Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest
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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Pic of the Day

April 2013. Zubr hovercraft being loaded in the Ukraine for transport to China.

How did milk help found Western civilization?

A fine story that raises as many questions as it answers. Via Roberta X. I included the banner at the top because I like to see people putting money into things I approve of, Statoil is a Norwegian company and I've been hearing a lot of good things about Norway lately (including an anti-anti-biotic program), and well, younger son is headed over there looking for work soon, and Statoil is one of the big drivers in employment.

Monday, April 29, 2013


1895 Montparnasse Station, Paris, France

A Study of the Subject from the Point of View of the Executive Office
By C.H. Allison
National Magazine, April, 1905

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Space Indians

ISRO Flight Suit Engineering Model

ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization) has a Facebook page. They have some cool pictures. I like it much better than the sanitized-for-your-protection stuff that NASA puts out.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Swords, Sorcery, Politics, & Tunes

Hungry Lucy - We Won't Go

Last week we watched House of Cards with Kevin Spacey, a really fine show. Frank is everything, I mean everything, you expect of a US Congressman. This week we watched the first season of Game of Thrones. Basically the same story, political intrigue, lots of literal and figurative eff-ing. It looks like it is set in the middle ages, i.e. a thousand years ago, but there are a few elements that do not quite jibe, which means it was tens of thousands of years ago, or several light years away, or everything we know about our history is wrong. I am going with the last one, as that seems to be the one thing you can depend on. Anyway, after watching the show all week, this tune started running in the back of my mind. It took me a while to recall just what is was, but after I found it I spent an hour listening to her.

The Commuting Life

California Bob reports:

I am now using mass transit to get to work.  Using transit kind of imposes a whole framework on your day, because it greatly reduces your flexibility, and puts you into a helpless hurry-up-and-wait mode.  But I've used transit heavily in the past so the adjustment hasn't been too shocking.

It's one of those liberating things, in the way that jail can be liberating, because once you accept the constraints, it allows (forces) you to abandon all sorts of other options and activities.

One neat advantage to my commute is that my office is right on the F streetcar line.  The F line runs up and down the Embarcadero, an historic and touristy strip, and they run all these old-timey, vintage, antique and exotic streetcars (not to be confused with the famous cable cars).  Today I rode a 1928 Peter Witt, designed/built in Cleveland, though this one came from Italy.  It still has the Italian signs inside -- "no fumare," "uscito..."  Note the functioning windows, wooden doors, glass globes on the interior lights, etc.

The most bizarre car I've seen is the Blackpool, an open-top boat shaped thing -- I hope to ride it.

Here's a roster of what runs on the F line.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Police Procedural

'This is an error which is repeated over and over again and which has ruined hundreds of important investigations. The police get hold of what they think are definite facts. These point in a certain direction. And the whole search is directed in that particular direction. All other views are stifled or thrown overboard. Just because what lies nearest to hand is usually right, one acts as it this were always so. The world is seething with criminals who have got away with it because of this doctrinaire way of thinking by the police. Supposing someone finds Olofsson now, at this very moment. He's perhaps sitting outside a restaurant in Paris, or on a hotel balcony in Spain or Morocco. Perhaps he can prove that he's been sitting there for two months. Where do we stand then?'
    'Do you mean that we should simply say to hell with Olofsson?' asked Kohlberg.
    'Not at all. Malm was dangerous to him and he knew that the moment Malm was nabbed. So he's the one who's nearest to hand. There is every reason in the world to try to find him. But we ignore the possibility that he may prove to be quite useless for our case, the fire. If it turns out that he just peddled drugs and put false numbers on a few cars, then we're no further on at all. On the contrary, that's a matter which has nothing to do with us at all.'
    'It'll be jolly peculiar if Olofsson's not mixed up in this at all.'
    'True. But peculiar things happen occasionally. That Malm killed himself at the same time as someone tried to murder him, is, for example, a very peculiar coincidence. It foxed me, too, at the scene of the crime. Another peculiarity which clearly no one has thought about, is the following: in will soon be three weeks since the fire and no one has either seen or heard from Olofsson during that time, which has caused certain people to draw certain conclusions, but it is still no less a fact that neither, as far as we know, had anyone had any contact with Olofsson for a whole month before the fire.' - The Fire Engine That Disappeared by Slowall & Wahloo, chapter 18.

I thought this was a well written passage.We have one person attempting to explain a possible flaw in their logic and another person persisting in misinterpreting it. Very realistic, and one of the reasons I tend to avoid people.

Tall Cars, Part 2

Once upon a time I drove a Corvette from Austin to Denver to go skiing. Our route took us on a two lane blacktop across Northern New Mexico. The road went over a series of small hills, or rather it went across a plain that was cut by multiple gullies and the road would dip down to cross the bottom of the gully. The hills between the gullies had gently rounded tops. How far you could see down the road depended on how high above the road you were and whether there were any cars coming or not. If there were cars coming, the tops of the cars would stick up above the crest of hill and you could see them. If there weren't any cars coming you couldn't see beyond the crest, and since you couldn't see beyond the crest you didn't know whether the road took a sudden dive just beyond the crest or not. If it did take a dive, there could be a whole army of cars just beyond the crest of the road and they could appear just about time you tried to pass the car in front of you. So even though I was driving a Corvette, the largest and mostly powerful handcar in the world, I wasn't feeling lucky, so I stayed in my lane and plodded along behind the truckers and the tourists and all the other citizens meandering their way across this God-forsaken part of the world. And that's why I shouldn't like short cars.

Tall Cars

Came across this picture on Dustbury. My bible fu is weak, so I had to go look this up, and here's what I found:
And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around.
Whoa! They had rims back in the old days? So I read the whole passage, and, yeah, verily, the old dude is talking about wheels, man, but no, he's not talking about cars or even any kind of wagon. It's one of them "vision" things.

