Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest
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Thursday, April 30, 2009

OEN Swapmeet

The Oregon Entrepreneurs Network held a get-together at the Someday Lounge on NW 5th Ave in downtown Portland Thursday evening. I talked with several people there:
  • There were a couple of kids from Detroit, fresh out of school in Kalamazoo. One was looking to find some work with a non-profit organization. They did their research and decided they wanted to come to Portland.
  • A Financial Advisor from Wachovia Securities in Vancouver, formerly A.G. Edwards, formerly Washington Mutual, soon to be Wells Fargo.
  • The HR (Hungarian Royalty, aka Human Resources) who always responds terrible when people ask him how he is.
  • The IP (Intellectual Property) Lawyer, who despises the companies who make their living by threatening to sue people who they claim have infringed on their patents, and then settle for ten grand, because it's cheaper than hiring a lawyer. Got his undergraduate degree at Williams College in Massachusetts.
  • A fellow who ran the blimp manufacturing facility in Hillsboro.
  • the woman Optometrist looking to grow her business.
  • Gia, the commercial printer, who considers graphic artists her best friend.
  • Another gal who does marketing production. Organizes product launches and marketing campaigns.
  • the accountant, whom I didn't get to talk to much.
Turns out the HR guy and the IP Lawyer both had a smattering of Japanese. They held a long conversation that turned out to be nothing more than something along the lines of "Hi, how are you? The weather is fine." To the rest of us it was completely incomprehensible. Spooky how suspicious you can become when you don't understand what people are saying, or maybe that's just me.

I quickly ran out of steam and then I noticed that the Trailblazers (our local basketball team) were starting a game, and if I left now I would be home in time to see the end of the game, so I packed it in and headed for the train.

Normally on train rides, I read, but I had finished my most recent book on the way in, so on the way back I was free to look around. I noticed:
  • pairs of signs along the tracks as the train approached the tunnel. The upper sign said "WALK ZONE". The lower one said "NO TRESPASSING".
  • the police were checking for tickets from people getting off the train at the Sunset Transit Center. Then they got on the train and checked for tickets en-route to the Beaverton Transit Center. First time I had encountered this. Fortunately I had purchased tickets for today's travels. The woman I was sitting across from had a one year pass that she used to commute to work in downtown Portland from Gresham. The pass costs $120, which is like a tenth of what buying daily tickets would cost.
  • A big bunch of logs lying in a slue alongside the tracks in Hillsboro. Last week I was at TechShop PDX, and they have a log reclaiming operation. They take the odd lots of logs that are too small for the big lumber companies to deal with and turn them into lumber.
  • A new building under construction. It was being sheathed with GlasRoc, which is fiberglass reinforced plasterboard. It was white with big blue logos printed on it. Hadn't seen it before. I had seen the building before. It is three or so stories tall, and the concrete floors were poured in place. Last time I saw it the interior was a forest of temporary steel jacks. Now the jacks are all gone and the mechanical people (air conditioning, plumbing, electrical) are having a hay day.
  • There is a plastic looking igloo shaped structure in back of Intel's Hawthorne Farms building. There were a couple of antennae looking structures there as well, which makes me think they use it for RF (radio frequency) emissions testing.
There was still ten minutes on the game clock when I got home, but the Blazers were getting trounced. I sat through the rest of it, but it was pretty obvious it was all over. They did manage to rally for a bit and pulled within ten points of the Rockets, but that was as close as they got. Better luck next year, guys.


I took the MAX (train) to downtown Portland yesterday evening to attend an IDSA meeting. On the way back to Hillsboro there was an attractive young woman sitting across from me. She was quite a sight. Large tattoos on both arms, one with the words "Never Again". One lip ring near the corner of her mouth on the lower lip. Medium length hair with alternating Zebra stripes of hot pink and black. Camisole top, denim mini-skirt, black stockings, black boots with some chrome studs, large, elaborate silver bracelet. If I had to guess I would say she was about 30. She wasn't fat, but she wasn't a mere slip of a girl either. I wanted to take her picture, but then I wondered what would I do with it? Could I put it on my blog without a signed release form? Well, yes, I could, but I really should get permission, and that would mean talking to her, and that would have taken more nerve than I had. Later on I thought that dressed like she was, she probably would like someone to take her picture. On the other hand, maybe she was just going to work.

Friday, April 24, 2009

There is no time. There is only now.

In fact, says (Seth) Lloyd, clocks don’t really measure time at all.

“I recently went to the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder,” says Lloyd. (NIST is the government lab that houses the atomic clock that standardizes time for the nation.) “I said something like, ‘Your clocks measure time very accurately.’ They told me, ‘Our clocks do not measure time.’ I thought, Wow, that’s very humble of these guys. But they said, ‘No, time is defined to be what our clocks measure.’ Which is true. They define the time standards for the globe: Time is defined by the number of clicks of their clocks.”

By Tim Folger. Found on the lemonspank. Originally from Discover Magazine. Time is something man thought up to measure the relative speeds of different things. As far as the universe is concerned, there is no time, there is only now.

Push Me, Pull You

From my conversation with the Westside Proggers last night, I deduced that Twitter is not just being used for useless trivia (I'm eating a ham sandwich right not. With mustard.) but is also being used for something useful. Just what that might be I have not discovered, but at least with this group it seems to be true.

This got me thinking about a similar phenomena that I have noticed about other mass-market products and services: they provide a very useful, sometimes essential service for a small segment of the population, but because these same products and services are used by the vast majority of people, they have become commodities and so the cost is now very low. Cell phones, personal computers and the internet are prime examples. What percentage of calls that are made do you think are actually essential business calls? One in ten maybe? And how many are just people chatting?

Which reminds me of another related phenomena. Intel had a factory here that made PC's and the motherboards that went inside. Some of their orders were really big for companies like Dell and Gateway, and the margins on those orders were slim to non-existent. Of course, they made a bundle on every Pentium processor they sold, so the chip division was doing fine. But the systems division would also like to show a profit and they made it by also doing smaller orders for other PC vendors. Smaller orders (how small? 100? 1000? 10,000? I have no idea.) didn't get the same discount as the big orders, so Intel was able to make a little money building PC's for these smaller vendors. However, it was only because they had the facilities in place to build the PC's for the big orders, that they were able to make a profit on these smaller orders. That's the story I heard anyway.

