Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest
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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Campaign Assessment and Reassessment

I was reading Abby's blog "Bad Dogs and Such" today. She makes reference to the Army's Counterinsurgency Manual (FM3-24). Looking through it I discover it contains a selection of vignettes. Some of them are entertaining, and they are short, which is good because I don't want to read the entire manual. It is almost 300 pages. I discovered this one in Chapter 4. I enjoyed this one becasue I have read some of Bernard Cornwall's stories about the Napoleonic Wars in the Sharpe's Rifles series. So it's nice to have that fictional account of Napoleon in Spain reinforced from a authoritative source. Anyway, this one sounds a little too much like our experience in Iraq.
Campaign Assessment and Reassessment

During Napoleon’s occupation of Spain in 1808, it seems little thought was given to the potential challenges of subduing the Spanish populace. Conditioned by the decisive victories at Austerlitz and Jena, Napoleon believed the conquest of Spain would be little more than a “military promenade.” Napoleon’s campaign included a rapid conventional military victory but ignored the immediate requirement to provide a stable environment for the populace.

The French failed to analyze the Spanish people, their history, culture, motivations, and potential to support or hinder the achievement of French political objectives. The Spanish people were accustomed to hardship, suspicious of foreigners and constantly involved in skirmishes with security forces. Napoleon’s cultural miscalculation resulted in a protracted occupation struggle that lasted nearly six years and ultimately required approximately three-fifths of the Empire’s total armed strength, almost four times the force of 80,000 Napoleon originally designated.
Update December 2016 replaced dead link.
Update June 2019 corrected spelling of Napoleon.

Stolen complete from "Bad Dogs and Such"

I was going to just quote part of it, but then I decided, shoot, just copy the whole thing. From a soldier in Iraq.

22 September 2008

MORE cultural awareness

We spend so much time studying the way "They" like things that you occasionally have to wonder whether, assuming this is a clash of civilizations, they might already have won.
We were having the Ramadan discussion.
They abstain, the instructor droned, from food, drink and sex from sunup to sundown for a month.
Hell, we've been abstaining from booze, sex and decent food 24/7 for closing in on a month now. It's making all of us pretty cranky, so perhaps that explains the ongoing rage problem from the Islamic world. Food for thought.

Computer Programming Notes

From Iowa:
While suffering through confabulating a interactive webpage...a neuron clicked, causing me to wonder about "Apologists" in the context of popular Computer operating systems. I am increasing upset with my "not getting" the unifying theorem of computing.

"Microsoft apologists" ~5,000 hits
"Linux apologist" ~300

This link made sense (though not populist and not very satisfying.)

As I reach for more programming features, the programming environment gets more complicated.

The smart "confusitoids" provide what is immediately demanded, but in the rush to provide, they leave these solution s cloaked in the labyrinth of abstraction.

i.e. The programming environment is getting more complex and more difficult.
From Chicago:
It's MY impression that 95% of developers do nothing at all except sit at a desk and play games or watch youtube. Very few of them actually do anything close to 'development', unless you call changing colors for highlight text on style sheets "development".
I read somewhere that only 5% or so of people who call themselves programmers can actually write code. I have seen some evidence of this. But there is another, possibly larger, part to computer systems besides writing code, and that is keeping the systems running. Things are always changing and even the stablest system is going to suffer from a glitch occasionally. When that happens you need someone around who can fix it. In order to be able to fix it, you need someone who understands how it works. I suspect that is why a lot of programmers are employed. Not to do any actual work, but just to be there to fix things in case something goes wrong. Of course business managers hate to have people just hanging around doing nothing, so we have lot's of pretend work going on. The managers would love to fire the programmers except that they know they are totally dependent on them to keep their business operation running.

Friday, November 28, 2008


From a report about fact finding visit by the ICC (International Cricket Council):
"The visit comes against the backdrop of freshly-escalating violence inside Zimbabwe as power-sharing talks between Zanu-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change break down, unemployment running at 80%, inflation at 231 million % and the United Nations predicting millions could be starving within months."

Letter from Iowa

Paradigm shift

One of Fairfields largest employers, Books are Fun, is being sold back to it founder and moved to Boulder, CO.

Everyone laid off.

I like the quote "This agreement is in the best interest of Books Are Fun's customers..."

Who are their customers? Anyone that walks into one of their temporary sales displays in lobbys and malls.

Started in 1990 on shoestring, sold to Readers Digest for $390 Mil in 1999. Bought back from RD for $17.5 Mil in 2008


Update December 2016 replaced dead link with exciting new links.


The Daily Jumble Puzzle had two words this week that stumped me. Today's was TAIGEY. I struggled with it for a while, but finally resorted to using the dictionary (a real bound paper one) and discovered that unscrambled it becomes GAIETY. Not a word that gets used much anymore on account of "gay" being usurped by the alternately sexed. Too bad they couldn't have made up a new word instead of stealing a perfectly good old one.

The other day RAMER gave me trouble. I also resorted to the dictionary for this one, but could not find anything that would work. I eventually resorted to using ARMER, as in surely someone uses his arms is arming and is an armer. To my chagrin the actual word is REARM. I needed the first, middle and last letter to solve the quip, and you will note that those three letters in both cases are RAM.

To use the dictionary to decode a Jumble, I arrange the letters in alphabetically order, and then start looking for the first two letter combination, and then going on to three or however many it takes to rule it out. Then we go to the next, which means the first and third letters, and so on through the first and last. Then we go to second and third, and so on and so forth. It's tedious, and little time consuming, but if my brain won't deliver the answer, it's my only hope. And as illustrated here, it doesn't always work.

Update December 2016 replaced missing image.

