Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest
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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Capital Punishment

We watched an old episode of Law & Order on TV the other night. It started off with the execution of a man by lethal injection. They made sure it was plain that he was guilty and deserved to die. The next day I read a passage in Otherland about a lethal injection execution from the viewpoint of the executee. No wonder I'm writing about this.

I am of two minds on Capital Punishment. On one hand there are people who certainly deserve to die, and I am sure the threat of execution does provide a deterrent effect. On the other hand getting someone executed in the Justice system is a disaster. It costs millions of dollars to go through all the required legal contortions, and then it seems like half the time they end up executing the wrong person anyway. (I was gonna say "the wrong guy", but let's give the girls a fair shot, shall we?) I say just lock them up and save us all a lot of grief. No more money wasted on capital punishment appeals, no more executing the wrong guy. No more hair pulling and gnashing of teeth. Well, that last may be asking a bit much.

And then there's lethal injection. Who thought this up? To my mind it is the worst of all possible methods. Endless waiting, being strapped down to a table, not even a chair. And then we use some kind of procedure that looks like something out of a doctors office. What the heck is up with that? No wonder people aren't getting their kids inoculated anymore. Seems to me a bullet in the head would be the most humane way of killing a person. Pull the trigger, and bang, it's all over. You wouldn't even need straps or a chair or any special equipment. Any officer's service revolver would do the trick. Might be a little messier, but death is generally pretty messy.

All I can figure is that there are some closet sadists out there who really want the victim (executee?) to suffer. I can understand that. Instant death often seems to be too good for what some of these people have done. But they aren't allowed to actually torture someone, so they clothe their horrendous execution procedure in weasel words.

Reminds me of a scene from Full Metal Jacket where a team sends one of their men across an open field to check out some buildings. He gets taken down by a sniper. The shot only injures him and he's screaming. The sniper keeps firing intermittently and hitting him, but not killing him, which puts pressure on his teammates to do something. Eventually they track down the sniper and shoot her. She is disabled but not dead and is asking the Americans to shoot her. They stand around a bit arguing the merits of letting her suffer (payback for what she did), but the squad leader ends up shooting and killing her, sparing her further misery.

And while we are talking about confusing humanity with sadism, there was a story I read about horse racing a while back. Can't remember the name of it. But there are race tracks and there are race tracks. Some of them are well run, and some are a little scruffy around the edges, in more ways than one. The protagonist, who works at a "respectable" track relates the tale of a horse that had the misfortune to break a leg at one of the scruffier tracks. It happened on the home stretch, right in front of the Grandstand. They executed the horse on the spot, with a gun. The protagonist derides them for their behavior, saying something to the effect that they could have at least taken the horse around back where it would be out of sight before they "put it down".

Whose welfare was he concerned about? Certainly not the horse's, he's gotten a broken leg, he's not going to get up again. Standard procedure in Western Civilization is put down an injured animal if there is no hope of recovery. So he wants the horse to lie there in misery while he is hauled off behind some barn for the coup-de-grace? Seems like he's more concerned about the sensitivities of the patrons, which I can understand, they are ones who are funding this operation. But don't call it "being humane". Matter of fact, I think all horses who are injured racing should be executed in front of the Grandstand. Maybe then some pressure would be brought to bear on those people who are breeding fragile animals. And make no mistake, some thoroughbreds are very fragile. That's what happens when all you are concerned about is winning.


St. Paul Travelers Building
I just got a check in the mail for $29.28. It is my share of the proceeds from a lawsuit against St. Paul Travelers (Insurance Corporation, I imagine). The net proceeds from this lawsuit was $53 million against claimed losses of $737 million. Evidently at one time I had some shares of this stock in my retirement fund, which means I got to sign on to a class action lawsuit. Probably required no action on my part other than sitting tight and not making a fuss (no, I'm not gonna be part of no common class action lawsuit! I'm gonna file my own suit! I'll show those no good so and soes!)

So me and the other 123,588 claimants recovered 6.7% of our losses, losses I was not even aware of. I imagine the lawyers all collected several million dollars each, which made the ten years (five years? six months? 3 minutes?) they spent on this case worthwhile.

This sort of thing happens once or twice a year. Occasionally I will look into it a bit, just out of curiosity, and generally what I find is that once upon a time someone told a big fat lie. What the heck is the matter with people? Why do they do stuff like that? Probably because it will help divert large sums of money into their pockets and they don't think they will get caught. And given the amount of time and effort it takes to take down even one of these lying scumbags, a lot of them probably get away with it.

From a statement from the law firm that prosecuted this claim:

St. Paul II arose from the industry-wide insurance scandal involving American International Group, Marsh McClennan, the St. Paul Companies and numerous other insurance providers and brokers. Investigations involved charges that the insurance industry had formed a cartel, through bid rigging, kick backs and the payment of illegal contingent commissions, resulting in higher premiums to customers, and illegally earned revenues for the cartel’s participants. St. Paul’s alleged participation in this cartel, and its misuse of finite insurance, has lead to approximately 22 investigations, including a formal SEC investigation, and an in-depth investigation by the Office of the Attorney General for the State of New York.
And you know, we don't really know if they did anything wrong. Given the obfuscation factor of accounting practices and the law, it could be just that some legal beagle discovered someone had forgotten to cross a T, and realized they could make it into a hanging offense. On the other hand a million bucks isn't what it used to be. Small potatoes like this might not be worth the trouble involved in corrupting the legal system. Now a billion dollars, that might make it worthwhile.

All this fuss and I get a check that will cover lunch for two at the Road House. Geez, prices have gone up (no Shinola Sherlock). Ten years ago I used to get lunch for $5 at the Happy Panda. Now lunch costs $10, plus $2 for iced tea. We should go back to the Panda.

Update January 2017 replaced missing picture.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Japanese Crop Circles

Yeah, I know they aren't crop circles like we find in the West. Something must have gotten crossed up in the translation. Fran sent me the pictures.