Now this kind of car might be impractical six ways from Sunday, but it does have one advantage and that is it gives you an elevated driving position. Never mind that 99% of the drivers don't look any farther ahead than the bumper three feet in front of them. If you want to stay out of trouble and minimize changes in your velocity, you need to look farther ahead, and that's where an elevated position comes in handy.

Meanwhile back at the fuel pump, everyone is more concerned with mileage, which means smaller, lower cars. Now you could raise your car bodily up in the air, much like our example here, and that would improve your viewpoint, but the mechanical drivetrain is still on the down low, exposed to the wind, increasing your drag, and impacting your mileage.

If you were determined, you would could revise the drive train so that it was not such a wind blocker, either by using a chain drive like a motorcycle, or putting electric motors inside the wheels. Might want to do something about the style. Or not. I kind of like older cars.

I don't quite understand why we can see through the rims on this side of the car, but not on the other, unless ... unless he has different rims on the other side. But why would you do that? Don't mind me, I'll just go back to my tea.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

How old was Audrey?

Old enough to have saved this picture from The Des Moines Sunday Register. March 10, 1935.


The coffin of the late Syrian Defense Minister Daoud Rajha at Cross Church in Damascus July 20, 2012.  REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri

The subject of funerals has been in the back of my mind for a while, and just now I opened a letter from some cremation service. Hmmmph. Don't need that, at least not today. My parents, being parsimonious and not particularly religious (can you say ardent atheist?), thought conventional funerals were an unnecessary extravagance. Over on Military Photos dot net I see a fair number of memorial ceremonies. I don't really understand them. I suppose it's a chance to see people you don't normally see, which is good, but nobody ever says that.
    A long time ago I heard about a religious sect (the Parsi in India) who built hollow stone towers. They would put the bodies of their dead inside and close the door. Vultures would come in through the open roof and devour the dead. I thought it was a particularly gruesome way of getting rid of a body.
    Embalming seems silly. I mean, why are you trying to preserve the body? Is someone going to have some use for it in the future? I doubt it. You are interrupting the natural order of things.Cremation used to seem like a good way to go, until we got into all this global warming business, which I am not too concerned about, but how much fuel does it take to incinerate a body? And what's the point? Earthworms can do the same job for free.
    Recently I heard about green burials, which basically means putting the body in a gunny sack and dropping it in a hole in the ground. Saves land because the hole is only a couple feet in diameter, and the site could be reused eventually. I would think a hundred years would be long enough to allow the body  to decompose and people to recover from their grief. The bones would still be there though.
    Deer drop their antlers every year and grow new ones. Antlers seem to be made of durable material, I mean we use it for knife handles and the like, so where are all the old antlers? Why isn't the forest floor covered with antlers a hundred feet deep? Because somebody is eating them, that's why. Calcium is the basic element in antlers, so if the deer are going to grow new antlers, they are going to need to take in a large amount of calcium. I don't know how the old antlers get broken down and back into the deer, but it seems to be happening.
    Which brings up the theory on how to get rid of a dead body: you leave it out in the woods somewhere. It needs to far enough from any human habitation that the smell won't be noticed, but leave it out there for a few years and there won't be any evidence that there was ever a body there.
   Which brings us back to the Parsis. Maybe they were onto something. Build one stone tower and you have an eternal method of disposing of bodies. Or maybe not.

Upsetting NASCAR News

NASCAR penalized a winning race team after a post race inspection found a technical violation of the minimum weight specification of an internal engine part. But that's not the upsetting news. The upsetting news is that the winning car was a Toyota Camry! Horrors! Sacriledge! Who let these pagans into the temple? Evidently I haven't been following NASCAR too closely.
    I have gone to a few car races and they were great fun. There is nothing like the roar of high performance engines running at full throttle, especially while consuming vast quantities of your favorite refreshing beverage, and then shouting yourself hoarse. But like all forms of commercial entertainment and professional sports exhibitions  it's expensive, so some time ago after I got thoroughly engaged in this raising a family business, I gave it up.

Via Iowa Andy, who's not in Kansas anymore.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Education, Work and Elephants

