Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

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

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

True Detective

The Handsome Family - Far From Any Road,  True Detective Opening Song

.Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. We started watching the HBO series True Detective. It is a heck of  show. It is nominally a story about a couple of detectives investigating a murder down in Louisiana, but that is just like the frame for the canvas of a painting. You know how our society is built on rules and laws, and everything we build is laid out in straight lines with square corners? Our society functions as well as it does because of this. But people aren't made of straight lines and square corners, and sometimes they don't fit in the box they have carved out for themselves. That's what this show is about.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Complaining about the media is akin to complaining about the weather. Remember 'if it bleeds, it leads', and the rules for deciding what to print:
Rule #1 is: sell more newspapers. 
Rule #2 is: if in doubt see Rule #1.
I am sure this is from a movie, but I could not find it. Both apply to television news as well as papers. Just substitute higher ratings and more advertising revenue. I was going to leave this as a comment over at Tam's, but it was slightly skew to the topic at hand.

Cheston Eshelman, Character

Eshelman Flying Flounder NX28993 (1942)

From Hot Wheels in the Baltimore City Paper:

By Brennen Jensen | Posted 11/14/2001

    In June 1939, a 22-year-old Pennsylvania man packed some sandwiches, donned a jaunty white neck scarf, rented a two-seater airplane in Camden, N.J., and flew off eastward. Destination: the planet Mars.
    Well, that's what Cheston Eshelman told the skipper of the fishing trawler who, hours later, pulled him out of the Atlantic, minutes before Eshelman's aircraft sunk forever beneath the waves. The neophyte flyer, on only his second solo trip, maintained that the red planet was his goal--even after the truculent plane owners had him tossed in jail for larceny. A Sun article of the day even quoted the plucky pilot as saying he brought along a pistol "because the Martians were supposed to be tough guys."
    Eshelman missed Mars by tens of millions of miles, but a year or so later he successfully made it to Baltimore and began a decade-spanning manufacturing career. The would-be astronaut became a footloose inventor and captain of an industry of his own creation: the mail-order car.
Cheston was a contemporary of my father. They were born and died within a year of each other. I don't know as they ever met, but like Cheston, my dad sure had his own big ideas. Via Posthip Scott. Read the whole story here.

Update September 2015. Replaced missing video and added caption.

Today's Funny

Monday, May 26, 2014

Red 2

Caught this trailer on TV the other day and this scene was just the best. I got a distinct feeling of déjà vu when I saw it, but I can't remember where.

Lunch with Jack

 Jack and I had Chile Relleno for lunch at O'Connor's today. Delicious.

We spied this contraption sitting in the corner. It looked like it ought to be a folding hand truck. It took us a while to figure out how to unfold it. Very tricky, these hand truck makers.

Jack needed to make a cut with his milling machine using a slitter saw. He has several slitter saws, but they were all dull. What's a boy to do? He goes to the local home builder's supply house and buys a small diameter circular saw with carbide teeth. Worked fine for cutting a groove in metal.

God's Own Turntable

Why use a mere cast aluminum platter when you can you use a behemoth acrylic one?
Posthip Scott sent me a link to some photos from the Munich High End Audio Show.

On a semi-related note, I picked up a copy of This is Your Brain On Music by Daniel J. Levitin the other day at Costco. I started reading the introduction and he's talking about recording music and it's like reading about an alien culture.
    I played last chair clarinet and later the saxophone in school. 'Playing' might be putting it a little strong. I blew on the mouthpiece and moved my fingers on the keys, but everyone told me I was always flat. I never heard it. Matter of fact, none of the sounds coming from my horn ever sounded like music to me, they were just a series of notes. But I sure liked the Rock 'n Roll coming out of my car radio.
    On a semi-related note I noticed that the diction in some old-time hits is exceptional. I Like Bread and Butter by the Newbeats, and Super Freak by Rick James are a couple of examples.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Cocaine Sales to Boost Italian GDP in Boon for Budget

Mr Gently Benevolent gives us a summary:
Italy will include prostitution and illegal drug sales in the gross domestic product calculation this year, a boost for its chronically stagnant economy and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s effort to meet deficit targets.
Bloomberg has the story. Makes no sense to me. We're talking about the black market here, a place not known for publishing acccurate profit and loss statements, so Senori Renzi is just going to be making up numbers. That's fine as long as everyone knows that that is what he is doing. But I can see this becoming a popular technique with politicians all around the world and they'll be bragging about how much toot their countrymen are consuming. Of course, most everything that politicians say now is pretty worthless. This will just be icing on the cake.

Update September 2015. Added 2nd that.


Tam put up a post about typos, and she got several comments from people telling similar tales. Same thing often happens to me. If I am writing something important I will print it and proof read the printed copy. Amazing how many errors that will reveal. One person mentions reading aloud. I might have to try that. It 'sounds' like it might work. Heh, I made a funny.

První brněnská strojírna Velká Bíteš, a.s.

Are jet engines finally becoming affordable? I guess that depends on who you are talking to. Comrade Misfit put up a video of the Subsonex jet. It's a kit plane powered by a real, live jet engine. The kit runs around $130,000. The engine is about half of that.
    The engine is made in the Czech Republic (that's the name of the company in the title, PBS for short). They made their bones making turbochargers for MAN German diesel engines. Turbochargers and jet engines have a lot of technology in common. They both have to operate at high RPM's and withstand extreme heat, neither of which is particularly easy, but combining them into one machine that will operate reliably is a bit of a trick, which is why there are so few companies in the world that build jet engines.
    This one produces around 250 pounds of thrust, which doesn't sound like much. When we are talking about commercial or military jets we are talking about thousands of pounds of force. But big jets weigh thousands of pounds so they need that much power. Small, single seat aircraft don't weigh that much, so 250 pounds of thrust is plenty.

