Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Ghost Writer

We were looking for a movie to rent the other day and one that popped up on the Red Box web site was The Ghost Writer, but my wife tells me we've seen it already. Really? I don't remember anything about it.

Today Steve sends me a story about Obama's dog getting a private jet flight to Trenton to join the family for vacation in Bar Harbor. Okay, Bar Harbor is in Maine, but Trenton is in New Jersey, isn't it? So I check Google Maps, and there is a Trenton in Maine, and unlike Bar Harbor, it has a small airport. So if you were flying to Bar Harbor, you would actually land in Trenton, Maine.

So I'm looking at the map and I notice that Bar Harbor is on the same island as Acadia National Park. Hey, isn't that one of the sites they used for filming Shutter Island? I look on my list of maps, and hey, what's this? The Ghost Writer! I made a map. I must have seen the movie. I don't remember any of this. Huh.

Conversational Styles

When my wife and kids talk it is kind of light-weight banter, give and take, back and forth, and usually of little or no interest to me. I was at lunch the other day and Steve commented that I talk like I write my blog posts. He gave a brief impression that made me sound heavy and pedantic. My son John imitates me sometimes in almost exactly the same style, and his impressions I have to admit are funny. When I go to lunch with Jack, we take turns telling each other stuff that has happened or stuff we have learned in the last week. We will occasionally interrupt each other or ask questions, but mostly we alternate talking and listening. When Jack and Randy get together, I get the impression that Randy is even more serious. He doesn't tolerate interruptions well: wait till I'm done, and he doesn't tolerate questions well: if there is something I didn't tell you it's because I didn't know, and if you didn't understand, it's because you weren't listening.

I sometimes bark at my family when I am trying to explain something and they interject with a comment. I bark because the comment seems to me to be from out of left field, or they are trying to jump ahead, but they jump in the wrong direction. If you would just wait a minute, I'll tell you . . .

I don't think I bark at my friends. I might bark at co-workers, after all, they are being paid to keep their eye on the ball. If they were paying attention, they wouldn't be asking stupid questions.

I suppose I bark at my family because I am surprised by their behavior. Or maybe it's just because I am a grumpy old man.

Words?


Supposedly ReCaptcha works by putting up two distorted words, one of which it knows how to spell. If you get that one right, then it assumes you also spelled the other one right, and it stores this information away for use by an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) program so it can use your spelling to recognize this word.

However, today's puzzle only compounds the ignorance. The instructions say "Type the two words", but onces & indrect are not words (okay, onces might be a word, as in multiple occurences of once, but that's going to be a rare case). I suspect they are typos for ounces and indirect, which is something OCR is going to have to learn to deal with.

Update February 2017 replaced missing picture.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Truths For Mature Humans

I usually read lists once and forget about them, but this one had too many items that hit close to home. From Steve.



  1. Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you're wrong.
  2. I totally take back all those times I didn't want to nap when I was younger.
  3. There is great need for a sarcasm font.
  4. How the h*ll are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet?
  5. Was learning cursive really necessary?
  6. Map Quest really needs to start their directions on # 5. I'm pretty sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood.
  7. Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died.
  8. I can't remember the last time I wasn't at least kind of tired.
  9. Bad decisions make good stories.
  10. You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment during the day when you know that you just aren't going to do anything productive for the rest of the day.
  11. Can we all just agree to ignore whatever comes after Blue Ray? I don't want to have to restart my collection...again.
  12. I'm always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks me if I want to save any changes to my ten-page technical report that I swear I did not make any changes to.
  13. I keep some people's phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to answer when they call.
  14. I think the freezer deserves a light as well.
  15. I disagree with Kay Jewelers. I would bet on any given Friday or Saturday night more kisses begin with Miller Lite than Kay.
  16. I wish Google Maps had an "Avoid Ghetto" routing option.
  17. I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.
  18. How many times is it appropriate to say "What?" before you just nod and smile because you still didn't hear or understand a word they said?
  19. I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars team up to prevent a jerk from cutting in at the front. Stay strong, brothers and sisters!
  20. Shirts get dirty. Underwear gets dirty. Pants? Pants never get dirty, and you can wear them forever.
  21. Sometimes I'll look down at my watch 3 consecutive times and still not know what time it is.
  22. Even under ideal conditions people have trouble locating their car keys in a pocket, finding their cell phone, and Pinning the Tail on the Donkey - but I'd bet everyone can find and push the snooze button from 3 feet away, in about 1.7 seconds, eyes closed, first time, every time!

Update February 2017 replaced missing picture.

I Hate Paint

I've patched a hole in the wall, now I just need to paint it. Look in the pile of old paint cans and there it is: Devine "Storm". But wait, there's not just one can, but three. Why do we have three? Could it be that one is flat, one is semi-gloss, and one is . . . we don't care. It's enough that one might be semi-gloss and one might be flat. We ran into this once before and ended up having to do a do-over because we got it wrong. The paint on the wall looks like semi-gloss, but the paint that is spilled on the side of the cans looks flat. Why can't the dunderheads at the paint company label it so I don't have to deal with this dilemma? Fortunately darling daughter comes to my rescue and assures me that the one in my hand is probably the right one, so I used it. Now I have to wait till tomorrow to see if it matches or not.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Political Debt

I started off at Tam's place this morning, like I often do, and following some links I ended up reading a couple of articles about How Hyperinflation Will Happen by Gonzalo Lira. I don't buy his conclusion (or, for that matter, some of his premises), that hyperinflation will hit the US within the next year or two, but his explanation of how it would happen is very interesting. It piqued my interest enough that I did a little more reading on the subject. There is no end to the amount of discussion on the economy, and eventually I got tired, but toward the end I came across a graph of the national debt, and I thought it was illuminating. There are good reasons for going into debt, like a war of conquest and expecting your victories to bring you wealth (the British Empire), or some massive construction project that will greatly improve your production capabilities (the Interstate Highway System). But lately we've been piling up trillions of dollars in debt because we are trying to kill a few thousand radical Muslims? I'm sorry, I don't think this is a cost-effective way to run a country.

The green line is revenue (taxes), the pink line is spending, and the dark red line is debt.
The horizontal lines are spaced one trillion dollars apart.
The range is from zero at the bottom to eleven trillion dollars at the top.
Click to embiggen.

I got the base graph for this from an article in USA Today. Their version is "interactive", meaning it will show you the actual dollar amounts for any point on the graph when you mouse over it. I added the Presidents and the colored bars for the parties: yellow for Republicans, aqua for Democrats. I wanted pastels so they wouldn't overpower the lines, and I wasn't up to mixing my own colors for this, so yellow and aqua will just have to do.

Note this graph goes all the back to WWII, which is what the little bump at the left side is all about. After that the debt slowly declined until the very end of Ford's term when it started up. Carter didn't seem to have much effect, one way or the other, but Reagan sure put us on the map. Things were going so well under Clinton that we were actually able to start reducing this huge debt. Then we got G.W. and his neo-cons and the sky became the limit. Things haven't slowed down under Obama, and I am sorry to see that.

