Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

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

Thursday, December 31, 2009


When this high tech stuff works, it's great. When it doesn't, it is a colossal pain in the wuttuzzi. And you know it all breaks down at the same time, and that time is when it is most inconvenient for you. Stupid machines.

Work A Day World

I picked up a temporary job and it looks like it's going to be interfering with my goofing off, so there may not be as many postings for the next few weeks.

Today's Poem

And ye, who have met with Adversity's blast,
And been bow'd to the earth by its fury;
To whom the Twelve Months, that have recently pass'd
Were as harsh as a prejudiced jury, —
Still, fill to the Future! and join in our chime,
The regrets of remembrance to cozen,
And having obtained a New Trial of Time,
Shout in hopes of a kindlier dozen

From the poem For The New Year by Thomas Hood, sent to me by Ned.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Quote of the Day

"Well, you know what they say - when you haven't any other place to step, it doesn't matter which foot lands in the shit first."
Captain Heris Serrano in Sporting Chance by Elizabeth Moon, page 208.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Fire Engine Maximus

Remember all those oil well fires in Kuwait when we kicked out the Iraqi's? Ever wonder how they put out those fires? Well, wonder no more:

Tucker Combat Car

Ross, on his way to Denver, saw a Tucker Torpedo on the road this morning. There aren't too many Tucker automobiles around, so I thought I would poke around on the web and see if someone in Eastern Oregon had managed to latch onto one, and maybe posted some pictures. Well, I found a bunch of pictures of the Tucker Torpedo, but none that seem to be from Eastern Oregon. But while I was looking I found this video of the Tucker Combat Car on AutoBlog:

Quite the gizmo, quite a lot of technology packed into a pretty small package. I'll bet it was expensive, and that's probably why it didn't make it into production. The turret did, though.

And since I think the Tucker is a pretty good looking car, I collected some photos. No credits this time. Some of the web pages I found these on were miles long, took forever to load, and one of them kept trying to play some audio anouncement, all of which I found extremely irritating, so nobody gets any credit this morning.

Tucker Automobile
Update November 2019 replaced dead Picasa slideshow with photo and link to Google Photos album.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Who are "We"? And what do "We" want?

You hear it time and again in quotes from people in the news. We want this, we want that, we want what's ours, we want what's good and right for everyone, what's good and right for "We".

The American Declaration of Independence starts with "We the people".

Lately I've noticed that sometimes people play fast and loose with "We". Sometimes it's intentional, sometimes not. Sometimes people really believe that everyone thinks as they do, so they use We to refer to everyone. Sometimes there is a specific agenda and they use We to imply that everyone supports this idea/program/concept/whatever, or at least they should.

Sometimes We is used to refer to a specific group, and that's fine. It's when it they are referring to some nebulous, overarching group of everyone that gets my attention.

What do We want? On one hand We say that we should care for the sick and injured, give aid and comfort to the less fortunate, especially children. On the other hand, when these children grow up without any education or training or civilizing and go out into the world and start making trouble, we have no compunction about killing them. Okay, maybe We have some compunction, but we do it anyway.

Near as I can tell, killing other people, especially people from another tribe (a different group of We), has been the number one sport since people first showed up on this planet. Nowadays, it seems that slaughter is "senseless", but killing killers, especially killers from another tribe, is okay.

Daring daughter just got back from three months in Africa. She visited Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zanzibar. Kenya, the bastion of civilization on the East Coast is now off-limits. Uganda, site of innumerable horrors 20 or 30 years ago is now considered mostly safe.

She only spent a couple of days in Rwanda, site of recent genocide (Hutus killing Tutsis, or vice versa, I don't remember which), and she described it as bizarre. They visited the capital, a large modern city, with large, American size prices. How can this be? Everything seemed way too normal. But there were undercurrents of hate and repressed loathing. I suspect if she had been there much longer it would have become more apparent.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


It's Christmas and all the kids are home. Tuesday we saw the Santaland Diaries with Wade McCollum. It is based on an essay by David Sidaris. I am not particularly impressed by Sidaris, but McCollum was hilarious. Comedy is all in the timing, or maybe it's the delivery, or maybe some people just know how to tell a joke. In any case McCollum had it down pat. Of course, his body language, facial expressions and voices helped a bunch.

This evening we watched Walt Disney / Pixar's Up. Grumpy old man (Get Offa My Lawn) part II. Ross wanted to watch Die Hard but I had seen it too many times. I don't care if it's traditional. Up is really a pretty goof ball movie, pretty funny, and some good characterizations.

Ross went to see Avatar Sunday at a Regal Theater. They charged $13.50 for a ticket. I can wait. We are going to see Sherlock Holmes tomorrow. I didn't even know there was such a movie.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Today's Poem

Winter Solstice

It snowed and snowed, the whole world over, Snow swept the world from end to end. A candle burned on the table; A candle burned.

