Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest

Saturday, February 26, 2011

House of Electrons

I think I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I took on a little programming project for Stevens. It wasn't supposed to be a big deal, I originally figured I would be done by Christmas, and I was, sort of. But then the bugs appeared and I spent the last two months tracking them down.

The first one was an optimization problem. I had a delay loop that worked fine under the old compiler, but the new one's optimizer realized that it accomplished nothing, other than waste time, which is the enemy of optimizers, and so deleted it. So I had to look up the correct incantations and spells to use on this compiler to ensure that it would waste time when I told it to.

There were some little bugs involving some changes to commands and responses, but those were easily dealt with. After all, I could see what was wrong there. There was also a problem with trying to herd a large number of ducks down the same path, but that was more of mental technique than a programming problem.

Finally, last Wednesday, I thought it was all working and shipped it off. Finally, relieved of my obligations, at least until they test it and find something wrong. So Thursday I sat down, and just for grins, rewrote a large section of code that had been bugging me ever since I first saw it. It contained about a dozen nearly identical sections which should have been combined into one procedure. It would need a couple of parameters to stand in for the bits that changed in each section, but other than that it was a no-brainer. So I sliced and diced and cut about 200 lines out of a thousand line file, and I was very pleased with the results.

Friday I hear back from Keith and the program I sent them seems to have a very serious shortcoming. Never mind that it got over the first major hurdle, you have to be able to finish the race, and it wasn't doing that. I went back and looked at it again, and by gum, he was right. Load the program on the actual hardware and it croaks whenever you ask it to do some actual work. However, run the program in the simulator on the PC and it works fine.

I originally blamed this discrepancy on the lack of an analog input board on my set of test hardware. Maybe something funny is going on here. Well, no, it fails when run on a complete set of hardware too. What's going on? I pull my hair. I stew. I mull over possibilities. I think of nothing. Fine. Just for grins, let's try the piece of code I reworked on Thursday. There is no reason it should work any better, but hey, let's just try it anyway. And it works.

There is no reason for it to work any better than the previous version, but work it does, so I ship it off. The code size is slightly smaller, so it occupies less flash memory. It uses less RAM, though the same amount is allocated. It was down around 70-80% of available space in both cases, both before and after, so it's not like it was bumping up against any limits. I can't explain it, but I will accept that it works. Maybe the answer will appear in a circle of fire tonight in my dreams.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Funny Hills

The road to Eugene is pretty much straight and flat as it runs through the Willamette River valley. You can see the Coast range off to the West and the Cascade mountains off to the East, but they are pretty far away. The valley floor is almost entirely farmland. About 25 or 30 miles North of Eugene a range of hills starts up off to the East. They pop up out of nowhere and the closer we get to Eugene, the closer they get to the highway, until just North of Eugene the road slices right through the tail end of the last hill.

We're driving down South today and I notice there's snow in them thar funny hills. You can see snow in the clear cut areas in this picture. Turns out the hills are called the Coburg Hills, which seems to be a big name in Eugene.


Update February 2017 replaced missing picture.

Kari Out

At Thursday Lunch
Update February 2017 replaced missing picture.

Lock Repair

I've written about repairing this latch plate with wood putty a couple of times. Today I finally remembered to take a picture.



It's got to take to be my ugliest repair job, but it's been over two years, and it's still solid.

Update February 2017 replaced missing picture.

Morning Glory Cafe in Eugene Oregon

Drove down to Eugene today to resupply our poor, starving children. Dubious daughter selected the Morning Glory Cafe for brunch. I was thinking pancakes or an omelet, but it turns out to be one of them funny vegetarian joints, and they had neither omelets nor pancakes on the menu. Lots of Tofu this and Vegan that, which is fine if that's what you are after. I settled for French toast, which is usually better than pancakes, but they never give you as much, so it is not quite as filling. The serving size here was adequate, which was good as there was no sausage or eggs to back it up. There was some kind of strawberry stuff (sugar free!) laced on top, but there was also a side of syrup (extra sugar!), so you could go either way, sweetness wise. I tried it without and it was fine, but I was hungry so poured on the syrup.



I noticed that some people were wearing leather shoes. If fact my daughter was carrying a leather purse. I thought this a bit hypocritical (not eating meat, but wearing leather), but then I realized I was in there and I certainly am not a vegetarian. Maybe none of these other people are vegetarians either. Maybe they were all wishing for bacon and eggs but somehow got hornswaggled into coming here. I mean it could have happened. Then I realized that not all vegetarians refrain from eating meat for ethical reasons. Some people may just do it for health reasons, real or imaginary.