While I am on the subject of Intel, let me relate a couple of other "insights". Back in the early 1990's, Intel was comprised of two divisions: the chip division and the systems division. The chip division made integrated circuits, like processors. The systems division made boards that used these chips, packaged them in boxes and sold the whole package as a microcomputer system. One of Intel's goals at the time was to grow the systems division to the point where it was as big and important as the chip division. But then the Pentium came along, chip sales skyrocketed and the systems division became a marketing arm of the chip division. It was no longer a matter of whether what you were doing was good business, it was a matter of how much you were contributing to chip sales, and that was a matter of perception. Politics triumphed and the systems division became a hell-hole.

You could say that the systems division did it to itself. They got started building boards for the industrial market (Multibus I & II). They were building boards that had approximately the same functionality of a PC motherboard, but they were selling them for $1000 where the PC motherboard was going for $100. The overhead for designing and manufacturing either kind of board is about the same, but when your volume can be counted in the hundreds of boards, you kind of need the large margins.

Westside Programming Ramble

Spreadsheet Interface for Database Queries

I went to the Westside Proggers meeting yesterday evening. About a dozen or so folks showed up, a couple of them I recognized from other meetings/events. One guy (sorry, I've forgotten the name) showed us a project he had been working on. It was a front end for working with a database. He has one screen for concocting queries, and then the results of the query are displayed like a spreadsheet. He used a bunch of fancy new tools/languages/libraries that I hadn't heard of to implement this wonder with a minimal amount of code. Being as most of the database stuff I've run into appears to be about as transparent as Perl (i.e. totally inscrutable), he may be onto something. So far I have been able to make do with using spreadsheets for all my data organizing needs. Or maybe the pain of mastering SQL (Silly, er, Structured Query Language) was more than my perceived benefit.

Kitchen Table Display Screen

Afterwards we were talking about stuff and the topic of electronic text (Twitter, newspapers, Kindle, e-books) came up. Some people have no use for newspapers, but I like mine, mainly for the comics. First thing every morning: cup of tea, reading glasses, pen and the comics page. What am I going to do when the newspaper folds up and dies? Am I going to have make do with some kind of clunky electronic tablet? That I will have to BUY and supply with POWER, CARRY around, and PROTECT against getting whacked? I'm sorry, but that does not sound like an improvement to me. Sounds like a giant pain in the neck. And let's not forget the ritual morning weather check. To retrieve the paper, you have to go outside, where you will be exposed to the weather, which is much better than any weather report you might get. Actually, this a moot point here. My wife gets up earlier than I do and she's the one who goes out and gets the paper, but theoretically speaking my point is still valid.

Then we have this whole vertical industry devoted to producing newspapers:
  • growing and harvesting of trees,
  • production and delivery of newsprint,
  • making and installing printing presses, and the buildings that house them,
  • writing the news, producing the ads, and actually printing the paper,
  • delivering the paper, and
  • collecting old newspapers for recycling.
We have been refining this process for a couple of hundred years and we are getting pretty good at it. I imagine it takes at least a hundred subscribers to keep one person employed in this production chain, and the subscription fees pay for less than half. I am pretty sure that advertising picks up the larger half of the bill.

Still, producing a newspaper is expensive. I read one recent story that claimed the amount of money the NY Times spends on printing, paper and ink for a year, would be more than enough to buy every subscriber a Kindle.

I don't like portable devices. I have recently seen some people working with table top screens, i.e. the screen surface is horizontal, like a table, and it is big as a table. We can certainly make big screens, though I don't think we can duplicate the resolution of a large printing press. A single sheet of a newspaper (one side, two pages, say three feet square) is going to have 100 million pixels, which is roughly 25 times more than you get with a big screen TV.

When did 640 by 480 (VGA) first become popular? 1990? If so, then it has taken us 20 years to get to slightly more than 4 times higher resolution. How long is it going to take before we get another 25 times better?

Here is a multi-touch table top screen. I don't know about the resolution, and I don't know whether it is actually a flat panel. It might be a rear projector. Lots of stuff on YouTube about multi-touch. I am sure it's wonderful, but they aren't answering my question.

Quote of the Day

Whereas basic plane geometry is concerned with points and lines and their interactions, most of the early geometry of the Babylonians, Arabs, and Greeks was spherical geometry--the study of the Earth, idealized as a sphere. This early science was astronomy and the need to measure time accurately by the sun.
From a web page about Spherical Geometry via a tip from Dennis. It seems the ancients knew a lot more than we generally give them credit for.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tech Shop Portland

For anybody who likes to make things, Tech Shop Portland is like Disneyland! Every big machine tool or piece fabricating equipment you ever wanted is right here in one place, set up and ready to go! Walk right in and build yourself the next world beating slankerator!

Okay, that's a little over the top. The place isn't even officially open yet, and they don't have every machine tool ever built, but they do have a good assortment, and they are getting more all the time.

Lunch 2.0 was held at Tech Shop Portland yesterday so I went to see what's going on. Denney Cole is the prime instigator of this venture. He was using the Tech Shop down in Menlo Park, and decided we needed one up here. They have a good size warehouse that they are quickly filling with machine tools of various kinds. Conventional metal and wood working tools, sewing machines, soldering irons & oscilloscopes, computers and welding equipment. Anything you could possibly need in order to build whatever you want. They have some computer controlled equipment like a CNC lathe, an X-Y-Z wood router, and a plasma cutter, with more on the way. Denney also recently got a line on a bunch of machine tools in a shop on the East side that he is thinking of moving.

The whole thing is run like a health club. You pay a monthly membership fee and you get unlimited use of the facilities. They are planning on having card-key access 24 hours a day, though the equipment hasn't been installed yet. They have only been there a month and they are still working on the place. Even the office space up front is not quite finished.

If you join now you might be able to score a deal on the rates. Also, they are looking for a few volunteers to man the front desk, etc. You get free membership in compensation. It would be the equivalent of working for peanuts, but they might have free coffee. If that's the case I might sign up myself.

Denney himself is working on a six wheeled robot. First application is as a base for T-shirt Gatling gun that is planned for the Beaver games.

Update January 2017 replaced missing pictures.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Modern Medicine Story

Iowa Man Reports:
D has been battling the hospital administration for two years. They are insisting that she keep two sets of medical records for her psych patients. Many man days have been spent on arguing this issue.

