Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest
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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Graphing With Excel

Broken lines in Excel Spreadsheet Graph
My wife needed to graph some data from a spreadsheet for work. Usually this is no big deal, simply highlight the data you want graphed, click the chart button and away you go. I've used it numerous times and the biggest problem I have is remembering that spreadsheet people call graphs charts.

There was only one problem in this case: not all of the data was contiguous. Matter of fact, the data was pretty sparse. Still, she wanted to see lines between the data points so we can see the trend, if there is one, over time. You should be able to do that, so I volunteered to figure it out.

Took me the better part of two hours to get it all sorted. The biggest problem was the enormous amount of information out there on how to do stuff with Excel. It has become the new generation's Emacs. (For those of you who have not had the pleasure, Emacs is/was a text editor for Unix. It was the be all and end all. You could rebuild the entire universe from inside Emacs. It was crazy. I tried it once and quickly moved on to something more rational.)

Eventually I came across a web page about making graphs with broken lines, which introduced me to #N/A which is returned by the function NA(). So, for some reason filling all the empty data cells with =NA() caused lines to appear between the very sparse data points. Cool! Victory is ours! The infidels have been defeated! Let us retire and celebrate with blood ale and roast beast!

Update February 2017 replaced missing graph.

Yee, Haw! Let's Nuke North Korea!

My far flung corespondents have something to say about his raptureness Kim Il Jong. From Iowa Andy:
Where is the media? They are missing the story of the century.

The rogue nuclear-capable nation of N Korea has once again shown its rabid dog proclivities to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting.

The US is sending a carrier into this morass. What better target for a N Korean short range nuclear missile?

And Kim Jong can then go out in a blaze of Armageddon.
California Bob replies:
You know, I myself was thinking, too, that Kim Jong Il has been getting increasingly reckless lately, and wondered if he wasn't planning on going out in style -- or as Tom Lehrer put it, "suffused with an incandescent glow."

I'd like to know where all the bigmouth war-mongers are. Oh sure, they were all bluster when it came to the mortal threats posed by Grenada, and Panama, and Iraq. But with a real problem like North Korea -- and I consider North Korea one of the tragedies of the modern geo-political spectrum -- it's sort of, "OK, we'll shut up about that, we don't want any trouble...nothing that would actually start to impact Budweiser consumption stateside." Cowards.

And that's why I vote republican. Because the second Roman empire is nearing the end of days, and I want these morons to witness the consequences of their idiocy.

Or not. I don't care.

Michigan Mike follows up:
As a nation, we are now obsessed with our own internal political warfare. All else is of no consequence.

The truth of effective international relations, industrial economics, environmental sustainability, and human improvement will now be argued in the public forum by CNN pundits who think that "He spent a purr-fect afternoon with his safely rescued cat." is a clever pun.
Update October 2016 replaced missing picture.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wikileaks & SIPRNET

I am so out of touch. Some Army Private downloaded a whole bunch of "secret" documents from a government server and handed it over to Wikileaks. All the news reports are all about how much trouble this information is going to cause. The only story I found about the actual leak was on the Guardian's site, and they aren't even an American company, they're British!

We're spending billions on security, apparently for no reason. They sure didn't make a believer out of Army Private Bradley Manning.

Minimum Wage

I heard from a guy working at a movie theater this week. He was very pleased that he got some tips while working the concession counter in the theater. I was shocked. I didn't know that anybody tipped concession workers. I always treated them like vending machines, which is a step above what they are, which is accomplices to highway robbery. Here is the price, yes it is exorbitant, but you are trapped inside here and this is the only food there is, so if you want something to eat, you have to buy it from us and you will have to pay our prices.

In recent years, I have modified my outlook. Movie theaters are in business to make money. The ticket prices, while high, are still a pretty good deal for what they deliver. On the other hand, the food is optional. I know the prices are going to be exorbitant, and if I go to the theater with my family it is going to cost me North of $20 for popcorn and soda pop. That's just the way it is, and after twenty years I'm become accustomed to it.

Running a movie theater can be a pretty iffy propostion. If the movies are popular, you may draw big crowds and make a ton of money. If not, you could lose your shirt. Concessions is a way to generate more money when times are good, which may keep you in business through those inevitable lean times.

So concession stand prices are a fact of modern life. Get used to it. Still, tipping concession stand workers was a new idea to me. I mean, you don't tip workers at food service restaurants. (okay, maybe you do. I don't). In general fast food places seem to discourage it. I suppose it gives them a slight competitive advantage. Some people are cheap, but are also sheep, and would feel obliged to tip if it were allowed. If tipping is prohibited, then they can be cheap without feeling guilty.

You don't have a lot of interaction with fast food restaurant workers. This is less of a social event than it is a refueling operation. I suspect a lot of people would just as soon swap out their dead battery pack for a new one as sit down for ten minutes to consume food. Keeping prices fixed also speeds up the business end of things. We don't have time to stop and figure out how much the tip is, much less dig through our pockets to find the correct amount of cash.

Which brings us to actual restaurants. Jack and I go out to lunch once a week. We've been doing it for years. There are three restaurants we usually go to. Occasionally we will branch out and look around, but we have pretty much settled on these three:
  • O'Connors in Multnomah Village
  • Buster's Barbeque near I-5 & Highway 99.
  • The Cornelius Pass Roadhouse, also know as CPR, near Highway 26.
O'Connors is a real restaurant, it is not part of a chain, they have a cook and they have had the same wait staff for years. It's in an old building with old furnishings, the food is good, there is always something new on the menu and prices are reasonable.

