Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest

Friday, April 29, 2011

Letter to the ACLU

Just An Earth Bound Misfit put up a post about "those hate-filled lunatics of the Westboro Baptist Church", which sent me wandering off in search of the origin of the referenced story. Never did find it, but my browser is a little crippled these days due to an attack by the evil effing WindowsFixDisk malware. All of which prompted me to drop a line to the ACLU. Since I wrote it, it must be wonderful, so I thought I would share.
In theory I support the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union)*, which is why I was a little perturbed to find a story about the WBC (Westboro Baptist Church) on A quick look at your site shows several articles that apparently support the WBC.

If the WBC really believed in what they were saying, it would be one thing, but they are not. They are gaming the system.

Near as I can tell, this bunch of troglodytes are in it for the money. They stage these protests hoping someone will attack them and "violate their civil rights", where upon they turn around and sue. They have done this before and made a bunch of money, so they continue the practice, hoping for more money.

*In practice I don't send you any more money because it seems that all my money is spent sending me more requests for money. Also, I'm unemployed, which is why I have time to harass you about this.

Could it be that the WBC has made a big contribution to the ACLU and this is why you are supporting them?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tree Goose

Look! A new species of goose! Oh, wait. It's spring. Never mind. From the swamp.

Update February 2017 replaced missing picture.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Mary J Wanna

I saw a line in the news this week about how one per cent of the electricity produced in the United States is used in the production of marijuana, i.e. it's used for grow lights for indoor pot farms. That is a heck of a lot of pot.

I'm all in favor of legalizing marijuana, matter of fact, I'm in favor of legalizing all drugs. I think people are smart enough to figure this stuff out for themselves, and it certainly isn't any of the government's business. But I don't think it is going to happen anytime soon.

The prohibition of alcohol (early in the 20th Century in the US)  is the example commonly given of why the laws banning drugs should be repealed. Then I had a thought. I have heard numerous stories about how prohibition came to be (Carrie Nation and rampant alcoholism), but I never heard anything about how it came to be repealed. Big campaign for years to get prohibition enacted, the prohibition lasted for several years and then it was repealed. What happened? What happened is that half of the people in the country wanted a drink.

It's a little hard to tell what's going on with marijuana. Accurate numbers are hard to come by because, well, it's illegal. Near as we can tell though it's the biggest cash crop in several states. It's easy to see why. When a bushel of pot goes for ten thousand dollars, and a bushel of corn goes for three or four, you don't have to grow a whole lot of pot to make a big pile of cash. On the other hand, only about five percent of our population are regular pot smokers. That's a considerable number, but it's nothing like the number of people who drink.

Rational, reasonable arguments are not going get the laws changed. There is going to have to be a sea change in people's attitudes before anything happens. It's possible that the drug war going on in Mexico might trigger a ground swell of opinion, but I kind of doubt it. I mean it's in Mexico, that's another country, that doesn't have anything to do with US. Oops, sorry, a little sarcasm slipped out there.

If some rich guy, like Murdoch or Bill Gates, wanted to mount a media campaign, they could probably get the laws changed eventually. But I don't think that is likely to happen. Right now too many people are making too much money off of marijuana for anyone on either side of the law to want it to become legal.

Unnecessary Truck

Big, four wheel drive pickup trucks seem to be a plague on our roads. I've read numerous comments by people who think they are gas guzzling road hogs driven by red-necks who want nothing more than to crush the little people in the their fuel efficient little foreign bug cars. Me, I've been on both sides of this skirmish. Ten foot tall pickup trucks come flying by me at a hunert miles an hour, obviously driven by maniacs, or getting stuck behind tiny little tiny putt-putts driven by idiots crawling down the road, holding up traffic in three counties.

Now there are some people who have a legitimate use for a large pickup, like people in the construction trades who are occasionally called on to haul material or tow trailers. Then there is the RV crowd who drive their monster truck to work five days a week and then use it to tow their travel trailer to the beach or the mountains on the weekend. These people could buy another small car to commute to work, but is having two cars instead of just one really any better? It is certainly more expensive to maintain two vehicles than one.

Our neighbor's older daughter got married a few months to a guy who joined the marines. He spent some time in Afghanistan. He does not need a monster truck. But then it struck me: he probably feels more comfortable driving in something like this, because what has he spent the last year riding around in? An MRAP. Coming back to the States is going to require some adjustments, and if driving a monster pickup truck makes him feel more comfortable, well, I for one am not going to complain.