Boris Pasternak

I'm not usually much for poetry, but, hey, I needed to put something up and a friend of mine sent me this. He lives in Denver. I hear they have snow there. Boris also wrote Dr. Zhivago.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Quote of the Day

"Wade went down like he was shot by an elephant."
Mike or Mike when Dwayne Wade of the Miami basketball team ended up on the floor after being fouled. This happened during the basketball game this afternoon between the Portland Trailblazers and the Miami Heat. It is probably not an exact quote, but it is pretty close. Yeah, if I got shot by an elephant, I would probably be laid out on the floor too.

Gasoline Price Chart

I really like this price chart (that I found on the bottom of this page):

Weekly U.S. Retail Gasoline Prices, Regular Grade
For the 18 months ending December 2009.
It is clear and easy to read. (Or it would be if it was full size. Click on it to see the full size version.) However, it is a little deceptive: it looks like the price of gasoline went all the way to zero back just about a year ago. I will grant that after the sky high prices of summer before, it almost did feel like zero. But it wasn't. Gas was still $1.60 a gallon, six times as much as it was when I first started driving (my personal baseline). I understand the desire to make the data more dramatic by raising the baseline to emphasise the amount of recent change. Lots of people do it. Maybe it's something they teach in presentation school, but it is basically wrong. A chart like this should have a baseline of zero. If you want to also include a chart with special emphasis, like this one, that's fine, but don't leave out the true picture.

Here is a chart I made using a Google Doc's Spreadsheet. I got the data from another page on the same EIA website that the first chart came from. This one has a baseline of zero, and goes all the way back to, whoa, 1993. Gee, a whole 16 years. The big drop in prices of a year ago still shows up as a big drop. Unfortunately, the dates on the X axis are all but unreadable.

West Coast Gasoline Prices
1993 to 2009
H/T to MaxedOutMama.
Update October 2016 replace missing graphs.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Quote of the Day

Sarcastro making a comment on the Volokh Conspiracy. I couldn't have said it better myself.

This Means War

I had a revelation this morning. I was reading a story in The New Yorker about a convention of stove makers in Cottage Grove, Oregon. Cottage Grove is just outside of Eugene. Eugene is commonly known as Berkeley North, a bastion of liberals, pinkos and the dreaded hippy (Ha ha! The dreaded hippy! Get it? Hippy with dreadlocks? I made a funny!) Seems that cooking fires might be the biggest cause of global warming, bigger than SUV's, cows, or even people breathing. That's when it struck me. It doesn't matter if pollution is causing global warming or not. The whole point is to have an issue that you can use to rally your troops, and it seems that the powers that be (on the left anyway) are making good use of this one. The right has their War On Terror, and they have made effective use of it for their side. Both issues ("Global Warming" and the "War On Terror") are sure to cause disagreements, arguments, and get people's blood up, and that's the whole point. Nobody really cares about something until someone else attacks it. There are problems in the world, and some people sincerely believe they should try and help solve them. Some of these problems are really big, and solving them is going to take a coordinated effort by a large number of people. How do you get people to commit to a cause? By getting them emotionally involved, that's how. You get their blood up, and they'll do anything for "the cause". I don't think the War On Terror or the Global Warming campaigns would be as effective if they didn't have opponents screaming their heads off about how idiotic they all are. People commit to a cause, make donations to politicians, politicians get elected and pass bills that divert funds to their constituents. Their constituents line their pockets, the opponents scream their heads off and everybody is happy. The important part is everybody has something to believe in. If one party stays in power too long, their advantages start to pile up, the little people who were supporting whatever program it was realize they are not getting any financial benefit this program, and defect to the other party. Eventually the opposition gets enough adherents, the party in power changes, and the cycle starts over. The real issue is money, and for an economy that runs on oil, that means oil or its' equivalent. The Republicans are going for the simple, straight, conservative approach: the Mid-East has the oil, we want it, let's go get it, and to hell with the rag heads. The Democrats look at the mess that is the Mid-East and say "there has got to be a better way". Maybe we can figure out some way that we don't need to get any oil from the Mid-East. When the Republicans were in power, they directed the hose of public money to their friends in the military-industrial complex. Now the Democrats are in power and they are trying to redirect some of that money to their friends in the Universities. Note that the little people never get any of this largess from either party. Any benefit they receive is just a side effect of these big power plays. It is all about getting more money and power to those who already have money and power. Meanwhile, there is a fight brewing in Oregon over Natural Gas. One outfit wants to build a terminal in Coos Bay, another wants to build one in Astoria, and a third wants to build a 700 mile pipeline from somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. I'm cool with Natural Gas. I use it to heat my house. I've thought about using it in my truck, but the tanks are a tad expensive. They are also a little scary. I suppose it's whatever you are used to. I mean if you think about it, driving around with 20 gallons of gasoline in a thin steel tank is kind of scary, but we are so used to it we all do it without even thinking about it. Propane is a little nicer is some ways. It's familiar, people use it for their RV's and barbeque grills. It doesn't take much pressure to turn it into a liquid, which means you can store more energy in a smaller space. The downside is that it is heavier than air. So if you have a leak and you have any kind of basin, it will collect there and one little spark can set it off. Of course gasoline acts kind of the same way. Natural gas, on the other hand, is lighter than air and will just blow away. So if you have a leak, you may discover you suddenly have an empty tank for no apparent reason. Natural gas has another advantage over propane and that is there is much greater supply of it. Propane is siphoned off the production of other petroleum products, so it is a limited resource. The amount available is a small fraction of other fuels.


