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Monday, November 27, 2006

Thanksgiving Weekend

Thanksgiving Weekend

Long Holidays and vacations give me trouble. If I travel I end up exhausted. If I stay home, I sluff off, and end up bummed out that I didn't get much done. This extra long weekend was not too bad. Ross came home from school Wednesday evening, Anne fixed a nice meal for Thursday, I stuffed myself and then took a two hour nap.

James Bond

Anne and the boys and I went to see the new James Bond movie Thanksgiving evening, it was a great Bond movie. It had most of the standard Bond elements, great stunts, exotic locations, fast cars, beautiful women, murder, mayhem, villains and explosions. The only thing missing was Q explaining all the latest gadgets.


I finished a book by Alan Furst, "Dark Voyage" was the title, I think. I really enjoyed it. He is my favorite author at the moment: World War II intrigue and adventure. I picked up several other books later on, but none of them could keep my attention. Three of them were Science Fiction, by authors I used to enjoy:
- David Weber, of "Honor Harrington" fame,
- Larry Niven, whose accurate science made him required reading in my astronomy class back in school, and
- Eric Nylund, who wrote a Star Wars novel that I really enjoyed.
Finally, on Sunday, I picked up a small non-fiction volume about Napoleon, and so far, so good.

Napoleon is the main villain in Patrick O'Brians sea stories ("Master and Commander", a recent film, was based on his series of novels). Besides being a tyrant, Napoleon accomplished a number of things that are still with us. Very curious. Reminds me of the Carrdasians occupation of Bijor on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine", or my own evaluation of recent presidents. David Weber's "Honor Harrington" series parallels Britain's war with France during the revolution, complete with a cast of despicable revolutionary leaders with names taken right from the French revolution. And don't forget the English in India. So it is interesting to see the other side of the coin. I may have to read more about the French revolution.


I tried cleaning my old Okidata laser printer (actually it is an LED printer, but never mind that). It had been working fine, but then one day it started leaving big black clouds all over the pages. I accused Johnny of banging into while rough housing with his friends, but he denies it. It is fairly old, but it hasn't seen much use. Opening it up reveals toner all over the inside. Vacuum cleaner does not do much good, neither does the air compressor. I pick up some laser printer cleaning sheets at Office Depot ($13). Before I try the cleaning sheets, I decide to do a little exploratory surgery. A dozen or so screws and some wiggling later, I have it pretty much all apart. Not that it helps. I put it together and run a cleaning sheet through but it does not really help. Matter of fact, it is behaving worse than before. So much for disassembly and reassembly, a technique that has often worked before. Next step would be to replace the toner cartridge, but I am afraid it will probably cost more than a new printer. The cartridge incorporates the imaging drum, so it will no doubt be expensive.


I helped Johnny take apart an old, broken down laptop. It was a bit of a challenge to do so without breaking anything. We got some tips from the Internet, and when we were still stymied, we knocked off one of the plastic feet using a screwdriver and a hammer. That gained us access to the last screw holding the top cover on. After that is was just a matter of about two dozen more screws.


I worked with Kathryn a bit on her math homework, and with Ross on his paper about sound systems for his physics class. Neither one likes math. They can do it if they apply themselves, but they have no interest in doing so.


Stopped at the video store the other night. Did not see much that interested me, which I thought was curious. I had seen a bunch of ads on TV over the summer for movies that looked interesting, but I do not recognize any at the video store. I do not remember the titles, I just remember seeing some ads, and I think I would recognize the covers of the those movies, but I do not. So I go to IMDB and try to find these films that I saw advertised. It takes some poking around, but I eventually land on their "power search" page and I get a list of about 300 titles. I look through it and find maybe a dozen movies that look like they might be worth watching. Am I picky or what? Anne and I rented a movie one night, but I cannot remember what it was. Some action/adventure film, most likely. I rented the most recent X-men movie and watched it by myself Sunday night. Johnny joined me for a bit, but he had already seen it, and mom sent him to bed before it ended.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Canon Pixma MP150 Printer

November 13, 2006
Canon Pixma MP150 Printer

A while back my brother Andy came to visit. While he was here he bought a new laptop computer, which came with a free Canon printer. He didn't need the printer, so he left it with me. Very fancy printer, photo quality ink-jet with built in scanner. We hooked it up a couple of months ago and used it to print a few items.

