Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

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

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Snow Capped Versus Snow Covered

We've had a bit of rain, enough to double the snow pack on Mt. Hood. Caught sight of it today and realized that it was all white. Usually you can see rocky sections, or you can't see it at all, so this is a little unusual. It is 65 miles away.

White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane

What kind of name is Grace Slick? I dunno, but she shore sings purty. From 1967.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Word for the Day

Perspectival, as in
"Technologies of surveillance and control all aim to achieve a perspectival advantage over some adversary, but the vast quantities of data produced by these devices threaten to overload the system, thus defeating the original  goal." - Roger D. Hodge in Borderworld in this month's Popular Science.
You're kidding, right? Perspectival isn't a real word, is it? Um, well, maybe so, maybe no. Methinks Mr. Hodge has spent too much time in the halls of American bureaucracy. But that's just a nit. The story is more than a little scary.

The American-Mexican border situation is a fiasco. I think we have gotten to this state because of our success. If we weren't so successful, people wouldn't have the time or energy to spend on being insane (see Hilly Holbrook in The Help). OK, they would, but they wouldn't find as many people who have nothing better to do than listen to them, which is how we got our current drug laws. If we weren't so successful, we wouldn't have so much weight to throw around, screwing around with how other countries run themselves. I am convinced that the history of pervasive corruption in Mexico is entirely due to American businesses, in cahoots with the American government, meddling in Mexican affairs. OK, the American public is guilty as well, but only because of  passive neglect, not active involvement.

Bumper Sticker for the Day

Pot Metal

This was drawer pull from one of our dressers. One end had broken off and I had saved it so that I would have something to show the guys at the furniture store when I went to get a replacement. I picked it up today, it slipped out of my hand and fell three or four feet to the floor, and this was the result. No wonder "pot metal", aka die cast zinc, has such a bad reputation.

Barbara Ann, Surf Ninja

Baba Ram = Barbara Ann? Obviously an honest mistake. Daring daughter sent me the link along with this note: "only one of the best parts of one of the best movies of my childhood (along with The Goonies and Davy Crockett)". Darling daughter likes Davy Crockett?!? Who knew?

Glenn Builds a Forge

Glenn has plans for making some fancy metal bits that requires heating them to high temperatures and then smashing them with a hammer. Marc gave him a hand with constructing the fuel-air mixing device (the plumbing sticking out of the top of the chamber).

One by Aimee Mann

Funny how you can write a hit song about nothing at all. Aimee does a nice job of casting it in the light of someone who has gone off the rails just a bit.

The Help

Cecila Foote and Minnie Jackson, both heroes.

The could just as easily have called this movie America the Insane, but then it's about people, and it's set in America, so I guess that would be redundant.

I have not been sleeping well lately which I suspect makes my emotions a little more volatile than usual. This movie ran me through the ringer.

It starts off being tedious and boring. We've got a bunch of middle class housewives doing what middle class housewives did in the sixties: tedious and boring stuff. The first ten minutes or so were so bad I almost bailed. But then Skeeter shows up, and things start to get a little more interesting. In case you haven't heard about this film, it's about the black women who work as maids for these white housewives in Jackson Mississippi. The Hilly Holbrook character is a prime example of why some people should have jobs that keep them busy. If they aren't kept busy, they find ways to stir up shit, and boy oh boy, does she ever. Her mission seems to be running the Jackson social empire and screwing over people purely for amusements sake. She is evil incarnate. So we've got villains, heroes, victims, comic relief, compassion and courage. No wonder I'm exhausted.

And don't forget Celia in the red dress. That alone was worth the price of admission.

Movie page.(Music starts playing automatically)
IMDB page.

Update January 2021 replaced missing picture.
Update November 2022 replaced dead link.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Offer for the Day

ING Logo
Just got an offer in the mail from ING Direct, which appears to be a branch of ING, which is some kind of big bank thing. The deal is they will send me $25 if I open a savings account with them. Well, okay, except I don't have much use for savings accounts because they don't pay very much interest. How little interest is ING paying? 0.85%. That's zero point eight five percent. That means if you give them $10,000 and let it sit there for a year, they will pay you $85. Well, good golly Miss Molly, we could buy a tank of gas for that kind of money!

Christ on a crutch, what kind of idiot do they think I am? (OK, there is some evidence that they are correct in their estimation, but still, I'm going to argue about it.) According to the government inflation is running about 3% a year. According to me it's more like 6%. But stick with the government numbers. If inflation is running at 3% and ING is paying 0.85%, then you are losing 2.15% on your money every year. That's like paying ING $215 to hold onto your $10,000.

Some people will sign up for this offer. It is better than stuffing your money under your mattress, but not by much. What I don't understand is why someone who has managed to save some money would put their money in a scheme with such dismal prospects.

Update January 2021 replaced missing image.

Game for the Day

Circle the Cat. Via Scott.

My clock radio antenna.

GE 7-4966A Clock Radio
Uniberp reports:
I still use a clock radio. This may not seem odd, but in case the technological world of hip trends has left me in the dust of obsolete behavioral control devices, it seems safer to announce it up front.

In fact, I just got another one. This one has nice obvious controls, and the off button is right near the top right corner; cannot miss it.

However, what prompts me to write this is not the functionality but the performance. I previously had a new Philips CD clock radio which I really liked, but it hit the floor too many times, as did the replacement Timex brand. This one far surpasses either one, in that it actually picks up radio stations, and not just strong local ones. When I moved here I was very disappointed in the poor radio reception. This one picks up and plays both AM and FM signals throughout the dial with no static or fade-in-and-out like my previous ones did. This is nice. I can listen to the radio better on this one than on even my pricy desktop Boston Acoustic system (although that one requires an external antenna which I haven't got around to, plus it's a lousy clock radio). I plugged it in and crawled into bed to read and listened to BBC America clear as day. I rowed around the dial, heard classic rock and classical, nutso political and religious talk.

I thought it was my new location that caused such poor radio reception, or that radio had disappeared from the dial altogether or that due to de-regulation broadcasters were pounding the spectrum with noise in order to destroy each others signals, or something. Turns out it was the instrument, or in fact all three instruments that I had previously tried.

