Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


It's kind of a gray day (like today) and I am in the parking lot of a business park hanging around, waiting for something. A large jet aircraft comes taxiing around the corner towards me. It's some kind of blue, teal maybe? The landing lights are on. Next thing is I am driving this aircraft inside a warehouse. There is room to maneuver in the section I am in, but I can't stay there, I have to go into the annex, which is a little darker. The floor leading into the annex is not level, it is slightly downhill, but it doesn't look too bad. But going down this slope we pick up speed and we have to make a corner and there isn't enough room and the wings run into a couple of giant wooden posts holding up the roof, which puts a stop to driving the plane. Once outside of the plane I look back at the slope I just came down and realize it's a lot steeper than I thought, especially regarding the size of the airplane.

Weird how much I remember.


I read a line the other day that said something like small minds think about people, medium sized minds think about events, and large minds think about ideas. I suspect that I am more of an idea person, which makes me feel good because that would mean I have a large mind, and bigger is better, right? Well, maybe, maybe not. But it does give us another way of classifying people.

You have no doubt heard the term "political animal". This gives us a clue to another scale for measuring human behavior. Some people are power seeking, they thrive on intrigue and gossip. They want to be in charge. I don't know why, I think it must just be their nature. Other people just want to putter in their own little domain and not be bothered. We could call them power avoiding, maybe.

And then there is "inclusiveness" versus "exclusiveness". Some people are dividers. You can tell who they are by their tendency to blame "them". It's not our fault, it's all because of those other guys, the communists, the Republicans, the socialists, the pagans, the Democrats, the Presbyterians, the Muslims, whoever. Often they leave out the title, but then proceed to describe their qualities that leaves no doubt in your mind just who they are talking about.

Everybody at some time or another talks about how great it would be to be rich, but most people aren't really interested in being rich. All they really want is a little comfort, a little security, and something interesting to do. Of course interests vary. Some people like to play golf, some people like to work, some like to watch TV, and some like to write on their blog.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


There are a lot of subjects we are short changing our children on:
  • Marksmanship
  • Singing
  • Dancing
  • Butchering animals for meat
  • Mechanics of household repairs
If people were familiar with guns, they wouldn't be so terrified of them. Likewise if they are introduced at an early age to the fundamentals of food preparation, they wouldn't be as likely to develop squeamishness later on.

Somehow ordinary singing has been eclipsed by "professional" singing. You get people disparaging any singing besides the perfect voice of an opera singer, which is ridiculous, and even worse, people listen to them. All you critics can just shut up. If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.. Dancing would probably be best done segregated by sex, at least in the older grades. Trying to teach adolescents how to be ladies and gentlemen is a losing proposition.

Everyone should learn how to use a screwdriver, hammer, wrench and pliers. But maybe I'm reaching too far.

Bumper Sticker of the Day


Monday, March 29, 2010

Quote of the Day

Suddenly the sky is filled with birds: badly animated birds, out of proportion to the dwellings below, that barely flap their wings as they glide by. Occasionally an aggravated fowl breaks away from its clip-art flock, plummeting to the ground and exploding in a similarly unconvincing cloud of smoke.
From The New York Times review of Birdemic by Dave Itzkoff. I thought the quote was funny, but maybe you had to be there.


We were listening to John's iPod this morning on the way to school. Because of the constant background static I thought the tunes sounded an awful lot like A Place To Bury Strangers, but then I heard this tune, and the vocals sounded an awful lot like the Beach Boys. Turns out the tunes are from 25 years ago by a band called Jesus & Mary Chain.

Found this quote when I looked them up on Google:
Sounding like a collision between the 1965 Beach Boys' tour bus and a truckload of malfunctioning vacuum cleaners, the Jesus and Mary Chain found something new to do with the old rock & roll verities. -
So I'm not the only one who thinks they sound like the Beach Boys. As far as the static goes, I kinda suspect that it contains more frequencies, so stimulates your ears more.


We were at a summer resort, like a small village on a lake in the mountains. I was talking to a couple of guys. One of them had a custom panel truck painted sort of a gold/sand color. It had a sliding door on the left rear. The body work was custom. I do not know how else you could get a panel truck these days. The back of the truck was full of his tools, including a small oxy-acetylene torch. We were all there to perform some kind of technical work, an installation or repair of some equipment, a radio maybe.

We are done with this location so the guy with the truck is packing up to go to the next site. He takes off and we follow him in another vehicle. He is driving really fast, not following the road, driving over grass, right by buildings, through the trees.

The ground is a little rough and I imagine the guy's truck is taking a beating. It's a cool truck, but I wouldn't want to have to spend all my time driving it, I would want something with a little more cush. But he has found a niche and is making the most of it.

We come to an area that is a little more open and there is a bridge over a gully. It is simply some sun-bleached planks on a couple of beams, no railings, maybe wide enough for a car, but there are steps leading up it so it is obviously only for pedestrians. That doesn't stop the madman we are following, he blasts straight ahead right over the bridge. There are no people about.

The guy I am with takes one look at this and slams on the brakes, saying "whoa!". He may have thought the guy we are following was nuts before, but now he is sure of it. He decides to follow him anyway, but at a more sedate pace.

We go over a couple of these bridges, but now we come to one that has fallen down. The far end is in a river, some distance from the far shore. We are going down the slope of this broken bridge towards the water. It looks like we are going to have to swim for it, but when we get there the wooden box (!?!) we are riding in is long enough to span the distance from the bridge to the far shore, which has shrunk to a few feet, so we just have to step up to the shore.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Trouble With Schools

I've been hearing a lot about how rotten schools are, how the kids aren't learning, discipline is non-existent, the buildings are falling apart, millions of dollars are being spent and nobody knows what the problem is, much less what to do about it. I have heard the occasional success story, but I never heard any explanation of why some schools succeeded where others failed, other than the occasional charismatic leader.

Now it seems someone has got a clue. It seems there are some methods/techniques that are more effective than others. Up until now no one has identified just what they were. Part of the story is "classroom management": the art of simply maintaining order in a classroom. Part of it is instructional technique, and part of it is having teachers who not only understand the subject, but understand the difficulties different people face when attempting to understand it.

This story by Elizabeth Green from the New York Times explains it all.

All of which made me wonder how it all got so bad in the first place. What I suspect happened is that many students subconsciously picked up these techniques from their good teachers when they were in school, and then emulated them when they became teachers themselves. If the poor kids schools were bad, well then, what did you expect? It's not our fault they can't learn. We give them the opportunity for an education and they just throw it away. That's why they're poor. It wasn't until the civil rights bandwagon got rolling that anybody thought anything should be done about it. Weird.

Law Abiding Citizen

Watched Law Abiding Citizen on PPV last night. Stars Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler. Gruesome little murder-revenge story. Good examples of the mayhem and destruction that can be done with modern technology, and primitive technology, for that matter. The main target is our criminal justice system, but it's appeal is entirely emotional and old testament.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Someone has finally done it!

