Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest
If the type is too small, Ctrl+ is your friend

Sunday, November 29, 2009


So I'm perusing Graham Hancock's news web page, and there's a story about cattle and hormones and the environment, which gets me to wondering just how many cattle are killed in the US each year. I found the answer on Answer Bag:
According to the National Agricultural
Statistics Service, the following number of animals were slaughtered in the US in 2008:

cattle 34.4 million (avg/day 94,247)
calves 956,600 (avg/day 2,621)
hogs 116.5 million (avg/day 319,178)
sheep and lambs 2.56 million (avg/day 7,014)
chickens 9,075,261,000 (avg/day 24,863,729)
turkeys 3,672,000 (avg/day 10,060)
Okay, that's a bunch of animals, but we also have a whole bunch of people in this country. So how much meat is produced per person? I loaded the numbers into a spreadsheet, and dug up some more information and it boils down to 11 ounces of meat per person per day, which is a heck of a lot of meat. I mean, I like meat, but I seldom eat more than about 4 ounces a day, and there are a lot of people who eat less. There are some people who eat more. People who perform strenuous physical labor may eat more meat.

There are two problems with the data that might account for this high value of eleven ounces per day. One is I don't know how much of this meat is exported. The other problem is the weight of meat from a chicken. The one value I found was four pounds, which I suspect may be a little high. In the US, we slaughter nine billion chickens a year, so any error in the average weight of a chicken is going to be enormously magnified. At four pounds per bird, chicken accounts for nearly half of the weight of meat produced in the US every year.

Neutrinos, Shmutrinos

I don't like neutrinos. I just finished reading The Periodic Kingdom, a fine book about the sub-atomic structure of the elements and the periodic table. It was a nice refresher on the structure of atoms and how it relates to chemical reactions, and it made no mention of neutrinos. I may have even learned a couple of things. So I think I have a pretty good handle on regular old sub-atomic whatsits like protons, neutrons and electrons.

And then we go and watch 2012 and suddenly I am confronted with neutrinos. Bah.

So what do we know about neutrinos? Not much. Some guy came up with the idea as a way to explain some phenomena that didn't gibe with their current theory. Then they came up with some experiments to "prove" their existence, except all their proof is indirect. It all depends on whether their story is correct or not. So far, it all hangs together, the theory, the experimental evidence, what have you. But we have never seen a neutrino and we probably never will.

It could be that we have the story all wrong, and there aren't any such things as neutrinos. Someone rooting around in a lab somewhere may discover something that doesn't fit, and our house of cards will collapse and have to be rebuilt in a new way to accommodate the new findings. Who knows? The future is cloudy, I cannot see.

In the movie they start with a neutrino detector deep underground in India. That part is at least sort of valid. There was one until the adjacent mine was shut down, and they are planning a new one, but it isn't in operation yet. And the underground tank of water that is a mile deep? Well, there is a neutrino detector in Japan that uses a huge volume of water, though I don't think it is a mile in any direction.

Reading about these facilities reminds me of the Big Science Map Project I was working on. They are building more and more scientific installations and they are getting bigger and bigger. You don't hear much about them except when they are originally built. After that things are pretty quiet unless someone makes some kind of sensational discovery. But these things last for years, and they keep adding on to them. You start looking around and you find them durn near everywhere. That was basically the downfall of my project: there didn't seem to be any end to it.

So anyway, there are several projects looking for these fabulous, undetectable whatsits. Which got me to thinking. A while back I read a Science Fiction/Fantasy novel about a newly discovered world which had a previously unknown natural force running around loose. Kind of like electricity, before we knew what electricity was. It had a rather large and troublesome effect on people's day-to-day lives. It was treated like magic. Makes me wonder if we don't have a similar situation with our own current understanding of how the world works.

As for the movie? The special effects were awesome. Waves breaking over the mountains, aircraft carrier capsized, I mean, we were there. And it was cool to see the Russian cargo jet in action, but why was John Cusack still wearing his tie at the end of the movie? Some things are destined to remain a mystery.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Puppet Mastaz

Puppetmastaz - Mephistopheles

I just stumbled over this short video. I think they are making fun of everything. It's a little hard to tell just exactly what they are saying, but I think it's great.

Update September 2015. Embedded video to compensate for the link going 404.

Velocity, Part 3

I was just thinking about alpha particles again. My last theory was that as they went zooming by neutral atoms, if they passed close enough, the electrons that surrounded the atom would be attracted to the alpha particle, and vice versa, and this pull, this force, would exert some drag on the alpha particle and cause it to slow down some small amount. After a few million of these interactions, enough force would have been applied to the alpha particle to bring it to rest.

I was also thinking that if an alpha particle managed to snag an electron, it wouldn't slow it down much because the mass of an electron is so tiny compared to the mass of an alpha particle. If the alpha particle did pick up an electron it would just charge on it's merry way.

There were two things I neglected:
  1. The force required to break the electron free from it's previous nucleus, and
  2. once the alpha particle acquires an electron, it is no longer a particle, it is now an atom, with all the honors and responsibilities that go with that title.
So it could be just that on it's travels, the alpha particle comes close enough to an atom, not just enough to feel the attraction of the electrons, but to actually snag one. The force required to break the electron free from it's previous host may be enough to cut the alpha particle's velocity by a considerable amount. Of course on a single interaction like this, any momentum lost by the alpha particle will be added to the atom that is losing the electron. How much velocity is added to the donating atom will be inversely proportional to it's mass. Oxygen and Nitrogen molecules weigh 7 to 9 times what a alpha particle weighs, so the velocity they will acquire will be a fraction of the alpha particle's velocity.

Even if this snagging operation does not slow down our errant particle, it is now an atom, so instead of being able to blithely zoom through the electron clouds of other atoms, it is now going to be repelled by them. It's like there was one kid's balloon per acre to watch out for, now there's a blimp every acre. They are going to be a little harder to miss. And every time you run into one, some of your energy (velocity) is going to be transferred to the target (blimp, atom) and you will rebound with slightly less energy (velocity).

Friday, November 27, 2009

Red Cliff, Directed by John Woo

So along with all the other stuff that comes over the optical fiber, Verizon offers movies on demand. We have been avoiding this service as it costs every time you use it. But last night the boys wanted to go see Red Cliff, but the only theater showing it was Cinema 21, which is in a neighborhood which is famous for its' lack of parking, and it was raining, and, oh look! The movie is available from Verizon. We can sit at home and watch it on our ridiculously expensive big-screen TV. So we did. Cost $8.

John Woo is not my favorite director, he did Face Off, which I thought was absurd, and I thought he did Con-Air, which he didn't, but I still blame him for one scene with somebody running down a Lear Jet with a bulldozer or something equally ridiculous. But this was a family thing, so hey, I can watch it.