Mystery Cable

My wife and I are getting ready for the neighborhood garage sale next weekend. If I have anything else to do, like a job, I don't like participating. They can be fun to browse if you have a couple of hours free, but selling stuff is another matter: getting ready, setting up, manning the barricades and all that is a lot of work, and I would just as soon not. But we have reached critical mass and if some of this stuff doesn't go the house might explode. There is a lot of stuff that could just go to Goodwill, but there are things Goodwill won't take. There are a couple of valuable items, some big and heavy stuff, some things that are useful but you can't really charge money for, so we're getting ready.

While we are rummaging around we find this cable. Obviously a specialized item for a specific application. I look at it, but for the life of me I cannot figure out what it goes to. Game Boy to cell phone? Power supply to GPS? I don't have a clue, so I ask my kids. Youngest calls back and tells me he found it on the street and brought it home so I could wonder what it was. Bah! He caught me, not once, but twice. Stinker.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bad Educator Stories

I heard a couple of stories about educators at lunch today.

Marc was taking a Computer Science class at PSU. He was also working, so he had limited time to actually work on his homework. When he did get a chance to sit down at the university's computer to work on his assignment, the system was down. He eventually completed the assignment, but because of the downtime, he was late turning it in, so he got no credit. He got an A on the final, but because of the missing assignment (a mid-term equivalent, maybe?) he got a D for the class. He needed to get a C to get reimbursed for the class, so he talked to the instructor. The instructor told him he needed to talk to the Dean, so he did. Marc made the argument that he was there for an education and since the school was in the education business, he should get credit for what he had learned. The Dean replied, no, you are in error, we are not in the education business, we are in the certification business. That was it for Marc. He quit.

Glenn's story was about some electronics classes he took at PCC. He took two introductory classes, and then he looks at the description of the next class and it doesn't sound like there is anything new. So he asks the instructor, and the instructor tells him that, yes, there is a bunch of new material in this third class. So he takes it. There isn't any new material. At the end of the term, in spite of getting all A's on his work, he get's a B for the class. When he asks the instructor why, he tells him that he didn't learn anything.

How much of education is actually learning the material, and how much is learning how to play the game?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Compressing the Uncompressible

While I was reading about the Triton submarine over the last week, it occured to me that it would be possible to test the Triton's pressure hull on dry land, i.e. it was small enough that you could conceivably build a pressure tank big enough to contain it. Then I got to thinking about how much work it would be to pressurize it, and I realized that if you got all the air out it wouldn't take much. You could probably use something like a three inch diameter hydraulic cylinder with a long lever attached. Lean on the end of the lever enough to move the piston an inch or two and you could have all the pressure you needed. Of course the trick is to get all the air out. Any bubbles caught inside the tank could easily absorb all your hand made compression without raising the pressure noticeably.

Then Bobbi mentions traction engines, which is just another name for locomotives. I suspect they are called traction engines to distinguish them from cog engines which use a gear wheel on the engine to push against a rack laid between the rails. If you remember your geometry, a line tangent to a circle intersects the circle at only one point. A steel railroad wheel when it sits on a rail is tangent to the rail, and steel is uncompressible, so the contact is at one point, which we know from geometry has no measurable length. Friction is measured by a coefficient (a number) and the area of contact. If the area of contact is zero, then the friction is zero, no matter what the coefficeint is. If there is no friction, there is no traction, so how can a locomotive pull anything?

Lastly there is Newton's Cradle, the executive toy with five or six steel balls hanging from strings. Look at any explanation and they talk about perfect elastic impacts. Steel is elastic? Well, in a word, yes. From an answer on Yahoo: Actually water is slightly compressible, about the same as steel.


I was feeling kinda crummy yesterday, so I spent some time flipping channels on the tube when I came across an old show (from 2004-5) called Rides. They are talking about cars, which is good, but what made it watchable was the pace. I don't think they had a clip of someone talking that lasted more than about 15 seconds, and then they went on. The music and the narration was a little overly dramatic, but it was tolerable, much better than the endless droning you get from most television.

Anyway yesterday's episode had them turning a '56 Chevy pickup into a hot-rod. The amount of sheet metal work that they put into the body on this project was tremendous. They cut the roof off, raked the windshield, and then reworked the doors to fit the changed openings in what was left of the cab.