Busters serves meat buffet style. They've had the same guy with a knife behind the counter forever. He slices off a piece of whatever you want, his assistant hands you a bowl of "side", you pay the cashier and find a table. Don't think I've ever tipped here either. Probably should.

CPR is part of the McMenamins brother's chain. These guys have built themselves a little empire based on their home brewed ales. They typically will take over an old building and refurbish it to use as a restaurant. CPR was such a success they built a new building to use as a restaurant. The original old house is still there and is kept in good repair. It is something of an emblem for the place. The odd thing about this place is that the wait staff is constantly changing. The only person there that I am reasonably sure will be there next time is big bearded guy and I think he's the manager. Waitresses never seem to last more than a couple of weeks. This place is in close proximity to Intel. Is there a connection between this location and the high turn over in staff?

Lunch typically runs $20 to $25 for the two us, and we usually leave 4 or 5 dollars for a tip.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Essay by Iraq war veteran Charles Whittington

Stolen entire from The Baltimore Sun. I saw several articles about this and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I didn't link ABC's story because they had an obnoxious floating ad and a video clip that started playing automatically.

The following is the essay that Iraq war veteran Charles Whittington wrote for his English class at the Community College of Baltimore County. It was published in the campus newspaper Oct. 26:

War is a drug. When soldiers enter the military from day one, they begin to train and are brain washed to fight and to handle situations in battle. We train and train for combat, and then when we actually go to war, it is reality and worse than what we have trained for. We suffer through different kinds of situations. The Army never taught how to deal with our stress and addictions.

War is a drug because when soldiers are in the Infantry, like me, they get used to everything, and fast. I got used to killing and after a while it became something I really had to do. Killing becomes a drug, and it is really addictive. I had a really hard time with this problem when I returned to the United States, because turning this addiction off was impossible. It is not like I have a switch I can just turn off. To this day, I still feel the addictions running through my blood and throughout my body, but now I know how to keep myself composed and keep order in myself, my mind. War does things to me that are so hard to explain to someone that does not go through everything that I went through. That's part of the reason why I want to go back to war so badly, because of this addiction.

Over in Iraq and Afghanistan killing becomes a habit, a way of life, a drug to me and to other soldiers like me who need to feel like we can survive off of it. It is something that I do not just want, but something I really need so I can feel like myself. Killing a man and looking into his eyes, I see his soul draining from his body; I am taking away his life for the harm he has caused me, my family, my country.

Killing is a drug to me and has been ever since the first time I have killed someone. At first, it was weird and felt wrong, but by the time of the third and fourth killing it feels so natural. It feels like I could do this for the rest of my life and it makes me happy.

There are several addictions in war, but this one is mine. This is what I was trained to do and now I cannot get rid of it; it will be with me for the rest of my life and hurts me that I cannot go back to war and kill again, because I would love too. When I stick my blade through his stomach or his ribs or slice his throat it's a feeling that I cannot explain, but feels so good to me, and I become addicted to seeing and acting out this act of hate, and violence against the rag heads that hurt our country. Terrorists will have nowhere to hide because there are hundreds of thousands of soldiers like me who feel like me and want their revenge as well.

Aircraft Landing System, Part 2

Seahawk Helicopter landing with RAST System

Comrade Misfit denounced my big idea as old hat, and suggested I look up the RAST system, so I did. The Navy stole my idea before I even thought of it. Durn their hides anyhoo. Works with the Navy's SH-60B helicopter, an eight ton behemoth.

From Global Security's article on the SH-60B Seahawk:
The Seahawk helicopter differs from other helicopters in the Navy inventory in that, the Recovery Assist, Secure and Traverse (RAST) landing system is used. This system allows for recovery of aircraft in high sea states (6 degrees pitch, and 15 degrees roll). During RAST operations, the helicopter lowers a messenger cable that is connected to the ship’s haul down cable. The messenger cable is raised and locked into the helicopter’s RAST probe. Four thousand PSI of force is applied to the haul down cable which guides the probe into the locking beams of the Rapid Securing Device (RSD). The RSD also serves as the motive force to traverse the helicopter into and out of the hanger. The main rotor blades and tail pylon can be folded for storage. Movement of the SH-60B by hand is prohibited except during emergencies due to the 15,500 pound empty weight. In addition, the helicopter can operate from non-RAST equipped combatants and a variety of other naval ships.
On a pitching ship, where the flight (or landing) deck is moving up and down, there is going to be considerable stress on the chopper. Every time the deck goes up, the rotors need to producing enough lift to keep the line taught, and every time the deck goes down the chopper is going to be dragged down through the air.

Curtis Wright builds the system. I only found one video of it in use. It looks like a dry run in good weather and it's hard to tell if it is even doing anything.

Update November 26, 2010: An anonymous source provided me with a more accurate description of how this thing works. The cable doesn't actually pull the helicopter down. It acts more like a guide to ensure that the probe on the bottom of the chopper is caught by the trap on the deck on the ship (the life raft looking thing sitting on the deck directly underneath the chopper). The shipboard winch reels and unreels the cable to maintain constant tension. So the force of impact when the chopper actually touches down is still in the hands of the pilot and depends on gauging the distance from the deck, how fast it is moving and in what direction. I imagine that's were the cable and all it's associated equipment comes in. A very tricky bit of flying in any case. You also have the added terror of being chained to the boat, though I imagine there is a quick release for emergencies.

Originally posted November 20, 2010.

Update February 2017 replaced missing picture.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

TSA Nakedizer

There's a lot of flak in the blog-o-sphere these days about the new, improved, TSA security screening protocol, at least in the small corner of it where I while away my days. Since my brain has received so much input on the subject, I had to come up with logical explanation for it, and I have!