It was quite a story. It was in Chinese with subtitles, which probably explains why isn't getting wide distribution to real theaters. Lot's of battle scenes with swords and spears and any number of other midevil looking implements. There was a story, too, and a pretty good one at that. They even managed to weave a couple of women into the story and in a way that was at least plausible. The story was kind of wild, and being as my Chinese history is even weaker than my Western history, I have no idea how much truth there was to it. But given that truth is stranger than fiction, I would have to say that there is more than a grain. Wikipedia seems to agree.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Quote of the Day

"The turducken was delicious. As were Bobbi's smooshed potatoes with the skin on and plenty of Irish butter (which is more drunken and belligerent than regular butter, plus it can be used to detonate a Ford Mondeo in front of an Ulster pub)."
Mmm, butter. Tam sure has a way with words.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I don't know, but I think maybe we are working ourselves into a corner, police persons wise. Portland had a shortage of Policemen because they couldn't find enough qualified individuals. They had to go on a campaign to recruit people to the force. This strikes me as a little odd, especially with the economy the way it is. Policemen get decent wages, good benefits, and a heck of a retirement plan. So what's the problem? Well, it might be the qualifications. The city wants college graduates. Or maybe there is something about the job. You know, doing the scut work for those who can't be bothered to get their hands dirty, risking your life to enforce laws that are unenforceable, getting picked on by whatever group wants to make a headline this week. That could make the job unattractive. Or maybe it's the bureaucracy and the paperwork. I know that part alone would kill me. Right now we've got a fuss going on about a couple things one copper did. Some people are questioning his judgement. The cops are all lining up behind this guy. I don't blame them, I sure as heck don't want somebody second guessing me every move on the job. On the other hand, we have these standards that the cops are supposed to live up to. Maybe we just expect too much from cops.

Maybe what we need is two levels of police, something like civil police and criminal police. Expect a higher level of "professionalism" from the civil police, but leave the dirty work to the criminal police. If you misbehave enough with the civil cops that they call the criminal cops, well then, you asked for it bub.

Spider for the Day

This one was on my desk. It was holding it's body higher in the air until I put my finger down nearby, then it dropped down and stopped, which gave me time to get this picture. Not as clear as it could be, but not bad.

Update March 2016 replaced missing picture.


I've been getting hit with spam comments lately. Not a huge number, but enough to be annoying, so I have turned on word verification. Hopefully this will solve the problem and not annoy too many real people.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Rule of Law

Many moons ago, when I worked framing houses, I worked with a guy who had a unique way of dealing with questions about what to do. Whenever such a question came up, he would always reply "whatever's right". This let the questioner make the decision, but it also encouraged him to be careful about making it, because if it wasn't right, well, who knew what would happen.

Jack and I were talking at lunch yesterday about Ben Franklin, England, Haiti, Uganda, and whatever happened to the British Empire. (Thirty years ago Uganda was in the hands of Idi Amin. The place was a disaster. No one considered it a safe place to go. This year my daughter went to Uganda with a study group to learn about Africa. Uganda! I couldn't believe it. And Kenya, the one civilized country in the whole continent, is now off the list of approved places to visit.)

I am thinking that what propelled England to the top of the heap, geopolitically speaking, was the Rule of Law, and their administration of the rule of law is what eventually caused their empire to break apart. People do well when they know what the rules are. Having them written down and enforced by an unbiased agency is much preferred to Rule by Man where some person makes the rules, and changes them as he (or she) sees fit.

Unfortunately, the law is not always right. The various legislatures try to make right laws, but it is a difficult thing to do. We've had discussions with our kids about this. Yes, there are some laws that do not make any sense, but the law is still the law, and being as we are law abiding citizens, we are going to obey the law.

England accomplished a great deal, not only for themselves, but also for freedom. Eventually though, their heavy handed application of the law earned them the enmity of their colonies, and so brought about the breakup of the empire.

Soviet Women Snipers

Top 10 Female Soviet Snipers Of WW2

Breda went shooting, one thing led to another, and here we are.

Update: somewhere I read that the Soviets held snipers in high regard, especially compared to the Americans, who regarded sniping as something less than honorable. Of course, now that I have finally gotten around to deciding to include this bit of info, I can't find it. Bah.

Update January 2017 replaced missing video with similar one. At least I hope it's similar.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Luann November 21, 2009
Click the image to see full size.
Here we go again with one of my pet peeves: strip malls and the franchise operations that inhabit them. Thankful for Starbucks, McDonald's, 7-Elevens? Geez, somebody's got their priorities screwed up. Of course after a hard day, sometimes a nice reliable franchise is all you want, and all you need. Just gimme a burger, a cup of joe, and a slushee, and I'll be on my way. I think the thing that bugs me about these places, when I am not too tired to care, is that they spend all this money of building these fancy new buildings with their ridiculous overgrown facades, and then they pay their employees a pittance and grind them into the ground. If they just took care of the building they were in before, they wouldn't be having to build a new building, their costs would be lower, they could pay their employees more, and their products would be better. Of course it doesn't really work that way. Modern retail business depends on high volume. The price of the buildings, even a ridiculously fancy one, is small fraction of the cost of running the business. For restaurants the big cost is wages. And maintaining old buildings probably costs more than replacing them every 20 years or so.

Weird how chains seems to be a recurring theme in this blog.

Update January 2017 replaced missing image.

Raymond Scott Powerhouse

Jeff Sanford's Cartoon Jazz Orchestra

Something I stumbled over, and I said I recognize that tune. Well, yeah, it was used in every Warner Brothers cartoon for the last thousand years. I also found it on, a site I had not come across before. Lala behaves kind of strangely. I first time I pulled it up, it played the whole tune. The next time it only gave me a 30 second clip. They want you to buy the tune.

Update: Embedding of original clip has been disabled, so now we have an alternate.

Update January 2017 fixed formatting, added caption, removed dead link to


Maravida Anchor & Chain

Conspiracies 'R' Us

All the latest conspiracy theories here at your fingertips:
Graham Hancock's site has a number of intriguing news stories. I am not quite sure what the other ones are trying to say.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Benjamin Franklin: Unplugged

It's a one man show performed at the Armory in downtown Portland, next door to Powell's. Josh Kornbluth was the one man, and he was very funny. I howled. My wife had to calm me. (Of course she calms me whenever we are out in public. Some people just can't stand any attention.) About half the show was about Josh and his family, and about half was about Franklin. Josh focused on Franklin's relationship with his son William, so it was all kind of related. The anecdotes about his family also provided most of the comedy.

So we have all heard about how great Ben Franklin was, about the kite, the lightning and the electricity, the Franklin stove, bifocals, the Declaration of Independence, his writing and printing. But I had never heard anything about his son. Turns out his son was a traitor. If the Revolutionary War had turned out differently, it would have been the father who was the traitor, and not the son, but it didn't, and it pissed old Ben off to no end.

His son went to law school in London and was appointed Royal Governor of New Jersey. At the end he said he wouldn't have done anything differently. His father said, essentially, that he should have obeyed his father. And that was the end of that. As Al Pacino once said "family is everything" (even if I can't find the exact quote).

