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Monday, July 30, 2012


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Satellite view of the HESS II installation.

Namibia is in the news for the 2nd day in a row, at least on the Graham Hancock website. Yesterday there were rumors of a vast underground reservoir of water. All it takes is one look at the place to know that would be wonderful if it pans out. I don't think I've ever seen any place quite so desolate looking, except places known to be deserts, like the Sahara or the American Southwest. Not too long ago there was a story about "fairy circles" in Namibia, which are probably due to a fungus of some sort. Today's news is about HESS II, another crazy astronomy project, similar to the one in the Chilean desert in South America in that they both chose a location because of it's high elevation and low moisture content. Crazy, man.

HESS is being used to detect high energy particles, i.e. cosmic rays. It does this indirectly by detecting the blue light (Cherenkov light) generated when a cosmic ray impacts a molecule high up in the atmosphere. The HESS website has a better explanation.

Damaged Damages

Finished watching Season 3 of Damages (with Glenn Close and Rose Byrne as Ellen Parsons), and boy am I glad that is over. The first two seasons were pretty twisted, but they were at least partially believable. Season 3 though made no sense at all. It starts badly with Joe Tobin not making any sense, but before too long, nothing anyone is doing is making any sense. Made me wonder what the people who put this together were thinking. Were they like, let's write a hare-brained script, and people will watch it because they watched the first two seasons, which were pretty crazy, so if we make it even crazier, they'll like it even more? Or maybe they got 42 people to write one page of the screen play for each episode, and then they shufffled all the pages and dumped the result on the screen. I mean, they had good actors, they had a good story, why did they have to fuck it up so bad? I would not have been surprised if season 3 was the last one, but no! There is a season four and season five is in progress right now.

Obviously I'm missing something, I just wish I knew what it was.

P.S. I was looking for a picture of Ellen being serious, which is one of the main attractions of this show, but this is the only one that Google served up that fit the bill, and it isn't from Damages.

Sign of the Times

"KNOCK LOUDLY, the Dog is hard of hearing"

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Quote of the Day

They created a robust Constitution and Bill of Rights, and wisely reserved the majority of power for the states and the people. That is why our government is the oldest on earth, while other nations–France, for example–have gone through five or more in the same amount of time. - Bob Owens, via Tam. Emphasis mine.
I was really surprised by this statement. Usually when we talk about history and who's been around the longest, we are talking about countries and civilizations, which implies that there was a government, but governments come and go, so maybe our government is the oldest on earth, although I think maybe the UK is older.

TSA All the Way!

Prompted by Jennifer's latest rant, I tried to find some numbers about air travel. The governement's website is down.

Figures, but then I found this on the International Air Transport Association's website:
Date: 24 October 2007

Passenger numbers to reach 2.75 billion by 2011

(DAMASCUS, Syria) The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released passenger and freight traffic forecasts projecting that in 2011 the air transport industry will handle 2.75 billion passengers (620 million more passengers than in 2006) and 36 million tonnes of international freight (7.5 million tonnes more than in 2006).
Syria? Seriously? Of course this was almost five years ago, back when the current unpleasantness was only simmering on low heat, not boiling over and onto the front page of the world's newspapers.

Air traffic fell off sharply after those crazy Saudi's hijacked four airliners and deliberately crashed them back in September of 2001. Air traffic has increased somewhat since then, but I don't think it has recovered completely, at least not in the US. The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) and their onerous "security" measures are partly to blame. Airline executives should have something to say, but I'm not hearing anything. I did find this one story that offers a couple of really feeble excuses.

Bonus quote from 2010 with lots of numbers from reDesign:
What the media don’t talk about is that flying is incredibly safe. 2 million people a day fly in the U.S. That’s more than 700 million people a year. In the last 9 years, there have been:
  • More than 300,000 deaths in car crashes.
  • More than 130,000 people murdered.
  • Exactly zero fatalities from aviation terrorism in the U.S., 6.6 billion passengers and zero fatalities.
Everything we do in life has a risk to it. Taking a shower, walking down the street, going to the mall.

I travel between 50,000 and 100,000 miles a year most years. I also travel on larger planes and to and from foreign countries. My risk of dying in a terrorism-related plane crash is much greater than that of the average American. (16% of Americans have never flown; another 37% fly less than once a year.) But I’m not worried because I know the risk is so unbelievably tiny it’s not worth worrying about. The TSA’s new procedures don’t reduce that already insignificant risk.

The Cinnabon at the airport food court is a bigger threat to your health and well being than a terrorist is. And, by the way, what the TSA doesn’t want you to know is that the guy working behind the counter at the Cinnabon didn’t have to go through security.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Gun of the Day

The Marines are going back to M1911 Colt 45. Fancy looking handle. I suppose all that detail comes from machining the multi-layer material. For the reason why, we have a story from the Philippines from a hundred years ago.

Oil from Africa

Ugandan Insomniac is still posting away. One of her recent posts mentions Poisoned Wells: The Dirty Politics of African Oil by Nicholas Shaxson. In the publisher's comments on this book I found this line:
Each week the oil and gas fields of sub-Saharan Africa produce well over a billion dollars' worth of oil, an amount that far exceeds development aid to the entire African continent.
While economic aid may be fueling corruption, it isn't the only fuel.