Found on Lentetijd.

The Spirit Level

I found this on Cuerpo Aztlan, a Latino activist's blog. It's an entertaining little clip.

Here's a review of the book I found on Amazon:
Starred Review. Wilkinson and Pickett make an eloquent case that the income gap between a nation's richest and poorest is the most powerful indicator of a functioning and healthy society. Amid the statistics that support their argument (increasing income disparity sees corresponding spikes in homicide, obesity, drug use, mental illness, anxiety, teenage pregnancies, high school dropouts—even incidents of playground bullying), the authors take an empathetic view of our ability to see beyond self-interest. While there are shades of Darwinism in the human hunt for status, there is evidence that the human brain—with its distinctively large neocortex—evolved the way it has because we were designed to be attentive to, depend on, and be depended on by others. Wilkinson and Pickett do not advocate one way or the other to close the equality gap. Government redistribution of wealth and market forces that create wealth can be equally effective, and the authors provide examples of both. How societies achieve equality, they argue, is less important than achieving it in the first place. Felicitous prose and fascinating findings make this essential reading. (Jan.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Interesting idea. I mean for being such a success, America sure seems to have a lot of really big problems. Is there really a connection? These guys seems to think so. But even if they are right, what, if anything, are we going to do about it?

Bread & Butter

Just because it was running in my mind this morning.

The Newbeats Bread And Butter 1964 Stereo

I always thought a black man was singing it. Huh. Shows what I know.

Update January 2017 replaced video because the last one went 'private'.

Swords of Victory

Hands of Victory, Baghdad, Iraq
One cool scene in the Green Zone was the aerial shots of the Swords of Victory arches. They're big, they're impressive, and they remind me of Soviet style monuments. We would never build anything so gauche, would we? There are two of these things. You can see both in this photo and in the map below. I also found a map of Baghdad that shows just where the Green Zone is.

View Larger Map

Update January 2017 replaced missing picture.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The 39 Steps

Went to see this play a couple of weeks ago. I was expecting a who-dun-it, but it was more of a farce. I laughed till I cried. Just for grins, they drug in a bunch of scenes from other famous Hitchcock movies, and at one point the lead uttered a line that sounded just like Jimmy Stewart. Jimmy starred in several of Hitchcock's films, but not in The 39 Steps.

Money For Nothin'

I've been thinking it would be nice to have a solid currency, one that wasn't subject to inflation, one that held it's value year in, year out, so you could establish some kind of base line for comparing prices. Gold used to be the old standby, and to some extent still is, but gold goes in and out of favor and the price reflects it. As recently as 1920 one ounce of gold was worth 20 US dollars. When I was a kid, the government was holding the line at $35. This week it's closer to a thousand. Next week it might drop to $500. Too volatile, not what we need.

So then I got to thinking, maybe what we need is a made up currency, one not backed any government, one that maintains some consistency. You could price all other currencies in terms of this one new, imaginary currency. It would give you a baseline for all other valuations. All it really needs is a name.

I was thinking we would set it's value by averaging the price of several commodities. For instance:
  • a day's manual labor
  • a ton of coal
  • a ton of steel
  • a quantity of oil
  • a quantity of water
  • a ton of flour
You might actually need a list of a couple of hundred items to get some kind of stability. And then you are going to have different prices in different parts of world. Still, if we set the value of one kookaburra (to pick an arbitrary name for this new currency) to be one ton of steel delivered in Chicago, then you have some kind of benchmark. It might be that one ton of steel delivered in Tokyo might be two kookaburras.

Prices have gone up by roughly a factor of ten in the last 40 years. That means they have doubled about 3 and a third times. 40 years divided by 3 & 1/3 is 12, which means prices have doubled every 12 years. Using the Rule of 72, that means inflation has been running about 6 percent. So if you have not been making an average 6% on your investments, you are losing money.

Once again, this post has just been an excuse to post a tune. Definitely a blast from the past.


Update April 2015: Replaced graph from Wikipedia that Blogger lost.

Word of the Day

Adagio was one of the ordinary words in the Jumble this morning. Adagio is an ordinary word? You're kidding, right? I always thought it was one of those Italian terms they use in music for slower or faster or louder or softer or something. In this case I thought it meant agitated. I mean they sound sort of alike, they have mostly the same letters, and lots of foreign words sound like English words. But no, adagio doesn't mean agitated, it means almost the complete opposite: languid, at ease, easily. No wonder no one ever uses it, no one would know what you were talking about. Kind of like restive, another word that irritates me to no end. Sounds like a version of rest, to relax, recover, take it easy. But no, it means restless. If you mean restless, why don't you just say restless? How about that, a free bonus rant, which means you get two, two, two! word rants in one!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Website of the Day

Munsell Hue Test. Test your ability to distingush different shades of color. Found on Dash of Comprehension.

Shooting At Midnight

Shooting At Midnight by Greg Rucka. I picked this one up at Post Hip for $2 on Monday and I just finished. All in all a pleasant read. It's New York murder mystery, one of a series about Atticus Kodiak. I thought I recognized the author's name when I picked it up, and sure enough when I got home I found I had another book by him.

It was a complicated story, made more complicated by the heroine's desire to keep her past secret, and also to conceal some illegal activity, the later of which was done for a good cause, naturally.

Different parts of the books are narrated by different people and I wish the author had been able to differentiate his style enough to make them sound and/or feel different. As it was, they both sounded the same, though the text was explicit enough that there was never any doubt about who was doing the talking.

This is the second book I have read recently about heroin addiction, and both books print a pretty horrific picture. The other book was The Mask of Dimitrios, aka A Coffin For Dimitrios. I wish I had a good picture of how many people are using how much of what kinds of drugs. I have done some looking, but I haven't found a good overall picture. On one hand you think that there can't be that many heroin addicts, but then you hear some of the numbers and you think half of NYC must be addicted.

Just for grins, I plotted some of the locations mentioned in the book on a Google Map.

Green Zone

The boys & I went to see Green Zone last night in Cornelius. We had the entire theater to ourselves. That doesn't happen often. The movie is all about the manufactured evidence of WMD's that was used to justify the invasion of Iraq. That got me wondering about why they picked on Iraq. I mean any one of the countries in the Mid-East fully deserves to get their ass kicked. Why would you pick Iraq?

Then I got to thinking about Argentina and their invasion of the Falkland Islands. The government/military of Argentina concocted some rational that the islands should belong to them, and maybe they should, but a second level analysis said they started a war to distract people from the economic problems at home. Unfortunately, they underestimated England, who may no longer be a world power, but they haven't forgotten how to kick butt, especially when it's some second rate nation that needs kicking.

So was Dubya trying to distract us from problems at home? I thought things were going pretty good back then, well, except for that 9-11 thing. But that was the Saudis, so why didn't we invade Saudi Arabia? Because, A: they are our "friends", and B: they supply a big chunk of our oil.

