Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Walgreens Officer Friendly

I just ordered a prescription refill by talking to a Robocop. Perhaps not as quick as a quick-witted human, it still managed to get through the whole transaction without having to restart, repeat, backtrack, or even wander off into some useless byways. The cherry-on-top was that the prescription I needed was first on their list, which meant I didn't have to wait for it to go through it's spiel for all the ones I didn't need. How did it know? Did it look at the last time it was renewed and use some logic to decide which one to start with it? Or did it default to whatever internal order their database has them listed in, and it was just blind luck that they got the right one first?

Of course, the speech recognition is the hard part from the standpoint of computer programming, but once you have it working, you can make all the copies you need. The logical flow of the interview is relatively simple, but some people still have a hard time with it, even people like programmer's, who should be able to reduce a logical equation to its simplest form.

Three Bozos and a Car

Our Heroes: Jeremy, Richard and James modeling their be-logoed jumpers.

Ford GT-40 #5, the third car to cross the finish line, behind Ford GT-40's #1 & #2, at Le Mans in 1966.
The Grand Tour is basically a comedy with cars and fart jokes, but occasionally they do something interesting like, for instance, the story of how Ford came to build a race car that won at LeMans for four years running. In this story we have a shot of James May driving Ford GT-40 #5, pictured above, sort of. Actually, there are no pictures of #5, except some grainy, black & white, telephoto shots from race day. Lot's of pictures of #1 & #2, but no pics of #5. The picture above is of a diecast model, not the real car. But here on The Grand Tour, we have James May actually driving the car, reputedly worth $20 million or some equally extravagant number. That was kind of cool.

Wikipedia has a version of the GT-40 story.
Post/pic of the new Ford GT.

Ice from Russia TAPE FIVE


Ice from Russia TAPE FIVE

More electro-swing. I think the vocals sound like the guys from the Rat Pack back in the 50's, definitely not like anything you get over the radio these days. The lyrics don't make much sense unless you consider that the bar claims to get the ice for their drinks from Russia, and why not? When you are on a tropical island everything is imported.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Moose Creek Idaho


Moose Creek 2015

Marc likes to fly to obscure, out of the way places, and you can't get much more obscure or out of the way than Moose Creek, being as it is smack in the middle of the Bitterroot Mountains.

Idaho Aviation Association has a map. Starting with their coordinates I made my own.

Moose Creek Airstrip
What looks like a wrecked aircraft is not, it is just sitting in the shadow of the trees.
The coordinates I started with had five digits after the decimal point, and put us in the river at the Southwest end of the airstrip, so I decided to see how many decimal places you actually need. The markers on the above map are one one-thousandth of degree (.001) apart. Vertically (North-South) they are 363 feet apart, horizontally (East-West), they are 253 feet apart. So four decimal places would get you within 30 feet of a point, five decimal places would get you within 3 feet, and six decimal places would get you within a few inches. For purposes of navigation, three decimal places are plenty.

Computers don't care, one floating point number is as good as any other, but due to people wanting to use the decimal system and computers using binary, translating a perfectly good decimal number to binary and then asking the computer to display it can result in values that have a dozen digit after the decimal point, and most of them are just noise.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Sand Storm

Sand Storm
Storyline from IMDB:
Desert noon in a Bedouin village in Southern Palestine. Jalila is hosting an awkward celebration - the marriage of her husband to a second, much younger wife - while trying to conceal the insult that boils inside her. Her daughter Layla is preoccupied with a different matter. Her secret, strictly forbidden, love affair with Anuar was just unveiled by her mother. Jalila believes that the world is harsh and cruel, and the only way to win - is to keep your mouth shut, your head as high as possible without raising too much attention, and struggle from inside the limits of the traditional world surrounding you. Layla believes that there are no limits to the world surrounding her. Everything can be hers if she only wished hard enough. But, as the story unfolds, they each fail in her individual battle. Their whole family falls apart and everything they believe in shatters. Now, the two women are forced to understand that, if they wish to survive, they will have to start seeing the world from... Written by Elite Zexer
Pretty good movie. We kept waiting to see what was going to happen and before we knew it, the movie was over.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Fences

Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) and Rose Maxson (Viola Davis)
Fences is a 'slice of life' movie about a garbage collector and his family in Pittsburgh back in the fifties. Went to see this on Christmas day. Not our usual fare, but someone in our group had seen all of the other movies, and this one has Denzel, a favorite of my wife's, so we went. It's a pretty good film, all about family and responsibility and being human. Not the most uplifting story, but not a downer either.
    One point of contention in this movie is professional sports. Troy had some success, but never cracked the big leagues. His son wants to play football but Troy wants him to work. Professional sports, like most other commercialized forms of entertainment, will make some people celebrities, and it will make some people rich, but you can't count on either one of those happening. If you want to play sports, do it for fun. If you achieve some success, that's all well and good, but don't be disappointed if you don't. It's really a matter of luck.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Basketball Robot


AAST FRC 1287 Aluminum Assault Straight Ballin 
Full systems test on February 19th, 2012. FIRST robotics team 1287 based at the Academy for the Arts, Science, and Technology in Myrtle Beach, SC, testing their 2012 robot to play the Rebound Rumble challenge.