Canasta Pajamas

Posthip Scott bought a short stack of old LIFE mags yesterday and this was one of the better covers: December 21, 1953.

Is she arching her right eyebrow? Or is it just naturally higher that the left one? Does anyone care if it is?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Who me, robot?

I'm over at Comrade Misfit's, leaving a comment, and is common with blog comments, I have to prove I'm not a spambot. But look at this image. I can see the 12 in the left hand side just fine, but the right hand side looks like one of those red-green color blind test things and I'm not see any letters or numbers or anything in there. It's just multi-colored snow. Might not be anything there. I entered '12' and pressed ENTER and that was apparently good enough.

Watch Me

Breitling Chronograph @ Costco $7600

My watch has gotten sluggish. Time to get a new one. I was at Costco yesterday and I thought I'd take a look. They had a fair assortment of watches for $100 to $200 and then I get to the end of the display case and saw this. Somebody could have all kinds of fun with it. I mean it's got buttons and dials galore for you to play with, and it's flashy, so you could wave it around under everyone's nose at the cocktail hour.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Pic of the Day

Interior shot of a Huey Helicopter during an exercise with the Colombian Air Force in Tucson, Arizona.

Truck Dream

We are engaged in some kind of enterprise and it seems to be going well. We need a new truck for the next section of this project. We find ourselves in a new crew cab pickup truck heading down the highway and we have to stop for gas. At the filling station we get out and I see the new truck I have just bought for the first time. (I don't know how this happened, probably because we picked it up in the dark when I was half asleep.)
    Boy, is it ugly. It looks like one of those Chevrolet Avalanche things. The body is black but the doors are bright yellow. There are a bunch of ladders on top of the bed. Seems the bed is equipped with a hydraulic lift that will lift the whole thing straight up so it can be used as a work platform. We're filling the tank with fuel and someone decides this would be a good time to try out this hydraulic lift, so they start raising the bed. The fuel filler is mounted on the bed, so the gas nozzle goes along with it. The whole thing goes straight up 15 feet or so so we can easily see the mechanism underneath, and what a complex mechanism it is.
    Meanwhile, fuel is still being pumped into the filler port, and I can see that the lift mechanism incorporates a pipe that allows for this, though where the fuel tank is located is not clear. The fuel dispenser doesn't care, it keeps pumping fuel up the hose that is dangling from the fuel filler port and the fuel keeps going into the tank.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Chrysler Sebring Clockspring

More bad news about my Chrysler Sebring. It's beginning to look like I should have paid the shop to replace the engine in the beginning rather than try to fix it myself. OK, it might have been the smart thing to do, but shelling out $4500 all at once just wasn't something I was willing to suffer.
    My first attempt at repairing the engine ended up costing me about a grand, and we actually fixed the car. It ran fine for maybe a month before it cratered again. The second go round cost me another grand, and while the car started when we got done, it was obviously not going anywhere. That episode was a complete waste, other than the educational experience it provided my son. I'm sure he'll appreciate it. Some day. When I'm gone.
    So after two attempts at fixing it myself, I relented and turned it over to the shop. I found a used engine in Toronto and had it delivered for just under a grand. The shop charged $1200 to install it, plus $300 to fix the stuff that me and my gang had busted. So now we're up to $4500, the price Eric originally quoted me. Well, live and learn.
    I've been driving the car for a few months now and everything seems to be fine, except a few little minor things, like the cruise control doesn't work, and an air bag warning indicator is illuminated on the instrument panel. I took it in for an oil change the other day, and asked them to take a look at some of these niggling little problems.
    Come to find out that the clockspring is probably broken and it will cost $275 to replace it. What!?!?! What clockspring? It's a car, not a clock. What's a clock spring got to do with anything?
    Calm down lizard breath and I'll tell you. You might be familiar with rotating electrical connectors, where one part has a ring of copper, and the other part has a contact that rubs against this ring. One part rotates, and the other part is fixed. This way you can turn the steering wheel around and around and still maintain an electrical connection. That worked fine when all you had on the steering wheel was a horn button, but these days you can find a whole arsenal of buttons and gadgets on the steering wheel, and while it might be possible to build a multi-track rotating connector that could accommodate all 27 separate circuits, that's not the Detroit way.
     Some wise guy noticed that steering wheels do not turn endlessly, they only make three or four complete revolutions and that's as far as they go. So they took a bunch of wire and wrapped it up in box and it allows you to make those three or four turns of the steering will, and those 27 circuits all stay connected. They call this box with its mess of wires a 'clockspring', presumably because of the way the wires are structured.
    This 'clockspring' is dependent on the steering mechanism not making more than three or four complete revolutions. This is not a problem when the steering wheel is connected to the steering mechanism. The steering mechanism will only go so far.
    If you take the steering column out of the car, or you drop the front suspension out from under the car (like I did. Twice.), well, the two parts aren't connected anymore. Now if someone were to give the steering wheel a little spin while it is disconnected, well then, Blooey! goes the clock spring. And you won't even know anything is wrong until you get the car back on the road and the cruise control doesn't work. And the Air Bag warning indicator lights up.

P.S. Here's a YouTube video that shows you how to replace the clockspring.

My Man Fang

Here's Fang Fenghui of the Red Chinese Army shaking hands with the USA's Martin Dempsey in Washington D.C. on May 15.

And here he is three days later in Havana, Cuba, inspecting an honor guard with Cuba's Alvaro Lopez. Man gets around.

Significant? I don't think so. I just happened to notice that he showed up in a couple of pictures from two different places.

