred feet square. It stood between the restaurant and a big intersection.

Note: Ivar's is famous seafood restaurant/tourist trap in Seattle, on the waterfront.

Update January 2017 replaced missing picture.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


I put "Witch Doctor" on my business card because when I try to tell people about the kind of work I do their eyes glaze over. It may as well be Voodoo. Most people don't seem to have any understanding of it. I got to thinking about this a while back and it occured to me that anyone with any kind of technical job, meaning a job where you are working with things instead of people, is going to have all kinds of specialized knowledge about their work, most of which is not going to be of any interest to anyone outside the field. So maybe we are all Witch Doctors in our own professions.

Then I came across web page where another programmer was making the same sort of lament. So know I wonder, maybe it isn't just that it's technical, maybe it's a special kind of technical that most people just don't understand, or maybe you need a certain amount of training to understand it.

I "played" clarinet in school, and later graduated to saxophone, but I never really learned to play it. Oh, I knew all the fingerings for all the notes, and I could get it to make musical sounds, but I never really "got it". I never heard what I was playing as music, I never learned to play by ear, and when I got out of high school I dropped it and never looked back.

My son picked up a guitar a few years ago and kind of dinked around with, but about a year ago he started playing a lot more and now he can sit down with it and just play, without any written music, or tapping his foot for the beat or anything. I think that's called talent.

When my daughter was on the dance team in high school there was one girl who was much better than any of the others. I never noticed the difference, but that's what everyone told me. She has gone on to great dance things or some sort. Natural ability, also called talent.

When I hear I musicians talking, it holds no interest for me. They are talking about stuff that doesn't seem to be worth discussing. So maybe that's what it is like with programming. You take a natural talent and mix it with some training and experience and you get something that people without that talent cannot understand.

Hammond Novachord

Hammond Polyphonic Synthesizer
Sounds can be very subtle, never mind that my son's guitar being played through a Death-By-Audio special effects pedal sounds like a cat being strangled. He went through four guitars, a couple of amps and a dozen pedals before he found a combination he likes. The guitar had to be a made-in-America Jazzmaster, the sound from the made-in-Mexico one just wasn't cutting it. Next week it will probably be something different, but it's fine for now.

My other son is collecting records, not CD's, actual vinyl LP's. He even has a record player to play them on. They are not Luddites, they have their cell phones, iPods, and lap-top computers, but they seem to be very picky as far as their music goes. When I was their age all I needed was a six-pack and a car with an FM radio playing rock and roll. I suppose the 6-pack explains a lot.

Leslie speakers from Hammond organs are still sought after. John and his friends scored an old Wurlitzer organ from someone hoping it would contain a Leslie speaker. It has a copy, but it's not the real McCoy and it probably wouldn't to stand up to what they are dishing out.

Then I stumble upon a post about the Hammond Novachord in the Retrotechnologist. I always imagined that all those really weird sounds you got from the movies were made by the sound effects guys using pie plates and oil tanks or something. But no, they were simply playing the Novachord. The page about the Novachord Restoration Project has some sound clips so you hear what it sounds like. There are a few not too far from the top, and several more at the bottom. The picture is from this page and I think it's just the best.

Update January 2017 replaced missing picture.

Automobile Repair Stories

Today at lunch we were swapping tales of woe.

Dennis told us about the time he had to replace the alternator on his Subaru. He's reading the repair manual and the instructions have a long list of steps that involved removing various components in order to get to the alternator: 1) remove the radiator, 2) remove the manifold, etc. etc. Then he finally gets to the end and it says: "Or, remove from underneath."

1982 Ford Fairmont
I had a heater core go bad in an old Ford Fairmont. I glanced at the shop manual and instructions are short, there are only four steps, so I think I can do this, it will be a piece of cake. So come Saturday I am ready to undertake this project and I take another look at the instructions. The first step is "remove the dashboard".