Watching the Trailblazers playing basketball, I got to wondering if any one had bothered to build a robot to shoot basketballs. Shooting a ball is straight forward engineering problem. Given the distance to the basket, it should be a simple matter to calculate the velocity and the angle of elevation that should be given the ball. If you do that correctly, the ball should go in. The problem is simple enough that maybe no one thought it worth actually building a machine to try it. Theory is one thing, practice is another. You might think it is a simple problem, but until you demonstrate your machine, you won't know.

From the video above you can see that other people also wanted to know. This one has several embellishments. It can 'see' the basketballs and the net, or at least the target painted on the backboard, it can navigate the court and it can pick up loose balls. I don't like its throwing technique, but seems to be popular with the engineering crowd. This was four years ago and things have changed a bit.

Standford is running a small scale competition among undergraduates using ping pong balls instead of real basketballs, and Arizona State is working on a robot with arms to throw the ball. They aren't use a real ball or court, but they aren't using ping pong balls either.



Atlas Film Studios,Ouarzazate, Morocco

Ouarzazate, Morocco
Watching an episode of Grand Tour, the automotive comedy show featuring our goof-ball trio from Top Gear, and they pay a visit to the Atlas Film Studios in Ouarzazate, Morocco, where Richard Hammond destroys a priceless historical relic.

Atlas Film Studios, Ouarzazate, Morocco

Capitalism

A bunch of ideas are milling around in my head. The haven't quite gelled into a coherent package, but I thought making some notes might help.

Yin and Yang
Order versus Freedom is an age old conundrum. I wouldn't be surprised if Yin and Yang encompassed this idea.

The original Limousine BolshevikLenin with his wife in their Rolls-Royce, Gorki Leninskiye, 1923
Capitalism leads to Fascism. I read that somewhere recently. Somebody explaining why they were voting for Bernie, I think. Idea originates with Lenin: "Fascism is Capitalism in decay."

Law and Order
Ronald Reagan was elected on a platform of Law & Order. Who knew that he got his campaign from the title of one of his movies? Not me.

Once upon a time I was reading something about Communism and there was an illustrated story about a Capitalist and the water tank. It was perfectly logical, but somehow it didn't add up. I couldn't figure out exactly what was wrong with it, but I knew instinctively that is was total bullshit. It was likely the Parable of the Water Tank by Edward Bellamy.



Braveheart -- "Freedom" Clip | EPIX

William Wallace (Mel Gibson in Braveheart) was all about Freedom. Of course we all know what that got him. If you don't, you should find out.


Real Disney Propaganda? Or someone's spoof?
Back in the 1960's the hippies were rebelling against too much order, they wanted more freedom.

The Great Capitalist Ship is becoming ever more sleek and powerful. It is charging towards the future, a future that is glorious and golden for all those who are aboard, but with every improvement, old, cumbersome pieces are being sloughed off along with all the people who inhabit those pieces.

Truth, Knowledge and Belief
Knowledge versus Belief. This was pointed up in Medici. The Medici family were Jewish bankers in Florence Italy back in the 1400's. They loaned money to people who used that money to finance their businesses. This is where the Renaissance got its start. The nobles, who grew up believing that God has bestowed on them the right to rule weren't too happy about these upstart money makers. Conflict ensued.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Viaduct Conques

Railway Bridge over the River Semois in Belgium
We started watching The Break, a murder mystery series, on Netflix last night. In French, with subtitles. The story starts off with a local soccer star falling off of this bridge. It's a tall bridge and the water is not very deep, so he dies. Question is, was it suicide or murder? Seems like we've seen a bunch of European murder mysteries lately. Not quite sure what the appeal is, but we seem to enjoy them.

The town named in the show is not the same as the town where it was filmed, which is not near the river. The show is set in Heiderfeld, Belgium, it was shot in Sainte-Ode and the bridge is between Herbeumont and Conques. They are not too far apart and all three are about 80 miles southeast of Brussels.

The bridge is kind of big, which prompts me to go looking for it. Something that big should show up easy on Google Maps, but even big things require a clue. Okay, big is a relative term. If you are looking for a continent, knowing which planet to search should make it easy, though just knowing what star system it was could be enough. Any kind of man made feature requires bit more precision.

Poking around I found a couple of web sites that seemed to know something, so I sent an inquiry. I do that occasionally and every once in a while I eventually get a useful response. I sent off three inquiries this morning, and this afternoon I got two responses. I am telling the family about this, asking what kind of people have time to answer email inquiries on Christmas Eve? And they all gave me knowing looks. Oh. People like me. Hey! My kind of people! Ooo-Rah!