If we don't get this debt thing under control, things are going to get much worse.

Update October 2016 replaced missing graph. However, linked larger version is gone and all the other links are dead.

It's Raining!

What's going on? It isn't even September yet, and it's raining outside. This is severely disconcerting.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bad Lieutenant - Port of Call: New Orleans


Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans Poster
I wasn't impressed when I first heard about this movie. I didn't care for the last Nicolas Cage movie I saw, I wasn't really interested in another movie about bad cops, and the fancy title made it sound like they were trying to dress up a bad movie. But then I saw that it was directed by Werner Herzog, and I thought, well maybe it will be alright. And it was.

Bad Lieutenant - Port of Call New Orleans

We've got Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes and Val Kilmer, though Val's role is small and inconsequential. Cage, or rather his character, is nuts. He hurt his back doing something foolish, suffers from chronic pain, eats all the pain killers he can get his hands on as well as snorting cocaine on a regular basis, and he looks and acts like it. In other words, he looks like s*** and acts like a complete wacko.

He is beginning to look like a complete disaster. He manages to run up a big enough debt to his bookie that he gets cut off, he gets some big shot politician so pissed off he is sending some thugs to collect tribute for an insult, and he gets his gun taken away.

In spite of all the drugs he is taking, or perhaps because of it, he manages to orchestrate the actions of all these people who are bothering him so that they are put in their places and he comes out smelling like a rose. It was really very clever, too clever for real life, but, hey, that's why we go to the movies.

Update February 2017 replaced missing picture and corrected a couple of typo's.

The New Economy

A couple of curious things happened this week. I got two messages from employment agencies wanting to talk to me, and I got two messages from companies wanting to advertise on my blog. Not bad for not having lifted a finger in either direction.

I have been looking on Dice.com for a programming job, and perhaps my activity brought my resume to the top of the churn pile, because I had not applied for a job with either of agencies that contacted me. I doubt anything will come of it, but I will try to remain neutral. You never know, something could fall out of the sky at any time. One was for a job in Austin, Texas with AMD, and the other was in Seattle, Washington with Meteorcomm.

Meteorcomm builds a very interesting, perhaps unique, radio communications system. They bounce their radio signals off of the ionization trails left when micrometeorites hit the atmosphere and are incinerated. We're not talking about meteorites, the ones you sometimes see flashing across the night sky. These are like grains of sand and there is a constant influx of them. They were a sometimes competitor to the GOES system for data collection operations. GOES is only open to government agencies, only operates in one direction, and requires a big satellite dish to receive the signals. Meteorcomm's system works in both directions, doesn't require a satellite or a satellite dish, and is open to anyone. Getting a job at Meteorcomm would be very cool.

Then there were the advertisters. One was from ASPEX. The make a personal scanning electron microscope (PSEM) and they wanted to put up something about it. The letter implied that there might be some money in it, but I didn't care. This product was just too cool! A scanning electron microscope that sits on a table! Wow! It does cost upwards of $80,000, which kind of put a damper on my enthusiasm.

They have a video demonstrating the machine, and in this video the machine is sitting on what looks like the box it came in, and the box is wobbling! Who are these clowns? They have an $80 thousand dollar machine sitting on top of a cardboard box, and it's wobbling! Criminently. Have marketing standards slipped that far?

The other advertiser was Obnoxious, oops, sorry, Annoying Orange. They are offering me $100 a month to put a banner at the top of my blog. $100 isn't going to cover the rent, but it would keep me in coffee beans. But if the banner is annoying as some of the ones I've seen out there on the web, I don't think I would do it. But it does make me wonder how much Google would pay with their scheme. Especially since I don't expect to land a job anytime soon, and I am not quite ready to start smuggling.

Quote of the Day

The police are not here to create disorder, they're here to preserve disorder ~
Richard J. Daley
Ned has been sending me quotes about order & disorder, and I particularly liked this one, possibly because I read about Rod Blagojevich's hung jury in the paper this morning, and I've been watching The Good Wife, which is all about corruption in Chicago.

Richard J. is the old-time mayor of Chicago. His son Richard M. is the current mayor.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo


The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
I had just finished reading the trilogy of murder mysterys that started with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo when we got the movie. I am usually leary of watching a movie made from a book I've read, or vice versa, but this one was fine. Maybe because the story was so good, or the transfer to film was so accurate. I don't know. I enjoyed it. Naturally, there was quite a bit that was skipped over, but it didn't really hurt the story. Mostly what I was afraid of was that they would get some doll to play Lisbeth, and they didn't. I don't think she was quite as small as the dimensions in the book, but she fit the part quite well. The only fault I found was sometimes her expression was a bit blank when I would have expected something. But then she's young, and for young people there are some situations that they haven't experienced before and so haven't developed an emotional reaction. Or maybe it's a feature of the character's asperger's syndrome. Or maybe I'm all wet.

Update February 2017 replaced missing picture.

A Prophet


A Prophet
A Prophet is an excellent French movie about gangsters and life in prison. Kid gets sent to jail for six years for some kind of altercation with the police, and he gets an education. Being a smart kid, he learns, keeps quiet, and slowly builds an empire. Being in prison doesn't seem to be any obstacle to doing business. Well, there is an added expense in that you have to bribe the guards, but on the other hand you save money on rent. Much like American prisons, the gangs are in charge, and if you want to stay alive you align yourself with one group or another. Kind of makes me wonder if prisons do any good at all. Sure, there is the occasional mad dog who should be locked up, and people who prey on others. But most of the people in prison, or so I am led to believe, are in there because they are involved in drug trafficking, or the violence that goes along with running an illegal business. After all, you can't go to the police when someone rips off your stash.

It's got some dream sequences that look much more like I expect dream sequences to look like. The guys who did Inception should have watched this. They might have learned something, but then it would have made their movie much more difficult to put together.

Update February 2017 replaced missing picture.

Covert Affairs


63rd Annual Tony Awards - Radio City Music Hall, June 7, 2009 in New York City. Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images
We've been watching Covert Affairs lately. It's a series about a young woman who has just started working for the CIA. It's pretty good. It's got a pretty girl in the lead, it's got action in every episode, it's got some characters, it's got a continuing mystery, but mostly it's got this what-are-we-really-doing-thing question going on. They are going out and messing with people, some of whom haven't done anything wrong, and turning their world upside down and inside out. It's all for the "greater good", but sometimes the show leaves you wondering just what are they trying to pull. Of course, it's just TV, but it does seem to have some basis in reality.

Piper really has a heck of a smile.

Update February 2017 replaced missing picture.

Another Flashy Motorcycle

I know this is two bikes in one day, but sometimes you just get lucky. This one flashed on the screen for just a second while I was watching Top Gear and I just had to get a picture of it. Just look at it - I mean even the tires are the same color as the rest of the bike, purple or pink or whatever it is.



I hope it doesn't give you nightmares.

October 2016 replaced missing picture.