One story Josh told was about how Ben was invited by the Privy Council to the cockpit in Whitehall where he could finally make his case for the Colonies. Instead, he was attacked verbally for an hour. The weird thing is I just read about this, and once again, I don't remember where. Could it have been the same magazine where I found the Erica Jong quote?

Clean Water for Haiti

A couple from our church are going to Haiti in January to work with Clean Water for Haiti. Their primary goal is the distribution of biosand filters. The picture is a cutaway version on display in the lobby. It seems like a reasonable thing to do. We had a sand filter on our pool in Phoenix. Of course we also used chlorine, so it's not exactly the same.

A quick Google turned up a couple other outfits working on the same problem, some have bigger goals, like city water supplies, some are more specialized, like water for a hospital. It's funny much of the world is having trouble getting clean water. With Haiti I can kind of understand it, the place has been a rathole forever. Why is that? What is it with these third world countries that they cannot take care of themselves?

Update March 2016 replaced missing picture.

Blastolene Rides Again

Streetfire's latest newsletter had a video tour of the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association) show. For the Best of Show they picked the latest creation from Blastolene, creators of the infamous Blastolene Special.

Piss'd Off Pete
Now there's a hot rod!

Update January 2017 replaced missing picture, removed dead links.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Quote of the Day

"Every intelligent family has one member who is crazy."
I didn't think much about it when I first read it, but it has stuck with me for two or three days now, so I thought, maybe I should post this. It certainly seems to be true. Of course, there are varying degrees to crazy, and one person's crazy can seem perfectly rational to another.

It's not a quote, exactly. That's just the way I remember it. I went looking for the source, but I couldn't find it. Anywhere. I've been working on The Club Dumas and that's where I thought I saw it, but it didn't pop up when I skimmed through it, and Google Book Search couldn't find it, so I don't know where it came from. Maybe I dreamed it. I had a pretty vivid dream last night, but I can't remember it. Who knows?

Velocity, Part 2

I've been trying to understand why Alpha particles (from Americium 241 which is used in smoke detectors) is so harmless and Neutron radiation is so dangerous. Especially since Alpha particles weigh four times as much as neutrons and their initial velocity is higher. Fast Neutrons travel around 15km/s (kilometers per second) and Alpha particles travel around 20 km/s.

The essential difference seems to be that Alpha particles carry an electrical charge, and Neutrons, being neutral, do not. Still, I wonder. Neutrons can travel miles in air before they hit anything. Alpha particles only manage to get a couple of inches. It must be electrons, which are the only particles that carry a negative charge. But under normal circumstances, all the electrons are busy, so just how does this work? It's just weird.

Atoms have a tiny nucleus that is surrounded by a cloud of electrons, much like you could have a cloud of fruit flies around an orange, except the orange is the size of a mustard seed, and the cloud is as big as your house.

When an Alpha particle is kicked out of a heavier atom due to radioactive decay, it travels through the cloud surrounding this original atom and it doesn't pick up any electrons there. It just zooms right through the cloud, otherwise we wouldn't be having this discussion. This leaves the atom with a couple of extra electrons, and who knows what happens to them. I imagine they will probably wander off with some positively charged swain eventually.

But now our positively charge Alpha particle is on it's way at measurable fraction of the speed of light, about 5% actually. Light travels at about one foot per nanosecond. (Number of feet per mile (5280) times the speed of light in miles per second (186,000) is roughly equal to one billion feet per second, and there are a billion nanoseconds in one second. So one foot per nanosecond, more or less.) So our Alpha particle travels about 5/8 of an inch in one nanosecond. (Another way to think of a nanosecond is to look at your computer. A computer that operates at one gigahertz (GHz) does one operation per nanosecond. A computer that runs at 3 GHz will do three operations in one nanosecond.)

Atoms in air are widely separated, so an Alpha particle is liable to go some distance before it actually hits one. When it does impact one it will most likely just go through the cloud of electrons (big as a house). It is unlikely to hit the nucleus (small as a mustard seed). Now it is unlikely to pick up an electron from this, after all, when it was kicked out of it's parent atom it didn't manage to pick up any electrons. And even if it did pick up one, it's not going to slow it down. Compared to an Alpha particle an electron weighs next to nothing. It's like comparing a life preserver to the Titanic.

So I think what we've got going on here is electron drag. Atoms taken as a whole are neutral, they have the same number of positively charged protons as they do negatively charged electrons. At some distance from the atom, these charges cancel each other out and no charge is apparent. But the protons are all in the nucleus, and the electrons are all in the cloud, so when you get right up close to an atom, closer than the electron is to the nucleus, you are going to feel some of the negative charge from the electrons. This is what is dragging on the Alpha particle and slowing it down. It's not much force, but atoms are tiny, and even a small amount of air contains zillions of them. So as the Alpha particle travels through air, every few nanometers it comes close enough to an air molecule that it feels the attraction from the electrons, and this slows it down just a hair. You do that a few zillion times and pretty soon your charged alpha particle is at rest. It may even have captured a couple of electrons, making it neutral, but leaving a couple of air molecules ionized.

I would check my numbers, but I am pretty much worn out from trying to sort all this out. I spent several hours yesterday trying to find the information I wanted and then I finally found this statement (on this page):

Oxygen molecule flies into nitrogen gas

"How far can we expect the O2 to get before it hits an N2? The average distance before a collision is the mean free path. Let’s try to picture how much room there is to fly between these fixed N2 spheres. (Bear in mind that the picture above should be three-dimensional!) We do know that if it were liquid nitrogen, there would be very little room: liquids are just about incompressible, so the molecules must be touching. Roughly speaking, a molecule of diameter d will occupy a cubical volume of about d3 (there has to be some space left over—we can pack cubes to fill space, but not spheres.)
"We also know that liquid nitrogen weighs about 800 kg per cubic meter, whereas N2 gas at room temperature (and pressure) weighs about 1.2 kg per cubic meter, a ratio of 670. This means that on average each molecule in the gas has 670 times more room—that is, it has a space 670 times the volume d3 we gave it in the liquid. So in the gas, the average center-to-center separation of the molecules will be the cube root of 670, which is about 8.75d. So the picture is a gas of spheres of diameter d, placed at random, but separated on average by distances of order 10d. It’s clear that shooting an oxygen molecule into this it will get quite a way. Let us emphasize again that this picture is independent of the actual size of d: we’re only considering the ratio of mean free path to molecular diameter."
So I stand by my supersonic-aircraft-hooking-a-zillion-mailbags-and-the-straps-break analogy.

Update January 2017 replaced missing image.

States Rights

People are just plain disagreeable. Well, gee, thanks, Mr. Obvious.

There has always been some talk about States Rights, about how the States should have more power and the Federal Government should have less. That always seemed like a good idea to me, and I wondered why it wasn't that way. Eventually I figured it out. Working in government, trying to get decisions made, bills passed, laws enacted, is a tedious, unpleasant business. Most people won't bother unless the stakes are high enough, and the stakes are much higher in the Federal Government than in the State Governments. Our State Government (Oregon) is a prime example. We have more obstructions mired in the 19th century than we have people who are willing to step up and take care of business. So they spend years quibbling while the whole state is crumbling around our ears, and people quit paying attention to them and start looking to the Federal Government to get things done. Gripe about the Feds all you want, they do manage to get things done. They might not be the things you want done, but by God, things are gonna happen.

