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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Friday Night Football

Glencoe had their homecoming game last night. They won handily against the Century Jaguars, another Hillsboro Team. It is quite the social event. I actually knew a few of the people there. There were some spectacular plays and the opposing team did manage to score, so it was not a complete route. The game was played at Hare field, which has an artificial surface courtesy of the Coca-Cola company. It cost on the order of a million dollars. It is a little too clean for football, but being as this is Oregon, the alternative is a mud-pit.

One of the stunts the cheerleaders do is four of them will hold another about shoulder high. This fifth girl is standing up supported by their hands. Simultaneously she will fold up, the four will release her and then catch her when she falls. One of the four supporters is directly behind the top girl and when she comes down her head passes directly in front of this girls face. I have seen them do this dozens of times and it really looks like an accident waiting to happen. They seem to know what they are doing because, so far, so good.

I do not understand the marching band. Perhaps I am just out of touch, but it strikes me as a little absurd. They bring out this big percussion section, full of marimba and chimes and what not, and park it on the sidelines directly in front of the stands. They put up a six foot tall stand for the leader who conducts the whole show like an orchestra. They carry a few enormous props out onto the field. It all strikes me as a little silly, but it would be all right if there was any music. I hear the occasional drum and sometimes a blare of horns, but for the most part it is entirely inaudible.

I am of the opinion that a marching band should play John Philip Sousa marches, they should have a large number of loud brass horns and a bunch of drums. They should come out and march the length of the field, and maybe do some military style parade ground turns or something, but mostly play loud music that can be heard by people sitting in the stands. This namby-pamby swirling around playing essentially inaudible music is boring and a waste of time. I am sure I am wrong about this, as I am wrong about many social things, but I just do not understand it.

I wore my big, old style eyeglasses and my official Glencoe baseball hat. I wear the hat to keep the glare of the floodlights out of my eyes. Problem is my glasses are so large that they interfere with the hat. The only way I can get the brim of the hat low enough to block the lights is to tilt my head, which does not work so well. I do not know what I will do. I am unlikely to spend money to buy a new smaller pair of eyeglasses just because of this problem. Perhaps I can find a different hat that will work better.

There was a large guy sitting in front of us who was the proto-typical sports fan, cheering when our team did well, yelling at the refs when he didn't like their call. A very enthusiastic fellow. I am not allowed to behave like that, it embarrasses my wife. Of course, since I have no kids on the team, I am not that enthusiastic. Turns out this guy's son is one of the quarterbacks, and the guy sitting next to me was the other quarterback's father.

Saturday Morning Run

This morning the kids caught a 7AM bus to Portland Meadows for the Nike Pre-Nationals Cross Country Invitational. Kathryn set a new personal best, but she is not a contender. Supposedly this meet is only for those people who can run 3 miles in less than 25 minutes, as the races are 25 minutes apart. The course is on the infield of the Portland Meadows horse racing oval. It crosses over itself at least once, and this cross is just after the start and just before the end. Kathryn was the last Division 4 girl to make it across this intersection before the gang of boys from the next race came storming through. I am sure that all those behind her were delayed in getting across the intersection.

It was a little strange being on the infield of this course. The track was graded and smooth, the stands and scoreboards were all there, but no horses to be seen anywhere. Being as it is Saturday, I would expect to see horses getting ready for a race. Of course, if that was happening, we would not be there. Doing a little research, there is no racing going on now, but it might resume in a couple of weeks. I wonder what is going on. Could it be that the Indian casinos are cutting into the horse racing business?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Shimano 7 Speed Cassette

I have an old 21 speed hybrid bicycle. I was keeping my daughter company while she was out running at Rood Ridge Park a couple of weeks ago and the chain broke. It was an old bike and it hadn't seen much use lately. My younger son has taken an interest in bicycles lately, so I thought I would show him how to replace the chain.