Vending Machines, Part 2


The Red Box DVD Vending machines use their own special case for the DVD. It has a cutout in the center of one side so you can see the center of the disk where they have printed their own special "bar code", presumably so their machine can recognize the disk. The DVDXpress machine uses a regular DVD case that you see in the store. The one disk box we got from them looked like someone had to tried to open it with a crow bar. It was a little mangled, but it worked okay.

It's not really a bar code, it's a rectangular block of apparently random black and white dots. I've seen them on some other kinds of documents, but usually they are much larger, like an inch square. These are only about a quarter inch square. You can see them in the picture arranged around the center of the disk. They are the four black and white rectangles.

Update February 2017 replaced missing picture.

Russian Record Setter

At least that's what is looks like. I found it when I was cleaning out my bookmarks file. It is from what I think is a Russian motorcycle blog.

Walter M. Pierce

I'm reading Dustbury and he points to an article on Knol, which might be an attempt by Google to horn in on Wikipedia's territory.

Anyway, I'm reading the article about Allied Industrialists doing business with Hitler during WWII, and I come across this little bit:
Alcoa sabotage of American war production had already cost the U.S. "10,000 fighters or 1,665 bombers," according to Congressman Pierce of Oregon speaking in May 1941, because of "the effort to protect Alcoa's monopolistic position. . ." [13].
Hey! I live in Oregon, and a congress critter from Oregon stood up and said something righteous in Congress! Cool!

Just for grins, I look up this guy, just to see if anyone else has ever heard of him, and lo and behold, he has his own Wiki-article, where I find this little tidbit:
Pierce and his wife both became involved in the anti-Japanese movement during World War II, in response to a concern on the part of local residents about the success of Japanese truckers in certain areas of Oregon.
Those dog-gone Japs! They are driving trucks that real Americans ought to be driving! It's probably a plot! Let's lock 'em all up!

Okay, not so cool. Jeez, people are creepy.

The article on Knol is a little slanted. A lot of people were doing business with Germany before WWII, and you can't really blame them for that. After the war started, well, then it gets a little hazy. How much control would a foreign company have over a subsidiary operating in Germany? But then there's the last little bit, where the big time operators get small time prison sentences. That stinks, but whatchaya gonna do?

You might want to read what Smedley Butler has to say about war.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Thursday Lunch Topics

New-to-me stuff that came up at lunch today.

Robert Wright. Part of the chattering class. More concerned about what people say about what other people say than about anything that actually happens.

The Woods, nightclub in Sellwood (SE Portland). Working on their liquor license.

Rebecca Gates and the Spinanes. Portland band popular in the 1990's.

Mimi Farina. Joan Baez had a sister.

Doe Bay Resort on Orcas Island. I was on Orcas Island a month ago. I think there was something I should remember about this, but I don't.

Vending Machines

We rented a couple of movies from a Red Box machine at McDonald's the other day. When I went to return the movies someone else was using it, and I had to wait. Minutes. Two, maybe even three.

Went to the bank the other day with my daughter to open a new account. While they are filling out paperwork I realize I need some cash, so I go out to the lobby to use the ATM. Someone else is using this machine too! I have to resort to personal service. Hmmph.

Took my wife to the ATM the other day to get some cash and the machine, instead of giving her five 20's gives her a hundred dollar bill. Who load's a machine with hundred dollar bills? I mean you can't use them anywhere. Are you going to use a $100 bill to buy a couple of ice cream cones at McDonald's (which was our next stop)? I wouldn't blame them if declined to complete the sale.

Could it be the black market has picked up so much that there is now a shortage of 20's? Or maybe the Treasury guys finally put a stop to the Iran's counterfeiting operation, and that has caused the supply of 20's to dry up. Or maybe somebody has realized that a twenty just doesn't go far enough anymore, and more people need hundreds.

Red Box and McDonald's have some deals this week. Red Box will rent you 2 DVD's for $1, and McDonald's will sell you two ice cream cones for $1. Pretty sweet.

Quote of the Day

In terms of wealth distribution, we're on the level of Zimbabwe, rather that Europe. (I read that somewhere, don't ask me to validate it.) - California Bob
Is it a quote if I don't know who said it? I was kind of surprised when I heard it because Zimbabwe has been my go-to-example of how not to run a country for a couple of years now. So, whoever said this is saying that there is more concentration of wealth in this country than there is in Zimbabwe. I don't know if that's really saying anything, because, after all, we have a heck of a lot more wealth to concentrate than Zimbabwe does. And our currency is still worth something in the stores, even in Zimbabwe.

Distribution of Wealth

One of the big complaints I hear from the Left is that the distribution of wealth in this country is becoming ever more biased to the rich. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

One of the big complaints I hear from the Right is that the Left is trying to redistribute money from those that have to those who do not, i.e. from the rich to the poor.

Rich is not necessarily bad. It depends on what you do with the money. To me, the problem seems to be that people with money are only interested in whether their investment is making a return that is adequate to keep them in beer and caviar, or whatever their predilections are. They are not really interested in what it is invested in. This would not normally be a bad thing, but this lack of interested control of investments, plus the huge amounts of money that have been siphoned off by our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have left a lot of people out of work. And that is really bad for the country. You are going to have more people turning to gray areas in order to make enough to survive, and once you start doing shady things, it's much easier to start doing things that are illegal.

Of course just because something is illegal doesn't mean it is bad, and likewise, just because something is legal doesn't mean it is good. But we are a nation that is subject to the rule of law, well, at least we try to be ruled by law. So when people are doing things that are illegal, they are liable to run afoul of our criminal justice system, and that is costly for everyone. Maintaining a police force, courts, judges, lawyers and prisons costs money, money that is paid by taxes. So everytime unemployment goes up, you can expect your taxes to go up. More unemployment checks, more welfare payments, more criminal activity, more law enforcement expenses. And since you have fewer people working, you have fewer people paying taxes, so the increased tax burden is falling on fewer people.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Multifunction Folded Spade


Could be a handy tool for camping. I wonder about the saw edge though. Anything that can cut steel is going to be slow going in wood. Still, it would be a lot better than nothing. Is there any curve to the blade? I couldn't really tell. Flat would be better for cutting, but not so good for shoveling. You best carry a sharpening stone for the combination knife / ax edge. And what about that music? From Don.

The Dark Side of Woody


By Lily Fox via rocamora: crónicas

Frequency

Watching one of those YouTube videos of a record playing on a turntable, I realized that if your eye can pick up 30 frames per second, and your ears can hear down to 20 Hz, you should be able to listen to something vibrating at 20 Hz and see it move. Is the eye really faster than the ear? At what point does a tone start to sound like individual thumps?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

9-11 Airfare Bargains

My wife tells me that airfare for travel on September 11th is really cheap. Evidently even years after the event, people are still afraid to travel by air on that day. Book your flight now.

PSEM

Just what every science nut needs: a Personal Scanning Electron Microscope (PSEM):

EXpress Benchtop Portable SEM
I got an email from the manufacturer (ASPEX) this week. They are offering to scan any samples you care to send them for free. They are also running a contest to Name That Sample. They even have a video on YouTube. Maybe somebody will give me one for Christmas.