P.S. Spell checker complained about the th in 19th, but it let gonna go. Huh.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Spider for the Day

I found this one in the basement. He's pretty good size, about two inches tip to tip. He looks a lot like another one I snapped a couple of weeks ago. Could it be the same one? Or is there an army of spiders out there, just waiting for their chance at a warm spot?

This picture is not as clear, but I like what Picasa's color correction did to the abdomen: gave it that nasty blue color. I am pretty sure the white dots are reflections of the flash.

Update March 2016 replaced missing picture.

Velocity, Detour, Part 2

Grumman EA-6B Prowler
Rocky Humbert found a story by the New York Times that contains a brief description of the damage that the Prowler aircraft suffered when it cut the gondola cable in Italy 11 years ago. Thanks, Rocky! The story also contains a place for a picture, but there is no picture, only a description of what the picture shows, and the aircraft is not in it. I imagine the military has a bunch of photos, but no telling where they are. (This picture is of a similar aircraft, not the one involved in this incident).

So we have a report that there was damage to the aircraft, so maybe it did happen as they say and it wasn't the North Koreans or the Mafia. That airplane wing must be made out of some pretty tough stuff. Well, it is a military aircraft, they do have have hardpoints on the wings to carry things like bombs and stuff, and it has folding wings so, okay, the wing was tough enough to hang on until the cable broke. Still, I wonder about just how the cable broke. It's going to be under considerable tension. I imagine the cable itself weighs a few tons, and then we have the gondola hanging from it, which adds more tension. Now we strike the cable with an aircraft wing traveling 500 MPH, which is like 750 FPS (feet per second). The cable must have parted almost instantaneously. If it had held on for more than a couple of milliseconds, the airplane would have slewed around and probably crashed. I don't think the cable was cut so much as it just snapped. Hitting the cable must have increased the tension on the cable to the point that it failed.

Of course, I could be all wet. There may be an internal structure in the wing that acted like an ax blade and severed the cable.

Update January 2017 replaced missing picture.

Velocity, Detour

Several people commented about the relative speed of alpha particles and neutrons, which sent me off into more research. Pull on Americium, and you pull on the entire subject of nuclear physics. It gets complicated. What I have found so far is that an alpha particle does have a higher velocity than all but the fastest neutrons, but it does slow down very quickly due its' electrical charge. I'm trying to imagine how this is happening, and I think of the way trains used to pick up mail bags from remote stations. They would hang the mail bag on a hook alongside the tracks and when the train came by it would snag the bag and haul it along. The train is the passing alpha particle and the bag of mail is an electron attached to a stationary atom.

Okay, now imagine that the vehicle picking up the mail bag is not a train but a supersonic jet fighter. It snags the bag, but the bag cannot take the stress and the strap snaps and the bag is left sitting at the station. This is more like what is happening with the alpha particle. One little snag is not going to slow that jet down by much, but if it hooks onto a million bags, one right after another, that could slow it down. So maybe that's what's going on with alpha particles. I still want to check some numbers, but I think I'm on the right track.

But thinking about jet aircraft snagging things reminded of the disaster in Italy where a military jet cut the cable to a gondola and 20 people died. I've been on ski lifts and those cables are thick, and made of steel. Aircraft wings are made out of the thinnest aluminum in the world. It seems more likely to me that the cable would have sliced the wing off the plane rather than the other way around. Funny, I didn't see any pictures of the aircraft at the time, and I didn't find any now when I just went looking. You don't suppose the aircraft story was a cover for something else going on?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


I've been studying up on Americium. It's one of those artificial transuranic elements, like Plutonium. Normally I don't pay much attention to the elements that come after Plutonium in the periodic table as they are mostly laboratory curiosities: some scientist detected evidence of the existence of one atom for one fraction of a nanosecond. Not much of real practical value there. Americium is another story. It gets used in the smoke detectors you find in houses all over the country. There are probably a hundred million of them, and more getting churned out every minute.

I probably still wouldn't care, but my friend Jack had a smoke detector die the other day, so being the kind of guy he is, he took it apart, just to see what it's made of. So that stirred my interest in Americium.

Americium is element 95, right after Plutonium in the periodic table. Starting with Uranium, we have Uranium (Element 92), Neptunium, Plutonium and then Americium. Each of these elements comes in a number of different Isotopes, each of which has varying degrees of stability and emits different amounts and kinds of radiation. Americium 241 is what gets used in smoke detectors and it gives off the least hazardous kind of radiation: Alpha particles. These are the weak little particles that can be stopped by a sheet of paper. Still, you don't want to be eating any Americium. Alpha particles have an electrical charge and that kind of thing can disturb chemical reactions, which is what your body runs on. Once upon a time the Soviets poisoned a guy with Polonium. Polonium's big danger is that it also gives off Alpha particles.

So, besides eating or breathing an Alpha-emitter, what makes it so not dangerous? Alpha particles aren't all that big. They are composed of four baryons (two neutrons and two protons) bound closely together. They are essentially the nucleus of a Helium atom, that is, a Helium atom with the electrons stripped off.

Neutron radiation on the other hand is extremely dangerous. Now why the big difference? I mean neutrons are a little smaller than alpha particles. It's like comparing an orange to a melon, but not like comparing an orange to the planet Earth. Neutrons don't carry a charge, and Alpha particles do, but there generally aren't any charged particles lying about. So I don't see as that either of these is going to make much difference. But Alpha particles are stopped by a sheet of paper, and neutrons can go through several feet of concrete. I'm going to step out on a limb here and say it is because of their velocity. I suspect Alpha particles have a velocity that can be conveniently measured feet per second, while neutron velocities are in the range of miles per second.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bemused and Befuddled

Dustbury pointed me to an amusing story about a couple of guys who wander into a head shop in Seattle, a place I'm pretty sure I've seen. I'm reading down through the comments and Marybeth has something to say:
"Bemused and befuddled mean pretty much the same thing."
I'm sorry, but I beg to differ, and leave my own little diatribe:
Marybeth: Bemused and befuddled can have the same meaning (see bemuse definition #1 on However, I prefer definition #3 of bemused, which has a different meaning than befuddled, to wit: amused, which seems much more applicable given the circumstances in which our two characters find themselves. Befuddled means confused.

Sometimes it is amusing to confuse someone else, and I supposed you could be amused if you were confused, but it is equally possible that you could be either bemused or befuddled without being the other.

Thank you for this opportunity to quibble.

Groan Part 2

Gold Crown
Just got back from the dentist. I wasn't looking forward to this. It's been years since I've had any work done, other than the regular cleaning. They are only going to "look", but who knows where that will lead. Probably something unpleasant, this is the dentist's office after all.