Whenever you buy a new chain for a bike with a derailleur, you should replace the high speed sprocket (the smallest one) on the rear axle, as it tends to get the most wear (being the smallest). When it gets worn it likes to slip, which is annoying, and it also causes the chain to wear faster. I had a new sprocket and I bought a new chain and we set to work. Got the wheel off. Now to remove the special nut that holds the sprockets on. This requires a special wrench, but the wrench will only go into the recess about one sixteenth of an inch, and it will not hold. Try as I might I cannot get it to hold. Whenever I put pressure on it, it jumps out. Finally conclude that the wrench must be too worn to work, even though it has not been used more than half a dozen times. I am not sure what the deal is here. It has been a while, like five or ten years, since I did any work on my bikes, but I don't remember it being this difficult. Perhaps I didn't work on this one, perhaps it was my other bike and though it also has a seven cog cassette, perhaps it is made differently.

So today I went and bought a new wrench. I was afraid it was going to be $25 or so, but it was only $8. The local Bike 'N Hike had a whole selection of them, and more importantly, a guy who could tell which one I needed. Brought the new wrench home and attacked the sprockets once more. No better. What is going on? It now looks like it is not engaging even a sixteenth of an inch, it looks more like a thirty-second. Do we have to pull the axle out?!?!?! No other option at this point, so out it comes, and naturally the ball bearings start falling out on the floor. What a nuisance. But look! The wrench slides way in now, engaging perhaps a quarter of an inch. No problem now getting the old sprockets off. Check things out, put it back together. Do we have all the balls for the bearings? Pull the tool chest away from the wall to recover one errant one but that is all. Hmmm, we might be missing one. Put it back together anyway. Does not feel like there is one missing. We shall see.

Adjusting the bearing cones is a trick. There is a big rubber seal on one side that is blocking access to the cone. Deal with this by putting the wrench on the cone first and then tightening the lock nut with its' attendant seal. Once the bearing are adjusted and the lock nuts tightened, we can pull the cone wrench out, and seal seals up the hole.

Putting the chain on was a snap, literally. Used to be you needed a pin press to work with chains. This chain has a two piece master link that simply clicks together. The hardest part was threading the chain through the derailleur and then holding the two ends together while I installed the master link. Took it for a test ride and everything seems to be working okay. Except the handlebars, but that is going to have to wait for another time.

Plastic Drinking Glasses

We still have some glass drinking glasses in our house, but I hardly ever use them. Given a choice I will almost always use a plastic drinking glass, mostly because they are lighter. Also, you don't have to worry about them breaking if you drop one. You still have to clean up the spilled liquid, but you don't have to worry about picking up all the little shards of broken glass. A Correll cereal bowl broke in our house the other day. Correll ware is a practically unbreakable ceramic, but occasionally they do break, and when they do they shatter much like glass. I swept up the broken pieces, and then wiped up the area with a damp paper towel. Lastly I used my foot to sweep the floor to see if I could detect any little fragments. I heard a scraping noise, and when I checked the bottom of my foot I found a minute spec of broken ceramic. I did not feel it with my foot, but I was able to hear it being dragged across the vinyl floor. At this point I said good enough and left it.

Later on I come into the kitchen and there are series of red blotches on the floor. Looks like blood. Somebody found another piece of broken cereal bowl, but who? Gus, the cat, that's who. He had left little bloody paw prints across the kitchen and half way across the family room carpet. Bad kitty! It wasn't a bad cut. We checked to see if the shard was still stuck in his foot. It wasn't, so we banned him to the garage until he decided to quit bleeding.

But back to the plastics. They do have a couple of problems. We had some crystal clear plastic glasses that looked very nice for a couple of months, but then they started developing cracks. The cracks did not leak, but they proliferated and sort of detracted from their appearance. Now we have some softer, cloudier plastics and they have not changed their appearance at all.

The other problem has to do with dishwashers. Most glass glasses have a flat bottom. Most plastic glasses have a rim around the bottom edge. When they are washed in the dishwasher, the glass glasses drain dry, but the rim on the bottom of the plastic glasses holds a little pool of water. This means either: A) extra fooling around to get them dry, or B) putting them away wet, neither of which is really a satisfactory option.