Update February 2017 replaced missing picture, updated a couple of links, removed a couple of dead links. FEI has a page of customer micrographs here.

Trapped Underground

Jack & I were talking about the 33 Bolivian coal minors currently trapped half a mile underground. There is a rescue plan underway, but it is expected to take four months to reach the trapped men. This reminds Jack of a story he heard somewhere, in a play maybe, but supposedly based on a true story:

During the WWII invasion of France by the allies, seven German soldiers were trapped in an underground supply bunker. They had plenty of supplies, but were unable to dig their way out. After three and a half years their supply of candles ran out. After seven years, the French were going along dismantling old war fortifications and they found these guys. Three and a half years in the dark! Gads.

Of course, it could all be fiction. I did some searching on the web but I didn't find anything.

Forging Versus Casting

I found this in a comment on Tam's blog. I think it gives a pretty good explanation of the relative merits of making metal parts via casting versus forging. In this case we are talking about making parts for guns, but it applies equally well to any kind of metal parts.
Roberta X: Your preference for forgings is not superstition. Unless the casting process is exquisitely well-controlled, dissolved gases will undissolve as the metal cools, forming bubbles ("voids"). Forging crushes the voids and pressure welds them so they will stay closed. It also smears out other inclusions so they are less likely to cause failures, and finally it work hardens the metal.

The reason for using castings is always cost. Forging and then milling to final shape is expensive. Casting costs considerably less, and with alloys like Zamak that don't contract when they freeze, there will be considerably less final milling. But there's good reason to be leery of castings where strength is critical.

One example: A motorcycle company once decided to save a buck or so on it's brake levers by changing from forged aluminum to cast aluminum. They also contracted the castings to the low bidder. The result was voids in the castings and a series of usually fatal accidents where the levers broke just when the rider was braking harder than ever before.

Now, selecting a casting wasn't the whole problem. There are foundries that could cast that aluminum alloy with no voids, but purchasing selected a foundry with experience mainly in decorative castings. Secondly, nowadays it doesn't cost that much to x-ray every casting. You don't have to have someone standing there studying the picture, either, automated inspection computer programs can do the job.

And then there's the second issue: with castings, good performance in casting becomes a more important criteria in selecting the alloy than the final mechanical properties. A steel slide with the same design defects might fail at the same spot, but with the right alloy the slide would deform and jam so you could not fire the gun again before it cracked all the way through and sent pieces flying. With firearms in particular, the failure mode matters!
I was going to say that the arguments about cost are predicated on mass production, but even if you are just making one, casting can be quite a bit quicker. You do have to make the mold, which can be just as difficult as making the actual part, but you can use softer materials like wood or aluminum. Forging is another process entirely, and you wouldn't use it if you were casting a part. There are ways to make any of these processes more efficient for mass production, but in all cases they require expensive machines.

Cell Phone Charger Mystery

Jack got a USB cable so he could charge his cell phone from his laptop ($2.50). It appears to work very well. Plug it in the and little battery indicator gives all the signs that it is indeed charging. Wait until it shows that it is fully charged and then unplug it. It will work fine for a bit, but the next day the battery will be dead. Use a regular wall-wart charger and the indicator behaves exactly the same way, but the battery will have enough charge to last for days. So what the devil is going on?

This is the problem with consumer electronics: there is no way to tell. If the charging circuit was a simple, logical one, this kind of thing wouldn't happen. But there could be a capacitor involved, or maybe even a charge-pump circuit, and so the charging indicator is not actually showing what's going on with battery but is instead showing the activity of the charging circuit. And as the wall-wart is delivering 5 Volts, and the USB cable is only delivering 3.3 Volts, all the charge-pump activity in the world won't charge the battery if it doesn't have enough Voltage to start with.

P.S. Google's spell check Fu is weak. It insists that "internet" be capitalized, but it doesn't care about "Volt".

Bottle Bombs

Mix a little Drano, aluminum foil and water in plastic pop bottle and stand back.


Tin foil bottle bomb

They can be dangerous. The Snopes story says they will detonate 30 seconds after being picked up. This makes me think that water is needed for the reaction to occur. Dry Drano and aluminum foil by itself may not react. So in order to make this a "booby-trap", you would have to float the Drano in a foil boat, which would require some dexterity and care.

The best part of this video is, of course, the way the plastic bottle distends before it explodes. I've never seen that before.

From Steve.

Update February 2017 replaced missing video with another one.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

COINTELPRO & Afghanistan

COINTELPRO & Afghanistan do not have much to do with each other, but looking into the first got me to thinking about how nations get to be the way they are. I have been thinking about Afghanistan lately and what we should do, so the two topics got connected by "nation building" and this is what we get.

Tam put up a post this morning that mentioned COINTELPRO, which I had not heard of, so I just had to look it up. The Wikipedia article on it makes it look like an evil government conspiracy, and it pretty much was (is?). The FBI was targeting a whole bunch of groups. They start listing them and they are all peaceful, liberal, "good" groups, and then they mention the Ku Klux Klan. What? How did that EVIL organization get lumped in with all those good groups? Which just goes to show that not everybody has the same idea of good and evil.

Then we come across this little blurb:
The Church Committee documented a history of FBI directors using the agency for purposes of political repression as far back as World War I, through the 1920s, when they were charged with rounding up "anarchists and revolutionaries" for deportation, and then building from 1936 through 1976.
Which made me think that these operations, however we view them now, had a part in making our country what it is today. Whatever that may be.

Let me change direction here and talk about Afghanistan for a minute. We have gotten ourselves into a quagmire there, much like the Russians did umpteen years ago. A big part of the problem is we are a nation with 21st century sensibilities fighting a bunch of 15th century barbarians, with guns, in the mountains.

I am thinking we need to pull back to a small area near a border with a friendly country. Oops, wait a minute, are there any countries bordering Afghanistan that are friendly to the US? Let's see who the candidates are:


View Larger Map

Iran is definitely not friendly. Pakistan may be "friendly", but I wouldn't trust them with a pack of cigarettes. Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan used to be part of the USSR. China has a little bit of border, but I'm pretty sure they aren't our friends. That whole part of the world is pretty much a disaster. It's a desert populated with Moslems. There isn't any green until you get to Pakistan, or up into the mountains in Central Asia.

Okay, this is looking grim. I am thinking the only way we are going to eliminate the Jihadists & Al Qaeda is to bring that area into the present, and they are so far lost in the past that it is going to take lot of doing and a lot of time to accomplish that. If we could establish a secure toehold with a school, a civilized community and a trading post, and we could build on that for a hundred years, well, then we might achieve something. This business of pouring billions of dollars into a hole in the ground is a waste of time, money, and people.

Of course, the big problem is money. The only thing I know of that Afghanistan has that the rest of the world wants is opium. I suspect that it is the single largest export, bigger than anything else by a factor of ten. Outside of opium, Afghanistan is importing ten times as much as it is exporting. I guess that's not surprising since the US is involved.

I was going to say Afghanistan needs to become self-sufficient, and not depend on opium, but I'm wondering if that might be even more impossible than the current war we are fighting there.