Blogs I Read

There are five or six blogs I read every day. Not all of them get updated everyday, but a couple usually are. And they post links to other stuff, and if I am interested in the post, I will follow the link. I hardly watch TV at all anymore, except sometimes I wll watch something I have recorded from the military history channel, usually about WWII. That's always interesting.

Blogs I read:
And then there's Elena, who did the photo essay about Chernobyl.

Gmail Email

I had an email conversation with Chip and Stu about email. Naturally, I waxed eloquent, so I am reposting my thoughts here.

I have to recommend gmail. No spam, and as far as I can tell, no missed messages either. Also, you don't need your own computer to check your mail. Of course, on the down side, you need a reliable connection to the internet. High speed also helps.

Yahoo mail gets a black mark. I have an account there I use in my ongoing job search. It works pretty well, but it did put a couple of messages from a prospective employer in the SPAM folder where they sat for a couple of days before I noticed them.

I also have a hotmail account that I use for all Linux related stuff. It doesn't get much traffic. It was a while before I realized the incongruity of using a Microsoft product to work with the Anti-Gates.

[The orginal message I got from Stu was sent as a BCC (Blind Carbon Copy).] Also, there was no indication that I was a BCC recipient. I have used BCC a couple of times. Once it worked very well. The original recipient received no notification that anyone else got the message, and the BCC recipients were notified of such. Another time I tried it the original recipient was notified that it was also sent to other people, though not to who they were. I found that unacceptable.

Fantasy Fireplace

I have two gas fireplaces in my house. In our previous house we had two wood burning fireplaces. Word burning fireplaces are a pain. You get to deal with wood: buy, haul, split, stack, protect from the rain, carry it into the house. Starting the fire is fun, and watching the wood burn is enjoyable. But then you get to deal with the ashes, shovel them out of the fireplace, carry them outside and dispose of them. Wood burning fireplaces are a big pain. Of course if you have a truck, or even just a trailer you can drive out to the national forest and cut your own wood for free. That is if you can afford the gasoline, which as we all now know depends on the whims of the gods of gasoline prices.

We only used one of the fireplaces in the old house. When we built the new house, we opted for a gas fireplace. Did not want the hassle of a wood burner. And when we finished the basement, we opted for another gas fireplace. Of course at this point putting in a wood burner would have entailed some major structural changes.

But every now and then, when the economic news looks particularly grim (Natural Gas prices up a gazillion percent!), I think that maybe a wood burner might have been a good idea.

This leads to thinking about living off the land and building a cabin in the woods using nothing but an ax and my bare hands. (Yeah, right, like that's gonna happen. That's why the title is what it is.) So if you're going to build a cabin in the woods, you are going to need a fireplace made of rocks. Given what we know about fireplaces, would it be worthwhile to try and design a better fireplace made of rocks? I like to think it would.

First of all, the fireplace would be in the center of the room instead of in one wall. Once a fireplace gets warm, it is going to radiate heat in all directions. No sense radiating heat to the outside. Second of all, build a channel to conduct outside air to the fire, so you are not pulling heated air out of the room. Third, build the fireplace over a big pit, with a door to the outside so you don't have to clean out the ash but once a year. I suppose the biggest improvement would be putting doors on the fireplace so as to make it more like an stove, but making doors out of stone that could be easily moved might be a bit of a trick. Might could use a couple of ancient Egyptian stone masons.

Update December 2016 replaced missing image.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Secrets of the Pyramids

My friend Jack was telling me about a new theory a Frenchman (Jean-Pierre Houdin) has come up with to explain how the pyramids were built. I, for one, never worried too much about it. I figure a bunch of guys got a bunch of rocks and piled them up and presto, there you go: a big pile of rocks. But for some people, that wasn't good enough. Seems they found some really big rocks very high up in the pyramid. That along with the huge volume of rock involved overall caused them to wonder just how did these ancient (ignorant, unskilled, third world peasants) people get those big rocks in place? Just how would you would build such a massive stone edifice using only sticks and stones and strong backs?

A number of theories have been put forth over the years, but none have stood up to scrutiny. Now along comes this wiseguy Frenchie, and he's got a new theory. The best part is that this theory involves secret tunnels that no one has actually seen. Dassault Systems has a web page with a 3-D graphics presentation that explains the whole thing. It's kind of a CPU/Memory hog, but I was able to run it on my four year old Dell. All this make my conspiracy antennae just quiver with anticipation.
One of the clues that led Jean-Pierre to his theory was this image. It was generated from a set of gravity measurements taken in the 1980's. The less dense areas are indicated by the green color, and correspond to the idea of having an internal spiral tunnel.

I did a little looking to see just what kind of equipment would be needed to measure gravity accurately enough to be able to detect a tunnel. I found things like:
Tests run using Sundstrand vibrating beam accelerometers to sense microgravity are described. Lunar-solar tidal effects were used as a highly predictable signal which varies by approximately 200 billionths of the full-scale gravitation level.
Spring Gravimeters and Other Alternatives
Even now it seems to fall in the realm of scientific research, not a practical technique for which you can just buy a meter and go at it. Interesting that the two companies names I came across in all this are both big aerospace contractors: Hamilton Sundstrand and Groupe Dassault.


Steve Duin writes a column for our local newspaper. He's been there for forever. Sometimes I read him. Yesterday's column was about family court:
It is, one lawyer said, "the Jerry Springer docket," the endless parade of family catastrophes -- marriage dissolutions, restraining orders, elder abuse, custody hearings -- that Springer would milk for brawls and ratings with the misfits willing to trade their dignity for that televised moment on stage.
I think this sentence explains a lot:
The guys battling restraining orders without a lawyer, their kids in tow because they can't afford day care, boxed in by a legal system that is ruled by the sort of discipline no one ever modeled for them.
He gets a description of people who show up here from an attorney:
"They're disproportionately poor," Diamond said. "They don't have a good sense of what parenting ought to look like because their own situation growing up was lousy. They're not fully in control of their emotions, and they lack communication skills: They're not able to identify a problem and discuss it without those emotions taking over.