In other news, back in 2007, Japan's subsidy for rice fields grew to 180 billion yen. Can't say as I blame them. It's kind of important to be able to grow your own food. They could buy rice from China for much less than it costs to grow it, but what happens if China decides they don't want to sell you any more rice? Watchya gonna do then, 'ay bucky?

Why would China do that (decide not to sell you any more rice) you ask? Because they are dirty reds and can't be trusted to do the right thing. Or they might have a crop failure and need all their rice for their own people. Or somebody might kill all their honey bees, or all our honey bees. I really suspect the CIA of being involved in this. Someone is trying to build artificial bees, robot bees. Sometimes I really think we're walking right along the edge of the abyss. There is a big chasm just waiting to swallow us all up, but it's just over the horizon, so we can't see it yet. Other times I think, nuts, life has been going on here for an untold number of ice ages. Life will go on. Might not be you and me, but some will survive, even if they are only cockroaches, speaking literally or figuratively.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Contest Time

Begin with an English word ending in ize, ite, ime or mb, and having its roots in Icelandic, Urdu or Ogala Sioux.

Replace at least one but no more than seven of its vowels with consonants which, when held up to a mirror, have reflections that look like a letter of the Cyrillic alphabet.

The resulting word must have meaning which, while wholly unrelated to the original word, is yet somehow faintly reminiscent of it, if only in an onomatopoeic kind of way, and at the same time subtly implies a mildly risqué double-entendre.
Stolen from today's Edge, who stole it from the Washington Post.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Skeleton Robot

I'm not sure we would want a robot who was a lot like a person. Maybe we would prefer to have our robots be more like machines. In any case, I've been wondering if it might be possible to build a robot using a human being as a model. Not just the overall shape, but model it on the human skeleton. We would use reinforced plastic for the bones, some other sort of plastic for cartilage, and nylon or fiberglass for tendons. Muscles would be a bit of a trick, but we might be able to use balloons. A deflated sphere can be extended (without stretching) to one and half times it's diameter. Attach "tendons" to opposite ends of the sphere, and inflate it with fluid and it will draw the two ends closer together. You wouldn't get much contraction with just one ball, but several in a row and you could get some actual movement. Cover the whole thing with a plastic skin and you could have a reasonable mechanical facsimile of a person. I suspect the problem would be the vast number of muscles that would need to be controlled, and if we were doing this all hydraulically, that would mean vast numbers of tubes. Of course, we could use electrical valves on the balloon "muscles" and just use one major pressure line to serve all of them. Wires take less space than tubes. Even if it didn't work for building robots, I wonder if it might work for building prosthetics?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Quote of the Day

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, however, there is.
I found this on a Microchip forum in a post by Agustín Tomás.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Electric Vehicles, Dysprosium & China

There is an impending shortage of many rare raw materials used in the manufacture of hybrid and electric cars (Nishiyama 2007) (Cox 2008). For example, the rare earth element dysprosium is required to fabricate many of the advanced electric motors used in hybrid cars (Cox 2008). However, over 95% of the world's rare earth elements are mined in China (Haxel et al. 2005), and domestic Chinese consumption is expected to consume China's entire supply by 2012 (Cox 2008).
From the Wikipedia article on Electric Motors.

Just hold that thought for a minute and let me tell you how I got here.

I was thinking today that it could really make a lot of sense to replace the front wheel drive hardware on my four wheel drive pickup with a couple of electric motors. I mean you've got half a dozen U-joints, three sections of drive shafts, the front differential and the transfer case. That's a bunch of very expensive hardware. We have electric motors that can do the job now. Just look at all the hybrid vehicles and electric cars.

Didn't use to be that way. Used to be electric motors were big and heavy. But sometime in the last 30 years or so things changed. I think it's when they started using rare earth magnets. Niobium is one element that came to mind, so I decided to do a little checking, and that's when I came across the above quote. I've never heard of Dysprosium before, but the prices are going up, unlike Rhenium. [(see the price graph in the sidebar) Update November 2105. Rhenium price graph disappeared some years ago.]
[Update November 2015. Replace with missing graph with one from a different source. This paragraph is no longer relevant: Metal Pages has price graphs for several forms of Dysprosium. This particular graph seems to have the most data points, which I suspect means it is the most actively traded, and therefor the most common form. But that's just supposition on my part.]

Anyway, back to electric wheels. Everyone is talking about the all-electric car and fuel cells and hydrogen and a lot of other pie-in-the-sky rot. But just replacing all the mechanical drive line components with an electric generator and some electric motors could give a you some big advantages. It's not like it hasn't been done: this is the way diesel locomotives work. They have one big diesel engine driving a generator which sends electric power to motors that in turn drive the wheels.

Cost could be a factor, but it can't be that bad, they are putting electric generators and motors in hybrid vehicles, and at least some people can afford to buy them. And then we would be eliminating the need for all that expensive mechanical driveline stuff (transmissions, I'm talking about you).

The first advantage is mechanical simplicity. Half of the structure of a car is used to hold the mechanical driveline components in alignment so they can function together. Eliminating the mechanical driveline means the structure of the car itself can be simpler. Another, at least for four-wheel and rear-wheel drive vehicles is more interior space. No more driveshaft hump, or allowance for the rear axle and differential. And it would make four-wheel drive much simpler. I see this as being a big an advance as hydraulic brakes.

There is another advantage specific to off-road vehicles and that is low speed torque. For climbing steep hills and rock crawling (where you need to carefully maneuver your vehicle over and around big obstacles) low speed is what you want, and with conventional mechanical drivetrains it can be very difficult to get. An all electric drive could be just what the doctor ordered.

Even if it is a good idea (and it is, it's mine after all), it won't happen overnight. There is too much invested in the industry that makes conventional driveline components. There are factories and equipment and people. I wouldn't be surpised if there were a million people worldwide somehow employed in making driveline components. And now it looks like we're going to have a shortage of something I had not even heard of fifteen minutes ago.