Still, the food was good, the prices weren't too bad for Sunday Brunch, and the place was busy. We had to wait ten or fifteen minutes for a table.

Update: There was a sticker on the door proclaiming this place to be a "Hate Free Zone". The busboy was wearing a T-shirt that said "I Hate Seagulls".

Update February 2017 replaced missing picture.

Anime Hell

Chris Sobieniak left a comment. When I looked him up I found a cool video, no wait, a bunch of cool videos, too many to post. Go see for yourself on Anime Hell.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Quote of the Day

Diet Pepsi has introduced a new beverage can. Same volume, but taller than the industry average; the rules of geometry being what they are, it’s also narrower than average, and you can predict what happens next:
The National Eating Disorders Association said it takes offense to the can.
Stolen outright from Dustbury.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Stinky Cheese Man

There has been something stinking up the refrigerator for the last week or so. Not overpowering, you just catch a whiff of it ever now and then whenever you open the fridge. Smelled like rotten meat. Really bad. So last weekend we cleaned out the fridge, threw out some suspicious looking stuff. Did not identify the culprit, but we figured maybe by chance we got it. No such luck. Still getting that smell this week. So today we emptied the fridge, took out all the shelves and drawers and washed everything. Did the freezer too. Even pulled out the fridge out from the wall and cleaned underneath, just cause we were on a mad tear. Did not find anything, except the stinky goat cheese darling daughter bought when she was home for Christmas.

Smell the cheese and it has a fairly strong odor, but it doesn't smell that bad, but I am at a loss as to what else it could be. So we tossed it. Hopefully it was the source of the offensive odor. If not, shoot, I don't what we are going to do next. We'll wait and see if the smell is gone or not.

All this brought to mind the villain in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Trilogy. You know he's the villain because he eats rotten fish. I mean who in their right mind would eat rotten fish? I can't think of anything worse. At first I thought this was just a device Neal used to identify the villain: oh, yeah, old what's his name is back in the story again, the dirty scoundrel who eats rotten fish. I mean you don't really need to know anything else about him.

And then I stumbled over this article about Garum in Wikipedia. Evidently fermented fish is something of a delicacy that's been around for thousands of years. Some people still eat it. Weird.

Compression & Expansion

This is an idea I have been kicking around for a long time. I may even have written about it before. Why can't we make use of the waste heat from refrigerators to generate power, or to at least power themselves?

Your basic refrigerator and air conditioner work the same way. There is a compressor that compresses the "working fluid", typically freon. Compressing it makes it hot. The hot, high pressure fluid is allowed to flow through an external radiator where it gives up it's excess heat to the surrounding air. At the exit from the radiator there is the expansion valve that controls the amount of gas allowed through to the internal radiator. The pressure in the internal radiator is much lower than in the external one, so as the working fluid passes the expansion valve, it expands, and when it expands it gets much cooler. It gets so cold that it is colder than the inside of the refrigerator, so heat from the inside of the refrigerator is absorbed by the working fluid in the internal radiator. (I guess it's not proper to call it a radiator, since it is not radiating anything, but it functions just like a radiator: it maximizes the amount of surface area between the working fluid and the environment and so facilitates the transfer of heat energy from between the two.)  After the freon has worked it's way through the internal radiator, it enters the compressor, and the cycle starts over.

I always thought this was a little weird. Here you have this high pressure gas, which you have gone to a lot of trouble to compress, and you are just venting it. Why aren't we using it to run some kind of engine? An engine performs the same function as an expansion valve, plus you could get energy back from it.

I imagine there are probably two reasons it hasn't been done:
  1. The present designs work. Companies build refrigerators and people buy them and feed them electricity. They do their job and people are willing to pay the cost of using them. Why spend a bunch of money on experimental research and engineering to build a product no one is asking for?
  2. It may not be possible to produce a compressed gas motor that would be efficient enough to produce a tangible benefit.
Feeble excuses, both. On the other hand, I haven't spent any time or money actually trying to build one either, so I can't really be pointing any fingers.

There are a couple of items that bear on this.

Vane-Type Motor
Several (many?) years ago I saw an article in either Popular Science or Popular Mechanics about a new kind of air conditioner a guy had built. It had a vane type compressor and air motor combined into one. It operated directly on air, there was no freon. For 180 degrees it would compress the air. The compressed air was then fed into a radiator to discharge excess heat. The return air from the radiator came back into the combination motor/compressor at the very next point and drove the vanes of the motor for the next 180 degrees. The claim was that it used very little power, as it was using the pressure from the compressed gas to help drive the compressor, so it still used an electric motor, but it was smaller than it would be for a conventional air conditioner of similar size. I think the machine's failing was the precision needed to make the relatively large compressor/motor.