Once upon a time somebody gave Marc a car. It wasn't running, the problem unknown, but it was free, and it was near identical to another car he had, so if nothing else it would at least be good for parts. He tows it home and looks under the hood, opens the radiator cap and notices the radiator is dry. So he gets a hose and starts filling the radiator. Shortly there after he notices water running out from under the engine, running out as fast as he is putting it in. He can't see where the water is coming from, maybe a freeze plug has popped loose, so he reaches up in there to see if he can find the problem with his hand. So gropes around and eventually finds something loose. Hmmm, that's not right, have to tighten that up, but just what is it? Wait, I know what that shape is, it's a piston.

Update November 2015 replaced missing picture with different one.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Security is one of the most overlooked facets of modern day computer systems. It gets a good deal of lip service, but little real attention. Oh, we hire analysts, and we have meetings, and we implement the latest encryption techniques and the latest protocols, and we make our users change their passwords to something no one can remember every five minutes, but none of that really addresses the issue.

The military uses guards. I don't think I could be a guard. I don't think I ever could have been a guard. Standing or sitting in one place for hours on end with nothing to do but watch the occasional person walk by. Perhaps you can train your mind to it, but I don't see how. I would need some serious motivation. I am pretty sure guards can easily be circumvented, a poor copy of a whatever card or piece of paper will let you in, a little slight of hand, a little distraction, and you could probably walk right by them.

A real security system would need to use a constantly changing set of passes. Any person with access would have a dozen or so: easily remembered words or numbers, finger prints, a key, a hand print, a photograph stored in a file. A selection of three or four would be required for each entrance, and it would be a different combination each time. I don't think a guard should be required to verify someone's identity from a photograph more than a certain number of times per hour. I imagine someone has tested people's abilities in this, and likewise, I suspect people's skill level varies tremendously.

My bank's web site has gotten more sophisticated. I suspect it times the keystrokes used for my ID and password, and if the timing is off, it queries me with other questions. Pretty good, I think.

Gender Roles

I may get dinged for being a sexist for making this observation, but them's the breaks. Why is it that the people who clean hotel rooms are always women, and the people who clean cars are always men? There are exceptions, like high school car wash/fund raisers, but other than that I don't think I have ever encountered one. Is it because women are more comfortable with buildings, and men are more comfortable with cars? Or is it something else entirely and I am just missing it?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Competence vs. Arrogance

Sometimes competence gets mistaken for arrogance. If you have a novice and an expert discussing a subject, they are both liable to perceive the other as arrogant. They will perceive each other as pretending to know more about the subject than they actually do. They will think the other could not possibly know was much as he claims. In fact, their knowledge of the subject may be equally broad, where it differs is in the depth.

CDC 6600

Ever wonder what the state of the art in Computer Science was back in 1964? Me neither, but Jack sent me a link. I glanced at it, but geez, if they aren't exactly dinosaurs, they are more like American cars from the same era, big, expensive and flashy. Then Jay notices that there is a Control Data 6600 in the list, which brings back some memories

We had a CDC 6600 at the University of Texas when I was there (1978-80). It was installed in a room under the patio in back of the (infamous) tower. There was a hallway alongside the room separated by glass. It was slightly elevated so you could walk by and gaze down upon the great and terrible Oz. It was some kind of yellowish color. Burnt ochre? Almond?

When I started my Computer Science classes there our jobs were limited to like 7 seconds to compile and run. When I got to upper division classes the reigns were loosened a bit. I wrote a program to process a small image (like 50 gray scale pixels square) and I didn't really plan it out very well, I just sort of hacked it together. It seemed like a trivial problem. It ran, but it used something like a couple of minutes of time which almost consumed the entire class's allotment for the semester. I got dinged for being inefficient.

Some time later I came across some old CDC controller cabinets for sale. They were pretty cool, about four feet high, they had a pair of cast aluminum doors on the front with a series of dark green glass windows. I would still like to get my hands on one. They were right out of a science fiction movie.

Another thing that was cool was that the operators console had a little bar in the bottom left corner of the screen for status messages. It would had some kind of swirly/barber pole thing going on. This was in the days when all you normally got on the screen was text.

