Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest
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Friday, February 29, 2008


I had lunch with a friend of mine (Mark, not Marc) today. We were talking about cosmology and quasars and red-shift and dark matter and all that. Neither one us of cares much for the dark-matter theory, not that we had any theoretical basis for our doubts, just our bullshit detectors giving off little warning noises. Than he tells me about Halton Arp who agrees with our view. He actually works in this field and has some basis for his views. Needless to say, he has been excommunicated by the American astrophysicists. Then we move on to epicycles.

Used to be, before Copernicus, that the Ptolemaic (the P is silent) view of the universe prevailed. You know the old story, the Earth is the center of the universe and everything revolves around us. Followers of Ptolemy (the P is still silent) had devised a complicated mechanical model using epicycles to describe how the planets moved. They had been working on this model for centuries, and as time past discrepancies were discovered, and each discrepancy was answered with another epicycle. Their model was so good that when Copernicus came along the Ptolemaic model was more accurate. Problem was that Copernicus assumed the planets were following circular orbits instead of elliptical. Eventually Copernicus was proved right, but it required a fundamental shift in the way people thought about our solar system (at least among people who thought about it at all).

So Mark and I, and Halton Arp and several other people, think we have a similar situation here. The establishment has a very detailed and fairly accurate, but completely wrong theory about how the universe works. There is another view (undoubtedly correct), but it is not going to get a hearing until there is proof, and there is not going to be proof until supporters of this heresy are allowed access to the equipment they need to prove it. It's the old catch-22.

As Mark says: If you take "Dark Matter", translate it to Latin, and read it backwards it spells "epicycle".

Update September 2016 replaced missing picture.
Update February 2021 replaced dead link.


Someone sent me a story about the French TGV setting a new world speed record. It is almost a year old, but hey, it's still cool. It is also a little scary. Something like that leaves the tracks and it is going to be like an airliner crash. I thought this was interesting:
"The train traveled almost as fast as a World War II Spitfire fighter at top speed."
My wife & I rode the TGV from London to Paris when we went to Europe umpteen years ago. It was shortly after the chunnel was opened. It was comfortable, quiet and smooth and pretty boring. I read most of the way. Did see a lot of French countryside. Looked a lot like Oregon or Iowa. Lots of farms and farmland.

Update December 2016 replaced missing picture. TGV record speed: 357 MPH. Spitfire top speed: 363 MPH.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Photo Credits

I really like pictures, and since I figured out how to place them in my blog I have been using more and more of them. But with any new technology comes new problems. My recent post about Seattle had more pictures than text, which kind of screwed up the formatting. So I asked my family for suggestions and they pointed me to a couple of web sites. On one of them I learned about the <"p"> tag (paragraph). I tried it out and it helps. It didn't fix all the problems, but it at least the page is passable now, without a lot extra white space. I think if I am going to do much more of this I am going to need a second monitor.

Most of the pictures I have been using came from the internet. I used them without bothering to give credit to those who provided them. I figured that my use probably fell under the "fair use" category, meaning no one is going to notice. I would not mind giving credit for these pictures (not all are photos) if it was not such a pain.

I will typically do a search for an image, download a bunch that look promising, and then go through the pile and pick out the one that looks best. By that time, the origin of the picture has been lost. Oh, it could be recovered, but what a pain.

What we need is some way to attach credit/copyright information to a picture so that it follows it around. I know there are some people out there who would go in and remove the credit info just because they could, but I am sure there are a lot of people who use pictures who would be happy to have the credit info attached.

Oh, the picture? It was the best one I found when I searched for "photo credits". And it even has the owners name watermarked on it. Watermarking is okay here, but I usually avoid it.

Update December 2016 replaced missing picture.

Financial Hype

"Market Capitalization" is a bad term. It is used to mean the value of a company according to its' current stock price. Capital is a quantity of money gathered together for specific purpose, like making the purchases necessary to start a company. A company may sell stock to raise capital for new projects, or to retire debt.

Once the company sells stock, it no longer derives any benefit from any increase in that stock's value. People who buy and sell stock may derive some gain from its' sale, but the company that originally issued it does not, except perhaps some enhancement to its' reputation.

"Market Valuation" would be a better term, as it reflects how much the company is worth on the open market. However, even this can be misleading: without some research it is hard to tell how much of the stock is actually being sold. If 90% of the stock is held by one person with no intention of selling, then the value of the 10% that is on the market does not have much relation to the value of the company.

Bill Gates and Microsoft are a bad example of this. Bill owns most of the stock. The stock that is owned by other people goes up and down, and a lot of people have made a lot of money off of it. But what would happen if Bill decided to cash in a chunk of his stock? I suspect the price would plummet. So although he is rich, it is mostly just on paper. Take away his Microsoft holdings and he is just another billionaire.

Update December 2016 replaced missing picture.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Red GT Dream

I had another car dream this morning. I was driving a red GT. It was something like a Lamborghini, it had a similar angular style. I drove into a campus of modern glass and steel office buildings. It was kind of like a college campus, but it was a casino. There was no place to park. I was driving at a polite parking lot pace. I drove around on the walkways until I saw a group of couches and lounge chairs arranged on the grass outside one of the buildings. I used the car to push one of the couches off the grass and onto the sidewalk and then I parked the car where the couch had been. I got out and walked around to the other side of a partition and sat in one of the lounge chairs and started to worry about someone stealing something out of the car.

Update December 2016 replaced missing picture.

Seattle Masonry

Took John and Kathryn to Seattle this weekend to take another look at the University of Washington. Kathryn has applied and been accepted, so we thought it might be good idea to take another look before she makes up her mind on where she wants to go. It was an easy trip. We drove up Sunday afternoon, spent the night at the Westin, toured the campus Monday morning and drove home that afternoon. Didn't try to cram as much as possible into our short stay, only had a couple of things scheduled. Walked around downtown for a bit Sunday afternoon, saw a seemingly high proportion of bums, or maybe that is just the suburbanites jaundiced view. Had dinner at PF Chang's, dessert at Coldstone. Basically the same thing we did on our last trip here in May.