Name of the Day

QUONSET, R.I. (May 17, 2014) A C-130 Hercules, affectionately known as "Fat Albert", assigned to the  U.S. Navy flight demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels, performs the C-130 Low Transition/Maximum Effort Climb during the Rhode Island National Guard Open House Air Show. The Blue Angels are scheduled to perform 68 demonstrations at 34 locations across the U.S. in 2014. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kathryn E. Macdonald/Released)

Quonset, Rhode Island?!?! I didn't know there was a town named Quonset. The only place I had heard the name used was Quonset Huts, which it turns out come from (are you ready?) Quonset R.I.

Fun with North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong un (C) plays with children during a visit to the Taesongsan General Hospital in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang May 19, 2014.

CNN Story: Defector: Shadowy organization, not Kim Jong Un, controls North Korea

[WDW]Megaraptor provides a short summary:
Kim Jong Un grew up in Switzerland, has no friends in the North Korean government.

All real power in DPRK is held by a group called the Organization and Guidance Department (OGD), made up of associates of his father Kim Jong Il. When someone was admitted to the OGD, they were considered to take on some aspects of Kim Jong Il's divinity.

The execution of Kim Jong Un's uncle eliminated the last real threat to the OGD's power, now Little Kim basically has to do whatever they say.


Comrade Misfit put up a post about the criminal behavior of some cops in Philadelphia. The story is pretty bad, so bad that it reminded me of a movie about corrupt cops in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, which I think has got to be saying something.
    Thanks to the internet there is constant stream of these stories available to fuel our outrage.  Problem is that corruption has always been with us and it looks like it always will be. Something about human nature, I suppose. My question is when does it become too much? When do you say I've had enough and pick up your pitchforks and torches and march on town hall?
    I read something recently that said countries with effective democracies don't have riots like we see in other countries. We do have democracy here in USA, but I suspect that at the national level it has become simply a circus to keep the masses entertained. Nothing changes, the poor stay poor and the rich get rich.
    Nazi Germany continues to garner a great deal of attention. Sometimes I get tired of hearing about it, but it is a startling example of how the best of intentions can lead straight to hell. Many people are predicting dire consequences if we continue our current policies.
    Nobody knows what the future will bring. The most innocuous of things could have tragic consequences for millions of people. The most frightening government policies could result in widespread happiness and contentment. Unlikely, I know. The point is that you can never tell what the outcome will be. You can make predictions and gauge probablities, but that's about all.
    Back to my main point: how can you tell when the level of corruption has become a real problem, and what do you do if it has?

Desk Light

This looks like my Dell keyboard, mostly. If it was the same size it would probably work, but how do you know if it is or not? And how much difference would be significant?

The light on my desk is getting old and the switch is getting cranky. It has a halogen bulb and the shade has no vent so it gets very hot and over the years it has baked the switch housing into near failure. The rest of the lamp is fine, it's just the switch that is failing. I would replace the switch if I could find one, but locating such an animal promises to be a trip down the proverbial rabbit hole, so I've just kind of been limping along.
     Since the switch is unreliable I often find myself typing in the dark which is fine until my fingers lose their place and then when I look down to regain my place I can't see the labels on the keys. This has led me to conclude that all I might really need is a light for my keyboard. I was thinking something low profile that clips along the top edge and casts a 'warm glow' over the keys making the labels readily discernible. No such animal exists. All we have is these little bitty 'book light' things. They might work, but I don't want some mechanical snake sticking his head into my viewspace.
    OK, how about a backlit keyboard? Well, that might work, if it was cheap enough. Keyboards from the recycler cost $3, so I'm not prepared to shell out $80 just to get a little light. Amazon has some for around $20, which is more than a buck and half, but feasible.
    But now we have another problem. Do any of these backlit keyboards have EXACTLY the same layout as the Dell keyboard I have been using for the last decade? The last thing I need right now is to have to adjust to a new keyboard. Plus there are several other computers here that all have Dell keyboards. I might be willing to shell out $20 for one keyboard, but I am certainly not going to replace all of my keyboards. Besides, some of the other people here might be even more resistant to change than I am.
    So, do these backlit keyboards have the same layout as a Dell or not? No way to tell. They certainly don't tell you, and I'm not sure looking at pictures would be enough. Yes, it looks the same, but what if the all the keys are a slightly different size, or that one key you use all the time that is off in the corner is in a slightly different location, just different enough that your finger glances off the side instead of catching the edge and you have to pause and deliberately restrike that one stinking key. That would suck.
    But hey! Maybe Dell sells backlit keyboards. They might, but I didn't find any.
    Where is the Association for Keyboard Layout Certification when you need them?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Safe, Safer, Safest

Whole bunch of gun safes at Costco on Sunday. This is less than half. The big one is so large you could use it as a panic room, though the lack of ventilation might be counter-productive.

Norco, California, Horsetown USA

What is it with little boys and guns? Playing 'army' was one of my favorite childhood pastimes. A steady diet of Steve Donovan, Western Marshall and Combat! might have had something to do with it. Still, I was a little surprised when I came across the above ad, enough so that I followed the link and when they offered to locate the nearest store, I said sure, tell me, and they did: 894 miles away in Norco, California. Norco? Never heard of it. Could it be Northern California? No, LA. Curious place. The Navy has a Surface Warfare Center there, one of two on the West Coast, both in Southern California. It's also famous for a big gun battle between the police and a crew of bank robbers. Sounds kind of like the movie Heat.

Norco Cowgirls Rodeo Drill Team
2014 Rose Parade, Pasadena, California

    What makes Norco interesting is their horse-centric view of the universe. Sidewalks? We don't need no steenking sidewalks, we've got horse trails all through town. Every house has a bit a of pasture and a two horse garage. Which reminds me:

Boy's Don't Cry - I Wanna Be A Cowboy

Monday, May 19, 2014

Girls with Guns

May 12, 2014, West Bank Jericho, Palestinian Presidential Guard participated in the French National Gendarmerie female SWAT team training.

P.S. There was a thought niggling at the back of my mind that I had posted a picture of this group not too long ago. I did.