Iraq on the other hand was run by this jerk. Maybe the Saudis didn't like him, and suggested him as an alternate target for our wrath. Or maybe the people in the know knew how close to collapse Saddam's regime was and figured it would be a cake walk. Once we beat Iraq, all the other Mid-East countries would see how it went for Saddam, and would become more compliant and less disagreeable.

The military action was basically a cake walk. Unfortunately, nobody who was in charge bothered to look beyond the military action, and that little walk led into an effing swamp, filled with poisonous snakes, crocodiles, entangling vines, and mind numbing disorientation. Unless that was what someone was counting on. Now THAT would be a scary thought.

Poundstone, Dubya's man on the scene, was appropriately slimy. Martin Brown, the "dinosaur" from the CIA, was right all along. Funny how that works. I think that's almost a cliche: the young hotshot who refers to the old guy as a "dinosaur" turns out to be a corrupt jackass, and the old dinosaur turns out to know what he is talking about.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Micrograph for the Day

Cosmic ray tracks in an Apollo space helment, amplified 10-millionfold by chemical etching.
I don't remember when I first saw this picture, but I told Jack about it at lunch today. I looked for it when I got home and was surprised how quickly I found it.
From the Wikipedia article on Ultra-high energy cosmic rays:
. . . in other words, a subatomic particle with macroscopic kinetic energy equal to that of a baseball (142 g or 5 ounces) traveling at 96 km/h (60 mph).
It was most probably a proton with a speed very close to the speed of light.
At some point I had the idea that cosmic rays were iron particles, and that might occasionally be the case, but they are more likely to be protons.

So I'm wondering if the astronaut noticed when this particle hit his helmet. Maybe it wasn't an ultra-high energy cosmic ray, maybe it was just regular cosmic ray, and he just thought someone was throwing spitballs at him. Jimmy! Stop that!

Update January 2017 replaced missing picture.


I saw Public Enemies the other night and Inglorious Basterds a couple of weeks ago. Both movies had a big impact on me, but I wasn't quite sure just what kind of impact it was. They were gripping tales, that was for sure, but they weren't happy movies, it wasn't a grand adventure. There was a constant undercurrent of lethal tension. Were they good movies? Did I enjoy them? Those are a little harder to answer. Were they good? Well, they were well made, they told their story very well. Did I enjoy them? I'm not so sure, but I think I have finally figured out what the effect these movies had: they were so full of information it was like getting hit with a hundred pound sack of mail.

Every scene in Public Enemies opened a new can of worms. Oh, once upon a time J. Edgar Hoover was a young man. Once upon a time there was no FBI. In the beginning there was political wrangling over funding the FBI. In one shot during a bank robbery there was a placard for the FDIC displayed at a teller's booth. The mob had armorers. Baby Face Nelson was a lunatic. Don't ever try to rob a bank in Sioux Falls. There is the hostage standing on the running board and hanging onto the side of the car during a get away and there is a gangster letting fly with his Tommy gun six inches from his ear. He doesn't flinch. He must be deaf by now or so stunned by events that he doesn't even notice. Al Capone maybe gone (or maybe he hasn't come on the scene yet), but Frank Nitti is running a big operation. I wonder who takes in more money? The Governement or the mob?

Update: I was talking to Ross about this and his take was that there was no "edge" to Public Enemies, no engaging story line. He also thought Inglorious Basterds was funny. There were funny bits, but the overall story was pretty frickin' grim.

Reminds me of Burn After Reading and War of the Roses by Danny DeVito. Supposedly comedies, maybe? But actually pretty grim little stories. Give me a fantasy adventure like Indiana Jones anyday.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Public Enemies

We watched Public Enemies on PPV last night. You never saw so many Tommy guns. It was intense. It felt a lot like Inglorious Basterds. I wonder if that was because you knew things were not going to be turn out all right.

Billie Frechette's (Dillinger's girlfriend, picture) story was especially affecting. Maybe it's just because I'm a sucker for a pretty girl.

There was one shot during a bank robbery where Depp (as Dillinger) leaps over a bank counter, one hand on the counter, and the other hand holding a Tommy gun. That was impressive. Those blinking Tommy guns are heavy, though I suppose your adrenaline would be up, it is a bank robbery after all.

There was another scene where Mr. Dillinger and his gang stop off to talk to a mob guy who is running a telephone bookie operation. There is a bit of a flare up over protocol, and everybody pulls out their guns. One of John D.'s henchmen pulls out TWO Tommy guns quicker than you can blink. He had them hanging from a strap. One end of the strap was secured to his shoulders (or maybe just around his neck), the other end was clipped onto the gun somewhere around the trigger guard. He was wearing one of those heavy overcoats that come down past your knees, so when he is just standing there the guns are hanging by his sides inside his coat. Open your coat, grab the guns, haul them up to elbow height and you are ready to create mayhem.

Bye, Bye, Blackbird was John & Billie's song. I didn't like most of the versions I found. They all seem have added some special phrasing to the words, putting in little "dramatic" pauses. Why can't anyone just sing the song? Then I found this one:

When John & his gang visit the bookie (after they settle the disagreement over protocol), the bookie explains why the mob won't be helping them out any more: they are drawing too much heat, and they aren't making enough money. The book-making operation pulls in as much cash every day as John got from one of his bank heists. They don't want anything to impinge on their operation. That got me to thinking. Maybe the country is going broke, not because of the G.W.'s War On Terror, but because people are giving it to the casinos.

Update December 2016 replaced missing picture.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


I finally got around to replacing the burned out light bulb in the pump room the other day. It's been on my list for a while, but for some reason I had been avoiding it. Perhaps I was saving it for a really bad day and I needed something really easy to do so I could feel like I had accomplished something. Anyway, I had several similar tiny chores that had accumulated and I finally set about them.

After I replace the light bulb, I thought I better check the water level in the sumps. Oh. This is not good. Looks like both sump pumps quit working and crawlspace has two or three inches of water in it. So I go to Home Depot and get a new one. $90. I could have sworn the last time I bought one if was $70. Course that was probably ten years ago, and we do have constant inflation. I wish there was something constant we could peg value to, then we would have something to compare prices with. But that's another topic for another day.

This morning I finally buckle down and pull out the old sump and get ready to connect the new pump and the old adaptor won't fit. They have changed the size of the port. Bah, and a few other choice words. Back to Home Depot to get the proper sized adaptor.

I am on my way home heading North on 10th Street, which is kind of a main drag, crowded with people going shopping. Two lanes widens into three and I am in the center of these three lanes. Up ahead at the light the left lane must turn left, the right lane goes straight, and the center lane can go either way. The guy in front of me evidently doesn't realize this because he squeezes his way into the left lane. This leaves a half a block of open space in front of me up to the light, so I romp on the gas.