Quote of the Day

On the TeeWee this morning were spandex-clad dudes out in the sunny English countryside, racing bicycles. (Or as the Brits call them, "spanners".) - Tam, the Queen of Snark
Meanwhile I got me a new spanner:

Got it from me cousin. The handlebars are killing me. I'm thinking either cruiser bars or ape hangers would be an improvement.

Friday, July 27, 2012


It just occurred to me that people sometimes believe things that are not true. Somebody could have told them something and they just accepted it as gospel without examining it, or they could have observed two independent actions and concluded that one caused the other, even if there was no connection between the two. I just finished reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman, that's what put me in this frame of mind.

It even happens to me. I wrote a computer program a while back to solve a difficult puzzle, and for a while I actually believed I had found the solution. It was a wonderful feeling, but in a couple of days it had faded and  I realized that, no, I had not found a solution. It was kind of weird.

P.S. Saturday AM. This morning I came across this story about people believing stuff that isn't true. Like all good American's, I never let the facts get in the way of my beliefs.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Out in the Woods

Almost shot myself in the foot today. Went up in the Coast Range today with Jack. He wanted to see if he could hit anything with his new rifle. I went along for the show and to do some plinking with an automatic. I'd shot up a box of shells and I got to wondering if I could hit anything with my left hand. Never tried it before, had never occurred to me to try it when I actually had a gun on hand. So I did. It's a little difficult. I was able to hit a three inch rock at about 20 paces with my second shot. Then I lowered the gun to bask in my glory, and bang! The durn thing went off. Forgot one of the four rules of safe gun handling: don't put your finger on the trigger until you are ready to shoot. Never had this problem before because my usual modus operandi is to blast away until I'm empty, and being as this was an automatic and not a revolver, it was all cocked and ready to fire when I lowered it. Lucky I didn't perforate myself.

So now I'm thinking about this business of safe gun handling, and not putting your finger on the trigger, and it's not that easy. Pick up the gun and my index finger goes right to the trigger. Not putting my finger on the trigger requires some deliberate hand contortions. For my right hand, I found there is a nub from the pivot for the slide lock that sticks out just above the trigger guard. Putting my finger on it lets me know that it's not on the trigger. For my left hand there is the end of the slide lock itself, not as prominent as the nub, but it's something. We'll see how well this lesson sticks.

Hitting that rock was the high point of my left handed shooting. I emptied the rest of the clip at a foot square target about 30 feet away and only managed to hit it twice. I am much better with my right hand.

Jack's scope mount wasn't quite straight. He inserted a copper shim under the left side of the front scope mounting clamp and that brought it around. Next time we will try for a longer distance.

Jack's target was marked off in one inch squares. A note on the bottom of the target claimed that these squares corresponded to one minute of arc at 100 yards. I just checked, and it does. 1.0047 inches, to be precise. Using the metric system, one minute of arc at a distance of 100 meters comes out to 29 millimeters, a nice round number if there ever wasn't. Another Victory for English measurements!

On our way to out of town we saw a tow plane towing a glider.

Somebody's chewing up old railroad cars near Timber. Can't imagine why they are doing this way out in the middle of nowhere. Why not just roll the old cars directly to the scrapyard? Hiring a locomotive to move them costs too much? No locos available?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Music Interruptus

I remember a scene from a movie of a car driving through a freeway interchange. The view is from inside the car, a convertible with the top down. It was a sunny day and there was music playing on the radio. Periodically the music would stop for a second. At the time I thought it was just some wacko artistic technique, you know, a dramatic pause or something. Much later I realized the music was cutting out because it was coming from a satellite radio and every time the car went under an overpass, the signal was blocked and the music stopped. I thought this was the opening scene from a James Bond movie, but I haven't been able to pin it down, so maybe it's not.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

New Battery

Broke down and bought a new battery for my truck today. Cleaning the terminals helped, but it didn't cure the problem. If I let the truck sit for a day without driving it, then the next time I started it, it wouldn't idle without my giving it some gas. A couple instances of this was enough to convince me it was time. Besides, the old battery was looking pretty grundgy.

When I pulled the old battery out, I noticed this little round disk popping up in the center of the battery tray. What a weird thing. It seems to be loosely mounted on a spring. What the devil is it? I pull on it and it comes right out dragging a couple of wires behind it. It must be a sensor of some type. All I can figure is that it is a temperature sensor to sense when the battery is overheating. What would cause that? Overcharging? A short? Whatever, I stuffed it back in it's hole and installed the new battery and we're good. I hope.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Quote of the Day