I am really tired of hearing about problems in education. There seems to be no end of complaints. Teachers don't get paid enough, children don't learn enough, college is too expensive, college graduates cannot find jobs, etc., etc., etc.
    My opinion should be taken with a grain of salt as I seem to be somewhere out on the fringe. In some respects I consider myself fairly average, but in other ways maybe not so much.
    I am pretty sure the problems that are being attributed to schools are more likely problems with our society.
    As near as I can tell, kindergarten is the most important class. That's where kids learn to mind their manners. Well, some of them anyway. Elementary school is important for our society because that's where kids learn to read. After that, well, it's pretty much optional. Some people go on to high school and learn things and some go on to high school and do not. I think high school tries to prepare people to be survive in the real world and hopefully be good citizens, but that's a difficult task for teachers and students alike, and not all students are ready, willing and able to absorb these lessons.
    A liberal arts college education has been getting a lot bad press lately as it is no longer a guarantee of a"good" job. As near as I can tell, the main purpose of a liberal arts education is to maintain our civilization. There is a great deal more involved in a maintaining a civilized society than acquiring a surfeit of arcane scientific or engineering knowledge. People are the most complicated constructs on the planet and all of our scientific knowledge has barely scratched the surface. Culture and liberal arts is basically the study of the behavior of human beings and how they interact with each other, and this study can often provide illuminating insights into how people work. It is on a completely different level than math or science but it is no less valuable.
    Many, if not most, of the jobs in our society are not particularly interesting. Many are boring, menial and repetitive. For many people, if the pay and benefits are adequate, that is enough. Then there are jobs that keep you busy. I know many of the cashiers at the local grocery store like it better when they are busy. Standing around waiting for something to do can be boring, and boredom is the enemy of happiness and the father of mischief.
    Once upon a time I heard that when you ask Americans what they do, they tell you about their job, whereas if you ask a Brit they will tell you about their hobby. I think this is where a liberal arts degree can be a benefit. You may have a boring, tedious job, but an education would have exposed you to a larger world, so you might find something to occupy your mind, I mean besides, sex, drugs and rock & roll.
    My three kids have all graduated from the University of Oregon with liberal arts degrees. Being a gearhead of the first order I was a little surprised that none of them were interested in science or engineering. Perhaps it was my gruff behavior or ranting about employers that turned them off, or perhaps it was just their natural inclination. They have all found jobs, though none of them are what you could call "good" jobs. Dutiful daughter is working on web pages for an American company from her apartment in Buenos Aires. While the pay is not spectacular, it is is several times what she was offered by local businesses, if they even made her an offer.
    Younger son tells us that going rate for day laborers in Norway is $50 or $60 an hour, which would be enough to keep even me happy. Unfortunately, prices are correspondingly higher, roughly four times what they are here in the USA. A six pack of beer is $30, a perfectly ordinary house is a million dollars, so it's debatable whether you would actually come out ahead. He is going to try and so has bought a airline ticket back to Bergen. I am trying to convince older son to start an elephant ranch in Africa. So far the idea hasn't generated any interest.
    A while back some people decided that the trade in elephant ivory was threatening elephants with extinction, so they decided to put a ban on the ivory trade. This may have slowed down the poachers, but there seems to have been a resurgance: last year 25,000 elephants were slaughtered for their ivory. I am thinking we really need to rescind the ban on ivory trading and put a Texan in charge of the whole elephant / ivory business. Run it like a cattle ranch. Harvest (kill) a number of elephants each year, butcher them for the meat and ivory, sell it at auction on the open market. Run a real anti-poaching patrol. Someone who had a vested interest in maintaining the herd would want to make sure no one was rustling his "cattle". Of course there is old problem of "this is Africa", and so it might not work, and might make things worse, but I think it would be worth a shot.

Quote of the Day. Or not.

But I since I run one of these blog deals that all the kids are into these days, my opinion matters more than yours does. - Christopher Johnson @ Midwest Conservative Journal
And that goes double for me. Via Dustbury.


Younger son spent last fall in Norway learning to speak Norwegian. Scandinavian languages are kind of funny. Seems that they are all very similar, but the variations between languages and even between different local dialects of the same language are enough to make them incomprehensible to even native speakers. Looking at the geography of Norway this is understandable. Most of the settlements are on along the coast and are isolated by rocky, frigid, mountainous terrain. It is no wonder that such places develop their own local dialect.
    I'm reading The Fire Engine That Disappeared, a Swedish murder mystery by Sjowall & Wahloo, and I came across this passage:
    That the Swedes and Danes understand each other's languages with the minimum of effort is a truth which over the years has been carefully cherished at high levels in both countries. But this is often a truth with provisos, and even more often something more serious, a case of wishful thinking, for instance, or an illusion. Or to put it bluntly, a lie.
    Two of the many victims of this wishful thinking were Hammar and a prominent Danish criminologist, who had known each other for many years and often met up at police conferences. They were good friends and each used to make highfalutin statements on how they had each mastered the other's language with the greatest of ease, which any other normal Scandinavian ought to be able to do, a sarcastic addendum they seldom neglected to make.
    This was so until, after a decade of hobnobbing at conferences and other high-level meetings, they met for a weekend at Hammar's country cottage, when it turned out that they could not even communicate with each other on the simplest every day matters. When the Dane asked to borrow a map, Hammar went and fetched a photograph of himself, and then it was all over. Part of their universe had collapsed and after celebrating formal orgies of foolish misunderstandings for a few hours, they went over to speaking English and discovered that they did not really like each other at all.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Landslide @ Bingham Canyon Copper Mine

April 10, 2013. Photo from Kennecot Utah Copper.

Another IMPORTANT news story that was totally unreported by the big wigs. It's taken almost two weeks to wind it's way to me. Nobody hurt is why. The mining company had monitoring equipment that warned them of impending doom and they shut down operations the day before. The size of the landslide surprised them and buried some equipment. Mine is run by the Rio Tinto company out of Australia. Mine workers were "asked" to take a leave of absence until damage is repaired. Seems to me that repairing the damage is going to be a whole lot like mining as usual, i.e. lots of digging and hauling, so I expect the worker bees will only be out of work until the dirt nerds work out a plan. This is in Utah which is Mormon country, which means this is probably a right-to-work state, which is why we haven't heard from the Union. Mormons are a little odd (to quote W.C. Fields "never trust a man who doesn't drink") but they have a number of good qualities, like being hard workers, so the mine company couldn't ask for a better location. On the other hand I expect someone to concoct a lawsuit based on not being informed of the impending doom and it's impact on the price of the company's stock.

It's a big mine. It produces 1% of the world's copper, or at least it did. Mining and agriculture are similar in that they both suffer from over-production. Farmer has a bumper crop, so does everyone else, there's a glut on the market and price of whatever it is falls through the floor and the farmer goes broke. Same thing with mining. Miner goes into mining because there is a demand for a metal. If he makes a big strike and starts producing more metal the price falls and his vision of riches vanish. So this landslide could be a blessing for the copper industry.

I was at Home Depot looking at copper pipe a couple of years ago and the guy on the floor was telling me that you could probably get more for copper pipe at the scrap yard than Home Depot was charging for it. i.e. You could make money by buying copper pipe at Home Depot and taking it across town to the scrap yard to sell it. I didn't try it, I didn't even look into it. It seemed like sacrilege to me. Besides the price difference was probably only a few cents a pound, so it would have taken a sizable cash outlay to make it a worthwhile endeavor.