Used to be before deregulation air travel was expensive and therefor naturally restricted to the upper classes. Someone wants a return to those days, and if they have to destroy the airline industry to do it, well, all and good. This TSA thing is just the first step. After the airline industry has collapsed, they will bring back regulation, prices will jump four-fold, and the only people who will travel by air will be those rich enough.

That's not really a very good theory, is it? I mean 80% of the population are sheeple and think the nakedizer is a fine idea. I wonder if 80% of air travelers think it's a good idea. What percentage of the population travels by air every year? Half? 10%? I suspect 1% of the population accounts for 50% of the travel. Hard to find numbers that give any kind of accurate picture.

A Little Culture For All You Heathens

Via Neanderpundit & Tam.


It snowed here Monday night, and it stuck. The streets were icy yesterday morning. They have pretty much dried out, but it is still very cold, down in the 20's. The doors to my truck were frozen closed this morning. Probably because it doesn't have rain gutters. Stupid, new fangled designs.

Update February 2017 replaced missing picture.

Instant Hot Water Dispenser

When we had this house built 15 years ago we had an instant hot water dispenser installed by the kitchen sink. If we had know what a great thing this was we could have just installed one in our old house and stayed there. We wouldn't have had to build a new house. It is like the greatest thing since sliced bread!

However, there have been a few problems. Three, actually. It seems that every five years it springs a leak and needs to be replaced. The first time I opened it up and discovered that the tank itself was leaking. The tank was made of two cup shaped pieces of copper that were soldered together in the middle. The solder job was poor, the two pieces weren't properly aligned, and the seam had sprung a leak. I dinked around with it for a bit, but did not manage to repair it. I suspect that was because I was trying to make do with a propane torch, or maybe I just let it drag on too long and my wife put her foot down.

The next time it failed I called the plumber and $500 later we had a new one. That was when I was working, so while it was a big hit, I was able to cope. (It was a big hit, I still remember the amount.)

We discovered a leak under the sink around 6PM last night and quickly determined that the Instahot was once again the culprit. Pulled it out and took it apart in the vain hope that I could fix it. Discovered that it was leaking around the gasket where the heating element was installed. I don't have a gasket (rubber washer) like that, and I'm not sure where I could get one. Bah.

Look on-line for a replacement unit and find one for $150. Fine, we'll just replace it and be done with it. Only problem is when I get to the store, the $150 dispenser is very different and will require more work to install. The unit comparable to the one I have is almost double, but I will only have to replace the tank, which is a five minute job, and not the faucet, which mounts to the counter and is bound to be a real pain.

So I cough up the big bucks (Merrry Christmas, sweety), take it home and hook it up. By 9PM we are back in business with instant hot water once again.


Opened the newspaper again and Politifact is talking about lightbulbs, one of my (least?) favorite subjects. Seems some Republican is opposed to a law mandating fluorescent lightbulbs. What? Somebodies trying to outlaw incandescents? Dad burn whippersnappers! They can have my incandescents when they pry them from my cold, dead fingers!

All they consider is cost per photon, they don't consider performance or environmental issues at all. Why don't I like compact fluorescents? Let me tell you. They:
  • take a long time to come to full brightness,
  • barely work at all when it's cold, and
  • they contain a minuscule amount of mercury.
When I turn on a light, it's because I want light NOW, not in five minutes or whenever the cute little CFL gets around to its' full brightness. Ever notice the number of fluorescents used for outdoor lighting? You know why? They don't work when it's cold! And aren't we still engaged in a big campaign to eliminate the evil element Mercury from our lives? And here they are trying to poison us all over again. Ignorant fools.

Geez, does everything have to be politics?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hello? Anybody out there?

I really shouldn't read the paper. Every time I do see something that gets me upset. Today, for instance, there was a short piece from talking about wages for government versus private sector employees, from which we get this line:
The article uses Bureau of Economic Analysis data from the U.S. Commerce Department to conclude that federal civil servants earned average pay and benefits of $123,049 in 2009, while private workers made $61,051 in total compensation.
Maybe I'm imagining things, but that average seems awfully durned high. 10% of the workforce is out of work, which means they aren't making anything, and then there is large number of people working minimum wage jobs. Can't tell how many that is for sure, but one page claims it's 30 million.

We have a workforce of roughly 150 million people. 15 million are not working, 30 million are making minimum wage. I don't know how many people work for the government, but I suspect it's between 5 and 10 million. 'Course it depends on how you count. I mean there are Federal employees, but there are also state, county, and local employees all over the country. Then there's the Post Office and the armed forces. Do you count individuals working as government contractors? Didn't find any numbers I would trust.

Say we have a 100 million people working in the private sector and making more than minimum wage. On average then, these people are going to be making $85 thousand a year.

We all know that there are always many more people at lower level positions than there are near the top. I think a better number would be the median wage, and I'll bet it's like half of the average. For example: for every person making a million dollars, you would need 16 people making minimum wage to get an average income of $60,000. The median in that case would be $10,000, which would give you better idea of what most people were making.

I guess my whole point is that for the average to be that high, there must be quite a few people (like a 100,000) making a stink load of money (like a million a year).

The Pacific

Looking at the paper this morning I find that The Pacific is toping the DVD sales chart. The Pacific? Never heard of it. Oh, look, it's not on the DVD rental chart. That's weird, why would it be a top seller, but not even show up on the rental chart? Oh, I know, probably one of those big nature things that grandparents buy for their grandkids. Actually, no.

The Pacific is a mini-series from HBO along the same lines as Band of Brothers. I pull up the web site and they have a maps section. Well, I like maps, let's have a look. Interesting. It takes you through the battles one step at a time with a little bit of text and a very simplified map of the situation. They give out the information is nice, small byte size chunks. If you were in hurry, and they let you, you could click through it really fast and see and read everything.