Anonymous has left a new comment on the post "HOW DO YOU MEASURE YOUR SELF-WORTH?": 
I just stumbled on your blog and I think it's great. Everything you're writing about has happened to me too so I've got to believe that it isn't you but rather it's the men you're to whom you're attracted. I'm the same way...I have typically been the type of person who quickly dismisses a guy when I don't find him super attractive from the very beginning. However, I'm learning that sometimes the guys we pass up rather quickly are the ones that treat us the best. Don't get me wrong, I have not lowered my standards and do not date just anyone. However, I look to more than just looks now. I look for great conversation and a connection. I don't know about you but after being with someone that shows me respect, doesn't stand me up, stays true to his word and so many other great qualities I find myself becoming attracted after spending a bit of time with them. For instance the guy I'm with now is not someone I typically would have dated in the past. I can't begin to tell you how many times I would tell my girlfriends about things he would do that I found to be "strange." Little things such as taking me to a paint class on one of our first dates (none of the other guys I've been out with have even suggested that!) and during that date he noticed paint about to drip on me and wiped it away so it wouldn't get on my clothes. That swift move by him was so alien to me and I felt like all the other women were just staring at us! After talking about it to my friends every single one of them thought it was the sweetest thing he could do. I had to do a lot of self talk to remind myself that I am worthy of someone who treats me this way. All the men I've dated before were bastards...all treating me the same you've described in your past blogs. I realize now that I allowed them to treat me that way. 
So how do I measure my self worth? I measure it in how I allow others to treat me. I no longer am I immediately drawn to an attractive man...who by the way are 99.5% of the time narcissistic liars...I wait for them to show me who they really are by their actions. Words just don't cut it anymore. I let them pursue me and let me just say it's definitely different than a game of cat and mouse. You can find a lot out about a man by just sitting back and watching how he interacts with you when he's interested. I'm worth more...and so are you. Hold out for someone who will treat you the way you want to be treated and make no concessions. You'll see your self worth will be defined more than just outward beauty. 
Reminded me that some people live in an alternate universe, completely unfamiliar to me. Not from my blog.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Pistol Technique

We're working our way through the FX serial drama Damages with Glenn Close and Rose Byrne as Ellen Parsons. This week we're on season two (episode 5 @14:26), and Ellen, amongst other things, is learning how to shoot a gun.

Shooting right handed and aiming with her left eye is a little odd, but I suppose it would work. Seeing this reminded me of an old post of Snigs:
So, today I shot the way I wanted to- one handed*, rapid-fire- pulling the trigger as fast as I could on the 22 & cocking & firing the 357 as quickly as I could, as well. I also changed my grip on the 357, to something that feels slightly more natural for me.

*My initial firearms training years ago was done by my Daddy, who taught me to shoot one-handed. He said if you had to hold a gun with two hands, it was too much gun for you & that two-handed shooting was theatrical. Not saying he was right or wrong, but it works for me.
Everything I've ever seen recommends using both hands, mostly to improve your aim. I imagine you should be able to hold the gun steadier using two hands than just one. And then I saw this video.

So maybe handgun means just that, it's a handgun, not a handsgun. Ha.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Old Truck Story

Maybe you've noticed this. You have a car, or truck, or some vehicle that you use every day. You've been using it for years and you realize it's getting a little worn. It's developed a few little quirks, but it still gets you where you want to go, so you keep driving it until one day a wheel falls off and you say "oh, poop", or something similar and you finally break down and spend some money to get it fixed. And now after it's been repaired you realize just how badly broken it was because your car drives like brand new now and you can't believe how much smoother it is and you wonder why you didn't get it fixed earlier.

Ford’s Twin I-Beam Front Suspension

I knew this guy in Austin, Texas, many moons ago who had an old Ford pickup truck. It was probably old when he got it and then he put another million miles on it. It was really old: it had Twin I-Beam Front Suspension. Time went by and he finally started making some money so he went down to the tire store and bought two brand new tires for the front wheels of his truck. Boy, oh boy! New tires! Are we downtown or what!

He's driving his truck home on the freeway going and he hits a bump. It was a pretty bad bump, like one slab of concrete had sunk a couple of (three? four? six?) inches relative to the next one, so there was a lip clear across his lane. He hits that lip and both of the brand new front tires blow out. Needless to say he was a little ticked off. Had the truck towed back to the tire shop where they discover that the frame is sitting on the axles. The springs have completely collapsed, there is no movement in the suspension at all. The big question is why the old tires hadn't blown out. All I figure is tha he knew they were old and worn and so he had been driving it very slowly and carefully and not on the freeway. When he got the new tires he thought he was in good shape, shoot, we can drive on the freeway now!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Quote of the Day

It is difficult to fight against anger, for a man will buy revenge with his soul - Heracleitus, 500 B.C.
Via The View From Under The Desk. This sent me on a short wander. I had never heard of Heracleitus, so I had to look him up. Wikipedia's intro gives a good summary, but then I found a website of philosophers with this:
"All things come into being by conflict of opposites"
"We descend and do not descend into the same river, we are and are not ourselves." Fragment B 49A Heracleitus was one of the first to seek a universal explanation for nature and man's role within it, an explanation not reliant on the gods. Like Parmenides, Heracleitus held that things are not as we perceive them. Unlike Parmenides, he conceives of a world of constant change and conflict. His is a world in which the interaction, the tension, of opposites, is a creative force. The only permanent feature of things is their constant becoming. This most famous part of his doctrine came to be encapsulated in the phrase "all things are flowing".

Heracleitus identified fire as the principle element of nature and creation. This he identified with what he termed the Logos, a sort of world soul which permeated and governed all life.