This weekend it started acting up. Paper would not feed. Push the buttons, cycle power, load and reload paper, read the manual, follow the troubleshooting guide, waste a couple of hours fooling around. Finally decide it's junk, not worth taking the time to pack it up and send it back to the factory for repair (replacement). Get junior's toolkit and take it apart. What a pain. Try to take the control panel out of the scanner/lid. Decide it's too much effort. Put it back together, without the side covers. It prints! What the #$%&? And what is this little plastic piece that's left over? White plastic, about a half inch long, with two pins.

Dr. Strangelove

November 13, 2006
Dr. Strangelove

My boss (Mike Fleming) and our chief engineer here at Stevens just got back from a big meeting about GOES satellites in South Carolina. Not much new on the GOES front, more of the same bureaucratic nonsense, but he did bring back another story. Seems the Navy is putting up a constellation of LEO (low earth orbit) satellites to provide broadband communications. They do not expect to fully utilize the capacity of these satellites anytime soon, so are thinking about leasing bandwidth to the commercial sector. The Navy has put up eight of these radiation hardened satellites so far. Designing radiation hardened DSP's is my boss's specialty, so he is especially interested in this. (DSP: Digital Signal Processor. Most all radio communications uses DSP these days.)

You may have heard how the space shuttle has five computers that all do the same job, and the results they produce are a result of a vote amongst these processors. They do this because of radiation. Radiation in space is higher than it is on earth, and can cause errors in computers. Radiation hardening is anything you do to a piece of equipment so that it can continue to operate when exposed to nuclear radiation. The simplest way to do it is to shield the equipment with lead or concrete or something similar. Another way is to make each component large enough that destruction of a few molecules will not impact it's performance. Both these methods mean the device is going to larger and heavier, and heavy is the enemy of space travel.

Redundant devices is another way to deal with this problem. The space shuttle uses multiple computers. Mike's method is similar to the space shuttle method, but instead of duplicating the computers, he uses multiple transistors in the processing chip at the core of the computer itself.

For the military, radiation hardening does not mean just being able to survive the normal incident radiation of outerspace, but also to survive the EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse) produced by a nearby nuclear explosion, such as one caused by a North Korean Missle armed with a nuclear warhead that detonates prematurely.

Anyway, with the amount of bandwidth available from these Navy satellites, we could have Sat-phones (Satellite telephone) the size of cell-phones, and we wouldn't need all these cell phone towers. The power required to reach a LEO satellite is about the same that a cell phone produces. So now we are looking at the Sat-phone business.

Since these are military satellites, privacy would be nil, on the other hand, there would be thousands of channels, and how many channels can they actually listen to? And since they are military satellites, the military could shut down the service any time they wanted, similar to their control of the GPS satellites.

Cat's Eye

November 10 , 2006
Cat's Eye

I noticed that one of our cats appeared to have a hair lying across the lens of one eye. Did not seem to bother him.

Talked to someone about this and they said that it does not bother cats or dogs to have a hair in their eye, and that they just wipe it out with their finger.



November 13, 2006

There was a big article about Africa in the Travel section yesterday and I tried to locate the country that Asante (the new guy at work) is from. I look on the map figuring I will be able to easily pick it out, but whoa! There are a whole bunch of countries whose name starts with G. Is is Ghana? Guinea? Guzortek? Turns out it is Gambia, 11,000 square kilometers (tiny), surrounded by Senegal, former British Crown Colony, gained independence in 1964, still part of the British Commonwealth. There are a bunch of old forts there from when it was part of the British Empire. It is a narrow strip of land on either side of the Gambia river. The country is as wide as British warships could fire shells from the river.