The Westin gave us a room in the North tower facing Southwest so we could see Macy's (the old Bon Marche), the harbor, the docks and West Seattle. We were on the 39th floor this time which put us just about the same height as the top of the South tower.

Kathryn had homework and she wanted to watch the Oscars. I cannot abide talking heads so John and I went to see the movie "Jumper" at the Cinerama, which was only two blocks away. I thought it was the best movie I have ever seen. It better be, it was the most expensive movie I have ever seen ($10.25). John thought it was terrible.

I read a lot of Science Fiction (see postscript) and I have read a few teleportation stories, but this one took the premise and ran with it in a direction I hadn't seen before. Of course, the business of "Paladins" versus "Jumpers" makes it very similar to the standard vampire storyline. Still, if you can "accept" teleportation, why not throw in a few anti-teleportation fanatics? The best part was teleporting the double decker bus from London into the middle of the desert. I know it was in the previews, but it was better in context. It was really cool, and I enjoyed it.

The Cinerama theater is amazing. It is an old, huge movie theater, right on the edge of downtown. It is not old like in Victorian / Gothic ornateness, more like old from the dawn of the space age. It's got that 70's modern style to it. And it is huge, it even has a balcony.

Monday morning we had breakfast in the hotel "cafe". Not really a cafe, more of a buffet, and ridiculously expensive, but it was easy and they did have a fabulous selection, or maybe I was just hungry. I had a bowl of fresh fruit and a croissanwich and tea. I did not really need to eat so much.

Drove to the University and parked in their massive underground garage. The sign at the front says full, but we are already in the driveway so we drive on in. Turns out it is only the carpool area that is full (90 cents a day). There is plenty of space in the full price area ($11 a day).

Walked across 15th Ave to Schmitz Hall to join the tour. There were only about a dozen people in our group. Guide tells us that during spring break they get as many as 150 people per tour. Most of their visitors come from Oregon, Washington and Alaska.

The tour takes an hour and a half. It is cool outside, but fortunately it is not raining. We walk and then stop and the guide talks. Occasionally we will walk through a building. One building we went through is the old physics building, now renamed "Mary Gates" hall in honor of the Bill Gate's mother and the massive donation he made that paid for renovating and expanding this old building.

We stopped in Red Square, so called because it is paved with bricks that used to be red. The guide claims the name has no political overtones, but you would not expect the University to let him say anything else, would you? After several years exposure to the weather the bricks are more brown than red. There are three tall squarish brick columns here. We noticed them on our last visit and wondered why? I mean no doors, no windows, no apparent use. They appeared to be another piece of stupid modern art. Turns out one of the columns provides ventilation for the underground parking garage. Some one decided one column standing there all by itself would look dumb so they built the other two to give it moral support. Anyway, there is some excuse for these eye catchers.

There was another piece of modern art in this square. A metal pyramid with an upside down, broken obelisk impacting the point. It would have been much cooler if the points were just touching, but there really wouldn't be any way to do that, would there? Well, at least not without adding some sort of external support.

The University has some really ornate stone buildings. They look like they could be ancient European cathedrals or castles or something. They are really quite elaborate. Modern stuff is really hideous in comparison. I suppose it is the pressure of economics. Maybe if we weren't pouring so much money into the military-industrial rathole, we could afford to build something a little nicer. Actually, there is no maybe about it, we could afford a whole bunch of better stuff if we weren't flushing all our money down the drain.

Looking down on Macy's department store from our hotel window, I noticed that the stone facing on the upper three stories was a slightly darker color than the facing on the lower three stories. Evidently this building was expanded sometime in the past. I never noticed this difference in coloration before, or if I did, it did not register. Now I am thinking why didn't they use the same stone as they used originally? Surely they have records of where it came from. Then I realized that maybe they did, it is just that the lower stories have been exposed to the weather longer and so the surface color of the stone has changed.

The builders had a similar problem when they expanded the old physics building into Mary Gates Hall. Here the effect was a little more difficult to detect as the building was faced with bricks of several different colors. Some places the colored bricks formed a pattern, in other places they seemed to have been randomized. You had to look closely to detect the difference. The old part is on the right side of the picture, the new is on the left. Earlier I thought I could see the difference in the photo, now I can't.

Denny Hall, the oldest building on campus, has a newish cupola / bell tower on top. The building is around 100 years old. The bell in the cupola is the orignal, but the cupola itself was replaced about five years ago. It is made of copper and has turned a uniform shade of dark brown. It has lost the luster of new copper, but it has not yet aquired the green patina of long time exposure.

Gas prices are going up, so I was pleased to discover that our mid-sized Japanese SUV (Mitsubishi Endeavor) was getting 30 MPG at 80 MPH.

We saw this tank on a trailer on the way home.

Postscript (I would have called this a sidebar, but I am not going to spend the time right now to figure out how to format a sidebar on this blog.): How do you say "a lot" without using the phrase "a lot"? A great deal? Quite a bit? Vast quantities? More that the average bear? My English teachers all frowned on using the phrase "a lot". It is vague to the point of being meaningless, but so are all the alternatives, unless you want to nail it down to how many books you read in a specific time period. Sometimes I will go for months, or even years, without reading any Science Fiction, but that is usually because I haven't happened across any. I seldom if ever find any in the bargain department at Barnes & Noble and new paperbacks are eight dollars! The last new paperback I bought was by David Weber, one of my old favorites, but I had to put it down after two chapters. He has gone off into this byzantine political nightmare and that just doesn't interest me.

Since we have gone off on a tangent about Science Fiction, I will mention that we stopped at the Magus Bookstore after lunch. I picked up two old stories ($3 each) by Anne McCaffrey, one of favorite authors. These two were predecessors to "Sassinak". I think I now have the complete series, so I can read it in order.

Update August 2016 replaced missing pictures.

Update December 2019 changed Eclipse to Endeavor when I realized I had the car model name wrong. Yea gods, how did that happen?

GMC Suburban Water Pump Replacement - Notes

Update: Part one of this story here.