P.S. Rmb (from the chart) is renminbi or the Chinese yuan. The latest conversion rate from Google is:
1 Chinese yuan = 0.146477 U.S. dollars

so 700 Rmb (the high end of the chart) is roughly $100. Not as dear as Rhenium, but still more than pepperoni.

Update November 2015, replaced a graph, added a couple of notes, fixed a couple of typos, added a little polish.

Bicycle Lift in Trondheim, Norway

California Bob reports on a similar endeavor in San Francisco:
Bicycle Lift Shuts Down

20 months after its installation, the Post Street hill bicycle lift in San Francisco is being dismantled.

Modeled after a $20,000 bicycle lift in Trondheim Norway, the lift was originally budgeted at $100,000 and scheduled to open in 1999. The construction was blocked for years by various special interest groups. The automobile lobby spent an estimated $5 billion dollars lobbying against the project, and several city supervisors receiving contributions vociferously opposed the lift, citing noise from the chains, the possibility of skateboarders using the lift for unintended purposes, and safety issues of people tripping over the rails. Wildlife advocates argued that squirrels and rats might get their tails stuck in the machinery, and the lesbian coalition raised a similar argument about cats. Advocates for the homeless opposed the lift for not accommodating shopping carts. Several bicycle groups even argued against the project, arguing that the lift would encourage bicycle use by less dedicated riders who "didn't deserve" to ride bicycles.

The project even drew the ire of the group Support and Advocacy for Depressed, Sad and Angry Citizens, who argued that the word "lift" was discriminatory. According to SADSAC chairman Bill Blight: "The word 'lift' implies that being lifted, elevated or raised to new levels, either physically or emotionally, is somehow desirable. Adoption of such ugly attitudes is sure to engender persecution against persons in low spirits."

After 7 years of hearings, the project eventually won adoption. Interest groups successfully pushed through engineering changes, including: modifying the lift to accommodate shopping carts, wheelchairs, skateboards, motorcycles, small boats, furniture dollies, cars, and tractor trailers; 24 hour security surveillance; GPS systems to track a riders progress as they progressed up the lift; 4 handicap-access restrooms along the lift's route; an architect-designed facade and tower to meet neighborhood aesthetic standards; and enclosing the project in 6-foot thick concrete walls to secure it against terrorist attacks. Engineering changes pushed the project's costs form $100,000 to $5.4 billion.

The lift opened in early 2008, with a per-use rider fee of $625. During its operation the lift served a total of 43 users, 40 of whom belonged to a single wedding party of a Hong Kong billionaire, who used the lift for a one-time photo op. The lift was shut down after a homeless man fell off a stack of garbage cans while trying to gain illicit access to the lift. He is suing the city for $7 million to cover a bruised shin and a torn loincloth.

The city has contracted with a central valley salvage firm to dismantle the project at a cost of $1.4 million. A spokesman for the salvage company said: "We already have a number of parties asking for items from the project -- mostly superwealthy clients looking for 'design items' for yachts and penthouses. Plus we'll get a few hundred for the scrap metal."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

"Man in the Box" by Alice in Chains

A couple of days ago a song with someone screaming "Jesus Christ" popped into my head, and searching YouTube I found nothing. I got something like a million hits, but nothing jumped out at me. Okay, they aren't just screaming, they are singing, but with lots of energy and at full volume.

Got in my truck this afternoon, turned on the radio, and there was the song. How weird is that? Turns out it was "Man in the Box" by Alice in Chains.

I killed the video because it was especially boring. I do like the tune.

Who Do You Love?

This song came to mind, and I thought I would post it, but I could not figure out who performed the version that's in my head. I was thinking it was the Animals, but that doesn't seem to be right. Of course it could be one of the bands I found, just not the version I remember. This is second time in this week this has happened. Turns out it was Quicksilver Messenger Service, but I could not find the original radio version. This was as close as I could get.

Quicksilver Messenger Service - Who Do You Love

This isn't the original, but the music sounds right. The vocals are a little weak, not surprising since this has been overdubbed with the lead guitar. It's really amazing how much sound you can make and how intricate it can be with just a little (talented) finger work.

Update January 2017 replaced missing video with something similar, I hope.

Antonov AN-2 Colt

It is a Russian airplane and it looks like it was designed in 1929, but according to Wikipedia it was 1949. It is still being produced in China. I don't know how we got on the subject, but Marc was telling us about the starting procedure at lunch today. Here's a clip.

There is a tank of compressed air. When the pilot turns the handle on the dashboard it opens up a valve. The compressed air is released to start turning a flywheel. You can here the whine increasing in pitch as it comes up to speed. Notice that the propeller is not turning yet. When the flywheel is turning fast enough, the pilot engages a clutch that connects the flywheel to the crank and the engine starts turning, and hopefully starts running.

Sounds like a complicated way to get an engine to start, but evidently it is practical because it works in Russia where temperatures get downright cold.

As a bonus, notice the apparently curved propeller blades after the engine finally catches.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Quote of the Day

Some people, following every rule of prudence, could hardly travel to the corner and back without breaking an ankle. Brun's luck had to be more than luck, perhaps an unconscious intuitive grasp of situation and character which was more valuable than all the education in the world.
Captain Heris Serrano in Winning Colors, musing about a younger person. Page 10.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Theory of Fat #10

Social networks have a bigger influence on what you do than you think.

Theory of Fat #9

I've been having a lot of aching muscles lately with no obvious cause. This has happened many times before, and will probably happen again. I was reading about myalgia (muscle pain) and one of the suspected causes is a virus. What if one our body's defenses against an invader was to bottle it up in a fat cell? You catch a bug, your body locks up the bad guys in fat cells. You get better, but you gain weight. Should you try and lose weight, the fat cells discorporate and the virus that was bottled up inside is turned loose and you get sick again. Your body reacts the same way, and you gain more weight. No way you are ever going to loose weight, at least not without some painkillers. Maybe that's why so many Americans are so fat: they get around more, get exposed to more diseases, catch more diseases, and fat is one of the bodies ways of dealing with them. And maybe that's why heroin is so popular.