Long Term Dream

I had a strange dream last night. I was traveling by car and things were going wrong, which is just sort of normal when you are traveling by car, but the weird part is that it seemed to go on for about two weeks. Things happened and the car was damaged and I ended up walking the last few miles home barefoot in my pajamas, which is the only part I remember with any clarity.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Semi-Viral

Michigan Mike posted this video clip on YouTube and it has gotten 28K hits. So, hey, I'm all for a new fad, especially when it's somebody I know.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Quote of the Day

So I'm driving down the interstate and pass a billboard which appears to be black except for a malevolent red HAL-like robot eye and the slogan "The Next Generation Of Does." And I think to myself "Oh, great, cyborg frickin' deer." - View From The Porch

Money In The Bank

I heard about the rich guys plot to give half of their money to charity, and I got to wondering just how much is tied up in charity now. Rocky gave me a couple clues and I took the data and put it in a spreadsheet to see just how much is there. One list is of the 100 largest foundations in the US, the other is a list of universities with endowments of over one billion. The total for each comes to just over $200 billion, which is nothing to sneeze at, but still, each one is just one tenth of the missing two trillion dollars.

There are two kinds of charities (that I know of). Charitable Trusts and the other kind, which I'll call Pay-Cash-Now Charities. A Trust takes their donations and invests them and then uses the interest and/or dividends to make grants to "worthy" causes. The Pay-Cash-Now (United Way, etc.) kind takes their donations and immediately turns around and distributes them to "worthy" causes. They each have their own definition of what is a worthy cause.

The rich guys plan to give away their money is really just a scam to relieve them of the responsibility of managing their money. There is no way they can spend even a fraction of their holdings. They can't even spend the interest their holdings generate. So they turn over their holdings to some foundation and some nameless, faceless committee gets to figure out where to invest it. It's important that it goes to a trust and not one of those other charities because that way the wealth will remain concentrated and invested and nothing will really change. If it goes to one of those other charities, well who knows where it will go. They will probably just fritter it away on one of their foolish social programs, and the sharks will be in there skimming the top 90 percent into their own pockets. No, Pay-Cash-Now charities are not the way to go.

Trusts depend on corporations making money. Their main goal is preservation of capital. If they truly want to preserve the value of their capital, they have to allow for inflation. To do this they need to reinvest a portion of their proceeds. If you don't allow for inflation, real value of your capital will decrease year after year until all the money you earn will only buy you a six pack at the local 7-11.

Say they have one billion dollars at their command. If they are making ten per cent on their investments and there is no inflation, then they would be able to distribute all of their earnings, or a hundred million dollars. If they are only getting a five percent return, and inflation is running at four percent, then they can only distribute ten million dollars. If inflation is higher than your returns, well, you are losing money and you better hope it doesn't go on for too long.

I see three kinds of situations where charity could be used. One is where you have a natural disaster and a great deal of the infrastructure of a community is destroyed. Another is an unlucky person who is disabled and can no longer support themselves. Those are usually good causes. The third situation is where you supporting people on a long term basis because . . . who knows why? Not a good situation. This is where there is a lot of conflict over welfare, unemployment and jobs.

Remember the old Roman maxim: Bread and Circuses. As long as you keep the people fed and entertained, you can do whatever you want.

Planimeter

Jeff told me about this device yesterday. A planimeter is used for measuring area on a map. They used to make mechanical devices for doing this, but now it's all done with computers, and now-now it's available on-line from our great lord and benefactor Google.

Wallypower 118


Top Gear had a short clip about this boat on a rerun I watched the other day. It is quite the boat: big, fast, powerful and ridiculously expensive. I saw it in the movie The Island a few years ago, and I wasn't sure if it was real or a computer generated image.

Now that I know it's real, I am wondering why they didn't put it on hydrofoils. If you are looking for speed, that seems like the obvious choice to me. But there are not too many boats that are using hydrofoils, so maybe there is some problem that hasn't been worked out yet.

As a side note the Wally web site does not seem to have any information about the company. The do have a pop-up video that I watched. I don't recommend it. Firefox blocked it, but gave me the option of watching it, and I thought, well, sure, Wally is a respectable outfit, they wouldn't hose up my computer. Well, yes they would. Screwed up Firefox big time, I had to reboot. And the video didn't even really show anything. Just a hint of something new, coming soon. Bah.

As for the company, they are obviously operating in a very rarefied atmosphere where the very concept of business is of no importance.

Looking for a Job

I am pretty much convinced that looking for a job is a futile proposition, but like the old saw about the lottery goes, "if you don't play, you can't win", so I try to keep looking. My latest strategy is to look in California. Looking on Dice.com I find 15 times more "firmware" jobs in California as I find in Oregon. I think wow, but then I realize that California may have 15 times as many people as Oregon, so maybe that's not so great, so I do a little checking, and it looks like, yes, the odds are better in California.


Firmware is computer software that has been recorded in a chip that is installed in some kind of machine. It is used in everything from cell phones to microwaves ovens to your car. These programs are intimately tied to the hardware, so looking at the number of electrical engineers, which are the people who design the hardware, gives you a pretty good idea of the size of the field.

Computer programming is the more general classification, but that gets you mixed up with graphics designers working on web pages and office drones writing report generators. I could do that kind of thing, but I would have to make up an imaginary resume to appear qualified. People who are hiring these days are very leery of hiring anyone who does not have a list of qualifications as long as both arms and a leg.

Criminal Behavior

Bill left a comment on an earlier post, which got me stirred up, so rather than respond in a comment I thought I'd dump it all in a new post.

I think the Republicans are a bunch of kleptocrats. Alright, let's not mince words, they are a bunch of thieves. When they got in power with G.W. back in 2000 they proceeded to loot this country of all they could carry. Remember when we invaded Iraq? The army was a pushover, but once Saddam was gone and we were inside we found out that there was nothing there. The entire infra-structure was a crumbling ruin. Saddam and his cronies had been looting the country for all it was worth ever since they got in power. Now all the neglected maintenance came to light and we discovered what a quagmire we were in. It's the same thing that's been going on in this country. It hasn't been going on as long, or as effectively, but the damage has been extensive.

For the last two years the Democrats have been trying to dig us out of this mess. Whether their course of action will prove successful or not is still open to question. We may have to abandon our glorious crusade in Afghanistan. Personally, I think if you are going to wage war against 15th Century barbarians, you should use 15th Century empire building techniques, and I don't think our "civilized" society could handle such brutality.

Perhaps democracy has gotten out of hand. Maybe the 17th amendment (direct election of Senators, adopted not quite one hundred years ago) should be repealed. I got this idea from Tam.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Showtime


Kathryn drove to San Francisco this weekend with a friend of hers to attend a ridiculously expensive two-day music festival. The only performer I recognized was Al-Green. Anyway, she came back with this fake tattoo, which functioned as a fancy hand stamp. It lists all the bands that preformed on Sunday, if you can read them.

Update February 2017 replaced missing picture with a copy from my archive that cannot be enlarged.