The very odd thing about all this is that this new one is a thrift shop radio, a GE 7-4966A, that is so old it actually has a cassette tape player (there's one on ebay), and a "select" button that let's you choose time, alarm1 or alarm2. Yes it is dual alarm. And it has a replaceable backlight bulb. It's nice and clean.

So what's going on? Why does this have the best reception. It was a cheap device even back then, surely not more than $35. Surely antenna technology has not reversed course? No rare earth materials are used, I don't think. It's just a piece of copper and some circuitry. Is solid state circuitry really becoming less performance oriented, toward cost savings?

Could this be the manufacturers way of weaning us off free broadcast and onto something expensive? I'm telling you, it's suspicious.

BTW my audio cassettes are so old some of them have lost magnetism. Pre-recorded ones seem to hold up better.
In case you are wondering, no, Mike does not live on the upper peninsula, a thousand miles from the nearest radio station, and no, he is not stuck in the bottom on some canyon. He lives in large city that is on relatively flat ground.

Update June 2019 added picture.

Parkour Lunatics

The tune is Big Chief by Professor Longhair.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Computing Pi

A while back Stu put up a post that had a newish formula for computing the value of pi. Just for grins, I thought I would see if I could implement the formula in code, that is, write a computer program to compute the value of pi using this formula. I mean, you never know about these things. Sometimes you get formulas that look nice, but when you try and turn them into code you find out there is one piece of psycho-babble in the formula that cannot be implemented in any kind of straight forward manner. Anyway, I tried it and I was successful, and it did indeed compute an accurate value of pi. Bear in mind that accurate is a relative term.

It is claimed that this particular formula is unique in that it can compute any digit of pi without having to compute any of the previous digits. I tried to figure out how this was being done. I failed. The formula computes a series of values and each value is added to the previous total. Each successive value makes the total a little bit more precise. Each successive value is several times smaller than the previous one, so if the first value computes the first digit, then the second value will have no effect on the first digit, but it will have an impact on the second digit, and so on. However, each value that is computed is an insane decimal number in it's own right, and so the string of digits to the right of the decimal point goes on indefinitely. So while computing the Nth value of this series will not effect earlier digits, the Nth digit is still going to be the sum of all the Nth digits from all the previously computed values.

I eventually figured out what they meant. Typically these formulas include a section that needs to be repeated several times in order to achieve the required accuracy. Most of these formulas require that after you have completed the necessary number of steps and have arrived at some total, you now subject this total to another formula for further manipulation. This newish formula does not require this second step.

I took a look at the article on Pi in Wikipedia and it has a whole list of formulas for calculating Pi. And that's when it struck me that although we have these formulas, we have no explanation for how they work. Matter of fact, all we have is someone's word that they do work. And how do you know what the 10,000th digit of Pi is anyway? You can only verify the value empirically (by measuring a physical circle) out to ten or maybe 20 digits. Beyond that we are talking the intellectual equivalent of peacock feathers: very pretty but totally useless. I imagine each one of these formulas was the result of someone's doctoral thesis in mathematics and the proof of each one is probably 400 pages of inscrutable squiggles. Presumably they can all be tested against each other by writing and running a computer program.

One of the formulas was developed by an Indian prodigy about 100 years ago. It is able to compute the value of pi to the limits of my machine in three steps. The new formula takes about a dozen steps.

So now I'm wondering if I can compute the value of pi straight up from nothing. The standard way to do something like this is to divide a circle into a bunch of triangles, like cutting up a pie, and then add the lengths of the bases of all the triangles. The smaller you make the triangles, the more closely the bases of these triangle will approximate the circle, and the closer you will get to the true value of pi. So I figured out how to calculate the base of ever smaller triangles using the pythagorean formula, and put it in a program, and in a couple dozen steps or so I had a pretty good approximation.

I could find Stu's story about BBP.

The Truth behind the Megavideo Takedown

Megavideo, aka Megaupload, head honcho Kim Dotcom was the bestest player in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. What is not so widely known is the Attorney General's daughter was the number 2 player and she has been trying to unseat Kim baby for eons (years, days, minutes, nanoseconds). AG Holder got tired of the whining and decided use his awesomest powers to put a stop to it. He signed a warrant for Mr. Dotcom's arrest. It's really true. Honest. I heard it at lunch yesterday. None of my friends would make somethng like that up, would they?

Play That Funky Music White Boy

Another blast from the past, 1976 to be specific. The band is Wild Cherry. Rob Parissi, the singer, is still around. He wears a shirt these days. He is originally from Mingo Junction, Ohio, which is on the Eastern border of Ohio, on the Ohio River, just downstream from Steubenville.

Steubenville and Cleveland were stand-out Ohio cities. Steubenville was famous for having the absolute worst air pollution in the country. Cleveland was famous for the Cuyahoga river which was so polluted that in 1969 it caught fire and burned down a railroad bridge. 1969 was the year I graduated from high school in Utica, Ohio, which was about 100 miles from both Cleveland and Steubenville.

Update January 2021 replaced missing video.

Heavy Hauler

Followed this guy from Highway 26 down to Evergreen Parkway where I snapped this pic the other day. Probably heading to Intel. Count the wheels.

3G vs 4G

3G refers to third generation cellular telephone data transmission techniques, and 4G refers to, you guessed it, fourth generation. A new generation appears about every ten years or so. 4G started appeared a year or two ago. 4G is roughly ten times as fast as 3G. That's nice. Why do I care? I don't even have a cell phone. I don't really, but it might upset the aircraft instrumentation apple cart, at least for private airplanes. I realize that in the grand scheme of things, it is not really a very big apple cart, but it is a bit of a revolution, technology wise.  