As I was getting ready to get in my truck today I noticed a couple of white dots by my driveway. I thought they looked like Airsoft pellets. I went over and inspected them and sure enough, that's what they were. You can't see them in this shrunken picture, but if you click on it to see the full resolution version, there are blindingly obvious. They are lying on the asphalt a couple of inches from the concrete apron of the gutter. Airsoft pellets aren't very big, and I was at least thirty feet away.

30 feet x 2 x PI / (3/16") ~= 12,000.

So it would take about 12,000 Airsoft pellets to make a circle 60 feet in diameter (a circle with a radius of 30 feet).

1 circle = 360 degrees * 60 minutes per degree = 21,600 minutes of arc.

So an Airsoft pellet at a distance of 30 feet is roughly 2 minutes of arc. Here is a close up if the first picture didn't work.

Update October 2016 replaced missing pictures.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Quote of the Day

"Don't forget: stupidity and comedy are blood brothers."
Me, being witty.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Quote of the Day

"Marijuana legalization is a great step in the direction of sane and sensible drug policy. But we reformers must remember that we’re working to legalize drugs not because we think they are safe, but because prohibition is far more dangerous to users and nonusers alike."
Former Police Chief Norm Stamper. Maybe not the best quote in the world. Read the whole story on AlterNet. Via Graham Hancock.

Number Puzzle

Marston sent me this puzzle:


2 + 3 = 10

7 + 2 = 63

6 + 5 = 66

8 + 4 = 96


9 + 7 = ?

The answer is the password to an attached spreadsheet. Figure out the answer, and you can open the spreadsheet and add your name to the list of people who have solved this problem. Only problem is I don't have Microsoft Excel. I do have Open Office, so I can open Excel spreadsheets, and when I try to open this one it does indeed check for a valid password. However, I cannot save it as a protected spreadsheet in any format, so I could not add my name to the list. Some deficiency in Open Office, I suppose. So now I am in a bind. I cannot demonstrate that I can solve the puzzle without giving you the solution. Of course by now this problem and its' solution are all over the net, so if you really wanted to cheat, you could. The problem is not that difficult, so if you enjoy this kind of thing, you might try to solve it. If you want, I can forward the protected spreadsheet to you so you can amuse your friends.

After I used Open Office to convert the spreadsheet to the Open Office format, I was able to upload it to Google Documents, but when I tried that with the protected Excel format version, I got an error.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Seattle Portland Amtrak

Darling daughter took the train to Seattle this weekend. Click the pic to see a bigger version. The train has two engines, one at either end. The Northern engine pulls the train to Seattle, and the Southern engine pulls it back to Portland. The engines are normal height, but the cars are low slung. The baggage car (right in front of the camera) has a aerodynamic swoop on top to ease the transition between the lower cars and the taller engine. Wouldn't want the wind to get upset or nothing.

Update September 2016 replaced missing picture.

Spider for the Day

Tiny Spider with Penny
I spotted this little guy on the basement stairs. This time I remembered to provide a scale.

Update October 2016 replaced missing picture.

Eternity Puzzle, Part 6

I figured out what the problem was with my program. It's a matter of how you look at orientation. If your point of reference moves clockwise, that is the same as the having the reference remain still and the tile turn counter-clockwise. I still haven't fixed the code. I don't seem to have the necessary motivation. But I came up with a new scheme that might lead to a solution. I had great hopes of implementing it, but since that isn't happening, I thought I would write it up and maybe some industrious person could make use of it.

The idea is to start small, but pervasive, and work your way up. Start with making square blocks of four tiles whose adjoining edges match. Start with the first tile and make as many blocks of four as you can. Go to the next tile and repeat. You will have a couple hundred groups of four for each tile.

Next, go through the list and eliminate any duplicates. Now select 64 of the blocks such that each tile is used only once. See if the number of unmatched edges can be arranged so that the counts in each direction come out even. That is, for any one color/pattern, the number of edges facing left should equal the number of edges facing right, and the number of edges facing down should equal the number of edges facing up. If this set meets all these criteria, then you can go on to the next phase.

At this point there are two directions you can go. One is to generate all the possible sets of blocks that meet these criteria. The other is go on to the next phase.

The next phase is to take four of your blocks and see if you can group them into square blocks of 16 tiles. Since we have already established the orientations of the 4 tile blocks, this should be fairly quick to complete, or fail.

When you have reached this point then it might be worthwhile to just see if you can solve the complete puzzle. You only have 16 squares at this point.

The only problem I see is that the number of combinations of 4 tile blocks might be too enormous to winnow down in a timely manner. The other problem is that there are a number of steps where it is necessary to insure that all possibilities are considered. A brute force approach where you only check one tile at a time does not have this weakness.

Speed of Thought

Some days I am perfectly clear headed, and some days my head feels like mush. On clear days I can tackle the most difficult problems, read the most complicated stories, solve the Daily Jumble in three seconds flat. Other days the comics are the most complicated thing I read. Taking a shower and getting dressed require all my concentration.