Ah! But here's the trick. They don't let you click through it really fast. There is delay with each new piece of information which allows you to absorb the information they are providing. Very clever.

I went through parts 1 and 2 of the Battle of Guadacanal. All the fighting took place on a very small portion of the island. The simplified map gives you no real clue of the conditions there. For that I have my memory of The Thin Red Line.

Size Matters

When I let our orange cat out this morning I was struck by his utter fearlessness combined with his small size. Okay, if he had heard something he didn't like, like the garbage truck, he might have hesitated for a couple of seconds. But this morning there were no strange noises, so he trotted right out.

So then I got an idea for a science fiction story. How about we encounter aliens that are ten times bigger, smarter and more capable than we are? We have our own agenda, completely independent of theirs, but we interact for our mutual benefit. How the aliens got to be so big, what they look like, and what mutual benefits we get are all, well, that could be anything.

(Excuse me while I let the cat in. He's pawing at my window. I can't blame him, it's a little cold this morning: 32 degrees.)

It's probably not a new idea, but I kind of like it. I mean I believe I thought of it all by myself. Unless Leo (from the movie Inception) somehow snuck it into my head without my knowing.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Roger Wilco

I received some instructions regarding a project I am working on and I replied "Roger Wilco". After I sent it I wondered where that phrase came from. It just popped into my head. I remember hearing it often a long time ago, but not recently, so I looked it up and found an explanation in an article on Voice Procedure in Wikipedia. Roger means "information received" and Wilco means "will comply". Huh, just what I meant. Imagine that.

Hard Disk Check Procedure

Fran's computer is giving her trouble, so I wrote up this troubleshooting procedure. If the hard disk on your Windows machine is giving you trouble you might want to try it.

Aircraft Landing System

The big problem with aircraft is landing. In the air they are supported over their entire surface by the most ephemeral of substances. On the ground they are supported at three points by hardest substance in the world. The transition between the two is the difficult part.

So then I had an idea. How about a grapple car that runs on a track along the center of the runway? The car would position itself directly under the landing aircraft, a cable would be attached between the two, and the aircraft would be winched to the ground. The idea is that the aircraft could generate more lift and keep tension on the cable, while the winch could assure a controlled rate of descent. When the aircraft touched down they could relax their power and attitude, lift would disappear and the aircraft would settle on the ground, safe and secure.

It would operate somewhat like the tripwire systems used on aircraft carriers. Fighter aircraft hit full throttle as soon as they touch down so that if the tailhook does not catch, they can take off again. They cable works against this force and holds the aircraft in place.

Of course there are any number of problems with my idea. The car would have to quickly accelerate up to the aircraft's speed, it would have to position itself directly under the aircraft. We have to connect a cable between the car and the aircraft. If the car carries the cable, it is going to, what, shoot it at the aircraft and hope it hits the connection point? If the aircraft carries the cable, that's extra equipment and that means extra weight, which is the enemy of all aircraft. And then there's the problem of having tracks in the center of the runway, right where the nosewheel is going to be.

So I don't see this changing the face of aviation any time in the near future. It might be useful someplace where wind makes landing difficult or impossible most of the time. Military application possibly.


Michigan Mike has a new project:
In preparation for building my pavilion/guesthouse/poolhouse/folly, I was investigating this "post-tensioned" concrete method and came across this:

Installing Post Tension Foundation
I don't know where to begin with what is wrong with all this except for the tensioning part.
  • 16,000 square foot house on a monolithic slab.
  • All buried utilities.
  • 20 years max before this requires major surgery.
  • Cracks big enough for termites will form by then, so another 10 years until structural failure.
Or am I wrong?
Should all housing be considered disposable, until we finally start building everything out of dry stacked cut stone like European cathedrals?
I quibbled:
As for what's wrong with this project, the first thing that hit me was the 16,000 square feet. I suppose if you are a frustrated empire builder you could devote your empire building energies to this house. Something like this would require a sizable full time staff just to keep it clean and in good repair. "Deploy maid squad #1 to the East wing, send the gardeners around to Southeast corner, get the maintenance squad to the home theater ASAP."

Most houses in Texas were built on post tensioned slabs. They were not as elaborate as this, no piers to bedrock, no cast-in-place beams, just a flat slab laid on the dirt. Of course most of them were more like 2,000 square feet (if you count the garage).

You are right about the major surgery, but it will be due to the whims of the owners rather than any weakness in the structure. Thinking you know exactly where you will want the outlet in the living room for the next umpteen years is a bit foolhardy. The slab itself will be structurally sound for 500 years.

As for termites, they are ubiquitous. This house would be no more or less susceptible than any other.
 Update February 2017 replaced missing video with something that I hope is similar. While this video shows work being done on a large house, it is not 16,000 square feet.

Friday, November 19, 2010

McDonald's Security

Went to McDonald's the other day to pick up a couple of burgers for dinner and noticed this credit card machine on the counter. Notice how the keypad is recessed and there is a soft rubber lip around the edges, presumably to keep prying eyes from seeing what buttons your fat little fingers are pressing.

Makes me wonder. I am sure there are people out there who are making a living by scamming other peoples credit and debit cards. But I wonder how much damage they cause as opposed to the bank's policy of sending out cards to anyone they can think of. And how much damage do the scammers get away with because people can't be bothered to balance their account every month? Compared to the amount the credit card companies rake in, I'll bet it's a nit, like one-tenth of one per cent. Nothing compared to what the big fraudsters make off with. Why do we even bother?