There have been some attempts to build power generating stations that use the difference in temperature of water on the surface of the ocean and water from a hundred or so feet down. I haven't heard anything about them lately. Here they are generating power from relatively small differences in temperature.

The last little bit is something I tripped over recently, and that is the thermodynamic cycle used by refrigeration engineers makes no use of the potential energy in the compressed gas. That seems like an awfully big hole in such an established theory.

P.S. Here's an interesting A/C idea.

Update February 2017 replaced missing picture.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Kia Optima Ad

Fringe benefit from the Super Bowl. So much great stuff, so little time. I smiled all the way through. I'm still smiling.



Update March 2016 replaced missing video. This one has a fat black border, so the image size is reduced.
Update February 2017 restored original video.

M3 drivers don't have any friends.

So it's Saturday and I finally get around to looking up the Audi commercial that California Bob recommended. Something in the ad prompts me to look up the Audi, which leads me to a Top Gear video clip. I've seen the clip before, but evidently I have the hot rod disease because I can always watch another Top Gear video. In this one they are comparing three German Saloons with a 1972 Formula 1 race car at a track in Spain. They have a Mercedes, a BMW and an Audi.

(Jeremy, the chief blatherer, calls the Mercedes a Merk, which always confuses me because a Merk in 'Merica is a Mercury, not a Mercedes. In America, Mercedes is always spoken as a complete word, out of reverence for the almighty dollar. On the other hand, I never heard the word saloon spoken aloud in reference to a car before I saw this show. I had seen the word in print many times, but a saloon in 'Merica is a bar, not a car, so I could not imagine they were pronounced the same way.)

Anyway, each of our trio has their own favorite amongst the three saloons. Jeremy "More Power" Clarkson prefers the Merk with it's larger, more powerful engine, or am I being redundant? Richard Hammond prefers the the BMW M3 and James May prefers the Audi. If you have spent any time watching this show, you are no doubt familiar with the personalities and predilections of these three characters. Jeremy is the big, boisterous, live-life-the-fullest kind of guy. Richard is the slightly more sophisticated ? aggressive, more interested in going fast with less than in making a big show. James is the retiring academic type who still enjoys a quick automobile that is well behaved.

Being a technical kind of guy I tend to identify with Richard, so Jeremy's comment about how "M3 drivers don't have any friends" struck me as likely to be very true. I do have a few close friends, but not many. My general impression is that people who are more interested in technology than in people are in the minority. Or maybe it's the everyone would rather deal with things instead of people, it's just that relatively few people have been able to make a living in technical work and are therefor forced to become "people persons". Um, probably not.

P.S. Blogger's spell check highlights all kind of words that I like, but it did not catch perfers, at least not the first time I typed it. This time it did. Sloppy.

Friday, February 11, 2011

PortlandMaps

The City of Portland, Oregon has a web site that will display a map of the area, much like Google. However, they have a dozen different layers of information you can overlay so you can see their impact on your area of interest. Very cool. They do want a location before they will show you anything, but they give you a sample one, and it works to get you downtown. From there, you are free to explore.

Came across this while looking for information on car break-ins. One of my wife's co-workers had a window smashed in her car and her bag of stuff stolen while she was at an early morning exercise class in downtown Portland. Apparently teachers are not the only ones who get up early.

Cough Drops

My wife caught a cold, and being the generous caring soul that she is, she shared it with me. So I have been coughing all week. Mostly it doesn't bother me, it just seems to pick up about the time I want to go to sleep, so I am up all night being a Zombie and looking for brains. Didn't find any brains, but I did find some cough drops. Usually I go for Hall's Mentholyptus, or the generic equivalent. But then I discovered my wife's stash of Ricola Honey & Lemon cough drops, and I like them much better. All of which got me to wondering about the cough drops we used to get as kids, the ones that had the picture of those two bearded guys on the cover. What were their names? Oh, that's right, Smith Brothers:

Smith Brothers Cough Drops

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Lost In Space

While waiting for I Work On A Starship to arrive, I started rereading Stephen Baxter's Manifold Space, which starts off by asking where is everybody? Meaning, the universe is a big place, there ought to be life out there somewhere, so why haven't we seen any evidence of an advanced civilization from another star?