This was a real shade tree mechanic type operation. Jack's Suburban was parked on the dirt driveway in front of his house in amongst the two dozen monster trees in his front yard. The ground was covered with tree litter making it a little more difficult to find any parts, like screws, that we dropped. We used a pallet of flagstones that were destined for the patio in the back yard, but being as they are heavy, they haven't made it there yet. It was not the best of tables. If we had dropped any small parts in the cracks between the stones, we would still be shifting the flagstones looking for them.

We were fortunate, the weather was very pleasant and no rain, and we didn't lose any parts into the flagstone labyrinth. The sun was shining and we were working in our shirtsleeves. We also came through relatively unscathed. I jammed my thumb into the pump once, and Jack got a cut on his hand, just big enough to decorate it with a little blood.

The steel strap we used to hold the water pump pulley while we unscrewed the fan clutch was a bar about one inch wide, a quarter inch thick and about 18 inches long. The hole for the screw was about 3/8" in diameter and close to one edge. It was also at the end of the bar. I think it would have been better if the hole had been placed about three inches from the end, that way the bar would work in either direction. As it was it only worked in one direction. In the other direction it would swing around until the square end of the bar was pushing against one of the flats of the hex of the fan clutch and would work against the wrench trying to undo it, so we would have to undo the screw holding it, flip the bar around, and put the screw back in.

It is not necessary, or beneficial, to remove the fan from the fan clutch. Matter of fact, it just makes things worse. You do become dexterous at starting and tightening bolts in the confined space between the fan and the pulley. A 16 penny nail with a right angle bend proved useful in aligning the bolt holes in the pulley to the corresponding holes in the water pump.

It would have behooved us to spread a sheet of plastic under the fan and over the undercarriage to keep dropped screws from crawling into the dark recesses of the frame.

We used a pair of channellocks about 10" long to manipulate the spring clamps securing the water hoses. These pliers were pretty new and the teeth were still pretty sharp, which helped. It sometimes took two or three incremental settings to get the clamp from totally relaxed to open enough to go over the lumps in the hose. For instance one grip would get the clamp open enough to go the over the end of the hose, but then you would have to adjust the pliers and take another grip to get it to open up enough so the hose would slide over the hose bib. Bigger pliers could probably have done it in one grip, but I don't know if you could have gotten them in the confined spaces we were working in.

This vehicle was about a '99 model, and it was about half metric and half American, which is really annoying. I could understand this when they started making the changeover to metric about a zillion years ago, but the fact that they still haven't completely changed over to metric makes me think either they are incompetent or lazy. Professional grade nothing. I suppose there could be some kind of internal civil war going on, or maybe they are just waiting for all the fractional engineers to die off.

GMC doesn't make a Suburban anymore. It's now called a Yukon. At first I couldn't remember what the model name was. After all, it's "Chevy Suburban" I think of right off, not "GMC Suburban", but maybe they used the same model name. But look on GMC's website and there is no Suburban to be found, only the Yukon.

Update. Replacing the water pump did not solve the problem. Turned out to be a bad intake manifold gasket which cost about $500 to have repaired at Master Wrench. They have done a number of repairs for Jack and he has always been satisfied.

Update October 2016 replaced missing pictures.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

GMC Suburban Water Pump Replacement

I helped Jack replace the water pump on his Suburban this afternoon. It has been leaking coolant for a while and it was slowly getting worse. He had replaced the water pump once before and it looked like there might be some seepage where the pump bolts to the block. He had already removed the top half of the fan shroud and the serpentine belt.

The next step was to remove the fan clutch from the water pump shaft. Used to be this was done with four small bolts. Now the hub of the fan clutch threads onto the front of the water pump shaft. You need a big wrench to grip the hexagon shaped hub and something to hold the water pump pulley still. He had a piece of steel strap with a hole in one end. Take one of the bolts holding the pulley and use it to attach the strap. The strap will swing around until in contacts one of the other three bolts holding the pulley. Now you can hold the pulley and use the wrench to loosen the hub.

We used a 20" adjustable wrench and the head was so fat it would barely fit in the space between the fan and the pulley. Aside from dropping several bolts into abyss, getting this fan clutch off was the toughest job. A thinner wrench would have made it easier. So would not dropping the bolts.

We had to take off one idler pulley in order to loosen a bracket holding a heater hose because we did not have a 10mm socket. When we pulled the idler pulley off I noticed a bunch of aluminum flakes inside the hole. We blew it out with air and mixed up some epoxy with aluminum powder and put that in the hole before we put the screw back in.

There was one big hose and two small hoses connected to the pump. They were held in place with spring clamps. A small pair of channel-locks worked to undo the clamps and then we used them to twist the hoses to break them loose from the pipes. After that they pushed off easily. Pushed, that is, not pulled. Pulling didn't work. The small hoses were kind of tore up by the pliers so we asked for some new ones at the auto parts store (generic, not the dealer), and surprise! They had them. Since we were going to all this trouble, Jack elected to replace the pump, the serpentine belt and the small, short, heater hoses, but not the big radiator hose.

We recovered all of the dropped bolts except for two screws for the fan shroud, and we found some adequate replacements in the garage. Unfortunately, the only washers we found were the wrong color: silver instead of black. I assured Jack that they wouldn't hurt the motor. Locating the lost screws was complicated by the fact that the vehicle is equipped with a winch that is concealed behind the front bumper.

After we had everything buttoned up and the coolant system topped, Jack fired it up, and everything seemed to be running smoothly. It was very gratifying to be able to do some mechanical work and have it turn out successfully.

Update: Part two of this story here.

Update December 2016 replaced missing pictures.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Home Theater, Part 4

We have settled into a routine with all the fancy new equipment. Not everything is working as it should and some things need to be fixed, but we are making some use of the equipment. With the writer's strike there haven't been any new episodes of CSI, so we have been watching old episodes of "Law & Order". With all the variations (the original, "Special Victims Unit" & "Criminal Intent") there must be over 500 episodes out there in rerun land. We are starting to run into more and more episodes that we have already seen, so we may be reaching the end of this festival.

