Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest

Thursday, September 21, 2017

North Korea

North Korea Missile Tests, so far this year
Seems like we've been hearing about North Korean missile tests forever. This website has got records that go back to 1984, which is 33 years ago. So North Korea has been doing this for a while, and they've launched a bunch of missiles. They used to be kind of a joke, their missiles blew up on the launch pad more often than not, and when they did get off the ground, they didn't go very far. In 1998 they launched one that went over Japan, and some people started paying attention.

North Korea, according to most of the rest of world, is seriously screwed up. But then I got to thinking.

We've been watching Ertugrul on Netflix, a soap opera about some 13th Century Turkish nomads (we're up to episode 30). The current story line has them migrating to some land that was granted them by the Emir Al Aziz of Aleppo. The Emir reneged on his promise, based on some rumors started by the evil Templars. So now our tribe is kind of in a jam. The Mongols pushing in from the East have forced them into country so barren that their livestock were starving to death. The Emir granted them a section of good land. It would be great except that it is between Aleppo and the Templars, so there is going be a constant state of conflict, but hey, they've got swords and they know how to use them. But now the Emir has revoked his grant and is threatening to exterminate the whole tribe if they don't pack up and move. Well, we just got here, we're not in the mood for moving, and you granted us this land, you can't be going back on your word, you lousy Indian giver.

In any case, they are prepared to fight the Emir's army, even though they are outnumbered ten to one. It may mean the death of their tribe, but at least they'll go down fighting.

Translate this viewpoint to North Korea and you can see how they could view themselves as the victims in the game of global domination. Okay, you would also need to be ignorant of the actual state of the world, but who are you going to believe? Western Imperialist Running Dog news services, or your faithful leader? And is it any different that what we have here? The news is like 99% garbage, and the 1% that might be of real concern is so fractured with competing spins it is really hard to tell what is true. Fortunately we have our own faithful leader. Which one is more trustworthy? Kim or Donald?

Missile website via Detroit Steve.

Spelling Numbers

Algebraic Numbers
Here because it's kind of a cool picture and it's number related.
Someone noticed that the letter A is not used in writing out the names of any numbers until you get to one thousand, which got me to thinking. Near as I can tell, the letters C, J, K, P and Y are not used in the names of any numbers. A few letters don't get used until you get to some big numbers.


Zero is in the list because everybody starts with one so nobody notices it.  Zero is also the only number that uses the letter Z, except for zillion which is not really a number even though I treat it like one.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Boney M. - Rasputin (Remix - Shuffle Dance)


Boney M. - Rasputin (Remix - Shuffle Dance)

I'm running a YouTube playlist in the background while I am playing solitaire and this tune comes on. It has some middle eastern sounds, and since we've been watching Ertugrul I find them enjoyable. So here we are. Dancing girls are a bonus. The tune is from 1979. I wasn't impressed with the original.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Reelin

Crystallographic structure of the reelin protein based on the PDB: 2DDU​ coordinates. Boghog
Reelin is a complicated chemical found floating around in your body. Near as I can tell, it has some influence over the central nervous system. I got onto this from a Reddit link to a Wikipedia passage about schizophrenia, one of my least favorite diseases.

I'm not very good at chemistry. Oh, I understand the basics well enough, water is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, but once you get past the basics there is an endless profusion of chemical compounds and I quickly become lost. It's almost like the English language, you can stick words, or atoms, together in a limitless number of ways. If you use it every day, those combinations will become familiar to you, like the books you have read. But if you don't immerse yourself in this sea of arcane knowledge it will always be gibberish.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Plymouth Switcher


Plymouth Model BL locomotive - From rough to restored...

Looking at compact model train layouts, thinking maybe I need a mining railroad, lots of turns and hills and bridges and stuff. Tight turns require small locos, like this compact switching engine, which is how I stumbled over this video. The reason it is here though, is because it uses an infinitely variable mechanical transmission / clutch to transmit power to the wheels. It has two large wheels, one which is driven by the engine, and the other, driven, wheel is positioned at 90 degrees and mounted on a movable shaft. The engineer employs a hand crank to slide the driven wheel left or right along its shaft. By doing so, he selects the speed and direction of the locomotive. He then uses the large control lever to force the driven wheel against the driving wheel. It is not a perfect arrangement, there is going to be some slippage due to the geometry of the contact point, but with enough force it can evidently be made to work. I have heard of these kind of transmissions before, but the only place I can recall hearing them used was in the old mechanical artillery computers used on battleships in WW2 (start at the 8:55).

Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum had this engine, but there is no more recent mention of it on their webpage.

What's that you say?


Amazon Echo - SNL

I don't know if our memory is failing, or we just have more important things to think about, but the fact that we occasionally experience incidents like this is what makes it so funny.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Citibank

Falls Park, Sioux Falls, South Dakota
I've been going round and round with Citibank about a missing credit card statement. I only noticed it was missing when they turned off the card ( again!). I tried calling them to tell them I hadn't gotten a statement and would they send me another one, but they wanted to me to play their version of 20 questions, and I have no patience for that shit. Why do they need to verify that I am who I say I am? I don't want any information, I just want them to send me my statement. Their inability to fulfill this simple request is emblematic of what is wrong with America. This is why Trump won the election. People are tired of all the unnecessary bullshit that has been creeping into our lives for the last umpteen years. Okay, maybe you aren't, but I am.

So I wrote them a letter. It's an easy thing to do once you have all the pieces in place. They eventually sent me a statement, but it was the wrong one. We are now on our fourth go round, and they still haven't gotten it right.

Now I'm wondering why Citibank is having such a hard time with something that should never have been a problem in the first place*, and I'm thinking it's people problem. Could it be that the people in charge of answering letters are so overworked that they are not really paying attention to what they are doing? Or maybe they hate their manager and hate their job or they just don't care. As long as they send something back, they are doing their job and no one can fault them for sending the wrong thing. I can hear their excuses from 1500 miles away: 'I sent the right thing, the customer is an idiot.' 

What does this credit-card service center / hell hole looks like. I start with Citibank headquarters in New York City, but then I snap and realize my correspondence is with their outpost in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and what we've got there is a bunch of big box warehouse like structures that look like big box warehouses you find anywhere. But then I stumble across some pictures of Falls Park, which looks like a pretty cool place (especially in winter).

St. Louis Gateway Arch
I address my latest missive and I realize that the credit card service center is in St. Louis, Missouri. So where did I get the idea that it was in Sioux Falls? Oh, I have two different Citibank cards, one straight from Citibank and one from Costco. The Costco service center is in St. Louis, the other is in Sioux Falls.

*which reminds me of the old saw that a problem that shouldn't be a problem can't be fixed.

P.S. How was it that Citibank established a service center in South Dakota of all places? The Sioux Falls Argus has the story, as does Marketplace. Almost restores your faith in the financial establishment. Not.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Finance


Citi: Leadership. 200 Years of Progress

I am not overly fond of Citi being as I am in the midst of a minor squabble with them over their failure to deliver statements in a timely manner. But the video points out something you don't hear much about: every big project requires financing, and financing is what lets make big accomplishments. These days, which means ever since we went off the gold standard, economics, money and finance are all voodoo, but as long as everyone continues to believe in this mass hallucination, we're good.

Cryptocurrency

Our world is getting ever more complex.
Bitcoin came across my plate recently and I got to thinking that maybe I should set up a computer to do some Bitcoin mining and so make a little money. I mean, I've got old computers sitting around and I know something about computer software, I should be able to do this without too much effort, and then presto, free money.

But before I expend any effort on this project, I want to understand what I am getting into, which means finding out just how this Bitcoin business works. After much noodling around I think I have it.

First of all the worth of Bitcoin comes from being a ledger. It's kind of like paying an accountant to keep your books. Admittedly, it's of a special ledger, immune to the forces that normally bear on an ordinary, preson-type, accountant, which may make it more valuable to some people, but it's basically just a ledger.

Second of all, running a computer to mine bitcoins is not a stand-alone operation. You can't just fire up your computer have it make these magical numbers and when it finally produces one you take it and send it off to the great Bitcoin collective in the sky.

Bitcoin is a ledger, and one of things that makes it valuable is once a page has been recorded, it is stamped with a very fancy checksum which means any alterations to the page will render the checksum invalid. And since that checksum is included on the following page, fixing the checksum, will necessitate updating the following page, and the page after that until you reach the end. And since there are a zillion copies of this ledger floating around, someone is going to notice the difference and you will get found out and your evil plot to rule the world will come crashing down around your toes.