Foreign Relations - Policy of Pandering?

Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and India's next prime minister Narendra Modi greets the crowd with a victory symbol outside the party headquarters in New Delhi, India, Saturday, May 17, 2014. Thousands of cheering supporters welcomed India's next prime minister on his arrival in the capital Saturday after leading his party to a staggering victory in national elections. The victory parade came a day after the party crossed the 272-seat majority needed to create a government without forming a coalition with smaller parties. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Sorry for the title. I feel like I have been inundated by a flood of news crap. From Yahoo News we have:
Narendra Modi will be the next prime minister of India, but until Friday, he was banned from traveling to the US because of allegations related to a 2002 riot. 
This is what Fareed Zakaria had to say about this issue:
    "Consider, for example, the case of Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister of Iraq. He heads a government that is deeply sectarian and has been accused of involvement with death squads, reprisal killings and the systematic persecution of Sunnis in his country. And yet, far from being shunned, Maliki has been received in Washington as an honored guest on many occasions by two White House administrations".
    "Consider a report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the very body that singled out Modi. It lists countries that are of “particular concern” for their “systematic, ongoing and egregious” oppression of religious minorities. Saudi Arabia, whose leaders are paid enormous respect by Washington, is in that top tier. The report recommends that Pakistan be added to that list because of its persistent violence against minorities, which, the report says, is at an all-time high"
    "Not a single government official from any of these countries — or any other country anywhere — has ever been placed on a blacklist or been denied a visa for violating religious freedom. When human rights issues are used in a blatantly selective manner, they rightly invite charges of hypocrisy."
Fareed is a big shot reporter in the USA and a native of India.

I don't know what's going on, but I suspect it can be spelled O-I-L, as in India doesn't have any.

The Yahoo artictle also included this line:
One of the reasons that the BJP won so handily (282 of 543 seats in an election where 36 parties won at least one seat) is because it is seen as having put its secular ways behind it. 
I think they mean sectarian, not secular.

Spam - Now Chinese Flavor. You Like!

Got a very nice email from Vicky Baby [tm]:
Victoria Benjamin     2:12 PM (53 minutes ago)
The text was followed by a whole bunch little boxes full of numbers. Probably a foreign language, but which one? Surely there is some way to render these characters, I mean browsers do everything else these days, why not this? Hey! I got an idea! Let's try Google Translate, so I did and this is what we got:

Well, I'll be darned, Vicky just wants to be friends.

Oatmeal does Tesla

I came across this yesterday, but I can't figure out where I found it. One of my usual haunts I suppose. It's an entertaining story even though I disagree with just about everything he says, mostly on account of the price tag, but also on the basis of it can't be a real car because it doesn't have a real engine and it doesn't burn gasoline, but that's just my 60 years of being in thrall to the American automobile industry. (I'm not sure 'thrall' is the right word, but work with me here, alright?)
    On one hand you could argue that gasoline engines are superior to battery powered electric motors because electric cars need to get their power from the grid, which requires huge infrastructure investments in the form of coal mines, railroads, power plants and power lines. All gasoline powered cars require is a few gallons of a liquid fuel. This comparison breaks down when you realize the massive infrastructure that is set up to supply those few gallons of fuel: supercomputer powered geological exploration, multimillion dollar drilling rigs scattered all over the world, a fleet of supertankers and thousands of miles of pipelines, huge, complex refineries, and lastly a fleet of tanker trucks and filling stations to actually deliver the product.
    Having to plug in the car every night when you get home would be annoying, especially if you park on the street and you have to unroll your extension cord because you rolled it up in the morning and stowed it so the local pick-up-everything-that-isn't-nailed-down crew don't walk off with it during the day. Still, it might be better than having to drive to the filling station once a week. On the other hand there is the death of a thousand cuts. Yes, it's only one little chore, but it's one more little chore, and if you are already at the end of your rope, do you really want to have to deal with it?
    Perhaps one of these days they will come up with better batteries, or some other magical electricity producing box (Hey! How about a Honda generator?) and the daily charge routine will go away. Or maybe your employer will install a charger at your parking spot at work, one that automagically plugs itself in when you pull in and disconnects when you leave. (Why don't we have automatic filling stations? The auto industry is slacking. Nothing new there.)
    Then there's the whole getting-away-with-murder business. Electric cars don't use gasoline, therefore their owners don't buy any gasoline, which means they aren't paying any road use taxes! Unfair! Strike! Strike! Strike! If there were more than 2 or 3 of these things on the road this argument might carry some weight, but as it stands I find it hard to get worked up over it. After my initial outrage, anyway.
    And what about air pollution / emissions? Electric cars don't produce any emissions directly, but the coal burning power plants that supply most of our electricity certainly do. Some of these power plants are far away from city centers so you could say we have the benefit of spewing our nasty, poisonous gases in somebody else's backyard, and since no one lives there, at least no one important, it's okay. On the other hand when my Uncle first moved to New Mexico you could see clear to Taos from Los Alamos, or some other ridiculously long distance. Then the Four Corners power plant set up for business and now you are lucky if you can see Santa Fe. You can't actually see smog, it's just that the air is not near as clear as is used to be.
    If the atomic power industry hadn't been beset by political infighting they might have been able to deliver on their promise of power too cheap to meter, or at least nuclear power plants that still produced power instead of being shutdown, mothballed and demolished. But that's America for you. Can't do anything without some shitheads pissing in the pot because they are not getting the biggest share.

The biggest problem with electric cars is that if they become successful they are going to make entire industries obsolete, which is going to throw more people out of work. Yes, new industries require new workers, but we see how well that has been working out. Not. If anything we need to go back to mechanical lifters so you would need to get your valves adjusted monthly, which would put a whole boat load of people to work, but then some wise guy would invent self-adjusting lifters and that would be the end of that. Oh, wait, that's where we are now.