Update January 2017 replaced missing picture.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Yesterday (Sunday) I completed the Jumble in less than a minute. Usually it takes me all day to do this puzzle. I work on it for a few minutes in the morning, and then I will come back to it in the afternoon and give it another shot. If I remember to keep trying I will eventually get it. Sometimes it even laps over into Monday. But not yesterday. So I wonder, am I getting better at this stuff? Or was yesterday's puzzle especially easy?

I went looking for yesterday's puzzle, but I couldn't find it. The Jumble web page only seems to have the daily puzzles. Hmph.


I read the comics in the paper every day, and one of the comics is Doonesbury. About a week or so ago he was talking about how large segments of the population believe in all kinds of wacked out stuff and how rationalists are a distinct minority. Then he goes off and spends a few days talking about how Afghanistan is the new Vietnam. I mention this one at lunch and Don mentions the pipeline, you know, the one they were building in the James Bond movie The World Is Not Enough. I like this theory because it goes along with my money-is-the-root-of-all-evil theory of Global Domination. Except there is no pipeline. Way back in 1998 there was a agreement in place with the Taliban to build one across Afghanistan and Pakistan to deliver natural gas to India, but that agreement fell apart and a few years later we decided to get involved. So it could be that we invaded Afghanistan to ensure that the pipeline would not get built and so deprive India of a source of cheap gas. Or it could be that we really are there to combat terrorists. Like Jack said, even it the US was not involved, given the general situation over there, it seems unlikely that a pipeline could ever be built, much less be a success. Some people are still talking about building one, but it seems even less likely now.

I was talking to an old friend last night and mentioned that darling daughter is now in Uganda, and this reminds Jody of Darwin's Nightmare. Seems someone introduced Nile Perch into Lake Victoria (the largest fresh water lake in the world, never mind wikipedias claim that Huron and Michigan are one lake. If they were one lake, why do they have two names? Just another example of American's claiming to be bigger and better than everyone else). This fish pushed out the previous residents, destroyed the subsistance fishing industry (can you call substitance anything an industry?) and created a new export industry. So now we have Russian jet air freighters flying in plane loads of arms and ammunition and flying plane loads of fish filets to Europe. Meanwhile the locals can't afford to eat the fish.

View Larger Map
So everything points to Doonesbury.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Figure 8 Hose Bucket, Part 2

The cardboard box that was holding the air hose for my compressor gave up the ghost the other day. I started looking around for a suitable replacement and I noticed a couple of empty plastic buckets, which made me think of my Figure 8 Hose Bucket idea, so tried it out:

It seems to work pretty well. You have to feed the hose into the buckets, but it goes pretty easily, you don't have to fight with kinks and coils and anti-coils. And it comes out smooth as silk. It actually works pretty well.

Update September 2016 replaced missing picture.

Spider for the Day

Found this one on the basement stairs. He's pretty good size, maybe two inches from leg tip to leg tip. Couldn't get the camera to get any closer. He's pretending to hide.

Update March 2016 replaced missing picture.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

1999 Dodge Dakota 4x4 Starter, Part 3

The starter on my truck started flaking out about 4 months ago. I started carrying a whacking stick in the cab to rap it if it acted up, but after four or five times, it started behaving. Evidently, just carrying the stick around was enough to convince it to behave for most of the summer. A couple of weeks ago it started acting up again, and whacking it wasn't helping. The time has come to replace this turkey. Once more into the breech my friends. This time I was little more determined. I took over the whole garage. Moved the bikes to one side, and banished the cars to the driveway. Pieced together a 20" extension, put on the socket and the breaker bar, wiggled them into position, got the socket on the bolt, crawled under the truck and heaved on the breaker bar. Nothing. Squirm around, try and get a better position and try again. Still nothing. Go looking for a piece of pipe to use as a cheater. I used to have a three foot length of one inch water pipe that I used for problems like this, but I gave it up several years ago, and now I can't find one. Never a piece of pipe around when you need one. Was just about to go and start harassing my neighbors when I remembered the torque wrench. It is only about six inches longer than the breaker bar, but it might be enough. Go through the same shenanigans again getting it in position and pull, and this time I am rewarded with a mighty CRACK! The problem bolt finally broke loose. Unscrewed by hand after that.