Much of Heracleitus better fits Eastern philosophy than what has become the western tradition. The Hindu god, Shiva, encompasses many of the elements emphasised by Heracleitus - eg. the the important interaction between destructive and creative forces and the importance of fire as a creative force.
Shiva, huh, imagine that. An ancient Greek and ancient Hindus coming up with similar philosophies.

That second quote, the one about the river, is more commonly phrased as "No man ever steps in the same river twice".

Bonus Word of the Day: Floruit - is a Latin verb meaning "flourished", denoting the period of time during which something (such as a person, school, movement, or species) was active. Via Wikipedia.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Short History of Weather Forecasting

Stu put up a post about weather forecasting today. He condenses thousands of years of history and covers a multitude of disparate technologies in a short and very readable story.

Quote of the Day

Important Announcement Regarding A Sudden Change In My Tax Status
This afternoon Jeff, my partner of eleven years, took off work early, came home to pick me up, and we drove to Maryland and got married in Frederick County courthouse, to cement the solemn sacred traditional American bond between a woman who needs health insurance and a man whose new job only offers "domestic partner" benefits to same-sex couples, and even if I wanted to become a gay man for insurance purposes I couldn't afford the necessary surgery anyway, due to my aforementioned lack of health insurance.
Jennifer's just so mushy.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


I've been having a lot of trouble lately with Blogger setting the background behind some sections of text to white. Yes, I know this looks like black text on a white background, but the white is not really white, it's some kind of off-white. My computer is infected with some kind of crap that causes all kinds of annoying little problems, like I can't download anything using Firefox, and I suppose this could be another symptom of that disease. It's just so weird though. It shows up in random places for no apparent reason. I suppose it could be some weird typo that I keep making, but why has it only started up in the last couple of weeks?

Quote of the Day

Misanthropes have some admirable if paradoxical virtues. It is no exaggeration to say that we are among the nicest people you are likely to meet. Because good manners build sturdy walls, our distaste for intimacy makes us exceedingly cordial 'ships that pass in the night'. As long as you remain a stranger we will be your friend forever. Florence King
I'm not quite sure about this one. On one hand it makes a good kind of sense. On the other . . . I think manners are what allow us to deal with people we don't like. Imagine if a fight broke out every time someone annoyed you; our population would soon be decimated. And I'm not sure a stranger can be a friend, though if you mind your manners, and I manage to mind mine, we should at least be able to get along. There's that old saying that "good fences make good neighbors", and I think it's pretty valid. But I am not sure sturdy walls make good friends. I guess it depends on what you mean by "friend".

Via Tam.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


I got back from Denver almost six weeks ago, and I am just now getting around to finishing my report. I wonder why that is.

We had a vague idea of visiting Dinosaur National Monument on the way back, so we headed West out of Denver on Interstate 70. It's been a long time since I've been on this road. My wife and I drove to Winter Park using this road 20 odd years ago, and Matt I drove to Los Angeles this way 40 odd years ago. Matt and I had a real good time. (Can you believe it? Blogger's spell checker doesn't like Los Angeles.) Going up that first set of hills, trying to maintain speed while carrying a load of furniture, the truck had to work a bit. At one point I had the engine at redline, the throttle wide open and the transmission upshifted. Bang! That was a little unnerving. I eased off a bit after that.

There are three tunnels on I-70 between Denver and Grand Junction. The first and longest is the Eisenhower Tunnel built in 1979, so it wasn't there when Matt & I made our trip to LA. Reading the Wikipedia article I discovered that there is a height restriction on this tunnel, which may explain why we saw so few trucks on this route. For a while I wondered if we were going to see any, but as time went by we saw a few.

I used an old, paper, Gousha road atlas to navigate. It's been sitting in my bookcase for umpteen years. It is dated 1985, and we discovered no discrepancies between the map and the roads we traveled. That didn't used to be the case, back when the Interstate Highway System was still under construction.

The next morning we got off the Interstate at Loma and started up State Highway 139 toward Dinosaur. Loma is a fine town, full of streets with names like L 7/10 Road. We stopped for gas and donuts. Three other full-size pickup trucks, all hauling stuff, stopped for gas while we were there. The other drivers were all wearing Oakley sunglasses and blue-tooth earpieces. I was the odd man out with my compact truck, $2 sunglasses and a hand-held phone.

Hostess mini-donuts, Squirt and hot dogs were staples of my diet on this trip. The Hostess man must have just been there, because the Hostess rack was overflowing with packages of mini-donuts. Guess I'm not alone in my preference for road food.

State Highway 139 is a two lane blacktop with hardly any traffic. There were some switchbacks going up to Douglas Pass where we stopped to check out the view.

When we got to Dinosaur, we drove into the Monument using a road marked "No Fossils". It seemed to take forever to drive all the way to the end, but only a few minutes to drive back out. It was about 15 miles one way, a mere nit in the overall scheme of things. We stopped at the Echo Park overlook. I used to be really impressed with these views, but now I look and I think how grim and forbidding it looks. Lots of rocks, no water or shade. Well, okay, there is a river at the bottom of the canyon, well, you hope there is anyway. You can't see it from up here, and it's a couple of thousand feet down. Be a hell of a hike to find out the river is dry. Just thinking about it is making me thirsty.