The only solutions I can think of are:
  • Negative Income Tax, which has a snowball's chance in hell of being implemented.
  • Primitive farming. The Amish seem to be doing very well.
  • Pyramids. The ancient Egyptian civilization lasted for thousands of years. Maybe we should follow their example.

Not So Funny

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Rolling Firewood Rack

Everybody loves a good, wood, fire, or at least they should. After a zillion years of evolution it has got to be encoded in our genes.
    Michigan Mike came up with this rolling firewood rack. While it is probably not the thing for getting your firewood down from the mountain, it would be very handy for moving wood from the stockpile at the back of your lot up to the house where it would be handy for throwing on the fire.


Fe[26], a much more difficult version of 2048.

Stu tells us about the game 2048. I've been playing it for a couple of weeks (months?) and I've been meaning to put up a post but... It's a fine game, kind of meditative. How you play in the beginning doesn't seem to make much difference: all roads lead to Rome. But once you've broken the 100 value on a tile, things get a little dicier. I find that keeping the highest value tile in one of the corners works pretty well. If you can keep a row of higher value tiles in a row along one edge, all the better. Usually this isn't too hard, but sometimes the only move available pulls this row off the edge. After that all bets are off. I am not sure I have ever recovered from doing this.
     There is another, similar game, DOGE2048, that uses pictures of dogs instead of numbers. Unlike the numeric version there is no indication of what the sequence is. Like the numeric version, colliding two identical tiles results in a new picture. After you've played the game a few thousand times the sequence will have become embedded in your brain and you won't have to worry about it.
     Renke, commenting on Stu's post, recommended Fe[26], shown above. It operates in a similar manner to these other games, although the goal is to create Iron (Fe[26]) by fusing various elements together. After I had played this game for a bit I noticed that I was accumulating a bunch of magnesium, but nothing heavier. So I looked at the chart that accompanies the game and I notice that Magnesium does not lead anywhere. It's a dead end. But Beryllium 7 is also a dead end, and I know I've created a bunch of Beryllium 7, but now it's all gone. Where did it go? So I wrote to Kevin O'Connor, one of the game's creators, and he replied:
    We tried to model the game based on real conditions of the stellar fusion, as such there are two hurdles thrown in the game that also exist in star formation.    Magnesium[24] is the first one, it's actually very very stable. Stars are often quite dense with Magnesium for this reason and it provides quite a lot of mass before the supernova. We put in into the game as path that could end up causing trouble for the player. You'll get points for doing it, but it'll overly pollute your board quickly. Instead of throwing a He[4] on a Oxygen[16], combine two Oxygen[16] to get yourself on the path toward Iron.    As for Be[7], it's again realistic (though the decay time isn't quite scaled correctly in compromise of gameplay) in that it decays and is fairly useless. In our game you want to avoid making Be[7], instead make Be[8] using 2 He[4] blocks. Over time the Be[7] block will decay back to He[4]. The little bubble in the top right of blocks gives the player a count of moves until the block will decay.
I tried playing the game again trying to avoid making Neon, which inevitably leads to making Magnesium, which is a dead end, and it makes the game an order of magnitude more difficult. You can no longer just slam tiles into each other willy-nilly. Now you have to be aware of what you are trying to create, but also what you are trying to avoid, and that goes against everything I learned playing the original 2048.

Caption of the Day

I was invited to that family reunion. It was a good time, but the lack of pork ribs bummed me out. - Jess commenting on Look! A Baby Wolf!

I think those brown bags lying on the porch are South African wart-hogs.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Quote of the Day

Alexander "Sasha" Vaksberg, Russian billionaire talking to Arkady Renko, police investigator and official embarrassment in the novel Three Stations by Martin Cruz Smith.

This sort of explains why it has taken Russia 20 odd years to get sorted out, well, as much as they have. I am pretty sure nobody really knows how any economy works. People just keep trying things. Some of them work, some of them don't.

"Three Stations" is the local's name for Kosmosol Square in Moscow, Russia, so called because there are three main railway stations there. You can see all three stations easily in this satellite view from Google Maps.

Pic of the Day

Cartagena, Colombia

Friday, May 16, 2014

Drugs & Money

I was looking for a dollar figure for the amount of illegal drugs consumed in the USA. Seems like everyone has an estimate, but none of the estimates agree. They all seem to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars annually, from a low of 100 to a high of 500. That's as much as we spend on oil or food. Pretty stinking amazing. But the part that really got me, the part that should have been obvious, but which I hadn't given much thought to, was how much of that money stays in the USA. There is all this talk about how the drug cartels in Mexico and South America are making tons of money. The thing is they aren't. The wholesale price of drugs coming over the border is about 10% of the retail value, the money going to the producers in South America is maybe 10% of that. So if the US recreational drug user is spending $500 billion a year getting wasted, then the Mexican smugglers are getting $50 billion and the South American producers are getting $5 billion. Five billion dollars is still a stink load of money, so someone in South America is benefiting.
     But $400 billion is staying right here in the USA and going into the pockets of our retail drug suppliers. No wonder there are flippin' turf wars. You can make as much money standing on a street corner handing out packets of toot as a guy who has sunk a million dollars into a retail business.
     This also explains why drugs are illegal. There are a whole lot of people who are making a whole lot of money out of the drug business, and most of them are not flashy gang bangers wearing gold chains and driving pimped out Escalades. They wear nice conservative clothes, keep a low profile, probably have some kind of legitimate business that they use as a front. "Consulting" would be good. As long as drugs are illegal profits will remain high and life will be good. The much vaunted war on drugs only busts those who are foolish, have flaked out, or have pissed off upper management.
    We talk about how drugs should be legalized, how if they were legalized they could be taxed, and we could use those taxes to pay down the national debt or reduce income tax. Problem is that wouldn't happen. Give the government another source of tax revenue and they will just add it to their current taxes. They won't pay down the debt and they won't reduce any existing taxes. And all those people who were making boat loads of money off of illegal drugs will be looking for new ways to make money, and I doubt they will have many qualms about what kind of work they turn their talents to.
    We talk about all the non-violent people being arrested for dealing, but what I think you've got here are the young and foolish, people who don't realize the kind of stakes they are playing for. The world is a brutal, vicious place. The sooner you find out who your real friends are the better.
    Drug dealers are often portrayed as vicious because they are playing by realpolitik rules, not our nice let's all get along, play by the rule-of-law rules.