The owner of the first photo, Steven House of Green River Canoes, gave me a clue, and a little more searching turned up some other photos. I didn't find out anything more about the bridge other than it was built 1910 and is 500 feet long. Here's some photos. Click on the captions to visit the site.

Fenced walkway on the Viaduct van Conques over the River Semois in Belgium
Our detective climbs over this fence during the course of his investigation.

Viaduct Conques on the Semois between Herbeumont and Conques

Viaduct Conques 1910. I am pretty sure this is under construction.
And here's a map:

Viaduct Conques
Using Google Earth to look at places with hills is a real treat. Click on the 3D button (just above the zoom controls), then by holding down the control key and moving the mouse, you can pan and tilt your view. It's really quite spectacular. You can get a great sense of the landscape by doing this.

Here's the railroad map:

Viaduct Conques Railroad
Using the Open Railway Map is a little different than using Google Maps. Finding this bridge on the railroad map took some fiddling.

While I am fooling with maps, I am having a hard time locating a spot found on a Google Map on Google Maps (wait, what? Trust me, if doesn't matter). The upshot is all these places with their winding roads and winding rivers and funny furrin name all begin to look alike, so I copied the lat and long from one url to another, and since I was doing it by hand (sometimes you just get tired of trying to slide the mouse over one more pixel so it will pick up the last letter in a phrase), I didn't type the whole number. I figured three decimal places should be sufficient, after all one degree is 69 miles, so one-one-thousandth of a degree should be (um, 70*5000 is 350,000, divided by a thousand gives 350) about 350 feet. And switching between the two maps causes the bridge to jump about half of an inch, which is about 100 scale feet, which is roughly half of 350, so good enough.

Update January 2017: Ms. Catherine from Infrabel, the Belgian railway people, points me to the French Wikipedia has an article about this rail line. Google's translated version can be found here. Near as I can make out it played a critical part in WWI, and maybe in WW2.

Caught in the Act

Google Steet View Recorder
I'm looking at bridges in Belgium using Google's 3D Viewer. Zooming in, it automatically switches to Street View. Panning around I see this red car in the mirror. Pan all the way around and there are no other cars in sight. How can this be? Oh, that must be camera car, looking at itself.  The mirror is there because we have a blind corner. Click on the link to see for yourself.


Columbia River

The Columbia River System
Daniel Huffman has developed a new technique for drawing maps of river systems. Actually, he has adapted an old technique that was developed to portray subway systems. It's kind of nice because you can see at a glance which rivers are connected to each other, something that can extremely tedious on conventional maps, especially those produced by Google.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Hammer & Tongs


Crazy Chinese smiths. Forge a large flange on the street

Best example of hammer and tongs I have seen. Not familiar with that expression? The Free Dictionary explains:

go at it hammer and tongs

To do something or perform some task with tremendous fervor, determination, energy, or forcefulness. An allusion to the force with which a blacksmith strikes metal using his or her hammer and tongs. What started as a minor disagreement has escalated into a heated argument, and the two have been going at it hammer and tongs ever since.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Winter Tires


Tire Rack Tire Test - Winter/Snow vs. All-Season vs. Summer Tires on Ice
Via Road & Track
Naturally I got to wondering what it is that makes these winter tires work so much better than the others. Didn't find much, but I did find a video that gives us a little information, specifically the glass transition temperature, which basically is the temperature where a flexible tire turns into a rock. Despite a hundred years of making rubber tires, we still don't have a magic compound that is good for all conditions. Winter tires remain flexible at low temperatures, but wear excessively at higher temps. Summer tires work well in the summer time but become rigid and uncooperative at low temperatures.

Too bad they didn't compare studded tires, then we would have some real information. Oh wait, they did:


Tire Rack Tire Testing - Ice Traction: Studded vs. Studless

Okay, that was a surprise. How about some high speed tests? Car & Driver goes to Finland where they test winter tires all year round.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Department Q: The Absent One

Rose (Johanne Louise Schmidt), Assad (Fares Fares) &  Carl Mørck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas)
Thriller, on Netflix, in Danish with subtitles. Carl is your prototypical social misfit, Rose is the supercompetent administrative assistant and Assad is the voice of reason. These three comprise the entirety of Department Q, i.e. the cold case squad. They get drug into a case by the father of a murder victim. On the other side we have some very nasty people.There are also two other Department Q movies.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Fruitcake

Kirkland Traditional Fruitcake
I like fruitcake. I am the only one in my family who does. The girls think it is gross. The boys don't care because it isn't pizza or beer. But I like it, so when we were at Costco yesterday I picked one up. $16, which is kind of a chunk of money, but each fruitcake contains about a zillion calories, so each calorie costs 16,000 zillionths of a cent, which means it's like the cheapest food in the world. All you have to do is dole it out slowly. If you do it right, it could last a month.