Via Tam.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Secure E-mail

Somebody was complaining the other day about getting E-mail from utilities saying their bill was due, but they did not tell them him the amount. I thought it was Dustbury, but I couldn't find the post, so maybe it was someone else. I get notices from Blue Cross all the time telling me that there is a new message for me on their website. That's all the notice says, and if I go to the website, all that message says is that they paid some medical bill, or didn't, and I have to go to another page to see how much they paid or didn't. At least I recall that's how it works. I don't even bother any more since if I owe one of these guys some money, they can be counted on to send me a bill on paper. Likewise American Express sends me a note every month telling me that I have a new bill, but I have to go to some other site and download the PDF file to see what's on it. If this is what the paperless solution looks like, it sucks. I am going to stick to paper as much as I can.
    What we really need is some kind of secure E-mail. That way you get the what you need directly instead of having to jump through a bunch of hoops like a trained circus animal. There was an outfit here that developed a solution for medical offices, but it looks like they have been swamped by competitors. I didn't find them on Google. There is an open source program called PGP (Pretty Good Protection). I tried it once and it seemed to work okay, but you have to install it on your computer and everyone you want to communicate with has to install it on theirs. Not quite ubiquitous. Several big someones are going to have to decide it's worthwhile and push it out into the market all at once for it to ever become common. One big player that could influence this would be the DoD (Department of Defense), but they would probably want a back door into the encryption scheme, which would make it unpalatable to all the true believers.

Sunday Funnies

Since I am on psychological bent this morning, let me suggest today's Baby Blues which highlights the difference between men and women, and Adam @ Home, which implicates coffee in women's quest for world domination.

Geek Humor

The Jargon File's online rendition uses an unusually large number of special characters. This test page lists them so you can check what your browser does with each one.
αgreek character alpha
κgreek character kappa
λgreek character lambda
Λgreek character Lambda
νgreek character nu
οgreek character omicron
πgreek character pi
£pound sterling
left angle bracket
right angle bracket
æae ligature
ßGerman sharp-s sign
similarity sign
empty set (used for APL null)
µmicro quantifier sign
right arrow
horizontal double arrow
trademark symbol
®registered-trademark symbol
´acute accent
·medial dot
We normally test with the latest build of Mozilla. If some of the special characters above look wrong, your browser has bugs in its standards-conformance and you should replace it.

From The Jargon Files. I don't know what's showing up on your screen, but here the "left angle bracket" and the "right angle bracket" both show up as little rectangles, and I am using Google's Chrome on an old Windows XP machine. I find the last sentence hilarious.

Weaknesses of the Hacker Personality

    Hackers have relatively little ability to identify emotionally with other people. This may be because hackers generally aren't much like ‘other people’. Unsurprisingly, hackers also tend towards self-absorption, intellectual arrogance, and impatience with people and tasks perceived to be wasting their time.
    As cynical as hackers sometimes wax about the amount of idiocy in the world, they tend by reflex to assume that everyone is as rational, ‘cool’, and imaginative as they consider themselves. This bias often contributes to weakness in communication skills. Hackers tend to be especially poor at confrontation and negotiation.
    Another weakness of the hacker personality is a perverse tendancy to attack all problems from the most technically complicated angle, just because it may mean more interesting problems to solve, or cooler toys to play with. Hackers sometimes have trouble grokking that the bubble gum and paperclip hardware fix is actually the way to go, and that they really don't need to convince the client to buy that shiny new tool they've had your eye on for two months.
    Because of their passionate embrace of (what they consider to be) the Right Thing, hackers can be unfortunately intolerant and bigoted on technical issues, in marked contrast to their general spirit of camaraderie and tolerance of alternative viewpoints otherwise. Old-time ITS partisans look down on the ever-growing hordes of Unix and Linux hackers; Unix aficionados despise VMS and Windows; and hackers who are used to conventional command-line user interfaces loudly loathe mouse-and-menu based systems such as the Macintosh. Hackers who don't indulge in Usenet consider it a huge waste of time and bandwidth; fans of old adventure games such as ADVENT and Zork consider MUDs to be glorified chat systems devoid of atmosphere or interesting puzzles; hackers who are willing to devote endless hours to Usenet or MUDs consider IRC to be a real waste of time; IRCies think MUDs might be okay if there weren't all those silly puzzles in the way. And, of course, there are the perennial holy wars — EMACS vs. vibig-endian vs. little-endian, RISC vs. CISC, etc., etc., etc. As in society at large, the intensity and duration of these debates is usually inversely proportional to the number of objective, factual arguments available to buttress any position.
    As a result of all the above traits, many hackers have difficulty maintaining stable relationships. At worst, they can produce the classic geek: withdrawn, relationally incompetent, sexually frustrated, and desperately unhappy when not submerged in his or her craft. Fortunately, this extreme is far less common than mainstream folklore paints it — but almost all hackers will recognize something of themselves in the unflattering paragraphs above.
    Hackers are often monumentally disorganized and sloppy about dealing with the physical world. Bills don't get paid on time, clutter piles up to incredible heights in homes and offices, and minor maintenance tasks get deferred indefinitely.
    1994-95's fad behavioral disease was a syndrome called Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), supposedly characterized by (among other things) a combination of short attention span with an ability to ‘hyperfocus’ imaginatively on interesting tasks. In 1998-1999 another syndrome that is said to overlap with many hacker traits entered popular awareness: Asperger's syndrome (AS). This disorder is also sometimes called ‘high-function autism’, though researchers are divided on whether AS is in fact a mild form of autism or a distinct syndrome with a different etiology. AS patients exhibit mild to severe deficits in interpreting facial and body-language cues and in modeling or empathizing with others' emotions. Though some AS patients exhibit mild retardation, others compensate for their deficits with high intelligence and analytical ability, and frequently seek out technical fields where problem-solving abilities are at a premium and people skills are relatively unimportant. Both syndromes are thought to relate to abnormalities in neurotransmitter chemistry, especially the brain's processing of serotonin.
    Many hackers have noticed that mainstream culture has shown a tendency to pathologize and medicalize normal variations in personality, especially those variations that make life more complicated for authority figures and conformists. Thus, hackers aware of the issue tend to be among those questioning whether ADD and AS actually exist; and if so whether they are really ‘diseases’ rather than extremes of a normal genetic variation like having freckles or being able to taste DPT. In either case, they have a sneaking tendency to wonder if these syndromes are over-diagnosed and over-treated. After all, people in authority will always be inconvenienced by schoolchildren or workers or citizens who are prickly, intelligent individualists — thus, any social system that depends on authority relationships will tend to helpfully ostracize and therapize and drug such ‘abnormal’ people until they are properly docile and stupid and ‘well-socialized’.
    So hackers tend to believe they have good reason for skepticism about clinical explanations of the hacker personality. That being said, most would also concede that some hacker traits coincide with indicators for non-hyperactive ADD and AS — the status of caffeine as a hacker beverage of choice may be connected to the fact that it bonds to the same neural receptors as Ritalin, the drug most commonly prescribed for ADD. It is probably true that boosters of both would find a rather higher rate of clinical ADD among hackers than the supposedly mainstream-normal 3-5% (AS is rarer at 0.4-0.5%).
This explains a lot. From The Jargon File via a comment on one of Roberta X's posts.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Regular Expressions