Woodburn Pit Stop

We made a pit stop at the Shell station in Woodburn on our way to Eugene this morning. It looks just like any other combination Quickie-Mart / gas station, until you get into the restroom. It was like something out of a five star hotel. Incongruous to say the least.



Did you catch the name on the hand dryer? XLERATOR! (Xlerator? How do you pronounce that?) The little sticker at the bottom says FEEL THE POWER, and you do. This isn't one of the those wimpy little hand dryers that wafts a gentle breeze over your hands, this one delivers a some serious wind. It will dry your hands infinitely quicker than those old ones, maybe even as fast you dry your hands with paper towels. It is impressive. I ran into these in an airport restroom last year. Minneapolis, I think.

Couch To Eugene

We scored a couch for dashing daughter's apartment a week ago and we took it down to Eugene today. The couch looked like a real deal when we bought it, but I had forgotten about the entry to the apartment. The entry door opens into a hall, so you can go straight in about three feet before you run into the wall. And that doorway looks none-to-wide neither. Tape measure reveals that we will have to take the door off. That was the easiest part of the job. There was another doorway sitting catty-wampus at the bottom of the stairs. So we had the couch on it's back, because it is not as tall as it is deep. That works until we are halfway through the door, the we have to tilt it half way back, and hoist one end really high and let the other end down really low, and that gets us through the door. Once upstairs we have to pull the same trick to get it around the corner and through another fire door. Now it is lined up with the entry door to the apartment. One end goes in and up, the back end goes down and gets pushed in. Now the couch is standing on end in the entryway. Spin it ninety degrees and we can push the bottom end into the living room and catch the top end as it falls. Fortunately we had several people there to help. Coincidentally a friend of my daughter's was moving into the apartment downstairs this afternoon and her parents had also shown up to help. Never mind all the little bits of hardware we snagged in the process. Of course, if I wasn't so out of shape, it wouldn't have been half as bad.

Winslow Homer


Key West, Hauling Anchor, Winslow Homer 1903
I stumbled across this picture yesterday and realized that my parents had a copy of it hanging on the wall at home when I was a kid. Consulting with my brothers, I realized that all the paintings on the wall were by ol' Winslow. Click to embiggen.

Update November 2016 replaced missing picture.

Pencil Sharpener Art

Just a little insanity to brighten your day. I find this pretty amazing. I have a hard time just putting a point on a pencil using a knife.

I think these pics are pretty old, after all the date on one of the pencils looks like 1987. From Steve.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Religious Attire

I thought this was interesting:
Bublanski’s statistics were good in terms of the number of cases he had solved, and he was held in high esteem by his colleagues. But they also considered him a bit odd, partly because he was Jewish. On certain high holy days he had been seen wearing a yarmulke in the corridors of police headquarters. This had occasioned a comment from a police commissioner, soon after retired, who was of the opinion that it was inappropriate to wear a yarmulke in police headquarters, in the same way he found it inappropriate for a policeman to wear a turban on duty. There was no further discussion about the matter. A journalist heard the comment and started asking questions, at which point the commissioner quickly repaired to his office.
From The Girl Who Played With Fire by Steig Larsson, P. 190 in the hardback version, P. 235 in the paperback. Religious wear, Jews & Muslims, where do you draw the line?

All three of the books in the series are very fine. They are the story of an odd girl, Lisbeth Salander, and an aggressive/successful journalist. Lisbeth is my kind of hero.

Life In Europe

I thought this little bit was illuminating:
It was a big drafty old house they found in Geneva. But nobody was very happy there. What the Volksdeutsch and the Austrians did with party operatives, the Swiss did with clerks. Nobody actually said anything about the magazine---he could, apparently, publish whatever he wanted in Democratic Switzerland, but life was a spiderweb of rules and regulations that controlled mailing permits, alien residence, and, it seemed to Adler, the very air they breathed.
From Kingdom of Shadows by Alan Furst, page 25.

Bicycle Rack



These have got to be the worst bicycle racks in the world. They use them all over the Portland area. One of the primary functions of a bicycle rack is to hold the bicycle upright, and these racks do not do that. You can lock your bike to an upright, and as long as nothing happens, it will be fine. But I have seen numerous bicycles lying on the ground, still locked to the rack. Presumably somebody bumped into the them and they fell to the ground. The rack did nothing to stop this. Even worse, it didn't even care. Now you have a bicycle sprawled on the ground taking up ten times as much space as before. Bad, bad, bicycle rack.

A simple horizontal bar would work better. That way you could hang your bike from your lock, or hook some part of your bicycle from it. Someone may bump into your bike, but as long as it is hanging, it is not going to fall over. A plain bar would work fine if it was truly horizontal, but given the nature of things, it might be better with bumps on the bar that would keep the locks from sliding downhill into the next bike.

Another method, for places where ground space is at a premium, would be to have a simple hand hoist that would hold the bicycle in the air. You wouldn't really need to lock the bike, just the hoist.

Update February 2017 replaced missing picture.

Elaborate House



I had lunch with Jack at CPR (Cornelius Pass Roadhouse) today and I noticed the trim on the house. I've noticed it before, but today you get to hear about it. The house is probably a hundred years old, and the brackets, trim and paint on the gable are just amazing.

Update February 2017 replaced missing picture with one that cannot be enlarged.

Point Of View




I'm walking through the parking lot after lunch today and I spot these apparently asymmetrical exhaust pipes on this Range Rover. That's really weird. Why would they have one exhaust pipe tip slanted like that, and the other one perfectly square? And then I walked a little farther and discovered that not only were the tips cut at an angle, they were squished so the weren't square anymore. Where do these stylists get these ideas?


Update February 2017 replaced missing picture.

Devil Eyes



Another dark picture. This one's a raccoon taken at some distance. It's still light outside, but he was in the shadows. The I'm Feeling Lucky button makes him more visible, but it also makes the picture grainy, and he doesn't look quite so evil, so I left it alone.

The automatic flash went off when I took this picture, which is how he got the devil eyes. I didn't think it was dark enough to warrant the flash. I was definitely too far away for it to do any good.

Earlier he was up on the patio in basically broad daylight. First time I've seen one that near the house. I found their paw prints in the garage when we used to have an outdoor pet entrance. We closed it up after that. They killed our first cat. Paw prints in the mud were pretty conclusive, and nobody wants a repeat of that traumatic event.

Update March 2016 replaced missing picture.

Reflection


We have been watching The Good Wife on my computer down in the basement. We just finished the last episode last night. We get up to leave and I notice that the screen is almost perfectly reflected in the surface of the light switch. It is one of these new fangled rocker switches where each half of the rocker is about an inch square. The barely visible larger rectangle is the wallplate surrounding the rocker. The original picture is pure black, but Picasa's I'm Feeling Lucky button and cropping got us this. Yes, I know, you can't tell what's on the screen. I just wanted to see what I would get. Picasa's machinations delivered the color, but it wasn't visible until I cropped the image and it appeared at 1:1. Scaling the picture down causes the color to disappear into shades of brown.