Plasma Cutting
The real interesting part was that their favorite tool for all this cutting was a plasma torch. I had heard of people trying to develop a cold plasma torch some time ago, so I was intrigued. Turns out this is nothing so elegant. It is just a combination of an electric arc and a jet of compressed air. Still, it cuts smoother than a gas torch, which is saying something, because a gas torch is no slouch. I suppose the big benefit is you don't have to deal with the tanks of compressed gas.

I checked back to today and there was another episode on the DVR, this one about the pair of factory Corvettes competing at Sebring (in 2005). One of the cars crashed when one of the carbon fiber brake rotors exploded. I've heard of ceramic brake rotors (mostly from watching Top Gear), but this is the first I had heard of carbon fiber being used for this. A puff of black smoke appeared  when it happened.

Disk brake rotor on race car glowing red hot.
Brakes get hot. You can see the front rotor glowing red in the picture (the C shape in the center). I had seen similar sights on Top Gear, but they were daylight shots, so not quite so dramatic.

This reminded me of the old Chevrolet pickup truck ads that featured a truck driving down a mountain with blowtorches playing on the front disk brake rotors.

Update October 2016 replaced missing picture and fought with blogger over a link.

Quote of the Day

A locomotive testing facility in the midst of a residential area, where boys sneak through the fence to watch them test how much mass a big engine can pull? Why, that's a Tractive Nuisance! - Roberta X
It seems to be a punny morning.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Power of Mockery

An interesting story in the NY Times about some grass-roots techniques. Via Burro Hall.

Deep Diving Submarines

Triton Submarine

While I was reading about submarines this week, I came across the Triton website. These guys are building little two or three man subs that can reach some amazing depths. They are not cruising submarines, they are exploring the depths, and what depths they can reach!  Their standard model can reach 1000 feet, their heavy duty model can reach 3000 feet, and they are talking about building one that can reach 20,000 feet! Compare that to depths of some other submarines (stolen from an earlier post. I gathered the data from Wikipedia.):
  • 100 feet: Modern plastic tourist submarine.
  • 300 feet: World War I submarines with carbon steel hulls.
  • 600 feet: World War II submarines with alloy steel hulls.
  • 1,000 feet: Modern military submarines with high-strength alloy steel hulls, Triton Standard Duty.
  • 3,000: feet Triton Heavy Duty
  • 4,000 feet: Rumor of crazy Russian military submarine with titanium hull.
  • 5,000: feet (one mile): The BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexcio last year.
  • 15,000: feet: Alvin Research Submarine
  • 20,000: feet Crazy new Triton Super Duty
  • 35,000: feet: Deepest part of the ocean (Mariana Trench) reached in 1960 by the Trieste.
The pressure hull is an acrylic sphere. The walls of the heavy duty model are over six inches thick. Of course they are a bit pricey, about in the same stratosphere as a fancy new super-car. On the other hand, you don't have to be the leader of a modern industrial nation in order to get one built, you can just buy one. Pretty fricking amazing.

Update February 2017 replaced missing picture.


Dustbury put up a post, which prompted me to post a comment, and since I was so eloquent, I thought I would repost it here for your amusement.

Company I used to work for used to buy ink by the gallon, literally. They would buy one gallon, and pour it into little bitty bottles that they would dispense to their customers. Even buying it by the gallon, ink was expensive: something like $500 a gallon.

I had an Okidata LED printer for a long time. It worked like a laser printer, it had a toner cartridge and everything, it just used LED's instead of a laser. I think it died of old age before I had to replace the toner.

I have a Canon ink jet printer now and I think I buy new ink cartridges for it about once a year, if that. Except last year when I was trying to print some technical PDF's. Then it got expensive. Next time I need to print that much I will send the files to Kinkos, or buy a pivot monitor.

I suspect on an average day I use about one sheet of paper for my chicken scratchings, and print about one page.

I used to print a lot more, after all I started with computers when it was punch cards and printouts. But as time has passed, I find more and more often that I don't want to wait for the printout, and will look up what I need on the screen, even though it is more hassle. Likewise, stuff that I used to write out by hand, I now take the time to enter in the computer, because once it is there, I can easily mush it around to suit my evil purposes.