I was there last week for a regular cleaning and told them about the pain I was getting. That's when I found out that the cracked tooth, the one that is going to need a crown one of these days, is a lower tooth, not an upper. They checked out the upper teeth but found nothing wrong. Okay, that's weird. Since then I have been trying to determine whether the pain might be coming from my lower jaw. On the other hand, I have been trying to keep any cold water away from that side of my mouth. Sometimes a little slips over there and I get a tingle, so I am getting some readings by accident. However, it is really hard to tell just where the pain is coming from. I guess I'm just chicken, being as I am not willing to take a mouthful of cold water and swish it around.

So today I go back for a more thorough inspection. Tooth tapping reveals nothing wrong. Blowing air doesn't seem to find anything wrong either, though I notice that my hands are clutching a bunch of fabric . Finally, she gets out the cold stuff, and I get several jolts. Evidently she tested several teeth. Some of them were instantaneous, some of them took a while, but all the teeth she tested responded sooner or later, which basically means they are alive. Alive is good. They put a temporary filling in the hole left by the part that broke off, and they are planning a crown for this same tooth. It's the most likely suspect for the source of my troubles.

While I am there, I find out that the assistant's husband had a heart attack on Friday. Fortunately one of his co-workers had the presence of mind to insist on taking him to the hospital where they put in a stent. Took them 25 minutes. He's home already and apparently doing fine.

Meanwhile the dentist herself had a crown done yesterday. Hers was free, done by a fellow dentist as part of a study group, which is like continuing education for dentists. Someone had come up with a new procedure for doing crowns and was training other people (dentists) to use it. So they had eight dentists and eight patients in one room all undergoing this same procedure. And after each step, everyone has to inspect everyone else's work, take photographs, comment, etc. So my dentist was there as a patient with her mouth open for six hours, four hours with a dam in place. Talk about misery. I would have taken a week to recover. She was back at work today.

So my little old cracked tooth doesn't sound too bad now.

Update January 2017 replaced missing image.

Spider for the Day

This one wasn't very large, maybe a half inch tip to tip.
Update Mach 2016 replaced missing picture.

European Drag Racing 1963

Notice the Buick powered dragster with the enormous straight 8 engine. I was only 12 when this film was made, and it was bicycles, not cars that I was using to get around. There was a time when drag racing was critically important to me. I remember having a spirited debate in high school about which car was better: the Mustang Mach 1 or the Camaro Z-28. They were both posting times of 13 seconds and a speed of 100 MPH in the quarter mile. I still like the sound of screaming engines. The internet is a strange and wonderful place.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ft. Hood Massacre

Funny how the more news coverage we get, the less actual news. Everybody just reports the same story over and over and over again. There are two things I want to know that I haven't heard anything about. One is how come nobody noticed this nut case was on the verge of going off the deep end? This could be explained by any number of factors, and I doubt we will hear anything substantial until the trial. The other is what happened to the woman who stopped him? I heard she was wounded, and then ... nothing. Where's the Presidential medal for bravery? Where's the ticker tape parade? Where is any recognition at all?

I am going to go crawl back under my rock now.

Fall of Islam

I have heard how Islam society used to be very advanced in mathematics and science. We (Western Civilization) got the concept of zero from Arabia. They had astronomers and philosophers and doctors and libraries. But all this is in the past tense. Now the only thing we hear about the Middle East is goats and oil, and Jihad of course. So what happened to the Muslim world that caused this change?

So I asked my friend Jack. He is something of a history buff. He definitely knows more about it than I do. His take on it is that the leadership of the Arab world made a conscious decision to cut off contact with the West and to suppress science around the year 1050. This is about the same time that the Crusades were going on in the Middle East, and also about the same time that the Moors suffered a serious defeat in Tours, France. That's what I recall from our conversation anyway. And Jack says that his interpretation based on reading between the lines, but it will do until someone comes up with another theory. And you know, it could have been the Persians and not the Arabs, but that's a distinction that's lost on me. They both follow Mohammed and they are both from the Middle East. I need something substantial to be able to tell them apart.

The Muslim world was not alone in cutting off contact with the outside world. The Chinese did it, as did the Japanese, so it was possible, and with a happy populace and/or a repressive regime, it could be done now.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Blind Pig by Jon A. Jackson

A pretty good murder mystery written in 1978. A burglar is shot dead by the police in Detroit, but something's not right. So we have a detective poking around, trying to figure out what is going on. He spends a fair amount of time in "Blind Pigs" (illegal after hours bars) talking to people.

There were a couple of scenes that didn't ring true. One is a scene where he encounters a group of Cubans sitting around a poker table talking and he proceeds to ask them a bunch of questions. It struck me as a very unfriendly kind of questions, questions I would not be particularly disposed to answer if some stranger started bugging me. Maybe they made him as a cop and figured it was better to make nice and until he went away rather than to give back what he was dishing out. There was no mention of him being made and so it sounded off.

Another is where a guy is loading sand into a dump truck, and he has overfilled the truck. It's pretty obvious by this point that the contraband is in the dump truck. The author is pointing it out, and none too subtley.

Then there is final action scene where the bad guy pulls a gun, starts blasting, runs and jumps in dump truck and tries to make a getaway. Written like it was looking to be made into an action packed movie.

There are redeeming features, like the beautiful red-haired woman who carries a gun. Even in 1978 the cops are hassling her about registering it.

It was kind of weird to read some of the dialog from that era: "far out, man", or "heavy, dude". I can't remember the last time I heard someone use those lines.

The contraband is Stoner rifles made by the Cadillac Gage Company. Turns out the rifles are real and were in fact made by the Cadillac Gage Company.

The detective is working on several cases, and you don't know if there is any connection between them or not, but that's his job, he has new cases to investigate, cases he recently aquired that still need his attention, cases that have been closed, but he still needs to testify in court, and old cases that resurface for some odd reason. Just your typical work load for a big city detective. Made me realize that there might be some room for volunteer detectives. In Portland we have a cold case squad made up of retired detectives who get together a couple of times a week to see what they can dig up.

The end of the book is kind of odd. The man that was shot by the police that started this whole story was a hit man named Sidney Carton. This is revealed on the last page of the book. His body is claimed by a "good friend", another hit man by the name of Joe Service. So I'm thinking maybe these names are supposed to mean something. Google doesn't find anything about someone named Joe Service, but Sydney Carton was a character in one of Dicken's books. The significance escapes me.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Drug Policy Alliance Network

I think it is strange that I have never heard of the Drug Policy Alliance Network before. They claim to be "the nation's leading organization working to end the war on drugs." It might be because I have not been closely following the War On Drugs, but I don't think that's it. It might be because they are deliberately trying to keep a low profile, but I doubt that. It's like anybody who is in the news business will look for anything to write about besides this. Only crazy stuff gets in the news. Anything reasonable or rational is not newsworthy. I am sure politics is behind it all. Politics in this country is all about keeping the masses entertained/diverted with all kinds of nonsense (abortion, gay rights, gun control, etc.) while the movers and shakers are cooking up their backroom deals and dividing up the spoils. Anything that threatens to upset the applecart gets short shrift, and changing the drug laws would definitely upset the applecart.