Ghana is also a former British Colony, became independent in 1960.


November 22, 2006

One of the speakers at my Toastmasters meeting today gave a speech entitled "Custer had it coming". Bob Fineburg, the speaker, got this title from a bumper sticker he saw when he was in college. One of his professors sent him out to interview an old Indian (Native American) chief, who claimed to have been in the battle at Little Big Horn, where Custer was killed. The battle was in 1876, the interview was in 1976. In 1976, you could still get to the site of the battle. Now it is closed to everyone, including Native Americans, because of looting: people digging up bones and bullets and taking them away.

The grass at the site is called greasy-grassy because it looks like it is coated with grease.

After the battle the Indians scalped the dead soldiers, except for Custer. For Custer, they drove sticks in his ears, so that when he got to heaven, or the "happy hunting grounds" or wherever his spririt was going, they would know that he did not listen, which evidently was the Indians biggest complaint against him.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Johnny builds another computer

Johnny put together a computer this weekend using some parts from his previous gaming system and some parts from some old systems I drug home from work. It wasn't enough to just bolt it together: it had to be modified, for improved cooling, you know. The case had two places, one in front and one in back, for mounting auxiliary cooling fans. The rack for the three and a half inch disk drives was a separate piece that could be removed. Johnny wanted extra cooling for the disk drives, so we bent some tabs and drilled some holes and mounted this disk drive rack to the floor of the case. This positioned it right in back of the fan mounted to the front panel.

Johnny also had some chrome wire fan grills that he wanted to use. The case had grills that were integral to the case made by punching a bunch of holes in the sheet metal. We cut these grills out by using an electric drill to cut the strips-of-metal-between-adjacent-holes (there is a term for this but I do not remember what it is). Then we used a small diameter (one inch) grindstone mounted in a high speed (three or four thousand RPM) electric drill to grind away jagged edges and then to remove the remaining metal to make the hole full size. We should have taken some pictures. It would make this easier to explain. A video with accurate sound would give a realistic idea of what all was involved. Grinding was very noisy. We wore the grindstone down to nothing.

Before we started all this drilling and cutting, Johnny removed all the electronic components from the computer case, including the power supply and the front panel switches. Little bits of steel can ruin sensitive electronics. After we were done with all the metal work, we used the air compressor to clean the case. We covered the floor of our work area (in the garage) with metal bits. I swept them up, it was quite a pile.

Johnny also spent considerable time sorting out the electronic components. We had three motherboards and three disk drives, all apparently good, but not all combinations would work together. Some motherboards would run the BIOS, but would not boot from any disk. Some disks would format and test fine, but no motherboard could boot from them. We finally ended up using the newest, and most powerful motherboard with one of two 80GB disk drives we had. We could not get our second 80GB disk to boot. It tests fine otherwise, so it is providing extra storage.

I was talking to Jack at lunch today about the mods we made to the computer case this weekend and I realized we probably should have wiped out the case with a damp cloth when were done, to pick up any grit that was left over from the grinding. Blowing it out with air was probably adequate, but the next time we do this, we should try wiping it off and see if we get any more grit.

Monday, November 6, 2006


Drove the car-car to work today, as it needed service and the Chrysler dealer is a short walk from where I work.

I almost lost control of the car on the corner coming off Highway 26 onto 217. Same place where I came upon a Honda facing the wrong direction a month or so ago. He had spun out, but was undamaged. Everybody stopped to let him turn around and proceed. I blamed it on poor driving ability.

This morning's incident made me rethink that. I was a little irritated with all the doofi around me, and I was trying to pass one goober brain who had pulled in front of me, but I didn't think I was going that fast. But about halfway through the corner, the rear end started sliding and for a second there I thought I was going to lose it completely, but I got it under control, but just for a second, and then it started sliding again. Not as bad the second time, but it was still a little unnerving. I am thinking there must be something wrong with that corner. I tried the brakes when I got off the freeway and I was able to really jam them on without sliding. So be careful out there.