BBFlight has an app for your tablet that can provide not just navigation aids in the form of maps, but also some basic aircraft instrumentation like compass, altimeter, artificial horizon, and airspeed indicator. I was a bit nonplussed when Marc told me about this today at lunch. How could it possible maintain an artificial horizon? I know smart phones have accelerometers that allow them to tell what angle they are at, but that isn't going to help in an airplane. When making a properly banked turn in an airplane, down is going to be down relative to the aircraft, not the earth. Artificial horizons use gyroscopes as a reference. Gyroscopes on gymbals maintain their orientation regardless of which way "down" appears to be.

Seems BBFlight's software is doing inertial navigation. It watches the accelerometer constantly, and can tell when you turn or bank or change speed either horizontally or vertically. It starts on the ground and keeps track of every move you make, and by keeping a running summation of these moves, it can tell where you are and what angle you are at. Commercial aircraft using similar technology can fly from New York to London and know their location to within six feet.

Tablets not only have cell phone connections, but they also have GPS, which can tell you where you are, so the program can compare the location it has determined inertially with what the GPS tells it.

We can determine speed using our old friend "rate times time equals distance". If you know where you were five minutes (or five seconds) ago, and you know where you are now, it is a simple matter to compute your velocity. Of course, this is land based velocity, not your airspeed, which could be substantially different. You probably will still want to have a real airspeed indicator.

GPS can also tell you your altitude. So you can do away with your altimeter, which is probably wrong anyway being as it is based on air pressure, which is always changing.

So what's this all got to do with 4G cellphone communications? This same program from BBFlight can also display maps on your tablet. As you fly along, the maps are updated on the fly, so to speak. If you are flying in a circle looking for a place to land, like an airport, a tablet that only has 3G communications can't keep up. You get a map, but you are turning, so it needs to update the map, and by the time it has the update, you have turned even more so what you are seeing is a very jerky video. With 4G the map rotation is perfectly smooth.

Rumor has it you can get cell phone coverage all the way from San Francisco to Portland (Oregon). I expect it's good anywhere along the I-5 corridor. 100 miles East it might be a different story.

As for the apple cart: this program will run on an iPad or any Android tablet. The aircraft instruments they replace cost thousands of dollars. It will be a while, probably a long while, before this tablet type instrumentation is accepted by the aviation community, and probably even longer before the FAA approves it, but it will happen.

Update November 2021 replaced missing image.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Three Beats for Beatbox Flute by Jeemini Lee

I don't think I've ever heard anyone get beats out of a flute. It's really pretty cool.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

HDMI, Now With Ethernet

I stopped by PCH Cables the other day to pick up a couple of short HDMI cables, and I see this blurb on the label advertising Ethernet. My immediate reaction was that some buzz-word inflamed marketing guy had stuck that on there, and it was just baloney. I mean, why would anyone need Ethernet on an HDMI cable? Well, the future is here and I am wrong again. The HDMI spec does allow for Ethernet over HDMI cables. Don't know whether anyone is making any kind of equipment that uses it, but hey, everything is going to be on the internet soon, so we best be getting ready.

Firefox Virus

Blue Scream of Death
My computer has had been kind of cranky for the last few months. I knew it had a virus, but I knew cleaning it out was going to be a major pain, and the problems I was having were just kind of the minor, annoying kind, not BSOD (Blue Scream Of Death), you have-to-reboot-every-five-minutes kind of annoying.

Malwarebytes Logo
But it's a new year, maybe I should make an effort to get rid of this pest. I started by running Malwarebytes to scan for virii. As expected, it found a bunch of vermin, but as soon as they were cleared out, they reappeared. So I contacted Malwarebytes and started this back and forth email dialog (16 messages over 48 hours) with one of their experts. We try this, and we try that. Some of it works, and some of it doesn't, but the biggest problem now is that my Firefox browser locks up at the drop of a hat.

Firefox Logo

Fine, let's just get rid of Firefox. They have joined the "let's issue a new version every two weeks" crowd, and I really don't want to have anything to do with that bunch. Often members of this crowd (Microsoft, Adobe, Ubuntu and I don't know who else) claim that these updates are to fix problems with their software, but just as often they change the way stuff works, or they just move things around for no good reason. I hate that shit. I know how the current version of the program works, I don't want to have to learn how to use it again. So out with Firefox and in with Chrome.

Chrome Logo
And what do you know? All the virii seem to have vanished.

P.S. Yes, I know BSOD means Blue Screen Of Death, but what do you hear when someone sees it?
P.P.S. The Chrome icon that shows up on html files in the directory listings of your computer is kind of bright and obnoxious compare to the old Firefox icon, but I suppose I will get used to it.

Update January 2021 replaced missing images and added captions.

Post Hip Obscurity

I think this guy found his niche, it's just a little hard to tell whether it's an obsession or dedication. Over the last 60 years he's built 400 scale model warships. Out of matchsticks and PVA (that's Poly Vinyl Acetate, a fearsome name for a substance otherwise known as white glue). Whole story (with more pictures) on the Daily Mail. Compare with Clen and his engine. Via Scott.

Why This Kolaveri Di by Dhanush

Just excellent. Wikipedia translates the title as something like "why this murderous rage, girl?", though I suspect that may be hyperbole.

Lucha Libre

Daring daughter attended a match in Puebla, Mexico, and recorded this clip.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cowboys & Aliens

Harrison Ford as Woodrow Dolarhyde and Daniel Craig as Jake Lonergan

IMDB page.

A very fine movie, once you get over the premise. Of course, the premise isn't any weirder than any other aliens-from-outer-space visit/attack earth. I mean, if they could do it any time in the last 50 years, why couldn't they do it 150 years ago?

Harrison Ford plays a villain, which is kind of entertaining. Daniel Craig is the anti-hero. They are both tough guys. One scene in particular plays this up. Harrison whacks Daniel in the head with the butt of his rifle, a blow that would send any normal man, or character, to the ground, but not Daniel. He turns around and punches Harrison in the jaw, likewise a knock-a-man-to-the-ground kind of blow. All Harrison does is flinch. Then they glare at each other. Having established that they are both tougher than nails, they go on about their business.

Olivia Wilde plays the tough girl with a gun, except she's really an alien too, but she is one of the good aliens, not one of the bad ones. With the way she looks, she could have been one of the bad aliens and it would have still been okay.