California Bob writes again:
From an article about how people who get laid off, and continue their former habits. I was struck by a couple anecdotes about how some laid off people cling to their old behavioral schedules. I guess I assumed nobody actually liked the working lifestyle. But apparently some people actually ENJOY this contrived hurly-burly existence, that is, getting up early, putting on uncomfortable clothes, going out and arguing with people, spending hours poring over nonsense spreadsheets....

"Michelle Patterson was laid off as an executive director of marketing...She continued to eat out regularly and made daily Starbucks runs. "It made me feel like I was still at work," she says. She spent as much as $250 a week on networking meals and drinks with contacts. Some days, she scheduled up to four coffee meetings a day."

Good for you, Michelle. Personally, I pay a premium NOT to have to "feel like I'm at work."

"After losing his job, Mr. Joegriner's mornings now start with a coffee run to the nearby 7-Eleven six days a week. Next, he typically spends a couple of hours doing home repairs. By late morning, he launches into job-hunt mode. While trolling job Web sites, Mr. Joegriner toggles to a multicolored, multitabulated Excel spreadsheet that calculates the household budget, as well as the "burn rate" through the family's dwindling savings."

The world is run by people who are motivated by uncomfortable, impractical sports sedans, spending insane amounts of money on "attractive" food, and being able to sit in an $800 chair.

Per the article these same people have extremely poor money judgement, which to me means poor judgement in general. A bunch of semi socio-pathic fraudsters, climbing their way to the top by driving Mercedes Benzes, wasting money on trendy food, and acting bitchy and pushing people around?"

Most of the article is about poor budgeting, but here it is.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Afghanistan Bananastan, Part 2

I saw Senator John Kerry's story in Newsweek the other day. He's talking about why we are there, and what we should do, and he points out that we are there because of Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is there because there is no place to hide in Saudi Arabia, or maybe no place anyone would want to hide. We want to stop Al-Qaeda, we need to stop sending money to Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom is worse than the Mafia. They pretend to be legitimate business men, but all the time they giving money to thugs to make trouble. I don't know, maybe they are just being over indulgent parents to their rowdy offspring. You want to raise Jihad? Here's a couple of bucks, go on over to some other country and get all your Jihad-ing out of your system, then you can come home and be part of the "family".

Of course, the worst part is we know all this, and we keep giving them money anyway.

Eternity Puzzle, Part 5

This puzzle has about a gazillion combinations, only one of which is the correct solution, so unless you get really lucky, you are not going to solve it. The odds are worse than the lottery.

To avoid spending a bunch of money, I generated a random puzzle, and used the tiles from that as input for my solver. I figure if I can come up with a scheme to solve a random puzzle, then I might have a chance with the real puzzle. I changed the reporting scheme so now it only issues a report every 10 million tiles, which is about every three seconds.

Anyway, it's one thing to say there are a gazillion combinations, it's another thing to sit and watch this program try a billion combinations a minute and not make any progress. It's been running for a couple of days now and it hasn't gotten past the 16th tile, and there are 256 tiles in the puzzle. And it's not like it's going to suddenly start making progress. It was up to 16 tiles in the first minute. That's how far it can get before it can't find another matching tile, and it starts backing off and retrying, again and again and again ...

There are a thousand edges (256 tiles times 4 sides). There are ten colors. Ten is just an arbitrary number I picked. Each time we place a tile we have two known edges we have to match against. (We start in the corner with two known edges and then work our way up the side, over the top, then down, spiralling ever closer to the center.) One known edge cuts the number of possible tiles to 100 (1/10th of 1000), two edges cuts it down to about 10 (divide by ten again). So for each spot on the board, there are ten possible tiles. Ten million is 10^7 (ten to the seventh power). Every three seconds (ten million trials) we see the most recent seven tile id numbers change. Hmmph. Imagine that.

I should put it away now and move on to other things. We'll see how that works. There are a couple of other tricks I could try ...

Cool Cloud Picture

Update January 2017 replaced missing picture.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Afghanistan Bananastan

Just read a story in the paper about finding 500,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer in Afghanistan (couldn't find the story on my paper's website, or the Times either, whence it supposedly came). They busted a couple of dozen people. It looks like they were using this stuff to make bombs. But then I thought: it could all be a put up job. Any countries biggest business is agriculture (big in volume of material and land area, not in money), and fertilizer has legitimate uses, like being used as fertilizer. So secret bomb material cache -or- legitimate fertilizer warehouse? Of course, having a bunch of other bomb making material on hand (like timers, wires, diesel fuel) does make it look a little suspicious. Of course, those items also have legitimate uses in agriculture. Farm equipment runs on diesel, irrigation needs timers, and timers need wires, and a dry place like Afghanistan could use some irrigation. So if it's not just the good ol' boys havin' a little fun, then we may have put a real crimp in bomb making in Afghanistan .

This whole Afghanistan thing has been percolating in the back of my mind lately, and I am beginning to wonder just why we are there. Our avowed purpose is to wipe out Al-Queda and terrorism in general, but we don't seem to be making any real progress there. I mean we are trying to stop the beaters from beating other people, and at the same time we are trying to teach them to be civilized, and all the while we are trying to pull the wagon train out of swamp where it has been mired for the last 500 years. I am beginning to think it is just all too much.

Then there is the conspiracy theory that says we want control of Afghanistan so we can build a pipeline to India. That one has to be really convoluted because the Russians would be using it to sell the oil to India. Okay, we could have some Russians and Indians in cahoots with some people in Washington to get this done, but man, the payoff time is in years, and iffy to boot. It's a stretch to believe something like that.

But then we have heroin. Whenever TV show detectives get some screwed up case that makes no sense, they fall back on the adage of "follow the money", and the only money in Afghanistan is in poppies. But then we still don't know who is benefiting from the US being there. Are we trying to make Afghanistan safe for heroin producers? Or are we trying to gain control so we can suppress it, because Afghan heroin is competing with SE Asian heroin, and somebody doesn't like that.

Title comes from a line in the movie The Hot Rock. It seems to be a popular title for articles this week.

Eternity Puzzle Solver: Is it working?

I've been thinking about the Eternity II puzzle, I mean $2 million would be worth putting in a little effort. I know I am not going to solve it, and I am not going to win the money, but it has sucked me in anyway and I spent the last few days working on it. I did some thinking, and then I wrote some code, and then I realized I didn't really know what I was doing, so I thought about it some more, and Sunday morning I woke up early and wrote down my plan (in English). Then I sat down to write the code, there were a couple of hiccups, but I got those squared away and I fired it up yesterday evening. It got through the first column without any trouble, but once it got to the top edge it seemed to get stuck. It's been running the better part of a day and it's still stuck on the top row. So is there a bug in the program that is making it try the same tile over and over again, or is just really taking that long? I went through the program again, and rearranged some of the code, but I didn't find anything that could have been causing a real problem. Given the kind of problem, it could very well be taking that long. I mean it will take an eternity to get the complete solution, so what's a few hours or days to complete one row?