Several college students I know are taking speed to help them concentrate. It's not called speed, there are fancy pharmaceutical names for the stuff, but it's still speed. I wonder if it's really a good idea. I find motivation is great enabler of concentration. I am pretty sure the courses they are taking in school are just so much B.S.

Meth (Crystal meth, methamphetamine) is the horror drug of the moment. It's speed. Same stuff as the college students are getting from the pharmacy, but it's fancy pharmaceutical name isn't used, and the dosage isn't precisely measured. Rumor has it that it's the drug of choice for the working class. It enables you to get your work done, even when the job is boring and tedious.

I just saw an article in the paper this morning that says texting (sending text messages via cellular telephones) is way up, and actual minutes spent talking are down. Reminds me of the whole hive mind thing you find in science fiction.

There was one story I remember in particular where one group of people all had radio transceivers implanted in their heads so they were in constant communication with all the other members of their group. This caused a schism such that this group broke with the rest of society. They two groups still dealt with each other for some things. The independent group wanted to build some sort of giant ring in space. I think it was a star gate or some such, but it was complex, so they contracted with the hive mind group to build it.

So you could look at the Earth as the body. We have built a network of roads, which could be considered analogous to blood vessels, filled them motor vehicles, which would be analogous to blood cells, and now we are working on communications links, which would be analogous to nerve fibers. So maybe we are turning the Earth into one giant super-brain. It will be interesting to see where this goes.

Cross Corrugated Waffle Board

I saw a bread truck the other day. You know the kind: big aluminum-boxed delivery trucks with a full height door that the driver can walk right through. Hostess uses them to deliver Twinkies, Fed-Ex uses them for deliveries. UPS has their very own custom versions. And I got to thinking. It's just a big aluminum box made as simply as possible. The walls are very thin and would need reinforcement in order to remain straight. The aluminum is probably thicker than it needs to be in order to maintain it's shape. They could probably get by with half the aluminum if they used another method of reinforcing. Other methods of reinforcing might cost more than the excess metal they are using now. Honeycomb, for instance, can make really light weight, really strong panels, but I suspect the precision and the glue required, not to mention new fabrication techniques, probably keep it from being used for mundane applications like bread trucks.

And then I thought about corrugated panels. They make corrugated fiberglass panels for roofs for greenhouses and patios. They make corrugated cardboard for boxes. But these only have corrugations running in one direction. They make the panels rigid in the direction of the ridges, but the no so much cross wise.

Corrugated Fiberglass Sheets
How about if we took two corrugated panels and laid one on top of the other cross-wise? If they were firmly fastened to each other, they would be rigid in both directions. Their weak point would be at the fastening where the top of one curve of one panel would meet at right angles with the bottom of the curve of the other panel. There would be a large number of these points, but they would still just be points. Another drawback is that the panel would now be twice as thick.

Okay, here's the big idea. Take one corrugated panel. Make the corrugations gentle so the distance from the crest of one curve to the next is about six inches instead of the two inches you find on fiberglass panels. Now take a second panel and cut it up into little pieces that will sit in the valleys of the first panel. Imagine the two panels lying on the floor, one at right angles to the other. Further, imagine one as the cutter, and the other as the cuttee. The corrugated end of the cutter slides into the cuttee and cuts it into hundreds of identical little pieces. While being cut, the cuttee does not move. Now we have a waffle pattern top and bottom. Weld all the edges of the cut pieces to the cutter piece. Now you have a very rigid panel about an inch thick made of two thin sheets of metal, and no weak points.

Of course cutting, placing, and welding are all going to be a bit tricky, but with laser cutters and robotics, I think you could do it. Problem is, would there be enough demand for such a panel to justify the expense of the fancy equipment? Or could you farm it out to slave labor in China or India? That might be something they could do, metal being more of a precious commodity over there than here.

A word about Bimbo: They had a big bakery around the corner from where I used to work in Beaverton. I mean a BIG bakery. There were always semi-trucks coming and going. About once a week I would see a flour truck show up. It looked like a giant tanker trailer, with triple axles on the rear end. Bimbo must be the biggest company you never heard of. Oroweat is one of their smaller divisions. Funny, I never noticed that Oroweat was missing an 'H'.

View Bimbo Bakery Beaverton Oregon in a larger map

Update November 2016 replaced missing pictures.
Update October 2020 replaced map that I inadvertently deleted. Now I add the blog post URL to the map's description.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Quote of the Day

"The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at and repair."
A corollary to Murphy's Law by Douglas Adams. Sent in by Ned. Think something might have gone wrong for him?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Per Diem

I was looking around on the web, trying to figure out how many people in the US are working, and what kind of jobs they have. Found out that about half the people in the US are working (154 million) and the government is the biggest employer at 22 million. I am assuming that is all levels of government, but I don't know.

Then I stumbled over a spreadsheet of the Per Diem rates for Federal Employees. Per Diem (per day) is what you get for food and lodging when you have to stay overnight away from home. The base rate is $116 per day: $70 for a room and $46 for food and incidentals. But then there is a list of 700 specific locations that have a higher allowance. When you get up to place number 300 the rate is up to $150 per day for places like Oklahoma City, Sturgis, South Dakota & Olympia Washington.