Given that Harrison had been through the Civil War, you'd think he could have come up with a better method of fighting the bad aliens than riding around like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off. The aliens are tough, but they will still succumb to a well placed rifle bullet. The sound from the cowboy's six-guns has been dialed down so they sound like pop guns compared to the super-high-tech alien blaster thing-a-ma-bob, which is a very effective weapon, but there only seems to be one, and Daniel has got it. Not that the aliens have any need of it to dispatch these puny humans in any number of gory ways.

Paul Dano gives an impressive performance as Harrison's spoiled son, Percy. That's one of the nice things about playing a villain, you can invent all kinds of ways to be horrible, whereas if you play the hero your role is pretty much right on the straight and narrow. Percy is just the most amazingly worthless character I have seen in a while.

Update January 2021 replaced missing image, removed dead link.

Doodling in Math: Spirals, Fibonacci, and Being a Plant [1 of 3]

ViHart is one of my favorite entertainers. She has her own YouTube page. If you like this video, you might want to subscribe.


Numbrix is a number puzzle. It appears in Parade magazine, a supplement to the Sunday paper in like most every city in the U.S. It was developed by "the smartest woman in the world", Marilyn Vos Savant. Solving the puzzle requires filling in all the blanks with consecutive numbers between one and 81. Consecutive numbers must be adjacent either horizontally or vertically, not diagonally.

I find it fairly easy to solve. It is so easy for me I have added my own personal restriction of not making any errors. That does not happen often. I usually make at least one error. (Just because this number puzzle is easy for me doesn't mean all number puzzles are easy. I don't play Sudoku because it is too much work.)

A couple of weeks ago I was thinking about writing a computer program to solve this kind of puzzle. I was wondering just how a program would go about finding a solution. When I work on one of these puzzles by hand, I use a variety of techniques, whatever seems to get me further along with the least amount of effort. Pick the low hanging fruit first, as the saying goes. Only after I have gotten all the easy numbers do I start working on the rest of the puzzle. Lacking any better ideas, I started writing my computer program by attempting a translation of my paper and pencil technique.

The first step I use: look in the corners, there are some empty squares that are in between two numbers whose difference is two. Only one number can go in those squares.

This looks like a fairly simple rule, but translating it into code took a couple of pages. You have the situation where the three squares in question are all in a row, or they are all in a column, or they form a right angle. Then there is the question of whether your potential three-in-a-row squares are even all on the board, or whether they lap over the edge. These are things that are obvious to anyone looking at the board, but computers are stupid. You have to spell out every little thing for them. I could have gone ahead and written code to cover all the cases, but it looked like it was going be a good deal of work. There ought to be a better way.

The "better way" did not jump out at me, so I turned my attention to the data structures. I had started with a simple two dimensional array, 9 x 9, to represent the playing field. After attempting to replicate my paper-and-pencil techniques, I decided what each cell in this grid needed was a list of pointers to the adjacent cells. This would make it simpler to decide whether there was an adjacent cell or not. We would not have to use four separate cases to determine if we were at the edge, we could simple check to see whether the pointer was valid or not.

I also decided I needed a new copy of board for each number I placed, that way when I came to a dead end, I could simply throw away the dead end copy, and go back to the previous version and try the same number in a different square.

I went on like this for a while. Changing the data structures, and then rewriting the code to make use of the new rules. But I still didn't have a program that would solve the puzzle. All these things I was working on were essential, but they weren't getting the job done. It's like a painter sanding and priming the surface, but not applying the finishing coat, or a cook measuring and chopping and otherwise preparing all the ingredients for a meal, but not putting anything on the stove. Near as I can tell, my problem was that I wasn't feeling up to snuff. I was tired and my brain was fuzzy. I could not get myself to think about the problem.

Saturday I finally came up with a solution. (C language source code here.) The fuzzies must have cleared out for a bit. I only had to think about it for maybe ten or fifteen minutes. I spent maybe an hour writing the code and testing it, and presto, it works! Once I got it working, I realized that I didn't need any of the fancy data structures I had devised, or any of the code that dealt with them, so I was able to cut whole sections of code out of the program. What I ended up with is less than 200 lines of code, and less than 4,000 characters. Shoot, this post so far is 3,000 characters.

I am not sure just how I figured it out. Partly it was just having the problem percolating in my mind, part of it was identifying the tests I needed to make, and part of it was reducing those tests to their absolute minimum. What I am wondering is whether this kind of thing can be taught, or whether there is a part of the mind that just puts this stuff together. I remember studying this stuff in school, and a lot of it was really opaque. Only by hammering on it for long periods of time was I able to sort it out and make sense of it. If I can't explain how I did it, how could I teach anyone else to do it, much less a computer?

The program is not very smart. It uses a couple of very simple rules:
  • We scan the grid one square at a time, for each square we try to "solve" the puzzle starting with the number one.
  • If the square is empty, and the number hasn't been used, or the square already contains the number, put the number in the square. Otherwise go back to previous step.
  • Now try to "solve" the puzzle with the next number in one of the adjacent squares. Try each of the adjacent squares in turn.
The program arrives at a solution by running these rules into the ground. At first I was afraid this set of rules would not work. I mean we have 81 numbers to place, and for each place we have three directions we can go, which means we have like 3 to the power of 81 possible solutions, which is a ridiculously huge number and there would be no way that this program could ever come to an end. Since the program did find a solution, my seat-of-the-pants estimate is evidently way off.

Solving an "Easy" puzzle only takes about 40,000 steps. Solving an "Expert" puzzle takes about a million steps. But who cares? We are doing this on a computer that can do a zillion steps a second. It may take the program a second to solve the puzzle, but I suspect most of that second is involved in setting up the virtual machine to run the program, and translating the output characters into a picture that can be shown on the display.

Kicker: I sat down to do the Numbrix in Sunday's paper, by hand, just like I usually do, and I couldn't solve it! This has never happened before! I must be missing something. I take the Parade downstairs, enter the numbers in my program and run it. No solution here either! WTF? Go back upstairs. Copy the puzzle onto a blank sheet of paper and try again, being a little more careful. Still no solution. This is just bizarre. Finally I check the online version and find that the number in the upper left square is different. My program solves the online version, no problem.