Jezebel has an entertaining story about fruitcake. So does Catholic Vote (wait, what? Catholics vote for fruitcake?)

Pic of the Day

Combination Typewriter / Adding Machine
No home should be without one. The machine age's last hurrah before the advent of digital electronics.

Lucky Iron Fish

Lucky Iron Fish
I just stumbled over this. Evidently many Cambodians has a problem with anemia due to a lack of iron in their diet. A Canadian research project found a way to help alleviate the problem, and now there's an organization devoted to distributing these iron fish.

Now I'm wondering if Cambodia has always been short of iron, or whether this is a recent development. Or could it be that the problem was always there, it's just been aggravated by the enormous population growth. And if it's always been a problem, have the Cambodians developed an affinity for iron, much like the Irish?

Now I'm going to walk out on a limb and wonder if this might have something to do with the Khmer Rouge coming to power back in the 1970's.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

North Portland Railroad Tunnel

North Portland Railroad Map
Driving down North Lombard Street on my way to the airport yesterday afternoon, it occurred to me that I was missing a piece of the puzzle. North Portland is about a 150 feet higher in elevation than the river. This is especially noticeable in the bluffs between the University of Portland and Swan Island. Railroads don't like hills, so how does the railroad get from Swan Island up to the level of North Lombard Street?

For one thing, the land slopes gently down toward the north and east, so by the time Lombard meets up with the railroad (a couple miles east of the above map), their elevation is about 50 feet, only about 25 feet higher than Swan Island. The railroad has about 5 miles to to make that climb, which is only about one foot of rise in a thousand feet of run, which should be easy enough for any train.

So that part of the puzzle is filled in. But while I am looking into this I discover a train tunnel running under North Portland. I had no idea. The tunnel was built a hundred years ago and is still in daily use. It is the pale orange line running vertically in the map above, about a half an inch from the right hand border. The railroads first project to cut across North Portland involved making a cut (basically a big ditch). That's the thick orange line running diagonally across the map. People were so upset about their town being cut in half by this ditch that when the railroad proposed making another cut, they were forced to back off and dig a tunnel instead.

Brief history of the tunnel here.
Discussion on Reddit here.
Railroad maps here.
Topographic maps here.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Four Seasons in Havana


4 SEASONS IN HAVANA - Teaser Trailer

We started watching this series this evening. It's pretty great, though part of that greatness might be because it was shot in Havana, and when's the last time we saw anything come out of Havana? It's not like your regular 45 minute cop show, each episode is like an hour and a half long, so each one is more like a movie.

Pic of the Day #2

Royal Australian Air Force C-130 Hercules at Edinburgh air base in Adelaide, South Australia (17/9/1979) 
35M SLIDE SCANED WITH A EPSON V700 PERFECT FLATBED SCANER AT 6400 DPI. - DAN TANNER

I've always wondered just what kind of resolution you can get with film, but I've never been able to get a straight answer. Everyone wants to get bogged down in the physiology of vision or the chemistry of film and they never get around to actually giving you a number. 6400 might not be the limit that can be reached with film, but it's certainly a heck of a lot better than the 100 dpi you get on your desktop display device, or the 1000 lines per inch you get in your glossy magazines. So thank you, Dan, for this.

Pic of the Day

Dreamlifter in Anchorage Alaska
What is a Dreamlifter doing in Alaska? As far as I know Boeing doesn't have a factory there. Seems it is just making a pit stop on its way back from Japan.

Passport Rules, Part 2

Geese walk along the snow covered waterfront park through heavy snowfall as the first winter storm of the season hits the area in Portland, Ore., Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)
Monday morning delinquent daughter packages up her paperwork and ships it via high speed express to the passport expediting company. They are promising one day turn around time, so with one day to get there, one day to process, and one day to return, she might have her new passport by Wednesday.

Wednesday afternoon it starts snowing. In parts of the country where snow is a regular seasonal occurrence, that might not be such a big deal, but here in Portland it only snows when it will most inconvenience ME. Evening rush hour is a disaster. What would normally be a 30 minute commute turns into two hours.

Thursday schools are closed. Roads are covered with ice and snow. If you are careful, you can go places. Traffic on the roads is light because most people have enough sense to stay home.

We're expecting the new passport to arrive via FedEx, but it doesn't. Come dinner time dutiful daughter is in full panic mode. Tracking the package reveals that the delivery was aborted, no other explanation given. She finally resorts to pushing the zero button on the phone repeatedly until she gets connected to a real person, and after a few minutes of gentle persuasion they reveal that the package is at the Swan Island shipping center. It is 7:15 PM. They close at 8. Google Maps estimate travel time to be 25 minutes. (Really? With all the ice and snow?) We decide to go, maybe we'll be lucky.