Space Battleship Yamato
Then Roberta's book arrived, and I started reading it, and it, and several other ideas gelled* in my head, and it suddenly came to me. We haven't seen anybody, because anybody who has escaped the gravity well of their sun isn't going to want to get trapped in one again.

Interplanetary Transport Network

There is something called the Interplanetary Transport Network which is a really just a way of navigating the solar system using little or no power. It doesn't get talked about much because these pathways are really slow. Suitable for unmanned probes, but not really suitable for humans with their gnat like attention spans.

However, barring the development of a warp drive it is our best bet for actually going someplace. A vessel carrying people and using these paths would need be able to sustain it's population indefinitely. The best way to do that would be to make it big enough to contain a complete ecology. We could build such a vessel if we wanted to. It would no doubt need to be assembled in orbit. Parts could be launched from Earth, or possibly fabricated on and launched from the Moon. Getting the biology of the ecosystem would be the bigger challenge. We have had only limited experience with biological systems that have been completely cut off from the Earth. But suppose we got one built and got the ecology running.

Once such a vessel is launched, it would really have no reason to visit the surface of a planet, or even remain in the neighborhood of the sun. Asteroids could provide all the raw materials needed, and would not require descent into a gravity well from which there may well be no escape.

So starships may cruise by a star just to see if there is anything interesting in the neighborhood, but it would be foolish to stay.

* Contributing ideas:
  • The Madness Season by C.S. Friedman. She posits the existence of longships: large spaceships made of rock, or perhaps hollowed out asteroids, that do not slow down when they approach a star and planets. Their velocity is not that high. Skimships (small ships capable of large changes in velocity) act as shuttles, decelerating when they depart the long ship to land on a planet, and then accelerating after leaving the planet to meet up with the longship again. This limits the time you can transit between the longship and the planets. It makes a sort of sense, changing the velocity of a three mile long asteroid would take a great deal of energy. Let the little ships do the hard work. They would be much more fuel efficient for these kind of maneuvers.
  • Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C. Clarke gives us the idea of a starship simply using our Sun as an accelerator, much like we use the planet Jupiter to slingshot our probes that are on their way farther out. Also, no stopping to chat or even slowing down for a look-see.
  • Space Battleship Yamato (pictured above) and The Matrix give us the idea of using old war surplus miltary hulls as space ships. Never mind the problem of getting all that mass into orbit, and never mind that The Matrix wasn't set in outer space, they are water tight (especially submarines) and so are also air tight. And all that steel would make good radiation shielding, important if you are going anywhere outside of Earth orbit. If you are following Roberta's story, you already know that Lupine means wolf. The British had a destroyer named Seawolf, and both the British and the US had submarines with that name.
Update: June 2015. Replace pictures that Blogger lost.

    Monday, February 7, 2011

    Library Lock Box

    Sign outside the Peoria, Arizona public library. (Peoria is a suburb of Phoenix.) Via Jack.

    Update February 2017 replaced missing picture.

    A little post game analysis on Super Bowl XLV .....

    The game started out as a weak offensive battle with most sponsors airing predictable ho-hum commercials, heavy on special effects but failing to bring any notable creative contribution across the goal line.  Standard "run it up the middle" play-book themes of buffoonish alcoholism, frustrated horny men, and kicks in the groin failed to gain yardage, while intensive efforts with computer generated cyber-monsters brought lots of flash and dash, but managed only to move the ball sideways.

    One breakout play came from Audi, who stepped up with an unexpected flea-flicker play lampooning traditional concepts of old wealth.  And Careerbuilder.com deserves MVP for their portrayal of chimpanzees running the workplace -- the only laugh-out-loud moment in the game. 

    It gives credence to the old Vince Lombardi line, "When all else fails, and you need points on the board, bring in the chimps."  And it's refreshing that the tried and true methods of simian exploitation can outdo the best of modern computer generated content.  Yet there's a nagging disappointment: is our massive investment and reliance on technology going to fail us with mediocre results?


    - California Bob

    Friday, February 4, 2011

    Litterbug Tree

    Saw a piece of paper lying on the lawn the other day when I went to pick up the mail, so I picked it up. Turns out it isn't paper, it's bark from a tree, though it is as thin as paper. Thinner actually because it was two ply. The individual plies were really thin. It was about five by ten inches in size. I didn't try and write on it, it felt pretty flimsy.


    Update February 2017 replaced missing picture.