"And most of the time they're young. Doesn't every 19-year-old have those issues? They aren't ready to have children."

Sales Guy Versus Web Dude

A little crude, perhaps, but stupidity has no bottom. From via Dan.

"The Web Server is Down. If you`ve ever called tech support and wondered what was going on, this should answer some of your questions."

Update: I originally posted this on Pergelator Lite, but that link quit working, so now we have a version from YouTube. I don't think it will ever go out of date. Did you ever notice that human and humor have the same root?

Update April 2019 added Red vs. Blue so I can find this again.
Update April 2021 replaced missing video.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Book: "Force Protection" by Gordon Kent

Force Protection by Gordon Kent
A military thriller I picked up in a bargain bin somewhere. Not a great book, but not a bad book either. The story is very Navy centric and involves an attack on a US Navy ship in Mombasa, Kenya. Always interesting to hear about someplace different. Don't think I've read anything about Kenya since "West With The Night", which was set in the early part of the 20th century. This story is set in the present day. Nairobi is the big city and is located inland. Mombasa is the port city and is located on the East coast of Africa.

There were a number of things in the plot that you could be pretty sure would never happen. I mean one incident could happen to one person in the course of their career, but to have a whole sequence of events, like the ones that happen to the protagonist's wife, would only happen in a movie script. But hey, it makes for an entertaining story.

Basically it's a story about what goes on in government/military circles when they are faced with a terrorist attack. There is the infighting between competing bureaucracies. There are a couple of unpleasant characters. But mostly it's about getting all the pieces in place to pull off an attack on a mercenary camp, and there are a bunch of pieces involved.

One interesting thing was their base at the airport. The marines setup a sandbagged machine gun post. I am not sure how much good that would do. If someone were to attack the people at the base it would be good to have, but it's not going to do much good for any aircraft coming or going. Airplanes are very vulnerable when they are on the ground, and airports are big places with a clear line of fire in every direction. If I was responsible for a military airbase, I would want a secure perimeter at least five miles from the center of airport in every direction. That's 30 miles of perimeter that would have to be secured. That would be tough, especially if you are operating out of someone elses' airport.

There was one line that stood out. I should have marked it when I read it but I didn't and it took me an hour to find it tonight, and I actually found two lines, but they both say the same thing:
A week ago, she had been riding high on the rush of astronaut training; now she was two thousand miles from Houston, and the people there thought that she was a liability. She could hear the words - uncooperative, grandstanding, aggressive. Violent. Self-centered. Not a team player.

View Larger Map

Update September 2016 replaced missing picture.

No sound Epox motherboard Ubuntu 8.10

I've been fooling around with my Linux box trying to get the sound working. As a practical matter it's basically a waste of time. I could go down to the local computer shop, buy a new sound board for $10, plug it in and it would probably work. But learning the in's and out's of Linux might be a useful skill, so I have taken to investigating the problem, and this means being assimilated into the Linux culture. If I keep it down to an hour or two a day, it is not too bad. I learn a little bit, I make a little progress, I get disgusted with the convoluted way this, that or the other was implemented. Then I stop for the day, and let the disgust dissipate, and the next day I am ready to try a little more. What I wouldn't give for a design document that explains how this all supposed to work. There probably is one somewhere in the thousands (3,715 to be exact) of files in the ASLA subsystem, but I'll be durned if I know where it is. Meanwhile I am sorting it out by stepping through the code for aplay with gdb (Gnu Debugger).

Most of the code looks like it is involved in setting things up, opening the file, figuring out what format it is, what device is going to get this data. Then at some point it flips a switch, something magic happens, and sound comes out of the speakers. Or, as in my case, not.

Sugar, Speed & Fat

Glucose Metabolism
I have a new theory on why so many people in America are so fat. It's the complexity of modern life, combined with the pressure cooker environment of working for living, and then you add in the brains' glucose requirement and the ready availability of high-fructose corn syrup and you have all the ingredients for a massive weight increase. People enjoy being smart, they like figuring things out on their own. Thinking requires brain power, and the brain runs on sugar. Often when I am working on a difficult problem I will get hungry and there is nothing better than donuts. Mmmm, nice big fat sugary donuts. And since I only walk a mile or two each day instead of the five I should be walking, I have gained weight. I stopped gaining weight some years ago and have been stuck at my current 235 pounds for I don't know how long. Ten years, maybe? More? Whatever.

Because of the culture we live in, people's brains are working overtime creating a demand for sugar. Eating and drinking provides some relief, but often more food is taken in to satisfy the disproportionate demands of the brain than the body really needs, and that extra food goes to fat.

Some people like speed. I think most people would like it if they tried it. Fortunately, most people know enough to refrain from taking something that could potentially ruin their lives. Interesting thing about speed freaks is they like to work. Go, go, go, get things done, don't stop to eat, too much to do. I suspect speed somehow is freeing up glucose to feed the brain, or maybe it's an indirect effect that just raises the demand for sugar and the some other autonomic system gets triggered to boost the blood sugar level.

In any case, both sugar and speed are feeding the same urge to get or keep the brain revved up. Even if you aren't doing anything, it gets the brain going which can keep you entertained all by itself. After all, can't have people being bored. Idle hands are the devil's workshop and all that.

Update February 2016. Replaced missing picture of 'pavement cells' from Korea with Glucose Metabolism from Wikipedia. Why did I have a picture of pavement cells (assuming that's what it was, that's what the file name said)? Pavement cells are only found in plants, and plants don't get fat, do they? Maybe it was just a cool picture. Too bad it vanished.