Our next stop was a campground in the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. We grilled some hot dogs for lunch. The campground was way up above the lake.

After that it was back on the Interstate. The next day the tarp decided to break loose and start flapping in the wind. We stopped 2 or 3 times to try and fix it before we finally pulled into a store in Wendell, Idaho, and bought 100 feet of cord and ran a zig-zag over the top. 

By coincidence I stopped for gas near Boise at the same place I stopped on the way out. Maybe that's not so surprising being as there is only one gas station every six bajillion miles out here. When we crossed the border into Oregon gas prices jumped up 50 cents a gallon, and for some reason, the bugs really started flying. We had to stop every hour or so to clean the windshield, it was so bad. We considered stopping for another night, but by then we were in Pendleton, and shoot, we're practially home, so we pushed on and got home around midnight.

The next day we're unpacking and I inspect the damage to the tarp. It was really big, so we had folded it over a bit to contain the excess. All that flapping in the breeze had worn a hole in it, and where was the hole? In one corner, where it wouldn't be a big problem? No, because of the way it was folded it was right in the center.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Deseret Power Railway

Driving back from Denver my route took me through Northwest Colorado. Going North on State Highway 139 towards Dinosaur National Monument I noticed what appeared to be a new railroad. It wasn't hard to notice because other than sagebrush, a few cows and the occasional gas pipeline station, there wasn't anything else out there. What's more, it appeared to be an electric railroad. There were wires strung above the tracks just like for the local commuter train here in Portland. Well, that's just downright bizarre. I didn't see a train or even any cars, just this track. Why would someone build an electric railroad all the way out here in the middle of nowhere?

I finally got around to looking it up. It was built for one purpose only: to haul coal from the Deserado Mine northeast of Rangely, Colorado to the Bonanza Power Plant 35 miles away in Utah. The train is fairly short, only 44 cars. Right now the train makes one trip a day, five days a week, and that's enough coal to keep the turbines spinning.

This railway is not connected to any others, so everything for this project (the mine, the power plant, the train and its' track) had to be hauled in by truck.

This mine is an underground mine, so there isn't much to see up top, except for the 3 mile long conveyor belt that carries the coal from the mine to the train load point. The big mines in the Powder River Basin, the ones that supply low sulfur coal to the Midwest and the East Coast, are strip mines.

Desert Power Railway

Update January 2021 replaced missing map.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Bomarc Missile accident

Earth Bound Misfit posted a couple of pics today, so I thought I would see if I could match them up to their locations on a map. Google Maps has a placemark for Lakehurst Naval Air Engineering Station, but it is outside of the gray area that indicates the adjacent military base, so I went to Wikimapia to see if I could get any more information. Turns out Lakehurst NAS is just one part of the entire complex. So I'm poking around with my mouse, just to see if I turn up anything interesting, and this pops up:

Site of Bomarc Missile accident 

June 7, 1960 /BOMARC/ McGuire AFB, New Jersey:

A BOMARC nuclear air defense missile in ready storage condition (permitting launch in two minutes) was destroyed by explosion and fire after a high-pressure helium tank exploded and ruptured the missile's fuel tanks. The warhead was also destroyed by the fire although the high explosive did not detonate. Nuclear safety devices acted as designed. Contamination was restricted to an area immediately beneath the weapon and an adjacent elongated area approximately 100 feet long, caused by drainoff of firefighting water.

Courtesy of

Regular readers may recall my interest in the Bomarc due to my father's involvement, so you may understand why this piqued my interest. I like the way they mention that "the high explosive did not detonate" as if anyone would give a shit. The thing carries a nuclear bomb! (I am presuming they are referring to the high explosive used to detonate the nuclear "device".) Of course if the big bomb went off there would be no covering it up.

Then there's the bit about the "high-pressure helium tank". Why would you even have such a thing? What possible use could there be? Are we blowing up balloons for the kiddies during show and tell? A little more digging turns up this on Tails Through Time:
The booster rocket of the missile used hypergolic fuels- red fuming nitric acid as an oxidant and aniline fuel that would spontaneously ignite when mixed. The fuels were stored on the missile for 90 days at a time. When a launch order was received, a helium tank on the missile would be pressurized to provide propellant tank pressurization for the booster rocket. It would take 15 seconds to pressurize the tank, during which time the Bomarc was raised to the vertical position for launch. At the end of each 90 day period, the missile would have to be defueled, decontaminated and then refueled. Pressurized helium would be used to empty the tanks to defuel them as well as in the refueling procedure.
Hypergolic just means that the fuel and oxidizer spontaneously combust when they are combined. Using the word and then explaining it is redundant, and annoying when you don't connect the two. "Red fuming nitric acid"? Regular old nitric acid isn't good enough, you need not just fuming acid, but red fuming acid? And what's this aniline fuel? This one isn't nearly so nasty, but it's still not what you would call pleasant.