Hey, Hey, TSA, twice in one day!

Here is story that is just so absurd you know it has to be true. Via Tam.

Civil Behavior

I saw this on the comics page this morning and it really struck a chord with me.

Sally Forth
Or maybe it was a nerve. It reminded me of times when I have run into someone being unpleasant and thought, well fine, if they want to be like that, let them have their way. My excuse was that it, whatever it was, wasn't all that important to me. I also realized that I generally had a way out of the situation. Typically I could just leave, I was never in place where I felt like I was cornered.

I am a bit rough around the edges. Actually very rough, according to my wife. I like to say that her meanest is nicer than my nicest. I don't know if that is true, but I like to say it anyway.

For example: phone calls from people we don't know. You know, telemarketers, charities, surveys. Mostly I just hang up on them. Sometimes I will tell them not to call here anymore. Okay, sometimes I bark at them. She thinks I am being rude, but I don't think I am being any ruder than they are, and turn about is fair play.

And then there are times when she will tell me I am being rude and I will have absolutely no idea what she is talking about. I think part of it is genetic, and part of it was the way we were raised, and part of it was our environment. Both her parents and both of my parents had college educations and had professional careers, for at least a while. She was raised in a small town where everybody knew everybody else's business. I was raised in a succession of big cities where we hardly knew anybody.

Some of my friends have told me I can be blunt and abrasive. I really don't know what they are talking about. I have tried to be milder, but since I really don't understand what the problem is, I have a hard time figuring out what they want. The few times someone has been able to point out what they saw as a problem I was all like, what? No way! You're kidding, right? But I can't really remember the details of any of those instances. They were not that interesting.

Then there's the line from Heinlein: "An armed society is a polite society." Since most of us go around unarmed most of the time, I wonder if maybe we don't really want a polite society. Or maybe "we" learned from dueling. Upper class people used to go around armed with swords all the time, and the least little offense could lead to a duel and someone's death. Eventually dueling was outlawed.

But now, looking for a reference for Heinlein's quote, I find this post that references an old story from the BBC about how peaceful Brits find America compared to London. Well, maybe they were comparing good parts of America to bad parts of Britain. It was a shock to read it.

Anyway, the whole point of this was supposed to be that some people get their way just by being rude and pushy, and if you can do anything about it you should call them on it.

Update December 2016 replaced missing picture.

Hey, Hey, Hey, TSA All The Way!

The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) is getting a lot of heat in the blog-o-sphere these days. Feral Genius has a few things to say about the TSA and their supporters (not all of which are entirely polite). I didn't even know there were any supporters.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tam had a dream... no, wait... it was a nightmare.

Stolen complete from View From The Porch. What a vision.
In my dream, Bobbi came home from work all bubbling with the inside scoop that there was going to be a big media announcement from the .gov that night, announcing first contact with intelligent aliens! There was an alien ship in orbit right now!

So the announcement was made, and the series of let-downs began.

Sure, there was a multi-species interstellar culture, but it really wasn't any more technologically advanced than our own (and less advanced in many ways), with the exception that they'd figured out how to pop a spaceship from Point A to Point B by putting enough electric power into their gizmotron. Other than that, the spaceships were not really any more advanced than a nuclear sub, right down to the fission power plants and archaic monochrome CRT monitors.

And the way they got organized enough to build the things was that most of the alien races had huge, planet-wide bureaucratic World Governments. Sure, you could travel to other star systems, but all you'd wind up finding was New Jersey with green skies, or Belgium with funny-looking trees, and the Space United Nations was everywhere. The whole universe was out there, and most of it was deadly dull and required going through the TSA to get to.

I woke up with the most awful sense of ennui that I have ever felt.
What a really horrible vision.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Garage Lights

We have an electric garage door opener and I think it may be getting old. It's the second one we've had here. The first one used some kind of nylon strap that disintegrated after a few years. This one has a screw drive and it's still working fine, but the light bulbs don't seem to last very long. They used to last for months, but now it seems they only last a couple of weeks. I looked for some "Rough Service" bulbs, but all Home Depot had was the extended life bulbs, and they didn't last any longer. I suspect the machine has developed a vibration that is reducing the life of the bulbs. This may mean it is due to fail any time, or it may last for another ten years.

Wires stuffed into groove cut in back of mounting board
Betting that the machine is going to last more than a couple more weeks, I decided to mount the lights on the ceiling. Total parts cost was about five bucks. Flipping extension cords are cheaper than wire. I used the cutting board from the shingle episode and cut some grooves in the back with a skill saw to accommodate the wires. Extension cords have gotten thicker. I had to make two passes and it was still just barely deep enough. I just eyeballed it. Measuring might have been a good idea. I started with about an eighth of an inch. 3/8 would have been better. A hole saw for access holes to the light bulb bases would have been a good idea also.

Light fixture mounted to ceiling and plugged into garage door opener.
Bonus: I don't have to deal with the screws that hold the light cover on the opener anymore. They are in plain sight only if you are within inches of the ceiling. One more royal pain gone from my life.

Update November 2016 replaced missing pictures, added captions and labels.

Good Morning

We had a pretty good wind storm last night. It's all quiet now, but all these dark clouds are a little ominous.

Update February 2017 replaced missing picture.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Folder Dates

I've taken to filing stuff by the month, both paper and electronic. I used to diligently file all my papers by subject: utilities, bank statements, insurance, yada, yada, yada. But a few years ago I realized I didn't really need most of the stuff I filed, so I started just dumping it all in one bin, and then once a month I dump all that into a folder and drop it in the bottom drawer. Occasionally I will need something and I will have to dig through a few folders to find it, but compared to the tedious business of filing everything all the time, it's a piece of cake. It's also interesting to see what I come across. Hey! Look what I found!