From Iowa. It took four attempts to get a decent copy of this image into this blog. Uploading it from my disk caused it to be shrunk. Editing the html to restore it's size made it fuzzy. Used MSPAINT to change it from JPEG to PNG format, didn't help. Uploaded it to Picasa and then tried to embed it. Came out tiny. Got the url from Picasa and used Blogger's insert image function and that seemed to work. It is still not as big as the original, but at least it's not fuzzy.

Update November 2016 replaced missing picture.

Idiot Sightings

  • We had to have the garage door repaired. The Sears repairman told us that one of our problems was that we did not have a 'large' enough motor on the opener. I thought for a minute, and said that we had the largest one Sears made at that time, a 1/2 horsepower. He shook his head and said, 'Lady, you need a 1/4 horsepower.' I responded that 1/2 was larger than 1/4. He said, 'NO, it's not.' Four is larger than two..'

    We haven't used Sears repair since.

  • My daughter and I went through the McDonald's take-out window and I gave the clerk a $5 bill. Our total was $4.25, so I also handed her a quarter. She said, 'you gave me too much money.' I said, 'Yes I know, but this way you can just give me a dollar bill back.' She sighed and went to get the manager who asked me to repeat my request. I did so, and he handed me back the quarter, and said we are sorry but they could not do that kind of thing' The clerk then proceeded to give me back $1 and 75 cents in change.

    Do not confuse the clerks at McD's.

  • I live in a semi rural area. We recently had a new neighbor call the local township administrative office to request the removal of the DEER CROSSING sign on our road. The reason: 'Too many deer are being hit by cars out here! I don't think this is a good place for them to be crossing anymore.'

    From Kingman , KS ..

  • My daughter went to a local Taco Bell and ordered a taco. She asked the person behind the counter for 'minimal lettuce..' He said he was sorry, but they only had iceburg lettuce.

    From Kansas City

  • I was at the airport, checking in at the gate when an airport employee asked , 'Has anyone put anything in your baggage without your knowledge?' To which I replied, 'If it was without my knowledge, how would I know?' He smiled knowingly and nodded, 'That's why we ask.'

    Happened in Birmingham , Ala.

  • The stoplight on the corner buzzes when it's safe to cross the street. I was crossing with an intellectually challenged coworker of mine. She asked if I knew what the buzzer was for. I explained that it signals blind people when the light is red. Appalled, she responded, 'What on earth are blind people doing driving?!'

    She was a probation officer in Wichita , KS

  • At a good-bye luncheon for an old and dear coworker. She was leaving the company due to 'downsizing.' Our manager commented cheerfully, 'This is fun We should do this more often.' Not another word was spoken. We all just looked at each other with that deer-in-the-headlights stare.

    This was a lunch at Texas Instruments.

  • I work with an individual who plugged her power strip back into itself and for the sake of her life, couldn't understand why her system would not turn on.

    A deputy with the Dallas County Sheriffs office, no less.

  • When my husband and I arrived at an automobile dealership to pick up our car, we were told the keys had been locked in it.. We went to the service department and found a mechanic working feverishly to unlock the drivers side door. As I watched from the passenger side, I instinctively tried the door handle and discovered that it was unlocked. 'Hey,' I announced to the technician, 'it's open!' His reply, 'I know. I already got that side.'

    This was at the Ford dealership in Canton, Mississippi


They walk and drive among us... And the scary part is that they VOTE and they REPRODUCE

Via la femme.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Hot Bread

My wife brought home a loaf of bread, hot from the oven, from the bakery yesterday. They gave it to her in a paper bag, and also gave her a plastic bag to store in it AFTER it had cooled off. Well, evidently we didn't wait long enough because this morning I went to get a couple of slices and they were all stuck together. I pulled out the entire loaf and resliced it, which made a real mess because the slices had gotten warped and it was not a straight anymore. But the bread still tasted great.

Too smart for my own good

Or, if you're so smart, why ain't you rich? I noticed a little picture on Stu Savory's blog that announced that the reading level for his blog was "College (Undergraduate)". I thought cool, so I tried it myself. It came back genius. At first I thought that's pretty cool, someone (more like something) acknowledges how smart I am. But then I thought maybe that's not so good. Only geniuses can understand what I right? Not too many of them around, might explain why I have so few readers. But then I got to wondering about what this evaluation was based on. The default page of my blog? All the blog entries? The number of big words I use? What?

I try to be clear "to even the meanest understanding"*, but an evaluation like that indicates that perhaps I am not succeeding. I know I am not the greatest writer. I can put together sentences that can convey some meaning, but I don't think anyone will ever mistake it for elegance. Numbers are more my cup of tea. I think all my kids write better than I do.

I saw the word cloud widget on someone else's blog and I thought it was pretty cool, so I thought I would add it to my blog. I did and one word stood out in bold in the middle of the cloud: REALLY. I think my high school English teacher would have grimaced at that. Shoot, I grimaced. I didn't post the word cloud widget on my blog.

And why aren't I rich? Well, relative to some people I am, but then any American is rich compared to most of the third world. But the real answer is that money is just not that interesting. I suspect I could make a living day trading (buying and selling stocks). The trick would be to find some stocks that are actively traded, but don't really change much. They might go up or down a few points but basically they stay in the same range. Of course it takes nerves, especially if you using very much of your capital. But it's work, you have to stay on top of it constantly, and you really have no control over what's going on. You are like a seagull following a ship. You know there are going to be scraps coming over the side, all you have to do is hang out and wait for them. I'm not very good at waiting, I get bored. I want something to do.

*this phrase comes from reading too much Patrick O'Brian.