An old science fiction story came to mind the other day. A group of astronauts had landed on Mars and discovered a series of what looked like stone igloos. They were in some sort of line stretching out for quite a distance. As you went along the line they got progressively bigger. Naturally, if you went the other way along the line they got progressively smaller until there was no evidence of any more. Each one these stone igloos was the same, except for each one being larger than it's predecessor. Also, the top was broken out every one, and the inside was empty. Eventually they came to the last one in the line. It was not finished. They found that it was inhabited by a large, slow moving, lumpish creature. They determined that the creature basically existed by eating the dirt and excreting bricks, which it stacked in circle around it until there was no place to put any more bricks, whereupon it would marshall its' forces, break out through the top of the igloo, move a few feet away and resume its' normal eating and building routine.

Sometimes I feel like that creature, living in my cave, putting up walls, keeping everyone out. Here I am, safe and secure in my suburban refuge. I wonder what it will take for me to bust out of here. Maybe building web sites will be the answer.

Product of the Day

Because Tam. That's why. Via People of the Gun and  North.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Older son and I saw the original Indiana Jones movie this evening at the Hollywood Theater. The action is non-stop, the jokes are frequent and the story is captivating. It's a great movie.

There were a couple of odd things I noticed this time. One was a fly crawling on Belloq's face (Belloq is Indie's nemesis). He didn't react to it, and it seemed to appear out of nowhere and disappear the same way. A little poking around on the internet turned up this tidbit:
When Belloq is yelling at Indy on the island from down in the canyon, you can see a fly crawling about his face. He doesn't flinch, nor does he make any attempt to shoo it. It eventually ends up in his mouth, and he still doesn't react. The actor actually ate the fly in order that there should not be another take, since they had shot that take many times already.
OK, that's one reason I wouldn't want to be an actor.

Another odd thing was during the fight scene at the flying wing. Marian manages to get herself locked in the cockpit of the aircraft. In the next scene she is in a machine gun turret. Now in a conventional bomber, that is, an aircraft with a large diameter fuselage, moving from one position to another can be done as a matter of course. But this aircraft doesn't appear to have any way to exit the cockpit besides through the canopy door. How did she do that? Does it matter? I mean, it's an imaginary plane in a fictional adventure. That's why we love Hollywood.

The Hollywood Theater had obtained a new print of this film, which I imagine cost somebody a couple of bucks. One site claims a print runs on the order of $2,000. I found one site that sells actual movie film, though it's only 16mm, not the 35mm that the big boys use. Given their pricing I figure the film is going to cost more like $5,000, and that's just for the film. Making the print and developing is going to cost more. Of course it probably makes a big difference how many copies you are going to make. I can imagine a single copy costing $10,000, whereas if you were going to make a thousand copies, it might be half that. No wonder they are trying to move to digital video recording and projection.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Happy Birthday to Me

Books, a toy, and more books. Could it be that passing the 250 pound mark triggered the arrival of the toy? Funny, I know I'm chubby, but I don't feel like 250 pounds. I mean people who weigh 250 pounds are BIG. I've got to do something about this.

Crime Dramas

We used to watch the television series Law & Order. You may know there are several flavors: the straight up vanilla Law & Order, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and, my favorite Law & Order: Criminal Intent with Goren and Eames. In these shows you generally start with a crime and then the cops interview several "persons of interest". Some of these "persons" appear to be straight arrows, but there are usually a couple who give you some little indication that they are not quite on the up and up. Your mission, Jim, should you choose to accept it, is to figure out which one of these characters is the guilty party. Sometimes it is more obvious than others.

Last fall we watched the series The Killing: Who Killed Rosie Larsen on Netflix. This is a little different. It starts with a crime, but we go through the entire season (13 episodes!) without finding out who dun it. The big difference though was the lack of clues. You see a character in one episode and they appear to honest, upright, law abiding citizens. Nothing in what they say or do, or how they say things gives you any indication that this is not the case. None of those subtle little indicators that we used to get in Law & Order. And then a little while later, maybe the same episode, maybe a later episode, you find out that they were lying through their teeth, so naturally you think they are guilty, but then even later you find out that whatever they were lying about has got nothing to do with case, or maybe it does . . . You see how this goes, they keep giving you clues, but never any proof. They just keep leaving you twisting in the wind.

We started watched Damages with Glenn Close this week, and it's following the same format as The Killing, one crime and then endless complications. In episode 6 Glenn Close has a bit of advice for her young protege which is "don't trust anybody". That would be good advice for the audience as well. Who knows what kind of switch-a-roos the writers are going to pull? Both Glenn Close's character and Ted Danson's character both start out as being good guys, but in short order are shown to be manipulative shit-heads. Looks like the fiance might be scumbag as well, but maybe not, maybe the other woman is crazy, or a hired assassin or maybe she is his long lost step sister from the war. Stay tuned for tomorrow's episode!