Once we have gotten to well traveled places, the roads are pretty well clear of ice and snow. We see a couple of cars in the ditch, one has turned turtle. Oddly, the section of Highway 26 near the intersection of 217 has the most snow and ice. That's weird because that is usually where the traffic is heaviest.

It's a little nerve wracking driving at moderate freeway speeds on roads with dubious traction, but we don't have any trouble, not even going down Going Street towards Swan Island, or coming back up, even though it appears to be covered with ice. I suppose the sand trucks have been there.

Now all we have to do is get to the airport.

Part 1 here.

RF


High Res Wifi Signal Mapping

RF is an often used abbreviation for Radio Frequency, that part of the electromagnetic spectrum where all kinds of radio signals are found.

I've been having trouble with the WiFi reception on my Chromebook. It varies from one moment to the next. I was trying to watch a video about the upcoming solar eclipse a few minutes ago and my WiFi connection is so bad that the video is unwatchable, so I go looking for an explanation. tom's HARDWARE has one:
While huge drops in wireless speed are not "normal" they are very common and can happen for a number of reasons, the most common being interference from other 2.4GHz sources, including other nearby networks, wireless phones, speakers, baby monitors, microwave ovens, etc.
Then on reddit I find a link to above video. Now, of course, my wireless connection is perfect. I'm going back to wires, well, as soon as I get my Linux box working again. There is no Ethernet jack on my Chromebook.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Medici, Brunelleschi and the Cathedral in Florence

Il Duomo di Firenze
We've been watching the Medici: Masters of Florence series on Netflix. It's not the greatest show, the portrayal of the characters is a little heavy handed, but given the amount of story they are trying to cram into the allotted time, understandable. You could stuff all the information into a dry, tedious documentary, but we want an entertaining story, so we take some shortcuts. The history portrayed is compelling.


How an Amateur Built the World's Biggest Dome

All this happens in the 1400's, which seems to be lost in time, but when Cosimo visits Rome, he is entranced by the Pantheon, which was built over a thousand years before that. At this time, the Florence Cathedral is unfinished, it lacks its dome. Cosimo commissions Brunelleschi to finish it. The techniques used to finish the dome are amazing, especially since the math that modern engineers would use to guide them in their design did not yet exist. James Gillick has an interesting story On the Economics of a Cathedral.

Some things are a little unsettling, like riding horses on the polished interior marble floors of buildings, but why not? Marble floors are easy to clean, the doors are big enough, and why should I have to walk outside to get my horse?

We also have all the standard elements of a good drama: love, hate, intrigue, betrayal, conflict, disaster and successes. We also have some words of wisdom that are truly at odds with our modern, secular, the individual-is-king philosophy. Reminds me of the old saw about how the poor save for Saturday night, the rich save for four generations.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Vanilla


Are We Running Out of Vanilla? — Speaking of Chemistry

My mom was always a stickler for using real vanilla. I am not surprised that vanilla is in a bit of a crisis, that seems to be how our whole economy works: by lurching from one crisis to another. Occasionally someone will organize a small part of the economy and that segment will stabilize, usually just in time for it to become obsolete. Food, though, is an ongoing deal, but we still don't have a good handle on it. Production is at an all time high, profits are at an all time low, and we are only a couple of months away from starving if this year's crops fail. That's not likely, but did anyone forecast the vanilla crop failing?

Radio Garden

Screen shot of Radio Garden
All the radio stations in the world, or at least all those that have a streaming channel on the internet. Via Detroit Steve. It's pretty cool, or a little scary if you are paranoid, as it knows exactly where you are. A nice touch is the pseudo static that comes out of your speakers when you mouse over the map. Click here.

Monday, December 12, 2016

SETI


Vela Pulsar
Not a radio transmitter belonging to an extraterrestrial civilization.

Looks like we are finally applying a little intelligence in our search for intelligent life. From a story on Nautilus:
Put simply, we may well have received a message from intelligent beings and neglected it because it didn’t conform to our expectations for what a signal should look like. And this might be why we have yet to detect any interstellar communications in 50 years of searching. - Laurance R. Doyle
He's applying information theory to non-human communications to rate their complexity. Humpback whales pass, the Vela Pulsar (above) doesn't. More from the story:
We are currently analyzing microwave data obtained at the SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array, which consists of 42 individual telescopes observing in the frequency band from 1 to 10 gigahertz.
Which, along with the stuff I've been reading about radiation recently, makes me wonder if maybe advanced civilizations are using gamma rays for communication. You would be able to pack a lot more information in a gamma ray signal, much more than you can get in any kind of radio signal. Gamma rays are to the light we use in our fiber optics much like that light is to radio waves. Admittedly, gamma rays are a little hard to control, and fatal if you catch too many of them, but maybe that's the test of an advance civilization: the ability to control gamma rays.

Via Detroit Steve.