The way Bitcoin works is transactions are recorded on a page in the ledger. Once the page is full*, all the active Bitcoin miners jump in and try to compute the checksum. Now it's not an ordinary checksum, it's a very fancy checksum. You could probably compute it by hand in some number of days, but we have computers now, so we let the computers do it. A computer can compute this fancy checksum (called a SHA-256 hash, or some similar nonsense), in milliseconds. It's trivial. Bitcoin has an added requirement though, because not only do you have to compute the checksum, but it has to be 'pretty' (Bitcoin's version of pretty** is that the checksum must start with some number of zeroes).


Blockchain 101 - A Visual Demo
A block is like a page in a ledger. A block chain is like the whole ledger book.

In order for the checksum to be 'pretty', you need to add a magic number to the page. The only way anyone knows to find the magic number is to take a wild guess and then compute the checksum. If it comes out 'pretty', great, if not, try another one and run the computation again. Since it seems to be completely random whether any number will produce the desired result, you may have to try a few zillion numbers to find the one you need.

If that were all there was to it, it would be a mint, running diligently, popping out a bitcoin every ten minutes, which how often a page is filled. But there are also a zillion other computer geeks out there, all hooked to the net, trying to do the same thing, so whoever comes up with the answer first is the one who gets paid.

Antminer S9 ~13.5TH/s @ .098W/GH 16nm ASIC Bitcoin Miner
Since it seems to be completely random which number will provide the solution, it's possible that your little old Pentium processor, sucking up kilowatt-hours of electricity will find it, but it's more likely that it won't. So people have banded together to combine their efforts in order to improve their chances. And computer geeks have gone off the deep end building custom machines solely for the purpose of running these computations. Some people have even gone to the extreme of building custom ASIC chips to do this. The whole thing sounds a little insane, unless you really like doing that kind of thing, i.e. building fancy, special purpose computing machines. And given what we know about people, there is certain percentage of the population who really like doing that.


Genesis Mining #EvolveWithUs - The Series / Official Trailer

Some people have gotten so serious about it that they are building a computer farm in Iceland for the specific purpose of mining Bitcoins. I gave them $100 to see if they can make any money for me. Some people might want to call it an investment, but to me it's more like gambling. It's just enough money that I should remember to check on it occasionally to see if it is producing any results. It's entirely possible they have faked the video and have taken my money and spent it lattes for all their friends. We shall see.

* 'full' seems to be when the checksum for the previous page has appeared.
** The amount of 'prettiness' is adjusted so that the average time it takes for the checksum to appear is ten minutes. I have no idea how many transactions are on a page. It could be one, or it could be a zillion.


I Want That


11 Bobby Hendricks - I Want That [Jazzman]

Another one from somebody's archive. This one is from 1960.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Any Way You Wanta


07 Harvey - Any Way You Wanta [Jazzman]

More emphatic singing from the strange land of YouTube.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Aleppo

Aleppo in the 13th Century
We've been watching Resurrection: Ertugrul on Netflix. In episode 5 our hero pays a visit to Aleppo. It flashes on the screen for maybe a second just after the 17 minute mark. Is this the same Aleppo that has been getting hammered in the Syrian civil war? Why, yes it is. The place has expanded significantly since the 13th Century.

The ancient citadel with the modern city.

Burnt Toast and Black Coffee


14 Shorty Long - Burnt Toast and Black Coffee [Jazzman]

The emotion conveyed in the singer's words leaves no doubt about how he feels about his breakfast.

Intelligent Speed Bump


The intelligent Speed bump by Badennova.avi

It's not really smart, like computerized, it's more like an intelligent application of cornstarch. It's kind of a cute idea, though I suspect it won't hold up on a high traffic road and then you'll have yellow goop running in the streets. But the important part is the model who demonstrates the how the working fluid does its job. She is like a bolt from the blue. Or maybe it's just too early for me to be watching things like this.

Via Detroit Steve

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Imiigrants, Part 1

Arctic Prowler commercial fishing vessel
On the flight back to Portland from Omaha, I am sitting with a guy from Ethiopia. Actually he is from South Sudan, but at some point the border moved and the place he is from is now in Ethiopia. He is big, maybe 6 foot 2, and black, as you might expect. He was 16 when he came to the USA. He is 37 now. He lives in Anchorage Alaska.

Alaska Pipeline
The fancy antennae looking things attached to the top of the support posts are radiators so the heat from the oil doesn't melt the permafrost.
Sometimes he works patching the asbestos (!) insulation on oil pipelines, sometimes he goes fishing. The boat is 135 feet long and has a crew of 32. He works from crew shares. In a good month the boat will bring in $600,000 worth of fish. He makes about $10,000 a month. And yes, he is aware of the danger of working with asbestos and he takes precautions.