Friday, April 15, 2011

"Waiting For Superman"

My wife and I watched Waiting For Superman last weekend, a "documentary" about the sorry state of public schools in the US these days. They talk to several parents and kids, and lay the blame for our "failing" schools squarely on the teachers union. It's a pretty good movie, it all hangs together, the story is believable, and the conclusion seems obvious. One thing I noticed was at the beginning of the movie they show a map of where all the failing schools are, and they weren't any in Oregon, so obviously I have no idea what the problem is, though Portland seems to be having some trouble with a couple of their high schools.

The crux of the matter is that all the public school teachers in the United States belong to one of two unions: either the NEA or the AFT, and they all have contracts that grant them tenure after two years of teaching. So we get all these bad teachers accumulating in the school system and they can't be fired. New York has gone to setting up "rubber rooms" for their troublesome teachers. Bad teachers are relieved of their teaching assignments, but since they can't be fired, they are reassigned to what you might call detention. They have to show up at the rubber room every day and spend all day there. They don't have any duties and they get paid. The best that can be said about this arrangement is that at least they aren't wasting any student's time.

The NEA and the AFT are the biggest, most powerful unions in the country. They give more money to polical candidates than any other organization. Washington DC hired a new superintendent for their schools recently, this makes like the tenth person in ten years or something. Nobody has been able to make any headway because of the unions. The superintendent offered to base teacher pay on performance, and good teachers could get like 50% more money, if they could get rid of the tenure clause in the contract. The union would not even let their members vote on the proposal.

Put this together with the Koch brother's union busting efforts in Wisconsin and you might think that maybe the Koch brothers are on to something. Maybe the teacher's unions are the reason so many schools are such disasters.

I brought the subject up at lunch Thursday, and no one agreed. No one had ever encountered a teacher who wasn't teaching. There were some good teachers, and there were some who weren't so hot. I had a few who bored me to tears (I was going to say "death", but that would be a lie, as after all I'm still here). There is a feeling that there is too much bureaucracy and too much testing, a suspicion that there are some kids who either can't learn or don't want to learn, and the policy of social advancement is a bad one.

I don't really have any answers here. I hear that the much bally-hooed "Charter Schools" are, on average, not having any more success than regular schools. I also heard that high school drop-out rate is still about one-third and has been for as long as we have been keeping track.

And then there were a couple of other issues that bugged me. One was the explicitly stated presumption that a college degree would get you a good job when we know that is not true. Some people will get good jobs, and you may need a college degree in order to even compete in the "good job" sweepstakes, but a degree by itself is not worth much, which prompted someone at lunch to say that all this propaganda is just a campaign by liberal arts colleges to enroll more paying customers.

The other issue was that there aren't enough qualified technical people. Companies in Silicon Valley were having to recruit people from India. I suspect the real reason is that the contracting agencies were not offering big enough kickbacks to the hiring firms when they were hiring US citizens. If you are paying a worker $50 an hour, and charging the customer $100 an hour, why, your margin is only $50 an hour, and you can't be expected to sacrifice any of that. But if you can hire a guy from India for $20 an hour, you can offer a kickback of $20 an hour to the HR manager at the hiring firm, keep your $50 an hour, and get a $10 an hour bonus to boot.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Concrete Submarine

I was reading about the submarine HMS Astute the other day, and somewhere I came across a line that said that in order to be able to withstand the pressure during deep dives, the cross section of the hull needs to be a perfect circle. Well, perfect is something you only get in theory, in practice you can come close, but you are never going to be perfect. So, just how perfect does it need to be? Pretty darn close: a flat spot that deviates from a perfect circle by one inch will cause a 30% loss in strength. We are talking about a seven inch thick steel plate bent in a circle 37 feet in diameter.  That's going to be a bit of a trick. No wonder submarines are so expensive.

Pont du Gard Roman aqueduct near Nimes in France
Then I got to thinking about this and I realized steel was exactly the wrong material for this. We use steel to build things because it has high tensile strength. When you are building a tank to hold compressed air, steel is a good choice. But a submarine is not dealing with internal pressure, it is dealing with external pressure, and for that you need a material has strong compression strength, like rock, or concrete. Look at the Roman arches or tunnels, or sewer pipes. All require good compression strength and all use stone or concrete.

Concrete Submarine
Then I remembered reading a few years ago about a possible new submarine threat in the form of concrete submarines, so I went a-Googling. I found a couple of references to this, but nothing current. I also found one site that specializes in private/commercial submarines. Near as I can make out, one German engineer built himself a working concrete submarine, and then tried to promote the idea. A few years ago he moved to Columbia where he has been working on a larger luxury yacht style version.