This is the second time I've tried to find a picture in an apparently pure black image. The first time worked much better.

Update February 2017 replaced missing picture.

Red versus Blue

It just occurred to me that although the Republicans are generally accusing the Democrats of being bleeding hearts, they are ones wrapping themselves in patriotic rhetoric about love for your country, and whenever the Democrats want to spend some money on a social program it's a foolish waste, but whenever the GOP wants another trillion for defense it's all about fighting terrorism.

It's all about love and money. Love is the emotional side of the argument, and money is hard nosed, logical side. People, being people, are affected by both. Seems to me the Republicans are making a big emotional stink to cover up their theft of the missing two trillion dollars.

Logically, I know that the Democrats are just as bad. Any time you get people in positions of power there are going to be abuses. I'm just pissed that things were going so well under Clinton, and then good ol' GW got in and things went straight to heck. Those fool rednecks drove this country so far into the ground we may never get out.

But hey, "we" voted for them, so that's what we get.

Port Orford Dolly Dock

This is just a little oddity Jack told me about. Randy went to Port Orford to look for the port. He'd been there once before but hadn't seen the port. I mean it's on the coast, there should be docks and ships and boats and stuff. He found it eventually but it's not like your regular port. They have a big concrete "dock", but the boats don't tie up to it, they sit on top of it.


Picture stolen from Gumbo & Squeal (not their real names). I would have asked for permission, but nobody has ever acknowledged any of my previous requests, so I have given up trying to communicate.

Deep, Dark, Depression,

Excessive Misery. Just how bad is unemployment in this country? This is a low resolution version of the high-res slide show.

Iaman sent me the link to the Hi-res version. It looks pretty grim, and I blame it all on the kleptocrats in the Republican Party. Of course, the choice of colors kind of adds to the visceral impact: using light colors for low unemployment and dark colors for high unemployment. Things would look much better if they had switched the colors. My, look at all the happy people who don't have to go to work no more!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Quote of the Day

Biologists know that stress and poor nutrition during foetal development and puberty can affect sex hormone levels and cause earlier puberty.
Bob Holmes relaying Jeremy Atkinson's thoughts. I knew there was some concern about puberty happening earlier, but I kind of wrote it off to generally better nutrition. I never suspected it would work backwards. Not to mention that biologists know about it. It's just the news I read is written by reporters who don't.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Web Site of the Day

Mark Vidler & Go Home Productions. He makes mash-ups of two pop songs, amongst other things. Via Dustbury.

Quote of the Day

In fact, for me, carrying [a handgun] is quite a calming factor. Carrying makes me very aware of my actions, to the point where I'll avoid doing things I would have done otherwise. Riding a motorcycle (if done correctly) leads you to observe actions on the parts of others that make me want to scream at them when I pull along side at the next stoplight...I actually used to DO that, before I started to carry (yes, it's stupid, but so am I).

Now that I'm carrying all the time, I'm a MUCH mellower person. I'll let things slide that would have had me yelling at the cage-drivers...just back off (or accelerate away, depending on circumstances) and let it go. That whole "reluctant participant" thing, and the responsibility of carrying hand has really helped clarify the non-initiation-of-force thing.

Perhaps Heinlein had a significant point when he said, "An armed society is a polite society." - Blackwing1 in a comment on Tam's blog.

The Current Economic Situation

50 or 60 years ago it was relatively easy to get a job. I had an uncle who told us that it was no big deal to get a job back then. He would quit a job on any old whim and walk across the street and get another one the very same day.

40 years ago Richard Nixon changed our policy towards Red China, and we have been importing ever more ever since.

30 years ago or so I read a story about productivity and it claimed that industrial companies had invested on the average $2500 in equipment per worker, whereas the investment per office worker was more on the order of $100. The author was of the opinion that office workers could be made more productive if management would invest more money in equipment. And then along came the PC.

One way to make more money is to invest in equipment that will make your workers more productive. You may also have to spend a little money to hire people with better qualifications. Once you do this, you should be able to produce a better product for less cost, which will bring you higher profits. America has been doing this ever since we got started. I think this is one thing that separates us from the rest of world. Of course, it didn't hurt that we had a whole continent of natural resources available to exploit.

But now we are the most productive nation on Earth, we have exported a great deal of our knowledge, techniques and technology overseas. We have basically worked ourselves out of a job. It's been a long time since I heard of someone quitting a job because they were fed up, or just on a whim. Seems like most people are desperate to hold on to the job they have. For most Americans I suspect that fear of losing your job is bigger than the fear of a terrorist attack.

So that's the job market. Now let's talk about money. People have varying degrees of money sense. Most people are fairly rational and are able to hold down a regular job and save a little bit every week. By the time they are old enough to retire they will have paid off their house and have some savings and maybe even a pension.

Some people have no money sense. They couldn't save a dime if their life depended on it. They spend it as soon as they get it, they may even beg, borrow or steal in order to spend more. Others have too much sense. They are unable to spend a dime. The live miserly lives and die rich, leaving all their money to some spendthrift.

Here's our first question. What do you do with a spendthrift? Hard nosed logic says that when he (or she) runs out of funds, we should let them freeze in the dark. Christian charity says we are all brothers and we should take pity on the poor. Despite all the talk about diversity and inclusion, we are basically a Christian nation, which means we are not going to let the imbeciles freeze in the dark if we can help it. Seattle has gone so far as to acquire an apartment building for alcoholics. Seems they got tired of paying the ambulance guys to go scrape them up off the sidewalk. The saving on ambulance calls is paying for the building.

I saw a note the other day where one rich guy was exhorting his fellow rich guys to donate half of their money to charity. I am pretty sure that is a bad idea. How much money is tied up in charitable trusts now? Probably more than is tied up in pension funds. That's the problem with money. Once you have it, you start looking for places to invest it to make even more money. The problem here is nobody wants to take a chance. Well a few people do: Venture Capitalists and Movie Producers. All the safe investments are doing the same thing they have always done, except better, faster, cheaper. Meaning ever more people are being put out of work, your client base is shrinking, but that's okay because you are making more money off of your cheaper product.

Sidebar:
Has inflation ever run a company into the ground? What I mean is a company that every year increases sales and increases profit, but the increased profit is less than the rate of inflation. You could have steady growth of 3 or 4% a year, but if inflation is running at 5 or 6%, you are not really growing, you are shrinking by 1 or 2% a year. In 50 years your real value will have dropped 50%. There may be companies out there right now like this.
In a post a while back I was saying we needed a jobs program, and it didn't matter what people were working on, only that they were working on something. Well, that's not exactly true. The Soviet Union went broke building ever more glorious weapons systems. Titanium nuclear submarines are not cheap, and they produce nothing. Well, they produce a feeling of importance in the people in charge, and a feeling of satisfaction in a job well done by the workers who built them. They might even produce a feeling of security in the population at large knowing that they are defended by a handful of people hiding in the ocean depths. Nah, I suspect if anything, it produced more of a feeling of unease that there were such dangerous machines out cruising around loose. But mostly they just suck money out of the country and pour it in a hole in the water (yes, I know, that is some wag's definition of a boat, but the analogy still holds).