Unlike regular medicine, in Psychiatry there can be two type of notes kept in a psych patients medical record: Progress notes and Process notes.

Progress note is like a regular medical note: example: "patient complains of fatigue and insomnia. Drinks, smokes, takes Haldol."

Process note is a psychotherapy note: example: "this patient fidgets and admits they are confused about who they are. This may be the result of PTSD from witnessing a accident 20 years ago"

D's practice does not do psychotherapy, hence there are no process notes. I as the outside observer noted the possible confusion between the words process and progress. I then googled the words and found HIPAA regulations clearly spelling out the requirement. The hospital administration never bothered to educate themselves about the difference between the two terms. They just kept insisting that D maintain two sets of medical records.

Once the problem was defined to the top executive the two year problem was solved, in 10 minutes. One record for one patient.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Thought For The Day

Note from Anywhere, USA:
So yes, I see the themes of irrationality, lack of control, old rules no longer applicable, and perceived chaos as looming in the current zeitgeist.

Upside: this could lead to a new movement toward responsibility, practicality, discipline and civility, as people reject the frenzy and sensationalism that wrought such havoc over the past decade, in favor of common sense.

But don't count on it. More likely we'll see a frenzied adoption of trendy products and sensationalist services, which promise to deliver us from frenzy, trendiness and sensationalism.

Thanks for your attention.


I came across this on Greenfield Park & Marty North. It looks very cool, perhaps a little impractical, but then there are still a lot of people with more money than sense running around, so conceivably there is a market for this sort of thing. I found these pictures on several web sites. I picked what I thought were the best ones.

Hotelicopter, click here to see more photos.

I also found this video.

The Hotelicopter is based on the giant Russian Mil V-12 Helicopter from the late 1960's.

You know, I thought the pictures of the hotelicopter were a little too good to be true, and they are. The whole thing was dreamed up by an advertising agency. They did manage to fool some people. The thing that clinched it for me was the video. Notice the contra-rotating blades in the video of the original Russian machine. Now go back and look at the video of the Hotelicopter. The blades are rotating in the same direction. You would think that with all the effort that went into this project they would get a little detail like that right.

I should have been more suspicious. The first time I saw this photo it reminded me of nothing so much as the luxury space liner from the movie "The Fifth Element".

Update January 2017 replaced inoperative slide show with photo and link.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Water Wings

Michigan Mike sent me a link to this video:

There is a whole subculture devoted to building and experimenting with these kind of devices. While they may be fun, I don't see any real practical value. Of course it is possible that someday someone may come up with a similar contraption that is practical. But for now the only really practical human powered boats are canoes and rowboats.

People have been fooling around with hydrofoils (water wings) for quite a while now. The military built a few, and then there was the guy up in Seattle that put hyrdofoils on his Bayliner. Suzuki built something they called a Wetbike a few years ago. While not strictly a hyrdofoil, it would raise itself up out of the water on skis. There is still a group of Wetbike devotees out there.

I think what we are missing here is a quick (15 to 20 MPH), practical boat that requires minimal horsepower. People are putting electric trolling motors on canoes, which is economical enough, but not very quick. If we put a canoe on hydrofoils, how much power would we need to get it up out of the water?

And while we are on the subject of getting across the water, one company seems to have found a successful niche selling hovercraft. There are big hovercraft in use here and there. The US military has some. This outfit also sells ground effect wings for one of their hovercraft. Take off and fly up to ten feet off the ground. Umpteen years ago the Russians were all over this idea.

Curses & Crime

There was a report about a week ago about a rape that occured in the NYC subway in full view of two subway employees who did nothing about it, other than call the police. You can blame this on any number of factors:
  • Employer rules that spell out what employees are supposed to do.
  • Employer rules that threaten termination for any employee who violates those rules.
  • Employees who are so afraid of losing their job they follow those rules.
  • An economy so bad that it makes people afraid of losing their job.
  • The natural inclination of city dwellers to avoid any kind of craziness. There is so much crazy stuff going on in the city that you have to armor yourself against it or you will spend your entire life dealing with it.
  • The infamous New York rule to ignore your fellow citizens, even if they are being murdered.
Several months ago there was a story about how big box stores prohibited employees from pursuing shop lifters. They even fired a couple of people for doing so. Blame our litigious society. Juries often seem to believe that poor people deserve compensation from the evil rich corporations.

So all this was in the back of my mind last Sunday when my daughter and I went for a bike ride. While we were riding down one street we heard someone inside a house cursing a blue streak at the top of their lungs. The windows were open so we could hear them quite clearly and, boy, they were pissed. It sounds like a man berating his wife, and there is some banging going on, and I am wondering if I should knock on the door, or call 911 or something. My daughter is opposed to interfering/getting involved. Fear of embarrassment is very high. There is a little boy outside in front of the garage and he apologizes, and tells us it's his brothers and they are putting holes in the wall. Well, it's not a man beating on a woman, it's boys and they are hitting the wall, not each other, so maybe we can let this go. It's not like I have never let out a string of curses. Usually I will only do it when no one is around.

Welding Overhead

I remember one specific incident. I was working in Houston as a mechanic. I had a utility trailer hoisted in the air and I was welding some reinforcing to the underside of the frame. I am working in a warehouse, and I was pretty sure there was nobody else there. I had on my protective gloves, mask and a heavy shirt. I also had a heavy folded tarp draped over my lap. But I am welding overhead using an electric welder and sparks are flying everywhere, and I am getting burnt. I can take a few, but the job goes on, the sparks keep coming, and pretty soon I am cursing loudly and steadily. Surprise! Two guys come over from the other half of the warehouse to see who's making all the fuss. I was chagrined. After they left, I went back to welding and cursing but I kept it under my breath.

Update July 2022 replaced missing picture.


I woke up yesterday morning with about ten little spider bites. They were all on my right side within about a foot of my hip bone. I didn't even notice them until I got in the shower. I will get a spider bite occasionally, maybe once every year or two, and it's usually in bed, but I seldom get so many all at once. So what prompted this attack? Friday was laundry day, so my pajamas went in the wash, but when it came time to go to bed, I put on a T-shirt that I wore once about a week ago. Aha! Evidently enough of me rubbed off on the shirt to provide food for some microscopic critters. The shirt was left undisturbed for a week and a spider moved in to these happy hunting grounds.