Why does the Navy persist in building submarines out of the wrong material? Possibly because they resist explosives, as in depth charges, better. Or maybe just no one has ever built a big submarine out of concrete and no one wants to try it. You know the first reaction some people have when they hear the words "concrete" and "submarine" together is that's a really great idea, it will go straight to the bottom and stay there, and then they laugh. But steel by itself doesn't float any better. Maybe it's just that that's what the Mafia uses. I mean, who ever heard of steel overshoes?

Update October 2016 replaced missing picture, fixed by HTML, which meant replacing more pictures.

Quote of the Day

Talking about Columbian drug smuggling semi-submersibles:
Vice Admiral Edgar Cely said that specialized personnel and knowledge are needed to design and build the craft.
Specialized knowledge? Are you kidding me? No, he's probably not kidding. Compared to your average reporter, or your average turnip, turning a wrench or wielding a spatula is specialized knowledge.I mean they are just boats for Pete's sake. People all over the world have been building boats since the dawn of time.

Whoops. Just Googled "Vice Admiral Edgar Cely" and discovered he is in the Columbian Navy. I'm not saying Columbia is a third world country, but maybe it is. Finding someone who knows what a wrench is might be a little difficult.

Does this make me a firstist?

Via a three year old post by Michelle Malkin.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

HMS Astute

You may have heard about the shooting death on board the British submarine HMS Astute recently. I heard about it and decided to see just what kind of submarine it was. It's a relatively new sub. I found a bunch of pictures including some of it under construction and prior to launch.

In the third photo you can see the openings in the pressure hull for the torpedoes. Interestingly, this sub does not have separate inner and outer hulls. It weighs (displaces) a thousand tons more when submerged when surfaced. A cubic foot of seawater weighs about 64 pounds, (1.02500 (g / ml) = 63.9886596 pounds per (cubic foot)) so a ton of water occupies about 30 cubic feet. A thousand tons of water will occupy 30,000 cubic feet. The submarine displaces around 7,000 tons, or something over 200,000 cubic feet. What I am wondering is whether the tanks used to submerge the submarine are inside the pressure hull, or whether they are inside the nose and tail sections. The nose looks like it might have some room, but the tail section looks a little small. I'm thinking the tanks used to submerge the submarine must be inside the pressure hull. I suppose it doesn't really matter. You are going to have doors to the outside, and you will need to be able to seal those doors against extreme pressures, so against that a few valves to allow flooding the tanks is probably not a big deal.

DarkGovernment has a good statement of this submarine's impressive capabilities.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Mole People

I've been reading Science Fiction by Iain M. Banks lately and they are pretty good stories. (Not to be confused with Iain Banks who writes stuff that isn't science fiction. And how do you pronounce Iain anyway? I always thought E N was spelled Ian, this version has an extra I in it. Is it pronounced differently? Like I-ane?) Anyways, he's writing about a civilization that has achieved everything you could possibly hope to achieve and they spend their time amusing themselves mostly. Naturally, there's trouble in paradise, which is good or we wouldn't have a story. But it got me to thinking. If you can have anything you want, would there be any reason to go anywhere? I mean you can create any kind of environment you want, at least any kind that you would be able to survive in, and anything that you just want to see can be rendered perfectly in a display. No reason to go anywhere, unless you just like traveling.

What if a civilization turned inward though, and instead of looking up at the stars people started looking at what was under their feet. Started digging. Learned how to deal with high pressures and high temperatures. I mean that's basically what's keeping us from going any deeper than we have. We could probably go a few miles deeper than we have now, but not very much farther before the pressure and temperature get too high for us to cope with. What if a civilization did learn to cope with these things and bored into the center of a planet and hollowed it out? You would be nearly weightless as you would be surrounded by approximately equal mass on all sides. The pressure would be enormous. You may need a new state of matter to build an interior structure that would keep the planet from collapsing.

You might ask why anyone would ever want to do this. There is one answer: death by gamma rays. Sometimes stars blow up and when they do they can send out a burst of gamma rays. If the star is close enough, and the explosion is big enough, there could be enough gamma rays to get through our planets magnetic field and do some serious damage. The odds are microscopic, but given billions of years, it could happen and it could be disastrous. Putting a big bunch of rock between you and the source is one way to survive such an event.  Half a planets worth of rock might do the trick. Shoot, maybe even half a moons worth. Shoot, there could be an advanced civilization of mole people living inside the moon right now. We should go visit them.