I think the plastic glasses have this rim so they will not slide when you set them on the table. They are so light that even a small amount of water will enable them to slide. Glass glasses are heavy enough to penetrate a film of water. The rim on the plastic glasses enables them to penetrate the film of liquid to make contact with the table and not go sliding into your lap.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Hillary vs the GOP

I like Hillary. I am not sure why, perhaps subconsciously she reminds me of my mother. I am a little concerned that if she wins the Democratic nomination, she will not be able to win the election simply because she is a woman. I would vote for her, but I will vote for whoever the Democrats nominate. I am totally repulsed by the Republicans. But I do have to give them, or at least Karl Rove, credit for being able to seek out the lowest common denominator and get their candidate elected, or close enough that they could steal the election. I mean if a large part of the country hadn't been sold on George W. Bush, the piddling few thousand votes that they ended up squabbling over would not have made any difference.

I am really surprised to see Barack Obama even running as a candidate. I am glad he is. It shows this country has made some progress. He would not be able to win the election. Our country is still too racist for that.

Those are the only two candidates that have made any impression on me. I try to avoid the news, but I subscribe to the paper and I see the headlines in passing on my way to the comics, and I the see the television news in passing while I am flipping channels on my way to the next crime drama. Occasionally I will read something in a news magazine while I am waiting in a doctors office. So I am wondering what I am picking up on that causes me to notice these two? I suppose the novelty of someone who is not a white male is "newsworthy", so they are reported on more than the other candidates.

When I was in school my teachers used to exhort us to look into the issues, study up, read. And I used to try to do that. But I found that the more I read and studied, the murkier the issues got. So now I just pretty much go with whatever the Democrats are promoting. Their beliefs, such as they are, seem to align more with my ideals than the naked greed I see on the Republican side.

Update December 2016 replaced missing picture.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Full Size Car

When we flew to Chicago last month, we reserved a full size car at the rental agency. I was expecting something like a Ford or Chevy sedan. The biggest car they had was a Dodge Charger, and a Charger is no longer a full size car, at least not the way they measured full size cars thirty years ago. They had a little placemat-like chart on the counter to help you guesstimate how big a car you needed. A Charger, by their estimate would hold five people, which was enough, but it would only hold two bags. As we had seven bags, I could see that this was not going to work. The only vehicle they had that was any bigger was a Dodge Durango. I am thinking: "What? One of those behemoths?". But that's what we got, and it was tight fit. Bags packed to the ceiling, and a forty dollar a day surcharge. But what you gonna do? Got places to go, people to carry, so we load up and off we go.

Ugly vehicle to my way of thinking, big chrome headlight and taillight fixtures, but it is practically new, everything works, and it runs smoothly. Best feature was the automatic passenger window switch. Power windows on the drivers door often have a "one touch" automatic down feature. Press the down button once, and the window opens all the way. Up until now I had only seen it on the drivers window. Here they have it on the front passenger's window as well. Nice when you first get in the car after it has been sitting out in the sun for a while.

It turned out the forty dollar a day surcharge wasn't, or else the original rental was close to free. They did have more paperwork about insurance that was a nuisance, which caused me to walk around the car before I took off. I think this must be because of the scumbags who bang into things and try to claim "it was like that when I picked it up".

Monday, September 17, 2007


I like to go out to eat. It is mostly a matter of convenience for me. I am not particularly interested in food or cooking, but I do enjoy a well prepared meal occasionally. Like the old song says: "after you've been eating steak for a long time, beans, beans taste fine". I go out to eat with friends twice a week, and we will get take-out at home about once a week, and go out for dinner maybe once a month.

When I do got out to eat, I enjoy being able to sit there for the entire meal without having to get up for anything. Everything is brought to me. For this I have the waiters to thank. (Is "waiters" a gender neutral term now? Like actor? Me, I still refer to female wait people as waitresses, but when writing, it is certainly easier to use a gender neutral term instead having to specify male and/or female subjects, that is unless you get diverted into a discussion like this one.) So I try to leave an adequate tip. If I leave cash, I think 15% is adequate. If I use a credit card, I try to leave 20%. Why the discrepancy? Because of the evil IRS. If I pay the tip in cash, I expect the waiter/waitress to put the money directly into their pocket and not to inform anyone about it. If I put the tip on a credit card, well, that goes through the bookkeeping system, and the feds will surely find out about it and tax it accordingly. Which means if you want the tip to have the same impact on the wait person, you need to leave enough to cover the taxes.