Get up to place number 600 and you are paying $200 a night for room & board in Palm Springs, California or Aspen, Colorado. Another 60 places down the list and you are up $250 for Chicago, Illinois or Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Washington D.C. runs $300, and the top four places on the list (from $350 to $411) belong to NYC.

I imported the spreadsheet into Google. You can see it here without having to download it.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


South Africa is a very strange place. This is the second movie that I have seen about South Africa after Mandela was elected. The other was Red Dust which is where I first heard about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Invictus was a very pleasant movie, relatively speaking. None of the brutality that you often find in many movies about Africa. It is a movie about politics, the power of television, and rugby. Rugby is kind of brutal. I know a little about soccer, my kids used to play it, and I've seen matches on TV. I've even played a few games myself, but I don't know much about Rugby. I mean, I've heard of it, but I had never seen it played. They play rugby in the movie and you get to see how it is played, right up close.

Professional sports is a very strange thing. People react to it as though it's important. Something about being human I supposed. Evidently we need some kind of conflict, either personal or vicarious.

While I was trying to remember the name of the other movie (Red Dust), I was out wandering around on the net and I came across a list of movies about Africa. I was surprised to find how many I had seen.

Personal Blacklist

I want a personal blacklist for websites that I find to be a waste of time. I follow lots of links on the web. Some of them are interesting, some are not, and some are just garbage. Sometimes they have a nice glossy cover, or even what appears to be the start of an interesting story, but somewhere along the line they take a left turn into crazy land. Yeah, have a good time there buddy, but remind me not to stop by anymore.

Health Insurance Debate, Part 2

From a story in today's Oregonian by Ezra Klein of The Washington Post:
"In 2009, the average employer-sponsored health-care plan cost a bit less that $13,500. ... Employers generally pay more than 70% of their employee's health-care costs."
There are roughly 300 million people in this country. If one third of them (100 million) have jobs that provide health insurance, that comes to 1.3 Trillion Dollars a year. How would like to be able to stick your fingers into that cash flow? You probably wouldn't even have to actually touch it. Just getting near enough to catch some of the spray would cover you with more money than you would know what to do with. No wonder there is a big fight going on over this whole health care business.

$13,500 a year is over a $1,000 a month. Minimum wage jobs (outside of Oregon) don't even pay that much. ($6 an hour times 40 hours a week times 4 weeks a month comes to $960.) So if you were to get a minimum wage job with health-care it should be worth just as much as a job that paid twice as much, but did not include health-care. I know if I was young and single and healthy which job I would choose.

For some time I've been kicking around the idea that health insurance should send an annual statement to their subscribers telling them just how much they paid the insurance company, how much their employer paid, and just how much the insurance company paid out on their behalf. I personally would like to see it, but I am kind of nerd that way. I could keep track of it myself: I get a statement from Blue Cross for every single transaction, but that would be a lot of work. The few times I have made an attempt at figuring it out, it came out about even. A lot went to the insurance company, but an approximately equal amount went out on our behalf. But that's just us.

Some people tried to get bills passed that would allow/force employers/insurance companies to issue benefit statements to all their employees, but according to the article:
"Both were stymied by an odd-bedfellows alliance of employers and unions."
One problem we have is with uninsured healthy people, (gangsters, I'm looking at you) people who don't think they need health insurance. Well, nobody needs it when they are healthy, but things happen, and something might happen to you, and then where would you be? In the charity ward, sucking up tax dollars, because we as a society don't believe in letting people just die on the street. We have to pick them and put them in a hospital bed, and if they don't get perfectly good care, the hospital is leaving itself open to a lawsuit from someone who might not even have paid their bill.

Even if nothing bad happens to you like getting shot or run over by a car, life still happens, people get married and have kids. Deliveries go bad, kids get sick, fall down, break bones. If we charged families by the amount of risk they present to the insurance company, their insurance premiums could be much higher than those for a single person. Their value to their employer would not necessarily be any higher than that of single person. If the employer was paying the premiums based on an individual's risk, they would be inclined to only hire single people. You got married? Sorry, have to let you go, your insurance costs too much.

Maybe that's the way it should be, but I don't think so. Let single people pay more than their share. They are going to get older, they are probably going to get married and have kids, they might have an accident, and eventually they will get old. I imagine the bigger half of the world goes through life without ever visiting a doctor. I suppose it might be possible even do that in this country. But we do have a safety net, whether you like it or not. It's part and parcel of who we are. So if you are going to be part of this society, you need to have health insurance, even if you never go to the doctor.

If you think the safety net should be folded up and put away, well, you've got your work cut out for you. Cthulhu might be your God. There might even be some places in the world where worshipping Cthulhu is the official state religion. You might want to try one.

Friday, December 11, 2009


The Sleeping Venus by Giorgione c. 1510
I like to illustrate my posts with pictures. Partly just because I like pictures and partly because they sometimes help clarify the story. I used to just link in the pictures. That is, I would supply Blogger with the URL of the picture, and when it needed to display that picture, it would go look it up on the web. I have found this to be unreliable. Websites disappear without any warning and take their pictures with them, and I am left with a pictureless post. So now I download a copy of the picture and post that. That way if the originating website disappears, the picture doesn't. I still put in a link to the original website so they can get credit for it, if they don't disappear.