I read a story one time about a guy a long time ago who was constantly ill. He moved to the Big Bend area of Texas, found a hot spring and soaked in it. Cured him, so he set up a spa. Was a going business for quite a while. Hot springs, steam baths, and saunas all have the same effect of giving one an artificial fever. Sometimes I think I should start using one, see if it does me any good. 21 days in row though. That could be kind of tough. Meanwhile there's Naproxen.

So why is this theory #9? So I could post this tune.


Terror, as I understand it, is a state of intense fear. So terrorism is something that would make people afraid. I think we're missing something in translation here. I don't think terrorism is making anyone afraid, or rather, it is not making everyone afraid all the time. Being nearby when a "terrorist's" bomb goes off is sure to be a frightening experience, but if you only read about it in the news it is not so frightening. Matter of fact, I am beginning to suspect that "terrorist" acts are becoming just some of the background noise of life on this planet, like automobile accidents, airliner crashes, epidemics, gang shootings, civil war and corruption.

These so called terrorists are not trying to defeat their enemy by physically destroying them, they are trying to gain some political traction. Setting off a bomb and killing a bunch of civilians is a guaranteed way to get on television. People see this, say isn't that awful, and call the government and demand that something be done. And what can the government do? Check everybody's shoes and underwear? Negotiate with the bomb makers?

The number of people killed by terrorists is far down on the list of things that kill people. We should stop calling them terrorists and start calling them just another nuisance. That out to piss them off. Jackasses.

Gun Permits

People are funny. In our society most everyone uses a car most everyday. 40,000 people are killed in motor vehicle accidents in the US every year. I have no idea how many are maimed and injured. But nobody makes much of a fuss about it, and we still go on using cars. One person gets shot by a gun and it makes the national news for weeks on end. I exaggerate, but you get the idea. (And yes, I know, the person was shot by a person using a gun, the gun didn't shoot someone by itself. Let's not quibble, all right?)

You need to take and pass a test in order to get a license to operate a motor vehicle. If the police catch you operating a motor vehicle without a license, they can throw you in jail. You have no inalienable right to operate a motor vehicle.

On the other hand, you don't need a license to buy a gun. You don't have to take a test, much less pass. The Bill Of Rights says you have the right to carry a gun.

Now we have the anti-gun people trying to ban guns, and the pro-gun people trying to ban the anti-gun people. It's a battle that's been going on for durn near as long as I can remember, and shows no signs of going away. I have to say I am on the side of the pro-gun people, though I can understand the anti-gun people. So I have an idea.

We should set up a voluntary training and certification system to train people how to safely handle and effectively use their firearms. People who complete the training and acquire the necessary skills would be issued a certificate, something like a drivers license. Now when you encounter an officer of the law, and you have a gun with you, you can show him (or her) your gun license. Hopefully this would give you some respectability and could reduce the tension that comes with encountering a stranger with a gun.

To keep the pro-gun people happy, the license would be issued by an NGO (Non Government Organization). The government would have no connection with it, and certainly no access to the records, so they couldn't use those records to round up all the gun owners, or just confiscate their guns. The NRA might be the obvious choice, but their historical position as opponents of the anti-gun people might drag too much baggage onto the stage. A new, independent organization would probably be the best bet. We might want a separate outfit in each state. In order for licenses issued by this organization to be respected, the outfit would need to be accredited, similar to the way schools and universities are accredited. I am not sure who you could find to do this.

Licenses would be much like a drivers license: credit card size so it will fit in your wallet, durable, hard to counterfeit, and it would give the holder's rating: something like novice, master, expert, professional. It might even list what guns they had mastered. Having a certificate like this could go a long way to making gun people seem more respectable and less like undisciplined yahoos.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


From a PGE flyer: "Streetlights can help prevent accidents and discourage criminal activity." Do they? Or are they just a waste of electricity generating light pollution that keeps up from seeing the stars?

I suppose in a commercial district they are a good idea. I am not so sure they are a good idea in residential districts, especially after midnight. When I lived in Phoenix there were some residential neighborhoods that did not have street lights. You go over there on a moonless night and it was dark. Really dark. I was talking to a resident of one such area and they were convinced that the lack of street lights had kept the criminal element from bothering them. They had never had an incident in their cul-de-sac in the 20 years they had lived there. I can see it. Why go stumbling around in the dark? when there are other neighborhoods that have street lights and you can see if there is anything worth stealing without getting out of your car. Sure they could case the joint in the day time, and come back at night with flashlights, but that would require planning and preparation, something the so-called criminal element does not have in abundance.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


I don't quite know how to say this. We've seen the same horrible situation over and over again: disaster strikes a third world country that was already a mess, and massive death and destruction ensue. And we keep making the same inane responses: donate massive amounts of food, medicine, other supplies, and skilled labor to help out these poor people in the aftermath of this horrible event. Time will pass, the tragedy will fade from the news, and Haiti will go back to being the rat hole it's always been.

As near as I can tell no foreign aid has ever made a significant difference in the general level of civilization of a third world country. I for one am all in favor of cutting off all forms of foreign aid except education. If a country is willing to support an education effort, then perhaps we can help them with that, but that is all. No bulldozers, no medicine, no electronics.

I don't suppose we will ever be able to stop people from sending aid to disaster areas, but we should at least be trying to do something to help these places learn to take care of themselves.

The Soul Of India

The Soul of India
We watched this Rick Ray documentary this evening. Darling daughter is heading there in three weeks. (3 weeks! Egads!) Lots of stone palaces and forts. Very diverse terrain: deserts, jungles, mountains, rivers, oceans. The English were not the first invaders to have a big impact on the country, but they made a sizable one: English language, the railroad, and cricket. Cricket is to India like Rugby is to white South Africans. The Sikhs make the most sense to me, the Jains, the least. We need more tigers.