Wait people have a hard job and I appreciate it. Even if the service is not that great, I try to leave an adequate tip. If there is money to be made people will be drawn to it, and when you have more people to choose from, you can pick and choose which ones you want, and hopefully they will be the better ones.

The only problem I have with waiters is they don't bring my check soon enough. Oftentimes I am done with my meal and ready to go, but there is no check and no sign of the waiter. You would think I would learn to ask for the check when they deliver the food, but I have been going to restaurants for a long time and I hardly ever remember. But this does not happen very often. It happens most often in busy bars. I suppose that is understandable because people tend to linger in bars, so what's the big hurry on delivering the check?

Electrical Power Connections

I had a wire nut come loose once. It was in a box at the peak of the garage where the floodlight is mounted. At first I thought the bulb had blown, but after all the hassle entailed in changing it, I discovered, no, there was no problem with the bulb. So I got to climb up the ladder again and remove the light fixture from the box. It was not that high up, but when I haven't been up a ladder for a while, it is extremely nerve racking. I fell once and I don't want to do it again. Anyway, pulled the light fixture, pulled the Romex back inside the attic, hooked up the light and it worked fine. I could only conclude that the wire nut had worked loose, probably assisted by alternating extremes in temperature (such extremes we have here in Hillsboro).

When I worked at Del Monte in Oakland (thirty years ago, for one tomato season), the electrician there always used screws and nuts to connect wires to motors, and then wrapped the connections with layers of electrical tape. The motors operated in a very wet environment so he was constantly having to change out motors, bring them into his shop and dry them in the oven.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Space Elevator

I don't think we will see a space elevator any time soon. Too much material would have to put in orbit, and we don't have a frequent flyer to carry the load. We can put bits and pieces up there, but the space program has not been getting the funding it needs to step up to the task. But eventually, say in a hundred years or so, we may get around to it. Sooner if it looks like someone from Asia is close to acquiring the capability. That could be China, Japan or India.

When someone gets around to putting one up, I am thinking we might want to use multiple strands separated by feet or meters, and we would want to be constantly renewing them. Any strands connecting a satellite in geo-synchronous orbit to the earth would be under constant assault by orbital debris. I see no way of protecting these thin strands from impacts with bits of old spacecraft, so we are just going to have to deal with constant degradation and periodic failure.

I envision having multiple strands that loop around pulleys at the top and bottom. You might have ten, a hundred or even a thousand strands of carbon fiber ribbon. The pulleys would drive the elevator and would constantly be feeding new strands into the mix and pulling old degraded and/or broken strands out. Elevator cars would latch onto all of the strands going up and be hauled to orbit. If one strand out of 100 fails, it will be no big deal. When cars reach the station, the could release their grip on the upward bound strands, transfer their cargo and then latch onto the downward bound strands. Mechanical engineers will have a field day with this.

Ideally, we would be able to generate new ribbon strands at the same velocity that the elevator travels, maybe 200 mph. If we cannot do that, we will need to be generating several strands and then splicing them end to end. That is going to be a good trick.

Getting this whole thing started is going to be a project in and of itself, but we manage to get ocean going ships going. How much is a space elevator going to weigh? Say a carbon fiber ribbon weighs one gram per foot. Then a mile of ribbon will weigh about ten pounds (5,280 feet per mile divided by 454 grams per pound). 25,000 miles of ribbon would weigh 250,000 pounds or 125 tons (2,000 pounds per ton). I think some railroad locomotives weigh almost that much. Big trucks fully loaded weigh 40 tons. Of course I could be off on my weight estimate by an order of magnitude either way, but I think it is something we can deal with.