Pictures of the Allen Telescope Array:

Hat Creek Radio Observatory by The Flicks

UC Hat Creek Radio Observatory (HRCO). Image credit: Gary Crabbe

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Passport Rules

Treasure Island in the foreground,
Mainland Cuba in the background.
The kids are going to Cuba to visit Osmany's folks over Christmas. They have been planning this trip for months, looking for airline tickets they can afford that won't have them spending umpteen hours in Atlanta, arranging for accommodations, travel to Treasure Island, deciding what to take and figuring out how to pack it all into bags that won't incur an excess weight penalty. We're looking good with only a week until departure and then dutiful daughter gets red flagged on her passport.
    It seems that if you are going to Cuba, you need to have two, full, blank pages in your passport. Daring daughter has used the stuffing out of her passport and if you combined all the blank spots that are left you might get two pages, but that won't cut it. So she needs a new passport.
    She might be able to get one if she drives up to Seattle and pleads her case. And then we might have to drive back a second time to pick it up. No telling. Plus, you need an appointment. Would she even be able to get an appointment? Once again, no idea.
     There is an outfit that claims to be able to get your passport renewed in one day, but they charge $300, and that is on top of whatever the government wants, which is somewhere north of $100. I hate being put over a barrel like this, but it might be the best solution. I'm wondering how they are able to do this, and then I realized that the appointment might be the gating factor. If they book an appointment every day then they can be sure of getting in. So their business model is basically paying for one person to hang around passport central all the time. Or maybe they split their take with the secretary of passport control and he sees that their clients get taken care of. Who knows? In any case, it's a stink load of money for something we shouldn't have to pay for at all, but like I said, this new rule has got us over a barrel.
    On the other side, if you count the missed time from work and the time and effort to drive to Seattle (possibly twice), the $300 begins to look almost reasonable.

P.S. No glasses in your passport photos anymore. Another new rule. I'm thinking we need a subscription service to tell us whenever they make a new rule, which seems to be every couple of months ever since Homeland Security took over.


Quote of the Day

We have been assimilated
I'm thinking about computer security, so I go visit Schneier on Security where I find a a story about Malware being hidden in images. I follow a link to Slashdot where I find this comment:
First of all, Jesus H. Chist, I'm continually amazed at the lengths people will go and the sheer brainpower employed in malware and hacking generally. I've gotten to the point where I go to hang a towel over the mirror in the bathroom because I'm worried someone has hacked the mirror and then figure, fuck it, they probably also hacked the towel.
I don't think anyone is close to being able to pull images off of a towel, but NASA just put up some satellites that can tell how powerful a hurricane is by looking at the GPS signals being reflected off the of waves underneath the clouds, so, hell, yes, maybe they have hacked the towel. Our commenter continues:
Secondly, is this level of malware sophistication evidence that there's economic stagnation?
I'm assuming this is software designed to create botnets or measly bank account info or whatnot and the author(s) make some money but not griping about the lack of space for their megayacht next season at Monaco kinds of money.
Is the fact that people do this kind of really clever shit for more or less ordinary income, is it proof that the economy is in some way broken? I would think that people this smart, in a functional economy, would be in real demand to do productive economy kinds of things.
I don't know about this, but then again, maybe I do. I like to think I am fairly talented in the computer programming department, but I seem to have a hard time finding a job. One part of it is the unholy crap-infested barriers that the human resource departments put up. I don't know what it is, maybe they are looking for obedient drones, people who will jump through any number of hoops just to have a the slightest chance of landing a 'good' job. Or maybe it's the ridiculous job requirements they post. It's like they write down all the qualifications of the last guy to hold that job and they want someone to replace him, someone who has exactly the same set of qualification. Problem is, that person was the only person on the planet with those qualifications. You aren't going to find another one. If you are that persnickety, you should just go hire that guy back and not bother the rest of us. Of course, HR, doesn't work like that, they are only trying to minimize their own workload, or make themselves look busy or something. They are not really looking for talent. No surprise there, they wouldn't recognize it if it hit them over the head.

So we a have struggle between obedience and freedom. Some people just can't abide living with the bullshit that comes with a 'good' job, they would rather be broke but free. But this world runs on money, and if you are not going to be a good corporate drone, you need to find some other way to get money. Perhaps this is where malware comes from, people who have not been assimilated by the great democratic hive mind.

Gina Carano, Redux


Best fight scene Haywire

The subject of this morning's Teleword puzzle is Michael Fassbender. Teleword is a word finding puzzle that shows up in the Sunday paper. It is very similar to Wonderword which shows up in the daily. It's not too difficult, perfect wake-up exercise for me on Sunday morning.

The solution to this morning's puzzle was Haywire, which sounds vaguely familiar. Asking Google turns up the above video clip. Man, that is one tough chick. How tough is she? Here's a quote from the movie that might give you some idea (Paul is Fassbender's character):
Paul: I've never done a woman before. 
Kenneth: Oh, you shouldn't think of her as being a woman. No, that would be a mistake.
Turns out I did see this movie four years ago, and Gina Carano made an impression on me then. Haven't seen any of her other films. I have seen a few of Michael's films, like Slow West and Inglorious Basterds.