Update December 2016 replaced missing image. Old readability test has vanished, new one claims this blog has a 5th grade reading level, but the results are liable to be skewed by the large number of navigation items in the right hand column.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hot And Cold

You'll Catch Your Death of Cold
I suspect that we are all, if not infected, at least carrying around any number of agents of disease. Viruses mostly, though there could be bacteria in the mix as well. What keeps us healthy, at least when we are, is that none of these agents has a sufficient toehold to cause any real trouble. Our immune system keeps their population in check. However, any little upset in the current order can tip the scales such that some of these miscreants can increase their numbers to the point where they can cause trouble, and that's when we get sick.

Twice in recent memory I got cold, and a couple of days later I was feeling miserable. Not sick exactly, but not functioning at my peak. The most recent event was Monday. I lay down in the TV room to take a nap. Not the warmest room in the house, but I had a blanket, and I thought I would be fine. I was cold when I lay down, but when I got up I felt fine. But yesterday I paid the price. I spent all day sleeping, and when I was awake I couldn't concentrate on anything more complicated than solitaire. Basically a wasted day. But today I am feeling better.

The previous incident probably happened last winter. I went for a walk in the cold. It was chilly starting out, but after awhile I warmed up a bit. I never did get hot though. I managed to generated enough heat to keep from feeling cold all the way through, but my arms and legs still felt it. This one quite wiped me out. Took at least a day to recover. I think it was exhaustion more than anything. Not just from walking but from having to generate enough heat to keep warm.

So maybe there is something to that old saw about "you'll catch your death of cold".

Update March 2016 replaced missing picture.

Sound Effects

We've trained our cats to go to the garage at 10PM. It used to be a struggle to round them up and evict them from the house each night, but evidently lack of consistency was the problem. We've been rounding them up each night at 10PM for about a month now, and when it's ten o'clock, and I tell them it's time, they toddle off quite willingly.

The reason they spend the night in the garage is that if we leave them in house they meow. They are quiet most of the night but eventually they come looking for someone to pay attention to them and if they don't get any response they meow. Nothing more obnoxious than a cat meowing. Unless it's while you are trying to sleep. Quiet cat equals good cat. Meowing cat equals boot to the garage.

When we were in Seattle a month or two ago we went out to diner at the "Ram" restaurant in University Village. It was pretty dreadful, but I did learn one thing. It was very noisy and it was difficult for me to hear what anyone was saying. But I did have a brief conversation with my daughter. She told me I was talking too loud. I was talking loud enough that I could hear myself. I tried lowering the volume of my voice. She could hear me and understand what I said. I could barely hear myself. Strange.

Some time ago I saw the movie "Layer Cake", a British film about some drug dealing gangsters. One of the "gang", a little crazier than most, rips off a large quantity of drugs from someone on the continent. He wants to unload this wholesale quantity of drugs, but he wants retail prices. So they set up a meet: two other British gangsters and this crazy guy and his girlfriend. The meeting dissolves into the crazy guy shouting. One of the Brits shoots him. That quiets him down. Now his girlfriend goes into hysterics and starts screaming at them. He shoots her too. Now we have peace and quiet.

One of the things we have in the US is freedom of speech. You can say pretty much whatever you want, unless it is:
a. slanderous,
b. intended to excite people to violence, or
c. threatening someone with violence.
I am sure there probably some other exclusions as well, but we still call it freedom of speech.

In other parts of the world, places under military rule, or under dictators, freedom of speech does not exist. The press is controlled by the government. People are arrested for saying things the government does not like.

Now why is that? Why would the government in power be so worried about what people say? I mean they have the police and the army under their control, who cares what a bunch of yahoos out in the street are saying?

I suppose it's because words can convey ideas, and ideas have power. If you don't like someones ideas, then shutting them up would be one way to keep those ideas from spreading, or at least slow down the spread. Or maybe it's like a cat's meow, just the sound of someone espousing an idea you don't like is enough to set your teeth on edge and to call out the police to remove the offending noise maker.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Mycenae Alpha

By Iannis Xenakis. I wouldn't call it music, it's more like sound effects from a Science Fiction movie. But it is interesting to experience hearing the sounds generated by the drawings. I think the original drawing must have much higher resolution because some sounds are very different even when the marks are at the same height. via Dustbury.

What to do.

I'm supposed to be looking for job, but I've been looking for a year and a half and I haven't found one yet. Makes me think I'm not going to find a job, at least not by looking the way I have been.

I'm a pretty smart guy. Actually, I'm a very smart person, and I think that may be part of the problem. Most of the jobs I have been looking at are something I could do without trying too hard. They are just "grist for the mill", as I been telling prospective employers. You have some computer programming work to be done, let me at it, I will feed it to my brain, grind it up and generate a program that will do the job. I suspect that is not what they want.

There is a crew of guys armed with gas powered weedeaters in the swamp behind my house and they are making a heck of a racket. Makes it a little hard to concentrate, but I will try. I think they are part of the blackberry eradication effort, but they seem to spend all their time cutting grass. I have faith that whoever is charge of this project knows what they are doing. This weedeater crew was here one day last week, and a couple of days last spring. It just goes on and on and on.

I have been thinking that perhaps I should be looking for a management job. Most of the managers I have worked for in my career have been grossly incompetent. I have no doubt I could do a better job than any of them.

I have been working in this business long enough that I know what goes into producing computer software, so I have no doubt I could certainly do the job, and probably do it better than most. However, I have no actual experience in this area, so simply looking for a management job is not going to work. I would have to charm my way into such a position, and if I happened across the right person at the right time, this could happen. This would require endless hobnobbing with people in the business, and I could do that if I thought it would really pay off.

But is that what I really want to do? I could do it, and do it well, but would that be the best use of my talents? And just what are my talents? What would be a good use of my talents?

I get ideas, lots of good ideas on how things could be done. Some ideas are for completely new things, some are simply improvements on existing things. But like the old saw says "ideas are a dime a dozen". It takes a lot of work to turn an idea into something real. That may be the root of my attraction to software. Computers give you such a leg up on getting things done. They allow us to do things that a few years ago were inconceivable.