Unlike my wife and daughter, I like spiders, and this episode hasn't changed my opinion. I think it might be because they are predators, and as such exhibit a little more intelligence than the average bug. They are kind of like cats in that they keep the vermin population in check.

The picture is of a jumping spider, similar to one I saw on a door frame yesterday. I chased him into a dark corner where he wouldn't scare the girls.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Slow Mo

SprintCam v3 NAB 2009 showreel from David Coiffier on Vimeo.

Mostly 1000FPS shots, made during a recent rubgy competition in the Stade de France, Paris.

Found on Neatorama.

Update April 2019 replaced outdated embed code.

Mike's Latest Frankenbike

Michigan Mike writes:
Frankenbike assembled from 2 bikes gradually accumulated. Pics of examples of each attached.

Frame/fork/headset from early 90's Centurion Dave Scott Expert Ironman.
Wheels, crank, fenders, bars, stem, brake, chainguard from mid 90's women's Schwinn 'Collegiate' .

I noticed the Schwinn in a thrift shop, along with another old POS that a friend needed to build his own Frankenbike.
Both had Shimano 3-speed rear hubs and bar shifters.
So I bought both. $20 out the door.

The were both ladies step-through bikes, which I regard as both an insult to women and bicycles, and I didn't mind taking them out of circulation if only to melt them into new bean and beer cans.

I noticed the Schwinn was virtually unridden. You can presume, when the tires still have mold nibs on the tread, but are dry rotted and can be peeled away with a thumbnail, not a lot of attention was ever lavished on the bike. I suspect it was a very dissapointed teenage girls 16th birthday present or someone's week-long effort to quit baking cookies.

Got it home and looked at it in the garage for a few weeks. The bike had forged alloy crank and stem. Odd thing, I thought, only one brake, on the front wheel. The left grip was gone, and the rear fender was unbolted from the frame. I assumed someone had an unnerving episode trying to fix the rear brake and gave up, going back inside to bake/eat more cookies.

What to do with this? I pondered.

Experience has benefits.

I looked for frames. My old neglected, beaten, bent, tired, zero-cost Austrian puch 3-speed was great for stumbling a few blocks to the store, but now I lived 2.5 miles from a store. I needed something snappier to handle TP and ice cream fetching duty.

I found a 58cm Centurion frame from the early 90's on criagslist. $60 advertised. OK, Saturday morning, I just decide to risk the 30 minute drive and go see it. Perfect condition, owned by a meticulous person, had a matching one for his son. Now they were both upgrading to carbon. "Will you take $50?" "No."

OK, Here's $60.

Centurions had a good retail name back in the day. Fairly small labeller. Made in Japan, Tange tubes, unicrown fork. Not up to todays standard for stiff/light high performance, so I hardly hesistated before reworking it into a "sports". Experience says 26x1.375 wheels are about the same size as 700c's. Whaddya know? They are. Square taper bottom bracket on Schwinn interchanged nicely with one on Centurion.

Pinch the front fender in under the fork, put it together and it rides. The rear has a coaster brake, which is really nice on the long downhills here. ZIp ties and baling wire secure the fenders to the dropouts

The Brooks B67 seat for $90 was the most expensive part. Oh and 2 tires for $30, so I'm into it for <$200. And for those of you who don't know, Brooks seats are all-day seats.

I've put about 50 miles on it so far, and it's nice, light, quick, seems pretty strong and no drama. My next excursion is to ride it across town to the micropub, where the serious titanium bikes are piled high, to show it off, as soon as my last papers are done.

Mike's Frenkenbike. Click here for more pictures.
The disaster in the background of the 5th pic is some kind of collapsed, insulated tank.

Update January 2017 replaced failed slide show with picture and link.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Quote of the Day

"The Czar was so rich he could eat butter with a spoon."
My grandmother told my mother this when she was a little girl, which would have been back in the 1920's.

Portland Industrial Clinic

Took darling daughter downtown to get her immunizations in preparation for her trip to Africa next fall. The place we went to is an old clinic right on the border between an industrial area and trendy 23rd.

Inside there is a waiting room with 12 people and room for ten. Kathryn was there for an hour and a half. I ducked out to find a better parking place, and when I came back I found out that we didn't have any way to pay for the shots, so ducked back out to find an ATM.
Trendy 23rd is one block away, and within a couple of blocks I find a Starbucks. The barrista there kindly gives me precise directions to the US Bank, three blocks farther on. There are lots of shops all up and down 23rd, but I picked Startbucks thinking I would have better odds there of finding someone who knows the neighborhood, and I was right, or lucky. So often when I stop and ask for directions and I get someone who barely knows where they are, much less where anything else is. On the way to the bank I notice these two gas meters behind the glass in a flower shop. Never seen gas meters inside before.
Upon agreeing to their $3 charge, the ATM coughs up the requisite $200. $125 for Yellow Fever, $75 for Typhoid. Turns out the Typhoid immunization is not a shot, but four (count 'em, 4!) pills that need to be refrigerated. They give us an ice pack to keep them cold on the way home. A few minutes before we are finally able to leave the clinic a man pokes his head in the door sees all of us waiting in this tiny room, says "God Damn" and "Jesus", and leaves. I have to laugh, it's what exactly what I thought when I first came in the door.
Diagonally across the street from the clinic is this building,
which turns out to be Laika, the home of the movie Coraline.

Update January 2017 replaced missing pictures.

Heaton Automotive / Extreme Performance

Once upon a time there was this really grubby building at the corner of Main and SW Dennis in Hillsboro. It looked like they had been repairing greasy machinery there for a hunnert years. It was so bad you wouldn't even want to drive onto the lot for fear that your tires would become so grease encrusted you would leave tracks all the way home and into your driveway. The sign on the wall said Doyles' Truck Repair, and it looked totally moribund.

Then about a year ago Eric Heaton took over the place, cleaned it up, painted the building, paved the lot, put up a fence. Made it look like a real professional establishment. It was a big place and I wondered how he could afford the rent, but he seemed to be managing. But then we had the snowstorm this winter and it just killed his business, so he has moved to new digs around the corner and down the street, just behind Big O Tires on West Main Street.

View Westside Hillsboro Automotive in a larger map

Doyle's meanwhile has moved down the street and around the corner to a prefab metal building. Evidently it is still a going concern. It shows no signs of the grease infestation. Yet.