Update: Here's a photo of the puzzle as printed in the paper. I think my mind must have slipped a couple of gears last week. As you can see, the given numbers are identical to the ones in the online puzzle shown at the top. I just completed it without any problem. I need to get more sleep.

Update #2: 

Acronym of the Day

UV, as in  “Worldwide, BitTorrent gets 250 million UVs per month.” What the heck is UV? Ultraviolet, and we're counting individual photons now? Uninvited Viewer? Unintentional Verbiage? Unauthorized Vagrant? More likely it's Unique Visitor. Thanks to A and Anders for straightening me out. Quoted line is from Piracy is part of the digital ecosystem by Frédéric Filloux on Monday Note.

You hear claims that piracy is costing copyright holders billions of dollars. This is nonsense. Most pirates are stealing stuff because they can't afford to buy it. Sure, there are a few pirates operating on an industrial scale who are printing zillions of copies and making tons of money, but they are mostly selling their illegal copies at cut-rate prices to people who can't afford to buy the legal versions. So even if you could completely stop all illegal copying of music and video, it is doubtful whether record or movie revenues would increase substantially.

New to me is Big Champagne, a company that tracks illegal copying and reports their results to the big media companies who use this information to direct their marketing strategies. Nobody knows which songs / movies are going to be popular (and even if someone does know, how do you know they are going to be right?). Tracking which tunes are being copied the most tells us which songs are actually popular. Promoting those tunes will probably bring more sales. A back-ass-wards arrangement if I ever saw one. I for one welcome our new pirate overlords.


Lana Del Rey - Video Games (Official Music Video)

She scared me the first time I heard this, her voice is so deep. The contrast between the (mostly) light-hearted scenes in the video and the somber tone of the tune is a little disconcerting, but it's still a heck of a song. Playing video games has become such an established part of our culture, it's become part of the landscape, so it's entirely appropriate subject for a lament, if that's what this tune is. It's interesting how her tone changes when she says "is that true?" right at the 1:19 mark. It goes from sober / somber lament to wheedling ingenue. The drunk woman in the video is someone else, not Lana.

Update January 2021 replaced missing video.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Levels - Avicii

This video has so many great things going on. The dancing and writing on everything within reach in the office, the reactions of the co-workers. The Asian orderly touching the flower and then the black man, and the black man telling him just what he thinks about that shit. These same orderlies levitating into standing positions (just before the 2:40 mark). I especially like the Asian woman and the black doctor dancing. They are just great. And then there is our hero playing Sysiphus, pushing that rock up the hill.

VEVO wouldn't let me embed their version. This version has been flipped left to right. Check out the name at the top of the building in the opening shot. The resolution on this one is quite not as good as VEVO's.

Update January 2021 replaced missing video.

Contraband with Mark Wahlberg

Movie site (starts playing trailer automatically).
IMDB page.

An entertaining movie with a bunch of pluses and minuses. The plot involves smuggling on a container ship. On the plus side, the amount of detail they put into what goes into the smuggling operation is impressive. On the minus side, it strikes me as ridiculous. If you want to smuggle something into the U.S. in a container, slip your contraband into a container full of legal merchandise, and simply wait for it to be delivered. You certainly don't remove your cargo from the container when it is on the ship and hide it somewhere in the ship itself. Too much risk of exposure, too many people would have to know about it, and then you have to get it off the ship when you reach your U.S. port. The real trick with smuggling stuff in a container is having a low profile. You want to look completely legitimate. Evidently this is trickier than it sounds, otherwise the drug cartels would not be building their own submarines to smuggle drugs into the U.S.. Or maybe they are just control freaks and do not want their merchandise out of their control for even a second. I suspect that is the more likely reason.

Jackson Pollock #5

The armored car heist in Panama was insane. Our heroes are only in town for a few hours, just long enough for the ship to unload some containers and then load some more, and it just so happens that the people they are dealing with in Panama have planned an armored car heist that is going to happen RIGHT NOW, and our heroes are going to help. The heist starts with our heroes stopping the armored car (by putting their van in the way and getting smashed). One of the bandits runs up and slaps an explosive charge on the back of the armored car. He turns and runs, but not far enough or fast enough. The explosion catches him and knocks him off his feet, at least. These guys are obviously professionals (that's sarcasm there). The heist would have gone a lot smoother if the heist master hadn't stopped to cut the painting out it's frame. Just take the whole frame and run, seconds count, idiot. But he doesn't run. He stops and cuts the picture out of the frame, which gives the entire army time to show up, and everybody gets killed. Except our heroes, of course.

Then there are the double and triple crosses, the threats and the counter threats.

How did they get the contraband into the U.S.? It was sealed in plastic, presumably water-tight plastic. They weighed it down with weights made with salt and dumped it overboard. After a few hours / days / weeks, the salt dissolves, the weights become weightless, and the contraband floats to the surface where it is picked up by our crew in small boat. A very risky technique. Who knows how far the stuff would drift on it's way to the bottom, or on it's way up, or even how far it would drift while sitting on the bottom. Would you even be able to locate it when it popped back up? I think you could make a entire movie about this one operation. Plus you wouldn't want to drop in a shipping lane. There would be too much danger of it getting run over by another ship when it popped back up. But how are you going to not drop it in a shipping lane? You are on a ship, traveling in a shipping lane. Maybe if you were ten or twenty miles offshore, your odds of not having your contraband run over by another ship would be better.
The sequence of events when they return to New Orleans is a little sketchy. When Andy sees their welcoming committee he runs, even though they know they are going to have to deal with these people. Chris (Wahlberg) breaks the window of a truck with his elbow (he must have elbows made of sharpened carbide steel), drags the driver out and procedes to beat the tar out of him. The driver has friends in the truck, with guns. What does Chris think he is doing? At the very least they should have beaten the tar out of him in return. And then he calls the cops on them. He should have shot them. This proper justice for scum is ridiculous. It is a waste of time and money to arrest and prosecute these people. Plus it is very unsatisfying for everyone watching the movie. Especially me.