IFC has good, short story about this fight scene.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Russians in the Med


“Admiral Kuznetsov” In Western Mediterranean Sea. Su-33 & Mig-29 Take-off.

The Russians have lost a couple of jet aircraft off of their aircraft carrier that is operating in the Mediterranean Sea. They only have the one carrier. A sister ship to this one went to China, and the last of the previous class went to India. So we have three countries in Asia that their own aircraft carriers. Given the recent mishaps, they are still learning how to operate them.

The two planes that were lost off the Russian carrier were lost when the arresting cable snapped on landing. The cable snapped and the plane rolled off the flight deck. Americans don't have this problem because as soon as the aircraft touches down, the pilot gives the engines full throttle, so if the tailhook doesn't catch the cable, or the cable breaks, the aircraft can take off again. Okay, there is something funny going on here. Catching the arresting wire with the tailhook is an iffy proposition, it doesn't happen every time a plane lands. So unless the Russians have figured out a way to insure that every time an airplane touches down it will catch a wire, they need to be prepared to take off so they can go around and try again. So having a wire break should not lead to the aircraft rolling off the flight deck.

I'm thinking the loss of these aircraft is just part of the learning curve for bringing the crews up to snuff. Running an aircraft carrier successfully doesn't leave a lot of room for error, so you need to continuously practice, and practice costs money. If these other countries don't know how expensive it is to operate an aircraft carrier, they are going to find out. (It's about a million dollars a day.)

Update January 2017 replaced missing video.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Theeb


Theeb - Official UK trailer. Winner BAFTA British debut, and nominated for Foreign Language Oscar.

WWI and we've got an Englishman riding a camel in the dessert. Sounds like Lawrence of Arabia, but it's not. Lot's of desolate dessert scenery. It's pretty great. The whole thing looks a whole lot like Star Wars except no spaceships. Watching camels walk reminds me of nothing so much as the AT-AT walkers on Hoth. On Netflix.

One thing that bothered me about this movie was the deliberate contamination of wells by the bad guys. With water being so critical to survival and being in short supply in the dessert, you'd think that wells would be treated as somewhat sacred. Dumping a dead body in a well seems to not only be extremely rude, but short-sighted as well. What if you can't get back to your own well, and are forced to come back this way? But then war warps peoples minds, so maybe cutting off your water supply is okay as long as you are cutting off the other guy's. We may die of the thirst, but you guys will die too.

Pic of the Day

An atomic mushroom cloud, Las Vegas, 1953.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Muscle Shoals

TVA Wilson Dam, Muscle Shoals, Alabama
The Wilson Dam was built in the early 20th century. It generates over 600 megawatts of electricity. The government needed gunpowder for the war, so they built this dam, the attached power house and two plants for producing nitrates. WW1 ended, and the need for gunpowder went away, so the plants were converted to making fertilizer. When WW2 came along, they went back to making gunpowder, and after that they went back to making fertilizer again.

Air View of Nitrate Plant No. 2 at Muscle Shoals, AL
Wilson Dam can be seen in the background.
There is still a fertilizer factory there, though it seems to be much reduced in scale.

I was reminded of this by the similarity to the Norsk Hydro plant in The Heavy Water War - hydro power being used to generate electricity which in turn is used to make fertilizer.

The Heavy Water War


The Heavy Water War Teaser

We started watching this series on Netflix last night. It's pretty good. Back during WW2, the USA wasn't the only country trying to build an atomic bomb, Nazi Germany was working on the idea as well. 'Working' might be exaggerating their effort a bit, flailing might be a more apt description. But we didn't know how inept their efforts were, I mean the Germans are obviously very talented technically. Maybe they will succeed, and we sure don't want that, so we need to stop them if we can. Failing that we need to slow them down as much as possible, hence the raids on Norsk Hydro.

We started watching this and I'm wondering how it is that Norway has this monopoly on heavy water? Do they have some mystical spring where they get an abundance of the stuff? It took a little digging, but what I eventually figured out was that they were electrolysing water to get hydrogen so they could make fertilizer. They had built a power plant and factories, in fact a whole town, all to produce mass quantities of fertilizer.

All water contains a very small amount of heavy water, something like 0.03%. Electrolysis tends to preferentially break down light (normal) water, so after you have been running your electrolysis for a while, the water you are left with has a higher concentration of heavy water. Since heavy water is such a small percentage of natural water, in order to get useful amount of heavy water, you need to be electrolysing tons of water, which is what they were doing to Norsk Hydro.

Norsk Hydro Power Plant. The pipes running down the side of hill supply water to the turbines that drive the generators that make the electricity that is used to electrolysis the water.
There have been a number of films made about this. I saw one some time ago. There is one from 1948 available on YouTube.