By the numbers:
  • 1 billion people
  • 100 million Muslims
  • 30 million Christians
  • 24 languages with over one million speakers
  • 12 million movie goers every day
  • 10 million railway passengers every day
  • 1.6 million railway employees (largest employer in the world).
  • 75% of the people still live in rural areas
  • 2% of the Earth's land area.
  • 40,000 tigers 100 years ago.
  • 4,000 tigers today.
Update January 2017 replaced missing picture.


Wondering what Syaffolee was up to, I started poking around on her website and discovered she has a stamp page. What a cool idea!

I have a book case full of 3-ring binders that I never, well hardly ever, look at anymore. I seldom print anything. Occasionally I will print a Google map, or maybe a receipt from an on line purchase, but that's about it. I have accumulated 400+ "documents" on Google documents in the last three and a half years (I say "documents", because some of them are no more than a couple of lines).

Putting images of stamps online is a logical extension of this. I imagine a scanner would be better than a camera for imaging them. (Imaging is now a verb?) So another project to work on: taking the big envelope of stamps we have, scanning them all and putting them up on the web.

This is kind of weird. Part of dealing with stamps is handling them, examining the exquisite detail with which they are printed. But you do enough of that (picking them up (they don't like to be picked up, you have to have the right amount of moisture on your finger tips), sticking on the little cellophane hinges, sticking them in giant binders, one after another until you have book that weighs twenty pounds, hauling it to the bookcase and shelving it, not to be looked at until next year) and you begin to see the appeal of a digital stamp collection.

Update October 2016 replace missing picture.

Fred Dibnah

I've got a stack of paper work to go through, but I'm not ready to dig into it, so let's see what's on the web. I stumble across a post on Brass Goggles, which mentions Fred, and here we are.

Friday, January 15, 2010

There, I Fixed It!

I have a chair in my office that has one of those pneumatic height adjusters. I've had the chair for I don't know how long and it won't hold it's position any more. So I fixed it. I was thinking of submitting it to the website (There, I Fixed It.), but I thought it's really not Rube Goldberg enough to be worthy, but my blog? Heck yeah! That's a u-bolt clamp for an antennae I found in my junk box clamped onto the seat post cylinder rod. The chair is on it's side.

I always thought these pneumatic cylinders were just begging for a come down. I mean they depend on the seals and valves ABSOLUTELY NOT leaking. This requires a perfect finish on the piston rods, the valve seats, every portion of the device were air could leak through. And then you need plastic/rubber seals that never wear out. It just seemed to be too much much to ask for. But this is only the second failure I've encountered. I replaced the gas lift struts on my wife's SUV last year.

Before we had pneumatic cylinders in office chair posts, we had the big metal screw with a collar that you twisted to adjust the height. The collar contained a bearing that allowed the chair to swivel, and some kind high drag internal threads that insured that it would not rotate on the big screw and change the seat height. They were kind of a pain to adjust. You had to tip the chair on it's side, or get down on the floor in order to reach the nut. On pneumatic chairs, you simply pull the little lever on the side of the chair that you can easily reach from where you are sitting.

So it looks like automated machining (CNC) has reached the point where it is cheaper to make a simple high precision piece than a simpler, cruder device.

Update January 2017 replaced missing picture. Also, the clamp did not really fix the chair, the surface of the chrome shaft was too hard for the clamp to get a purchase, so it slide down a bit, not as much as before, but it didn't hold right at the top either. The clamp is still there and I am still using the chair. Not bad for a $40 chair from Office Depot.


I've been driving my son to school the last two weeks. Parking is atrocious the first two weeks of the term. For some reason, things settle down and it then becomes possible to find a parking space. At least I hope that's what happens.

John brings his iPod and we play it through my truck's stereo using one of those MP3-to-cassette adaptors. Once he left his iPod in the truck and I was able to listen to it on the way back. It was great, much better than listening to the radio. I am almost to the point of getting my own. Why are radio stations so terrible? I hear nothing over the air that sounds anything like the stuff my son has on his iPod. Is his taste so exotic that there is no market for it? Or are radio stations just so locked in some alternate reality that they cannot comprehend something different?

Anyway, I was on my way across town this afternoon, sans iPod, and I did not find anything on the FM dial that appealed to me, so I punched the button and tried AM. Here at 550 we have a couple of people talking about criminal websites ( for one), and the basic idea is trust. Now where I have heard that before? Oh, that's right, yesterday, right here on my very own blog.

In reply to that post Iowa Andy sent me a picture of his closet full of fake gold:

I am like so jealous dude!
Update January 2017 replaced missing picture.

Airplane Story

Marc retold an old airplane story at lunch. I don't recall recording it, so here goes. Stop me if you've heard this before.

Many years ago a guy he knows takes off from the Hillsboro airport in a Cessna 172. He has reached an altitude of 100 feet or so when the tip breaks off one of the blades of the propeller. The tip flys straight to the ground, bounces off the concrete runway, flies back up, hits the plane and punctures the gas tank. Meanwhile the unbalanced propeller has caused the engine to start vibrating madly and before our hero can shut it down, it has broken loose from it's mountings and has fallen off the front of the airplane. Normally, this would be the prelude to a fatal plunge to the ground as the complete airplane is balanced, and without the engine it is unbalanced and unflyable. Fortunately, the engine doesn't fall completely off, it is hanging on by some wires and cables. The pilot is able to turn the plane and land it in the parking lot. He walked away, and as we all know, any landing you can walk away from is a good one.

Update: I got to wondering about just how fast the tip of that propeller was going, and then I remembered that airplane engines need to turn slower than you might want in order to keep the tips of the prop below the speed of sound. I checked out the numbers and for this plane it comes out to 785 feet per second or 0.7 Mach, so it's well under the speed of sound, but still moving at a pretty good clip. Matter of fact 785 fps puts it in the range of a bullet fired from a handgun. So, yeah, wango!

Thursday, January 14, 2010


We were talking at lunch today about the morality of walking away from a home loan when you are underwater, financially speaking. I'm of the opinion that morality doesn't play into it. It's like in the gangster movies where the one mob guy tells the other mob guy just before he plugs him: it's nothing personal, it's just business. Banks are amoral as they come. It's always just business with them, or at least you hope so. So if it's just business for them, it shouldn't be any more than that for you.