The DVR is nice in that it lets you fast-forward through the ads, and that can amount to 15 minutes out an hour. However, it requires you to pay close attention while it is running in fast-forward to determine just when the ads stop and the show returns. Invariably it overruns, and then, being the stickler I am, I have to rewind back to the end of the last ad and then press play again. After a few seconds, sometimes as long as ten, we are back to watching the show. It's better than having to sit through four minutes of ads, but it's still a pain. A DVD would be better.

The DVR also lets you pause when the phone rings (which is at least once a show) or when one of the kids pops their head in to tell us what rotten parents we are (no, you can't have another bowl of candy). The pause button on the remote control is a pain. If you don't press it exactly right, it doesn't work. It is just above the '3' and I think careless pushing of the pause button also pushes the '3' button, which apparently negates the effect of the pause button.

The DVR has two tuners, so you can record two different channels simultaneously. However, if both channels are recording, you can only watch one of those two channels unless you cancel one of the recordings. However, you can record two channels and watch something that you have previously recorded.

But there are some problems. First among the problems is heat. The Verizon (Motorola) DVR (Digital Video Recorder) generates a good deal of heat and it does not have a fan. It does have a whole bunch of large ventilation slots on top, but that is not enough. We have it sitting inside the console with a glass door on the front. The back is wide open, and there are several inches of clearance above it, but it is not enough. It has shut off at least three times while it was being used, once right in the middle of the Super Bowl. It turns back on right away, but it should not be shutting off in the first place. Our old TiVo unit had a built in fan. Shoot, my son's stereo receiver has a built in fan. Right now we are leaving the glass door open when we are using it, but I think I am going to need to install a small fan inside the cabinet to keep it cool. Probably should have Verizon replace it because it has probably cooked itself.

The STB (Set Top Box) in the basement needs to be replaced. It spazzed out the other day and now the sound is muted. If you turn up the volume on the TV all the way, you can just make out what people are saying. Not quite good enough. I suppose it could be the TV, but if their STB broke my TV, I will be unhappy.

The ability to play back shows recorded on the DVR (upstairs) using the STB (in the basement) does work, though not quite as smoothly as when using the DVR directly. It takes it a couple of seconds to respond to commands, and if you push the buttons too fast it seems to get confused. It also has a bad habit of going back to the beginning when you are trying to fast forward through some ads in the middle of a show. That has happened several times, though I think I may have found a work around. If you are fast forwarding at full speed, step down to half-fast before you hit the play button. It seems happier that way.

One of the reasons we signed up for FIOS TV is that we have been hearing for years about all the great shows available on cable, things like the "Discovery Channel" and the "History Channel" and HBO. So far we haven't made much use of it (I don't know what the kids are doing). The movie selection is not so hot. Most everything that is available in the way of movies we have already seen, either in a theater or on a DVD from the rental store.

I called their support line the other day and got one of those robo-cop menu systems. This one offered to reset the DVR, and it actually worked. Of course, it did not actually fix the problem, but it was encouraging that they actually went to the trouble to implement something like this. I called back again and got connected to a person and he sent a reset signal to the router. That did not fix the problem either, but I am beginning to see a pattern here. Last week a guy from Verizon stopped by to see how we were gettting along and we started to tell him about the problems we were having. He did not let us finish (good thing, we would still be talking) before he recommended calling the support line and asking them to replace the DVR and/or the STB. I can see how this would work, though it is a bit like siege warfare. If enough people complain, they will eventually realize there is a problem and take steps to fix it. Having to send a person out to replace equipment is an expensive proposition, especially if they have to do it several times for everybody.

I tried sending in an email, but they only allow 70 characters (70!) in your message. It goes to an automatic system that attempts to answer your question, though I got the same message back for all three of my complaints. I was able to reply to their responses at length however, though all I got was the same automated replys. Not much help. So I will be calling them this week for a new DVR and a new STB and maybe even a new router.

My wifes laptop can only connect to the internet once before she has to restart it. Once the browser is open and connected, it seems to work fine, but close the browser and you are done. My computer does not have this problem. I don't know why her laptop is acting up, and I don't really want to. It used to work with the old router, but it does not work with the new one. I supposed I will have to investigate myself. I could call for help, but I doubt whether they will able to solve the problem.

Update December 2016 replaced missing picture.

Thank the Lord for India

I really liked the Capital One Credit Card ads, and their terms are reasonable. However, they are still a big and stinky credit card company. This month I got a $29 late payment charge which, technically, was legit. If it had been up to me, I probably would have let it slide, but my wife saw the charge on our monthly statement and she was not happy with me. I can understand, I used to make it a point to avoid ALL bank charges, no sense paying for something you can get for free. All you have to do is follow their stupid rules. So now I am catching payback for all my previously distributed grief. A year or two ago I hired a bookkeeper to take care of our household bills, not because it was difficult or complicated or time consuming, but simply because I hated doing it. I would rather go to the dentist or shopping or get stuck in traffic or almost anything besides going through the monthly paperwork. So the bookkeeper comes by every two weeks for an hour or two and knocks out the paperwork and my life is a little brighter. However, credit card bills come every month, and having the bookkeeper come every two weeks does not always jibe with the due dates on the bills. I think that's what happened this time. The bill showed up right after one visit, and was due around the time on the next visit which means we were late with the payment. Well, I don't like being in the doghouse anymore than the next guy, so I called the toll-free number on my statement and got one of these robo-cop answering machines: "Press or say your first dog's last name...." etc. etc. Three levels of menus in I finally got to a selection that sounded like I might get to talk to a person, I think it was the "Fraud and stolen cards" selection. This did indeed get me to a real live person, a woman, who asked "how she could help me" with an East Indian accent. I am afraid I was a little gruff with her, I had been cooking up my argument about how and why the charge was unfair (last month's bill was due on the 4th, this months bill was due on the 7th, what's up with that?) and so I grumped at her and she tried to explain, but I really didn't want an explanation, what I wanted was the $29 charge removed. So I finally asked for that, and she said she would check. It only took a few seconds, certainly much less than a minute, before she was back to tell me she could remove that charge. Somewhere along in here I realised that she is just a cog in a big machine, and my grumping at her would do nothing except make her day just a little more miserable. So at this point I poured on the syrup, trying to make up for my boorish behavior, although I did forget to apologize. I did not ask her where she was, I figured it was a given, in that she had an Indian accent, slight though discernable, and I was calling a giant/evil corporation, which are known for exporting their call centers to India. Giant = Evil when you are talking about corporations, it's not that they are really trying to be evil, it's just the nature of the beast. It's kind of like a car. Use them carefully and they can transport you to the ends of the Earth, but don't stand in front of them, you'll get flattented. A week or two ago I got a call from an outfit doing a survey of some sort. Another pleasant young woman, though no accent. The survey was something about Oregon, traffic in Washington County, that was it. After the survey I asked where she was calling from, I'm always curious about that. She tells me Las Cruces, New Mexico. I've been there! Gee wilikers, who'd a thunk it? Las Cruces, that's like in the middle of the middle of nowhere. A long time ago I was hitch hiking to Cloudcroft and I stopped in a gas station to buy a couple bottles of soda. It was hot, and I was dry. Geez, that was a long time ago.