Naturally I had taken all day to get this far, so when I leave for the auto parts store it is five after five. They are probably closed, but we'll give it a shot anyway. I get there and there are three cars in the parking lot and couple people standing out front talking. Maybe they are still open. I get out and one of the guys tells me they are closed. If you are closed, what are you guys doing standing around here making the place look like it's open? Leave already, meatheads. I don't say anything out loud, I just mutter under my breath until I get to Autozone, which is open till 9PM. Now that's my kind of store.

The only other problem I ran into was getting the new starter back in position. The bottom screw is actually a mounting stud, and the top bolt has to go through a transmission line mounting tab, so I had to tip the front of the starter up so as to get the top end of the flange up under the mounting tab and then slide the lower mounting hole over the stud. Other than that it was a piece of cake, relatively speaking.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Night Vision

I'm reading Flight Level 390, and Captain Dave has posted a picture of an aircraft:

At least it's supposed to be an aircraft, and with the right light and the right angle you might just be able to make it out. Still, I wonder what else might be in that picture, so I load it up in Picasa and click the I'm Feeling Lucky button, and lo and behold:

Update January 2017 replaced missing pictures.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Health Insurance Debate?

California Bob Writes Again:
I understand that the health insurance companies oppose any reform on their monopolies. And I understand that the monied interests oppose it.

I'm asking why Joe Schmoe American, earning $25K a year, with no insurance, for whom getting sick means bankruptcy, would support a system where he has to hand billions of dollars to already wealthy physicians and insurance execs, and opposes a system where he would be provided with cheap or free health care.

(Granted, for him, status quo to bankruptcy is not that big a leap, but still....)

My impression is that the monied interests are diverting Joe's attention away from his welfare, and through propaganda, generating a manufactured hatred toward "government," "east coast elitists (not that hard to do)," and "socialists ( whatever those are)," and thus, opposition to any policies emanating from those sources.

Well I'm guilty of this myself. I've been in situations where I've opposed ideas simply because of their source. And I've probably even taken a personal loss to avoid letting someone else succeed -- can't think of an instance offhand, but I can imagine one. It's called "cutting off your nose to spite your face."

What if the current health care reform plans had been proposed by GW Bush? Would I support it? I'd probably be thinking, "What's he up to? How are his monied cronies going to benefit from this? He's going to find a way to funnel even more public money to the insurance companies."

So we're back to "opposition to health reform is due to distrust of the party and the president." Which comes from long-standing, ingrained cultural biases of obscure origin.

How do we turn these around? Is it possible? I find Obama to be the most civil and reasonable president in a long time, but he's probably still too "different" for most people.

On the other hand, the natural optimist in me is going to assume that the shrill cries and spitting currently emanating from the "loudest 20%" are in fact the death rattle of our culture of ignorance, isolation and sociopathy.

Socialists are the Democrats, silly.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Trick Pool Shots in Slo Mo / Infrared

This one is from Hungary, so it may be a little slow to load. I just stumbled over this. Maybe all you pool sharks will say it's just run of the mill, but I think it's pretty amazing.

Shakin' All Over

This must be what holidays do. I was out for a walk this evening and this song just popped into my head. One of the best, and I can't remember the last time I heard it. I looked for a good video, but couldn't find any. This one at least has the lyrics.

Quote of the Day

"But I don't mind it when people are well off. The main thing is that the poor aren't humiliated."
If only that were the case, but so often it seems that when people become rich they start to think of themselves as better than everyone else, and the poor as obstacles to their happiness, or perhaps just stepping stones to be walked on. From The Return of Lieutenant Boruvka by Josef Skvorecky, page 26.

Boiler Suit

I came across the term in The Return of Lieutenant Boruvka . I pictured a guy in a stiff black suit, stiff because it had been boiled. Turns out it is simply the British term for overalls, or for a coat for a boiler building:

Thomas Heatherwick has completed Boiler Suit, an undulating facade of woven steel panels encasing the boiler house at Guy’s Hospital in London. (August 20th, 2007)
Update November 2016 replaced missing picture.