Right now I have a few abstract projects to work on:
  • getting the sound on my Linux box to work
  • getting the Linux screen resolution control to work properly
  • my spiral periodic table
  • my low distortion world map
  • work on my gears program that would enable me to:
  1. work out the gears for my toy clock
  2. work out the gearing for my three speed bicycle crankset
  • getting my online presence sorted out, including:
  1. webpage for my job search
  2. online photo storage for family
  3. podcasts for lunch bunch
Maybe I should look for a job as a teacher at a college or university. Or maybe I should give up the job search entirely and just retire.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

World Map

A couple of weeks ago I saw a one man show about Buckminster Fuller. Great show, talked about the complete man. It got me thinking about maps of the world again. I never liked the standard maps of the world that are displayed in classrooms. As my teachers pointed out the tropical regions are fairly well depicted, but as you get closer to the poles, the land forms become much more distorted. Greenland (836,109 sq mi) is actually about as big as Mexico (761,606 sq mi). It is not bigger than China (3,704,427 sq mi).
Standard Horribly Distorted World Map
At one point I was playing with regular polyhedrons (icosahedron, dodecahedron) and I got to thinking that maybe this would be a good way to make a better world map.

Icosahedron is made of 20 equilateral triangles. Dodecahedron is made of a dozen regular pentagons.

Then I found out that Buckminster Fuller had already done that, so I ordered a copy of his map. It is an interesting exercise, but I can see why it never caught on. While it does portray the continents (and Greenland) with very low distortion, the cardinal directions (North, South, East and West) are somewhat randomized. One of things I learned in school was that the conventional way to layout a map is to have North at the top, South at the bottom, East to the right and West to the left. Bucky's map does not do this, which makes it a little hard to use. So back to the drawing board.

Buckmister Fuller's Dymaxion Map
After considerable thought and some experimentation, I came up with what I think is a superior layout for a world map. I even went to the trouble to write it up and send it off to a local map maker. Nothing came of it.

I talked to my friend Dennis about some of these ideas after the show. Last week he sends me a link to a website that has more world map projections than you can shake a stick at. Some of them are even similar to mine.

Of course none of them are as good as mine. Just keep listening to me, I will show you the one true way. I wish I had a drawing I could show you, but producing a map is time consuming. Perhaps I will scan my one paper drawing and post it here.

My idea is to start with a cylinder. The diameter and height are equal. The axis of the cylinder coincides with the axis of the Earth. Scribe the tropics on the cylinder wall. Scribe the arctic circles on the circular top and bottom of the cylinder. Now cut bevels around the top and bottom edges using the tropics and the arctic circles as guides. Project the surface of the Earth onto this three dimensional surface. Now with some judicious cutting, and little bit of fudging, we can unwrap this object and spread it onto a flat surface. Orientation is (mostly) preserved, or at least apparent. Distortion is low, and land masses are contiguous.

Update September 2016 replaced missing picture.

Business Opportunity: Custom Cigarettes

With the price of a pack of cigarettes now about $5, I am thinking rolling your own could be saving you some serious money. When I was in Canada some zillion years ago, all the smokers I ran into rolled their own, and not just bums either. I met a truck driver who had a baggie full of smokes. He and his wife would sit down every month or two and roll a thousand cigarettes and that would keep them supplied for a while. I imagine it might be worthwhile for a tobacco shop to roll cigarettes to order for quantities as small as 200. That's what's in a carton. Since most of the price of a pack of ready made smokes is tax, rolling your own, or having them rolled could easily save you a $1000 a year.

On top of that, if you could get organic tobacco, it might be healthier to boot. First of all you get rid of the chemicals that the cigarette companies put in the cigarettes (whatever they are). Second of all you get rid of the radioactive lead, which is probably the cause of lung cancer in smokers. Of course you still get to deal with emphysema, but you can't have everything.


You know what would help me? If restaurants would pre-calculate the amount of the tip and put it on the bill. Trying to figure out what 15% of $37.83 is a real pain, especially once I've had a couple of drinks. They've got these fancy cash registers, have them calculate the what 5, 10, 15 and 20% tip would be. Just circle the amount you want to leave if you are putting it on your credit card. It would give you some guidance if you are paying by cash.

Or maybe I could just write +15% on the bill and let them figure it out. I wonder if that would work?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Behemoth Fire Trucks

Did you ever think fire trucks are too big? Maybe it's part of being in America, where everything is bigger, so fire trucks have to be bigger too. Seems to me you could do most of what a firetruck does with a much smaller vehicle. This would in turn give you a whole bunch of other advantages:
  • lower cost
  • less weight
  • less horsepower required
  • more maneuverable
On the other hand, maybe the production numbers can't justify the expense of designing a whole new kind of compact fire engine. However, the way people fight about taxes, and since fire engines are almost always paid for by taxes, I expect we shall see a change sometime in the next five or ten years.

Protected Professions: Pharmacist

I don't know but I suspect pharmacists are the most underutilized professionals in the world. Go to school, get a degree, and then go on to medical school and study drugs for who knows how long. When you finally get out you get a job loading pills into little bottles. I don't get it.

Now I can imagine a couple of reasons for this. One might be attention to detail. Giving someone the wrong drugs could have serious consequences. Perhaps all those years in school makes pharmacists more careful about dispensing drugs. Somehow I don't think so. Any number of jobs require attention to detail, even if they don't require a degree.

I think the big one though is control of the distribution of narcotics. Pharmacists have a large assortment of drugs at their command. Some of them are on the controlled substances list. Can't let just anybody get their hands on those. A pharmacist is more likely to follow the rules, because if he breaks the rules and gets caught he could lose his license. Someone who hasn't invested the time and money getting a pharmacists license is not going to be so concerned.