Scott sent me a link to a list of movies, and I go look at it because I like movies, but I don't like the list. They've formatted it with all kinds of extraneous nonsense, so I decide to copy the data into a spreadsheet because, well, because I wanna. And you can't stop me.

Once I do the original copy and paste I have one column of data. The cells in the this column alternate between the title and description. How can I get them into two columns without cutting and pasting them individually? Hmmm. I screw around for a bit, and then I hit on scheme. Insert an extra row at the top. Copy Column A, starting at the second row, and then paste into Column B, starting at row 1. Now each title in Column A is followed by it's description in Column B. The descriptions in Column A are followed by the wrong title in Column B. We need to eliminate them. How do we do that? I notice that the titles are preceded by numbers, so we simply sort the sheet by the data in Column A. This puts all the titles at the top (since they all start with numbers) and all the mismatched data at the bottom, where we can easily delete it.

So we've gotten the basic transfer and layout done, but now we need to do a little trimming. We could do it by hand, but that's tedious, and why spend 15 minutes cutting and pasting when we can spend hours figuring out how to do it automatically? Funny how the mind works.

I looked at the available functions, and it looks like I am going to need to use some kind of Regular Expression. I don't like Regular Expressions [tm]. They are the worst kind of cryptic mumbo-jumbo. They are even worse than AEDIT macros, and those can be pretty bad. I know, I've been there. But that's what's in the toolbox here, so let's see if we can make it work.

In short order I was able to come up with an expression to extract the order number from the title, but then I couldn't use the order number as number. When I tried to sort the spreadsheet by these numbers, it treated them like letters, which meant that while 1 was in row one, 10 was in row two, 11 was in row three and 2 was way down in row twelve. I tried different formatting options but nothing seemed to work. I finally posted a question on the Forum and in short order I got a couple of answers, both of which struck me as bizarre overkill for what I was trying to do, but I did pick up on the VALUE function, which converts a string of digits to a number. It does not change the appearance of the data one whit, but it changes it's behavior. Why the formatting controls could not do this is one of the reasons I hate computers.

So now I have a (somewhat tenuous) grip on Regular Expressions and I muck around a bit more with extracting numeric data from the text. I spend a little more time extracting some text by hand. I could have done some of it with more Regular Expressions, but I have had enough, and this portion was not onerous, and presto! We have a nice spreadsheet with all 50 movies, with titles, descriptions and other fun data. The first sheet has the extracted data. The second sheet has all the horrible Regular Expressions. You know, just in case you are curious.

As for the movies on the list, well, the only one that struck me as a great film was The Big Lebowski. There were a few films I remembered specifically not liking, like Reservoir Dogs and The Shining. Not that they were bad films, I just didn't like them. Most of the others are so old I couldn't tell you whether I have seen them or not. The titles sound familiar, but I really can't remember the stories.

Someone who was really ambitious could probably write a script to look up the title on IMDB, find the year the movie was released and add it to the spreadsheet. I'm not that ambitious. At least not today.


"Worst of all from this point of view are those more uncivilized forms of eating, like licking an ice cream cone--a catlike activity that has been made acceptable in informal America but that still offends those who know eating in public is offensive. ... Eating on the street--even when undertaken, say, because one is between appointments and has no other time to eat--displays [a] lack of self-control: It beckons enslavement to the belly. ... Lacking utensils for cutting and lifting to mouth, he will often be seen using his teeth for tearing off chewable portions, just like any animal. ... This doglike feeding, if one must engage in it, ought to be kept from public view, where, even if we feel no shame, others are compelled to witness our shameful behavior." - attributed to Leon Kass by Wikipedia.
People are funny. Some people are repulsed by the littlest things (ice cream licking, you're kidding, right?), others by almost nothing. ("I never let the little things bother me", said by Nikita after the cleaner shoots her hysterical partner.) I think that's how the Victorians developed their ridiculously stringent standards for public behavior. I mean you can never tell when some unconscious  habitual action of yours is going to turn someone else's stomach and queer a business deal or even start a war.

There's something similar going on with sexual attraction. Haruki Murakami in Sputnik Sweetheart:
"Sexual desire's not something you understand," I said, giving my usual middle-of-the-road opinion. "It's just there."
 It's common knowledge that men are attracted to young women and there is a good biological, evolutionary reason for that. What I find odd is that some men are attracted to very young women, typically under the age of consent. Women's faces change as they mature and what some men call attractive I call children, because their faces have not grown up. Basically we call it a perversion and forbid any such relationships.

Prompted by a post from Marcel.