Eric always has something interesting on display in the office. At the old place there was room for a car or two. The new place is a little more cramped, but there is room for a couple of motorcycles. These two were there this morning.

Just down the street from Heaton's is Extreme Sports where I saw the odd looking ATV a couple of weeks ago. Stu asked for a picture so I took a few.

Two Stroke Quadracycle
They are all Yamaha two-stroke, water cooled ATV's. The twin cylinder engines displace about 350cc. They only quit making the two-stroke version a couple of years ago. These are all used. Some are as much as ten years old. I talked to couple of guys while I was there and discovered one reason that ATV's may be so popular: traction. Motorcycles only have a single, relatively skinny tire, which limits their acceleration at low speeds. Give it too much gas the rear tire will spin. These ATV's have two rather wide tires. So what? You say, well more traction means faster acceleration, and that's one of the thrills throttle jockeys enjoy.

They had one in the showroom that had a stroker kit in it that boosted the displacement towards 500cc. They took it down to the local dragstrip just to see how fast it was and it turned in some pretty amazing numbers: 10.28 seconds in the quarter mile at 126 MPH. 13 seconds and 100 MPH is about what you can get out of a hot Camaro or Mustang, so this ATV is fast.

Update September 2016 replaced missing pictures.
Update July 2019 replaced dead Picassa slide show with single photo and link to album.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Thursday Lunch Podcast

Dennis has uploaded some more recordings of our Thursday Lunch conversations. The latest one (April 9th) was recorded at the Panda. The background noise is a little loud, but the conversation is intelligible for the most part. Someday we may learn how to clean up audio recordings.

How quick a road can wash out..

I have seen flooded roads, and I have seen washed out roads, but I never realized how quickly one can turn into the other. Realize that the river has been working on this road for a while, but when the video clip starts the road appears to still be in good condition.

Just what is that flappy noise? It's really annoying. Oh well, I guess people who actually make videos can put whatever sound they want on them. Found on Marty North and Greenfield Park.

Brake Clearance

Took the car-car into the shop last week for $1200 of tires and brakes. It has had a lumpy ride since the we first got it (used), and was even lumpier when you stepped on the brakes. I had the front rotors turned once before and that helped, but it didn't completely solve the problem. Darling daughter is back in town and driving daily, the rear tires are worn out, the brakes are nearing the end of their life, so I bite the bullet and get them all replaced at once. From all reports the ride is much smoother now. Nothing like nice, new, round wheels and tires to improve a car's ride.

I was checking it out when we got it back to the house and I noticed that the front brake calipers were durned close to the spokes of the left front wheel. There wasn't room enough in there to put a toothpick. I went out to take a photo yesterday and there is now enough clearance for a wooden match stick, so the pads may have seated a bit. Still, there are spring clips that are almost touching the spokes. Engineering really is a compromise.

Update January 2017 replaced missing pictures.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Quote of the Day

The Internet is the still pond that reflects the surrounding village on its surface.
From "Welcome To Cold War II" by David Gelernter

Mystery Bolt

I am a bit of a Pack Rat. When I am walking around I will pick up any loose screws or nails I notice lying around.

When I was in my garage yesterday I found part of a bolt in a box of rags. I don't know how it got there, but I imagine I picked it up on one of my walks. It is kind of an unusual piece. From the chip out of the broken end, and the way the broken end is not stretched or distorted, it appears to be the head of a hardened bolt that broke under a severe shearing load. Although it has the basic configuration of a bolt head, it is not really a bolt: the head is completely round. Further, it is tapered, so it would be difficult to grip even with a pipe wrench. The head is painted black, and there are six evenly spaced hash marks around the circumference of the top surface. There are also two marks there: an X and the number 16, on opposite sides. The marks and hash marks are further evidence that this is hardened steel.

The head has a profile similar to that of a railroad wheel, but there is no evidence of wear on what would be the rolling surface.

I am thinking it probably came from a heavy duty truck, but why are there no flats for a wrench on the sides of the head?

The bolt diameter is 5/8" NC (National Coarse, which is 11 threads per inch).

Update, April 25: I thought a little more about this, and now I am thinking there was a coil spring around this bolt, there to absorb some kind of shock. That would explain the heavy duty one piece head. If it had been screwed into the frame, and a lock nut tightened onto the back side, that would explain the lack of flats for a wrench. I think it was probably from a piece of equipment like one of those portable forklifts that hang off the back of semi's, or a concrete pumper, or perhaps a tilt bed tow truck. Something like that would be more likely to use an unusual bolt like this than a regular truck would.

Update January 2017 replace missing pictures.

Innate Animosity of Inanimate Objects

Why is that whenever I drop the hose nozzle, it always manages to land on its' handle with the nozzle pointing right at me? It hits the ground, the handle takes the shock, and I get doused with ice-cold water. The hose god hates me, right? What kind of sacrifice do I need to make to appease him/her/it?

Update January 2017 replaced missing picture.

Washing Dishes

I have an aversion to washing dishes. I will clear the table, put things away in the fridge, even rinse off dishes and stack them next to the sink, but I will put off actually loading the dishes in the dishwasher and hand washing the stuff that needs it for as long as possible. If I'm lucky someone else will do it.

At first I thought I had an aversion to soap and hot water. I got my hand burned with hot water a year or so ago and I thought that might have something to do with it. But then it came to me the other day while I was actually doing the dishes, this great big pain in my back from bending over to reach the stuff in the bottom of the sink.

Bending over to pick up something and then straightening back up doesn't bother me, but standing stooped over for even a few minutes quickly becomes painful. If the counter top (and the sink bottom) were six inches higher it probably would not be such a problem. Or if I did this three times a day. So that's why women do the dishes: they are shorter. They counter height is just right for them. Call it the revelation of the day. I hope my wife doesn't read this.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Quick Boost To Orbit

Proton Flight Pattern
Click on the pic to see the full size version where you can actually read the letters and numbers.

REVISED. Stu made a comment, which prompted me to re-evaluate my reasoning. I don't think Stu's objection is correct. Perhaps this revision will clarify the situation. Or not.

When launching a satellite into orbit the quicker you can get there, the less fuel it takes. Yes, I know, higher acceleration requires burning more fuel faster. But if you are accelerating faster, you don't need to spend as much time accelerating, which means you spend less time burning fuel. So the total amount of fuel required will be similar.