I suppose what I need it some kind of stop command that would allow me to stop the program and examine the results so far, and is satisfactory let it resume. This is going to take some finagling. Probably have to use some POSIX calls or something.

I'm Fat

Just came across this story about one man's struggle with obesity. No real answers, but he shoots down all the weight loss pundits, and he asks a couple of good questions. He also has a link to Weird Al's parody of Michael Jackson's Bad.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Verizon, The Joy Of

Some companies, not many, but some, manage to provide decent service. Utilities for instance, they generally work pretty well. Communications is another story. Why is that? The technology is always changing, so there are big expenditures going in for new equipment and training. I was going to say we had done away with wires, but that's not true. There are more transoceanic cables than every, and while cellular phones have pretty much replaced land lines, land lines themselves have been superceded by fiberoptics. While cell phones work well for voice, land lines are preferred for data because of their higher carrying capacity. Still, I suspect gross incompetence at work.

We got a $10 charge for some kind of BS on one of our cell phones last month, and I am loath to call Verizon. Last thing I want to do is spend an hour of my life dealing with modern day part man/part machine conglomeration to get a lousy $10 charge removed. So I thought I would try going online, see if I could deal with it there. Got my wife to dig out our User ID & Password for our online account, dialed up Verizon, signed in, and I got this:

What the? Log in again? What is this? I try "residential", and this is what I get:

I've never seen that error message before. I'm going to go find something else to do now.

Update January 2017 replaced missing images.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Quote of the Day

I spent my whole life trying not to be careless. Women and children can be careless. But not men. Don Corleone, instructing his son Michael in the movie The Godfather.
Ross and I watched this last night. What a fine movie. Last Sunday there was an ad in the paper for hearing aids (when is there ever a Sunday paper without ads for hearing aids?). They quoted some old guy saying "I can hear, but I just can't understand". I have the same problem. My wife and kids complained about it so much I went to see the doctor and he ran a hearing test on me and my hearing is fine. A little high frequency loss in the right ear, but nothing to worry about. Probably from shooting without ear plugs. I have this one Eastern European automatic that shoots a pretty hot cartridge. It makes a distinctive crack when fired and I really liked that sound. So that may be the source of the damage. But like the doc said, it's not significant. So I ask him what's going on and he tells me it's a common problem with men. It's not a problem with their ears, it's something in the part of the brain that processes sound. So now we come back to The Godfather. Women and children are no more careless than men, it's just that they are careful about different things. What people say, how they say it, and the tone they use when saying these things, this is what's important to women and children. This is one of those things that makes society function. Some men tend to have different interests and different concerns. To them, the nuances of conversation are just meaningless fluff. If you have something to say, say it, don't give me all this jibber-jabber. Individual sounds become more important. Doors opening and closing. Wind and rain. Cars, gunshots, screams. Footsteps.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


CAT scan image of sinuses
I can't drink cold water anymore. Actually, I can drink it, I just can't hold it in my mouth. If it comes in contact with my upper left teeth the pain is forthright. I thought it was a sinus infection getting ready to make my life miserable (there are sinuses in your cheekbones, well, in my cheekbones anyway), but then my wife pointed out that my dentist has been telling me that one of these days I am going to need a crown. Oh great, just what I want. I'm not sure if that is better or worse than a sinus infection. But it's only November, so my sinuses still have plenty of time to make my life miserable before the end of the year. Not that you care, it is, after all, a personal problem. I'll just go crawl in a corner now and curl up with my blankie.

The image is from the WebMD website, which has a pretty good slide show as well.

Update January 2017 replaced missing image.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Rant of the Hour

The first time I saw this poem, I thought it was stupid. (It was probably in the movie G.I. Jane. That's were I get my literary edukatin'.) I saw a bunch of birds sitting on a wire on the way home this afternoon, and it popped into my head, so I decided I would tell you just how I felt about it. I still think it's stupid.

I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.

DH Lawrence
I mean, how does he know whether a wild thing is feeling sorry for itself or not? He can read their little animal minds? I don't think so. He is equating their lack of verbal communication with lack of feeling. Ignorant fool. Complete lack of imagination. I can imagine every one of those miserable critters feeling sorry for themselves, matter of fact, I think that's probably all they ever do. Wish I was warmer, wish I had more to eat, wish Mary liked me better, yada, yada, yada.

Hey, hold my beer and watch this!

I got a chuckle out of it.
Secret title in case video gets deleted: Monster Truck does backflip.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Quote of the Day

"It is largely because of this similarity of diameter that the elements of the Isthmus can mingle to produce the materials we call alloys. Just as a grocer could, if artistry required, quite easily stack apples and oranges in the same pile but would find it difficult to stack oranges and melons together, so a metallurgist can mingle the atoms of the regions of the Isthmus, mixing chromium, manganese, nickel, or cobalt into iron to form the designer metals of the current age."
The Periodic Kingdom by P. W. Atkins, page 128. The Isthmus refers to the central section of the periodic table.

Lost In The Ozone Again

Every now and again I stop and clean out the drafts folder in my G-mail account. I tend to save bits of useless information there, you know, just in case I ever need to know the number of ball bearings produced in Uzbekistan in 1931. But just run of the mill web surfing seems to generate a few blank messages that never got sent. I mean, you have to draw the line somewhere, so every now and again I will go in and clear out the trash. So I'm going through my drafts folder and I come across this message:
I have probably spent a million hours playing computer games (2 hours a day times infinity). I got started playing Windows Solitaire at Intel. Graduated to playing Minesweeper, and when the new version of Windows came out, Spider Solitaire (2 decks). These last two I "win" fairly often, somewhere between one out of two and one out of ten. The original Solitaire, like the card version, almost never runs to completion. You get blocked somewhere along the way.

Recently I have been playing some of the games that Google offers for their home page. Some of the ones I enjoy are:
- Flood It
- Deduction Game
- Series of Tubes - Dead link
- Linez

The main criteria for selection seems to be that it is easy to play: just use the mouse, no keys. Also, no finesse required, click or no click, no clicking on moving objects or other variable situations. And a definite solution.

Linez does not really have a definite solution, the game will "beat" you every time, all you can do is try to hold out as long as you can. Still, it is mildly entertaining.

For a while I would come home and play Spider Solitaire and listen to the "Kill Bill" sound track for an hour or so. That lasted for about a year, more or less. Currently I don't play just one game over and over, I play a variety, and I don't spend as long at it as I used to.