Golden Years

Today is our 24th wedding anniversary. All the kids were here for lunch, which is unusual, and somebody mentioned that 50 years was the golden anniversary, which just naturally led to Golden Years.

David Bowie - Golden Years (Soul Train)

Update January 2017 replaced missing video. This song came out in 1976.

Grocery Store International

When I was in Iowa, my brother Andy and I stopped at a small grocery store in downtown Ft. Madison. It was a real minimalist operation. Canned goods in boxes stacked on the floor, bag your own groceries, one clerk in the whole place, and grocery carts that work like the baggage carts at the airport, except no rental fee. Put in a quarter to get a cart, get your quarter back when you return it. Now I get some photos from my sister-in-law's trip to the Mideast, and here is a photo of the same kind of grocery carts at a store in Israel. Could it be the same chain? Did somebody say chain? Chain, chain, chain ...

Update January 2017 replaced missing picture.

Wikimapia Login

While I was looking for information on Mont Belvieu, Texas, yesterday, I tried Wikimapia to see if they had any more information. Some places in the world have been Wikimapia-ed to death. But they had nothing on Mont Belvieu. They can't even place it on the map, not even when you get to the general area. Maybe there aren't any Wikimapia fans in SE Texas. I think this is pretty sad, I mean this whole area is devoid of any information, so I attempt to make contact to complain. To do that you have to register, which I dutifully do, but I am still unable to make contact. There is no place to post a message. There is a link to "Post a reply", but nothing happens. Maybe if I try it on Linux....Nope, doesn't work there either.

I know I am probably just not holding my mouth right, but gee-wilikers pops, this is the pits.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Mont Belvieu, Texas

Mont Belvieu, Texas is a tiny little town in Southeast Texas about 25 miles East of Houston. I don't know if anybody actually lives there anymore. There was an explosion back in 1985 and some folks got relocated two miles down the road. It doesn't look like anyone lives there:

View Larger Map

Why do we care about Mont Belvieu, Texas, anyway? I mean, I lived in Houston for a couple of years and I never heard of it. Why are we talking about it now?

Propane, that's why. I am convinced that all the money we send to Saudi Arabia in exchange for oil is at the root of many of the world's problems. I've got a pickup truck with a honking big V-8 engine that sucks gas like a pig (if pigs sucked gas). So I got to thinking the other day that I could convert it to use natural gas, cut my fuel bill and boycott Saudi Arabia all in one fell swoop.

Well, you can convert a gasoline automobile to use Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), but it's a tad expensive. Thousands of dollars. You might be able to get away with $2,000 if you do the work yourself, but it will cost considerable more to have it done. The tank is one obstacle. One price I saw was $1,000 for the tank alone. Then you need a compressor to pump the gas into the tank ... it gets complicated.

So I'm talking to Jack and it comes out that while propane is also a good fuel and a gas, it can be compressed to a liquid, and liquids are just naturally more compact than a gas, no matter how high the pressure. So propane might be a better fuel.

So now I'm looking up propane and there is all this talk about it and how it's used and what it's like, but nowhere am I seeing how much is actually produced and/or consumed in the US, or anywhere for that matter.

But while I am looking around for this info, Mont Belvieu, Texas pops up at the head of the list of items Google found. What has Mont Belvieu got to do with price of beans in Brazil, or in this case, the price of propane? Turns out quite a bit. A mile underground they have the largest propane storage tank in North America: 43 million barrels. It's a salt cavern where oil was discovered way back in 1930. After they pumped all the oil out, it became a perfect place to store propane, and that's what they have been using it for, at least since 1955.

How much is 43 million barrels? Enough to fill five buildings the size of the Sears, er, Willis Tower.

So if you are dealing in propane, the spot price of propane in Mont Belvieu, Texas, is one of those bits of information you would keep track of.

Update November 2016 replaced dead government link.