However, even if you are not accelerating, you still need to expend enough fuel to support the rocket, i.e. one gravity of acceleration. So the force needed just to support your launch vehicle is being expended until you get to orbit. If you accelerate faster, your time to orbit is quicker, and therefor you should not need to expend quite as much fuel just for support. You will burn the same amount of fuel for acceleration, but you will indeed need to burn it much faster in order to realize any savings on the support end.

A higher acceleration rate puts a greater strain on the payload. If the payload is just a piece of equipment, it can be designed and constructed to handle this increased strain. If we are launching a spacecraft containing people, that is another matter. People don't react well to rocket launches. It puts a big strain on them. Boosting the acceleration to a higher level could easily prove fatal.

One way to overcome this would be to immerse the person in a tank of water and equip them with SCUBA gear. The elevated force of acceleration during a rocket launch would be converted to higher water pressure, which would be equivalent to diving deeper under water.

On the Earth's surface, under one gravity of acceleration, water pressure is proportional to depth. One atmosphere of pressure (15 PSI, what we get at sea level under a pile of air 100 miles high) is about the same as what you get under 30 feet (10 meters) of water. Of course 30 feet under the surface of the sea the absolute pressure is two atmospheres (30 PSI), 15 PSI from the pile of air, and 15 PSI from the 30 feet of water.

A 30 foot tall tank of water sitting on the surface of the Earth is going to have a pressure gradient from 15 PSI (air pressure) at the top to 30 PSI at the bottom. A taller tank will have higher pressure at the bottom, a shorter tank will have a lower pressure.

Under the acceleration of a rocket launch, the pressure at the top surface will remain the same (the amount of air in the sealed spaceship is not going to change), but the pressure at the bottom will increase in direct proportion to the acceleration. A ten foot tall tank would have a pressure of 5 PSI while sitting on the ground, while under an acceleration of 10 G's (Gravities, 32 feet per second per second), the pressure would increase to 50 PSI, similar to what you would experience at a depth of 100 feet underwater. The diameter of the tank would make no difference. Likewise a tank 3 feet tall would only have a pressure differential of 15 PSI from top to bottom under 10 G's of acceleration.

So the question becomes how much difference in pressure can a human being tolerate? A person standing in a small diameter tank would experience a difference in 50 PSI from toes to nose. That might be a bit much, it might squeeze the blood out of your legs and into your head. A person lying down would experience a difference of only about 5 PSI, which might be tolerable.

For a person being launched in such a manner, a relatively small diameter tube could contain them, perhaps as small as three feet in diameter. Of course a tube big enough for a human filled with water is going to weigh considerable more than a human alone, but I think we can probably find a use for the water once we are in orbit. We would need a second tank to drain the water into after we had reached orbit. We would not want our astronaut to be operating underwater while in space. That would be silly. (Or would it? More study needed.)

I read a science fiction story some time ago that used a similar mechanism to protect pilots from extremely high accelerations. In this case they were military pilots flying star fighters (a la "Star Wars") at extremely high velocities and distances. The pilots were housed inside a sphere filled with water somewhere in the interior of their ship. The main thrust of the story seemed to be the psychological stresses these pilots suffered due to the power at their control versus the protection their spherical cocoon provided.

Update October 2016. Mucked around until text stopped overlapping photos.

Update January 2017 replaced missing photos.

Quote of the Day

Quote of a quote. I don't know where the original comes from. This one came from Anywhere, USA.
Although you hear a lot of crime stories on the local news, cops point out that it is mostly contained and localized in certain neighborhoods, which they refer to as "self-cleaning ovens."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Clen's Engine, Part 2

Napier Deltic Animation
The night after I finished the first post about Clen's Engine I realized there was a fundamental problem with this design. As I hope you can see from the picture, this engine has three cylinders arranged as the three sides of an equilateral triangle. At each apex of the triangle there is a crankshaft. Each crankshaft is connected to two pistons, one in each of the adjacent cylinders. There are no cylinder heads. Combustion is initiated when the two pistons approach each other near the midpoint of the cylinder.

The problem shows up when you try to analyze the timing of this arrangement. In an opposed piston engine (of which this is one example) the pistons move in opposite directions simultaneously. They move together to compress the air, and then move apart to transfer the force of the explosion to the crankshaft. Starting at any cylinder in this diagram, and moving in a clockwise direction:
  • in the first cylinder both pistons are at TDC (Top Dead Center).
  • 60 degrees later the pistons in the next cylinder are at TDC.
  • 60 degrees after that, the first piston in the third cylinder is at TDC, but
  • the second piston in the third cylinder is way off in the boondocks.
You can try changing direction of the cranks, but no matter how you try to arrange it, you have both pistons meeting at TDC in two cylinders, but you will never achieve it in the third one.

Yesterday I did a little studying. I found my first clue in the article titled

I linked to it in the first post. I hadn't read it thoroughly, I was just using it as a source of pictures. Reading it is an experience in and of itself. I don't have words to describe the style of the writing. Kind of amazing. But I digress. Back to the subject at hand. Here's the clue:
... the pistons are not in truly opposite phase, the exhaust piston having a 20 deg. lead so that it opens and closes its ports earlier than the inlet piston.
20 degrees!?! Aha! That would explain it. If you take TDC as zero degrees,
  • then add 60 degrees for the angle between cylinders (which is how far the crank would have to turn to bring the next piston to TDC),
  • then subtract 20 as you move to the next crank,
  • then add 60 for the next piston,
  • subtract 20 as you move to the last crank,
  • then subtract 60, because the last crank is turning in the opposite direction,
  • and then subtract 20 as you move to the original crank,
you end up with 0, which is TDC, which is right where you want to be:

60 -20 + 60 -20 -60 -20

Voila! Okay, I don't know if that verbal explanation helped at all, but it clarified what was going on in my mind.

But is the last crank really going in the opposite direction? I checked my source again, and he agrees. Then I checked the photos, and sure enough, two cranks are connected to the output shaft by a single idler gear, while the third crank has two idlers! Whenever you have two shafts connected by spur gears (ordinary gears), they will turn in opposite directions. If you put a third gear (the idler) between them, they will both turn in the same direction, while the idler will turn in the opposite direction. If you add a SECOND idler, the two original shafts will be turning in opposite directions once again.