Battery Terminals

I cleaned the battery terminals on my truck today. First time I have done that since I don't know when. When I was a kid it was one of those fix-or-repair-daily kinda chores: buy a dollar's worth of gas, check the oil (it was always low), and scrape the crude off the battery terminals. The truck is 13 years old and on its' third battery. Back in olden times batteries died slow lingering deaths, kind of like cancer. You could do things to prolong their life like add water, put them on the charger, clean the terminals, or even replace the cable ends. But about 20 years ago or so something changed and a battery's demise became a matter of sudden death, like a heart attack. One moment it's fine and the next time you get in and turn the key it's dead. You can play around, get a jump, charge it, go through the motions, but it's not going to help. Face it, Jim, it's dead. Money might have something to do with it as well. Back in the good old days a battery cost a couple of days wages, so if you could get even another week or two out of a battery that was significant. Nowadays a battery costs, hmmm, well, they still cost a chunk of change, but it's more like half a day's wages. Or maybe it's just that I spent so much time fiddling with batteries that I just don't care any more. It's dead, Jim, get a new one.

Yesterday my truck was acting cranky. Normally you turn the key, the starter turns the engine over and it starts pretty much instantly. Yesterday it was cranking kind of slow and it actually took a couple of seconds to catch. Today was even worse. I had to give it some gas and keep the RPM's up around two grand to keep it running. This isn't right. Last time I had the hood open (when I got back from Denver I thought I should probably check the oil. 110K miles and the oil level is fine. I was shocked) I noticed that there was a bunch of corrosion around the positive battery terminal. Well, perhaps time has finally caught up with it. So I cleaned the terminals and drove to Cornelius to drop off a load of old computer stuff and now it seems fine.

Valuable! Arrggg! How can you forsake me?

Computer Drive Connection, Cornelius, Oregon
Computer Recycling

Quote of the Day

Why The UK Has No Lunar Programme

See, when the U.S. went to the to Moon, we could ground our electrical equipment and everything was tickety-boo. But the Brits? ...Let me put it as nicely as I can: on this planet, British electronic gear has to be Earthed.

Stolen entire from Roberta X.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Bumper Sticker of the Day

Yes, I realize it's not really a sticker, it was painted on the back of a dump truck that belongs to a paving company. I like the sentiment. Maybe it should be a bumper sticker.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

"They" who?

This was on a card that came in the mail the other day. It's from Obama and the Democrats. I'm trying to figure out what they are trying to say. Who is making progress? Who is stopping progress? Who is "they"? The Democrats? Or the Republicans? I'm so confused.

Quote of the Day

I don't like the sound of that law, "dealing while in possession of a handgun". I would rather see a law against "dealing while brandishing a weapon". If the perp hadn't pulled a weapon, it wasn't part of the crime. Just like having a checkbook and pen on you doesn't make you guilty of trying to write bad checks. Even if you have a whole carton of "mightier than the sword" pen ink refills in the back seat, in plain sight. - Brad K. in a comment on Tam's blog.
". . . a whole carton of refills . . .". OMG! Did you see what he had in the back seat of his car! He's got enough ink to write a friggin' book! Run and hide! He might write something, er, subversive, er, seditious, er, bad!

Presupposing of course that dealing is a crime. Well, dealing in certain prohibited substances is. You could argue that it shouldn't be a crime, but you'll have a long row to hoe to convince enough people to get that changed. Being as it is illegal is one good reason to carry a gun, I mean if someone tries to steal your stock, who are you going to complain to? The police? Your local capo, maybe, if you have one, but it's more likely he'll blame you for allowing yourself to get ripped off because you weren't carrying a gun. If dealing in these substances wasn't prohibited, he would have no more reason to carry a gun than, say, your average wrong-side-of-the-tracks convenience store owner.

Of course, in this case, he might have been carrying a gun because of his day job. Ain't that a bitch?

I knew a guy in Texas who spent several years working for the government because of a similar incident (carrying a gun while dealing, not being a corrections officer while dealing). He eventually straightened up and flew right, but then he was a little smarter than the average bear. In his case he might have avoided indentured servitude if he hadn't been carrying. Might have gotten ripped off, but that's generally better than going away.

War of the Arrows

Best Korean movie of 2011. Set during the 2nd Manchu invasion of Korea in 1636. Excellent. I, for one, am glad to see more archery in warfare and less sword fighting. Hollywood likes swordfights for their action and drama. They are thrilling, but they are basically stupid. Remember Agincourt? (Okay, you weren't there, but you have heard of it, right? If not, go read.) Remember the black cloud of arrows in 300? And our plucky heroine in The Hunger Games?

Some of the drama was a little much, but then I suppose it is an adequate stand-in for Korean incompetence during the invasion. I mean, criminently, the enemy is at the gates and everyone is standing around wondering what to do? With that kind of discipline they deserve to be enslaved.

The best parts are the running bowfights. There is one where we have a bunch of baddies chasing our hero through a forest. Straight, tall trees, minimal undergrowth, so there is no impediment to running, but with all the trees and everyone running, it is extremely difficult to get a clear shot. There is another where our hero has managed to jump a chasm, but the baddies have him pined down behind a rock. They cannot cross without exposing themselves to his shots, but he cannot shoot without exposing himself to theirs. But it takes time to knock another arrow after making a shot, so there is a brief window of opportunity after a fusillade where you can return fire.