Update November 2015: My technique failed when Blogger lost the picture. I used the file name to locate the picture on the net. I probably have it on a disk somewhere, but the net is quicker and easier.

Tunnel Breakthrough

This is a road tunnel being built in England. The video isn't much, but I think the sound effects are awesome. At first I couldn't figure out what was making those noises, I wasn't even sure they were being made by whatever was doing the breaking. It sounded like something out of a science fiction film. Eventually they break out enough of the remaining barrier that you can see through to the other side. It appears that the machine is some kind of slow speed jackhammer mounted on the end of a backhoe. I've seen them around, but I don't think I've ever seen one in action. It's also interesting to see how closely the two halves of the tunnel align.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Quote of the Day

No doubt she had no nephews, or if she did they were being lovingly brought up in boot camp somewhere.
Lady Cecilia speaking of the new captain of her yacht in Hunting Party by Elizabeth Moon. I almost choked on my coffee. I dunno, maybe you had to be there. Page 9.

Mother's Bistro

My mother-in-law took the kids & and me out to Mother's Bistro for brunch yesterday morning. There was an empty parking space right in front of the front door. What luck! They go inside and I go to feed the permit vendor, which is out of order. Figures. Walk to the next machine on the next block. It's not far, 50, maybe 100, yards. It's cold as the devil. This machine is working, but is slow as the devil. The cold devil and the slow devil are working hand in hard. It takes so long that darling daughter comes looking for me.

We get to our table and I start telling some feeble story and dutiful daughter tells me to speak softer. I was using my normal voice, designed to be heard above the hub-bub, but evidently it is more than they need. This has happened before. I lower my voice but now I can barely hear what I am saying, but it seems they can hear me fine.

A couple of times while I am eating I look down at my coffee cup, wanting more, but expecting it to be empty, but it's not. Guess I didn't drink as much as I thought. Afterwards we are talking about the restaurant and I tell them I thought it was pretty good, except they never refilled my coffee. Contradictary daughter tells me the waitress refilled my coffee cup twice. I never noticed. I don't think that has ever happened before. I was shocked. Shocked, I tell you.

We head over to Powell's. No visit to Portland is complete without a stop at Powell's. I have decided that I want to get some books that I want to read. I've read some interesting stuff and some strange stuff this year, but now I want some stuff I can just read for fun, and that means Science Fiction. Elizabeth Moon and Lois McMaster Bujold are my current favorites so I pick up a used one by each. $5 a piece, used. There were some ratty looking used ones for as much as $10. Used book prices have gone up. You can find them on Amazon for as little as 26 cents, but there is a $4 shipping charge for each book, regardless of how many you buy. The dollar has fallen in value and prices for some things have doubled in the last ten years.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Quote of the Day

"Prohibited firearms are not actually prohibited, they simply require a prohibited licence to obtain."
From Wikipedia's article on Gun politics in Canada. Okaaaayyyy. So the prohibited gun is not really prohibited, as long as you get a license for it? Except you can't get a license because it's prohibited? Well, if it ain't our old friend Catch-22.

What they really mean is there is a special kind of license, called a "prohibited license" that allows you to own prohibited guns. I dunno, I think those Canadians are some kind of wild and crazy guys... I'm imagining getting a prohibited license and then being arrested for having it, the po-po telling me don't you know it's illegal to have one these licenses? They're PROHIBITED, don'tcha know?

This is all Roberta's fault. She put up a post that mentioned this guy in Canada getting busted by a SWAT team for having a toy gun made of Legos. Is this a great country or what? Wait a minute buddy, what country are you talking about anyway? Where did you say you were from? ...

Monday, December 7, 2009

Quote of the Day

Ralph Nader quoting Ross Perot:
"He (Perot) was talking to some senior GM executives in 1986, and he said here’s a company that doesn’t like its dealers, doesn’t like its workers, doesn’t like its customers—you people don’t even like each other!"
From an interview in Car & Driver. Via Dustbury.

Gun with Silencer

Tank Silencer
Your tax dollars at work. Via Bore Patch. More about this idea here (PDF). More pictures here.

Update November 2016 replaced missing picture.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Quote of the Day

Republicans will have to choose between fighting a war,
"or raising taxes, which every Republican in Congress would rather drink arsenic than do."
From an article in Forbes: The Cost Of War by Bruce Bartlett. Another tidbit from the same article:
"According to OMB director Peter Orszag, it costs about $1 million per year per soldier in the field,"
I read somewhere else that one gallon of diesel fuel delivered to a US military vehicle in the field in Afghanistan costs $400. I don't know who's doing the counting, but even with your typical military cost overruns that sounds a tad high. On the other hand, it is an expedition. You have to bring everything with you: vehicles, housing, food, people, not to mention munitions.

Via Dustbury.