I also do that with the digital photos I take. Only problem here is the computer likes to arrange the folders in order. If I use alphabetical order it screws everything up: the names of the months aren't in alphabetical order.

This evening I tried to come up with some kind of scheme that allow the computer to automatically arrange the folders and still allow me to use the names of the months as names for the folders. As soon as I started playing with the names I realized that most of them were in reverse alphabetical order, but not completely. Eventually I determined that if you break the year into three groups of four months, each group is in reverse alphabetical order, except March, which we all know is a contrary month:
  1. April
  2. *March*
  3. February
  4. January
  1. August
  2. July
  3. June
  4. May
  1. December
  2. November
  3. October
  4. September
Then I realized that since I don't create the folders till I need them, I might be able to sort them by date. That works fine for Picasa, but not so good for Windows (XP), as Windows uses the modify date. But Windows does allow you to arrange folders manually and it does seem to remember that order.

I'll think I'll scrap my scheme for trying to automatically order things by month names.

Update: I just figured out why I was doing this. When you insert a picture in blogger, it pulls up a Windows dialog box, and the box doesn't display the folders in any kind of order. Bah.

Bird of the Day

I saw this bird in my backyard yesterday. He is really big. I think it is an eagle. Haven't seen one of those here before. We get lots of hawks around here and he is at least twice as big (tall) as a hawk. He was probably about 75 feet away, shot at 12x zoom.

Update: I sent a link to the Cascades Raptor Center and I got a note back:
It’s an adult red-tailed hawk – in the photo with his back to us, you can see the red tail. You are right – eagles are larger, and their wingspan is too. A red- tail’s wingspan is 4-4 ½’; an eagle would be 6-7’. Louise
Update February 2017 replaced missing picture.

The Curse of Virtual Stuff

Even Google has limits. I recently ran out of online storage space for photos on Picasa. After I aborted the last upload I noticed this:
You are currently using 1005 MB (98.18%) of your 1024 MB.
My Gmail account is in much better shape:
You are currently using 1270 MB (16%) of your 7519 MB.
Google Documents is much more forgiving, as long as you play by Google's rules:
You are currently using 6 MB (0%) of your 1024 MB.
Only stored files (.PDF, .DOC, .JPG, etc.) count towards your storage limit. Google Docs formats don't use up your storage space.
Funny they give you so much more free storage space for email then they do for the other things. I suppose it's because more people use email and many of them are careless of what they save. Documents and photos require some purposeful action, and people who have taken the time to upload these things may appreciate their value more and are willing to pay for it. Upgrading is certainly cheap enough: $5 per year for 20 Gigabytes. Yes, you can buy enormous disks really cheap, but then you have the curse of real stuff to deal with. Me, I am just going to delete some photo albums of my brother's pictures. He can store them on his dime.

P.S. Putting this post together was an onerous exercise in html. I wanted to copy the storage messages from Google exactly, not just the text, but the color and font as well. You would think that would be simple, but no, no, no and no. Simple cut and paste didn't work and Blogger's rinky-dink editor doesn't support multiple fonts. None of my usual tricks worked. I ended up editing the html in Notepad++ and just trying different things to see what worked.

The text of the messages is a little larger than the originals, but I prefer that as it's easier to read. I suppose changing the background on the messages to match the originals would improve the contrast and the readability, but I've had enough of this, it's past my lunchtime and I'm hungry.

Oxford Fajar

You might find this amusing: Save The Words!

I recognize some of the words, like "ten cent store", but most of rest look like they were made up by some word nerd. I really like the little voices, all clamoring for attention.

It's evidently put up by Oxford Dictionaries and Oxford Fajar. OK, Oxford Dictionaries I recognize, but who is this Oxford Fajar? Click on the link and it takes you to a page which asks you to chose one of two countries based on their flag, neither of which I recognize. The flags take you to two similar but different web pages, both of which provide this bit of information:
We publish quality books that provide knowledge and information that is critical to the building of Malaysia as a nation.
Now how's that for an essential purpose?

Via Scott Robert Ladd on Facebook.

Friday, November 12, 2010

American Express

I have an American Express card I got through Costco (one of the big membership discount stores). We typically run up a monthly bill of about $1000 for gasoline, groceries we buy at Costco, medicine, lunch, what-not.

Last month, at the height of the political campaign telephone calls, I got a call from an AMEX (American Express) robo-cop. Since I was full up on robo-cop phone calls, I hung up on them. Later on I checked the messages on my voice mail, and low and behold, they had actually left a message. Something about unusual charges on my card. Well, that's nice, they are actually on top of this kind of thing. So I call them back and find that someone tried to buy a $1000 laptop from Walmart using my card number. Well, that wasn't me. Since it seems someone has gotten hold of my card number, they send me a new one. Okay. That wasn't too painful, and we stopped this thing before it got out of hand.

The only problem is now when I go to buy gasoline at the local station where I have been buying gasoline for years, they want my zip code. This happened once when I was in San Francisco a couple of months ago when I bought something at Walgreens. I was surprised, it had never happened before, but given the location, it seemed like a little extra security might be in order. And it seemed like a reasonable request. Not knowing the zip code might trip up a credit card scammer. But now I'm back in my residence and they are still asking me my zip code. You know it's no big deal, but it's like the Camel with his nose under the tent, or the TSA. It's just one more annoyance that I don't like, need, or want.

