Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest

Saturday, December 31, 2011

28c3: A Brief History of Plutocracy


Every wonder where the Rothschild's came from?

Quote of the Day

A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. — Agent K, Men in Black
 Seems like I heard this line a couple of times in last week. I didn't remember where it came from. A little poking around on the net turned up several pages. This page from TV Tropes seems especially relevant.


Friday, December 30, 2011

28c3: The coming war on general computation



Found of Paul O’Flaherty's blog.

P.S. For amusement, compare Cory's comment about bank robbers (just after the 11:45 mark) with this story from China. China story from Iowa Andy. The link to the Chinese story will probably die soon, as soon as I get around to it I will try and upload a copy. It's just one of those stories about what happens when you put flaming jackasses in charge.

Word of the Day

Our word for today is tyle. It comes from P. 263 of Heinlein's Stranger In A Strange Land, where I found the phrase 
". . . admit them and tyle the door."
What does it mean? That's a good question, Bucky. Look it up on Wikipedia and you get a page about Google, with no mention of tyle. Look it up on Google and you get acronyms, clobbered versions of style, computer programming goble-de-gook, and the occasional person using it as a name. Merriam-Webster asks you to sign up for a free 14 day trial. Wiktionary finally gives me a clue: tyles is a Lithuanian word. It is the third-person singular future tense of tylėti. Tyleti is a verb meaning to silence or to be quiet.

So I'm thinking that maybe this phrase "tyle the door" means to mark it inconspicuously, like depression era hobos.

De Agony of De Feet

I am feeling better today. After the agony of last night's headache, any relief at all feels absolutely glorious. I am feeling so good today that I was able to (1) take the lights down off the tree, (2) suck the remaining 17 gallons of water out of the tree stand with a turkey baster, and finally (3) drag the tree out the front door and around to the side of the house. Of course, none of this would have happened if sugar-blossom wasn't in her we're-all-done-with-Christmas-time-to-move-on mode.

I've been feeling kind of ragged for a few weeks now, mostly because I haven't been getting enough sleep. Then the Christmas cold visited our house and now it's my turn to make like big honking faucet. Yesterday I was just kind of dragging, not bright enough to do anything really useful, but alert enough to take care of some chores. Wife & son went to the Blazers game last night and I volunteered to go pick them up afterwards. I miscalculated how long it would take to get there (a consequence of "not bright enough to do anything really useful") and as a result the exit from the game was in full flow when I arrived. I spent a good half hour driving around trying to find a way to our designated rendezvous. I probably could have accomplished the same result by simply inching along through traffic, but that kind of thing just drives me nuts. Eventually, after a cell phone call, two trips across the river, and a couple of wrong turns we were able to connect. Total elapsed time was about an hour and a half. By the time I got home I had the Godzilla of all headaches. Two Naproxen finally game me some relief and six hours of sleep made me feel like a new man. OK, a new man with a cold. But at least that accursed headache is gone.


View Rose Garden Navigation in a larger map
That expedition last night taught me more about Interstate Avenue than I really wanted to know.

Quote of the Day

" The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything."  - Stalin
Came across this on one of Elena's pages.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Year's Worth of Bullets

Don't know how much ammo the US military actually uses. If it's not a state secret, there is probably a Wikipedia page, but I haven't found it. So I came up with my own way of guess-timating. I don't know how much bearing it has on reality, but I would bet that I am within an order of magnitude.

The US military has a bunch of guns. Some are carried by people, some are carried by ships, land vehicles or aircraft. Many only fire a single shot on command, but the electric Gatling gun, aka the minigun, fires a zillion rounds every time you touch the go button. Miniguns only get fired occasionally, but there are a bunch of them. I expect the US military has somewhere North of a thousand of them.

So how many bullets could a minigun fire if you fired it continuously for a solid year? Taking the low end of rate of fire (2,000 rounds per minute), that comes to just over one billion rounds. That is five semi-truck loads of ammo a day. Ammo piled nine inches high over the entire floor of a 40 foot semi.



Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Price of Ammo

It just occurred to me that our military, with all their modern, electric Gatling guns, probably uses a large quantity of ordinary cartridge ammunition. I wonder how much ammo they use and what it costs. It probably wouldn't even show up as a blip in the overall defense budget (all glory to the DOD), but it is probably still substantial.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Farmland Pricing Bubble

Gramma reports that a farm in Iowa recently sold for $20,000 an acre. $20,000 an acre!?! That's insane! If memory serves, 25 years ago farmland was running around $3,000 an acre. I thought this new price was so far out of line that I did some checking. It certainly looks a bubble to me. This story from The New York Times quotes a price of $11,000 an acre from the same area of Iowa less than a year ago.

A price rising from from $3,000 to $20,000 over twenty five years translates into an 8% annual increase, which doesn't sound too awful, but the change from $11,000 to $20,000 in ten months is more like a 100% annual increase. The value of farmland has been shooting up something fierce over the last 20 years, never mind the weird rise and collapse over the previous 20 years:

This chart and my memory disagree over the price of farmland 25 years ago by a factor of four. Who you gonna believe? Me? Or some revisionist government pawn?

The price of corn is basically what drives the price of farmland, and the price of corn is somewhat volatile. The big hullabulloo over ethanol over the last few years hasn't helped.

P.S. That 8% annual increase is the same amount being used to calculate retirement benefits for PERS (the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System), a system that is looking ever more fragile.

P.P.S. Why is the big crop in Iowa corn, and the big crop in the Willamette Valley (Oregon) grass seed?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Superscripts in Google Documents

I am trying to put together an explanation of some elementary algebra, and I discovered Google Documents has an equation editor that allows you to use some of those fancy mathematical symbols. All I needed was some superscripts (to indicate raising a number to a power).

There is a point and click menu available (click on Insert in the menu bar) and it works, though it gets to be a little cumbersome if you have to use the same symbol more than once. Reading a little further I find that  the help page for mathematical equations claims that several special math symbols can be inserted in an equation by using special words that are prefaced with a backslash. For instance \superscript. I found one other post that claimed many of these LaTeX commands did not work. Fortunately, all I needed this time were superscripts, and they can be done by typing a caret (^) inside the equation box.

I wonder if Google is getting too big for their britches, you know, playing to the mass social networking market, and any kind of special requirements can just go hang. For instance the Search function on Blogger is probably broken again, for the umpteenth time. I have given up using it and now use the regular Google Search to locate stuff in my blog. It often returns multiple links to the same item, but at least it finds things, something Blogger does not seem to be able to do reliably.


P.S. LaTeX is some antique text formatting system that seems to still be in use in obscure, i.e. not "popular" corners of the universe.



Friday, December 23, 2011

Zwibbler Sketching Program

I needed a sketch to go with an explanation I was writing. I could have photographed my pencil sketches, but up close pictures of flat drawings distorts them (the edges all balloon out), my scanner has never worked, and shoot, it should be a simple matter to draw this on the computer. However, all the drawing programs I found are too sophisticated to be easy to use, until I found Zwibbler:

It still took me a couple of minutes to figure out how everything worked. All the other drawing programs I looked at wanted me to wade through 27 pages of conceptual instruction before I could draw a circle.


It took me several steps to produce the drawing at the top of this post, mostly because I couldn't find the crop function in Zwibbler (if there even is one). I drew a sketch in Zwibbler, pressed Print Screen, pasted the screen image in MSPaint, cropped the image there and uploaded it using Picasa to get the final sketch you see at the top.


Quote of the Day

"His belly shook with the force of a thousand suns." - John the younger describing The Pachee's dinner table antics.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Strategic Default

writes the Financial Page for The New Yorker (always? often? sometimes?). This weeks' story is about defaulting on loans you don't want to pay anymore. Businesses do it when circumstances dictate. He argues that homeowners whose mortgages are underwater should do so as well. I agree. I did not agree with his reasons and I said so in a letter-to-the-editor:
“Strategic default” may not be popular, but not for any of the reasons James mentions. For one it is a big hassle, now and for the next seven years until this default is erased from your credit report, if it ever is. Not to mention the hassle of moving, and how are you going to buy another house if you just bailed on your last mortgage? Who is going to lend you the money? For most people, those with jobs who can afford the mortgage payment, it's easier to just keep paying the mortgage.
I posted a possible solution for people who are facing foreclosure a while back. Haven't heard of anyone trying it.


Rare Earths and "National Security"

Rare earths are those elements you find on that separate bar that shows up with the periodic table. (Actually, just the top line of that bar, and a couple of extras.) You don't hear much about them because their uses are a little obscure. Our high tech society is becoming more dependent on them. They get used in things like making alloys for jet engines and the powerful permanent magnets you find in all kinds of electric motors, most notably electric and hybrid cars.

Most rare earths are produced as a side effect of mining a more conventional material. The amount of ore needed to produce rare earth metals by themselves would make it economically infeasible.

Right now China is the biggest producer of rare earths and they seem to have figured out that this gives them an advantage, an advantage they are willing to exploit. Here's one story on the situation.

A guy I know in the securities business mentioned that this is becoming a National Security issue, and hoo boy, did that set me off! If there is one catch phrase that is guaranteed to get me really riled up it is "National Security". That phrase has been used by more self-serving, criminally minded morons than there are seconds in a century. The price of orange juice has gone up by a nickel! OMG! It's imperiling our (glorious, patriotic, American) way-of-life! Call out the National Guard!

Any time someone wants to start a war, they always invoke National Security. I for one am tired of hearing this. If someone says you something is a matter of National Security, put them on your black list. They are without a doubt a self-serving moron. They should probably be shot, but as there seem to be an endless supply of these fools, you would quickly run out of bullets. So save your ammo, you are going to need it.

I think war with China is coming, but it will not be like any previous war. Shoot, it's probably going on right now, it's just obscured by all the other little wars that are being fought all over the world, some of which are proxies for the big one of East versus West.

Be is Back

A few years ago a new PC OS (Personal Computer Operating System) appeared on the scene: Be. Unlike Windows, it was intelligently designed. Unlike Linux, it wasn't saddled with 30 years of obsolete baggage. Or vice-versa. In any case, it was new and it promised to be a heck of lot better than either of our two old warhorses. It failed to make a dent in the market and collapsed.

Now it has been resurrected as Haiku, and this time it's Open Source. I bought a copy of Be back when it first came out. I played with it a bit, but it never became my mainstay. I suspect there were a couple of critical applications missing back then that caused me to continue using Windows. In any case, I used it for a bit, and it seemed solid enough. It just wasn't quite ready for prime time.

I did little reading about it and it seems like Be found its' way into a several professional audio-video machines. This is good. This means that it might be reliable, something Windows and Linux will never get the hang of.

Now all I have to do is create a new partition on my Zbox, which means burning a new CD. I could probably do it with the existing Linux command line tools, but the amount of verbiage I would have to sort through to find the commands (and sub-commands) I need is daunting. I tried. Burning a CD is antithetical to my nature: everything you need is already on this disk, you don't need to waste 27 cents on a blank CD you will only use once. So you have to type a few commands, whassamattar you? Your fingers broken?

No, the problem is finding the instructions I need. It will be quicker and easier to burn a CD with a copy of GParted. I hope it works.



Home Theater Update

I bought a small personal computer a couple of months ago to use with my big screen TV. I installed Linux and we have been using it. It works, but it is far from satisfactory. Let me count the ways it disappoints.
  • The TV is five or ten years old, and the internal dimensions of the screen are not the same as the external ones. There is an area about ten pixels wide all around the screen that you cannot see. When you are watching a full screen image from a show you don't notice this, but when you are trying to do any computer stuff all kinds of things are getting cut off. Fixing this might be possible by digging into the code and / or the configuration settings, but it would take a lot of work determine what would have to be changed to fix this. And there's no telling if it could even be fixed. The video driver is from Nvidia, and even though this is supposed to be an Open Source system, the driver is not.
  • I am using a wireless keyboard with a built in trackball to talk to the computer and it works pretty well, but not really well. It is adequate for doing a limited number of known operations, but for any kind of real computer work it pales in comparison to having a real mouse. I do like the sit-on-the-couch-with-my-feet-up working position however.
  • Ubuntu (the version of Linux I am using) has a real problem with this wireless keyboard. It usually works fine, but periodically it will stall for a few seconds. This is extremely annoying when I am trying to type something. I have gotten so tired of this that I no longer try and type more than a single line of text on that system. If I need to type more, I will take my USB widget and walk downstairs to the basement and use my aging Windows XP box. Whether this problem is the fault of the keyboard or Linux, or a combination of the two, I have  not been able to determine. I suspect Ubuntu.
  • Pretty much all of the video available over the net is of wretched quality. Admittedly, most of the free (read pirate) sites are awful, but some of the prime (authorized, commercial) sites are not much better. NBC in particular was really bad the one time we tried it. I suppose if you are watching on your smart phone it would be okay, although I fail to see the attraction of watching anything on a smart phone, but then I am old. Whatever, dude. In any case, the quality of ALL of the video from the net is much worse than what is available over the air.
  • I am not sure what is going on with Ubuntu, but I don't think I like it. Many things work very well. I mean I was able to get it up and running on this box using only the semi-crippled wireless keyboard. I didn't have to hack into the bowels and recompile the world or even spend a whole lot of time on it. Scratch that last one. I have no idea how much time I spent on it. Ubuntu, or rather Canonical, the commercial operation behind Ubuntu, seem to be trying to make it more Apple like. They are adding new kinds of user interface programs. Maybe they will make it more usable by middle school girls, but I don't care. The latest snafu was trying to find the terminal program. It is basically the equivalent of the DOS box in Windows. Turns out under Linux there are a couple of them and under Ubuntu they are kept in very different places. There is an "application launcher" that allows you to point and click to run various programs. The bad terminal program ("Xterm") is stored under "System" and the good terminal program ("terminal") is found under accessories. Why?
  • Launchpad is a combination forum / bug reporting system for Ubuntu and some other Open Source projects, and it works very well, technically. The organization behind it, well, they are only people. I put in a number of comments / complaints a while back, some of which could only have been bugs, and the only one that seems to have gotten any traction is the one regarding emailing of passwords to Launchpad account holders. I think this may be why I don't have a job in software development.
  • The whole point of this exercise was to build my own DVR (Digital Video Recorder) using MythTV. I bought a USB tuner and installed MythTV, but I have not been able to make the combination work. Admittedly I am only using the little whip antennae that came with the tuner, but you would think I would be able to get something. But no. After much poking around, I finally located the "scan channels" button and pushed it and . . . nothing. Not one stinking channel. I supposed I should try hooking it up to the big antennae in the attic, but I am afraid that is going to open a rathole, and if I am going to have to crawl inside I want my hand on a real mouse. Not this stupid trackball.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Stove Repair

California Bob, who has never paid more than 10% of list for any of his fancy-schmancy kitchen appliances, reports on his attempt to repair his fancy-schmancy range:
The "control unit" (function, temp, timers, etc.) on my old stove is on the fritz. The manufacturer doesn't make them anymore. When you can find one they are very expensive.

A couple places do rebuilds on control units for appliances -- ranges, dishwashers, others. You send in your broken unit, they fully refurbish it and send it back. From their eBay reviews they stay very busy from retail consumers -- 100's per month on eBay alone.  An interesting business and valuable service.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/GE-WB27K5054-Range-Control-REPAIR-SERVICE-/140607088989

Interesting cycle from repairing your old appliances using manufacturer parts, to having to use aftermarket parts, to scrapping the whole appliance and buying a new one, back PAST replacing the part to having the individual component remanufactured.

This type of niche business made possible by the internet.

Cost comparisons:

New control $429
Reconditioned $244
Rebuild services: $140 - $290 with shipping
New Thermador range: $5,000

Chipmunk Eviction

Michigan Mike comments on the state of the tool market:
I don't buy tools unless they will immediately pay for themselves. At China prices, they do. I'd like a borescope, but I have no use for it, and those are too pricy still, and then I'd just be looking for treasure inside my walls.

Ace hardware is now carrying craftsman tools, and there are only a few Ace tool left on the shelf. 
Which allows him to embark on a new career:
When evicting the chipmunks from my truck air ducts, I needed a 5mm  a 5.5mm and a 6mm socket (GM genius at work) and it so happened there was a set in a clip of JUST THOSE THREE sockets at  the local Ace, with Ace branding, on closeout for like 6 bucks. I got the very last one on the planet. It will allow me to dominate the S10 air duct chipmunk eviction niche market.Heh.

A Heart Warming Story

I remember my first Christmas adventure with Grandma. I was just a kid.

I remember tearing across town on my bike to visit her on the day my big sister dropped the bomb: "There is no Santa Claus," she jeered. "Even dummies know that!"

My Grandma was not the gushy kind, never had been. I fled to her that day because I knew she would be straight with me. I knew Grandma always told the truth, and I knew that the truth always went down a whole lot easier when swallowed with one of her "world-famous" cinnamon buns. I knew they were world-famous, because Grandma said so. It had to be true.

Grandma was home, and the buns were still warm. Between bites, I told her everything. She was ready for me. "No Santa Claus?" she snorted...."Ridiculous! Don't believe it. That rumor has been going around for years, and it makes me mad, plain mad!! Now, put on your coat, and let's go."

"Go? Go where, Grandma?" I asked. I hadn't even finished my second world-famous cinnamon bun.

"Where" turned out to be Kerby's General Store, the one store in town that had a little bit of just about everything.

As we walked through its doors, Grandma handed me ten dollars. That was a bundle in those days. "Take this money," she said, "and buy something for someone who needs it. I'll wait for you in the car." Then she turned and walked out of Kerby's.

I was only eight years old. I'd often gone shopping with my mother, but never had I shopped for anything all by myself. The store seemed big and crowded, full of people scrambling to finish their Christmas shopping.

For a few moments I just stood there, confused, clutching that ten-dollar bill, wondering what to buy, and who on earth to buy it for.

I thought of everybody I knew: my family, my friends, my neighbors, the kids at school, the people who went to my church.

I was just about thought out, when I suddenly thought of Bobby Decker. He was a kid with bad breath and messy hair, and he sat right behind me in Mrs. Pollock's grade-two class. Bobby Decker didn't have a coat.

I knew that because he never went out to recess during the winter. His mother always wrote a note, telling the teacher that he had a cough, but all we kids knew that Bobby Decker didn't have a cough; he didn't have a good coat.

I fingered the ten-dollar bill with growing excitement. I would buy Bobby Decker a coat!

I settled on a red corduroy one that had a hood to it. It looked real warm, and he would like that.

"Is this a Christmas present for someone?" the lady behind the counter asked kindly, as I laid my ten dollars down.

"Yes, ma'am," I replied shyly. "It's for Bobby."

The nice lady smiled at me, as I told her about how Bobby really needed a good winter coat.

I didn't get any change, but she put the coat in a bag, smiled again, and wished me a Merry Christmas.

That evening, Grandma helped me wrap the coat (a little tag fell out of the coat, and Grandma tucked it in her Bible) in Christmas paper and ribbons and wrote, "To Bobby,   From Santa Claus" on it.

Grandma said that Santa always insisted on secrecy. Then she drove me over to Bobby Decker's house, explaining as we went that I was now and forever officially, one of Santa's helpers.

Grandma parked down the street from Bobby's house, and she and I crept noiselessly and hid in the bushes by his front walk.

Then Grandma gave me a nudge. "All right, Santa Claus," she whispered, "get going."

I took a deep breath, dashed for his front door, threw the present down on his step, pounded his door and flew back to the safety of the bushes and Grandma.

Together we waited breathlessly in the darkness for the front door to open. Finally it did, and there stood Bobby.

Fifty years haven't dimmed the thrill of those moments spent shivering, beside my Grandma, in Bobby Decker's bushes. That night, I realized that those awful rumors about Santa Claus were just what Grandma said they were -- ridiculous. Santa was alive and well, and we were on his team.

I still have the Bible, with the coat tag tucked inside: $19.95.



Normally I wouldn't post something like this here. The world is full of stories, good and bad, but this one caused me to tear up something fierce. Now why is that? Is this an especially heart warming story? Or am I just in a susceptable frame of mind? I have been very short of sleep lately, but I think I got caught up this morning. There are a number of other things going on here, like Christmas is coming, and I haven't bought any presents. And my daring daughter is home after five months in the South.

Story from Steve.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Sounds versus Voices

I have trouble understanding what some people say, particularly young people and women. OK, most people. A while back I had my hearing checked and my hearing, as far as the tests go, is fine. Doctor told me this is a common problem with older men and the medical establishment has no explanation for it. Today I think I figured out the problem. I don't spend as much time talking with people as I used to. I spend more time just listening to sounds in my environment, and they usually don't include people's voices. Basically, I just don't get enough practice listening to people talk.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sulfer Infused Behemoth Reveals True Colors

From a story in the NY Times. I'm of two minds about Amazon. Sometimes it's just easier to buy stuff on-line, you don't have to drive anywhere. If you know what you want it can be easier to find on-line than in a huge store. But this relentless push to be ever cheaper and more efficient is pushy and annoying. Criminently, why can't people just be happy with success? Why is it necessary to crush everyone else as well? Smacks of ill-breeding. Via Scott, who has a modest used book store.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Text Editors

I just discovered that Notepad++ doesn't do Linux. I dunno, maybe I already knew that. So now I'm in the market for a new text editor. I have encountered a few features over the years that I find really useful, but most of the stuff that shows up on tool bars is not what I want or need, or for that matter, even understand why anyone would want something like that at all, much less think it's so great and useful and handy that it needs it's own toolbar button. Still, having all this stuff that I don't want doesn't bother me if I could get the stuff I do want.

I still use archaic AEDIT occasionally because it can do things most graphical editor developers have not even deamt of. I tried Emacs once. It was insane. Windows Notepad is too feeble for words. I'm still looking for something decent that will work on both Windows and Linux.

What do I want? Let me just tell you:
  • Instant load time. OK, I will give you one second, but it better be because the OS is being stupid.
  • Automatic color highlighting of programming source code.
  • The ability to use invisible characters (like carriage returns, line feeds and tabs) in search and replace strings.
  • A macro facility.
  • Reliability. I don't want an editor that crashes any time I ask it to do something a little out of the ordinary. I also want the cursor to move in a predictable manor when I press one of the arrow keys, unlike the editor I am using right now (Blogger) to write this.
  • Hard or soft automatic word wrap. Word wrap puts the next word on the next line when you get to the edge of the window. Soft word wrap doesn't change the actual text, it just displays the next word on the next line. Hard word wrap inserts a carriage return. Soft word wrap is good for most text that is going to be displayed on the web. Hard word wrap is what you need for computer program source code and for printing. So it is already in there, I just want access to it. Notepad++ allows you to turn soft wrap on and off. AEDIT is the only editor I know of that does hard word wrap.
Recently I have discovered a couple of features on Notepad++ that I really like:
  • File comparison. Open two files in Notepad++ and click on Compare and it will display the two files in side by side windows, along with a thin window along one side which gives a graphic comparison of which parts are the same and which parts are different. Very handy, and much easier to use than the old command line fc.
  • Export of what you see as html. Kind of like WYSIWYG, except it incorporates the color highlighting, which it already does automatically. Very cool.
If there was anything I wanted, it would be a source code formatting function, like astyle, that would automatically rearrange stuff according to your preferences.

Macros are kind of a problem. AEDIT basically spoiled me. AEDIT has a couple of problems. One is that it is command driven. You can't just start typing, you have to tell it you are going to start typing. It only takes one key, but it is a habit thing, and once you have gotten used to typing without having to press that one key, it is really hard to go back. Or forth. The other is that is old, archaic, only does white text in a small, 25 line black box, and only uses fixed pitch fonts. Never mind that fixed pitch fonts are the only fonts really suitable for use on an electronic display.

The AEDIT macro facility is just awesome. It is helped by not being crippled by having to use a mouse or the stupid ALT or CTL key combinations. Everything is done with the simple character keys. Okay, there is one non-character key you need: the escape key.

This means the macros are just a series of characters. You create them just by typing. No control key or alt key combinations, no mousing, just type, type, type. Plus, you can search for anything you can type, like carriage returns or tabs, just by typing them. You don't have to use some cryptic programmer code to represent what you want. This whole graphical interface hysteria has unleashed an army of moronic mediocrity on the world.

If I could really get whatever I wanted, I would want my text editor of choice integrated with my browser, so that whenever I wanted to write something, it would be done using my text editor, not whatever crippled, clumsy, half-wit editor some enthusiastic nitwit stuck in a web page so people could write comments.

Source code on the web

Pieces, again. I may have hit on a way to put high-lighted source code on the web by using Notepad++ and Google Docs. I was using AEDIT and Google's web site thingy, but that didn't work too well, and any highlighting had to be done by hand.

Notepad++ will highlight your source code, but the real trick is the plugin NPPExporter will export your highlighted source code and turn it into html. As a bonus, it turns your tabs into spaces. Pretty cool.

Google's web site thing allows you to paste html into a page, but it filters it, which removes highlighting, amongst other sins.

Google Doc's allows you to upload the whole html file, as is, and then you can publish it as a web page. Which is how we got this: Pieces, again.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Encommulate

I have been playing with some simple computer programs lately. My most recent program computes the number of possible different patterns for square tiles. I originally wrote it a couple of years ago when I was mucking about with the Eternity II puzzle. I came across it while I was going through some of my old files and I decided to see if it still ran. It does, but it is very slow, so I decided to see if I could speed it up a little. I was successful at that, but the numbers it displays are hard to read. They are big numbers, and there aren't any commas, so I thought I would write a routine to insert commas in the numbers. I ended up writing two. The first one was graceful and elegant, but it used a boatload of variables and constants and was really rather complicated. After a bit of reflection I came up with a more primitive approach that works just as well and is simpler to boot. I needed a name for this routine. I could have called it something like format_integer_for_display_with_commas, but then I struck on encommulate, which I think is a perfectly wonderful name for this routine. You can find the source code to this program here, in Google Documents.

When you edit the contents of a cell, pressing the cursor keys brings in cell numbers. How do you get it to NOT do that?

Someday I will look for (learn how to use) a better calculator. In the meantime, I get by by using Google spreadsheets. My latest difficulty / annoyance was that I couldn't use the cursors keys inside of a cell. I write a formula, and the first time I write it it is usually wrong, so I want to correct it, which means moving the cursor to the place where I need to delete a number of insert a paranthese, but it doesn't work. I press the left arrow key and it inserts some cell address. "I don't want that" I scream at the stupid machine but it doesn't care, shoot, it doesn't even acknowledge me. Uppity gizmo. So I pull up the help page and I explain my problem (which is where I got the title for this post), and low and behold, I found an answer. I am shocked. 
<< IF the LEFT ARROW KEY etc >>

Without saying what is the right or wrong way of doing things, the behaviour you have described is pretty much exactly the same as other spreadsheet applications (including the old version of GSheets, along with by far the most popular desktop one).  In other words, there are two distinct "modes" of editing in-cell:

1. When you type a new entry in a cell, the arrow keys will not move the cursor within the cell, but rather move to a new cell.  However, if you reposition the cursor with the mouse within the cell, you will then be able to move the cursor with the left & right arrow keys.

2. When you go back to the cell in edit mode (not even considering the formula bar), w\you again by default will be able to move the cursor with the left & right arrow keys.
 By A.P.L. on the Google Help Forum

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Mother of All Dohickeys

Found on The Eco-Senior, via Audrey.

Thinking about Guns, Or Not

 Some gun people staged an event in the Broad Ripple neighborhood in Indianapolis, Indiana recently. Broad Ripple is home to View From The Porch and The Adventures of Roberta X. The event was called OBRWG (Occupy Broad Ripple With Guns) and was intended (I think) to demonstrate that carrying a gun is civilized and should not be prohibited.

One Indianian posted this message on an internet forum. I thought it illuminating.
"I will use my workplace as an example. I work closely with about 15 people. Two of us are gun guys and the rest are pretty much uneducated to guns and gun laws. When the OBRWG topic came up how do you think it went? I'll tell you it was ugly. They had made up their minds that it was a bad thing and noone would change that. Even though I didn't support OBRWG I still tried to explain some things to them but it didn't register. That was 15 people. 86% of the people I work with everyday believe gun carriers are wrong, on power trips, have hidden agendas or are looking for trouble. Now imagine how a whole city thinks." - jd4320t
For cogent explanation of pistol packing, see this post by The Munchkin Wrangler.

Via Roberta X.

The Future Connectivity of All Things, Large and Small

A post by Patrick J. Kiger on the Discovery website asks if connecting everything to the internet (top men are working on this as we speak) is a good idea. I am sure it is. Who will benefit is another matter. I could see it bringing the internet to a crawl when everything decides to talk at once, either because of a programming error or because of intentional monkeying by a new gang of merry pranksters, or not so merry pranksters, for that matter. I can see whole server farms come crashing to a halt because the immense flow of data uncovers some fatal weakness in a data farming algorithm. I can see corporations internally crippled, and eventually collapsing because an overworked key programmer cracks under the strain of trying to keep his colossal master placated and running smoothly. The CEO, unable to comprehend what is happening will steadfastly deny there is any problem at all while the remaining inept minions will scurry around ineffectively trying to patch things up enough to keep the ship of commerce afloat, unaware that the vessel has cracked in half and nothing they can do will save it.

But these kind of disasters will be rare events, kind of like police beatings of innocent suspects, and mostly it will work smoothly and will be a great boon to mankind. Although with the way things are going I am beginning to wonder if my vision of ancient Egypt as an empire of high-technology might have some real basis.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Quote of the Day

“Years ago, I used to listen in the car on my way to reporting gigs, and I’d notice that I disagreed with everything he was saying, yet I not only wanted to keep listening, I actually liked him." - Ira Glass talking about Rush Limbaugh in an old story in the New York Times by Zev Chafets.
 Make no mistake: in my book Rush Limbaugh is a flaming jackass. I've only heard him a couple of times, briefly at that, and my mind was set.

Normally I try to refrain from writing about people I disagree with, I don't want to give them any more publicity than they already have. Rather I try to write about good ideas. I don't always succeed, but I try. Picking a fight with someone like Rush is like throwing gasoline on a fire. He thrives on that kind of thing.

He reminds me Michele Bachmann, the insane, which reminds me of the Borgia family. We have immersed ourselves in a television series about the Borgia family the last couple of days (available from Netflix). I find myself exclaiming "they're insane!" at least a couple of times every episode. Maybe they are, but more likely they are just human, just like Rush and Michelle and you and me and everyone else on this planet.

Via Dustbury.

Update: We just finished watched the series, and I discovered that it is NOT the Showtime version which debuts next month, but a different series from Europe. Too bad these two groups couldn't have gotten together to produce an extended series.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Comedy. Or Not.

I watched a couple of episodes of Breaking Bad last night. Netflix has it labeled as a comedy, but it seemed more like a horror show - just one disaster after another. It was so extreme I wondered if maybe I just wasn't getting it. I asked my college age son about it and he thinks it's funny, so I don't know.  It reminded me of True Lies with Arnold and Jamie. The opening scene (at 55 seconds in the trailer) has Arnold having a running gun battle with a bunch of bad guys on skis. He manages to reach his accomplice in their getaway vehicle, a big old bread truck. Both doors are open and the driver is leaning forward talking to Arnie. Arnie tells him to sit up and he does and Arnie fires shot through the truck, the bullet passing right in front of the driver and hits a bad guy who has just appeared on the far side of the truck. It was one of the funniest scenes in the movie and the audience roared, me along with them. It was just so over the top that it was funny. A friend of mine went to see this movie and we were talking about this scene and he didn't get it. What's so funny? A man was shot and killed. What is everyone laughing about?
Reminds me of a couple of movies by the Coen brothers that I expected to be funny, but really weren't. Also remember reading something about how the Coen brothers make people laugh at things they normally wouldn't laugh at. And then there was Danny DeVito's War of the Roses, that was supposed to be a comedy, but was really very sad.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

500

Following a link to the BBC I got an error page with this charming little character. What was weird is it wasn't an image, or at least not an image according to Firefox. Some html voodoo I suppose. The light gray blocks surrounding the image did not appear on the original page. I am not sure where they came from.

Just tried to look at the html. This version of Firefox (7.0.1) does not have the View Source command. And the two editors I tried (Gedit and Bluefish) both locked up while trying to edit it. Though that could be because Linux is Lovely.

Storytellers

Nobody knows what is going to happen. Given what you know about your situation, you could make some predictions on what is likely to happen, but you do not know. A big rock could fall out the sky and crush you. That would kind of put a crimp in your plans. The odds are slim that such a thing would happen, but it is possible. Closer to home you can be pretty certain that things will go as you expect them. The farther from home you look, and the more people that are involved, the more uncertain the future becomes.

The world is a complex place, and it is especially complex for humans who can comprehend just how complex it is, which can make decision making difficult. For some things we rely on our instincts to guide us. We are fundamentally animals, and we have a full set of instincts. For many other things, we depend on our minds to make a decision. But some questions are very complex, and trying to figure out the best decision can be time consuming and arduous. In most cases a decision is not critical. Should you have a Coke or a Pepsi? Should you take the freeway or Main street?

But other decisions, should be given a little more thought. Unfortunately, there are some questions where there is just not enough information available. The future is unknown. All you can do is place your bet and hope it turns out okay. Our beliefs help us decide what to do in cases like this. And where do our beliefs come from? They come from storytellers.

We start off nursery rhymes and stories our parents tell us. We move on to school where we pick up more stories, probably as many from our classmates as we do from actual school. And then there is church and TV. TV. Hoo boy. All kinds of stories come out of that box, and most of them only serve to reinforce the stories we already know.

Who are our storytellers? Some of them. like teachers and preachers, have spent years studying a subject and their stories can be considered to at least partially convey the information they have acquired. Others were born with the gift of gab, and by persistent practice have come to be known far and wide. Talk show pundits, for instance, and some preachers for that matter.

This is how wars get started. Somebody stands up and starts telling stories about how we need to fight the enemy and the people around him listen and, if they like his presentation, they will start believing his story. The speaker doesn’t know if going to war is the right thing to do anymore than anyone who is listening to him. But by saying it, and repeating it over and over again, he can sell the idea to all those listening to him, and eventually, by gum, we get a war.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What Goes Around

We watched the latest episode of The Good Wife the other day. Just now I was looking at a TV schedule and I noticed that the name of the episode was Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. I would like to think they got the idea from me, but the phrase has probably been around since the dawn of time.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Power to the People

I've had this idea knocking around in my head and I haven't done anything about it so I thought I would just write it up here. Feral Genius was without power for a week or so, a couple weeks back. Why not get a generator, Jen? Compartment, that's why, which got me thinking, why not? Because the CO (carbon monoxide) will kill you! OMG (oh my gawd) we're all gonna die! Never mind that we have all kinds of appliances that burn fossil fuels in our houses without killing us. It should be possible to set up a generator so that is properly vented and therefor safe to use inside, but that could be a lot of hassle, and we would probably lose a few people while we got all the kinks sorted out. So what else we got?

You could leave the generator down on the street and run an extension cord up the side of the building. As long as you weren't than ten floors up (one hundred foot extension cord is the longest commonly available), and you lived in a crime free neighbor hood where no one would ever dream of stealing your generator. Or you could put it on the roof, as long as it wasn't more than ten floors up, and you could get there, and there was a flat place to put the generator. Lot's of if's, and's or but's here.

How about we hang it outside a window from an arm that holds it a couple of feet away from the building? Hanging in mid air, no one is going to steal it. It's close by, easy to refuel. It's outside, the regulation two feet from the building. Perfect, as long as you keep your windows closed, and you've got the gap where the extension cord comes into the house sealed up.

There. Another big idea. Go ahead and run with it.

Air Compressor Project

A couple of friends of mine are attempting to resurrect an old air compressor. It is not a particularly worthwhile project, a new compressor can be had from Harbor Freight for a little over a hundred bucks. Still, a hundred bucks is a hundred bucks, and if they can get this thing working they will have acquired an air compressor for free. And they won't be giving the evil Red Chinese any money.

The problem is that the bottom of the tank has rusted out resulting in multiple holes. Jack has a welder, and they thought this would a perfect opportunity for the welder to earn it's keep. So they fired it up and poured a mess of liquid steel on the holes. Did not quite do the job. Seems someone tried to patch it before by brazing it, and then our two heroes tried to weld over it. Welding on top of brazing doesn't work too well. So they got serious and cut the whole rotten, patched and repatched mess out of the bottom of the tank. Inside they found a serious pile of rust, like two or three cupfuls, and this is only an eight gallon tank.
The cut out piece, previous patched, is lying on top of the tank. 
The pile of the rust is a little hard to see in this picture. It is blatantly obvious in person. Perhaps the flash reduced the contrast between the pile and the sidewall of the tank.

New plan is to take a piece of plate steel they have lying around, form it to match the curve of the tank (I would like to see how they intend to accomplish that), and then weld it over the hole. Jack is a little concerned about the total air pressure that would be pushing on the patch, but hey, that's why you use a steel patch and weld it in place.


Dogs on Drugs

Heard a odd story at dinner last night. Woman has a dog, a nice dog, a very doggy dog, until she leaves the pooch alone at home. Then he turns into the hound from hell. Chews up the furniture, chews up the house, chews down the blinds. Unlocks the sliding glass door, opens the door, runs outside through the mud. Runs back inside, tracks mud everywhere. Repeat. Someone gave her a diagnosis of "acute separation anxiety" and a prescription for Prozac. The drug seems to work. Now the dog behaves like a normal dog whether anyone is with him or not.

Other odd thing is that you can get drugs for animals from people pharmacy's. Usually they are more expensive, but in this particular case they were a lot cheaper, like less than half.


Diamond Age

Technologists are forging ahead regardless. New super light material, might even be able to make it out of diamond, hence stealing the title from Neal Stephenson's book. Via Roberta X.


They claim it is lighter than air, but then it is mostly empty space, which is filled with air. I wonder what would happen if you wrapped it with saran wrap and then pumped all the air out. Would it be able to maintain its' structure and actually become lighter than air? Or would the outside air pressure crush it flat, or just enough to make it heavier than air? I like the idea of vacuum balloons.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Quote of the Day

“The court is not without some sympathy for taxpayers penalized for failing to pay a tax of which they were unaware. However, every citizen is presumed to know the law.” - Some Oregon judge.
"Every citizen is presumed to know the law." Hmmph. I remember learning when I was a kid that "ignorance of the law is no excuse". I can understand why some people get all worked up over "burdensome government regulations". Sometimes it seems like there is no end to them.

We could do away with most of our taxes if we simply replaced them with my glorious, extremely simple resource extraction tax. Everything that comes out of the ground - coal, oil, the metal from ores would be taxed at some minuscule rate. If we did that we could dispense with half the lawyers and half the accountants. Hmmm. That means we would then have a bunch of unemployed lawyers, and who knows what kind of trouble they would be stirring up. Probably start quibbling about my entirely reasonable and most wonderful resource extraction tax. Some people are just never happy.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Quote of the Day

People! Please remember this simple truth, that seems to elude so many seemingly rational people, "Projects are the means, Tools are the end." The mess is just an unavoidable side effect. -Marc Davis
It's a little hard to tell, but that is Optimus Prime lurking in the far corner.

Spreadsheet Monkeyshines

I helped out a friend with a spreadsheet. The outfit she worked for had upgraded their laptops to the latest and greatest version of Excel. What a painful experience. It is like opening the door to the control room of a nuclear power plant (or the cab of a steam locomotive). There are more bells and whistles than you can shake a stick at. I am sure that someone finds all these new features useful. I am also sure I really do not want to know about any of it. All I want is to make some updates to an old spreadsheet, close it up and go watch TV, or drink beer, or something, you know, useful.

The biggest problem, and I have to admit is probably not Excel's doing, is the way the spreadsheet slides around when I drag my finger across the touchpad. I want to move the cursor somewhere so I can click on something, and everything I was working on disappears and I am now on column UXQ and row 9 zillion. I tried deleting some columns to see if that would help, but no. Excel supports 16,000 columns, and as near as I can tell you get them all whether you want them or not. I finally struck on the idea of freezing some panes. Put the cursor in the lower right most cell and click on Freeze Panes. It's on one of the menus at the top of the screen, or is it the top of the window? I have forgotten. Actually, I am not sure I ever knew. I just looked through them all until I found the one I wanted. In any case this locked the portion of the spreadsheet I was working on in place. It actually contained all my data and the graph. We are talking about a fairly small data set here, fewer than a hundred items.

After that it was much easier to make the actual changes that were required. Of course easier is a relative term. This is the new Excel, and everything has been improved. Yeah, right. As far as I am concerned all they did was change the way everything works, so you have to figure out how to do what you want all over again. I just did this same thing last year.

On one hand I can understand software developers trying out new and different things. This whole computer thing is still pretty new. Who knows? Somebody might stumble on a new concept for a user interface that is a real breakthrough. On the other hand, having to spend two hours trying to figure out how the new stuff works so you can make some changes that would have taken fifteen minutes with the old stuff that you already knew how to use is counter-productive.

There are two trends in consumer software these days that I find irritating, useless and/or stupid:
  • Social networking. Look at all the ways you can share your life with complete strangers.
  • Super slick animated desktops. Look at the way I can pan and scroll with a flick of my finger. Never mind where I land, look at how cool it looks.
I am thinking we need two kinds of software. One kind that is full of gimicks and another that lets you get on with your job. Actually, these two kinds probably already exist. The first one is what you get on consumer devices. The other you have to actually seek out.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Zombie Detector

I replaced the motion detector by the front door and I took the old one apart just to see what was inside. Cracking it open was a destructive process - the case ended up in a pile of little plastic bits. I am puzzled as to how it operates. I thought motion detectors mostly relied on ultrasonics, but there is a plastic shield that goes in front of this thing. Plastic case, plastic horn, plastic shield.

The emitter / sensor is the small round can with the black rectangle on top in the center of the board.

Plastic feed horn, from the back.

Plastic feed horn in place on top of emitter / sensor.

Half of Nothing


I picked up a carton of Half & Half at the store the other day and when I get home I discover it is not Half & Half but some kind of alien disguised as Half & Half. It is in the same refrigerated display case right next to the real deal, the carton is printed with the same colors and the same logos. This is kind of BS that sends people over the edge. Death to Darigold and all their minions.

Glue & Mirror

The mirror in the basement bathroom tried to fall off the wall. Fortunately I noticed its' precarious stance before it let loose completely. Now how do I fix it? I mean the glass isn't broken, or even damaged. The glue that was holding it to the backing board was coming loose. There was just one larger patch near the bottom that was still hanging on. Yes, I could throw it out and just go buy a new one, but that goes crossways with me in about six different ways. Let's see if we can fix it.

Originally the mirror was simply glued onto the backing board, and the backing board has the hardware to hang it on the wall. Well, let's just get some glue and glue it on. Hold on a second there buckwheat, just what kind of glue are you going to use? I had a mirror replaced on our old Windstar and they used the wrong kind of glue and it destroyed reflective surface. I look on the net and I don't really find much. Everybody recommends Liquid Nails, but then they say do not trust the glue alone, use mechanical clips as well. As Snigs says, >.<.

I don't have any Liquid Nails and I don't want to go buy a whole big tube when I am only going to use a smidgen. I do have a tube of contact cement. If it works, great. If not, I'm not really any worse off than if the mirror had fallen. I use the whole tube and let it set for a day. It doesn't destroy the silvering, and it seems to hold just fine. But how long will it last? If it lets go, we are liable to have glass shards from here to Topeka, not to mention being out a mirror. Can we rig up some kind of mechanical backup? We can. I make up some clips from some brass picture hanging hooks and wire them to the backboard with safety wire. Forgot that two inches of the outer edge were translucent so you can see them. Two at the top at the 45 degree position, and two along the bottom.

Question is, are they stylishly modern, being all brass and stainless-ly, or simply hillbilly tacky? I suppose it doesn't matter, it's in the basement, it's on the wall, and it only cost a dollar (for the hooks). I count the glue as free, the tube was already opened and if I didn't use it for this, it would probably sit around until it was completely dried up and useless.

Update November 2016 replaced missing picture.

Bond Rates

Just happened to notice this poster in the local Edward Jones office. It does not mean much to me, I am not going to make any decisions about buying or selling bonds. I leave that to my financial adviser / broker. Yes, I know, there is an inherent conflict of interest in asking one person to do both jobs, but at least he is paying a more attention to what is happening in the markets. I look at my balance occasionally. Lately it's been going down, more than even college expenses can account for. If I only had a job, but that would require enthusiasm, something that is really hard to generate for the kinds of BS jobs that are out there.

It is a little worrisome that the lowest interest rates are below one percent. It is somewhat reassuring that none of the interest rates are even close to reaching  to ten percent.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Battery Testing

Batteries are a perfect example of the double-edged sword of technology. They are really great in that they can put electrical power in the palm of your hand. They are really bad because if you are not careful you can waste a lot of money on them, you can ruin your expensive little play-pretty, or you could even hurt yourself.

Used to be there were two kinds of batteries: big, heavy lead-acid batteries for cars and such, and dry cells for your flashlight. But then some whiz kids started looking at them and we started getting all kinds of new, improved batteries that used things like mercury, cadmium, nickel, and now lithium.

We go through a fair number of batteries around here. Double A, triple A and nine volt are the most popular. Sometimes you have a play-pretty that isn't acting right and the first thing you do is replace the batteries. Sometimes that fixes it, sometimes it doesn't, but the old batteries end up in the discard pile. Given the price of batteries (EXTREMELY HIGH), my compulsive self requires that I sit down and test all of the batteries in the discard pile before consigning them to the recycling bin. Today I found two nine volt batteries that are probably still good. I say probably because they measure nine volts on my multimeter. Generally speaking, measuring the voltage on any kind of small battery, except for the lithium ones, can give you a pretty good indication of whether it is any good or not. If they show any less than full voltage I will toss them. By less I mean a tenth of a volt.

This test doesn't work with Lithium batteries. Fortunately I don't have many of those.

The meter test works, but it's kind of a hassle. I have to hold the battery and two test leads and I don't have a gripping hand. And then I have to peer at the meter and try and make out whether it reads 1.5 or 1.4 volts. So I looked on Amazon for a battery tester. They have 2,000 different battery testers for sale. I am sorry, that does not really help me. Google wasn't any better. They found all kinds of outfits from hype-mongers to specialized industrial technologists.

I poked around for a while, but eventually I gave up and decided I would just stick with my multimeter, clumsy as it is.


Bank Fees

I like conspiracy theories. Sometimes they are just entertaining, sometimes they offer a surprisingly perceptive explanation of what the hell just happened. So, without further ado, here's my theory on the great bank fee imbroglio.

First, a basic explanation of how banks work. Banks make money by making loans. They get the money that they lend out from some great pie-in-sky outfit called the Fed. The Fed lends them the money at some rate that they pulled out of a hat. However, they will not just lend a bank as much money as they want. The Fed insists that the bank have some collateral, some actual cash on hand. You know, to keep up appearances, so they don't look like complete shysters. So the bank takes in a dollar in deposits from you or me or grandma, uses that as their good faith token, then borrows 5 or 10 or however many dollars the Fed will lend them, then lends that money out to businesses (mostly), who pay the bank interest. The bank uses the interest they receive to pay for their fancy building with the marble floors and gilded lilies, the exorbitant bonuses that go to their executives, the pitiful salaries for the tellers, and lastly to pay you and me and grandma some negligible interest on that token deposit on which this whole elaborate contraption is based.

But now times are tough. Banks are having a hard time finding customers who look like they might actually be able to repay their loans. So they aren't lending out so much money, which means they don't need to borrow as much from the Fed, so they don't need as much collateral in the form of deposits. Banks don't really want customers. They are a nuisance. They come into the actual building, take up space, and take up teller's time with their niggling little requests. The only reason they put up with customers is so they can get those deposits. But now they don't need as much in the way of deposits, so they don't need so many customers, so they came up with this scheme to drive them away. First by charging fees for things that used to be free, and second by goading / hiring some rabble rousers to make a big stink about it. The whole point is to drive away small, nit-picky customers, the ones who are liable to cost them more money than they are worth.

The only problem with this theory is that all those bank customers are moving to Credit Unions who seem to be glad to have them. I really don't have an explanation for why Credit Unions would want all these annoying customers, other than maybe they can use a big influx of deposits.



Deadly Dangerous Copra

Back when I was a kid in school, teacher learned us about copra. It's really important, and it's made from coconuts. I've never actually seen any. Then this morning Tam put's up a post about the guano islands, which leads to a reference to copra, and since I never found out just why it was so important, I have to go look it up, which leads to this:
"Copra has been classed as a dangerous good due to its spontaneously combustive nature."
Spontaneously combustive nature!?! That was something they learned us in shop class about oily, turpentine soaked rags. And here I had just found out how acetylene can spontaneously decompose and explode. That's two really cool burny things in one year!

Oh yeah, copra? They make coconut oil out of it.


The Fourth Man

I'm of two minds about this movie. On one hand, the main story line is kind of intriguing. We've got an alcoholic, bisexual Dutch writer who is apparently given to vicious daydreams and / or hallucinations, so you aren't really sure just what's going on. But all these incidents are kind of a sideshow to the main plot line, but they keep recurring, so maybe this guy is a little bit psychic. The main story is kind of weird too. This semi-creepy writer dude hooks up with a rich, young, beautiful woman, who you would think would be enough for any man, but he finds she has a connection with this other dude, who he is lusting over. Geez, this guy really is a waste. Anyway the story winds on, and there are enough weird little things going on so you are wondering just what the story is. Are we going to have a murder? Espionage? But then they get to the climax and the whole thing collapses in farce. Perhaps if they had been a little more deft in their portrayal it would have been better, but all when all signs are pointing to one thing, and the one thing turns out to a plastic flower that spits water in your face, well, maybe they couldn't have done it any better.

Internet Movie Data Base page.

Costco Executive Membership

I went to Costco the other to pick up a few items. When I get to check out, a woman employee starts telling me how I should sign up for an Executive membership, how it's a really good deal, how if I was an Executive member I would be eligible for another $75 in rebates (these are actual cash money rebates, not some nebulous coupon fluff), which is more than the extra fee for Executive membership would have cost. I decline, and she goes on, and the cashier chimes in. It was quite a spiel, but I still declined.

It might actually be a good deal, and I might still sign up, but the way they are pushing it bothers me. If it is such a great thing, why do they have to promote it so heavily? From the looks of it, it will cost them money. I pay a small fee now, and in a year I will get double my money back. What possible advantage is there for them? The only advantage I see is that they offer you more "services", which allows them to get their hooks deeper into you, which means they capture more of your business, and thereby make more money. I don't expect to use any of these other services, but I am afraid of being inundated with offers. The only offer I am interested in is a job. As long as it isn't testing. I hate testing.

Still, I suppose I should sign up. Money for nothin' is pretty attractive. I am already adept at discarding spam, whether it is the electronic or paper variety, so a small increase in volume should not have a big impact on my mental health. I just find it odd that Costco would find it worthwhile to promote this thing that apparently costs them money. Those hooks must be really valuable.




Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Masses Versus Useful

After I put up my post about the movie Hanna, I thought that maybe I should have included a picture of the Nazi wind tunnel, so I went looking for one. I remember seeing a whole photo essay about the place, lots of really cool pictures with lots of abstract shapes, kind of science-fictiony. I found bupkis. Oh, I found a few photos, but the only ones that looked anything like what I remembered were stills from the movie Aeon Flux.


OK, I'm old, and memory is not totally reliable, and supposedly it gets worse as you get older, but this is just wrong. Did those pictures, the ones I am thinking about, just vanish? Did someone take them down? That would be weird. And then I noticed that most of the pictures Google was returning were pictures of celebrities, or of people anyway. Has the people's penchant for pictures of other people taken over Google's search engine? I mean their photo organizer Picasa is totally centered on people. It can even identify the people in your pictures.

But this is not what I want. If I have one picture of people I know, that is plenty. I don't really understand why you would want more than one, and I certainly don't need any pictures of celebrities, I don't even know them. Yes, I realize that pictures of celebrities can be found on my blog but I believe it is always in relation to a movie, and those posts are about the story, not the actor.

Then I got this email from High Performance Computing this morning and I realize that the mass market is now feeding on itself. The amount of gossip is growing so fast we now are dedicating an entire industry to studying it. This looks like a giant case of GIGO to me.

So while the mass market has led to mass production of fiendeshly clever devices, the application of these devices has now become almost totally focused on gossip. Any useful application of modern computing/communications only exists on the fringe of this giant chatroom, and is apparently subject to being pushed off the edge whenever the volume of chatter gets a little too loud.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Hanna

Movie website.


A pretty interesting movie, especially the first half when you don't really know what is going on. After a while it becomes apparent that we have an evil agent working for an evil government agency that is out to kill our two heroes in order to eliminate any evidence that the evil agency, whoever they are, were ever involved in some reprehensible scientific research, or whatever they were doing. Cate Blancett plays the role of evil agent, and she plays her role well. She pulls out this West Texas accent whenever she want to convince someone of her good intentions, which I did not understand. Is that accent supposed to be folksy and downhome? Wouldn't a pleasant tone of voice do as well? Why use the Texas accent, unless we are trying to pass along the message that maybe you shouldn't trust someone just because he has folksy, downhome accent?

The longer the movie plays, the less things make sense. When Hanna is initally captured she has no trouble killing everyone within sight, but soon after that she starts letting people off. Some are reasonable, they were no immediate threat, had not harmed her, and did not appear they would be able to hurt her. Others were obviously bad guys, they were a serious threat, she had the means to take them out, but she lets them go. As near as I can tell, this was only to prolong the chase scenes. And then there's the old sneaking up while the camera isn't looking business. I hate that shit. Once in a while, it's okay, especially if it is believable, but you only get to do it once per movie. You pull it more than once and you are being a jerk.

And then there's the denouement. Cate in dress shoes (at least they weren't spike heels) and business dress chasing a teenager around an abandoned amusement park, and she catches her? Who are you kidding? At that point it has pretty much fallen completely apart, but don't fret, it's almost over.

The first part of the movie, set in some snow bound woods, was really good. The parts with the hippiesque family were pretty good. We don't find out what happens to them, but given how evil these evil agents have been up to this point, it's probably not good. There was a chase sequence in some concrete tunnels that I think may have been shot in the old Nazi wind tunnel in Berlin. That was kind of cool.

Update October 2015. Replaced movie site link, replace missing picture.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Quote of the Day

"They really should allow guns on planes. If you're going to need one at school, in church and wherever, why wouldn't you need to defend yourself in the air? Besides, to be really second amendment-y, they should just hand out guns at check-in. You never know when someone wants to snatch your freedom." - Dave in a comment on Burro Hall.
Handing out guns at check-in is one way to deal with the threat of potential terrorists. Only problem is I am pretty sure a majority of air travelers would not know how to handle a firearm which would lead to a profusion of accidental discharges, which would not be a good thing. I wonder how many people in your average plane load do know how to handle any kind of gun, much less some random government issued handgun. I suspect the numbers would be pretty low, like zero, which means the terrorist, if there was one on the plane, would win, if he could outshoot the crew.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Gas

Contrary to what hippies think (since I know what other people think, being omniscient and all), our civilization runs on petroleum, about a hundred gallons a month per person. Specifically, gasoline. Oil causes all kinds of problems, mostly because we use so much of it, there are buckets of money involved, and well, that kind of explains it, doesn't it?

On the other hand, we have a boatload of Natural Gas, sometimes it is more than we know what to do with. It is great for any energy hunger operation that isn't going anywhere. You can run a pipeline and suck up all the gas you want or need. For powering any kind of vehicle, it is a little more problematic. You need a big, high pressure tank to hold the gas. You can get such tanks, but they are expensive and they are big.

Then I got an idea. Natural gas and oil are both hydrocarbons, which means they are composed of the elements hydrogen and carbon. Natural gas is mostly methane, which has a chemical formula of CH4, which means one carbon atom surrounded by four hydrogen atoms. Oil is composed of chains of carbon atoms surrounded by hydrogen atoms. They come in a variety of lengths. Tars are very long chains, oils are composed of medium length chains, and gasoline is made of a variety of shorter chains. Methane is like a chain with a length of one.

Cracking is a process they use in the oil refineries to break long chains into shorter ones. They use it to turn things like tar, which is like the bottom of the barrel (literally and figuratively), into gasoline which is worth more. So we can break chains. Can we make chains?

What we need is a breakthrough in chemical engineering that would allow us to build up long chain hydrocarbons from short ones, like methane. We need a breakthrough because no one has figured out how to do this on an industrial scale for a low cost. If we could do this, we could be making gasoline out of natural gas, which would give us an alternative to getting oil from the Middle East, and could postpone a war with China and India over oil.

Quote of the Day

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." ---Thomas Jefferson, 1816.
My outlook toggles between dark and light. It's been pretty dark lately (we are all doomed), but this morning a little light crept in in the form of this quote. From Gunsite, Via Tam.

Thinking is hard work, especially about things that are not intrinsically interesting. Most of our everyday lives exhibit little, if any. What's worse is that most of what you hear on TV is spoken by people who have given little, if any, thought to what they are saying. They open their mouths and stuff, to put it nicely, comes out.




Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tab Clearing

Links to amazing / interesting / weird stuff I've come across this week.
Title stolen from Tam as well.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Contact

The switch controlling the gas fireplace was being flaky. Push it once and the fireplace comes on. Turn around five minutes later and it has gone out. Flip the switch and it comes back on again. Probably because it's the wrong kind of switch. It's a standard household light switch, good for 15 Amps and 120 Volts and it is being asked to switch 800 millivolts and some small number of milliamps. I imagine that the load is not enough to keep the contacts free of corrosion. They are probably brass, and a thin film of corrosion is all it would take to keep it from working. So I go to Home Depot and buy a new switch for $2.50 and install it and the fireplace seems to be happier now. Just for grins, or because I am compulsive this way, your choice, I take the old one apart. Here, for your amusement is a picture of the contacts from the old switch.


Disaster

The Chrysler Sebring, the one my son and I spent the summer overhauling, has blown up. Coming up grapevine hill after lunch yesterday I gave it the beans and in response got a loud noise. It made it to the top of the hill but as soon I shifted into neutral the engine died. I pulled over and called for a tow.

Up till then there was no indication that there was anything seriously wrong. There were a few minor problems, like the clunk in the suspension, the whine from the alternator, something snapping down by the fan belt,  and steering wheel was on crosswise. But no indication of a real problem. Except for maybe the heat. Drive across town and the motor gets warm, as it should, but open the hood, and it seems really hot, like an oven, or an overheated motor. But we never got any of the conventional indications of an overheating motor. It didn't boil over, it wasn't loosing coolant, and the temperature gauge never got above the half-way mark.

So I don't know what went wrong. Maybe the block and heads were not flat enough. Maybe the head bolts should have been replaced. There was one funny thing, and that was when we filled the radiator with coolant it did not take nearly as much as I expected it too. So maybe there is something plugging the cooling system. But if that's the case, what's the deal with the temperature gauge? I don't know what went wrong, but things have definitely gone South and I am very unhappy.

To assauge my suffering I sit down to watch an old episode of Top Gear and they are doing a retrospective on the Rover V-8. This is interesting and a little painful. My first car was a 1963 Buick Special that I bought from my father for its' trade in value of $150. It had an aluminum V-8, the same engine that a couple of years later would become the Rover V-8, which would be used in a variety of British cars for the next 40 years.


Top Gear collected an entire fleet of cars powered by this engine for this picture. In the three years that General Motors produced this engine, they built 750,000 of them, which is more than the British built in the next 40 years*. General Motors quit building the engine because there were too many problems with the corrosion in the cooling system, due to customers using the wrong coolant in the aluminum engine.

Huh. Imagine that. Cooling problems with an aluminum engine. In case you didn't know, the engine in the Sebring is aluminum. Something is rotten in my garage and I want to find out what it is. Whether I will or not is another matter.

* Autocar has an interesting story about the Rover V-8.