Asbestos was banned from most uses in 1980, but construction of the Alaska pipeline began in 1974, so much of the insulation is very likely asbestos. It's a continuing issue with pipelines everywhere.
Asbestos' continuing long-term use after harmful health effects were known or suspected, and the slow emergence of symptoms decades after exposure ceased, made asbestos litigation the longest, most expensive mass tort in U.S. history . . . - Wikipedia

Communist Capitalists

Dome and Gold Filial atop old Colt Factory in Hartford, Conneticut
Caught sight of this unusual ornament in the opening to a Colt promotional video, and I had to find out more. Luke Spencer has a story on Atlas Oscura about how Sam built a workers utopia in Connecticut back in the 19th Century. To afford this kind of extravagance, those guns must have been selling for a pretty penny. Sure, they were only a couple of bucks back then, but I think that probably translates into a $100,000 of today's Monopoly money.

Old Colt Factory in Hartford Connecticut
The factory was a big place and by all accounts a model of efficient production. The place is a National Park now.

Colt employees on the shop floor, circa 1900, courtesy of the Connecticut State Library. 
Of course, it was a 19th Century, steam powered sweatshop, but a really nice sweatshop, surrounded by gardens.

Factory engraved SAA by Cuno Helfricht, shipped 1893 to E.J.Post & Co. Albuquerque NM
Making a gun (now) is easy. We have plans and machine tools and precision measuring devices. All you need to do is follow the directions and cut, drill and mill until you have all the required pieces. Engraving, now that's a bit different. It requires patience, skill, good eyesight and a bit of artistic talent. And time. And time, as our modern capitalist system relentlessly hammers into our heads, is money.  These days a fancy engraving job can easily be more than the price of the gun, which kind of makes me think that a century ago, guns were much more expensive, which would have made the engraving not such an extravagance. I suspect that most people would consider spending a thousand dollars to engrave a thousand dollar gun an extravagance. If the gun cost ten times that much, then the thousand dollars for engraving would not be so far out of line.

Plas Johnson - Downstairs


03 Plas Johnson - Downstairs [Jazzman]
No video, just this flat image.

Heard this on KMHD. I liked it so much I had to go find out what it was. Fortunately KMHD posts their playlist on the web. Good starter tune for the day.

Resurrection: Ertugrul

A promotional image for the Turkish television series “Dirilis: Ertugrul.” Credit TRT 1 TV
We seem to be suckers for historical dramas, as long as they have plenty of sword swinging action. We started watching this one last night.
Diriliş: Ertuğrul is a Turkish historical adventure television series . . . The show is based on the history of the Muslim Oghuz Turks and takes place in the 13th century and centers around the life of Ertuğrul, the father of Osman I, who was the founder of the Ottoman Empire. - Wikipedia
The first episode was a bit slow getting started, but it quickly picked up steam. We ended up watching three episodes last night. Then we check to see how deep this rabbit hole goes and we find that Netflix has 180 episodes! (Wikipedia disagrees.) Most of the series we've watched have been more like a dozen episodes. This is truly phenomenal.

In some foreign sounding gibberish, presumably Turkish, with subtitles.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Pic of the Day - Air Niugini

DC-3 P2-SBD (ex VH-SBD) at Port Moresby Airport in December 1974. Photo by peter lea
Port Moresby, that would be in New Guinea. We've been there before, sort of. Niugini, that's a funny sounding name, except how would I know? More like it's funny looking, which kind of goes along with it being from the far side of the world. Then I tried working out how I would pronounce it, and, doh! I'm back where I started: Niu = New, gini = Guinea, Niugini = New Guinea. Wikipedia agrees, sort of.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Weather

Current Northwest Air Quality
Portland is down to 'Moderately Unhealthy'. Medford and Spokane are up to 'Hazardous'.
All due to forest fires running wild, burning up all the trees.

Delta Airlines airliner ducks into Puerto Rico and slips back out before the Hurricane hits the airport.
Via Posthip Scott.

The moon, taken at my friend Jack's house two nights ago.
I think there was a little ash in the air.
Via Jack.

Jack R. Gray, R.I.P.

Jack R. Gray, 1927-2017
My father-in-law passed away two weeks ago.