The Mole People | Trailer | 1956

Update February 2017 replaced missing video clip.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Andromeda Galaxy

I'm reading Marilyn's column in Parade Magazine this morning and she mentions that the Andromeda Galaxy is one of the few objects outside of our own galaxy that is visible to the naked eye. Huh. I remember doing some calculations when I was a kid that said it should appear to be as big as a dinner plate held at arm's length. So I check and according to Wikipedia it "it appears more than six times as wide as the full Moon", so my original calculations were at least somewhere in the ball park. I've never seen the thing, so I can't personal vouch for this.

wikiHow has a page explaining how to locate it. It seems to be near the equator, so prime viewing from the Northern hemisphere is about over, and it will be easier to see from the Southern hemisphere for the next six months. But since it's close to the border you should be able to see it regardless. Also, it's not going to look like a dinner plate. To the naked eye it will just look like a star, but with a telescope, the big smear that it is becomes visible. Or so they say.

Wikipedia gives the apparent dimensions of Andromeda at 190' x 60', which looks like the dimensions of a barn. NED (NASA/IPAC EXTRAGALACTIC DATABASE) clears that up. Besides indicating feet in architectural drawings, the apostrophe is also used to indicate minutes of arc (I knew that, I had just never seen anyone actually use it that way). 190' at 60 minutes per degree is a tad over three degrees. Your thumb held up at arms length is about one degee, so while it's not as big as a dinner plate, the whole smear of Andromeda should be noticable.

A Good Job

This week's episode of The Good Wife (Wrongful Termination) revolved around the suicides of three employees at one company, which reminded me of the time I interviewed for a position with Intel's Supercomputer Group back in the 90's. Three people in that group had recently committed suicide there as well. I didn't get the job. That was probably a good thing. This was back when I was still under the illusion that Intel was an engineering company. I eventually figured out it was not an engineering company, it was more of a political cluster fuck.

There was a news item this week about some muckety-muck from Intel giving a speech in Arizona about how the public schools weren't doing a good job of educating students. Do not forget that Intel is one of those companies that bases it's decision on where to locate it's next plant on how a big a tax break they can get. And now they have the nerve to bitch about the schools. Shitheads.

Which reminds me of the time I got invited to some kind of fund-raising dinner at Nike. If I recall correctly the keynote speaker was another muckety-muck from Intel, and they were soliciting donations to a fund to help the schools, once again after they had scored a big tax break on the plants they built here, like Ronler acres.

I guess it's the nature of all large successful organizations to attract good-for-nothing  politcal opportunists. I am sure there are some good people working at Intel, there are probably some people who really enjoy their jobs, and there is undoubtably some real innovative engineering going on. But I am also sure there are some really rotten people working there, there are a bunch of people who can't stand their job, and there is a whole bunch of useless make-work going on as well.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Quote of the Day

I am working on Colorado State income taxes this morning and this check box pops up on the screen:

I don't know what it means. I am not sure I want to know what it means.

Doesn't matter in any case. Shortly thereafter I threw in the towel and took the whole thing down to my accountant at BKR, except they aren't called BKR anymore. Okay, their new name is Fordham-Goodfellow.

It wasn't this check box that threw me, it was me not noticing form QXZ4209 buried in last years return. I glanced at last years form, which was done by my accountant, and said: shoot, there ain't nothin' to this, I kin do this myself. So I downloaded a copy of H & R Block's TaxCut software and proceeded to wade into the swamp. Made a first pass and printed out what I had so far, and then sat down and compared what I had with last years return. Huh. No form ZQB5302 in my package. Oh. Look at those numbers. Somebody had to sit down with a calculator and wade through a 20 page report and add up all those numbers. Gaaaaah!

This is like the time I replaced the heater core in an old Ford we used to have. I glanced at the shop manual and saw that removing the heater core was a four step process. Well, shoot, that should be easy enough. So come Saturday I sat down to do this job and I look at the intructions and step one is "Remove the dashboard". Arrrggghh! Same exact kind of situation. That time I was younger, had more energy and was determined. And broke.

This time I bailed and gave it to Donna and she accepted it, thankfully.