    Burgerville Calories

    Picked up burger and fries at Burgerville (a local fast food chain) the other day and the receipt has the nutrition information printed right on it. Never seen that before. Click to embiggen.


    Update February 2017 replaced missing image.

    Savings

    I used to hear how the Japanese put so much more money in their savings accounts than Americans, and Americans should be more like the Japanese and save more. I heard that refrain for years. I haven't heard it lately.

    Today I'm looking at Google news and I come across China: Currency Manipulation wherein the author has this to say about national savings rates:
    It is pretty clear to me that domestic policies within China are at the source of the huge imbalance between production and consumption. High savings rates rarely have to do with culture or personal preferences, as is widely assumed, and a lot to do with policies that affect the balance between production and consumption. After all a nation’s savings is simply its total production minus its total consumption, and to the extent that there are explicit policies aimed at constraining consumption and boosting production, they inevitably affect the savings rate. These policies also inevitably force a rising trade surplus onto the rest of the world.
    I thought this was a pretty good explanation of savings rates, and also helps explain the big trade surplus China is running. I mean one way to constrain consumption is to not pay your workers very much, then they won't have any extra money to buy stuff. As far as the trade surplus goes, making a lot of extra stuff is no guarantee that anyone will buy it. However, if you are skrimping on the pay for your workers, then your costs may be lower and you might be able to sell it.

    I suspect this is all part of PRC's plan for world domination. By building everything cheaper than anyone else, they are destroying everyone else's industries, and their economies as well. Pretty soon China will have a monopoly on making everything. That is when they will let the yuan float, prices for Chinese goods will rise, and we will all be in the poorhouse.

    The whole article is rather long and kind of involved, I only got about half through it before I gave up.

    Discard Changes

    So I am monkeying around with a small Google spreadsheet, just a table really, and I realize I have gone too far, and this scheme I am working on is not going to work. OK, fine, we'll just throw it away and go back to where we started.

    Except we can't. Autosave has been turned on, and every change I have made has been dutifully saved in the originally "document". Gaack! What am I gonna do?

    So I search help for "restore original", and I find this post on the forum:
    Is there a way to cloase a google doc, such as a spreadsheet without saving it.
    in which they talk all around the problem, ask a bunch of unimaginative questions, and then close the discussion without explaining the answer. But someone does mention revision history, although from this discussion it does not even look like there is such a thing. In any case, I stopped looking for DISCARD CHANGES and started looking for REVISION HISTORY, and that got me to where I needed to be.

    The answer is that you can use the REVISION HISTORY under the FILE menu to restore a previous version. You click on Revision History, and it displays a list of versions in a sidebar. Click on any one of them and it will display it. At the same time an option will appear under this entry in the sidebar offering to restore this version. So once you have found the one you want, you can restore it, and all your changes since then will be DISCARDED, which is what I wanted in the first place.

    I mean, how would you know there was such a thing as a Revision History unless you were looking for it? I mean I didn't want the Revision History, I just wanted to discard my changes.

    Maybe we need two levels of spreadsheet programs. One for people who only want to use a simple spreadsheet occasionally, and one for people whose entire life is devoted spreadsheets.

    Thursday, February 3, 2011

    Vanavana Updated

    Looking at islands in the South Pacific on Google this evening while talking to daring daughter and I come across this one:

    View Larger Map

    A donut shaped atoll where some has planted an orchard

    Vanavana
     OK, they are likely palm trees, not fruit trees, but still it's odd to see order like this in the middle of nowhere. Yes, those are buildings in the upper right corner of the image.

    Updated December 14, 2014, because Google Maps changed and my old map quit working. I also added the picture because the order is not visible at the current level of zoom in the map view.

    Wednesday, February 2, 2011

    BADASS LEGO GUNS

    Spinthariscope


    The DIY Atomic Fission Bomb
    An atomic bomb can be constructed from smoke detectors. Americium 241 is a fissile material, the critical mass being in the region of 80 kg. To amass such a mass would require billions of smoke detectors to be sacrificed. Also problematical is the heat generated in the sub-critical assembly of americium by it`s radioactivity - about 10kW!

    From Jack.


    For those of you in Denver

    Lesser-known Hitchcock films come to DPL starting next Tuesday. I'm not allowed to say anything else.

    Go deep into the Hitchcock oeuvre.
    Joseph Goebbels loved this film—who are you to argue?

    Update February 2017 replaced missing picture.

    Hosni Mubarak & Egypt

    I just read The Arab revolution grows up, a column by David Ignatius. Really excellent, well worth reading.