They Always Blow Up

Tam posted a video today of a Vanguard rocket blowing up:

It happened 52 years ago today. In the comments on her post Kristopher put forth this story:
Almost all of those NASA disasters were caused by one OCD machinist in the plant making the LOX pumps.

He was told to not put protectant on the rotors he was responsible for machining, but kept oiling them anyway and wiping them off afterward. He couldn't bring himself to kick this lifelong habit.

Just like putting lube on a welder's O2 regulator, it was a disaster in the making.

Once they caught him doing it, and fired his ass, the pad explosions stopped.
I don't know if the story is true or not, but it's plausible, and it brought to mind this line from The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe:
As for the NASA technicians and the military personnel assigned to the mission, they were in a mood of utter adoration of the single-combat warriors, all three of them, for one of them would be placing his hide on top of the rocket. (And our rockets always blow up.)
In case you don't know about oxygen and oil: at high pressure they will ignite even without a spark or flame. Oxygen is stored in welders tanks at around 2000 PSI. Putting oil of any kind on the threads before you attach the regulator is a sure fire way to get yourself kilt. When you open the valve on the tank, the high pressure oxygen will force it's way into the threads where it will encounter the oil, it will ignite explosively and blow off the regulator valve.

Update: I did a little searching on the web, and I couldn't find a definitive statement about the use of lubricants on the threads of oxygen tanks. Today I even went and checked Myth Busters. I found one post on the subject, so I replied.

Canada Oil Sands

This video provides a pretty good summary of what's going on. The bit about the processing and the part about the scope of the project are both better than I have heard anywhere else. There are a couple of lines in there about global warming, but never mind that. There's also some stuff about NAFTA that I don't have a clue about.
I'm a little curious as to how much natural gas they are using to make a barrel of oil, but presumably however much it is, it makes economic sense.

H2oil animated sequences from Dale Hayward on Vimeo.

La Moustache produced these animated sequences completed for the feature documentary H2oil.

Update September 2018 replaced missing video.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Me Manly Man

Dutiful daughter and I hauled a Christmas tree home this afternoon/evening* in my truck. I cut the requisite inch off the base of the trunk with my chain saw. What a day! I got to use my pickup truck to haul something, AND I got to use my chain saw. I don't think I have hauled anything in my truck since last Christmas, and I am pretty sure I haven't used the saw either. The chain saw had leaked bar oil all over the shelf where it was sitting. Kind of makes me think it hasn't moved in a while. I was expecting it to be difficult, but follow the directions (6 squirts, 5 pulls, press the go button) and it fired right up. Died immediately, but a couple of repeats of the starting procedure got it running. I was surprised. One of these days I expect the gasoline to congeal in place and clog up the works, but it hasn't happened yet. We shall see how long it lasts. Nice to have equipment that works.

*It's pitch black and it's only 5:30PM.

Update November 2016 replaced missing picture.

Friday, December 4, 2009

De Bug

I'm still playing with the Eternity II puzzle. I came up with a couple of ideas that might reduce the problem to something that can be solved. Probably not, but maybe. So I've been writing some code and I got to a place where the program runs but it does not work. So I start trying to find the problem, and I cannot get a handle on it. On one hand the code is dirt simple. On the other we are dealing with rotations, and for some reason I am having a devil of a time sorting it out. Might have to go back to pencil and paper.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Intelligent Security

Stephen W. Browne has some things to say about the White House party crashers that makes me think there are some intelligent people in the security business. I mean, you sure couldn't tell from the blather you get about security in the newspapers. Via Dustbury.

Lights On?

I took my wife's car to the store this evening. It's a late model so the headlights come on whenever the car is running. I am just about to leave the parking lot when I realize that instrument lights are not on: I haven't turned the lights on yet. I turn them on and proceed on my way. Now I'm wondering how often this happens to people and they don't snap to it. Then I realize that the taillights on the car I am following are not illuminated. Well, that answers that question.

If you don't look at the dash, you would have no clue that your taillights are not on. I look at the dash, but I suspect it's because I am more of a nerd than most people, or maybe it's a habit. But I can see where it would be easy to get in the habit of ignoring the dashboard. I mean is there anything there you really need?

Now I am wondering if I could get by with just my parking lights. I mean, what's the difference between driving with just your parking lights on in a car that has it's headlights on all the time, and turning on your headlights? Not much. The headlights are brighter when turned on, dimmer in daylight mode, but for around town it's perfectly adequate. So now we have a solution to my request for dimmer headlights for around town driving, but we also have a problem with cars with no taillights. I am not sure this is such a good deal.


Gouda's Gilde Originele Stroopwafels
Wayward daughter got back today and brought us a box of cookies from Amsterdam. They are like thin crisp waffles with caramel filling and they are really good.

Update November 2016 replaced missing picture.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Complexity, Dissent, Economic Slavery, and Coffee

When California Bob has something to say, he really says it:

The slobbering lapdogs of the oligarchy over at Citigroup had some interesting comments on "complexity," that is, waves of change, accompanied by increasing complexity, driving wealth accumulation.

This resonates with me when I see simple, practical, functional, straightforward, cheap, simple methods displaced by expensive, complex systems, usually with unfortunate shortcomings. I see this in commercial and political worlds, and it probably applies to technology, medicine, or any human endeavor you can think of.