Is $500 billion a year for illegal drugs even in the realm of possibility? Say 1% of the population spends $100 a week. $100 a week times 52 weeks in a year is $5000. $5000 times 3 million people is $15 billion dollars. If 10% of the population was spending $100 that would be $150 billion a year. To get to $500 billion a year that 10% would need to be spending $300 a week. I suppose that's possible, but I think it's a stretch. I kind of think total illegal drugs sales in the USA is probably closer to $100 billion a year than 500.

The King is Dead, Long Live the Dwarf

We watched the first three seasons of Game of Thrones last winter (a year ago). Since then we watched House of Cards with Kevin Spacey & Robin Wright, and Justified, all of which we enjoyed tremendously. I liked Justified so much I even broke down and paid extra to watch the latest season. Producers are spawn of the devil. Don't they know we deserve to watch everything they produce - all the time - for free? They suck you in with free teasers and then when they've got you hooked, they reel in your wallet.

We also tried Revenge and Scandal but they didn't quite cut the mustard. We also tried Breaking Bad, but we failed to connect. Don't know why. Too close to home maybe.

We continue to watch The Good Wife, but we are all caught up and have to wait for the next episode. Curses. I hate waiting. We used to be dedicated followers of CSI (the original Las Vegas based series), but it hasn't been the same since Gil left. The new lead investigator (the former Cheers bartender) just doesn't do it for me. Probably because he's not Gil.

So we've exhausted our supply of super-dooper crime series, and since our resident hacker has departed we no longer had access to Game of Thrones, so I finally broke down and subscribed to HBO. It's going to cost me $100 for the first year, after that it doubles. HBO has a new on-demand feature that we can get through our Roku box, but you need a subscription to HBO to use it. Bah and humbug. These dang subscriptions are piling up. I need to cancel some of them.

Game of Thrones spoiler (if the title hasn't given it away already. We are one episode from being caught up): Joffrey the malevolent gets his comeuppance. I would have preferred to have him stabbed a thousand times and then cut up into little bits but we can't always get what we want. It did look to be an unpleasant experience, though he didn't suffer nearly long enough. I was surprised as this show seems to thrive on showing just how unpleasant people can be and he was among the best (worst) at this, I thought the producers would keep him around forever. Ah well, nothing lasts forever. Now Tyrion is on trial and we don't know if he is going to survive this ordeal or not. On one hand he is the best person in the entire show, and he didn't do it (commit this particular murder), at least not that we know of. On the other hand, maybe he is negotiating with the producers and if they can't come to terms, well, off with his virtual head. Also, Cersei, Joffrey's mother, Tyrion's sister, wants him dead, and she generally gets what she wants.


I was wondering why Syria is having a civil war and we (the USA) are not. While there are armed conflicts going on all over the world, I think I picked Syria because
  1. It is a somewhat civilized country. I mean the airline pilots (or owners or something) association is/was based there.
  2. The intensity of the conflict is relatively high.
My conclusion is our educational system, and I'm not talking SAT scores or which schools are doing better at math or reading. I'm talking about universal, state run, free, public education.

The big thing our schools "teach" our children is our culture, whatever that is. I think the Constitution and The Bill of Rights are part of it, but I think a general Christian attitude is part of it as well. I don't know, maybe "Christian" isn't the best term for it. Maybe it's just good manners, or how to avoid getting your block knocked off. Or maybe it's just concern for your fellow man: We're all in this together and things will go better if we can all get along.

Those nut-cases in the Middle East bring up their kids teaching them that their way is the only way and everyone else's way is the way of the devil and they should all die. Maybe the heat warps their brains.

On the other hand, we kind of teach our kids the same thing. Only thing is we have big oceans between us and all those foreign devils. Picking a fight overseas takes considerably more effort.

We do have Mexico, which thanks to their Spanish culture of rich folks first, everyone else doesn't count, hasn't amounted to a hill of beans. At best they give our coppers something to keep them occupied.


I came across some bit about Hillary Clinton talking up gun-control and I had a bit of a disconnect because I have heard her say some things that make a lot of sense. Why is she suddenly spouting non-sense? And then I had a vision of rich, privileged, white folks going to their social gatherings wearing gender appropriate dress up clothes (suits, ties, white shirts and fancy watches for the men, dresses, fancy shoes and pearls for the girls), talking about current events (did you see what Madge was wearing? I hear Bob got a new job.) and somebody mentions a shooting and everybody says how awful it is and somebody should do something, and you know if we just banned all the guns we wouldn't have these problems. Everyone agrees and then they move on to the next bright spot in their cocktail party universe.

The NRA seems to be the only organization that has any real effect of politics. True, it's only on one narrow subject, and it doesn't seem to be changing the path to hell we are all following, but at least we will be armed when we get there.

Many, if not most, of the ills in this country come from people trying to tap into the stream of riches this country is generating. Production has been optimized and automated to the point that we don't need nearly as many people working in manufacturing. It's similar to what happened with agriculture a hundred years ago. Used to be 99% of everyone lived and worked on the farm. The little bit of surplus they produced was enough to keep the king and his knights fed. Then came the industrial revolution and everyone moved to the city and worked in factories. Now we are in the midst of the computer revolution and we are separating into two classes: those who have enough money that they can spend all their time making YouTube videos, and those who have to work a minimum wage job in order to be able to get high on the weekend.