Las Cruces New Mexico

Update January 2021 replaced missing map.

High Tech Meets Bad Taste

Shanghai ATM
Stopped by the ATM this evening to deposit a check and get some cash. The picture is very similar to the one I used, except this one is in Shanghai. I went to the one located at my credit union in the probably mistaken belief that a check deposited there would get credited to my account sooner than if I used an ATM somewhere else. It's a drive up unit and there are a couple of clowns in the car in front of me. I don't what they are doing, but it takes them a really long time. The driver reaches out and punches a button and then they put their heads together presumably to figure out their next move, whereupon the driver reaches out and punches another button. Eventually they get it sorted out and drive off.

Now it's my turn. There is a car behind me so I want to be efficient about this, I don't want to be the fool who can't figure out how to use the ATM. Wouldn't want to make anyone have to wait, I mean, that would be rude. So the pressure is on.

This is a new machine, different from the one that was here last time I was here. There is no envelope dispenser. Well, let's see what happens. I punch in my request and out slides an envelope. I take the envelope and the machine starts beeping. Put the check in and, as much as I detest it, lick the foul tasting adhesive, seal the envelope and give it back to the machine. The beeping stops, the machine is happy. What about my cash? Looks like I have to run another transaction. Put the card in the slot. It won't go in. What's wrong? Do I have it backwards, or upside down or something? Try again, still won't go. What's the deal? Okay, maybe it just isn't ready. Wait for the welcome screen to show up. Screen changes, try again, still no go. One more time. There it goes, finally.

I pull out to the street still with this horrible taste of mucilage in my mouth. I open the door to spit to try and get rid of this taste, but as I lean out the side, the seatbelt retractor locks up and arrests my motion and the blob hits the door sill. Great, now I've got a mess to clean up. So that was my experience at the ATM.

On the way home I pass a mini-van hauling a new mattress home from Costco on the roof of his van. He's driving about half the speed limit. No problem. I take the most direct route home on the streets with the 35 MPH limit. I'm on the last leg of my route and this stupid mini-van pulls out in front of me! He took the long, slow, 25 MPH route, and he got here first. Man, I must not be living right.

Update March 2016 replaced missing picture.

Lorem Ipsum

I spent some time this week tracking down a bug in the firmware I wrote for the Steven's GHT. Most of the time was taken up with refamiliarizing myself with the code. If has been over a year since I last worked on this project. The GHT is a specialized satellite transmitter: GOES HDR Transmitter, where GOES is the US weather satellite system, and HDR means it is the new, advanced version. If you spell it all out GHT stands for "Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite High Data Rate Transmitter". Geez, what a name. No wonder we call it the GHT.

Anyway, once I found my way back into the depths of the encoding algorithm, it wasn't too difficult to find and fix the bug. The bug hadn't shown up before because no one had tried to send any messages longer than 256 bytes. Most were under 100, but now there is a customer is Austria and he wants to send 600 byte messages. Durn Austrians anyway, always trying to make the machine perform up to it's advertised specs.

Now we need to verify that it is fixed and that means testing. The GHT has three canned test messages it can send: short, long, and extremely long. They are roughly 100, 200 and 500 characters long. The first two are pithy sayings, which are okay, though they were getting a little old. I tried once to come up with something different, but I drew a blank. I come across pithy sayings occasionally, but they never stick. I guess my mind just doesn't work like that.

The third test message is simply the ten digits followed by the alphabet in uppercase and lowercase repeated several times. Looking at this message on the screen it forms a nice orderly block. In one case this is very good. A quick glance at the received message will show you whether it was received intact or whether characters were dropped or garbled. However, in another case, this could have been bad. As the contents repeat after a fixed number of characters, if you have a buffering problem (like we had), and the buffer happens to have the same number of slots as the length of the repeating string, you might never know that you had a problem. The message still looks fine. This did not happen to us, and it would be a very odd situation, but it just illustrates the kind of traps that are waiting out there for the unwary.

Another kind of test message is "Lorem Ipsum". I had seen this stuff before, but I did not know there was a name for it. It is the Latin name of a Latin phrase that is often used for filler on a page where you need some text to make the page look good, or to see what the page is going to look like, but you don't want anybody actually paying any attention to what is written. As few people learn Latin, few people will attempt to read it. Problem with this kind of test message is that it is difficult to tell whether it came through intact, or not. If you use one particular phrase, you might, through osmosis, memorize it, and then be able to recognize it on sight, but that would take some time.

I have seen this stuff, or something similar, on pictures of fake newspaper pages. Someone wants to highlight an article by making it look like it was printed in a newspaper, so they show you a picture of the article in the middle of what appears to be a page of a newspaper. If you look at the text surrounding the article you will find it is gibberish. Quite startling, the first time I noticed it.