Rockwell City – Jack R. Gray 90, a longtime attorney, passed away Thursday, August 24, 2017 at Holy Spirit Retirement Home in Sioux City, Iowa. Memorial services will be 10:30 a.m. Monday, August 28, 2017 at St. Paul's Lutheran & Presbyterian Church, Rockwell City, with Pastor James Hoover Mossman officiating. Burial of cremains will be at Rosehill Cemetery. Visitation will be 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 27, at the Palmer & Swank Funeral Home, Rockwell City, and from 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at Twin Lakes Golf Club. In lieu of flowers memorials can be left to: Holy Spirit Retirement Home, St. Paul's Lutheran & Presbyterian Church, or Twin Lakes Golf Club.

Jack is survived by his son John C. Gray and his wife Di of Sioux City, Iowa; daughter Anne Pergiel and her husband Charles of Hillsboro, Oregon; 5 grandchildren, Joe (Stephanie) Canny, Ross, Kathryn, and John Pergiel, and Jack Calhoon Gray; great-grandson Calhoon Harold Canny; and other relatives and friends. He was preceded in death by his wife Audrey; son Todd Gray; his parents, Ross C. and Jennie Geist Gray; brothers, Ward, Lynn, and Dale Gray; and sister Jean Hull.

Jack Ross Gray was born August 9, 1927 at Rockwell City, Iowa. He graduated from Rockwell City High School, with the Class of 1945. Jack attended college in Iowa City and graduated from the College of Law at the University of Iowa in 1952. On September 7, 1952 he was united in marriage to Audrey A. Langland. The couple established their home in Rockwell City where Jack practiced law with his father, uncle, and brothers at the Gray & Gray Law Firm. He later practiced law with David Gidel at Gray & Gidel Law Firm. Audrey passed away in 2013, and later that year Jack retired from law. In 2014, he became a resident of Holy Spirit Retirement Home in Sioux City. Jack was a member of St. Paul's Lutheran & Presbyterian Church, Twin Lakes Golf Club, Rockwell City Rotary Club, and the Iowa State Bar Association. He was also past County Attorney, and past City Attorney. He enjoyed playing snooker, bridge, and cribbage. Jack collected nearly everything, and he loved his hometown.

Neural Net

Grain Elevators in Rockwell City, Iowa
All of Iowa is a giant solar energy plant. The entire state is covered with fields of corn. In every county there is a big, stone county courthouse and a giant grain elevator with half a dozen concrete silos. Next to every grain elevator there is a railroad siding. So, the entire state plants in the spring, lets the corn grow all summer, harvests it in the fall and stores it in the grain elevators. Then the trains start collecting the corn and hauling it off to the feed lots and the ethanol distillers and the bakeries. Actually, they probably never stop. Trains are running constantly collecting grain from one elevator after another. It takes them all year to drain all the elevators and then the whole cycle starts again.

Calhoun County Courthouse
Yes, I know it is obscured by trees. I took this picture because of the sizable radio antennas.
Look at all that infrastructure devoted to the collection, storage and distribution of one crop. All the grain elevators, railroad tracks, and railroad cars. That is some serious capital investment, with very thing margins. The only way it will pay off is if you keep using the same equipment over and over again, year after year.

Railroad lines in Northwest Iowa between Des Moines and Sioux City
Look at all the little towns scattered across Iowa. They are small because they don't need a lot of people to take care of the business of corn production. I suspect half of the people are there to provide a modicum of civilization to these remote outposts. Every town needs teachers and a barber and a sheriff. A grocer and a mechanic would not amiss. I don't know if every town needs a doctor, but every county surely does.

Colorful clouds after rain shower at one of the gatherings.
My father-in-law passed away a couple of weeks ago and I flew to Iowa to attend the service. There were several gatherings to commemorate the event. About a hundred people attended each one. Some were formal and subdued, others were more relaxed and even a bit festive. Quite a few people were from out of town, most of whom had grown up here and hadn't seen each other for years, so there was a lot of catching up to do.

At all of these gatherings there was great deal of chit-chat. Some people would call it talking, but talking to me is communicating information, and to me, chit-chat doesn't qualify. It is more like comforting mouth noises. Or is it?

All these people know each other, and have known each other for most of their lives. There is no real information that needs to be communicated, it's just chit-chat.

Neurons
But then I had a vision. You know how the neurons in your brain have connections to several other neurons? Information that is passed from one neuron to another is not a complete thought, it's just an ill-defined fragment. Only by having zillions of neurons operating in parallel are we able to think, reason and act.