It's kind of interesting that all the shooting and killing took place in Panama, and all the beating and threatening and arresting took place in the U.S. Are the movie makers trying to tell us something?

Customs agents come across the $140 million Jackson Pollock canvas in the back of the van twice, and both times dismiss it as a painting tarp. Somebody should put some painting tarps on display and call them art.

There are a couple of shots of the some of the more impressive skyscrapers in Panama City. That place is jumpin'.

Update April 2015: Replace picture of Revolution Tower. Image Shack lost the last one.

Update May 2018 replaced Jackson Pollock image.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


This button popped off my trousers today. When I picked the button up, I noticed that there seemed to be little points sticking out of one side, and I thought, hmmph, even buttons are getting fancy. I figured the little points were supposed to stick in the fabric to keep the button from turning. Only after I saw this photo did I realize  that part of the button had broken off and little points that I thought were a feature were only the remains of the break.

I think these trousers are ready for the dust bin. The backs of the cuffs are frayed and front pockets both have holes in them. I could have duct taped the cuffs and the pockets. Duct tape carefully applied to the cuffs might have started a new fashion trend, at least among unemployed seniors. Of course, if my wife found out she would kill me. However, fixing the button would have meant getting out a needle and thread. Actual sewing, that's beyond the pale. Fortunately, I have spare trousers in the closet.

Ain't No Rest For The Wicked - Cage The Elephant

I stumbled over this while poking around on YouTube. There are several things I like about this video, besides the tune: the disoriented demeanor of our hero, the contradiction between walking down some desert highway while singing about walking down the street, Cadillac ranch in the background, the replay of the same video micro-story with each verse (how many car wrecks can you have and still get back in and go on?), the simple story and the straight forward, intelligble lyrics. The tune is the best part. With that slide guitar, it's just great.

P.S. The tune is used in the video game Borderlands

Update January 2021 replaced missing video.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Opening Title Sequence

I've read the books, I've seen the Swedish version of the movies, and I recently saw the American remake, which is where this nightmare comes from. This opening sequence was made by Tim Miller of Blur Studio. The tune, in case you don't recognize it, is Led Zepplin's Immigrant Song, done by Trent Reznor with Karen O and Atticus Ross. The movie was directed by David Fincher who get's mentioned here because he also directed Fight Club, one of the bestus movies ever.

Kind of weird seeing two versions of the same story so close together, but it's a good story, and worth repeating. True Grit is another good story with an original film and a remake. After I saw the new version at the theater, I went and looked up the old one and watched it. It was interesting to see what was changed between the two versions and what was left alone. There were some subtle things that I would not have noticed if I hadn't had something to compare against.

The only complaint I had about the Hollywood remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was at the very end when she passes the bad guy. She's driving a motorcycle and he's driving an SUV. There was no reason for her to do that, and a zillion reasons not to. Why did they put such a stupid move in the movie? Desire to add "thrill"? Somebody wanted to put their personal stamp on it? Some focus group said they liked seeing really stupid motorcycle versus car interactions? It was at the end, and it was the only really stupid thing in the movie, so I guess I can't complain. Much.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Failure to Communicate

I like to think I explain things fairly well, but maybe I don't.

Real Live Steam Locomotive

That you can hold in your hand. Okay, make that both hands. These things are very cool. So much intricate machine work goes into making them. Scott sent me the link. What I wonder is how they are able to make this video. The camera is following the locomotive as it runs down the track. Is the camera man walking along, or is he riding on some kind of cart? It's awfully smooth for being hand held, which is what I suspect. Good job, camera person.

Lion's Mane Jellyfish

Darling daughter sent me the link. When I first saw it and read the text I thought "what a monster"! Now I'm not so sure. Couldn't find anyone claiming to have taken the picture, or details on when or where it was taken, so now I'm thinking photoshop. Wikipedia has the largest one being not quite 8 feet in diameter. This one looks to be more like 20. Still, it is a heck of a picture, and it could very well be real, global warming and all.

Word Up - Cameo

This tune popped into my head this morning, but all I could remember was the line "wave your hands in the air like you don't care". That got me nowhere, seems that line has been used in ever rap song for the last ten years. I remembered the tune and the sound, but how do you look up something like that on Google? Eventually I tracked it down to Cameo in 1986. This song is pretty stinking amazing. It was so weird when it came out, it wasn't by anyone I had ever heard of, it wasn't like anything else, but there must be something to it because it is still around, still being recorded (Cameo has done a new version), and it has even made it to the country side of the fence, though it did take 25 years.

In the original, and most of the cover versions, one of the first lines in the song is "Cause we're about to go down", but in the newer Cameo version the line is "Cause we're about to throw down", which gives is quite it a somewhat different spin, and suits me grim outlook much better.

Update January 2021 replaced missing video.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

The Inland North
The West
The Northeast
North Central
The South
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

This is kind of interesting, and kind of odd. Answer a dozen questions and they tell you what kind of accent you have. Nobody has to say anything, nobody listens to you, it's all done with written words. Well, not exactly. Given two words, you need to be able to say whether you pronounce them the same, or differently, and I found some of them a little tricky. I had to say them out loud and try and determine whether the sounds were the same or different. The results weren't too surprising, I lived in Ohio for at least eight years.Test here.

Bonus Techno-Gripe: If you try and post the results from your test on blogger, do not click on Compose. Blogger will alter the html and the pretty red bars in the graph will disappear.

Two Against One - Jack White

Somebody put lot of work into making that video, or I dunno, maybe they didn't. Surely it's a big deal to produce a live action video, I mean you need all those people and cameras, scenes and props, but animation requires somebody drawing about a zillion little-bitty pictures. Two minutes, twenty-two seconds translates into roughly 5000 individual pictures. That's a lot of drawing. And yes, I know they didn't actually have to draw little bitty pictures, they probably drew big ones and then shrunk them through the magic of photography. But that's just the actual production. Somebody had to come up with concept in the first place, or maybe it just appeared in a nightmare, but in any case they had to translate their vision into something other people could see. I don't know if the video has anything to do with song, but they both seem to have similar grim tones, just like the grittier side of real life.