October 2016 replaced missing image.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Civilization & Media

I was thinking about digital media and I got to wondering what would be a really good choice for permanent storage? Right now, we have Blue-Ray DVD's (at least some people do), which seem to be replacing regular DVD's, which replaced CD's and VHS tapes. I don't know, some video cameras may still be using some kind of tape. Hard disk drives have gotten so cheap that it might be worthwhile to just save all your "stuff" (that's a technical term) on a hard drive, and put the hard drive in a safe place, and just skip the whole writing-everything-on-removable-media business.

Problem with all of these computer type mechanisms is that you need a computer to retrieve the information and a display device of some sort in order to read and/or view it. You could keep a computer around so you can access your archives, but computers are machines and they break down. You could keep replacing your computers with new ones, as long as new ones are available, but then you are going to need to upgrade your storage media, because eventually whatever you are using today is going to be obsolete.

Cloud computing is one way to deal with this problem. Simply upload all your files to some on-line data storage facility and let them worry about all the obsolescence problems. There will be a fee, but not having to deal with equipment and media issues might make it worthwhile. This only works as long as the company that is providing this service is viable and adequately performs their required duties. If the company goes broke, or incompetence creeps in, your whole archive could vanish.

So far we are only talking about normal day-to-day operations. What happens if disaster strikes? If an asteroid falls on your house and smashes all your carefully recorded disks, that would be bad. If it also happens to smush you, well, it wouldn't be a problem anymore. How about if some natural disaster takes out the  on-line data storage facility where you have all your files stored? I suspect some of them have thought of this, and have all your data stored at multiple locations. If one gets wiped out, that's okay, there is another copy somewhere else.

War could be worse than a natural disaster, as the enemy may specifically target data storage facilities. Good size bombs set off at multiple data storage sites would be disastrous for all the data. One idea that gets kicked around is the Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) associated with nuclear weapons. The idea is that a nuclear bomb set off high in the atmosphere would generate an EMP powerful enough to destroy most integrated circuits and erase all magnetic storage media in the area below the explosion, even if the physical effects of the explosion produced no damage. We're not going to worry about that. As far as we are concerned a bomb is a bomb. It is theoretically possible for all data storage facilities to be destroyed simultaneously by an act of war. Not likely, but possible.

Some time ago my gang and I were talking about civilization, and how we didn't really know what happened before someone started writing it all down a few thousand years ago. The last great ice age was between 10 and 20 thousand years ago. People have been around for 50 or 100 thousand years. Archeologists keep finding evidence that suggests ancient civilizations were more advanced than we thought. Suppose there was an advanced civilization before the last great ice age. Would there be any evidence of it? The ice sheet would have pretty much scraped everything off the surface, and a good bit of the surface as well. If there was a previous civilization and they buried anything, it hasn't been found yet.

Now we are faced with global warming, which some people think might trigger a new ice age. What kind of archive could you construct that could survive such a calamity? What kind of archive could you construct that would be useful even if our entire infrastructure/civilization were destroyed? It would have to be portable, it would have to be durable, fireproof, flood proof and vermin proof. The oldest written records we have discovered are clay tablets and carved stone. Not exactly portable. Remember the library in Alexandria in Egypt? It burned.

I read something the other day that mentioned if you really wanted to get rid of a dead body, you should just leave it on the surface, not bury it. Left out in the open critters would make short work of it. In a year there would nothing left, except maybe the fillings from the teeth. Burying the body would preserve the bones. Of course, there are the hygiene and stench issues, but that is only a problem if anyone is living in the area. Anyway, all this makes me wonder if the tombs of the pharaohs are not a hold over from some previous civilizations attempt to archive their collected knowledge. Or maybe we are just not sophisticated enough to extract the knowledge that has been encoded there. Whatever.

There was a Science Fiction story I read a few years ago. It was one of a set of stories all based on the same framework: an earth-like planet settled by various groups, but then cut off from space for a long period of time. One group that had just arrived, and in fact were in their space-ships in orbit around this planet realized they were going to have abandon their space ships and move to the planets surface. One of the last things they did before leaving their ships was to print their archives.It amounted to thousands of pages (or maybe millions), but they were not going to be able to build any more computers for a long time to come, but they wanted to take whatever knowledge they could with them.