Fast Versus Quick

The other day I was reading a post on Stu's blog and he mentioned the show "Top Gear", which reminded me that I saw an episode not too long ago that sat crosswise with me.

They were comparing a new Honda or similar car to an old Aston Martin and talking about how the Honda was so much quicker. Quick, as in quarter mile times. Back in the day quarter mile times were something only redneck Americans with muscle cars cared about. Anybody with any sophistication was more concerned with top speed, and that is where the fancy European cars excelled, and they were doing it with (relatively) tiny engines.

So now I am wondering when did this change come about? Or maybe it isn't that the focus has changed as we are talking about different groups of people. Those who like the visceral thrills that come with driving a quick car, as opposed to those who appreciate the intellectual thrills of driving a fast car (with a tiny motor). A quick car can push you back in the seat when it accelerates. You will not necessarily notice the acceleration of a fast car, and if the road is smooth and the car is in good condition, travelling at 100 MPH should be indistinguishable from sitting at rest. In reality, it is going to be quite a bit noisier, but hey, we can't have everything.

From Movie Motors we have this:
First produced in 1963 the Aston Martin DB5 was essentially a DB4 with mechanical improvements such as a larger engine (increased in capacity from 3.7 litre to a 4.0 litre), 3 SU carburettors and the addition of a 5 speed gearbox. All in all it made for a 282 break horse power car capable of speeds up to 141 miles per hour.
And yes, that's James Bond.

Update November 2015, replaced missing picture.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Manhattan Bridge Bounce

Found on King of New York Hacks.

Quote of the Day

"It was another hot night and the semi-liquid air poured in the window of the BMW like hot syrup."
Another great line from a very enjoyable book. I could probably do this all week long. From The Return of Lieutenant Boruvka by Josef Skvorecky, page 100.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Betsy's Devine Algebraic Limerick

Or is it Betsy Devine's Algebraic Limerick? Stu put up a post about this, and it's cool that Betsy was able to put an equation into a limerick, but is the equation valid? I checked it out with a Google spreadsheet and it is. But with a little background knowledge it is possible to verify it without having to resort to actual computations.

Okay, maybe more than a little background knowledge. You need to understand the basics of algebra, calculus, trigonometry and logarithms. From algebra, you need to understand the concept of a function. From calculus you need to understand the concept of the derivative and the integral.
Basically the derivative of a function is the slope, which tells you how steep the line is at any given point. It is rise over run. The integral is the area under the curve. The derivative and the integral are like inverse functions. The derivative of the integral of a function is the original function, and likewise the integral of the derivative is also the original function.

A function that produces a graph that is a straight line is going to have a constant slope measured with a single number. The slope of a function that produces a curved line is going to be constantly changing. If the rate of change is constant, then the derivative will be a straight line. A popular example is the relation between acceleration, speed and distance.

If you are accelerating at a constant rate, your speed will be constantly increasing, and the distance you have covered will be getting larger by constantly larger amounts. In the above chart, the acceleration is constant: it is always 1. Let's call it one 1 foot per second per second. Speed starts at zero and increases at this rate. After 3 seconds, we are going 3 feet per second. Distance likewise starts at zero, and it builds slowly, which is what we expect as we are not going very fast. But it keeps going up, and as we go faster, we start covering more distance.

After 3 seconds we have covered 4.5 feet. You will notice that the area under the red line is a triangle, and the measure of that area is 3 x 3 / 2, or 4.5. The integral is the area under the curve, the area under the speed line is 4.5, so the value of the integral (the distance) at this point is also 4.5. So distance is the integral of speed, and speed is the derivative of distance. Likewise notice that speed is a straight line. It is at an angle, and that angle never changes. The slope of the speed line is a constant 1, so the derivative of speed is the acceleration.

For more fun with derivatives and integrals this page has an interactive graph you can play with.

From trigonometry you need the concept of sine, cosine and the unit circle. This page has a good explanation.

Logarithms are a trick that was invented a long time ago to let people multiply two numbers by adding. This is how slide rules worked, if you have ever seen a slide rule. The answer generally wasn't as precise as you would get from a calculator, but it was close enough for the real world. I mean, that's how we got to the moon.