I am having a hard time figuring out just whose name should get credit for this song. There seems to be a long list of names attached to it, some are people, some are bands and some are I don't even know what. It sound's like Jack White singing to me, so I'm gonna give him the credit. The rest of 'em can fight over the scraps.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Pedestrians crossing at crosswalks are a real nuisance. You drive a mile down a city street and the only person you see will the be one who wants to cross the street right in front of you so you have to stop to let them cross. I've noticed that if you stop as soon as you see the pedestrian, rather then driving all the way up to the crosswalk, you can save yourself, and the pedestrian, precious seconds.

The average width of a residential street is about 50 feet. Walking at 3 MPH, it will take the pedestrian 4.4 seconds to cross the street. If you are driving at 25 MPH (37 feet per second) it will take you about 2 seconds and 40 feet to ease to a stop. If you are 80 feet away when you see them it will take you one second to drive half the distance before you need to start slowing down. If you start slowing immediately, you can save that one second. OK, it's only one second. It could be two if you spotted them when you were 120 feet away. One second may not seem like much, but if you are anything at all like me, one second when you are in gear (mentally) and going places can seem like an awfully long time.

This will only work in an area without much traffic. You would probably cause more trouble than relief is you tried this downtown during  rush hour.

Note on the picture: I found it on, which evidently produces paintings on demand. You pick a picture, any picture, and they paint it and ship it to you. Not all that expensive either. This Abbey Road picture was less than $150. I imagine they come from some sweat shop in Asia. Their website is not exactly forthcoming, and their Engrish is not quite perfect.

The White Stripes - Seven Nation Army

Jack White is still around, still playing, performing, making records. When I first heard this tune I was thinking one-hit-wonder, especially since none of the other tunes on their album did anything for me. Goes to show what I know about musicians and the music business.

Bitcoin for Dummies

The Good Wife - Season 1 Promos

I really like The Good Wife. There's always someone pulling some kind of bullshit, and Alicia always (usually?) manages to save the day. Sunday's episode was especially cool because we had:
  1. Bitcoin, a real-life, experimental digital currency,
  2. A cryptographers conference. I imagine there is probably more than one, but I put up a video from such a conference that happened in Berlin just a month ago,
  3. The incomparable, amazingly ditzy, but stunningly effective lawyer Elsbeth Tascioni played by Carrie Preston.
  4. My old friend who used to play the chief slimeball on Alias, Rob Rifkin, playing the chief slimeball from the treasury, Gordon Higgs. Oh, wait, it's not him, it's actually Bob Balaban. Look at the pictures below and I think you will understand how I got confused. Of course they never smile in the show.
Ron Rifkin, from Alias
Bob Balaban, from The Good Wife

Update January 2021 replaced missing video.

Bad Day at Black Rock

Wikipedia is blacked out today in protest of SOPA and PIPA.  This is a disaster. I may have to go watch soap operas. Shit, I hate soap operas.

For all you whippersnappers who don't recognize it, I stole the title from a 1955 movie that has become a bit of a cult-classic. Google returned this snippet it gleaned from Wikipedia, presumably before they vanished: Bad Day at Black Rock is a 1955 thriller film directed by John Sturges that combines elements of Westerns and film noir.

Doan Trevor Custom Rifle Building

Oooh! What a pretty gun! All clean and shiny! But what's with that trigger? Thas a funny lookin' trigger if I ever saw one. Wonder how well it would work. You know, if might work better than a conventional trigger: no sharp edges to cut into your finger. On the other hand, it might let your finger slide on, or off, the trigger. I suppose I would have to try it, and probably try it a lot, in a lot of different conditions, to make any kind of pronouncement. Okay, that's not going to happen. I'm just going to stick with funny lookin'.

Guy does really nice work. His blog is a visual chronicle of his work. Most of the pics are of work-in-progress. Lots (as in many) tools in his shop. It looks like Nirvana. Via Marc.

This is a target rifle. The stock has an adjustable cheekpiece that can be raised or lowered using the thumbwheel set into the side of the stock. The cheekpiece can also be shifted left or right using the allen screw that is recessed into the stock near the butt plate. Notice also that some kind of texturing has been applied to the grip section of the stock. Used to be that checkering was the preferred method of making a section of the surface non-slip, but checkering is done by hand, it's time consuming and it requires skill, all of which have combined to make it very expensive. Plus all the guys who know how to do it are either really old or dead. So now we've got some new kind of technique. Probably all hi-techie and stuff. You still see some checkering on commercial guns, but it is invariably the pressed in kind, not the real hand-cut-with-tiny-little-files kind.

Colbert Super PAC Ad - (EstablishMitt) the Ripper

Oh, Gawd! Not the Republican primaries again! Aren't I thoroughly sick of all this overwrought pronobulating? Well, yes, but this one is pretty funny. Hopefully someone will be offended. Via Michigan Mike.

Update March 2016 replaced missing video.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Petty Vandals

I saw this calculator sitting on the counter at the bank. It is glued down. You will notice someone has obliterated the display with ball point pen. Why would someone do this? If it was kid, where was their parent? What is wrong with people?

NYC Bike Messengers are on Crack

I first saw this video several years ago and I was just entranced. The hypnotic rhythm of the tune seemed to go perfectly with the video. Rewatching this clip recently I realized I didn't know the tune or the band. I looked around a bit but couldn't find anything. A visit to Lucas Brunelle's website didn't turn up anything: I recognized all the tunes he has listed for his videos. I finally asked him and he tells me that someone had taken his video and attached a different audio track to it. Imagine that! The nerve of some people. I felt like a big dummy for not snapping to this earlier. I was so entranced by the video that I could not imagine it having a different sound track. Turns out the tune is Bandwitch performed by Broken Social Scene. I tried watching their video on YouTube, but it didn't do anything for me.