Which got us started talking about trust and how so many things that we take for granted operate on trust. Like grocery stores. Don mentions that three or four hundred years ago things weren't like this. Marc points out that they are not like that right now down in the Caribbean. If you found a store like an American grocery store, someone from the store would follow you around as you made your way down the aisles. People were only admitted on a limited basis. The hoi polloi were kept out by an iron curtain.

Shoot, you don't have to go to the Caribbean, you can find this kind of thing in downtown Chicago: 7-11's where everything is locked up. You want something, you ask for it.

I remember a lesson in grade school about the advent of self serve stores and how it was a great boon. Used to be everything was behind the counter and you asked the clerk for what you wanted. At the time, it was presented (or I understood it as) a better, more modern idea had supplanted an old, out dated one. Now I think it was our society had reached a level of trust were a self serve store was a viable idea. Evidently there are some places in our country where the level of trust has not reached this level. Or perhaps it is falling.

Now while we are talking about trust and money, Don trots out a new one: the gold in Fort Knox is fake! All those bars of gold are actually bars of tungsten covered with a thin veneer of gold. This was discovered when the US had to make a payment to China and China insisted that the gold be tested. This sounded both plausible and outlandish, so I did a little checking. I found the same story repeated, almost verbatim on several web sites. This one seems to be the original. No reports about it from any recognized news organization, but then if this were a real conspiracy, there wouldn't be, would there?

You know, if you think about it, it does make a lot of sense. I mean what's the point of keeping all that gold locked up in a vault? Any material is only really valuable if you can use it for something, and using it to keep the floor of a vault flat does not really sound very valuable. I mean I could say I have a ton of gold in my basement, and who's to say I don't? Because I wouldn't do that, I would sell it off and invest the proceeds in something useful, like building a factory, or buying a Ferrari or something. There is just something wrong about keeping gold locked up.

Anyway, while I was poking around looking for info on this story I stumbled across these photos on a Chinese Tungsten site (where they are extolling the virtues of fluorescent and LED lights. Huh? You are panning your own product? Do I smell big brother?) I believe these are tungsten elements going rapidly up in smoke. Kind of cool I thought.

Oh yes, the tungsten for gold substitution? It might actually work. Tungsten & Gold have very similar densities. A bar of gold weighs about 33 pounds. A similar sized bar of Tungsten would be about one ounce lighter. As I suspect each bar is weighed individually, this would not matter so much. Only if you actually did an accurate measurement of the volume and calculated the density, or actually drilled a hole in it, would the deception be discovered. And why should anyone suspect anything? I mean the bars have all the authentic marks on them, and they're locked in US Government vault. The Government wouldn't lie, would they?

Update January 2017 replaced missing pictures.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Spider for the Day

I think this guy was a bit chilly. He was out in the garage.

Update January 2017 replaced missing picture.


It's been kind of windy, gray and rainy today. Driving home this afternoon I saw this patch of blue. Kind of cool I thought. The cream colored clouds are not very high up. The white ones are much higher. It was very apparent as I was driving along. The cream colored ones were sliding along relative to the white ones.

Update January 2017 replaced missing picture.

Honda & Rube Goldberg

Marston sent me a link to a wonderful video of some skydivers spelling words in the sky. They weren't in English, so I went to Google to translate them, which mostly failed, as usual. But another click and I found a site that reviewed the ad, which is what it is, and translated the words as well. And on that site I found this video.

I generally don't care for Honda products. I think they are overpriced for what they deliver, but evidently a lot of people disagree with my assessment. Seems like there were a spate of these Rube Goldberg type videos last year, but this one has got some extra clever bits in it. I especially like the power window and the windshield wipers. And I do have to agree with the sentiment at the end.

Quote of the Day

"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt."
Bertrand Russell. A post on Stu's blog led me to a Wikipedia article about the Dunning-Kruger effect, wherein I found this.

I don't think I really appreciate the extent of this effect. I think I tend to give other people more credit than they deserve. I always thought that if it was obvious to me, it was obvious to everyone else as well. Seems that is not the case.

Part of the problem might have to do with how thick your skin is / how strong is your self-esteem / how sensitive you are. You go on your way, jumping to conclusions, and some of the time they work fine. When they don't work out is when you have an opportunity to learn something. If you are thick skinned, or just oblivious, it may just slide off you and you won't even notice. Someone who is more sensitive / observant may realize that whatever it was didn't work, and maybe jumping to the same conclusion might not be such a good idea next time.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Quote of the Day

"I saw to what extent the people among whom I lived could be trusted as good neighbors and friends; that their friendship was for summer weather only; that they did not greatly propose to do right; that they were a distinct race from me by their prejudices and superstitions."
Henry David Thoreau. Found on Roberta's website. It looks like it's been there a while, but I just noticed it. Sounds like ol' Henry didn't think much of his neighbors. At least he knew them well enough to form an opinion. I only know a handful of my neighbors, and not all that well. We only exchange a few words in passing. Modern life. Hmph.

Word of the Day

Frisbeetarianism (n.), The belief that, when you die, your soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.
Found in The Edge in this morning's paper.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Chain, Chain, Chain

I am not big on chain letters, probably because of one I got when I was a boy that promised a gazillion postcards if I would just copy the letter and send it to ten people. This was in the days before Xerox, and before I learned to type, so the only way for me to make ten copies was to do it longhand, a long and arduous process for me. I don't think I ever completed the task, and it has put me off chain letters ever since, even though now all it takes is a point and click to forward one to everyone on the planet.

I got one today that contained this story about a tie between two famous people. It piqued my interest because it involved a bit of recent history I could check out.

Irish Luck

His name was Fleming, and he was a poor Scottish farmer. One day, while trying to make a living for his family, he heard a cry for help coming from a nearby bog. He dropped his tools and ran to the bog.

There, mired to his waist in black muck, was a terrified boy, screaming and struggling to free himself. Farmer Fleming saved the lad from what could have been a slow and terrifying death.