However, we could use a jobs program that produced something useful, like an improved transportation system, or some nuclear power plants, or some solar power plants, or better airports, or better cities. Of course, once you get the government involved, it all becomes a friggin nightmare, half the money gets burned up in meetings arguing about who is having sex with who, and who charged their lunch on their government expense account.

But we've got all these rich guys who have more money than they know what to do with. They could start a massive jobs program all by themselves. It might make them even richer, or it might not. But it would be better than dumping billions in the charity rathole.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Importing CSV Dates Into A Spreadsheet

I use spreadsheets to organize data. Sometimes I will be looking into a subject, and I will find bits and pieces of information in several places, which makes it hard to compare, so I will consolidate all this data into one spreadsheet. It can be tedious copying data from each source into a cell in the spreadsheet. One can type it in by hand or use the computer's copy and paste functions. Either way is time consuming and tedious. I usually use copy and paste, it (mostly) eliminates typos, which are the bane of my home made typing technique.

Sometimes I will find a whole page of data, in text, where each line contains the essentially the same information about a different item (time, date, location, item number, etc.). If each bit of information is separated from the others by commas, the entire file can be imported into a spreadsheet in one fell swoop. Files like this are called CSV (Comma Separated Values) files and are given the .csv filename extension.

I tried importing such a file yesterday. Everything went smoothly, well mostly, except for the date. The dates in the file were in this form:

December 23, 2007

You will notice it contains a comma, which Google interpreted as a field separator, so December 23 went in one column and 2007 went in the next. That wouldn't be so bad, but then Google decided December 23 meant this year, tacked on 2010, and changed the format to 12/23/2010, which was bad.

So how do you fix this? One way is to edit the original file so each date is surrounded by double quotes, like this:

"December 23, 2007"

Another way is manually edit the dates once they are in the spreadsheet. Both methods are tedious, time consuming and error prone.

I decided I was going to make the spreadsheet do the conversion work for me. At first I tried just doing some simple math, but that doesn't allow for leap years, so if there is a leap day in the middle of the change, your date will come out wrong. Instead, we take the incorrect date apart using the month and day functions, and then make a new date by joining these values together along with the slash delimiters.

Say the mangled date ended up in column E, and the years ended up in column F. I inserted a column (G) after the years (column F). In this column I put a formula for correcting the date:

=concatenate(month(En), "/", day(En), "/", Fn)

where n is the row number. Write the formula in the first row as it should be, then copy it to all the other cells in the column. The copy function will automatically adjust the row numbers. Apply your preferred date format to column G, copy the entire column and paste values over the incorrect dates in column E. Delete columns F & G, and you're good to go.

Update: more than you or I should want to know from the Google Help Forum.

Order and Disorder

As I traveled through the West over these many years I have always been aware of an order to the arrangement in the disorder. It is the nature of the rocks and boulders that have crashed from the palisades to align themselves in very precise ways with the vegetation, in the way lights fingers moves the shadows, The precise manner the wind patterns the sand stone. The ice moves in a disorderly way against the order of the rivers current. The chaos of sound against the foundation of stillness and quiet. - Ned

How about this, geniuses?

Michigan Mike is not happy:
How about an add-in for browsers that filters out any pages with certain misspelled words?
Someone spelled ignition "ingingion" and I wanted to just rail at them.

Quote of the Day

Even a stopped clock can find an acorn twice a day.
And that's why I read View From The Porch most every day.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mystery Bruise



A week or two ago I noticed I had a scratch on my arm. It didn't seem to damage the skin, it just left a red mark about an inch long. Underneath the mark my arm was swollen. There was a lump about a quarter inch tall and two inches in diameter. I just looked at it again today and the lump is almost undetectable, but there is now a bruise in the same place. All I can think is that it must be some kind of allergic reaction to some creepy plant, a plant that everyone else probably loves. But to me, it's creepy and I don't like it, whatever it is.

Update February 2017 replaced missing picture.

Wood Carving Blade For Angle Grinder

Squire Chainsaw Blade for Angle Grinder
A report from the midwest reveals that Michigan Mike has acquired one these unusual implements. For all your delicate chain saw carving.

Update February 2017 replaced missing picture.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Inception

I read a review of this movie that made it sound really great, so I looked forward to seeing it. Turns out it was okay. There was some interesting stuff in it about ideas being able to tell reality from imaginary, but there was a whole lot of your generic action movie stuff in it: car chases, gun fights and fist fights. A little too much of that for my taste.

They did have some weightless scenes, and they were very well done. I've seen stuff where the actors are hanging from wires, and I've seen videos of astronauts in the space shuttle. Weightless is hard to fake. Maybe they used the vomit comet (that jet airliner they use for training astronauts) to film these scenes. Maybe they used wires. I don't know.

It's science fiction and they use a box with wires to share dreams. Each participant has a wire clipped to their wrist that connects them to the box. Problem with this is that it was too much like virtual reality and not enough like dreaming. It simply looked like somebody gave the action department the go ahead to pull out all the stops.

There were a couple of ideas that were interesting. One was that dreaming happens ten times faster that real life. That is, your time sense is distorted. You can have a dream that seems to last for hours and in reality it may only last for minutes. Of course, they have to expand on this and have you go to sleep in your dream and enter another level of dreaming, so now your time sense is expanded by another factor of ten. You go down one more level and now things are happening a thousand times faster in your dream than they are in real life.

The second idea is how you get out of your dream. Well, you could just wake up, but they are messing with drugs and multiple dream levels, so we have to have a trick. One is the famous feeling of falling. The other is you die in your dream. That should wake you up. Unfortunately, if you are several layers deep in your dream, you may have to die several times to wake up. And what if you can't tell when you are finally, really, truly awake, and think you need to wake up one more time? That could be a problem.

This whole business of having multiple levels or dreams that look like virtual reality reminds me on another movie I saw a few years ago called eXistenZ.

The third idea was that an idea could be the most contagious disease. Once you have told someone, and the idea starts to spread, there is no way to stop it. I think I've heard that one somewhere else before.

The best part was Leonardo's wife, who she was, or wasn't, and the effect she had on him.

Minor Observation


I walked barefoot to the mailbox this afternoon. It is three houses down. After the first house I noticed the texture of the sidewalk changed, much sharper, like walking on fine gravel or coarse sandpaper. Then I noticed the color was different, much whiter that the usual gray. Someone got out their pressure washer and washed away all the mold and lichen. You can see the difference between the white sidewalk in the foreground and the gray sidewalk on the other side of the mailbox. On the way back I noticed that the driveways (that had not been pressure washed) were not as dark as the sidewalks, but they were not perceptibly coarser. The automobile tires must be scrubbing the mold and lichen off the concrete. Actually, probably just the mold. I don't think the lichen gets a chance to get started on the driveways.

So the question is, did the power washing just remove the lichen and mold, or did it also remove a thin layer of concrete, which left the points of gravel sticking up? As sharp as it was, I am thinking the later.

Update February 2017 replaced missing picture.