An obvious example is the automobile. Yes, automobiles have gotten "better," meaning more reliable. But there is a trend toward complexity: computerizing the car's systems, covering up the components with shrouds, etc. DIY repairs become daunting or impossible. Moreover I notice a disinformation campaign designed to discourage DIY or aftermarket work: carmakers have the gall to suggest that the only safe place to have your oil changed is at the dealer. And I know people who only take their cars to the dealer to have the oil changed because "it's the best place" or "they're the only ones who can do it."

An established system works effectively to contain dissent. The automakers' system works to overwhelm the home mechanic, and at the same time to cajole owners into buying proprietary services:

"To maintain the Lexus mystique, you must only have your wiper blades swapped out by the Certified Factory Trained Service Technicians at Lexus (ie: the guy who was working at Jiffy Lube last week). No one else has the expertise. You could seriously damage your automobile. And you don't want people thinking you're not part of the Lexus family, do you? You've spent $30,000 on this car -- do you want to risk having it ruined by the stink of "uncertified" hands? Good. Now, this'll only hurt for a second..."

Coffee is another one. My coffee maker is a simple plastic "coffee cone," a one-piece plastic drip maker which sits on top of a cup. You put in a filter, put in some coffee, and pour hot water. Quick, easy, quick clean-up, and it makes great coffee. I bought it years ago at Peet's. I notice they no longer carry them. Why? Because why offer your customers a superior item that nets you $2 margin, when by withholding it you can sell them a complex machine which will net you $100?

Thus the system contains dissent. In this case, the commercial system of Peet's, once established as a coffee authority, and functioning widely in key retail anchor points, guides your coffee making choices toward expensive complex solutions -- which of course benefits the plutocracy, or at least Peet's senior management.

To cut to the chase: lately I notice a big marketing push around single cup, fake espresso machines using pre-packaged coffee pods. Eg: "Keurig" and "Nespresso" machines:

I also notice a lot of news about Peet's buying Diedrich coffee, a maker of pre-packaged coffee pods:

My initial reaction is to dismiss this: the machines are "stupid," produce inferior coffee, the pods are expensive, the machines are for people who can't learn how to operate a "real" machine, they'll break after a few months, etc. However I have learned not to bet against stupid impractical things. In fact, if they can provide some kind of consumer titillation, cheap crappy sub-optimal solutions are big money makers.

So my prediction is that the single cup coffee makers will be a big hit. They're easy to use. By buying one people can "feel like a barista" and "feel like they're at Starbucks" and "feel like my apartment is a coffee house where all kinds of cool people go." And they'll sucker tons of buyers by marketing the pods as "half the price of a coffeehouse drink."

Net results: margins for coffee pod sellers go up 20%;
Costs for coffee consumers go up slightly, but they don't notice and they're compensated anyway by the thrill of gadgetry;
Coffee quality suffers 30% but no one notices or cares.

On a positive note: you can still find coffee cones on the web, and to date, you can still buy good espresso machines, and good coffee, and even green beans to roast yourself.

A note on espresso machines: mine have held their value better than any device or tool I can think of. Except maybe houses. Cars depreciate. Computers are guaranteed to be worthless in a few years. My espresso machines are worth more than I paid for them, AND I get huge value out of them everyday. Interesting.

Guns & Violence

I don't know what's going on, but it seems like there have been a lot of shootings in the news lately. I mean, is it because there are more shootings than usual, or is because they are getting more coverage, or is it just that I noticed more of them?

There were like four murder-suicides in the last couple of weeks, where a man killed his wife/girlfriend and then shot himself. Then there was the nutcase who just went off in downtown Hillsboro last week, killed a bystander by accident, was chased to Cornelius and killed by the police. Then we had another murder-suicide yesterday at a local strip mall across the street from where I had lunch today.

To top it all off we have the incident up in Washington where 4 cops were killed. The news report made it sound like some nut case, and that seemed plausible to me. I was talking to a friend of mine about it and he thought it sounded like dirty cops. To him, to kill four police all at once sounds more like a professional hit than some guy with a screw loose. Maybe they were taking payoffs from drug dealers and they got greedy. Or maybe they were clean cops and they were getting too close to the dealers. There are stories of whole towns in the Northwest being in the marijuana business. Maybe this was one of them. Or maybe someone is smuggling heroin in from Afghanistan. The place is adjacent to an Air Force base.

The cops have a suspect. The last time he was in jail he got out on $150,000 bail, which means he had to put up $15,000 cash. Just where does an ex-con get $15,000 cash to post for his bail? I'm not sure just how this works, but I am pretty sure the bondsman keeps the $15,000 regardless of whether the guy shows up for trial or not. If he doesn't, he's going to spend that money tracking the guy down, otherwise he will be out the whole 150 grand.

Anyway, the whole thing stinks to high heaven. We've got four dead cops and an ex-con on the run. If he is the shooter, he could either be nuts, or a hired gun, and I doubt we will ever find out.

As for all the other shootings, I just don't get it. Maybe it's just a function of the ever increasing number of people.