The next day, a fancy carriage pulled up to the Scotsman's sparse surroundings. An elegantly dressed nobleman stepped out and introduced himself as the father of the boy Farmer Fleming had saved.

'I want to repay you,' said the nobleman. 'You saved my son's life.'

'No, I can't accept payment for what I did,' the Scottish farmer replied waving off the offer. At that moment, the farmer's own son came to the door of the family hovel.

'Is that your son?' the nobleman asked.

'Yes,' the farmer replied proudly.

'I'll make you a deal. Let me provide him with the level of education my own son will enjoy If the lad is anything like his father, he'll no doubt grow to be a man we both will be proud of.' And that he did.

Farmer Fleming's son attended the very best schools and in time, graduated from St. Mary's Hospital Medical School in London, and went on to become known throughout the world as the noted Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of Penicillin.

Years afterward, the same nobleman's son who was saved from the bog was stricken with pneumonia.

What saved his life this time? Penicillin.

The name of the nobleman? Lord Randolph Churchill.

His son's name? Sir Winston Churchill.

Someone once said: What goes around comes around.


It's a nice story, and the I certainly believe the lesson, but I wonder what little Lord Churchill was doing wandering around in the bog. Well, it was 100 years ago, and presumably parents weren't such nannies as they are today. On the other hand, in order to survive back then you couldn't be a ninnie and wander off into a bog.

While there are elements of truth to the story, the bit that ties the two families together is probably not true. Alexander Fleming did discover penicillin, and Lord Randolph Churchill was the father of Winston Churchill. Alexander Fleming went to medical school on an inheritance from a relative.

From the Wikipedia article on Alexander Fleming:

"The popular story[9] of Winston Churchill's father's paying for Fleming's education after Fleming's father saved young Winston from death is false. According to the biography, Penicillin Man: Alexander Fleming and the Antibiotic Revolution by Kevin Brown, Alexander Fleming, in a letter[10] to his friend and colleague Andre Gratia,[11] described this as "a wondrous fable." Nor did he save Winston Churchill himself during World War II. Churchill was saved by Lord Moran, using sulphonamides, since he had no experience with penicillin, when Churchill fell ill in Carthage in Tunisia in 1943. The Daily Telegraph and the Morning Post on 21 December 1943 wrote that he had been saved by penicillin. He was saved by the new sulphonamide drug, Sulphapyridine, known at the time under the research code M&B 693, discovered and produced by May & Baker Ltd, Dagenham, Essex – a subsidiary of the French group Rhône-Poulenc. In a subsequent radio broadcast, Churchill referred to the new drug as "This admirable M&B."[12]It is highly probable that the correct information about the sulphonamide did not reach the newspapers because, since this drug had been a discovery by the German laboratory Bayer and the UK was at war with Germany at the time, it was thought better to raise British morale by associating Churchill's cure with the British discovery, penicillin.[13]"

And why was the story called Irish Luck anyway? It's about a Scottsman and an Englishman. Maybe because, for once, the Irish didn't get drug into it?

And we can't talk about chains without talking about Aretha:

Aretha Franklin - Chain Of Fools

There were several videos on YouTube, but the sound wasn't as clear as on this one. Hard choice to make, dancing and okay sound, or no video and good sound.

More chains: Chain 1 & Chain 2.

Update December 2016 replaced audio track from the defunct grooveshark with the YouTube video.
Update March 2017 replaced missing video.
Update March 2021 replaced missing video.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Quote of the Day

"A pessimist is one who feels bad when he feels good for fear he'll feel worse when he feels better."
Dustbury quoting H. Allen Smith.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Picture for the Day

From Steve. It just struck me as hilarious.

Update January 2017 replaced missing picture.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Somedays you are the pigeon, ...

and some days you are the statue.

Back in the summer of aught seven, I wrote this about our visit to Chicago:
Around the corner from the Jazz Record Mart we encountered a flock of 50 or so pigeons on a sidewalk under an overpass. Nothing spectacular about that, except that until then I had not seen ANY other pigeons. None, nada. And that's when I thought it was weird. Used to be big cities were lousy with pigeons. They were everywhere. Now there are none except for this little outlaw band hiding under the overpass. What happened? Where did all the pigeons go?
I used Google, but did not find anything except I got the idea that Chicago had passed a law against feeding pigeons and then enforced it.

And then there was the story in The New Yorker about how "we" never agreed on what we were going to call the last decade. The author complained that aught was incorrect, but it's not. This got me thinking about the 30-06 rifle, as in thirty aught six. That's how I've always pronounced it, but just how do you spell it out? I was thinking it was "ought" six, but ought has another meaning: you should. But aught can mean all or nothing. So aught is how it is spelled. If you can tell the difference between the pronunciation of ought and aught, you are a better man than I.

Which reminds me that back in the day, when we wanted to imitate a grumpy old man, we would start off our tirade with "I remember back when I was a boy, back in aught nine ...".

So now you know what you aughter/ought to/otter do.

Marston sent me the picture.

Update January 2017 replaced missing picture.

Quote of the Day

"Remember, programmers are very personally insecure people. It helps them write good code to prove they are good at something. It comes across, however, as totally having a stick up their ass."
Mike, commenting on a query about 32-bit versus 64-bit processors and SQL.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

How Deep's That Gravity Well?

Others have linked to it but I'm gonna anyway: XKCD graphically and simply explains gravity wells.

Stolen entire from Roberta X.

Foreign Aid & Africa

Jody sent me a link to an old interview with James Shikwati. It is nice to hear someone agree with me.

Mr. Shikwati, the G8 summit at Gleneagles is about to beef up the development aid for Africa...

Shikwati: ... for God's sake, please just stop.

SPIEGEL: Stop? The industrialized nations of the West want to eliminate hunger and poverty.

Shikwati: Such intentions have been damaging our continent for the past 40 years. If the industrial nations really want to help the Africans, they should finally terminate this awful aid. The countries that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape. Despite the billions that have poured in to Africa, the continent remains poor.