So now I'm wondering, did AMEX up their security across the board all at once, and it just happened to be when I was in SF? Or did the bogus charge flag my account no now I get asked for my Zip Code wherever I go? Or is it just the gas station I normally go to that has gotten this extra question? Am I going to have to get a different card, or are all credit cards doing this now? Geez, I might have to go back to using cash.

Stair Climbing

I am pretty sure the number I quoted for Calories burned per flight of stairs (16) in an earlier post is bogus. I just spent fifteen minutes climbing (and descending) stairs. I managed 36 flights in that time. At 16 Calories per flight that comes out to 576 Calories, the equivalent of walking almost six miles. I did work up a sweat. Even so, I think at best I burned about 100 Calories, which would make it not quite 3 Calories per flight. So it's a little more strenuous than walking, which means you burn the same number of Calories in less time, and it's should improve your fitness level a little more. As a bonus, there are no cars to deal with.

Global Warming?

Global Warming continues to raise it's ugly head, and I, tired of seeing it's ugly mug, decided I wanted a wanted a coherent explanation of why anyone should have to look at it. I have recently begun posting requests for such whenever I see the ugly brute, but no one has offered an explanation, until I got this one from Scott Robert Ladd on Facebook, which I really like:
Both sides are politically and financially driven, so incoherence is inevitable. I'm willing to ask questions -- yet when I do, global warming adherents get angry, and start accusing me of being a "denier." If I can't ask reasonable questio...ns, it's not science, it's politics.

Do I believe climate is changing? Yes! Of course; climate is ALWAYS CHANGING, and would be changing even if humans didn't exist, because it changed before we were here.

Do I believe humans contribute to climate change? Yes.

Do I trust computer models based on multiple large assumptions? No. I'm a scientific software engineer and a physicist by education; the current climate models often START FROM ASSUMPTIONS and are biased by preconceptions. Does that mean these programs are useless? No. Does it mean they should be implicitly trusted? No.

Heck, we just found out that visible solar radiation INCREASES during a sunspot minimum, the exact opposite of what most scientists assumed.

Should humans reduce the amount of crap we pump into the atmosphere. Yes.

However, I am skeptical (supposedly the sign of a good scientist) about the broad and invasive demands of climate change revolutionaries, particularly those like Al Gore who can't walk their talk.
While we are on the subject, here's a story that seems to imply that Mother Nature will cure the "problem" all by herself. Won't do us much good, but Mother Earth ought to be just fine.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Yuck, Exercise

I am supposed to be getting some exercise and losing weight. I make vague attempts intermittently, but it's really pretty boring. On the plus side I do generally feel better when I do get some exercise. Mind you, we are not talking anything strenuous here, walking a couple of miles maybe.

The problem with walking is you have to deal with cars. Wherever you go, you eventually have to cross a street or a driveway and Murphy's law says that even if there is only one car within a hundred miles, it is going to arrive at that cross point at exactly the same time as you are, and then you have the who-has-the-right-of-way business. If you let the car go first, you are delayed much less than if the car has to wait for you. If the car lets you go first, that's nice, but what if there's a maniac (or an incompetent driver) behind the wheel who is just waiting for you to step in front of them before they mash on the gas pedal? I mean you wouldn't step in front of someone pointing a gun straight ahead would you? It's okay, you go ahead and cross in front of me, I promise I won't pull the trigger. Usually they don't, but about the time you finally get halfway across, they are tired of waiting and as soon as you are clear they gas it, leaving you with a bad taste in your mouth for moronic motorists everywhere.

Then there are stairs. Stair climbing is much more intensive, and I should be able to get a useful amount of exercise in much less time. I looked into this once before and I found several places that gave the number of calories burned per flight of stairs, but I don't remember the exact number. This time when I look, all I can find is number of calories burned per unit time, well, except for this one page, which references two other pages that have vanished. What is this? Some kind of conspiracy to eliminate useful information and replace it with useless information? Why, yes sir, that is exactly what is going on. How perceptive of you to notice.

Per unit time is not necessarily a good way to measure this sort of thing. A person will burn a 100 calories covering a mile whether they are walking or running. You would think that running might burn more, but it doesn't. It might be more difficult, but that is more a reflection of your level of fitness and how hard you push yourself. Running is more stenuous, so you will be burning calories at a faster rate. On the other hand, it will take less time to cover that mile, so you won't be burning calories for as long. Walking takes longer, you are burning calories slower, but you burn them for longer, so it comes out about the same.

Anyway, climbing stairs burns about 16 calories per flight, 10 calories going up and six calories going down. So climbing six flights of stairs should be the equivalent of walking a mile. I guess I
I'll give it a shot.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Challenger 2 MBT Tank Promotional Video

Tam provided the link to this video. I posted it here for a couple of reasons. One is that I saw a new word: Mantlet. It appears at the 4:55 mark, to wit: "Thermal Imaging Camera on Gun Mantlet". I think the camera is the box mounted on top of the barrel just in front of the turret, so I am suspecting the mantlet is the small shield that moves with the barrel when it moves up or down. It's such an odd word that the Google spellchecker doesn't recognize it.

Another reason is that they identified the music as being "Mars, Bringer of War" composed by Gustav Holst. I don't have much interest in classical music and generally am unable to identify any of it. Yeah, it's classical, that's nice, I'm glad you enjoy it. I especially don't care for the lighter stuff, though it can help set the tone in movie scenes. I do like the heavier stuff a bit more, but once again, only if it is paired with an appropriate video. So I like that they have identified the tune. We shall see if I am able to identify it the next time I hear it.

The last bit of interest is the gyro-stabilised gun. Being able to hit a target with a cannon usually means precision aiming from a stable platform. I think in WWII most shooting from tanks was done while stationary. They've been trying to build a tank that could shoot on the run ever since, and I think they managed to do so sometime in the last ten years. The video doesn't do a real good job of illustrating just what this gun can do, but that would be difficult without getting all technical and boring.