A similar thing is going on at these social gatherings. It's like a hive mind thinking. Little bits of information flow across the room, information that has a different value for each individual, but by passing it repeatedly and in parallel you can be reasonable sure that it will reach those who need to know, even if you don't know who they are.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Shiny

Ladies Wristwatch
I took my wife's wristwatch in to get the battery replaced today. The counterman notes that it is a good looking watch. Well, yes, it's gold and it's shiny, so yeah, sort of. But it's costume jewelry, it's not solid gold, it probably cost about a hundred dollars. But I've never seen this watch before (okay, I've probably seen it, but hadn't noticed it). How could I tell at a glance that it was gold plated and not solid gold? (Disregard the fact that solid gold watches are not in our budget.)

I don't know, but I have a theory. Most metals are harder than gold, so whatever it is made of can be polished to a much higher degree, to the point that it is really shiny. When they plate it, the gold simply carries on that really shiny surface. Working with solid gold, you can't polish it that fine, you'll just wear away the gold, so you can't make it as shiny.

Where There's Fire, There's Smoke

Ash on the hood of my truck
Bunch of forest fires burning in the Pacific Northwest this week. Go out to bring in the trash can this morning and there is a thin sprinkling of ash on the lid. The sky is overcast, and it's a funny sort of color, not the simple gray you get with a normal overcast. This one has a tinge of brown or orange. There is also a thin layer of ash on my truck. This is very different than the last time.

Dim Sun
Walking to the mailbox this evening I notice that the sun is looking a little orange.

I'm looking out my office window half of which is covered by a screen. The uncovered portion looks fine, but looking through the screened half it looks like it is raining, or hailing, or something is falling from the sky. Go outside and no sign of anything. It is very odd.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Cassini visits Enceladus

Enceladus
New pictures from Cassini. Enceladus is the sixth-largest moon of Saturn. It is about 310 miles in diameter, which makes it about one tenth the diameter of Saturn's largest moon, Titan. (Wikipedia)

The image was recorded using the Cassini's narrow-angle camera on Aug. 1, 2017 using filters that allow infrared, green, and ultraviolet light.

  • The image filter centered on 930 nm (IR) was is red in this image, 
  • the image filter centered on the green is green, and 
  • the image filter centered on 338 nm (UV) is blue.

This image was obtained at a distance of approximately 112,000 miles from Enceladus. Image scale is about 0.6 mile per pixel. (Ciclops)

Earth's moon is about 250,000 miles away, so we (that's the royal 'we') were about half that distance from Enceladus. That moon is like two-thirds the diameter of Titan, or one sixth the diameter of Earth's moon. Put that all together and looking at Enceladus from Cassini, it will to be about one-third the size of the Earth's moon as seen from the Earth.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

3-Way Stop

Intersection with 3-Way stop in Denison, Iowa
We encountered a three way stop on our way from Rockwell City to Omaha. I don't think I've ever encountered one before, so I thought I'd share.

Intersection with 3-Way stop in Denison, Iowa

Friday, September 1, 2017

Centurion

Olga Kurylenko as Etain
We watched Centurion this evening and I'm pretty sure this is the second time we've seen it. There can't be two movies with Olga playing the Pict mole who leads the 9th Roman legion to their doom, can there?

This is second century AD and I'm wondering about the technology. The Romans have swords and armor, as do the Picts, but I'm pretty sure the only way the Picts got ahold of anything made of iron was because they got it from the Romans. They even manage to acquire a set of iron manacles with a chain that they use to restrain the leader of the 9th after they have captured him.

Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian's Wall makes a brief but impressive appearance, if you happen to notice it (about 10 mintues from the end of the movie). The movie is set in 117AD, but Hadrian's Wall wasn't started until five years later, but that's Hollywood for you.

As movies go, it was pretty good. Lots of action with some fairly realistic primitive tactics. But there were a number of instances that just didn't jibe with what you might expect. You know, Hollywood adding drama when no extra drama is needed. Aiming for low-brow, gut reactions I suppose.


Space Car, Part 2

1962 Ford Thunderbird
I was thinking about buying an old Ford Thunderbird and fixing it up to go cruising in. But I don't go cruising. I go places, I don't just drive around. Traffic is too congested to make it a pleasant experience.