Hello, Russia


A Look Inside Russia’s Creepy, Innovative Internet (Hello World: Episode 9) Bloomberg

We, and by that I mean everyone, have no idea of the extent of what computer systems are doing.

Note about this video series title: "Hello, world!" is the standard first programming problem for students. It is a test to see if you can master the basic concepts of editing a source file, getting the syntax right, and invoking the compiler. If you do all that correctly, then you can invoke your program and it will spit out "Hello, world!" on your display.

Via Detroit Steve.

Pic of the Day

Lab Rat Monument, Akademgorodok, Russia
Via Bloomberg's Hello World.

I'll be glad when you're dead, you rascal you.


Serge Gainsbourg - Chez Les Ye-Ye

1963 French pop song. Serge pulls out a switchblade a little awkwardly about halfway through. Translated lyrics here.


Retrolectro Swingtoon LIIb (Palm Dance with Boogalox aka Minimatic - Chez Les Yeye)

Here's an Electro-Swing version of the same tune. I ran across it listening to Electro Swing | Jazz House Mixwolf Session 2016 #1. Louis Armstrong makes a brief appearance here at the 1:56 mark.


I'll Be Glad When You're Dead You Rascal You - Louis Armstrong

Here's the whole tune. Louis recorded this in 1932.


Jamie Berry-Sweet Rascal

Here's the Electro-swing version with Mistique burning up a square meter of carpet.

People get excited, then they get upset and out come the knives. Peace, love and understanding are all very well, but how's a girl supposed to know whether a guy can defend her or not? Well, you might want to see how well he handles a knife. Love and hate are like two sides of the same, human, coin.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

War in the Vendée

A Mass at Sea, 1793,  by Louis Duveau, first exhibited in 1864. 
Catholics were persecuted during the French Revolution so if people wanted to celebrate Mass, they had to do it surreptitiously, hence going out to sea where they would be out of sight of the revolutionaries and their sycophants.

My parents were atheists. One of my mother's homilies was that religion was the root cause of all wars and was therefore bad and very possibly evil. Reading today about the War in the Vendée I am reminded that the religious don't have a monopoly on murder and mayhem, atheists in the French revolution and Communists the world over have trumped the religious wars of the past. Of course, you could say that revolutionary zealots have their own religion, they are 'true believers' after all.


Combat de Quiberon en 1795, by Jean Sorieul
Sombreuil and a handful of royalist fighters (left) are trying to push back the Republican forces and protect the flight of non-combatants trying to take refuge on English ships.

War in the Vendée
Inspired by a post from Marcel.


Monday, December 5, 2016

Doge2048

Doge2048 Low Score Success
This is a very silly game, and fairly mindless. I play it several times a day. Sometimes I win, mostly I lose.

I have a technique that allows me to make rapid progress but if followed diligently it inevitably leads to failure. The technique is basically to repeatedly press the down arrow until no more moves are available in that direction and then press the left arrow once. Repeat until you die, no more moves are available or you sense impending doom.

The idea is to keep your highest value piece in the lower left corner. It doesn't actually matter what corner you choose, any corner will work, you just need to stick with it.

Following these instructions will often bring you to a situation where neither the down arrow nor the left arrow keys will have any effect. My next step in these cases is to press the right arrow. If the bottom row is NOT full, then the next key press should be the left key. In most cases this will put your high value piece back in the lower left corner.

If there the bottom row is full, and pressing the right arrow does not open any spaces, go back to the original sequence of down-until-stopped and then one-move-left.

The advantage of this technique is you can make rapid progress without having to do any thinking. The disadvantage is that you will eventually get into a bind.  The trick is to recognize when things are about to get sticky and then stopping your automatic play to apply a little critical thinking to the problem. If you have enough room left (3 empty squares might be enough), you should be able to make a few moves that will cause enough pieces to collapse that you have enough room that you can resume automatic play for a bit.

A problem I often encounter is that pieces will often collapse unexpectedly, and if you are not watching carefully this can lead to a hole in the bottom left corner that gets filled in with a low value piece, and that just screws up my whole plan for world domination.

Since my technique involves charging ahead without too much regard for consequences, when I do succeed I often end up with a score well over 20,100. I don't know what the minimum score for successful completion is, but this is lowest I have gotten, and it was just a fluke. On occasion I have tried going on and once I got up to something like 76,000. I have not repeated that feat. My head was like totally in tune with the game, but after that I kind of lost interest.

Post about similar game.

Chernobyl

Elephant's Foot, Chernobyl Reactor
Detroit Steve sent me a link to a good story about the melt down at Chernobyl. It's a good story because because it is short and it gives clear overview of how and why radiation is dangerous. It's also three years old, which means it was written before the new shield was erected over the site. The new shield is an enormous steel structure that was erected next door and slid into place over the old sarcophagus.