Update December 2016 replaced missing picture.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


A friend of mine is thinking about selling a 454 Taurus revolver. It's an impressive weapon:
  • four pounds of stainless steel,
  • a ported barrel to minimize muzzle rise,
  • double latch on the cylinder, and
  • it holds only five rounds, not six, because the walls of the chambers needed to be thicker to handle the extra pressure of the 454 Casull round.
However, it has this gawd awful "Raging Bull" logo emblazoned on the side of the barrel. Actually I don't know whether it is having a big logo or the fact that the logo says "Raging Bull" that crosses me. Taurus is Latin for bull, so if you don't know anything about the movie, the words make a certain amount of sense. However, the movie was a crock, never mind that it won a bunch of awards. It was about a guy (Jake LaMotta) who was a real jerk. Okay, so Robert DeNiro did a good job of portraying this jerk. I was thoroughly sick of it half way through.

Since we are talking about big guns and movies, we have to mention Clint Eastwood ("Dirty Harry") and his 44 Magnum revolver, "the most powerful handgun in the world". I really enjoyed the "Dirty Harry" movies, even if they didn't win any snooty awards. Well, the 454 is a more powerful gun, but I don't think it was available when the "Dirty Harry" movies were made.

But back to the gun. This big logo, and the fact that ammo costs about a dollar a round has a certain negative impact on this thousand dollar revolver's value on the used market.

I spent a little time thinking about what it would take to remove that logo. I am sure it could be done, but it would take a certain amount of skill to make it look like it was never there. i.e., you would need to match the finish on the rest of the gun. I imagine a skilled gunsmith could do it, but it would be a tricky bit of work to make it look right without having to refinish the whole gun.

Taurus is a Brazilian company and has been through some changes in the fifty years they have been around.

Update March 2016 replace missing picture.

Radio Traffic Report

Originally posted February 7th. Now with video!

From my brother Michael in Chicago:

"On the lighter side, I was driving to work this morning on North Ave, an 8 lane thoroughfare, coming up to the Villa Avenue intersection, listening to newsradio and they announced on the traffic report that "There's a truck broke down at the intersection of North and Villa, dropped it's driveshaft right on the pavement..." and there it was, a big dually facing the wrong way in traffic, blocking 2 lanes, with a broke driveshaft.

"So the traffic report was accurate, for once."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Another old car story

My brother Andy has been telling us about the very cold weather they have been having in Iowa, and his trip to Des Moines and back on icy roads. It recalled to mind an experience of mine.

20 years ago, more or less, Anne & I flew to Iowa for Christmas. Nasty snow storm came in the day we drove to Des Moines to catch our flight home. Cruise control, 60-70 mph all the way into town. When we got to the outskirts of Des Moines we started seeing cars off to the side of the road and cars creeping along on the highway. There was virtually no traffic. A prudent person would have slowed down, but the road was straight and there were no obstacles, so I held steady, very steady, very, very steady. I was glad when we got to our exit. I think I started slowing about a mile before we left the highway. Do not twitch, just ease on over, real easy like. The exit ramp was uphill and we coasted to a stop.

The next morning our rental car (a Chevy Caprice) was buried under about two feet of snow. I called the airport to see if our flight had been canceled, and the girl was like, no problem. You could practically hear the sunshine in her voice. I am like where are you? You must be in Florida. If you were in Des Moines, you wouldn't be sound so optimistic.

When we got on board the plane we got to watch them hose off the wings with de-icer. Not a real comforting sight. I think ours was the last flight they let out that morning before they closed the airport.

Update December 2016 replaced missing pictures.

Monday, February 18, 2008


I was looking on the internet to see if I could find anything interesting about remote controls for televisions and the like and I came across this video clip:

Okay, I am easily distracted. A remote control airplane, big deal, they've been around for like forever. But with jet engines! There have been RC models that look like jets, but the last time I checked, they were all driven by piston engines. So I did a little more poking around and these days you can buy ready-to-run turbine engines and even jet powered, flying model aircraft. Granted they are a little spendy, and not all that tiny, but ten years ago they weren't even available. Even now there are dedicated nut cases hand carving turbine blades out of rare alloys.

Here's another video of the same, er similar, model airplane.
Here's an outfit that sells model jet airplanes and turbine engines.
I am not sure if this outfit makes turbines or just sells them. If they are making them you would think they would trumpet that a bit louder.
Here's a bunch of guys, er, people, making their own turbines.
This guy built an experimental Tesla turbine, amongst other things.
These guys sell commercial "microturbines".

Van for Sale

Just reduced the price for the van on Craig's list from 1900 to 1800. Started seven weeks ago at $2500. I have gotten three calls, once each of the last three weeks. I figure it will probably go down to 1500 before it sells. It's been a year since we bought the SUV for Anne. I kept thinking one of the boys was going to get their license and start driving, but that hasn't happened. Other problem is the van is just so darn useful: it can carry a whole bunch of people (like a pack of teenagers) or a bunch of stuff in a rain free container. It is also easier to drive than my truck and uses less gas. However, it is twelve years old and .... and what am I afraid of? Expensive repairs? I've already replaced the transmission. Well, there is still the engine, and I suppose the A/C could be expensive to fix, not that A/C is really a requirement here. Hot summer weather might last a month or two, and it does not get all that hot. I think it might have got to 100 once last year, or maybe it was the year before.

On the other hand, the truck can carry more large stuff, and as I am likely to have two kids in college next year, I am going to be doing some hauling.

Update December 2016 replaced missing pictures.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Cadillac Dream

I have been having some vivid dreams lately. Not particularly interesting except for how clear they are and how well I remember them. I was talking to a friend of mine about this and he suggested it might be one of the prescription drugs I am taking to control triglycerides. This is a dream I had this morning.

I was with my wife at some kind of formal get together, like a wedding or a funeral, something like that, and I had to move a car, a pale purple Cadillac. It was a Cadillac, but the lines were not quite like anything I had ever seen. I suppose it must be some model from the future. I moved it to a place at the end of a line of parked cars somewhere in the front of the facility. I did not have a key, but I had a small black, metal and plastic box, about the size of pocket size box of matches. It had a couple of panels that folded out and inside of one of these panels was a small piece of flat metal about the size of your little finger nail. It was shaped like a house from a Monopoly game and had a hole in the center. It worked just fine in the ignition key slot.