I am not sure of the historical accuracy of some of the armor these guys were wearing. Chain mail in the 1600's in Korea? Could be, I suppose, and somebody went nuts with the brass studding, but hey, it could have been that way. Some of the close ups of archery techniques struck me as Hollywood-ish. I don't think there is any reason to twist the arrow and the bowstring once you have the bow at full draw, or pull a bit of the bowstring below the arrow another inch or two back, unless you want to show how impossibly strong your fingers are. I guess you have to give the movie makers some license, they did do a hell of job overall.

There was the "half-pounder", a chisel tipped arrow that weighed a half pound. I think the translation got a bit garbled here, probably doesn't weigh more than a couple of ounces. A fearsome missile in any case, if your were close enough to shoot it. There was also the whistling arrow, used to communicate on the battlefield. That was new to me.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


So I'm looking over the latest posts on Graham Hancock's website, and I come across one talking about "Mysterious Fairy Circles":
Walter Tschinkel may not have solved the mystery of the fairy circles, but he can tell you that they’re alive. Tens of thousands of the formations — bare patches of soil, 2 to 12 meters in diameter — freckle grasslands from southern Angola to northern South Africa, their perimeters often marked by a tall fringe of grass. Locals say they’re the footprints of the gods. Scientists have thrown their hands up in the air. But now Tschinkel, a biologist at Florida State University in Tallahassee, has discovered something no one else has.
Hmmm, somebody has figured out something new. Let's take a look, so I do and I see green grass:

Well, something like that ought to visible from a satellite, so I look up NamibRand Nature Reserve on Google Maps:

Area shown is about 75 miles by 50.

That doesn't look like grass, that looks like sand. I poke around for a bit and I find some scrub brush, but I don't find anything that looks like grass, so I complain to the author, who promptly replies with this useful tip: "zoom down to about 300 m eye altitude". Could that really be? But I do as I am bid, and the "fairy circles" do indeed appear:

Red grass. Hmmph. Where are we? Mars?

Update December 2016. Added this line so anyone searching for Namibia will find this post.
Update November 2021 replaced missing map.

100 Year Starship Project

Looks like someone has finally taken my advice and gotten serious about going to the stars. DARPA (US Defense Advanced Research Project Agency) has awarded a half million dollar grant to an outfit in the UK to figure out how to do it. They are looking at a 100 year timeline. Via Graham Hancock.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Mystery Lights

From I Love effing Science. (I'm sorry, I still think curse words are for anger, or at least irritation, not just for emphasis, at least not in public.) Anyway, what's with the lights between Norway and Great Britain? Are those all oil rigs? Or aliens? Google shows nothing. Wikipedia shows how the North Sea oil has been carved up:

There are over a hundred active rigs in the area, and another couple dozen inactive ones.

Road to Riches

California Bob writes:
I always thought that saving pieces of string and old milk cartons was the way to get rich,  but I have been dragged away from the notion that wealth is achieved through frugality.

As I told Andy, if an ascetic lifestyle was the path to riches, then Bangladesh would be the richest country on earth.  The recent experiences with austerity programs sort of support that theme.

Be careful about being penny wise and pound foolish.  If you can get an ounce of gold for $100, don't refuse it because they make you pay $100 for the shopping bag.  Another way of putting it: don't turn down a tenfold increase in revenue just because you have to take a 1% increase in taxes (Grover Norquist, I'm looking in your direction).

Then I came across this quote by Keynes (arguing for stimulus programs): "The engine which drives Enterprise is not thrift, but profit.  Were the seven wonders of the world built by thrift?   I doubt it."

Now I still believe in thrift but it is a secondary issue of wealth management, not a driver of wealth creation.  I guess the best strategy is to invest yourself into a wealth-creating activities or environments, then practice thrift within that context.  End of transmission.
Oh, wait! There's another message coming in over the ether:
Thrift is a LOT of fun.  Some of my life's greatest triumphs (solely in a qualitative sense) were in thrift stores, on Craigslist, etc.

Plus, thrift gives you absolute control -- you know that soda can you found is worth 3 cents cash, you don't have to guess whether the market is accurately valuing the soda can, or whether the soda can's management is lying about their revenue recognition. Moreover, thrift generally gives you a ton of margin -- that espresso machine you get for $10 at the thrift shop, and sell for $80 on eBay, gives you 800% return, vs. trying to sweat out 4% gains on GE shares.

But the nominal values are, of course, pretty meaningless.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Quote of the Day

Romney, Obama -- they're different faces of the same guy. Oh, their masks wear different shades of lip gloss but they're both gleefully shoveling tomorrow's babies into the fire to fuel the engines of bread, circuses and power for the sake of power and they don't realize -- or care -- how near the precipice they dance or how far the fall will be, just as long as they can keep on keepin' on. After all, the Feds have been dancing on the brink for a long, long time, and they've never fallen over it yet. Never, ever happen, right up unti-- Whups! - Roberta X

World Affairs

Tam points at Miss D, and Miss D points at Toomas Hendrik Ilves, President of Estonia. I tried to read Mr. Hendrik's essay, but it is a little long, and I gave up near the end. I think I got the gist of it. Times, they are a changin'.

P.S. I'm reading more of On a Wind and a Whim and Miss D mentions Smyrna. That name sounds familiar, where have I heard it before? Miss D is talking about Smyrna, Tennessee, but there is also a Smyrna, Turkey, now called Izmir.