Okay, there are two other classes: those people who still have jobs making stuff, which is getting smaller every day, and those who spend their time redistributing the wealth this country generates. Well, somebody has to do it, otherwise it would all end up in Warren Buffet's pocket. Warren Buffet might be a good investor, but I don't think he is very good at keeping people busy, which is what we really need.

There are three factors that determine how you feel about your job:
  1. Money
  2. Engagement. Do you actually enjoy the work itself?
  3. The people you work with.
A high rate of pay can compensate for having to do a stoopid job with stoopid people. This of course depends on your definition of stoopid. Likewise doing work you enjoy can somewhat compensate for poor wages and poor company. The last one I think is the biggest. You can put up with a lot of crap if you are with people you like.

Quote of the Quote of the Day

Both atheists and believers want to feel oppressed here, because oppression is the coin of the realm in 21st century America and can be traded for valuable cash and prizes. - View From The Porch
This is actually from yesterday, but yesterday I was feeling a little puny. Today is more better.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Perfect Day For Bananafish

Storm approaching Sydney Australia. Photo by Jem Cresswell

I found this photo along with the title on this isn't happiness. Even though I have no idea what a bananafish is (probably something very unpleasant), I thought it was just the right combination. Turns out the title is from a short story by J.D. Salinger. Detroit Steve got me started.

Update January 2024 replaced missing image. The old image was hot-linked, and the image disappeared from that website, so it disappeared from this blog as well. This is unacceptable, so I took the file name of the image and gave it to Google and it found only one image and it was the correct one. I'm surprised, the file name is just ten digits which gives you an address space of ten billion. Since there are approximately one zillion squared images floating around it seems like Google should have found more than one instance, but it didn't.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Lee Richards Annular No1 monoplane

A model of the Lee Richards Annular No1 monoplane from 1913. This is from a collection of scratch built model airplanes that are going on the auction block in England this Thursday, May 15, 2014. Stolen from Mail Online

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Screen Saver Glitch

Cool screen saver video, because sea turtle.

My computer is set up to turn off the screen after so many minutes. I think it's called 'Power Save' mode or some such. It's been very reliable up until a couple of days ago when it started getting slow to wake up. Used to be all I would have to do is bump my desk or set something down on it and the computer and the screen would wake up. Now it takes a deliberate action. I have to slide the mouse like a foot across the desk before things wake up and I'm wondering what's going on. Is the display getting flaky and it now takes seconds before the wake-up signal manages to actually turn on the power? Or has some kind of virus infected my computer and the NSA is now tracking my mouse movements? Or maybe it was just some kind of automatic software update. While an update would be good in that it means the display is NOT flaking out, I wonder what it could be. This is a Windows XP machine and I thought Microsoft was done updating XP, never mind that I thought I had updates turned off. Firefox just updated itself, again, but I don't see how that could have anything to do with this, although it's a stupid Windows computer, so anything is possible.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Badass of the Week

Isabella of France

"No man ever excited her resentment who did not perish under its effect;
the king himself forming no exception to this fact."

Sharon sent me a link to the story of Isabella. It is told in a very understandable manor, not like what you find in those stuffy history books. It gives you a real feeling for the times. She makes all these modern tough talking punks look like pantywaists. Go read the whole thing.

Land Prices

When I was in Iowa a year ago I heard that farm land was going for as much as $10,000 an acre. This price is very dependent on the price of corn, or rather on what people expect the price of corn will be in the near future. I suspect the government's ethanol program has something to do with this.
    Yesterday I put up a post about a classic car auction taking place in Brothers, which is a small town in Eastern Oregon. I remarked that there wasn't much there, and Posthip Scott sends me this little notice from 1914.

Click to embiggenate.

Cyber Fish

Underwater fish-like drone from Poland.

I enjoyed watching this machine swimming. I am not quite sure what the fish-like fish at the end is. Is it a real fish, or another version of our drone dressed up to look like a fish?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Back to Bologna - Michael Dibdin

Back to Bologna - Michael Dibdin
Michael Dibdin has become one of my favorite authors. Unfortunately he is dead. Fortunately he wrote a number of books. This one has an entertaining and slightly convoluted plot. What follows is me exercising my memory to see if I could remember how it all fit together. To that end it is all spoilers, all the time.