Pharaohs, Part 2

I have a couple of pet theories about Egypt.
  1. In ancient times, before the pyramid building craze got started, say 10,000 years ago, Egypt was covered with trees. Then the Pharaohs came along with their crazy pyramid schemes. Some smart aleck came up with a way to make concrete, so instead of having to cut all those blocks of stone, you could just stir up a batch of concrete and your army of hod carriers could haul it up the hill to dump it in the form. Problem is that making concrete requires heat. Western Europe got into a glass making craze in the middles ages and destroyed many of their forests in their quest to fuel the glass making fires. I think a similar thing happened in Egypt. Their pyramid craze went on for thousands of years, causing them to search out all of the firewood in North Africa. The were so hungry for firewood they even dug up all the stumps, and that is why Egypt and the rest of North Africa is a desert today.
  2. This one is even better. All those hieroglyphics found on the walls of the tombs? They are actually advanced flat panel displays that were frozen when the power went south. Ancient Egyptians actually had an advanced semiconductor / nanotechnology industry. Silicon is made from sand (sand, and most rock, is made of oxidised silicon). They used to have an alphabet and a written language, but then they invented computers, and some prehistoric Bill Gates came up with Windows and those stupid icons, and the foolish Egyptians liked the pretty pictures so much they started using those and abandoned their alphabet and their written language and relied entirely on their pretty icons displayed on their advanced flat panel displays. Abandoning their alphabet was the downfall of their civilization. All the technical knowledge was lost, since no one could read the old documents anymore. All they had to do was point and click. Then one day the power failed and that was it for the pharaohs. And where are the remains of their fancy computers? Well computer chips are made from silicon, and silicon oxidizes and becomes sand. And what does Egypt have a surplus of? Sand! What more proof do you need?

Thursday, September 13, 2007


I think the Pharaohs may have been onto something. Our Protestant work ethic is trying to turn us all into shopkeepers, and most men are not suited to being shop keepers. War, especially for young men, is more their style. Primitive warfare is probably best, people are killed individually. Modern warfare where you can kill thousands with one blow is a mechanical aberration.

Look at ancient Egypt. That civilization survived for thousands of years and I think one of the key elements was that they kept the population occupied doing hard manual labor. Go out and break rocks all day, and you are too tired to cause much trouble at night. And it was for the glory of god! Or so they believed.

I am thinking maybe we need something like a pyramid project here in the U.S. Something that would require hard manual labor from a million or so people. Maybe a road, or a bridge, or a dam. Or maybe a pyramid! Give people some purpose, something to do besides meth.


Something, probably fluorescent bulbs, got me started on the ozone layer. Supposedly, ozone in the stratosphere blocks most of the UV (Ultra-Violet) light from the sun and keeps us all from frying to a frizzle. But there is not a great deal of ozone up there, we are talking parts per million. And ozone is constantly being created and destroyed by this same UV light, at least according to some folks. Other people say ozone is created by lightning strikes and is wafted upwards into the stratosphere. If this is the case, why is there more ozone in the stratosphere where there is no weather and therefor no lightning, than there is in the troposphere where there is lighting? Okay, ozone is special and is blown upwards by special ozone blowing forces.

But if ozone is being created by UV light from the sun, then wouldn't the creation be absorbing as much, or more, UV light than the destruction?

Ozone is created when you have a bunch of O2 molecules, and some of them get blasted apart by high energy photons (lighting, electrical arcs, UV radiation). The free oxygen molecules latch onto non-blasted O2 molecules and form ozone, or O3. Now ozone is unstable, except it is long lived in the troposphere (on the order of half an hour). Sooner or later it will break down by itself into an O2 molecule and a free oxygen atom, which will search out another free oxygen atom and combine to form another molecule of O2. This breakdown can be accelerated by being blasted by a high energy photon from (what? again?) UV light! Breakdown can also be hurried along by the presence of chlorine (which is also what makes bleach so powerful).