If people could get morphine at their local pharmacy that might cut into the local black market distribution network, which would cut into their profits, and we can't have that.

And while we are on the subject, are these new pain killers any better than the originals? I know they like to charge an arm and a leg for them, but why? The few bits on information I have come across stress some obscure advantages of these new drugs. Why can't we just stick with the originals like codeine and morphine, which must certainly be cheaper than these new fangled concoctions. I suspect the DEA has an unwarranted influence here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Central Sun Visor

Sunvisors in cars work well when the sun is the right position relative to the car, but that is only about half the time. The other half of time when a sunvisor is needed they work poorly, if they work at all. What we need is one long sunvisor that is mounted on a central pivot that can be swung around through a complete circle so that it can provide shade in any direction. Likewise one should be able to extend it so it comes down farther, or retract it so that it does not obscure as much of the window.

I also want a shaded transparent dot, like a sunglass lens, that can be positioned to filter the headlights of oncoming cars.


I haven't been reading as much lately, too much of my time was getting sucked up by the insatiable internet vortex. I have read a couple of books and started a couple more. One that I really enjoyed was:

"To Serve Them All My Days" by R.F. Delderfield. This was a great a book from the git-go. Something about the tone or style felt very comfortable right from the beginning. Lots of insight into human nature, lots of good characters. Also a smattering of views of the first World War. There was so much good stuff in it that I started making notes intending to write something longer about it, but that hasn't happened.

"What Is The What" by Dave Eggers. I started this one about a month ago and I am about a third of the way through it. It starts off with a robbery, and then veers off into reminicing, and then comes back to the robbery in progress. After about 50 pages I was getting tired of this. "Come on, dude" I'm thinking, let's get this robbery over with so we can get on with the story. But then I talk to my daughter who has already read it and she tells me that is the way it is for the whole book, so I resign myself to having to cope with these two story lines. The story is pretty engaging, but the subject matter is very unpleasant. First there is the story of survival in Southern Sudan. Then there are the robbers in the U.S., and now we are into the craven behavior of some of the refugees when they come to the states. All in all a pretty sad bunch of people.

I was walking by the bookstore in downtown Hillsboro the other day and they had a bargain bin of books out front. I stopped to look and found three Science Fiction authors I recognized:
  • Fred Saberhagen, of Berserker fame
  • Robert Silverberg, and
  • Gordon R. Dickson, author of numerous stories about Dorsai soldiers.

I read "Octagon" by Fred Saberhagen yesterday. Not a great story, but easy enough to get through. About a computer intelligence playing a game and becoming a physical menace to other players. It's set back in the early 80's and it's interesting to see what is considered high-tech back then. Amazingly prophetic on some issues. Similar story line to the recent movie "Eagle Eye" which was a terrible movie, though John and I disagree on whether it is worse than "Jumper" or not.

"Valley Beyond Time" by Robert Silverberg is a collection of four stories. I read the first one, which has the same title as the book. Not a bad story, but not much to it.

I started "Soldier, Ask Not" by Gordon R. Dickson. So far I have found some good bits and some tedious bits.

Update: I finished "Valley Beyond Time". I am not sure but I think all four stories ended with the protagonist killing people. Solved his problems, but since the stories are all hypothetical, it's okay.

I gave up on "Soldier, Ask Not". Supposedly the last third of the book was a prize winning novella, and the first two thirds were grafted on to make a full length story. I kept hoping it would get better, but the protagonist is making too many mistakes, and he is too angry and I just got tired of it.

Update July 2019 replaced missing image.

Space Bubbles

Eventually we are going to get serious about exploring the solar system. When we reach that stage it would be handy to have a real space habitat in place at either of the Lagrange points L4 or L5. These two points follow the same orbit as the moon, either leading by 60 degrees (L4) or trailing by 60 degrees (L5).

A large sphere, or a collection of large spheres might be the simplest way to construct such a habitat. These spheres might be as small as a hundred feet in diameter or as large as a mile in diameter. A sphere would be easiest because of the internal air pressure. Trying to contain a large volume of air with any other shape is going to put additional strain on the structure.

How could we construct such large spheres? We could construct them of a multitude of small pieces, each one specially shaped. We could fabricate these sections on the moon and boost them into orbit where space suited workers could rivet, weld, or otherwise bond them together. That is imaginable, but it would entail a great deal of very precise work and would likely take years to complete.

On the other hand, I have been wondering if it might not be possible to blow a giant bubble, much like glass blowers blow glass. We are working in an area of virtually no gravity, so we should not have a problem with the weight of the structure causing it to collapse. You would still have the problem of boosting enough material out to the chosen Lagrange point. And now you would also have the problem of generating enough heat to melt the entire mass of material, and keep it molten while it was "blown up" into a sphere.

In space we would be loosing a great deal of heat. We could build a large insulating structure to house our metal bubble inflation, but that is exactly what we are trying to avoid. Build a temporary insulating structure may be easier that building solid metal sphere designed for habitation, but it would still be a big job.

If we were closer to the sun we would not loose so much heat energy, in fact if were close enough, we might even be able to use the sun to melt our material. Matter of fact, how is this for a hare-brained idea? Take one correctly size iron-nickel asteroid. Bore a hole to the center. Carve out a cavity of some hundreds of cubic yards. Fill the cavity with water/ice. Seal the hole so the water cannot escape. Push the asteroid into an orbit that will cause if to pass very close to the sun before coming back out to Earth's orbit. As the asteroid approaches the sun it will start gettting warm. The water in the center will eventually become hot. The asteroid will eventually become molten, the water will turn to steam and inflate the asteroid to a useful diameter. The asteroid's orbit will cause it recede from the sun and cool. Eventually it will return to Earth's orbit where it will need to be met by a booster to stabilize its' orbit.