I don't know how fast I was going when I went into the corner, 15, maybe 20 MPH, but the tires start squealing. This has happened before, and I have attributed it to it just being a truck, or maybe it's just the cheap tires. But it's never been this loud or this sustained. Matter of fact it doesn't stop and the rear end of the truck slides around until I am durn near crosswise in the street. Surprised me and everyone else in the vicinity, I imagine.

Fortunately I didn't hit anything, and I was able to drive on without causing more than a hesitation in traffic. I am really baffled as to why this happened. I mean, for Pete's sake, it was dry today. It's been raining all winter, the streets have been wet, and I haven't had any problem. Why should the tires suddenly lose traction on a sunny day?

I suppose the tires could be low on air, but I just checked, they are fine: 20 PSI. You might think this is a little low, but these are big fat tires on the rear of a pick up truck that runs around empty most of the time. 35 PSI is way too high. Even 25 PSI causes them to wear in the center. But maybe that's why I'm not getting the traction I think I should. And maybe I didn't hear them squealing in the rain because they just slid. Naw, I think I would have noticed that.

In the picture the Blue lines are Northbound traffic turning left. Yellow line is divider between North and Southbound lanes. Green line is path I followed. Bright green rectangle is location my truck ended up.

Or maybe years of driving has given me confidence to go closer to the limit, and sometimes I go a just a little too far.

Meanwhile I have one sump pump working. Now I have to go look at the other one.

Update January 2017 replaced missing picture.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Website of the Day

Delta 4-Heavy fires up the night on second flight 11/10/07 ~ 8:50pm - Ben Cooper

Space Gizmo! Latest post this time is of the recent suicide comet. The picture is one I've wanted to post for a while, and this seemed like a good time.

Update September 2016 replaced missing picture.

Rumblefish for Books

I have been reading more the last couple of months. I was working so I thought is was okay to splurge on a few used paperbacks for $5 or $10. I had been restricting myself to the bargain bins, but my luck at picking up something readable hasn't been that great. I used to go to the library, but after repeated visits to find they were closed, I gave up. (Yeah, yeah, I know, plan ahead. Not one of my better skills.)

The big issue though is finding books I enjoy reading. Some books will suck me in and I won't come up until I've finished it. Other books I can read a bit at a time and will eventually finish. Lot's of books I will discard after a chapter or sometimes just a page.

Several months ago I went to presentation by the founder of Rumblefish (no, not the movie). Rumblefish is a unique kind of hybrid. They do sonic branding and they also do commercial music licensing. They have a bunch of music and a streamlined licensing procedure, which is so much better than existing methods that I expect a big shake up in this business.

The big thing about Rumblefish though is the way they categorize music. As an example, Mr. Anthony put up four automobile logos, and then played four clips of music and asked the audience to choose which clip went with which brand. We had no trouble. One brand was sporty, one was luxurious, one was, I think, economical, and we could instantly tell which tune went with which brand. These were not clips from popular music either. They were specially composed for this purpose. That was one of Rumblefish's selling points: they could come up with a tune that would suit whatever mood or emotion you wanted to convey, and you wouldn't have to use an expensive popular tune to do it. This is a side benefit for musicians: someone has to write and perform that music.

(As an aside, have you ever wondered who picked some of the popular tunes for some of the car ads you see? Some of them are just baffling. Never mind, I'm just an old fuddy-duddy. Back to our regularly scheduled program.)

So anyway, back to books. I'm thinking that someone must be doing something like that for books. I mean, there are a bunch of book worms out there, and some really smart people, surely someone has come up with a better scheme for categorizing books than "best seller" or "murder mystery". I mean Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code was a best seller, but it was a terrible book. Not a bad screenplay, but a terrible book. Or maybe all the publishing houses have their own secret classification systems, and they just aren't telling anyone about it.

Update January 2017 replaced missing image.


Michigan Mike writes:
I was getting down to my last pair of glasses. Years ago I had found a certain Nikon branded frame that I liked, and bought several pairs, and have never found others that suited me. I just got used to them I guess.

I have slight nearsightedness, but my last pair of glasses was a stronger prescription; I used them originally for night driving. They were not really suitable for sitting in a classroom, as I couldn't read my books or notes but I could see the board.

One morning I found a new contact lens in an unopened container and put it in one eye to see how it works. Everyone says at this age your eyes get dry and you can't wear contacts. It worked fine, no problems.

I went for an eye exam, and tried bi-focal contacts, but they didn't work for me. They went out of focus for a few seconds each time I blinked. I got a prescription for single vision contacts in 2 powers (Pretty close to each other)

I now regularly wear one contact in one eye, and alternate days which eye it goes in. I can see distance as well as reading. It simply works very well. 2 contacts is unnecessary. The alternating lets me feel I'm achieving some balance.

I was a bit concerned that it would make me schizoid, but the science says it's okay, that the brain compensates visually and favors the sharper image.

In fact, it's made me a little happier.
I had never heard of bi-focal contacts. Me, I have several pairs of cheap reading glasses I keep around, one pair of Costco bifocals that I have to be careful with or the lens pops out of the frame, and one old pair of distance glasses that I wear to the movies.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Rock Monsters

I've been thinking about what aliens might be like if we ever run into any. Shoot, they might be here on earth, but so different from us that we don't even recognize each other, much less as living beings.

A few months ago I was reading the Dinosaur Planet series by Anne McCaffrey (not really all that great) but there was an alien race called the Thak (sp?), who were large, brick-like creatures with exceptional travel abilities. Yesterday I read about the latest impact crater discovered in Africa, only now made visible from a satellite because of deforestation.

View Impact Crater D.R. Congo in a larger map

This morning I read about a woman who wants to put an accelerometer into every PC to form vast network for monitoring earthquakes. Then there are the tube worms who live around hot water vents on the bottom of the sea.

Put these all together and I came up with creatures who are burrowing in the earth, ever farther down as their planet cools. The only decent source of heat is the core of the planet, and it's been cooling down for eons, so the temperate zone has receded from the surface of the planet, and as it has receded, the creatures have had to adapt to burrowing ever father down.

This process has been going on for eons and the creatures have become ever more like their surroundings. They can survive even when crushed. Crushing may distort them somewhat, but would not seriously damage them. They are like just another rock. They can survive extremely high temperatures, temperatures, that might make rock malleable.

The have developed exquisite sound/vibration sensors/communications, so if anything lands on the surface, they would know about it. Perhaps not right away, but they would notice an anomaly, which might prompt them to launch an investigation to the surface to see who dares to tread on their planet.

Lego has their own take on this subject:

Flying Beer Cans

de Havilland Comet
Ever notice how solid feeling a 2 liter plastic soda bottle feels before it is opened? It is like rock hard. That is because of the internal air pressure. After it has been opened and the pressure has been released it is much more malleable.

Once upon a time I read that the aluminum skin of a jet airliner is proportionally thinner than that of an aluminum beer can, and you know how fragile an empty beer can is. Doesn't bode well for the airliner.