I used to know that ozone had a distinct smell, now I am not so sure. Some places claim it does have an odor, some places claim it is something else that is created when ozone is created that smells. And it might be lethal, though how you would get enough to kill you seems to be a bit of a trick. I suspect at ground level it would breakdown before you could breath enough to hurt yourself. But don't try it on my say so.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Fluorescent Flicker

So I have a dozen fluorescent fixtures in my house. The ballast in one of them failed a couple of years ago, and looking at the difficulty in obtaining and replacing the ballast, I bought a whole new light fixture, which in turn meant buying all new bulbs because the new fixtures use T-8 bulbs (the eight means the number of eighths of an inch in diameter, so T-8's are 8/8th's, or one inch in diameter) and the old bulbs are T-12's which draw more power, so you can't use T-12's in the new fixtures.

Now two more fixtures have failed and I have half a dozen spare T-12 bulbs, so I think I will go to the trouble to obtain new ballasts and install them. First place I go is Google to study up, and I come across this really bizarre statement in Wikipedia:
Flicker at mains frequency is more noticeable in the peripheral vision than it is in the center of gaze.
I would really like to know why that is. Someday I may even look into it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Death Penalty

I am opposed to the death penalty. Now, don't get me wrong, I am sure there are people who deserve to die. What I am opposed to is the way our justice system arrives at the decision to kill someone. Half the time they have wrong guy. All the time it takes millions of dollars in lawyers fees and court room costs. Of course it does keep reporters employed reporting on these shenanigans, and it does keep people entertained hearing about these court room circuses, but I am sure reporters can find something else to report on that would keep the masses entertained.

What about the supposed deterrent effect generated by having a death penalty? I think we can do more for society by redirecting our resources. For instance we could do something about prisons. Take the crazy people out, put them in houses dedicated to dealing with crazy people. Relieve the overcrowding in prisons. Try some real rehabilitation instead of warehousing.

And then there is the whole drug business. As long as we have laws against drugs and we continue to enforce them, we are going to have problems with them. The sooner we legalize drugs and start taxing them, the sooner we can send all the trigger happy cops over to the middle east, or whatever hot spot is in need of some additional turmoil.

Note that I am not saying all the cops. I suspect that some people are drawn to law enforcement by the opportunities for violent confrontation, and I suspect the DEA has a bigger attraction than most. Now the way we are running the "War on Drugs", this is probably the kind of people we need in law enforcement, but I am totally opposed to the "War on Drugs". I think it is stupid and misguided waste of everyone's time and energy. The only thing positive is that it keeps a fair number of people involved in hostile cat and mouse games. Should the "War on Drugs" ever be called off, these people are going to be out of a job. Oh, they might pick up jobs as shop keepers or truck drivers, but that is not really the same as planning an assault with automatic weapons, is it?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Digital Observatory

It just occurred to me that it might be feasible to build an astronomical telescope, or any kind of telescope for that matter, by assembling an array of digital cameras. Instead of building a giant mirror to gather as much light as possible, spread out an array of 10,000 cameras. Each lens is tiny, but add a bunch of them together and you can get a large amount of light gathering power. Of course there are a few problems with this idea. I doubt whether the lenses that cameras come with are suitable for this application, but building thousands a small lenses is something camera companies know how to do. I would hope it would be cheaper than building one giant mirror. Then you would need some sophisticated software to combine the digital images from all these cameras into one usable image. And lastly, it might take more like a million cameras to duplicate the light gathering power of one large telescope. Still, it might be worth looking into.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Plastic Pelletizer

With all the recycling going on, and the difficulty in recycling plastics, I was thinking that what every home needs is a plastic pelletizer. You dump whatever old plastic items you have in the top, the machine munches, mashes, heats, and eventually beats all the plastic into little pellets, which it deposits in a bucket. When the bucket is full, you put it out on the curb with all your other recycling.

This machine would take all your old plastic items: milk jugs, yogurt tubs, cellophane plastic wrap, old CD cases, shrink wrap, whatever. Grind them up and melt them into a plastic goo and then extrude this goo into little plastic pellets.

I am sure there are numerous problems with making this idea into a real device, but I as an idea, I really like it.