It would not be easy to implement, and it would no doubt take a number of trials before we arrived at a lucky combination of events that would deliver a usable sphere. Challenges we would face:
  • locating an appropriate size asteroid of the correct composition.
  • bringing it to Earth orbit to facilitate work.
  • boring the hole and carving out the center.
  • sealing the hole.
  • launching into eliptical orbit that will pass near the sun.
  • capturing the result when it returns to Earth's orbit.
Just think though: what a sphere it would be!

Update September 2016 replaced missing picture.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


Robot Wisdom auxilary provided a link to a page of maps of the election. This one is distorted to show the relative population of the states.


Found this in Parade magazine this morning. Even that bastion of celebrity gossip occasionally has something worthwhile. Makes me wonder what the current national budget is, and how much the US collects in taxes each year, but it's Sunday, so I am going to take a nap.

Countries That Own the Most U.S. Debt

Japan $585.9 billion
China $541.0 billion
United Kingdom $307.4 billion
OPEC Nations* $179.8 billion
Caribbean banking centers** $147.7 billion

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Singing Atoms

Roberta X put up a post about the periodic table done to music. I found another video, same tune, different graphics.

Here's the lyrics if you want to follow along:

There's antimony, arsenic, aluminum, selenium,
And hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen and rhenium,
And nickel, neodymium, neptunium, germanium,
And iron, americium, ruthenium, uranium,
Europium, zirconium, lutetium, vanadium,
And lanthanum and osmium and astatine and radium,
And gold and protactinium and indium and gallium,
And iodine and thorium and thulium and thallium.

There's yttrium, ytterbium, actinium, rubidium,
And boron, gadolinium, niobium, iridium,
And strontium and silicon and silver and samarium,
And bismuth, bromine, lithium, beryllium, and barium.

There's holmium and helium and hafnium and erbium,
And phosphorus and francium and fluorine and terbium,
And manganese and mercury, molybdenum, magnesium,
Dysprosium and scandium and cerium and cesium.
And lead, praseodymium, and platinum, plutonium,
Palladium, promethium, potassium, polonium,
And tantalum, technetium, titanium, tellurium,
And cadmium and calcium and chromium and curium.

There's sulfur, californium, and fermium, berkelium,
And also mendelevium, einsteinium, nobelium,
And argon, krypton, neon, radon, xenon, zinc, and rhodium,
And chlorine, carbon, cobalt, copper, tungsten, tin, and sodium.

These are the only ones of which the news has come to Harvard,
And there may be many others, but they haven't been discovered.

You may also want to see the Table of Rejected Elements, or you may even want to see my version of the table,


Periodically I write (via email) to my congressman complaining about one thing or another or, more likely, offering my enlightened solution for some global catastrophe. Because of the election I have been holding off, figuring they would be too busy with campaigning to really pay proper attention to my magnanimous suggestions.

I always have a list of things to badger them about, and the one item that had migrated to the top of my list was Verizon's Robocop automated phone support system. Just a few days ago my wife was trying to sort out some charges on our wireless bill and I could hear her yelling YES/NO/MAYBE SO at the machine. Today was bill paying day and the phone bill is more like $400 instead of the usual $300. So I gird my loins and prepare to do vocal battle with Robocop. Imagine my surprise when after a short recorded message I find myself talking to a real person. Shocked I was!

Someone turned on Vcast, which gets you video and/or web access to your phone. $65 for three phones. Tack that onto the $325 regular bill and we are close enough to $400 to sneeze. This bill is for everything:
  • 4 cell phones with unlimited text messaging
  • 1 land line
  • high speed internet
  • "cable" TV
  • HBO
  • (2) DVR (Digital Video Recorders)
  • Taxes, fees, carrying charges, assessments, auxiliary license fees, etc. etc.
So I got Vcast turned off, told Kevin (the real person) how much I appreciated not having to deal with Robocop, and hung up. All done. Happy.

Now a real partisan would say that Obama made Verizon get rid of Robocop. I would never suggest such a thing, but it is a heck of a coincidence, eh?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Gone Bosco Gone

Walked down to Heaton Automotive this afternoon to pick up the Endeavor. On my way I walked by Peter Bosco Elementary School. Except. It wasn't there. Field of new grass where the school used to be. Walked by there this morning on my way home after dropping off the car. School was there this morning and this afternoon it was gone. Aliens must have come down and made off it. Right, sure, that's what happened.

I walk by that place every time I walk downtown and I never saw any indication that it was going away. Last time I walked by there, it was still there and still in use. Today it was gone. This morning I was just oblivious to fact that it was missing. Absolutely amazing. The blue outline on the map shows the building that was removed. A search on the web turned up nothing about it's being torn down. The school district still has a couple of web pages for the school, but it is not on their list of elementary schools anymore.

View Larger Map

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Out Of Touch

Obama wins, McCain loses. Is the Presidential election a personality contest? A battle of advertising budgets?

Bush won not once, but twice. Did it really take a second term for people realize he was a bum? Or was his army of media experts more adept at smearing his opponent?

Was the outcome of this election due to the internet making a real impact and more younger (read internet savvy) people voting?

It will be interesting to see what the next four years will bring. Will there be any real change, or will Republican stupidity just be replaced by Democratic stupidity?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Slice Of Life

Being sick affected my mind. Made me realize I need to quit being such a flibberty-gibbet and stop pursuing whatever strikes my fancy at the moment. Need to pick a few things to work on. We'll see how well this works. I have been going through my old bookmarks, getting rid of the ones I don't use, checking on some obscure ones to see if they are worth keeping. I may have put a link to this before but I really don't remember. I think it's a Russian designers's site.