Yesterday I was reading about aircraft and I came across a bit about the ill-fated de Havilland Comet, the first jet airliner. Two of them crashed. Eventually they figured out it was because of metal fatigue around the square windows. The planes would be pressurized when flying, and then when they landed, the pressure would be equalized. This caused the metal to flex, and around the windows it flexed too much and it started cracking, and that's all it took. The cracking led to failure which led to the window being blown out which led to explosive decompression.

So I just realized that a jet airliner flying at 40,000 feet is going to be a lot like that brand-new, never before opened, two liter soda bottle. Rigid as a board.

But what about that Boeing plane that had the skin ripped off the top of the passenger compartment over Hawaii? They were not quite as high (24,000 feet), so the pressure differential wouldn't have as high. Or maybe it wasn't metal fatique at all that brought down the Comets. Maybe it was a terrorist plot...

I chose this picture because it clearly shows the intakes for the jet engines embedded in the leading edge of the wing. I don't think any jet aircraft, except for fighters, has done that since.

Update June 2015: Replaced the photo that Blogger lost.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Went out to dinner at Juan Colorado's Saturday night. It was wonderful. Think this had anything to do with it?

You get a choice of two sizes: small & medium. This is the medium and I think it must have weighed about four pounds. I was looking for web link and some of the ones I saw were pretty scary. 2009 seems like it was a bad year for this place, but they seem to have redeemed themselves.

Update January 2017 replaced missing picture.


We went by Hank's the other day and I noticed their beer display has gotten a little out of hand.

Click on the picture for to embiggen. This is just one side. I tried to fool Autostitch by cropping the edges of the photos so there would be more similar material along the edges of the photos. I was hoping I could get it to go around the end and show both sides of this island, but it did not work. "No matching pictures found" it says.

Update January 2017 replaced missing picture.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Radial Engine Cam Ring

Yes, I am still writing about radial engines. One of the things that I never quite understood was how the valve train worked. There is a cam ring that is concentric with the crankshaft and it actuates all the valves in turn. But how can it do that when the normal firing order for a radial engine is every other piston? For a nine cylinder radial that would be 1-3-5-7-9-2-4-6-8. So how does the cam manage to skip every other cylinder?

One hypothesis I heard was that the cam ring could slide back and forth on the crankshaft. All the valve lifters for the odd cylinders would be in one plane, and all the lifters for the even cylinders would be in another plane just behind the first one. The cam ring would make one rotation in the forward position and handle all the odd cylinders, and then some kind of widget would slide it towards the back, and for the second revolution it would service all the even cylinders. Never saw the internals for one, so I never found out.

Until today when I came across Ralph N. Jones' website with his 3-D animations of a radial engine. From the pictures it looked like the cam ring had 4 lobes and turned in the opposite direction from the crank, and at a much reduced speed.

I just sat down with a pencil and paper and figured it out. The cam ring turns at one eighth the speed of the crank. The cylinder in the anti-crank-wise direction from number 1 is number 9, and it is 40 degrees away. The crank will turn 320 degrees (360 - 40 = 8 x 40) in the crank-wise direction to get from number 1 to number 9. At the same time, the cam ring will turn one-eighth of 320 degrees, or 40 degrees in an the anti-crank-wise direction, and so will be at cylinder number 9 at the same time as the crank.

All four lobes are spaced 90 degrees apart. When Lobe #1 is at cylinder #1, Lobe #2 will be 10 degrees crank-wise from cylinder #3, the second cylinder in the firing order. By the time the crank gets to cylinder #3 it will have turned 80 degrees, and Lobe #2 will have moved one-eighth of that or ten degrees, and it will be right where it needs to be.

The same kind of math will show you that lobes three and four will act similarly for cylinders 5 and 7.

Nomeking link via Just An Earth-Bound Misfit.

P.S. The Pratt & Whitney Wasp Radial engine is the most produced aircraft engine of all time. Over 150,000 units, mostly due to WWII.

Update March 2016 replaced missing picture.

Master Connecting Rod

Master Connecting Rod
Joke of the day:
Mummy mummy, why am I running around in circles?
Shut up kid or I will nail your other foot to the floor.

Got that from the same place as the picture.
Stu was asking where they put all the connecting rods on a radial engine. Here's a picture of a master connecting rod. Only piston #1 is connected directly to the crank (that's what the big hole is for). All the other pistons connect to the master connecting rod. That's what the eight smaller holes are for.

A connecting rod like this would require a two piece crank, which would only be suitable for an engine with a single row of pistons. Engines with multiple rows (like a Pratt & Whitney Wasp) would require a single piece crank and a two piece rod. Which is what my Uncle had. The top and bottom haves of the master connecting rod were bolted together.

Picture stolen from Just An Earth-Bound Misfit.

Update January 2017 replaced missing pictures.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Motorstar M-14P Radial Aircraft Engine

Pratt & Whitney Wasp R985
I've always thought radial engines were pretty cool. The crankshaft is simplicity itself: only a single throw. Of course after that it gets pretty complicated, but still, 2,000 horsepower from an engine with only a single throw to the crank.

My Uncle Bill had a couple of andirons in his fireplace made from the master connecting rods from a Pratt & Whitney Wasp radial. He was the one who taught me about using universal joints with socket wrenches.

My brother Andy spent some time working on radial engines in Houston. He wasn't impressed. He wasn't a certified A & P mechanic, so he was probably not making much money, which probably contributed to his attitude. But working on these engines was a major pain. Each cylinder was bolted to the crankcase with a dozen nuts or so, and the only way to get to them was with a box wrench. And for half of them, you couldn't even use a regular box wrench, you had to use a wrench that had been specially bent so you could reach that particular nut.

Motorstar M14P Radial Engine
Still, they are pretty cool. So I'm out stumbling around on the web and I come across the Motorstar web site. They sell Russian radial engines, made in a factory in Romania. Looking through the manuals for this engine and I come across a cross sectional drawing. There's a lot of detail, but the picture is pretty small. Let's see if we can enlarge it. We can and there doesn't seem to be any limit. I try to copy the image and paste it into MS-Paint, but it's too big. The computer can't handle it.

I really like this picture. Is there any other way to extract it from this manual? Well, there is the good old screen-print button. So I do that 20 times, trim the images and paste them together using MS-Paint and we get a pretty decent image. You really need an image viewer that allows you to control the amount of zoom. Windows Picture and Fax Viewer does a decent job. You will have to excuse the gray and white lines on the image. I was trying to get by with as few screen shots as possible, and I pushed the limits a little too far. Click on the image to get to the big one.

Motorstar M14P Radial Engine Cross Section
Update January 2017 replaced missing pictures.