A little later I had to move this same car again, this time around back of the facility (restaurant, lodge, whatever). This time I had to wait for the hood to close. It was hinged at the front, like a big truck or a race car, not at the rear like most cars. It had some automatic mechanism for closing. Before it closed, I noticed a couple of things. The cast aluminum intake manifold was perfectly clean. There were several horizontal, clear tubes, about the size of a fat ball point pen, on the back of what might have been a carburator. They were part of some kind of display/gauge. As the hood closed, I got the impression that there was a central air duct integral with the hood.

After I moved the car (I don't recall actually driving it). We went in some kind of prefab building constructed mostly of light yellow fiberglass reinforced plastic, like a bathtub or a ski boat. We went up a short flight of stairs to the entrance. Just inside the entrance was a door to the right which led to the main part of the building. Straight ahead was a carpeted wheel chair ramp. It might have been a little steep for wheel chairs because we were able to slide on our feet all the way to the bottom. At the bottom there were a hallway which led into another part of the building and a door that appeared to be an exit. Taking the exit led to an equipment patio with no exit, except back the way we came or another door back into the building. We took the other door which led us into a lounge of some sort, and that is all I remember.

Update December 2016 replaced missing picture.

Suburban Army

Recently I noticed that several people I know have kids who joined a military service. Some people are what you might call "blue collar" workers and one might expect this kind of behavior there. But several people are "white collar professionals" and now that we have an all volunteer army, one might expect their kids to avoid the military and pursue a college education and a career. This is not always the case.

One of things I have heard (filtered by the media) from soldiers who have served in Iraq is that when they are over there, they can't wait to get home, but once they get home all they want is to go back to Iraq. I think I understand. Iraqis are crazy. Their way of thinking is completely alien to an American. Different things matter, things we take for granted in the U.S. are unheard of over there. Trying to deal with crazy people trying to kill you on a daily basis would be stressful, to say the least. Sure you would want to get out of there.

On the other hand, life in an American suburb is just a little too insular. Everything is safe, everyone is protected. It's kind of like Chris Tucker in "The Fifth Element" when they find a bomb on board the luxury liner: he is a surprised that there is a bomb on board and the bomb detector has not detected it, yet.

What's this thing with all these numbah's?

You come out of a very stressful environment and come back to the U.S. and all the concerns people have are going to seem so petty and inconsequential, no wonder they want to go back. Iraqis may be crazy, but at least it is real crazy, and not the silly crazy we have here.

There is something about being young that makes people (men especially) want a challenge, be it strength, skill, wit, or simply endurance, something where they can excel, where they can beat somebody at something. Failing that, if they can at least be useful they might be content. I suspect this is one reason people join the military, they want a challenge, they want adventure, they want to escape from our too safe American dream.

Update March 2016 replaced missing video.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Three Cylinders Are Better Than Two

I talked to Marc this morning. The death ray lives! He will not be able make lunch tomorrow unless he buys another car. He has a scheduling conflict with the Trooper. He's looking to buy an old Geo Metro. Figures he can pick one up for about $1500. They get something like 35 or 40 miles per gallon. You can't get transportation much cheaper than that. AND they have a three cylinder engine, which you can actually see! It would be worth buying just because it is such an oddball. Whoever heard of a three cylinder engine in a car? (Well, I have, but we'll get to that.)

More importantly, the engine is so small that in spite of all the plastic stuff that is crammed into the engine bay of modern cars, you can still find it. Most cars the engine bays are packed so full you cannot find the engine because of all the plastic do-dads stuffed in on top of it. This is an important feature on a $1500 car because you can bet that sooner or later it is going to need some repairs and if you don't want all your savings to go to the repair shop, you are going to have to fix it yourself. If you are going to work on it yourself, it is better to have a car that has room to work on the engine.

For (an upside down) example, he wanted to replace the oil sender on the Trooper but (in addition to the $250 price tag) he could not find it. Of course the Trooper is four wheel drive, so you have the front drive axle and all it's supporting structure underneath the engine. There is so much stuff down there you cannot even SEE the oil pan, much less locate the oil sender. That's what you get for buying these new fangled foreign jobs. I have an American made four wheel drive pickup truck and I do not have this problem. I can see MY oil pan, or I could if I ever crawled underneath.

Since there does not seem to be a problem with the oil pressure, only with the gauge, I suggested he paste a picture of his kids over the oil gauge. A true Click & Clack (the Tappet Brothers) kind of solution.

But back to three cylinder engines. This reminds me of something that happened a long time ago. Saab used to make very small, very funny looking little car with a three cylinder, two stroke engine. A friend of mine in high school got hold of one and we drove it from Utica, Ohio, to Los Angeles so he could interview at some art or design school. It did fine on the flats but when we pulled out of Denver early one morning heading up into the Rockies we could not get it go much faster than a crawl. We had a disagreement about whether we were going uphill or not, and I have to admit that there were very few visual cues to indicate such, it was still dark.

Still, Matt insisted that there must be something wrong with the engine, so we stopped at a filling station to have a look. Nothing obviously wrong, but look, the sparkplugs are right on top of the engine, easy to reach. We could easily take them out and have a look. Bad move. The head was aluminum. The first two plugs came out easily enough, but the third brought the aluminum threads with it. Nothing wrong with plugs, put them back in. Start the motor and BANG! What was that? Oh look, there is a new dent in the hood! The engine ejected plug number three, the one with the stripped threads!

Now what? Well, it is six o'clock on Sunday morning, no shops are open, guess we'll just press on. And so we do, all the way up the Rocky Mountains on two cylinders, engine making awful noises, blowing gasoline fumes, crawling along, searching the map for the lowest passes that will get us through these mountains. Finally we reach Grand Junction, a town that looks like it might be big enough to have an automotive machine shop that could fix our problem. Well, yes, they could, if they were open, but it's Sunday, and they aren't.

We're getting desperate. It's time to apply some Afro-American Engineering (nigger-rigging in pre-Politically Correct lingo). We dig up some bailing wire, jam number three spark plug in as tight as we can make it. Loosen the head bolts all around number three plug. Wrap the bailing wire around the insulator of the plug and around the head bolts, tight as we can make it. Tighten up the head bolts. Don't put the spark plug lead on. Fire up the engine and see if it holds. It does! Wonderbar! Well, in for penny, in for a pound. Will it work with the spark plug lead attached? Hook it up and try it again. It's still holding. My gawd, are we geniuses or what? Don't wait, lets get going before it decides to give out. It held all the way to Los Angeles where we were able to effect a proper repair.