Now all I had to do was figure out the order of the pistons. I thought about it a little bit, and drew some sketches, but I wasn't really getting anywhere. Finally I decided that I could mark down the relative piston positions on spreadsheet and graph them using the spreadsheet's built-in graphing function. Then by adjusting the relative position of the cranks by changing the numbers in the spreadsheet I should be able to determine who was on first, so to speak.

For a first attempt, I used an increment of 60 degrees and plotted how close the pistons were to each other. The initial graph was not balanced (all three lines should follow the same pattern), and I was little concerned that given the large increment (60 degrees) I was not following the action close enough to get an accurate representation.

For my second, er, third, er, final solution I used an increment of 5 degrees and plotted each of the piston's positions individually. As you can see, they all now follow the same pattern. Each pair of pistons approaches TDC (3.0 on the vertical axis) together. While they do not follow exactly the same course, all pairs are separated by the same amount of time, i.e. 20 degrees. You may also notice that all three pairs reach TDC within a relatively short time span (100 degrees), so one bank of cylinders by itself is not going to have the smoothest output. Three banks of cylinders would be the minimum required to get an even series of power pulses around the entire circumference.

The original engine had six banks of cylinders, and no flywheel, which is why there is a one way clutch on the drive to the supercharger. When the engine was stopped, with no flywheel it would stop very quickly. The supercharger, spinning at six times engine speed, would be very unhappy and could conceivably damage itself or its' drive train.

I first heard about supercharged two stroke engines along time ago, probably 30 years. Someone had taken two 500 cc Kawasaki two stroke, three cylinder motorcycle engines and combined them into one, three cylinder, opposed piston engine, added a supercharger, and installed it on outboard motor. Now that, I thought, was someone who was using their head! Years later I found out that supercharged, two stroke, opposed piston, diesels where the primary form of motive power in locomotives. Hmm.

The drawing at the top comes from an animated GIF image in Wikimedia Commons. Evidently Google only loaded one frame when I inserted it in this post. I wish I knew how to control the speed of the animation. It would make it easier to see what's going on. As it is, the best I can recommend is to watch the center of a single cylinder as the two pistons approach the center. You should be able to see that for a brief period of time they are both moving in the same direction.

Update January 2017 replaced missing pictures.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Quote of the Day

You lot planted the pineapple, said Pedro sententiously, Now you can peel it. Enjoy Carnival.

From A Death In Brazil by Peter Robb.

Dad Gum Furinners Anyhoo

Yesterday afternoon I'm reading a story in The New Yorker about a guy selling repossessed houses in Los Angeles. He's very busy, working hard and making a ton of money. Sometimes the houses are vacant, sometimes they are still occupied by the former owners, and sometimes squatters just move in. And then there was one apartment house where this Indian dude decided to move in and insert himself into the legal morass of ownership. Every time our hero changes the locks on this place, the Indian dude changes them back. Looks like our hero is going to have a long row to hoe with this charlatan.

Last night after the Blazer's game (they beat the Lakers, nah, nah, nah), my wife and I sat down and watched Thursday night's episode of CSI. Here we have one Iranian tile dealer killing another by spraying him with poison from an aircraft. Sounds like something Saddam Hussein would have done, or maybe did. Note: they guy is a tile dealer, not an arm's merchant or a drug smuggler. He's a tile dealer, like in floor tile, for Pete's sake.

This morning I check my email and there is a message on a forum from an Indian guy (I assume he is Indian, his name is Jayaprakash K. I don't know, could be from anywhere). The message looks like spam. He's trolling for H1-B visa holders. Anytime I see this combination (spam, India, H1B) I smell a rat. I suspect there are massive kickbacks being paid to managers by the "employment agencies" who supply the people hired on H1B visas. I have no proof, but from where I sit, it sure looks a criminal enterprise.

Now as a red-blooded American (Hey, Hey, USA, all the way!) I am tempted to paint all foreigners as scumbags. Prison is too good for these parasites. Shoot, deportation is too good for them. Load 'em into shipping containers and send them back to where they come from. But I digress.

I am confident that most people are basically honest, whether they are Americans or not. We have plenty of red-blooded Americans who are running criminal enterprises. Any foreigners who are trying to play that game are just trying to get a piece of the American dream, just like any home grown gangster.

So now the question is why did these three items all pop up in the last day? Perhaps the tide is turning, we have vanquished the evil Republicans, so our new enemy is now foreigners? You'll have to ask Rupert (Murdoch) and the other media big-wigs, whoever they are, what's on their agenda.

On one hand I want to say that all this corruption that is coming to light stems from the corrupt environment fostered by the Bush administration. But maybe not, maybe it's just what comes from having massive amounts of money floating around, and no one able to give it a single unifying direction. Or maybe there isn't any more corruption than there has ever been, it's just that communication is much better now and so we hear about more cases. Or maybe it was just my bad luck to stumble over these three incidents in one day.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Clen's Engine

I was looking for a picture the other day and I stumbled across this piece of obsessive craftsmanship. It is a model of a real engine that was originally developed in the early 1950's for marine use. The pieces for the model were machined using CNC equipment.

I copied the photos from the last two web pages and put them in a slide show because I like slide shows. I don't like having to fool around with a bunch of pointing and clicking just to see the next picture.

You might want to enable captions and then step through the photos manually so you can read them, instead of just letting it play automatically. I would have changed the default settings if there were some way to do that.

Airplane Stories

As related at Thursday lunch.

Alaska: The FAA wants to increase the number of pilots who have licenses to 50%.

Ed story #1. Ed has several small, light aircraft that he flys off of his personal landing strip. One day, perhaps when he was coming in for a landing, he clipped a telephone pole with his wing. The impact caused the plane to spin around the pole until it came to rest on the ground. Ed wasn't hurt, and the plane was not too badly damaged, and it wasn't his "good" airplane anyway.

But somebody saw the wreck and called it in and pretty soon the site was swarming with authorities. The FAA wanted to put a black mark on Ed's record, but there was no record. Ed had never gotten a pilot's license. So the FAA sicked the local Sheriff on him, and the Sheriff came out and talked to Ed a couple of times, but eventually he too went away. And Ed went back to flying.

Ed story #2. Ed lives out in the country and his little airstrip ends at the road. One day the local power company came out and installed a power line along the road providing power to all the people living in the valley. The power line is along the road, the airstrip ends at the road, the powerline is across the end of the runway. Not good for Ed.