Solid Liquid Paper

My wife's solid liquid paper applicator got all dicombooberated, so she asked me to take a look at it. It wasn't too bad, a little tedious winding the tape back on the spool. A lot of willy twicky engineering went into this little gizmo. The small feed spool is a friction fit on it's hub, which is part of the larger diameter take up spool. So dragging the fresh tape off the feed spool causes the take up spool to try and pull more tape than is getting let out, which keeps tension on the tape. So you need just the right fit, so you get just the right amount of friction. Which means the molds need to be just right, probably to the nearest ten-thousandth of an inch.

Quote of the Day

"We have the comprehensive and adaptive learning systems to assist in preparing students with what they need to know to pass high stakes tests and to become compassionate skilled nurses."
From the home page of the Assessment Technologies Institute website. Snigs is facing an ATI test this week and she's not too happy about it. After reading that sentence I can understand why:
  • "comprehensive and adaptive"
  • "high stakes tests"
  • "compassionate skilled"
Sounds like a veritable meat grinder.

And if you want to pick nits, look at all the "to's":
  • "to assist"
  • "to know"
  • "to pass"
  • "to become"
Geez, you know you are dealing with a bureaucracy when your sentence structure is that twisted.

Friday, March 12, 2010

CISC versus RISC

The project I am working on is using a PIC32 microcontroller made by Microchip Corporation. A microcontroller is basically a CPU with some memory and some special hardware all integrated into one chip. It uses a MIPS CPU (which is some of the Intellectual Property you hear about). So I'm reading up on it and I find it does not have a hardware call stack. What!?!?! No hardware stack!?! How can that be? Ever microprocessor I have ever dealt with had a stack implemented in hardware. But after a couple of seconds reflection I realize you don't need a hardware stack, you just need a calling convention: which register you are going to use for a stack pointer, whether parameters are passed on the stack or in registers, whether the stack is push up or push down. It's really no big deal. You have to have calling conventions whatever kind of processor you use. If you don't have a hardware stack, it's just one more thing that has to be done in software, and if you are using a high level language, you don't even have to worry about it, the compiler takes care of it for you.

Back when I got started in this racket I was working with the Intel 8086, which had several unique "features". One of them was a special addition to the hardware stack. You could add a number to the return instruction (in assembly language) and the CPU would automatically adjust the stack pointer back to where it was before the caller started pushing parameters on the stack. But then C came along, and C's calling convention was that the caller removed the stuff from the stack, not the callee, so that special instruction doesn't get used much anymore.

Another feature was the repeat function. Normally if you want to move a bunch of stuff in memory you set up a loop with a counter and move one item for each iteration of the loop until your counter has gone to zero. With 8086, you could load up the registers with locations and counts and with one instruction it would perform the complete move. Of course it couldn't move everything with one cycle, but it didn't have to keep fetching instructions while performing the move. The CPU would just keep executing the same instruction over again and adjusting the relevant registers until the count register went to zero. This was a big advantage back in the days before we had cache, because in those days every instruction fetch competed with data load and store operations for access to memory. No instruction fetches meant your memory copies went very quickly.

Another Page From The History Book

Gibberish - a Clowns language from holger petersen on Vimeo.

Steve sent me this one. I don't usually go for Doo-Wop, but this one has a couple of points. It is almost completely unintelligble. I mean the main song could be in Spanish or Latin or even gibberish. And then we have the clown. I mean it's just goofball, but he's funny.

Update January 2017 replaced missing video with different one. This one has the clown and the gibberish, but no sign of Doo Wop. Original link:|211154416/20100107210100992915951001


When you process text with a computer program, sometimes you need to search for a string, and when you search for that string, sometimes you care whether the letters match exactly. That is, are they all the same case? All UPPERCASE, or all lowercase? Or MaYbE tHeY aRe AlL mixED up.

There is a set of standard string functions that come with all C Compilers. strstr(s1, s2) will perform an exact match. But what if you don't need an exact match, you just need the sequence of letters. Then you need stristr (case insensitive string search)! And where, pray tell, do you find stristr? Well, you can write your own, or you can download one from Code Snippets, or you can borrow the one I wrote. My first one used a somewhat crude approach. I copied the two strings into two arrays, forced all the characters in both arrays to be uppercase, and then used the standard strstr function to perform the search.

But then I got to thinking about it and realized it had a fairly serious limitation. It would only work on strings up to a certain length. What if I needed to look for a piece of text in a book? Or maybe even an encyclopedia? We don't want to have make a complete copy of a book just to search for a string. I mean computers are fast, and space is cheap, but we should exercise a little discipline here. So I rewrote it to only use the original strings. I use strchr to locate the first character, if it is there at all, and then do a character by character comparison to see if we have a match.

If I was using Microsoft's Visual C, I could have used stricmp, (case insensitive string compare), but it is also not a C standard, so there's a fine line there. Are we going to stick with standard library functions, or are we going to allow common extensions? Since we are not using hardware assisted scanning, it is going to run a little slower, but since we don't have to make the two copies, we are also saving a little time.

This is the kind of thing programmers do for fun when they aren't working. Both the old and new routines are stored as a Google Doc.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Gold Tooth Display

Went to the dentist the other day to get the permanent crown installed. Flashy, eh? Took a bunch of fiddling to get it to fit right. It fit on the tooth okay, it just took a bit of grinding on the biting surfaces to get to where it didn't feel like there was high point hitting the opposite teeth. Dr. Parent would put the tooth in, I would bite down on some kind of marking film, she'd take it out and grind on it a bit, and then we'd try it again.

I asked her how much material she had ground off during all this and she tells me "microns". A micro is one millionth of a meter. When I worked as a machinist, measuring to the nearest thousandth of an inch was pretty standard. A sheet of copy paper is a couple of thousandths of an inch thick.

Sometimes, if we were dealing with something really persnickety we would go down to the nearest ten-thousandth of an inch, but we were straining our fingers and eyeballs to detect a ten-thousandth of inch difference. A micron is less than one-half of one-ten-thousandth of an inch. Not very stinking much.

So she puts the tooth in and I bite down and it's blatantly obvious that the tooth is not meshing right with the opposite teeth. And it's just microns of material that are causing that? You would think that teeth would have a little more give in them, I mean they aren't mounted solidly to the bone. But I guess not. Of course, if you want to be able to cut something (like meat), you can't leave any space between the two cutting surfaces, i.e. your opposing teeth. Interesting.

But all this is just so I have an excuse to post this:

ZZ Top I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide

I used to really like ZZ Top. I don't listen to them much anymore. I've got all their tunes engraved in my brain. Maybe that's what's wrong with me.

Update January 2017 replaced missing pictures and video, though the video isn't the one I remember. Then again, maybe it's not the video I am remembering, but the image this song paints in my mind.

The Tourist

The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer

Not a great book, but pretty good. Really didn't get a feel for the main character. Maybe he was just too far removed from my world. Got a more positive vibe from his counterpart at Homeland Security. Maybe that's what this book is all about. Nominally it is a tale of a secret black ops group operating within the CIA that is performing assassinations at the behest of a Senator in an attempt to influence world affairs. A nice big fat conspiracy theory, just the way I like 'em.