SPIEGEL: Do you have an explanation for this paradox?

Shikwati: Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa's problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn't even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit. Which is why they maintain that the world would stop turning without this development aid.

Of course, stopping the tsunami of aid is going to be an uphill battle. There are too many people getting rich off of it, and there are too many bleeding hearts who really believe it is the only way to help. There are also eminent people who preach aid as the only way out of poverty for poor countries. Just because he's a professor at Harvard doesn't mean he's right. Matter of fact, it makes him suspect in my book. Ivy league slimeball.

One of the weirdest stories about Africa was one I read about the poor in Lagos, the capital of Nigeria. Nigeria, the king of the email scam. In most poor countries, the author wrote, the poor are often aimless, indolent, lacking in hope and purpose. But in Lagos he found people bustling about, working all kinds of menial jobs (carrying water bottles to construction workers for instance), earning a veritable pittance, but working, striving, and earning a living.

The world is a very strange place full of all kinds of people, most of whom disagree with either you or me or each other.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Quote of the Day

Using Google everything, at this point, has worked well enough for me, though I know I’ll be in a world of hurt the day Google removes the “Don’t Be Evil” mask and reveals themselves to be the sulfur-infused Internet Beelzebub that they likely are.
From Lone Prairie dot net via Dustbury. I feel pretty much the same way about Google. They had to accept certain restrictions when they expanded into the PRC (China). Whether they are helping to support the Communist regime, or helping to destroy their foundations is a matter of conjecture.

Obama and the Nobel Prize

A link from Dustbury took me to an astrology blog yesterday, where I found some strange and wonderful writing, including a bit about why the Nobel Prize committee gave one to our buddy Obama. It makes perfect sense to me, after all, it fits in with my conspiracy view of the world. What's that you say? You didn't know Obama was your buddy? Weren't you there at lunch with him last week? Oh, you weren't? Oops, me neither.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Funny Wrenches

My friend Jack inherited a bunch of tools from his father. Going through the socket wrenches he came across these two little oddballs. The short one kind of looks like a quarter-to-five-sixteenths adaptor, but it isn't really. I imagine it's for a drain plug with a 5/16" square recess. I really don't have a clue what the long thin one is for. The opening is sort of an oval. It looks like it fits a small round shaft with two flats on opposite sides.

As near as I can make out, the short one says "Snap on 5/16 PPM-410 USA" and the thin one says "Snap on TN-22A USA". They both also have a symbol that looks something like a capital I.

Update January 2017 replaced missing picture.

Stupid Water Heater

Yesterday at 5:30PM I drove to Lowe's and bought a new 50 gallon water heater for $600. Yesterday was New Year's Eve. They closed at 6. I managed to find someone to help me get it off the shelf (6 feet in the air) and onto the cart, but loading it into the truck I was on my own.

I have been fighting this thing for like two weeks thinking that it is just a bad valve or a bad joint and I can fix it and I won't have to shell out the money for a new one. But now it's New Year's Eve, the leak is worse than ever, Mom goes back to work Monday and she wants a new water heater. So, by her command, I went and bought the monster.

It started with the safety valve leaking. Why should the safety valve start leaking? Is it really getting too hot? The pressure shouldn't be getting too high. I mean the water mains pressure is only so much, if the hot water is getting hot enough to increase the pressure, it should just push back on the mains. There aren't any check valves, at least I don't think so. The water heater is fifteen years old, so maybe corrosion has caused it to start leaking. I buy a new one. But replacing it means shutting the supply valve. I shut the valve once, and open it once and all is well, but for some reason I need to close it again, and that was the second step on the road to my doom. It wouldn't open. It is a little brass gate valve and it is stripped. The handle goes around and around but it does nothing. The valve stays shut.

Now I need a new valve. Pulling the old valve means turning off the main water supply, which means a trip into the crawl space. The valve is 15 feet from the entrance. One trip in and back to turn it off. Another trip in and back to turn it back on. I have made this trip so many times now I could do it in my sleep.

The old valve is soldered on, so I need a torch to pull it off. I have a propane torch, but after a couple minutes with it I realize it's going to be an all day project to get this joint hot enough to take apart. Time for MAPP gas. Fortunately, I have a MAPP gas torch as well. Unfortunately, it is as old as MAPP gas and all I can get out of it is a small yellow flame. To Home Depot we go get a new torch, a bottle of gas, a new valve and a couple of fittings. Back home, I pull off the old valve, solder on a threaded fitting for the new valve, and thread the new valve on. Pull on the wrench to tighten it up and the newly soldered joint breaks loose. Bah! That's what happens when you get in a hurry and don't prep your surfaces well. At least I think that's what happened. Resolder and reinstall valve. This time it holds.

So now I have a new shut off valve and a new safety valve, but the leak is worse than ever. I dink with it now and again, but I have other work to do, so I put it off to the weekend. New Years is coming, the stores will be closed, time to bite the bullet. So today I put in the new water heater. Not too many problems. You should put the stub pipes in the top before you put the heater in position, no clearance for a pipe wrench afterwards.

Got it all hooked up and ready to go. Push the go button and ... nothing. It's got a fancy electronic gas valve. Push the button, push the ignitor, nothing. What gives? Read the instructions, try again. Still nothing. Finally call the hotline. Hold the button down for a minute, and now it works. Duh! I just realized it's just like the old mechanical valve, except you can't tell if the pilot light is lit! I am suddenly afflicted with the urge to strangle the buzzword injecting moron who came up with this gizmo.

Still have to resolder the joint again, it's still leaking but only a very little bit. I am out of flux, so I will have to go buy a new bottle tomorrow. Also need to exchange the torch: the built in ignitor doesn't. For $35 it durn well should. But we have hot water and the garage floor is dry. Still have to figure out how to get rid of the old one. I want to find out where the leak was, but that will take some work, and I don't know if I will have the energy.

Old Water Heater
Update July 2019 replace Picasa slideshow with photo and link to Google Photos album.