Friday, April 19, 2013

How to Learn a Foreign Language

Just now heard someone talking in what sounded like a foreign language. It may have just been strongly accented English, but it was odd enough that I could not understand it. It was not a real person talking though, it was a video game someone was playing.
    In Neal Stephenson's REAMDE, playing a video game is one of the main occupation of some of the characters, and using a particular video game to transfer real money around the world was an essential plot device. Also in this book, Zula (one of the main characters) spends a great deal of time as a guest of some not-very-nice people, and by continued exposure to them she is able to pick up enough of their language to know what they are talking about, at least generally.
    My wife has just acquired a smart phone (A.K.A. magic elf box, thank you Tam) that has a voice to text capability, and it actually seems to produce reasonably accurate transcriptions.
    Put this all together and you get a video game in a foreign language, where learning the language allows you to communicate with other players. If it was a real language native speakers would have an unfair advantage, unless you could find a language that was spoken only by people who don't have computers, if there are any such people anywhere anymore. The Amish, maybe.
    You could use an artificial language. There's Esperanto, which seems to have been a continuous failure for eons, but maybe this is just what it needs. There's Klingon, but all the grunting and guttering involved might put people off, not to mention, eeww, Trekkies. Seems I heard that someone came up with another easy-to-learn language recently. That might be the ticket.
    What if you spent so much time playing this game that you forgot how to speak your native tongue? That would be weird. Then you could only talk to people in your game world.

Murder, Mayhem and Drugs

A post by Bayou Renaissance Man prompted a post by Dustbury, which has prompted me to put up this one. The line that got me was: Forbidding murder does not prevent it. I am all for legalizing drugs because forbidding them isn't working. Does thing mean we should also legalize murder?
    I knew a guy once who said there should only be one law and that law should be "thou shalt not pollute". Everything else passes, but pollution can hang around for generations.
    Legalizing murder could cause an increase in the murder rate, but it would also lead to more revenge killings, and people banding together to form self protection societies, who would hire armed guards to remove anyone who threatened them, which is basically where we are now, several tens of generations later.
    The difference is that murder involves another person, while drugs are an individual thing. Forcing someone to take drugs, while it might come up occasionally  isn't the main problem. No, the anti-drug laws go right along with the anti-gun laws: I don't like it, so YOU shouldn't do it. Democracy in action. Sometimes it really sucks.


A post by E.B. Misfit prompted me to recall the great Ammonia Truck Explosion of 1976 in Houston, Texas. I used to pass that Pearl Beer sign on the way to work every morning.

View April 2013 in a larger map

The blue line is the route the ammonia truck took, heading North and taking the exit from 610 onto the Southwest Freeway heading West, except it didn't make it. I was working in the same building as Gilbert Plumbing (the green square) and I remember hearing the great big boom. Fortunately the wind was blowing away from me. It was a big deal when it happened. People died, people injured, freeway damaged. I remember hearing that the ammonia peeled the paint on a bunch of houses to the North East of the accident.
And then there was the giant storage tank we came across in Iowa some years ago. As I recall we were on our way from Rockwell City to Sioux City, but for some reason we weren't taking the normal route. At one of the crossroads there was a giant circular storage tank. In my mind's eye it was 500 feet in diameter and a hundred feet tall, and it was full of something dangerously unpleasant, like ammonia or fertilizer or natural gas. I can't recall exactly, it was a long time ago. But it was so weird seeing this mammoth tank out in the middle of nowhere. Of course it makes sense to put it out there, I mean these things are dangerous, and you would not want to be around if it blew up. I went looking for it using Google and Google Maps, but no luck so far. Of course, I could be way off. Or it might have blown up, though I think I would have heard about it.

Update March 2016. Replaced 'red line' with 'blue line' on account of Google Maps changing the color of the line on the map without consulting me. Hmmph.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Kashmir Gun Shops

Always interesting to see inside somebody else's shop.

Ghost in the Machine

South Carolina, April 12, 2013. Maj. Jeff Beckham performs preflight checks on his F-16 at McEntire Joint National Guard Base. National Guard photo by Jorge Intriago.

Notice what looks like someone spilled a little liquid on the bottom center of the photo, the faint white stream that looks like it is pouring out of the air intake of this jet fighter. I thought it was a little odd; perhaps there is some cryogenic system on board that is venting some gas, and the engine isn't running yet, so it's flowing out and onto the ground. I inquired and got back this reply:
That's the engine intake vortex caused by condensation (water vapor). - Indianatheart 
Reminds me of some pictures of jets with visible vortexs coming off the wing tips.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Boston Marathon Bombing

OK, don't jump to any conclusions, we don't know who did it. It probably isn't who you think it was. Where's the fun in that? If I didn't jump to conclusions I wouldn't get any exercise at all. (Aren't you ashamed of yourself making jokes in the face of such a tragedy? Well, yes, but some people react poorly under pressure.)
    Anyway, I blame Al Qaeda. Why? Because I really don't like them, they've pulled this kind of shit before and because on the same day they set off a whole batch of bombs in Iraq that killed 55 people. Coordinated bombings seem to be one of their trademarks.
    Also I just finished reading Neal Stephenson's REAMDE, which is all about terrorists and terrorism:

P. 744
Long ago Zula had got to a place where she could not be surprised, let alone outraged, by anything the jihadists did. This, she reckoned, must be the story of all radical groups, be they Taliban, Shining Path, or National Socialist. Once they had left common notions of decency in the dust - once they had abandoned all sense of proportionality - then it turned into a sort of competition to see who could out do all the rest in that. Beyond there it was all comedy, if only you could turn a blind eye to the consequences.

Not to mention reading John LeCarre's A Most Wanted Man last summer.
    At some point I was thinking that social and/or economic circumstances had made some people's situation so desperate that would resort to violence. But there is violence and then there is this shit. This is the product of minds that have been distorted. They are like a chronic disease. We may never get rid of them, but we need to keep trying.