So he complains to the power company. They tell him his airstrip isn't registered, it isn't marked down on their map, and they aren't going to do anything about it. Ed goes home and shoots the power line. The line breaks, and all the lights downstream from Ed's place go out.

The power company comes out, fixes the line and yells at Ed. Ed doesn't say anything. An hour after the trucks leave, he shoots the line down again. The next day we have a repeat scenario: the power company sends a crew out to fix the line and a representative to yell at Ed, and once again, an hour after the trucks leave, Ed shoots the line down.

A couple of days later the power company shows up with backhoes and trenchers and buries the powerline where it crosses the end of the runway.

Update January 2017 replaced missing picture.

Mark to Market

My wife and I sat down with Bob, our stock broker / financial advisor, yesterday and talked about the end of the world as we know it. One bit of insight that Bob shared with us is that banks are required to carry the value of the collateral for the loans they make at market value. Or at least they were. The rules might be changing a little bit.

When banks make loans, they require some collateral as insurance against the possibility that you will fail to pay back the loan. Cars and houses are typical. The bank holds the title to the car or house until you have paid off the loan. Only then does the property really become yours. If you fail to pay back the loan, the bank can repossess the property and then sell it to recoup their money.

The way banks work is a little bit like a Ponzi scheme, mixed with some religion. Theoretically, banks take deposits of money, and then lend that money out to people who can make use of it. But what actually happens it that they hold the deposits and use that as a basis for borrowing money from some higher authority (The Federal Reserve maybe? The Vatican? It doesn't really matter, some mysterious organization that has the POWER!). The banks then lend out the money they have borrowed.

So why this rigamarole? One word: multiplier. The Higher Authority will lend your local bank up to six times as much money as the bank has on deposit. The bank takes in a million dollars in deposits and pays 2 or 3% interest. They then borrow 6 million from central and pay some interest (prime, maybe?) and then lend out the six million at a slightly higher rate. Say they mark up their loans 3%. The first million they lend out pays the interest on the million dollars they took in deposits, and the interest on the other five million is theirs. 3% on five million dollars is $150,000, enough to hire a couple of tellers and pay the rent on the office. Not very much, but then this is a small example.

The Higher Authority also comes around and checks the books at the banks they lend money to, and one of their bookkeeping requirements is that there is enough collateral on the books to cover all the money they have lent out. And here is the rub. The value of the collateral is not the value it had when they made the loan, it is it's current market value. (Mark the value down in your books as the current market value, or "Mark To Market"). So when the housing market collapses and all those houses they have made loans on lose much of their value as collateral, Higher becomes unhappy and restricts the amount of money the local bank can borrow, which restricts the amount of money the bank can lend, which means credit gets tighter all the way around.

No wonder banks are reluctant to unload houses at their market value. As long as they don't sell the house, they might be able to pretend that the market value is still what it originally sold for, and so preserve their borrowing power with Higher (shorthand I picked up from Abby). I'm thinking they should be renting those houses, but that might entail the same kind of problem.

Quote of the Day

... And then, as usual, the cowboy train makes a u-turn to Crazytown.

From Elderberries, by Corey Pandolph.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Squeaky Wheel

My truck developed a squeak. It sounded like the water pump was going bad, but it would go away within a mile of driving. Then I noticed that when I pulled up to the first couple of stop signs after I left the house the squeaking would stop. Oh, no, I'm thinking, this is gonna be bad. Probably something in the four wheel drive has gone TU and it's gonna be $500. After a couple of weeks I finally break down and take it to the mechanic (Heaton's Garage). He opens the hood and declares that the problem is likely to be the serpentine belt. The truck has 95K miles, the belt's never been replaced, so this might be a reasonable course of action. The back side of the belt does look a little glazed. The front side (the side with the all the V-grooves) has a bunch of cracks, but it does not appear to be missing any chunks, which is one diagnostic I have heard. But Eric has always done right be me, and so if he wants to replace the belt, so be it. I come pick it up later that day and as I drive away the squeak is still there, but since then it has been silent.

Eric's next suspect, if the belt didn't fix the squeak, was the tensioner.

So I suspect what happened was that the tensioner (or some other pulley that rides against the flat side of the belt) is getting a little hard to turn in it's old age, and the glazed surface of the belt is not providing enough traction to turn the uncooperative pulley. When the pulley finally did break loose ... hmm, my train of logic breaks down here.

Anyway, the squeak is gone, at least temporarily.

Update January 2017 replace missing image.

Economic notes from the Hinterland

Iowa Man writes:
Talking to a Bob, a older guy that mows lawns in his spare time. A big time Cubs fan in a town where your either a Cubby or Cardinals fan.

Bob works at Pinnacle Foods, which everyone calls Armour, recalling its' earlier owner.

He receives 2,000 pound, pallets of frozen deboned beef and pork. Placed into a large pot heated with spices and other ingredients, voila Chili, Beef stew or something else.

Bob says he has never seen it so busy. They are running 12 hour shifts 7 days a week. The weak economy is good for them, people are buying up cheap food.

Pinnacle is owned by the Blackstone Group which is traded as BX on the NYSE.

The stock is languishing but paying 16%
Some links:
Also Siemens started shipping its wind turbine blades (130') by rail from Fort Madison: Pretty amazing site, will try to get some pics.
The photo that accompanied the story about the wind turbine blades is pretty pitiful, so I went and collected some more off the net.

Theoretically speaking, wind turbines seem like a pretty good idea. Free power, or at least power without any fuel. But each of these turbines cost around $2.5 million installed. How long is it going to take to pay that back? Evidently some people think the payback time is reasonable.

And then there's the feeling I get when I see these things. Mostly they are installed in open fields, and it just strikes me that there is something wrong with sticking these enormous spindly structures in the middle of the fields. Maybe it's just my attraction to "wide open spaces", and there is no real good basis for my feelings.

And then there are the birds. I came across one story that claimed most bird strikes happened with older, smaller and faster spinning turbines, and since the newer turbines spin slower, it shouldn't be a problem. Well, the rotational speed of these turbines is much lower, taking maybe six seconds to complete a revolution, but the diameter is much larger and so the linear velocity at the outer ends of the blades is much higher. For a turbine with 130 foot long blades, turning at ten RPM (six seconds per revolution), the linear velocity at the tip of the blade is over 90 MPH.