But I still like early 60's Thunderbirds. JFK had 50 bullet bird convertibles in his inaugural parade. I guess that's cool, I mean usually they use big black limousines, don't they? The T-Birds looked cool, and they were built with the latest technology available, but it's all old now. The best that can be said for them is that they used unibody construction. I would say they were one of the first, but the whole industry was in a transition period back then. Most cars these days use unibody construction. The only one I can think of that is still body-on-frame is the Cadillac Escalade and that's only because it's basically a truck.

When I think about fixing up one of these old Thunderbirds, I like to imagine all the cool stuff that I could install that could make it better car, a car that you would actually want to use instead of something that constantly needed attention.

Ford Thunderbird 390 Engine
What happened to the diagonal braces?
The first things to replace are:
  • the carburetor with electronic fuel injection, 
  • the fan belts with a serpentine belt 
  • the front drum brakes with disks, and
  • the 3-speed automatic transmission with a 4-speed.
All that could probably be done for around ten grand, and if you started with a decent car at a decent price, it might be a worthwhile project.

But then you get into even more exotic projects, like replacing the front suspension with something that will let it drive like a modern car, or hopping up the engine so it will deliver 400 HP instead of the 300 it came with originally. Many of the cars that are out there have way less than 100,000 miles, so you might be able to simply work on the top end and leave the bottom end, including the entire short block alone. I wonder if you would even notice the power difference. Driving around town at 25 MPH you aren't going to need the extra oomph. About the only place you can use all your power these days in on an expressway on-ramp. Still, that can be fun.

But now we're talking even more money, possibly another ten grand. Now this project is starting to look like buying a new car. Of course, new cars don't look as cool as those Space Cars from the 50's. If you don't agree, that's okay, you're wrong and I can live with that.

1961 Ford Thunderbird dashboard
One of the coolest things about the old 'birds was the fancy (fanciful?) instrument panel. If I were going to do this project the dashboard would need some major updates, like flat panel display screen for your GPS and your backup camera. Integrating something like that and making it look good would take finesse. And while we are working on the dash, can we do something about the A/C? From what I've seen, the A/C vents look like an afterthought.

It might be best to simply do a brand new dash. I am sure there are talented designers out there who could come up with something really spacey. I could do the mechanical/functional part, but making it look integrated and cool, hmmm, I dunno. I would need some inspiration I think.

Message from the King

Chadwick Bosman as Jacob King
We watched this lask week on Netflix. Very good Los Angeles crime thriller. Jacob is a 'cab driver' from South Africa, come to L.A. to look for his sister. The show opens with the INS asking about the purpose of his visit. He has like $500 and intends to stay for a week. The INS agents suspect him of planning to stay. His straight-forward answers and his plain spoken demeanor convince them that he is for real and they let him in. It's a pretty great scene.

He pokes around and quickly discovers that his sister was involved with some very nasty characters. He shortly convinces them that he is not to be trifled with. That's a motorcycle chain he's carrying in the picture, his weapon of choice.

Turns out he is from Cape Flats, a nasty, brutish suburb of Cape Town, home to the infamous Numbers Gangs. Well, semi-infamous anyway. I never heard of them, but Wikipedia has an article. It is a very curious, and unpleasant, story.


The Last King

The Last King
The Last King (original Norwegian title Birkebeinerne) is a historical drama that film centers on the efforts of the Birkebeiner loyalists to protect the infant heir to the Norwegian throne. The film is set during the Civil war era in Norway during the 13th century. - paraphrased from Wikipedia.
We watched this last night on Netflix. The first thing we noticed was the big, red-haired wilding from Game of Thrones, Kristofer Hivju, in a starring role. Well, of course, you'll find him here. Who is better at swinging an axe in brutal winter conditions?

The movie has a couple of surprising features:
  • lots of chasing people on skis with evil intent, so much skiing that it put me in mind of old James Bond movies.
  • squads of bad guys using crossbows effectively.
  • horses carrying soldiers running on snow. The snow would have to be either not very deep or well packed. I can imagine short paths being well traveled enough for a horse, or perhaps a narrow path between adjacent villages, but I don't think there were much in the way of roads in medieval Norway. Well, you can't have a medieval war story without warhorses, so mark this one up to the influence of Hollywood.

Skiing Birchlegs Crossing the Mountain with the Royal Child, 1869, by Knud Bergslien.
The skiing was at least semi-authentic. No fancy tricks, basically just skiing long runs downhill with maybe a few gentle turns.