Sometime later I was talking to my cousin-in-law about this car and the terrible mileage we were getting. He had one of these old two stroke Saab's and he told me the exhaust pipe gets clogged. He had taken his off, heated it with a torch and beat it with a hammer to dislodge all the accumulated crud. After this operation, the mileage was restored to it's previous glory. The alternative was to buy a whole new exhaust system for hundreds of dollars. I think my friend sold his before resolving the mileage issue.

Update June 2016 replaced missing pictures.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Floating Landfill

Friday I got an e-mail from my brother with this bizarre story from the

"The so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a stewy body of plastic and marine debris that floats an estimated 1,000 miles west of California, is a shape-shifting mass far too large, delicate and remote ever to be cleaned up, according to a researcher who recently returned from the area."

Blue Octagon shows approximate location.

View Floating Landfill in a larger map

Update September 2016 replaced missing picture.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


I have heard several times recently about Politicians who say they are getting hammered about illegal immigration. I first time I heard this was last fall. Ron Wyden, one of our Senators, been going around the state holding town hall meetings, and he said he was surprised at how much flak he was getting on this subject. I mentioned this to my friend Jack and he was not surprised at all. He tells me that Fox news had been hammering on the subject for six months. Well, well, well, if it isn't old Rupert Murdoch throwing his weight around. He owns Fox and whole bunch of other media, in case you didn't know.

Another instance was an article by Ryan Lizza in the December 17, 2007 issue of "The New Yorker" about the Republican Presidential candidates. This time I was surprised. Of course, I don't watch Fox news, and I doubt whether anyone at "The New Yorker" does either, but maybe somebody should be. Thank goodness my friend Jack has been keeping tabs on Fox.

But maybe evil old Rupert has a point. There are a great number of illegal immigrants coming into this country from Mexico. I am pretty sure building a Berlin wall to keep them out is not the answer. I am not sure what is. Perhaps a more lenient immigration policy so we can know who and where the immigrants are. Perhaps more economic stimulus packages for Mexico so people are not so desperate that they sneak into the United States. I do not know.

How did Mexico get to be in such bad shape anyway? I like to think it was rampant corruption in the government. I worked for a guy once who thought it was because they did not have a good Protestant work ethic. They were Catholics after all. I don't buy that either. All the Mexicans I know of are working very hard so they can send money back to Mexico.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

"Oregon invests in housing's bad luck"

From a story by Ryan Frank in the Oregonian this Wednesday:

"That's why the Oregon Investment Council voted last week to sink $600 million in public employee pensions into a Texas private equity firm. Executives at Lone Star Funds say they expect 20 percent or higher returns in the "distressed" markets in the United States and abroad."

When the Public Utilities Commission voted several years ago to sell PGE to Enron, I said to myself I said: "this is a bad idea". When someone in the mortgage industry started hawking sub-prime loans, I said (to myself I said) "this is not a good idea".

Now I read about the Pension Fund Board voting to invest in a Texas company. Texas, in case you have forgotten, is the home of Enron, that pinnacle of fiscal responsibility (that was sarcasm, in case you missed it). This Texas outfit is promising 20% returns off of investing in mortgages gone bad, and I think to myself, I really ought to say something about this. So I am. It stinks!

Where do we get these people who sit on these boards? Do we have a recruiting team that scours Oregon looking for village idiots? Haven't these people heard of Andrew Wiederhorn and the great pension fund scandal? What do have to do, make gross stupidity a capital offense?

Update October 2016 replaced missing picture.

Lunch in Mulino

Fujikura Fusion Splicer for Fiber Optic Cables
My friend Marc has returned from the Caribbean and joined his family's business "Wavelength References" down in Mulino, Oregon. Before he went on his giant sailing adventure, he was a regular at our Thursday lunch. The gang was curious about just what this new business venture was all about, so last week we went to Marc's house for lunch and a tour of the business. Quit a bit of science and technology, not to mention a little voodoo, packed into a very small space. One of the most impressive pieces of equipment was a black box, about the size of shoe box, that is used to splice fiber optic strands togther. Fiber optic fibers are not very big. Not only that, but there are several outer layers protecting the inner optical glass fiber that actually carries the signal. This center fiber is only a few microns in diameter. It is covered by a glass sheath that brings the thickness up to a couple of thousandths of an inch. Then there is a plastic cover over that. The picture shows a unit similar to the one Marc uses. The little screens show a magnified image of the end of the fiber, before, during and after fusing the prepared ends of the glass fibers together.

Canby Ferry
On the way back Jack and I elected to take the Canby Ferry. It had been 20 years since the last time Jack had ridden it, and I did not even know there was one, so it was a bit of an adventure. It is a small ferry. It can hold six cars. It takes no more than five minutes to cross the river, so a round trip probably takes it about 20 minutes. There is a a steel cable stretched across the river, below the surface of the water. The ferry has a couple of big guide pulleys that are attached to this cable, so the operator does not have to steer. All he has to do is run the motor and the ferry follows the cable to the other side. If you look over the side you can see one of the pulleys hanging off the upstream side of the boat. The cable is at least an inch thick, about like a ski lift cable. The cable is attached to the shore with some chain and a come-along. When we were getting on, the operator was busy cranking on the come-along, tightening up the cable. The river was flowing pretty good, so I imagine the cable was getting a little strain. While I was looking for pictures of the ferry today I found a notice that the ferry is closed due to high water.

The ferry uses electric motors for propulsion. There are wires strung across the river maybe 50 feet in the air. There is a little shuttle that slides along these wires and is connected to the ferry with a cable. The shuttle picks up the electric current and sends it to the ferry thru this cable. The cable also pulls the shuttle along the wires. The fee was $1.25.

Canby Ferry photo album. All pictures taken from the internet.

Update April 2015: Replaced pictures that Blogger lost.
Update February 2020 replaced link to Picasa slide show with link to Google Photos Album.