Our hero, Milo (how's that for a heroic name?), works for this black ops group and is looking for this assassin, the same assassin his boss is running. Of course, he never finds him. Their boss doesn't want him found, but he has to pretend to look for him. Aren't conspiracies grand?

So China is getting a sizable chunk of their oil from Sudan and the Senator doesn't like China. He can't do much, but if he can poke them in the eye with a stick, he'll be happy. There is turmoil in the Sudan. The militant Jihadists are making a fuss. So our Senator sends the assassin over there to kill one of the mullahs. He does, and somehow it is made to look like the President of the country arranged it, which makes the Jihadists spitting mad and the turmoil turns into a full scale civil war. China won't be getting any oil out of Sudan for a while. The Senator is happy. The American Empire is still top dog!

But about that business with Homeland Security. The CIA certainly got tarred with a big brush, but Homeland Security got to be the good guys. Homeland Security, aren't those the guys the comics are always making fun of? Aren't those the guys arresting people without warrants? Now we've got a book portraying them as the good guys, well good relative to the CIA, which we all "know" is old, incompetent and corrupt. I wonder if maybe a directive came down from the top of the publishing empire that said we need some good press for this outfit. Yeah, let's pile one conspiracy on top of another.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Paste Special

While I was looking at monitors on NewEgg, I came across their comparison function. They put a great deal of data into their chart, but it was a little hard to deal with, so I thought I would put it in a spreadsheet. So select, copy, paste, apply a little AEDIT magic, and presto we have a CSV file that can be loaded into a spreadsheet. Well, sort of. Google Doc's couldn't handle it, so I pulled out my copy of Calc, the Open Document Spreadsheet program.

Now I have the data in a spreadsheet, but the data is in columns. That is the data for each monitor is in a separate column. Can we put it rows? I've tried this before but I've never had any luck. This time I use the terms "row major order" and "column major order" when I do a search on Google, and it comes back with a link on using Paste Special in Microsoft Excel.

I've seen Paste Special before, but I had always ignored it, figuring it probably had something to do whether to copy formatting information or not, and I just didn't want to learn any more about Excel than I had to. You start down that road and pretty soon you are worrying about whether the shadows under your title fonts are dark enough. Bad, bad, bad.

But here is the Paste Special dialog box and there is one little check box marked Transpose! Just what the doctor ordered. Takes all your columns of data and puts it in rows, and vice versa.

Turns out there was an endless amount of information in the stuff I copied from NewEgg, so it would have taken a spreadsheet with a thousand columns to cover all the possibilities, most of which only applied to one or two monitors. So I abandoned that project. I had enough information for my purposes, and as I bonus I learned how to transpose a spreadsheet. That might actually be useful someday.

Update January 2017 replaced missing image.

Pivot Monitor

PDF files are a pain.

They are a staple of electronics engineering. For every integrated circuit that a company produces, there is a bunch of technical information that goes along with it. Engineers use this information to design electronic circuits. The amount of information required to make use of a chip (an integrated circuit) varies widely. It may just be a single page or it could be hundreds of pages. The information on the processor I have been working with has 28 chapters, each of which is around 50 pages long for a total of over a thousand pages.

The companies that make these chips used to publish "data sheets" about their chips. The data sheets from just one company for one year could easily fill a bookshelf. Now companies put this information into PDF files that you can download from the web. It is nice that companies make technical information available on the web. It saves having a bookshelf full of data sheets, most of which you won't need. On the other hand, these documents arePDF files, and are typically formatted to be a page in a book, i.e. long way up, or, as the Windows printer setup dialog calls it, "portrait orientation".

Portrait orientation does not agree with your typical computer monitor screen, which is wider than it is tall (also called landscape orientation). Adobe Acrobat (a computer program used for viewingPDF files) has two basic settings:
  1. Fill the whole width of the window (or screen) with a page of the document, or
  2. Fit the whole page on the screen.
If you opt to have the whole page on the document, it only fills a little more than half the width of the screen, plus the document has to be shrunk so the whole thing will fit, which can make the text too small to read, and even if the text is not too small to read, it is almost always too small to read easily. I hate having to squint to read the fine print.

If you choose to have the width of the document fill the width of the screen, the text is much larger and easier to read, but you can no longer see the whole page at a glance. The bottom half is cut off. To see the bottom half of the page, you have to scroll down. If you start scrolling down a screenful at a time, the page breaks start moving into the middle of the screen. I don't want the page breaks in the middle of the screen. I want the page break at the top or the bottom. So I click on Next Page to see the top of the page, and then I scroll down one screen's worth to see the bottom of the page. Then to maintain synchronization, I click Next Page again. So I am constantly shifting back and forth between the scroll bar and the Next Page button. Bah.

But wait, this document is formatted like a printed page, and I have a printer. I could print it! So I did print a couple of chapters. Using the print odd pages only selection on the printer dialog, followed by turning the paper over and loading it back into the printer and then using the print even pages only selection, I was able to produce a two sided copy, which means fewer notebooks full of paper.

When I worked in Beaverton I would occasionally have Kinko's print a copy for me. They could do the double side printing and the three hole punch for no more than a regular copy. Only problem was I had to burn thePDF onto a CD-ROM and then hand carry it over there. They were supposed to have some fancy corporate upload system, but I never got it to work. I did find one copy house that would accept PDF's sent via e-mail, but they managed to screw up the holes punched in edge of the document.

So I'm trying to print my own documents. The first chapter comes out okay, but the next one I manage to botch. Not once, but three times. Printed the second side on top of the first, printed the second page upside down, printed the second page in reverse order. Come on, dude, get it together! Finally get my ducks in a row, and the printer runs out of ink! Hey I just put that cartridge in there! Fine, I'm working, I can afford a new cartridge. Run down to Office Depot and pick up a pair (color and black & white) for $50. Over the next month or so I print 3 more chapters and I am out of ink again. Uh, this is going to get expensive, maybe there's another solution.

Well, yeah, LCD flat panel displays are pretty cheap. You can buy one for about $200. Can I get one that would be tall enough? My current display is 1280 x 1024. 1280 is wide enough, but 1024 is not tall enough. 1280 pixels for an 8 and 1/2 inch wide sheet of paper works out to about 150 pixels per virtual inch. So we would need about 1650 lines to show the whole page, top to bottom, at a resolution that would be readable. Looking on Newegg, there are no monitors with 1650 lines (look under Recommended Resolution in the left hand column). The highest they have is 1600 lines, and those monitors are all over $1,000.