Monday, November 8, 2010

USB and You

USB can be handy for connecting up electronic do-dads, but why does everything have to a have a different style connector? My camera has one, the external hard drive has another, and neither one is the same as the one that plugs into the computer. And while we're complaining about this, let's complain about having two different sexes. I mean they are electric connectors for Pete sake, they aren't animals. Why couldn't they have made a hermaphroditic connector? I suppose that's like complaining about the announcers on televised sporting events: pointless.

As you can see from the photo, SONY has dealt with this problem in a different way. They have a full size USB connector that retracts into the case. This way there is no cap to lose, like on your thumb drive, and you could plug it directly into your computer or you can use the included two inch long cable. Not quite sure what the point of the cable is, other than it lets you turn the device right side up, which makes it easier to read the screen. In case you are wondering what it is, it's Stereo digital voice recorder. The wife brought it home from work today.

Update February 2017 replaced missing picture.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Daylight Savings Time

If you are a Luddite like me, your computer reverted to standard time last weekend. Since the rest of the world doesn't change until this weekend (or maybe next weekend, I really don't know), you are living in limbo. Sometimes it's five o'clock, and sometimes it's six. My cousin John posted this on his Facebook page and I think it's worth sharing with y'all. (Did I really say sharing? Gawd, I'm slipping into foolspeak).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Lately there's been a lot of talk about how we can get our economy going again. Problem here is that I don't think anyone actually knows what makes our economy run. The one constant I have heard all my life is "growth", as in we must grow the economy. I was always a little suspicious of this constant promotion of growth. If we just stayed the same, that is we maintained the same level of production and consumption, the economy would grow anyway because our population continues to grow. More people need more houses, food, cars, roads and fuel. I can understand this, but it seems like the proponents of growth always wanted more than that.

There is the replacement of older stuff that has worn out, with newer stuff that is better made, or works better, or is more efficient. Most of the stuff people have, like houses, was made a long time ago and require lots of repairs and are not very efficient, so I can understand replacement.

Then there is the proliferation of new stuff that doesn't last very long and doesn't get repaired when it breaks, or doesn't get cleaned when it gets dirty, it just gets replaced. Things like cell phones, clothes and paper cups. Does anyone patch clothes anymore? I suspect this is one of the areas "they" are talking about when they are talking about "growth".

But what I think they really mean when "they" talk about growth is the proliferation of financial products/schemes that they pyramid on top of the old banking and stock market establishment. They pile up these financial products to dizzying heights, heights that would make Ponzi proud, and call it growth, when actually nothing has grown except they amount of money they have skimmed off into their wallets. The financial world is a strange and wondrous place.

Now we take a right turn into DVD production. This is connected to the growth question, but I'm just not quite sure how.

You can burn a DVD in your PC these days. It's a little time consuming, but it is not expensive. A burner can probably be had for less than $50, and a blank disk for less than a buck. That's fine if you only want to make one disk, but if you need to make a million or ten for a new movie release, that's not going to cut it. For that you need a press, and that is going to set you back a million or ten.

Finding information on DVD replicators was a little tricky. The first part was finding out that DVD production presses are called replicators. There are machines that will duplicate DVD's automatically using the burning technique. They are called duplicators and one of those might be able to turn out a hundred disks in a day. Replicators can turn out thousands of disks a day. M2 makes the SQ20 which can produce 33,000 disks a day. At that rate it would take a month to produce a million disks. Ten machines could produce ten million.

Peachy Jumble

Yesterday's Jumble (word puzzle on the comics page) had string that I unscrambled to CHEAP. When I went to solve the phrase at the end, I was two letters off. A little backtracking led me to conclude that the correct solution was not CHEAP, but PEACH. First time I've run across this situation. I kind of half expected it could happen, after all, how many five letter words are there? I wonder how many times I have unscrambled a word, just by luck, correctly, when there was an incorrect anagram lurking just around the corner.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sherlock Holmes: A Study in Pink

The BBC has put together a new series of Sherlock Holmes mysteries set in the present day. I watched this episode the other day and it was pretty good. Not quite as real-life gritty as some of the other murder mysteries I've seen recently, more . . . playful, perhaps?

I may be giving something away here, so be warned. One of the elements of the story involves choosing one of two apparently identical bottles. The contents of one of the bottles is good, the contents of the other are bad. By the law of averages, one should have a 50-50 chance of choosing the good bottle. However, the villain of the hour has managed to rack up a string four good bottles in a row. Now how could he do that?

I gave it a little thought and I came up with a couple of ways, some more interesting than others. Not too long ago, a character on The Good Wife was asking Kalinda, the private investigator, about why people do things and Kalinda responded by saying it was either for love, sex or money, or some such. The character replies that people aren't really that simple, are they? And Kalinda says in my experience, yes, they are.

So here's one explanation for our villain's string of successes. He had prepared a script, and using an innocuous test, run the script by several unsuspecting people and watched how they responded. He may have had to tweak his script to get it just right, but after he had run it by 10, 20 or 100 people he had it pretty well dialed in and he was confident how his marks would respond. That's when he starts playing for real.

Then there's the simpler trick I just remembered. He could have marked the bottles with ultraviolet ink that would only visible to someone wearing special glasses, and as he was wearing glasses, they could have been special and so he could have easily told the two bottles apart.

Lastly, we don't really know that he had four successes in a row. If he was able to tell the bottles apart, if he got stuck with the wrong one, all he had to do was bale. His intended victim would appear to be the victim of a practical joke.