Westboro Baptist Church taken over by Anonymous

Westboro Baptist Church Facebook Page

Couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of folks.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Today's Photos

From Military Photos dot net

Sour Grapes

Scott sent me a link to this really fancy and really expensive stereo. I took one look at it and rejected it as a possible addition to my domicile. One, it sits on a pedestal with a big fat foot print. That flat plate at the bottom is going to be a dust catcher. I hate dust catchers. Plus, if it includes the two inch thick platform underneath the flat plate, it's going to be a toe stubber as well. Two, the lid folds up, which means that anytime you want to use it, you have to open it, which means you will have to move the all the stuff that people have set down on top of it because, hey, look, a handy flat spot to set things on. Three, the unprotected speaker cones right in front, right at toddler eye level, a target for a stick if I ever saw one. Four, tubes sticking up through a fake chassis panel. In real electronics, the sockets are mounted in the panel and the entire tube is visible, not just the part that someone thinks (erroneously) is visually appealing.
    That panel is seductive, if you ignore the nonsensical construction.

But where are the labels for the knobs? You mean I have to remember what each of the four knobs is for? That's really, I dunno, stupid? Arrogant? Pretentious? Jerks. I would never buy this stereo. And the $26,000 price tag has nothing to with it. Right, Chucky, tell us another one.

"Dark Lightning"?

I'd never hear of this before:
Unknown to [Benjamin] Franklin but now clear to a growing roster of lightning researchers and astronomers is that along with bright thunderbolts, thunderstorms unleash sprays of X-rays and even intense bursts of gamma rays, a form of radiation normally associated with such cosmic spectacles as collapsing stars. The radiation in these invisible blasts can carry a million times as much energy as the radiation in visible lightning, but that energy dissipates quickly in all directions rather than remaining in a stiletto-like lightning bolt. ... Unlike with regular lightning, though, people struck by dark lightning, most likely while flying in an airplane, would not get hurt. But according to [lightning researcher Joseph] Dwyer’s calculations, they might receive in an instant the maximum safe lifetime dose of ionizing radiation — the kind that wreaks the most havoc on the human body.
By "not get hurt", I imagine the reporter means that a person struck by dark lightning would not be crispy crittered. Yet getting a lifetime's dose (or more) of ionizing radiation does not seem like a good thing. Maybe better than the alternative.
Stolen entire from E.B. Misfit, except I added the picture.

Chained CPI

CPI from 1993 to 2010. Note the bump a couple of years ago when the housing market tanked.

I read something about "chained CPI" the other day, and while it sounded reasonable, I've decided I don't like it. CPI is the Consumer Price Index and it is used to compute inflation, and since it is included in all kinds of things like wages and welfare, it's kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Prices have gone up, so we need to give people more money so they can afford to buy the same stuff, but now they have more money, so they can pay higher prices, so the CPI goes up. So we're on a treadmill, and as long the treadmill doesn't start going really fast, things are okay. Well maybe not okay, but better than if we were suffering from deflation, which could be really bad. Ever try running backwards? Doesn't work nearly as well as running forwards.

    Chained CPI changes what goes into computing the CPI. The CPI works as well as it does (however well that is) because it has a list of things it checks the price on. Chained CPI modifies that list to reflect what people are actually buying, or not, like beef. The price of beef has gone up tremendously, so people don't buy as much of it, so it comes out of the CPI (or becomes a smaller part of it) and the CPI doesn't grow as much and it makes things better. For somebody. I'm not quite sure who.
    The problem with this is that you can push it to extremes. The price of food has gotten so high that no one buys food anymore, they can only afford to buy gruel. So nobody is starving (we've got plenty of gruel), and the CPI stays low, so things are good, right? Sounds like North Koreanese to me.

Luneburg Lens

The Zeus Acquisition Radar and smaller Target Track Radars on Kwajalein Island, Republic of the Marshall Islands

The idea of a 1,000 ton radar unit piqued my curiosity, so I looked into it a little bit. I was picturing some giant radar dish mounted on giant pivots being pushed around by giant hydraulic rams. Not the case. It's more like a building, a large static structure that just sits there. Nobody measures buildings by weight, well, except reporters maybe. Anyway the thing is more like one of the Elephant Cage antennas that the US armed forces built for radio direction finding. So it was big and no doubt expensive, but there were no giant hydraulics. Darn.

    Luneburg Lens was the operative principle, although Luneburg envisioned a sphere and what we are using is more like a truncated cylinder, i.e. shaped like a tuna can. The Luneburg Lens would be really cool if anyone could ever build one, but as near as I can tell it is only a theoretical construct. Supposedly it would work equally well for any kind of electromagnetic radiation: light, radio, microwave, or as in this case, RADAR. Obviously you would need different materials for different kinds of radiation, but the principle is the same. However, as far as I can tell, no one knows how to create a substance whose index of refraction varies continuously and evenly from one point to another, which is what you need to make one of these things. Some people are making stepwise approximations of them for RF (radio waves), and some other people tried to make a better one using foam, but it didn't work out so well.

    There is one other issue that I wonder about. Supposedly a Luneburg Lens focuses the radiation on its outside surface, so you need to have your detector out side this giant circular cage, and you need to move it around in order to determine the direction of your signal, but I haven't come across any mention of traveling detectors. So maybe they just had a bunch of fixed detectors all operating simultaneously. I suppose that might work better. Just look at the signal strength meters and you could tell which direction your target was.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Range Goes Green

Anti-missile missiles aren't anything new, as you can see from this film from 1963 (that's '63 dang it, not '64, didn't your mama teach you no Roman Numerals?). Anyway, we've got a fine example of high speed photography run amuck, along with a host of mystery RF equipment and signals, including a 1,000 ton radar unit.
   One thing I have wondered about was how the cameras track a missile on take off. I thought about it a couple of times, but I never came up with a sure fire way of doing it without a lot of expensive and complicated equipment. Or software, which amounts to the same thing. There are probably some image processing software libraries that would enable you to cobble together some kind of computerized solution, but I imagine it would take some trial and error to get the kinks worked out.
   Or we could just do it like they did it in 1963 (at the 4:50 mark), which is to do it by hand. See the two guys on opposite sides of the telescope/camera? The guy on the left turning the crank? He controls the elevation. The guy on the right also has a crank, but he doesn't start turning it right away, and when he does, he's turning it slower. He's controlling the azimuth (which compass direction it's pointing). I suspect that is still how it's being done.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


I think these are racing pigeons. I heard that it's popular in Europe, but I had no idea. I'm thinking there must be at least a thousand pigeons here.