Hey! Here's an idea: how about if we turn the monitor sideways? That would do the trick. Of course there is probably gonna be some glitch with the driver, but that's just software, I'm sure someone has a solution for that. So does anyone make a monitor with a bracket that will allow you to turn it sideways? That took me a couple of days and several inquiries to get an answer. Turns out, yes, but you have to hold your mouth just right when you ask the question, or you won't find nothin'.
SAMSUNG 2243WM Black 22" 5ms 16:9 Widescreen LCD Monitor w/Height Adjustments
Thanks to my friend Marc and Bryan Paulsen of Portrait Displays, I discovered the key to finding displays that can be turned sideways. (Okay, you can turn any display sideways, it's not like they are sensitive to gravity or anything. But I want one with a bracket that supports this kind of thing. I don't want to have to cobble together my own bracket.) The key word, at least inNewEgg-land seems to be Pivot. There are displays the Swivel, displays that Tilt, and displays that Pivot. I understand Tilt to mean the display can be moved around an axis that is horizontal and parallel to the screen. But what's the difference between Swivel and Pivot? Don't they both mean the same thing?

Ah, bucky, now that's what separates us from the brainiacs at NewEgg. They know that Pivot and Swivel mean different things. Actually, they are morons. Pivot and Swivel do mean the same thing. They just chose to have them mean different things and then didn't tell anybody what those secret meanings were. Of course they don't care. For every techo-geek who wants a monitor than can be turned sideways, there are ten thousand slobbering video gamers who just want a bigger, better, wider display. We (the techo-geeks) are lucky that anyone even make displays that Pivot.

So I did some more searching at Newegg. I found four monitors that had a resolution of at least 1650 by 1280 but they were all over $2,000. Their resolution was also almost twice what I needed (2048 x 1536 or 2560 x 1600). If I relax my requirements slightly, we find some that can be purchased by mere mortals:
Ok, so it looks like I could afford to buy a monitor that Pivots and is large enough to clearly show a full page of a PDF file. So now all we need to do is tell the video driver we are going to turn the display sideways, right? Well, maybe not. I look under display settings and I'm not finding anything. Maybe that's why Portrait Displays sells Pivot Software.

While I am poking around on NewEgg I discover that one of the Samsung Monitors includes "Magic Rotation S/W (Pivot)". Now that would be a deal!

Update January 2017 replaced missing picture.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Anomalous Acceleration of Pioneer 10 and 11

Pioneer Spacecraft
I have been thinking about space travel and I started poking around on the net and I came across an abstract (summary) of a paper some rocket scientists had written. These guys put in some time studying the radio signals from the spacecraft and have concluded it is not going as fast as they think it should.

The difference between how fast Pioneer 11 is going and how fast they think it should be going is about:

8 x 10^{-8} cm/s^2

which is the same as eight hundred picometers per second squared. (A picometer is one trillionth of a meter. Pretty stinking small.) "Per second squared" means this is a change in velocity, or acceleration. This works out to be about two centimeters per second per year (2 cm/s per year), BACK TOWARD THE SUN, so it is slowing down, or decelerating. Pioneers velocity when we last heard from it (1995) was 11.6 km/s.
  • 11.6 km/s is 11,600 m/s.
  • 2 centimeters is 0.02 meters.
  • 11,600 meters divided by .02 meters is 580,000
So it will take 580,000 years for Pioneer 11 to come to a complete stop. At it's current velocity it will be four million years before it comes to another star, so if this acceleration (deceleration) holds true, we should see Pioneer 11 back here in about one million years.

Update September 2016 replaced missing picture.

Poupée de cire, poupée de son

I'm reading The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer, a modern day tale of espionage, and he mentions this song, so I go look it up. It was a big hit in Europe in 1965. A nice light pop number sung by a pretty girl, but I don't go much for the orchestral music. I can see someone somewhat older than me who had heard it when they were a teenager having an affection for it, but someone younger? I don't think so, but then there is no accounting for taste. Lyrics here.

Poupée de cire, poupée de son is French for Doll of wax, doll of bran (or song). Poupée de son can mean either a doll stuffed with Bran, like a raggedy Ann, or singing doll, one with a string you pull.

Quote of the Day

Retrofitting is a pain and takes 4 times as long to do anything.
What would it be like to build something new? - Iowa Andy
All three of my younger brothers are involved in remodeling old houses. They all have more energy than I do. Well, they are younger. I will do small repairs: plumbing, wiring, cars, etc., but I hire out anything bigger. I think the last big project I did was painting the inside of our garage in Beaverton. It had already been drywalled, it just needed a coat of paint. I mean how tough can it be? It took me three years to get it done.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Cadillac Dream

I dreamt I was trying to maneuver a really long Cadillac. The situation was kind of like a parking lot, but the lanes were painted like a game board (like Life or Monopoly or something). There was a U-Turn on a part of the board that had been folded up so it was almost vertical. I was trying to keep the speed up so the car would not fall off the board, but slow enough that I could negotiate the turn, AND keep the car within bounds. I almost made it through cleanly, but the left front tire drifted over the line just as we were completing the corner and crushed some painted-on flowers.

I must have had to drive the whole circuit two or three times, because I went through that same corner two or three times. Then I was turning right into the exit lane, which was as long as one side of the board. At the end of the lane the path bore to the left, off the board and between two sets of black posts (like you see in parking lots to keep people from driving into the stores). So I make a right turn at the corner of the board and into the entrance to the exit lane. The car starts around this corner and proceeds down the exit lane, but the car is longer than the exit lane!

While the back end of the car is still negotiating the right turn, the nose needs to start turning left to negotiate the path between the posts. So do I keep turning right, or start turning left? The answer is start turning left, because, just like in a cartoon, the body of the car is behaving just like a snake and bending around the corners.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Quote of the Day

". . . any system which does not give ample opportunity for talent to displace unearned rank will, in the end, come to grief."
Kevil Mahonney, lawyer to the rich & powerful, at dinner with the stars of our story, Against The Odds by Elizabeth Moon, page 317.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Using Hexadecimal Numbers in Google Spreadsheets

Google Doc's does spreadsheets. I was mucking around with one today, trying to sort out the SFR's (Special Function Registers) in a PIC32 microcontroller. Some of these registers have contiguous addresses, but in some places there are gaps. Some are big gaps, some are small gaps. I wanted to find out just how big these gaps are.

I had the addresses in hexadecimal using 'C' language notation in one column. Turns out Google Spreadsheet doesn't understand that notation, matter of fact it doesn't really understand hexadecimal at all. To do anything with a hex number, you have to convert it to decimal. Further, you best not be using eight digits. That's more than Spreadsheet can handle. So we use:
  • mid(cell address, start position, number of characters) to extract a portion of the number(for example 0xbf80f440). In this case the strings are all ten characters long (counting the leading 0x), the first three digits are all the same, so we only need the last five. So our function call looks like this: mid(cell, 6, 5)
  • hex2dec(number) to covert the hex number to a decimal number,
  • subtraction to calculate the difference between the two numbers, and lastly
  • dec2hex(number) to convert the number back to hexadecimal format.
Put it all together and the contents of a sample cell looks like this: