Monday, January 31, 2011
Jack visited Egypt back in 1997, fourteen years ago. His visit was just about a month after some terrorists shot up a bus load of tourists and about a month before another bunch of terrorists shot some tourists at one of the ancient temples.
He was with a group, and the group had a couple of private security guys with them at all times. They were dressed in plain clothes, not uniforms, and carried guns (with bullets).
There were military guards with guns at most tourist locations, though it wasn't always clear whether they had any bullets. He saw one guard with what appeared to be a stainless steel AK-47, but when he got a little closer he saw that it wasn't stainless, it was a regular blued steel gun that been worn and/or polished so much that all of the bluing had been worn off.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
It is the scene with the threshing machine. Tess is working away, feeding wheat to the machine and it is getting dark. She has a small kerosene lantern sitting nearby, and I am thinking this is a disaster waiting to happen. A container of flammable fuel, a flame, and more straw than you can shake a stick at. All we need is one careless moment and the whole thing is going to go up in flames. If you saw the movie you may remember it as a series of small scale disasters. One thing after another goes wrong, so I was fully expecting the lamp to get knocked over and set the whole place ablaze. I was relieved when that didn't happen.
This was, of course, typical of the way things were done in the days before OSHA. Dangers were everywhere and you had to careful if you wanted to go home at the end of the day. So kudos to the movie makers for this bit of authenticity.
Saturday, January 29, 2011
Then there are the parts themselves. Very complicated shapes, very difficult to machine. Parts for automobile engines are simplicity itself, relatively speaking. Clamp the engine block in a milling machine, bore the cylinders, mill the top surface flat, drill and tap the holes for the head bolts: boom, boom, boom.
Or maybe I just never spent any time studying the intricacies of gun machining. If I look closely, I can see how it could be done, but geez, what a lot of tedious, small, detailed steps. Clamp it like this, use this kind of a tool, cut a groove from here to here (and no further!), at just this depth, just this width, and just this position. Now repeat for the 37 other little grooves and notches. OK, now you are done with the first part and you can go on to the dozen or so other, equally complicated parts that go into a gun.
Then there's the little parts. This one has always been a bit of stinker. How do you clamp something that small and delicate hard enough that you can mill it? Sometimes I think the answer is to mill it out of the edge of a larger piece, and then cut it off. It has to be right, because once you've cut it off, you are done with machining. You might be able to file it a bit, but that is only good for a few thousandths of an inch.
Lastly, there's the barrel. Pistol barrels aren't too bad, they are only a few inches long, but rifle barrels, they are measured in feet. How do you drill a straight hole through two feet of solid steel? One might think it is a straight forward proposition: clamp the barrel in a big drill press, put a long bit in the chuck and drill away. In a perfect world, with perfect steel and a perfect drill bit, that might work, but we all know this isn't a perfect world. Even a very good grade of steel can have minor inconsistencies. Drill bits these days are indistinguishable from perfect. The drill bit is going to wander. You start at the center of one end of the barrel and by the time it gets to the other end it could be coming out near the edge.
Someone must have figured out the trick, because the world has made millions of rifles. This has been bugging me for years. I looked for this information a while back (a few years?), but found nothing. This time I got some answers. Is it because the internet is expanding? Or it because this time I was holding my mouth right (and the search phrase I used happened to work)?
Wikipedia has a short explanation, Lilja Precision Rifle Barrels has a longer one, but the authority is the Machinery's Reference Series #25 published in 1910. In other words, somebody figured out how to drill gun barrels a hundred years ago.
Gun design is a whole other issue. The basic requirements are pretty straight forward: barrel, breech block and locking mechanism, but the details of how they are implemented are sometimes a mystery.
Take any gun apart and you can see how it works, but start examining how all the pieces fit together and trying to figure out what function each little groove and notch serves can be baffling. Sometimes there does not appear to be any point at all. Sometimes the mechanism appears to overly complicated for the apparently simple task it is meant to serve. I suspect that sometimes it is, but it might just as well be a case of "this complicated design" functions reliably, where the simpler design we used earlier did not, and that is something you only find out when you are around for the failures.
Guns are really pretty amazing devices. The basics were pretty much all figured out a hundred years ago (insert mention of the Holy Prophet of Gun Design: John Moses Browning and his self-adopted granddaughter, Tam*). The .45 caliber and 9mm handgun and the 30-06 and 50 caliber BMG all came into existence about then, and are still with us today. Everything that has been done in gun design since then has been minor variations, subtle refinements and experimentation.
Smokeless powder is what gave rise to modern firearms. It produces pressures never before encountered and so opened up a whole new area of technical challenges, which gave rise to some bizarre details found in gun designs.
* thanks to Roberta X for that phrase.
I finished modifying the code so that it would compile using gcc over a month ago. As I didn't have hardware to test it on, I tried it out on a software simulator and it apparently worked fine.
Then there were some delays in testing, but eventually we discovered, that no, the code would not run on the actual hardware. So I drag a set of hardware home, start plugging things in and my little empire starts collapsing. First it was the display screen, whose mode of failure sent me down a number of ratholes before I replaced it. Then there was the dead serial port, which I cured with a new hard drive, a new installation on Windows and a USB to serial port adaptor.
Finally got my development environment put together and that's when it got interesting. Timing seems to be everything. Evidently gcc optimizes code better than the old IAR compiler, and so things that worked before, well, now they don't.
Cover removed so we can unplug the ribbon cable.
That's a USB cable plugged in the back.
We are using an AVR microcontroller running at 4 megahertz (Geez, did you have to hit so hard? That megahertz!). The AVR uses one or two cycles per instruction, so a single cycle instruction takes one-fourth of one micro-second, or 250 nano-seconds. Some of the time sensitive operations operations require delays running from 100 nano-seconds up about ten milli-seconds. Fortunately, most of these times are minimums. It would be very difficult to deal with delays whose upper and lower limits were less than the length of time it takes to execute one instruction.
Actually, I don't, but Roberta X does. Actually she doesn't either, but she does some kind of technical guru work for a company that has a lot of radio communications gear. Her work is esoteric enough she may as well be working on a Starship.
She also writes and putting these two skills together she wrote a book, and I ordered a copy via Lulu. It was a little steep compared to the two and three dollar detective stories I've been reading, but then it is special, and so well worth the price. The only part that bugged me was the shipping, and that was my complaint about Lulu last time. They will mail a book for $4, but the package cannot be tracked. Last time I ordered I chose this option (because it was cheap) but the package never arrived. Well, I'm not going to fall down that rat hole again, so let's make sure we can find out where this package goes, so I specify tracking. This bumps the price up to $9 which seems exorbitant, but then I am used to Amazon's shipping rates. I suspect Amazon is only about a zillion times bigger than Lulu, so there may be some economy of scale going on there.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
The big dead tree supporting the tree house platform has lost it's second big limb, this time to kitty cat hi-jinks. Gus is naturally very proud of his accomplishment. It's hard to see in this picture, but the tree house platform is covered with sawdust from woodpeckers hollowing out nests in the remaining trunk.
The plastic bucket is covering a steel surveyor's stake. Ten years ago we had rope hanging from this tree and the swinging path took the munchkins very near this post. I put the bucket over it to mitigate any damage should someone fall on it. Kids fell, the rope broke, but the bucket was never tested. As far as I know.
Friday, January 21, 2011
According to Merriam-Webster, besides being an agent of death, a prion is also some kind of bird. I've never heard the bird reference before, but the agent of death meaning didn't come into use until 1982.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
How about that? Somebody took my idea and ran with it. Click the picture for the whole story.
Just goes to show that there are intelligent and energetic people out there. Me, I took the easy way out and graduated my cats to being indoor/outdoor cats rather than just spending all their time indoors. Problem is they like to go outside when it is dark and Mom is worried about them getting eaten by critters. I can't stand to listen to them whine, and prowling around in the dark is what cats do. How can I deny them something that is fundamental to their nature? If anything does happen to them then I will have heck to pay.
"Every action of our lives touches on some chord that will vibrate in eternity." - Edwin Hubbel ChapinUsed to be the phrase I often heard was "nothing matters". No matter what you do, you are not going to be able to change anything. The powers that be hold all the cards, and you, being a peon, are screwed regardless.
Recently I have occasionally heard the phrase "everything matters", the idea being every little action you take has some effect, and if many people take tiny positive actions the cumulative effect with be that things will get better all around.
The powers that be can still make things miserable for large numbers of people, but they can't squash everyone, and they won't live forever. So a positive attitude from the majority can influence the outcome.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Then tonight I hear that my brother-in-law is in the running for the Supreme Court of Iowa. At first I think he's kind of young for that, don't those jobs usually go to old guys? And then I realize he is almost my age, which means he is almost 60, which is old. Geez.
It is unlikely he will be selected. The Governor has the final say on who gets picked, and he is a Republican and my brother-in-law is not.
Monday, January 17, 2011
I've been fussing with my computers lately. The other day I reached down to plug a serial cable into the back of my old Linux box and when I came up I had a dust bunny on my head. I can put up with a certain amount of dust in the corners, and even accumulations on stuff that I am not using, but a dust bunny on my head was the last straw! I stripped the room, vacuumed and mopped and now I should be good for another five or ten years.
When I was done I found I had a dozen computer cables left over so I wound them up and secured them with some little Velcro strips left over from my son's foray into the fuzz box jungle.
Cables are a pain. Whenever I hook up some electronic device I am missing at least one cable, and the only place where you can get it at 8 PM on Saturday night wants $50 for a cable that should cost no more than five. So I have taken to winding up all my extra cables and storing them away on the off chance I may need one, and occasionally it pays off.
Throwing loose cables in a box is an almost sure method of insuring they will never be used again. Somebody decides to look for a cable, they pull on one and find the whole box has become one tangled mess and they say "screw it" and go buy a new one. So when I store cables I like to coil them up and secure the coiled cable so it doesn't come undone. You can throw a bunch of secured cables in a box and have no trouble digging out the one you need when the time comes.
So the question is, what do you use to secure the coils? Duck tape works but it leaves a sticky residue. You can use heavy duty rubber bands, but they eventually rot, break, and the pieces that don't dry up kind of melt and stick to the cable. Eww, gross. Twist ties work, the only trick is finding a supply. I found a roll of like a hundred feet at a gardening center one time. That will last you forever. Some people like to use nylon cable ties. You know, the nylon strips with the hole at one end. You feed the tip of one end through the loop and pull: zip and it's snug and won't come undone. Problem is they are good for one use only, and you need a cutters to get them off. And now there's Velcro. I think it's the best material yet. It does have one problem though: you put a bunch of them in a box and they all stick together and you can have very devil getting them separated, especially if you have a handful of coiled cable in one hand.
I picked up a couple of books from the Detective Book Club at Post-Hip recently, and they have provided some enjoyable reading. They appear to be about 20 years old, and being book club books, the pages are turning yellow and feel fragile, but they aren't falling apart yet.
I am reading one story, Slam The Big Door by John D. McDonald, and I come across this line:
"He had always been able to remember dialogue, the special way people fit words together, so that in repetition it has the distinctive flavor of truth."I have never been able to do that, or I have never been interested in trying to remember what people say. I attempt to extract the significance of what they are saying, and I can remember that, but the actual words vanish instantly.
This is a problem for me sometimes when I am trying to explain something to my wife. My explanation for some reason will be unsatisfactory, and she will ask me to tell her "what they said", which throws me for a total loop because I have no idea what was actually said.
P.S. John D. MacDonald was born two years before my dad, and died shortly after him.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
This is a very easy-to-play game. You have a field of hexagons, kind of like a honeycomb, and a selection of symbols. Each cell contains one symbol. Given a starting cell, you select a symbol and all adjacent cells containing that symbol are cleared. The clearing goes as far as adjacent cells contain that symbol. Only when no more of the cells adjacent to the cleared field contain the specified symbol does the clearing stop. The object is clear the entire field within the allotted number of moves.
The first few times I played this game I tried to judge which would be the best symbol to use for the next clearing operation. As you go along the number of symbols increases. The game starts with three, and I got to the point where there were eight. Eventually, I think because I was tired, and because with the large number of symbols, progress was very slow, I gave up on trying to pick the best symbol and just started playing them in rotation. What was surprising is that this technique seemed to work as well as making a choice.
I went back and played the game a few more times using this rotation scheme. Sometimes it failed after only a few levels, but once it got as far as I had ever gotten using my original technique.
I am sure there is a mathematical explanation for this, but I am satisfied with my empirical results.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
It's a degenerate society that forms it laws around local prerogative. - Michigan MikePrerogative? You mean perogative, don't you? Like in It's My Perogative:
Actually, they are the same word. Technically Mike is correct, but me and all my friends pronounce it perogative and spell it that way, too. So stick it in your ear all you stupid dictionaries.
Notes: Today's Good Word is usually (mis)pronounced perogative, as a result of a process called metathesis, whereby the sounds [r] and [ê] switch places with each other. You hear it when words like different, veteran, prescription are pronounced [difernt], [vetern], [perscription], common across the southern US states. The pronunciation of these words, however, does not affect the spelling, so the first syllable in prerogative is always spelled P-R-E.
From Your Dictionary:
Even in dialects where [r] does not always trade places with the preceding vowel (as the Texan pronunciations "differnce," "vetern," etc.), the [r] in this prefix often gets switched.
Gernade, er, grenade is another one I used to screw up.
And, no, I don't have any idea what Mike is talking about, but that's not unusual.
Friday, January 14, 2011
A fine film. Very dense. I think you could run it at one tenth the speed, not lose your attention and absorb a lot more. Kind of reminds me of Wolfram's celluar automata in his book A New Kind of Science, except the movie does in three minutes what Wolfram takes a thousand pages to explain. OK, I'm being unfair. I read a few pages of the book once. I wasn't impressed. I couldn't decide whether Wolfram was a genius or an idiot.
I picked up a copy of Willamette Week, a local Tabloid, earlier this week, and this ad caught my eye. At first I thought someone was trying to sell a custom car, and I thought cool! Someone is bringing (fake) guns to the custom car world. Alas, it was not to be, it is merely an ad for the movie.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Directions (the ones on the linked page a little hard to read):
- Click on the link below
- Then "click me to get trippy",
- Look at the center of the screen for 30 seconds, and then.
- Look at your hand holding the mouse, without moving it away from the mouse...
Generality is, indeed, an indispensable ingredient of reality; for mere individual existence or actuality without any regularity whatever is a nullity. Chaos is pure nothing. - Charles Sanders PeirceI am not particularly keen on this quote: at first reading it doesn't appear to make much sense, but if you allow for some freedom of expression (this quote is at least a hundred years old), then maybe it is okay.
For instance, much of our expectations for our day-to-day lives depend on practical generalisations: we expect most people to behave in expected ways most of the time. If we had no rules to explain to ourselves how things work, our world would appear chaotic, you could make no useful predictions, and there is no telling what would happen. I think that's what he's saying.
However, the person being quoted, Charles Sanders Peirce, is kind of interesting. First off is the spelling of his name. I am a pretty good speller, not great, I still screw up any number of largish words, but PEIRCE hit me as all wrong. At first I thought my correspondent had screwed it up, but no, Wikipedia confirms the spelling. Just for grins I ran searches for both spellings. Google reported 2 million hits for PEIRCE, 34 million for PIERCE, which explains why I thought PEIRCE was wrong.
This Charles Sanders Peirce guy was something of a smarty pants: he figured out some of the underpinnings of digital computers a long time before anyone else did:
In 1886 he saw that Boolean calculations could be carried out via electrical switches, anticipating Claude Shannon by more than 50 years.Via Ned.
Friday, January 7, 2011
The Logitech Review has a bunch of firmware that can be updated. Matter of fact, the first thing it did when we turned it on was to download a 12 Megabyte update. I suspect once it is turned on and connected it can be updated any time at all. However, being able to update doesn't mean there is an update available that will fix my problem. I consider my problem sort of fundamental, and as they hadn't seen fit to make it work properly in the first place, it probably wasn't going to get fixed any time soon. Just to be clear: So boom, it's in the mail.
Meanwhile our little digital kitchen timer died. It happened when it was in my hand just as I had inadvertently pushed a little gray rubber button on the back. At first I thought it was something I had done, so I dinked around with for a bit, then I realized that the thing was older than dirt and maybe the battery had just died.
Not too long ago I needed a little coin cell battery for a remote control. I ended up buying one over the internet from Dr. Battery in Florida for like a dollar. I was so impressed I wrote a post about it. Or at least I thought I did. Went looking for it this afternoon and could not find it. Searching didn't help, tags didn't help. Searching the net failed to reveal the site I used last time, or maybe they have changed so much I didn't recognize them.
In any case, Amazon had a link to a supplier who sold me a battery for $2.50 and no shipping. It may take a few days to get here, but it saves driving to the store and looking through their display of batteries to find that they don't have the one I need, or if they do they want $5 for it.
Marc found another solution: you can buy a sheet of a couple dozen different coin cells from Harbor Freight for like $8. (I couldn't find this deal on their site). If you only use a couple, you come out ahead. Only problem for me is that it would be one more thing to keep track of, and I have too much stuff as it is.
Which is why I returned the books in the first place. I wasn't getting much money back, not after I paid the shipping to return them, but somebody in my family already has copies of these books, I already have a stack of books to read, and the last thing I need is more new stuff to keep track of and store.
Just so we are clear, tags are labels that are used to classify documents like emails and blog posts. I know Google likes them. I imagine other outfits probably use them as well.
I never seem to know how to classify things. Some things are fairly obvious, some are not. But mostly, how do I tell which tag have I used previously for a similar item? I seem to have an endless list of tags, so long that it seemed pointless, so long that I took it off of my blog.
The other problem is some posts require so many tags it seems ridiculous. It takes as long to tag a post as it does to write it.
A couple of weeks ago I said forget it. Since tags are so useless and so troublesome and I can't seem to come up with a clear plan, I decided to just quite using them all together.
Then I put up a post about the Navy's rail gun research project, which involved some very high speed photography, and I wanted to reference another post I had done that also involved the military and high speed photography. I knew what the picture looked like, but I didn't recall when I had made the post or what I had said about it. I tried searching six ways from Sunday but could not find it. Finally I tried the tag Guns, and presto, there it was.
So now I'm back to using tags.
I picked it up at Post Hip a couple of weeks ago on the recommendation of Scott. Scott had stumbled upon a story about Georges, something to the effect that he had slept with 20,000 women, but his wife and he had done some figuring and decided that 12,000 was a more accurate number. Huh.
Wikipedia's opening paragraph on this guy gives us the essentials:
Georges Joseph Christian Simenon (February 13, 1903 – September 4, 1989) was a Belgian writer. A prolific author who published nearly 200 novels and numerous short works, Simenon is best known for the creation of the fictional detective Maigret.I guess I got roped into this because I vaguely recall a detective name Maigret, so I figured I would get (re-) acquainted with him. This book is not a Maigret story. Also, Scott doesn't stock any Science Fiction, but Roberta X has written a Sci-Fi novel and I plan on buying a copy.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Then I got to Level 29 where I got stuck. I finally gave up and looked up the solution, and when I found it, it was really annoying. It simply interchanged a couple of pieces in a way that should not have worked as well.
I should have know the game was bogus when I ran into the first problem: placing a bridge over a solid surface. I am pretty sure I tried this in one of the earlier levels and it wouldn't let me.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
ALL-CLEAR IN THE STRATOSPHERE:Earth's stratosphere is as clear as it's been in more than 50 years. University of Colorado climate scientist Richard Keen knows this because he's been watching lunar eclipses. "Since 1996, lunar eclipses have been bright, which means the stratosphere is relatively clear of volcanic aerosols. This is the longest period with a clear stratosphere since before 1960." Consider the following comparison of a lunar eclipse observed in 1992 after the Philippine volcano Pinatubo spewed millions of tons of gas and ash into the atmosphere vs. an "all-clear" eclipse in 2003:Stolen entire from Confessions of a Street PharmacistKeen explains why lunar eclipses can be used to probe the stratosphere: "At the distance of the Moon, most of the light refracted into the umbra (Earth's shadow) passes through the stratosphere, which lies 10 to 30 miles above the ground. When the stratosphere is clear, the umbra (and therefore, the eclipsed Moon) is relatively bright. On the other hand, if the atmospheric lens that illuminates the Moon becomes dirty enough, light will be blocked and the eclipse will appear dark."This is timely and important because the state of the stratosphere affects climate; a clear stratosphere "lets the sunshine in" to warm the Earth below. At a 2008 SORCE conference Keen reported that "The lunar eclipse record indicates a clear stratosphere over the past decade, and that this has contributed about 0.2 degrees to recent warming."
This story reproduced from spaceweather.com (emphasis added)
Monday, January 3, 2011
Sunday, January 2, 2011
A few years ago we got a Motorola DVR (Digital Video Recorder) from Verizon. It pretty much works most of the time, but for as much as it costs, and as much as it gets used, it's a real POS. It's a pain in the neck to use, it doesn't do what it's supposed to, it's just a pisser.
Santa brought us a Logitech Revue for Christmas, and it sounded pretty good, I mean they were hooked up with Google, but after living with it for a week I am not sure it is any better than the Verizon, er, Frontier DVR. The first test is trying to watch a show via Netflix. The 1st day was no go. A couple days later it worked fine. Last night it wouldn't work again. We ended up watching an old episode of In Plain Sight on my wife's laptop. There we are sitting together on the couch, in front of the big screen TV, watching an old TV show on the laptop. Both the laptop and the Revue are using a wireless connection to the same router in the basement, so there's really no excuse for the Revue to fail.
Except I suspect the software was written by a bunch of arrogant asshats who don't know didley about writing firmware, who wave their hands and use big words and C++, the most useless POS ever foisted on the programmer world.
It's all my own fault of course. I'm lazy and I'm cheap. I could set up another computer to do all this, and it would probably work better than what I've got, but that means having to do some actual work, and undoubtedly having to spend hours combing through web pages full of useless information in order to find the two or three bits I actually need, and me being who I am, and the web being what it is, I will undoubtedly get sidetracked and spend three or four weeks chasing wild geese just because I've never seen a goose painted with hot pink camouflage and sequins.
P.S. The first link I tried for In Plain Site went to the USA Network's official website, but it brought my computer to a stop while it was loading all this crap, so I opted for the Wikipedia link instead. Quick, direct, and no clogging my computer with all their extraneous garbage.
Saturday, January 1, 2011
Today I got an email from Steve that prompted me to go looking for information on U.S. oil imports and I came across a variation of this story. It makes my favorite theory look simplistic. From Wikipedia's article on United States Oil Politics:
Former Soviet Union
Richard Heinberg, a professor from Santa Rosa, California argues that a newly declassified CIA document shows that the U.S. used oil prices as leverage against the economy of the Soviet Union:
The Memorandum predicts an impending peak in Soviet oil production 'not later than the early 1980s' (the actual peak occurred in 1987 at 12.5 million barrels per day, following a preliminary peak in 1983 of 12.5 Mb/d). 'During the next decade,' the unnamed authors of the document conclude, 'the USSR may well find itself not only unable to supply oil to Eastern Europe and the West on the present scale, but also having to compete for OPEC oil for its own use.' The Memorandum predicts that the oil peak will have important economic impacts: 'When oil production stops growing, and perhaps even before, profound repercussions will be felt on the domestic economy of the USSR and on its international economic relations.'
I wonder who came up with this scheme.
...Soon after assuming office in 1981, the Reagan Administration abandoned the established policy of pursuing détente with the Soviet Union and instead instituted a massive arms buildup; it also fomented proxy wars in areas of Soviet influence, while denying the Soviets desperately needed oil equipment and technology. Then, in the mid-1980s, Washington persuaded Saudi Arabia to flood the world market with cheap oil. Throughout the last decade of its existence, the USSR pumped and sold its oil at the maximum possible rate in order to earn foreign exchange income with which to keep up in the arms race and prosecute its war in Afghanistan. Yet with markets awash with cheap Saudi oil, the Soviets were earning less even as they pumped more. Two years after their oil production peaked, the economy of the USSR crumbled and its government collapsed.