There was an episode on Star Trek once where a fellow is addicted to playing a "game". The game is embodied in a ball, slightly bigger that a softball, with a button and some lights. You press the button, the lights flash, and the game indicates whether you have won, or lost. Evidently this guy had made a fortune gambling on this device, and then his luck had changed and he had lost his fortune, but by now he is hooked and can't quit "playing" even though he continues to almost always loose.
I remember writing it like years ago, and I thought I posted it to my blog, but here it is showing up in my drafts folder and saying I accessed it nine days ago. No, I didn't. I haven't seen this message for eons. What the devil is going on? On the other hand, the Search function in Blogger seems to be working again. I'm wondering if Google's hashing algorithm has reached it's limit and we are now seeing the effects of wrap around, i.e. some items are getting assigned duplicate hash codes and so sometimes you get the wrong block of text back. Or maybe it's the North Koreans, though given this story, I am beginning to doubt their abilities, no matter what their fearless leader says.

Anyway, all this gives me an excuse to embed yet another YouTube un-video.

Commander Cody - "Lost In The Ozone"

The song isn't much, and the singer is nothing special, but I really like the sound of the steel guitar and almost screechy sound made by the violin. You only hear the violin for a few seconds just before the one minute mark and then again towards the end.

Update September 2015: some of the game links are dead.
Update March 2017 added video caption.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


My wife was peeling an orange the other day, and every now and then a cloud of tiny particles would erupt from where she was working. It would only hang in the air for a second or so and then it would disappear. It didn't happen every time she tore a piece of peel, just on the bigger tears. I don't know whether it was particles of peel or juice. I tried taking a picture, but I was too late, and the camera was too slow.

I picked up a coffee mug to make myself a cup of tea and I noticed a line in the stain on the inside of the cup that could have been a hair. I knew it wasn't, it was too thin and it was the same color as all the other tea stain on the inside of the cup, but I couldn't restrain myself, so I wiped it with my thumb, and surprise, surprise! A big bunch of the "stain" got wiped away. This cup had just come out of the dishwasher. I got a paper towel and tried wiping away more of the stain and almost all of it came off. Not much of a stain, more like a film of superfine tea dust. I wanted some pictures, so I tried the same thing on a couple of other badly stained tea mugs, but no luck. Something about the micro structure of the surface perhaps.

My friend Marc and I were poking around in a pile of stuff he had acquired from an old tool & die shop. I found a large envelope marked as containing sandpaper with one micron grit. One micron?!?! You got to be kidding, so I open it up and pull out a sheet. It looks like paper, it even feels like paper. Well, I supposed it could be one micron grit, I mean how would you tell? There was a mold for making a curved plastic mirror there as well, and it was very smooth and shiny, just like a mirror. Is that how you get there? Cut, grind, file, and then sand, sand, sand with progressively finer sandpaper until you can't tell the difference?

Update January 2017 replaced missing picture.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Happy Halloween

I saw this excellent pumpkin today at Post Hip in Multnomah Village.
Somehow the colors don't seem as bright in this version of the picture.

Update November 2016 replaced missing picture.

Emma Maersk & SVG

Bateaux comparaison
Wikimedia had a nice drawing that showed the relative sizes of some large ships. Unfortunately, their thumbnail is too small to be able to read the text, and the drawing is too big to fit on the screen, so I thought I would try and scale it to a more usable size. Hmmm, it's an SVG file, not one of your normal image formats. How do we scale that? A quick Google search turns up Inkscape, which is the full-blown image editor. Let's give it a shot. Mmm, it's big, takes a while to download. It's big, it takes a while to install. But both operations go by without a glitch, and look, here's our image on the screen. Now, how do we scale it? Poke around on the menu, no luck. Look at the help, massive, look at the index, no luck here either. Post a couple of questions to help and I finally figure out that this is an editing operation for which you need to select what you want to operate on. That would be the entire image. Is "Select All" on the edit menu? It is! Click and drag a couple of times, check the zoom level. That looks like something we can use. Export to a bitmap (not really, it goes to PNG file, but close enough), and presto, chango, here we are, except not quite. Blogger doesn't like big images, so it scales it down. I tried cutting it in half, and posting the two halves, but then we get a gap between the two halves. So I open the image in Paint, select all, copy, go over to Google documents, create a new "document", paste the image from Paint. Now repeat, select all, copy, and finally go over to blogger and paste the image. Geez, what a lot of rig-a-ma-role. But I did it all without having to learn how any of the fancy schmancy applications work. Is it really easier, or quicker?

Update January 2017 replaced missing image.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

What Have We Done?

Tacky, but very funny.

Someone sent me this clip via email. I liked it so I thought I would post it here, so I tried to upload it to YouTube. It uploaded quick enough, but then YouTube spent an infinite amount of time (more than an hour) processing it, only to tell me it had been rejected due to a "Terms of Use Violation" or copyright infringement. Didn't say which. So I went over to metacafe and tried uploading it there. Only took a few seconds, and then it told me they already had a copy of it. It's a WMV file, which is a Microsoft format, which means it probably has all kinds of DRM (Digital Rights Management) stuff embedded in it, which is probably what YouTube used to reject it, and metacafe used to identify it.

Update January 2017 tried to replace missing video, but I don't have a clue as to what it was.

Emma Maersk

Eugen Maersk in Le Havre France
Marston is full of beans today. Some of these pictures are from an email he sent me, some are from the Maersk Line website. I think the first one is the best. It shows you how much bigger Eugen is than your run of the mill container ship.

The 207 foot beam means it cannot fit through the Panama or Suez Canals. It is strictly transpacific. A cruise speed of 31 knots is 50% faster than a typical container ship. Built in Denmark.
TEU stands for Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit and is the equivalent of a 20 foot long shipping container. These are the short ones you see getting hauled around on trucks sometimes. The big containers are 40 feet long and are the same size as full size semi-trailers. They are equivalent to two TEU's.

The Maersk line has 8 ships like this out of a total of roughly 200. The oldest ships in their fleet were built in 1980 and hold 2700 TEU, about one fourth of what Emma and her sisters can carry. Their smallest ship only holds 740 TEU, but it is an oddball. The next biggest size is over 1,000 TEU. They have almost two million shipping containers. One of their ships makes a port call every thirteen minutes.

Shipyard where she was built:

Odense Steel Shipyard

Update June 2019 replaced dead Picasa album with image and link to Google Drive album.

Update July 2020 replaced missing Google Map.


We were talking at lunch the other day about drugs and current attempts to legalize marijuana, i.e. California Assembly Bill 390, being as California is broke and they are in need of a new source of loot. Opinions varied. Some people think all drugs should be legal and the government shouldn't be involved. Me, I'm worried about what will happen if all drugs do become legal. I can just see it now: television advertisements from major drug manufacturers during prime time telling you to "ask your doctor if heroin is right for you". If you follow the money, you might conclude (like me) that drugs are illegal because the way it is now, too many people are making too much money off them. Even if the South American and Mexican drug cartels were interested in making drugs legal (no telling if they are or not), there is no way it is going to happen. There are too many people in Washington who are getting too much money to allow anything like that to happen. Anyway the consensus was that while the Cartels think they may be well versed in the ways of corruption, they are mere amateurs when it comes to playing in the big leagues in Washington D.C.

Time Warp

In honor of Halloween, a blast from the past: 1975, though I didn't see it until much later.

Update September 2015. Replaced missing video.
Update February 2019. Replaced missing video.