So if you've got all that, we can look at Betsy's Limerick.

The left side of the equation is composed of two parts:
  1. The integral of Z squared,
  2. The cosine of a constant.

First Expression

We know it's a separate expression because of the "dz", which is just what math geeks tack on the end of integrals. Derivatives are the inverse of integrals, so Z squared is the derivative of the integral of Z squared. Taking the derivative of a simple expression like Z squared is relatively easy: you multiply the expression by the exponent and reduce the exponent by one. For example the derivative of Z squared is 2 times Z. Working backwards, the integral of Z squared must have Z cubed. But taking the derivative of Z cubed would give you 3 times Z squared. To get rid of the factor 3, we will need to divide by 3, so the integral of Z squared becomes one third times Z cubed:

(1/3) * Z^3

Now we evaluate that expression for the beginning value (1) and the ending value (the cube root of 3) and find the difference.

When Z has a value of one, the value of the integral is (1/3) times one cubed, or (1/3) times one, which is simply 1/3.

When Z has a value of the cube root of three, the value of the Z cubed is 3 (the cube of a cube root of a number is simply the number), and the value of the integral is 1/3 of that ((1/3) x 3), or 1.

To find the difference we simply subtract the first value from the second value and we have 2/3.

Second Expression

Looking inside the parentheses, 3/9 reduces to 1/3 (3/9 = 1/3), so we get PI/3. Since they are using PI, it is safe to assume they are using radians instead of degrees. The circumference of a circle is 2 times PI times the radius. For these kind of problems we assume the radius is one, so the circumference is simply 2 * PI, so PI is one half of a circle or 180 degrees. 1/3 of 180 degrees is 60 degrees. If we draw an equilateral triangle with sides all of length 1 (the same as the radius of our circle), with the base at the bottom, coinciding with the X axis, and the left end point coinciding with the origin, then the X coordinate of the apex will be 1/2, and since the Cosine of an angle is the same as the X coordinate, the value of this expression is 1/2. This page has an interactive unit circle that illustrates all this.

Left Side

The value of the first expression (the integral) is 2/3, the value of the second expression (Cosine) is 1/2. Multiplied (another math geek convention) together we get 1/3.

Right Side

The Natural Log (ln) of a number is the value that when used as an exponent to the special number e, results in the original number. Well, we already have e to a power here: the power is 1/3. The N-th root of a number can also be expressed as that number being raised to the power of one over N, or 1/N. Here we are taking the cube root of e, which is the same as raising e to the power of 1/3, so 1/3 is the value of this expression.


Since both sides of the equation evaluate to 1/3, the equation, and the limerick are true. I wrote this for two reasons. One, I wanted to see if I could evaluate the equation, and two, I wanted to see if I could explain it.

Update October 2016 replaced missing image. Limerick text available here. Harbor News link to story about 'how we got to the moon' is dead.

Google Bookmarks

I like & use Google Bookmarks (it's part of their toolbar package). I can use them on any machine anywhere. It's great. But. I cannot use them for Stu Savory's blog. The link to his blog goes to a lead-in page that immediately loads the current page of that blog, which Stu changes every month. So I can bookmark the current month's page, but I cannot bookmark the lead-in page. Trust Stu to be difficult, er, different.

There are only a couple of items on the toolbar that I use. I wish I could put those two items on the same line as the address bar and thereby reduce the number of toolbars by one, but that would take some monkeying around. It's probably just a couple of point-and-click's, but point at what? And click on what? Maybe someday when I am energized AND bored.

A New Blog!

California Bob has started a blog! His very first post is on the Laffer curve, an economic thing-a-ma-bob, not a sit-com graph.

Quote of the Day

"The temperature was in the nineties, even after dark, and the city was streaming like a coin laundry on a Sunday morning."
Just the kind of line you expect from a cheap detective novel. Ain't it great? From The Return of Lieutenant Boruvka by Josef Skvorecky, page 66.