Besides being very talented with a bicycle and a camera, Lucas seems to be a bit of a character, maybe even an anti-hero of the bicycle universe. I am really pleased to have been able to talk to him, even if it was just a couple of dozen words over email.

F1gur471v3ly 5p34k1ng?

This message from Mark showed up in my inbox the other day:
7H15 M3554G3 53RV35 7O PR0V3 H0W 0UR M1ND5 C4N D0 4M4Z1NG 7H1NG5! 1MPR3551V3 7H1NG5! 1N 7H3 B3G1NN1NG 17 WA5 H4RD BU7 N0W, 0N 7H15 LIN3 Y0UR M1ND 1S R34D1NG 17 4U70M471C4LLY W17H 0U7 3V3N 7H1NK1NG 4B0U7 17, B3 PROUD! 0NLY C3R741N P30PL3 C4N R3AD 7H15.

PL3453 F0RW4RD 1F U C4N R34D 7H15.
Stu exfoliates:
Well, it depends on the signal/noise ratio of the message. After all, English has so much redundancy that the information content is only about 1.01 bits per letter (and not the 4.7 bits per letter of a non-redundant system). So you could have 3.7 bits of noise to that 1 bit of signal before it became gibberish.

Post Hip Obscurity

Scott delves into the past and turns up the MONKEY-WARDS CATALOG FROM 1934.

Quote of the Day

Do You Suffer From Lapham's Disease?
"The symptoms of this malady, named after the longtime editor of Harper’s, Lewis H. Lapham (now of Lapham’s Quarterly), include an elevated, orotund, deeply ironic prose style that, in severe cases, reveals almost nothing about what the topic is or what the author wishes to say about it except for a general sense of superiority to everyone and everything around." —Michael Kinsley, who both succeeded and preceded Lewis Lapham as editor of Harper's, explains "Lapham's Disease." The diagnosis does not appear to be new.
Via Michigan Mike and Alex Balk on THE AWL. The two links go a couple of interesting stories about people, power, books and ideas. Entertaining and enlightening.

Bonus Techno-Gripe: The first link goes to The New York Times. On any normal web page, should you come across a word you don't understand, you can double-click it to highlight it, then a right-click to pop up a menu that will allow you to search the web for that word.

This isn't good enough for the Times, they have substituted their own word lookup function. Double-clicking on the word highlights it just like on a normal web page, but then a little icon appears (a squarish comic strip balloon containing a question mark). Click on the balloon and up pops a new window with this helpful message:

The word you're looking for is not in our dictionary.

Dolts. The word I was looking for was Mimesis, which, thanks to Google, I now know means imitation or copy. Think mime or mimicry.

Monday, January 16, 2012

TEK 4012 High Resolution Graphics Terminal

A little bit of history.

My friend Jack built this terminal out of bits and pieces back in the late 1970's, more or less. If memory serves, it had a resolution of 1024 by 768. Of course, it was a monochrome green screen. A new one from Tektronix cost around 14 grand, which makes it about as much as pretty nice new car, or two. This was just a terminal mind you, not a computer. Just a display and a keyboard. It communicated with the (Master Control) computer over a serial link running at the then astounding rate of 9600 baud.

Foster The People - Pumped Up Kicks

I'm not quite sure about this tune. The video portion is pretty useless. The tune seems insubstantial and the lyrics foolish, but I still enjoy the heck out of it. Music is magical.

Attack ad? I got your attack ad!

California Bob sent me a link to one Newt Gingrich's ads attacking Mitt Romney. I thought it was pretty weak, but then I don't give a shit about Newt or Mitt or any of those other jackasses in the so-called Republican Party.

Here's my theory. The Republicans do not want to win the Presidential election. If they won they wouldn't be able to blame the Democrats for anything, so the people would blame the Republicans, which means come the next election they would all be booted out. The way things stand now they can blame Obama for everything while they continue lining their own pockets while simultaneously destroying the country.

That's how you write an attack ad.

The Way Back Machine

This is just a little creepy. Nine zillion years ago, back when I was a lad, I wrote a letter to Boy's Life. I remember it because it was like the only letter I wrote during that era and as such it was a pretty big deal. They never printed it. I wasn't surprised because my letter, modeled on my other favorite magazine, MAD, was a little cheeky.

But now Iowa Andy has uncovered this self same letter in a digital copy of Boy's Life. Since my letter was never actually published in the paper version of the magazine, I can only conclude that historical revisionists have doctored the record. I do not know why someone would do that, but I suspect their reasons are nefarious. Shades of 1984.

Update January 2021 replaced missing image.

(un)-Quote of the Day

Tanya’s profanity flows like a mountain spring, so quoting her here is pretty much impossible.-

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Interesting movie. No car chases, no gun battles, no sex, not even any romance. There is some baseball, but not much. This video clip is the only "artistic" bit in the whole movie.

Make that a gripping movie. What is it about then? I think it is about figuring out what to do. It's kind of like gambling. You take the cards you're dealt, you figure out what you think your best course of action is, and then you place your bets. It's about waiting, lots of waiting, though you don't have to suffer through it, this is the movie version after all. It's about making decisions and acting on those decisions, especially when everyone around you is telling you that you are wrong.

Jonah Hill did a fine job as as Peter Brand (aka Paul DePodesta), the totally stereotyped number crunching geek.

Durable Goods

We have these several window blinds in our house that use a string to raise and lower them. After you raise them by pulling on the string, if you let go, some little widget inside the header box grabs the string and holds the blind open. If you want to let the blind down, you need to pull on the string just enough to release this catch, and then move the string over to the side so that when you let the blind down the little grabber widget does not grab the string and you can lower the blind all the way down.

Could not get this one particular blind to go down. Finally noticed that the string had worn a groove in the plastic bezel that surrounds the hole. Pulling straight down on the string put the string in this groove, which prevented it from moving to the side, which meant the little grabber widget was not going to relenquish its' grip.

Our current work around is to pull the string to the side FIRST, before exerting the force needed to release the little grabber widget. Someday I will replace the bezel. Yeah, right.