What do we have here? A comedy of errors, perhaps? We have
- a college student and his refugee girlfriend,
- a spoiled rich kid and his gang of thuggish soccer fans,
- a caricature of a private investigator,
- a celebrity chef and his publicist,
- an aging senior police officer and his common law wife,
- a pompous windbag of a professor, and
- the dead owner of a soccer team (aka football club).
The rich kid and the college student are roommates. The college student out of financial necessity, the rich kid because of a whim. The detective is hired by the rich kids parents to follow rich kid around and see what he is doing. The rich kid mugs the detective and steals his gun, which he hides behind some of his roommate's books in his apartment.
    The professor kicks the student out of school because he is too smart for his own good. The student packs up his books to sell before returning home and discovers the gun. He follows the professor home intending to destroy some bit of foolish public sculpture the professor has set up next to his house. He shoots the gun at the sculpture, the bullet ricochets and hits the professor in the butt.
    Senior police officer stops by rich kid's parent's house to talk to them, because rich kid has been bragging about killing the owner of the soccer team. The police don't really suspect him because the same gun was used to shoot the professor and the team owner had lots of enemies, so a loud mouth kid doesn't really fit their profile of the killer. The kid comes home while senior police officer is there and has an argument with the housekeeper.
    The celebrity chef has had a disastrous public appearance and goes out slumming, incognito, looking for drugs to alleviate his misery. He runs into college student who is down in the dumps now that he has not only been kicked out of school, but the police are probably looking for him. The student feigning drunkenness, falls into Mr. Chef, relieves him of his wallet and replaces it with the pistol. The chef, failing to score any drugs freaks out and decides to alter his appearance by getting his head shaved, whereupon he discovers his wallet it missing. Suddenly finding himself in desperate circumstances he takes a job as a cook at an Italian restaurant where is confined to the kitchen with a 90 year old grandmother who screeches orders incessantly.
    Coincidentally, our senior police officer is having dinner at this same restaurant with one of the local cops, and likewise, college student is also there having dinner with his girlfriend. College student has brought a bag of rich kid's clothes because rich kid believes he needs to lie low for a while due to the perceived heat on him.
    Celebrity chef is enlisted to help serve a large group celebrating a little girl's birthday. Talking to the birthday girl prompts him to break into song, which is apparently his one real talent, which gets a big round of applause from the patrons. Heading back to the kitchen he is threatened by rich kid throwing plates of food in his direction. Taking the pistol from his pocket, he walks rich kid out the front door where he stumbles. Rich kid takes advantage of the situation and grabs the gun, and so when the cops show up two minutes later they find the killer holding the murder weapon.
    Celebrity chef's career is going down in flames thanks to the earlier debacle, until his long suffering publicist uses the impromptu concert to give it a huge boost.
    Our incompetent private detective attempts to claim a reward for information leading to the arrest of the soccer team owner's killer, but the police detain him because he had his name engraved on the gun.

    The women is this story also have important roles to play, but they are embellishments, i.e. they don't get to actually handle the gun.
    Not knowing much about this author, or any others for that matter, I was a little confused by the author's description of the professor. I couldn't figure out whether he was describing himself or some other famous dude. One reviewer claimed it was Umberto Eco.
    The title can be taken as a phrase, as in I'm going "back to Bologna", which is where the story is set, or as the 'title' one would find on a volume of an encyclopedia, i.e. entries from 'Back' to 'Bologna', kind of like 'Happy to Hug'.

April 2016 added Amazon link.

Mopar in the Desert!

1967 Plymouth VIP 2-Door, V8, Auto, VIN:PP23F74266322

Preview 8-4pm, Tuesday & Wednesday, May 6 & 7
55655 Coffey Rd
Highway 20, Brothers, OR 97712

What we have here is a whole bunch of cars laid out in sparse rows in the middle of nothin'. I mean really nothin'. Nothin' as far as the eye can see. I don't think I've ever seen so much nothin'.
   Some of the cars look like beaters, but some, like the one above, look pretty nice. 

Via Posthip Scott.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Virtual Mother's Day

The Fixx - One Thing Leads To Another - 1983

The whole mad damily went to the Irving Street Kitchen on Sunday for brunch to celebrate Mother's Day. Yes, it was a week early, but the way things get jammed up on holidays we decided we should get our celebrating done early. Dutiful daughter took the initiative and got us booked in on a day when we might be able to have a meal in a timely manner.
    I suspect it's very trendy. It all looks brand new, except all the authentically old stuff they use in furnishing the place. They seated the five of us in a booth with burlap curtains hanging from an iron pipe curtain rod. The table looked to be a two inch slab of maple cut from five foot diameter tree.. It was very loud. I noticed this song playing and I thought this-isn't-my-father's kind of place. I guess it was okay with the kids, but only because it was the middle of the day. I didn't mention that this song was older than they are, not that they would have cared. At the time I didn't know just how old this song is.
    The food was fine, though a little light on meat in the breakfast department, but then meat costs money, so it's probably just as well. The tab was a little warm - $100 for the five of us - but not bad for downtown trendy on Sunday, and some of us were drinking.


There was another coding contest today. I did a little better than last time. This time I came in at #231. Better, but I still didn't manage to pass all the tests.
    The problem involves stopping a tribble from escaping. We have a maze with multiple exits. You can block as many exits as you want, but while you are doing that the tribble is on the move, so you need to figure out which exits are closer and close them first. The tribble is naturally psychic and so knows the quickest route to any and all of the exits.
    For the first set of tests this was sufficient. With the second set of trials things got a little dicier. Seems there are spots in the maze that have two exits, so if the tribble manages to get to one of these spots, you lose. You can block one of the exits, but while you are doing that the tribble has gotten out the other one, so you need to keep the tribble from getting to one of these spots, which means looking ahead.
    It took me a while to recognize what the problem was, and a while longer to come up with a plan to handle it, and by that time I was out of time.
    My general plan was to:
  1. Count the number of exits attached to each point. It might be zero, one, two, or more.
  2. Maintain my original plan: see if there are any exits adjacent to the tribble's current position and if so block it. If there is more than one exit, give up. You've already lost.
  3. If we are safe for the moment we need to look ahead. Starting from the tribble's current location, go to each of the adjacent locations and see how many exits they connect to. If you have one that has more than one, then you need to block the tribble from getting to that point.

I think that would probably have been sufficient for this contest. The problem could be made much worse by having multiple paths to points that lead to multiple exits. On one hand it's kind of tempting to try out each and every path through the maze to see which ones you might need to block and which ones you can ignore, but for even a medium size maze that approach could quickly consume all of your resources.
    So I'm thinking you need to cast a gradually widening net. Since we have already counted the number of exits at each point, we know how far afield we have to go. If there is only one exit, then we only need to look at adjacent points. That was the situation in the first test. If the maximum number of exits is two, then you only need to look at your adjacent locations. If the maximum is higher, than you will need to search farther. A list of locations you have visited could prevent you from going in circles. Simply clear it at the start of each search, and mark off each node as you visit it. Recursion might be the answer if going farther than two links away.