Search Engines

Younger son finished the course work for his bachelor's degree (Yay!), so last weekend we drug his stuff back home. One of the items that came back was a laser printer that had become jammed during his last week at school. As my ink jet printer was on the fritz, I thought maybe I could unjam this one and easily get a new printer to use.
    It was thoroughly jammed. I took a screwdriver to it and took pieces off until I could get the black plastic do-ma-flach-er out of the center of the machine and turn the gear until the six inch strip of accordion folded paper that was gumming up the works backed out.
    Now I start putting it back together. It goes pretty well. I had to take the gearbox off and on a couple of times before I got the toner drive clutch sorted, but it's all looking pretty good. Except for this one small metal bracket. It's U-shaped with two screw holes and a dimple in the bottom of the U. Where does it go? I look and look but cannot figure it out. I sleep on it. For a couple of days, but nothing appears. Finally I go to Google, but I don't have much hope. I mean it's very rare to find actual, good, technical information on the web about any kind of device. Mostly you get a lot of "my gadget is broke, somebody help me!", and "I really love/hate this widget", none of which is really helpful. Might make you feel better, but it doesn't help solve the problem. Regardless. I found an actual service manual, with screw by screw instructions on how to take this thing apart and put it back together. Of course it's a four meg PDF file, and I don't have Adobe Reader installed. Then I remember Stu recommended Foxit, so I download and install it and with a little fooling I am able to find the page I want.

    And there it is! The culprit! Gear 21 pressure plate! It is only held on by one screw, the other hole fits over a little nubbin of plastic. No word on whether the printer lives yet, we have other apples on our plate.
    This morning I fire up the browser (Chrome) and there's a new toolbar across the top of the page. Where the devil did that come from? More importantly, how do we get rid of it? Click on the three bar icon near the upper right corner, and then from the displayed menu, click Settings. (How did they come up with that three bar icon? Does it mean anything to anybody? I think I only figured it out because there was nothing else to click on.) Now we get a whole new tab of stuff including a place to deal with Extensions, which is what this toolbar is. Don't ask me how I know. I just do. I'm a professional, after all. Disable the Foxit toolbar. Go back to what I was doing, which was reading today's posts from my peeps. Tam says "derp" and I say what? And double click (to highlight) and then right click to search for "derp" on - hey, wait a minute, that doesn't say Google, it says Ask.
    Back to Settings, where I notice Manage search engines... So I click and I find a laundry list of search engines. This was one feature I liked on my last setup. I could choose from three or four different search engines any time I wanted to look up something that Tam wrote. I just hadn't bothered to set it up on this machine. Part of my new policy. Don't install anything, or configure anything you don't really want and need. You can spend hours making everything smooth and conforming to your slightest whim, but if you don't actually use any of that stuff, you're wasting time. Well, it's your time. Suit yourself. Some people find it calming, and I'm all in favor of that.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Un-quote of the Day

"Economists are professionally trained to be wary of diminishing returns to any one activity, and to be entrepreneurial about starting new activities." - William Easterly and Laura Freschi on Aid Watch.
I can't tell just from reading the post whether they are being jackass serious, or suavely sarcastic, or maybe it's just something that slipped out in that space where you-need-to-say-something-to-explain-your-actions and nothing really comes to mind. Anyway, it just hit me cross-wise. I didn't think you could characterize economists in any way other than that someone (perhaps even themselves) called them an economist, and I certainly didn't know that they got professional training in how to run their lives. I mean, where would you get such training? I know I could certainly use some. Might not take, but one can always hope.


The PETMAN robot was developed by Boston Dynamics with funding from the DoD CBD program. It is used to test the performance of protective clothing designed for hazardous environments. The video shows initial testing in a chemical protection suit and gas mask. PETMAN has sensors embedded in its skin that detect any chemicals leaking through the suit. The skin also maintains a micro-climate inside the clothing by sweating and regulating temperature.

I think it was Stewart Brand, who started the Whole Earth Catalog, who said "we are as gods, so we may as well get good at it", which I pretty much agree with. But building a robot to test clothing just seems to be a back-asswards way doing things. The robot is obviously not ready for prime time, given that he is tethered six ways from Sunday, but he is pretty damn impressive. I would not be surprised if they came up with this clothing testing project just to have an excuse to exercise their machine. Learn by doing, so to speak.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Suez Canal Transit

The ship is the USS Kearsarge, an amphibious assault ship. It looks sort of like an aircraft carrier, but it is not as big and does not have a catapult, so the only aircraft it carries must be capable of short or vertical take off, like helicopters, the Osprey and the Harrier.
    I didn't realize the Suez canal was so long, nor that there was a lake in the middle. Two lakes, actually. The video is only one minute long, but we are flying. The canal is 120 miles long and transit normally takes upwards of 12 hours, so the ship is traveling at a real speed of 8 or 9 knots. Our virtual speed is up around 500 feet per video frame, or Mach 10, which is like an ICBM.

USS Kearsarge with dock door open.

Steam Powered Box Factory

A pleasant visit to a working antique steam powered wood shop. Almost 15 minutes long. Via Scott.