Knowledge only becomes useful when it is in someone's head. Recorded knowledge is all very well, if you have the means to access it the know-how to interpret it. Remember the Rosetta Stone? It had three languages on it, one of which was Egyptian hieroglyphics, which no one had been able to understand until this one stinking stone was discovered.

 The only way to maintain an archive is to maintain some semblance of a civilization, and I am afraid the only way to do that is with religion. Religion seems to be only human endeavor that manages to outlast civilization.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Quote of the Day

"Nowadays, it's easy to regard such schemes as impossibly far-fetched," said Christopher Andrew, the official historian of MI5. "But at the time it was reasonable to believe that after the Allied victory there would remain a dangerous postwar Nazi underground which would continue a secret war."
The linked story is talking about some schemes the Nazis were cooking up at the end of WWII. Reading the story I was thinking, well, yeah, you could do all that stuff, and if done properly it could cause considerable trouble. At that point, the outcome of the war was already determined. None of these schemes would have changed that, the German's just didn't have the resources anymore.

So the schemes may have been pointless and futile, but at no time did I ever consider them far-fetched. They were the kind of actions I would expect from a desperate organization. So Christopher Andrew, whoever he is, gets a black mark in my book.

It's kind of like the yahoos who claimed that no one ever imagined a terrorist attack would come via an airliner. I read a story about an attack via a passenger liner forty years ago, so I certainly considered the possibility. I can't imagine everyone in the security business is a dunderhead, though once you get politics involved everything starts to look stupid.

There seems to be a kind of blanket of stupidity over the world. It order to reach the largest number of people you apparently need to dumb down your message so even third graders can understand it: "nothing bad will ever happen, everything is all safe and warm and you don't need to worry about a thing, the establishment will take care of you". Saying something intelligent seems to light a fire under the stupidest people who are then compelled to make a big fuss, which will capture an audience of dunderheads, and will annoy anyone who has anything better to do. Some people enjoy arguing with idiots, and the media loves to report these arguments.

I am sorry to be wasting your time with this, but the line I quoted just irritated me to no end.


Back around the time I got out of high school and the US was going to the moon, the Soviets were working on their own moon rocket. It never made it to orbit, though I imagine the attempts were pretty spectacular. I found this picture on Wikipedia and I think it looks like something right off the cover of Amazing Stories. It is more than 300 feet tall and weighs 3,000 tons. Wish I had a better picture to show you. Via Just An Earth Bound Misfit.

Update September 2016 replaced missing picture.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Monday, April 4, 2011


Second time I've seen a hawk in the swamp in back of the house. Don't know if it's the same one or even the same kind. This photo is a good example of why birders are second only to sports photographers in their consumption of high end optics.

Update February 2017 replaced missing picture.

Quote of the Day

From A Letter Of Introduction to The Onion's Our Dumb World, by T. Herman Zweibel. But your own copy from Amazon.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Alphabetical Order

When I am working a Jumble puzzle, after I have unscrambled the initial set of words, I will copy the circled letters to a space just below the space for the mystery phrase. I use a one to one order, one circled letter per space in the mystery phrase. This helps to insure that I have all the letters necessary for the phrase, i.e. I'm not missing any, and I don't have too many.

Sometimes the mystery phrase is obvious, and sometimes it's obscure. For the difficult ones I will sometimes recopy this set of letters and put them in alphabetical order. Today's puzzle was obscure, it was also really long, much longer than normal. So I thought I would make this alphabetical copy, and that's when I realized the letters were already in alphabetical order, and, Oh! Look! Alphabetical Order is the solution as well!

The sharp eyed will notice that the letters written into the space for the answer have a much lighter stroke weight than the others. This is because it was done with one of the those rolling writers, just touching the paper. They work just like ball pens when you use a firm pressure, but they will also write even if they are just barely touching the paper at all. Notice the tails on some of the letters in the initial set of words. Those happen when I lift off the paper while the pen is still in motion. I suspect I used a lighter pressure when I was writing the final answer because I was writing a long series of letters, and it saved time and/or motion. Using a heavier pressure would have involved pushing the paper down until it stopped, writing the letter, stopping, and then lifting the pen. Using a lighter pressure mean just lowering the pen until it contacted the paper and then writing the letter. Obviously requires a more sensitive touch. Does it save energy? Or does exacting that much control require more energy? Hmmm. Probably have to write a lot more on wavy newsprint to find out.

Update February 2017 replaced missing image.