Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest
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Thursday, April 30, 2015

No Sugar

No Sugar Tonight- The Guess Who

Kudos to Fran for remembering this tune. Randy Bachman gets the writer's credit for this tune. Bachman? That wouldn't be the Bachman of Bachman Turner Overdrive, would it? Yes, it would. But this is The Guess Who. Is he in here as well? Yes, he is. First one, then the other and now off to new things.

Baking to the next level

Richard Hamming
Detroit Steve pokes a yeast cell:
    I've been on a bit of a search kick on foods that have copper affinity. It started with my use of cinnamon, I use it every day in my oatmeal and it is red so I wondered what made it red. Still no idea, but thought it could be copper. Not likely but still. Like Iron for the Irish, I was wondering if it could be possible poisonous in larger accumulated quantities.
    The Irish and iron premise is 8,000 years of isolation on Ireland with a soil devoid of iron, has made the Irish very good at pulling out any available iron in the foods to the point that a diet rich in iron will accumulates to toxic level such that it actually damages our hearts. Thus, giving blood is an important habit and necessary.
    Many foods have affinity to different elements, tobacco for lead and radon, rice has one for arsenic. Basically a strategy for survival for plants is a chemical approach, they are trying to find ways to kill or discourage anything that might eat it.
    The EFSA European Food Safety Authority put out a Scientific opinion on the inability to assess the safety of copper-enriched yeast added for nutritional purposes. I tried yeast additive in college, did not agree with me then.

So this lead to one of my favorite and Tyler's yeast; Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
​I was surprised but should not have been by the broad list of research that has been going on with this yeast.​
There is a Database devoted to it!
So I started to read one of the articles.
Right off the bat, it reminding me of the Dr. Strangelove plot.
They are playing around with the yeast to have it use a sugar found in wood. Keep in mind what three concepts I have in mind while reading this: the Richard Hamming story and the Atom bomb (igniting our atmosphere with and atom bomb), second why coal stopped forming (bacteria was able to digest cellulose) and third the garlic mustard in my yard starting to come up (invasive species that take over).
​It is all so unlikely it's funny. First assumption is there is a lot of xylose, I have no idea how much xylose sugar is out there. So this new version of our favorite yeast gets out and starts its fast consumption of all the xylose, what might happen?
I remember reading about a case of iron overload some years ago. The treatment they used then was blood letting. The man took the blood home and poured it on his roses.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Girls with Guns

Madame Derringer by Frank Franzetta
Came across this on Last Stand on Zombie Island and I just couldn't resist stealing it.

Howell Torpedo

Howell Torpedo 1896 animation- vbbsmyt

Stu tells me that there is a piece of Germany in the Caribbean. Seems that back in the glory days of red-blooded communism Fidel was feeling benevolent towards his eastern comrades and deeded a narrow little island to East Germany. East Germany, and their Caribbean island, have been subsumed by the reunited Germany.
    Looking for more information about this communist paradise I stumble across Last Stand on Zombie Island which seems to have more than its share of the weird, like the Howell Torpedo. The thing is powered by an internal flywheel that was spun up to 10,000 RPM by an external steam turbine before it was launched. The range wasn't tremendous, but it was better than any of the competing designs. The US Navy bought 500 of the things. The video does a good job of illustrating just how complex this design was, and this was 120 years ago. No wonder the F-35 cost $300 billion to develop.

Ernst Thälmann Island, Cuba.
As for the island, it was originally named Cayo Blanco del Sur but renamed to Cayo Ernesto Thaelmann by Fidel. Ernesto was a dyed-in-the-wool communist who fought against the Nazi's. He died in Buchenwald. Zombie Island has the story.

Update September 2015. Stu put up a post about his visit to Buchenwald, which prompted me to add a picture of the island.

Alacranes Reef

Alacranes Reef Trip - Robbie Gomez
Music - Tamacún by Rodrigo Y Gabriela

My friend Ned is down in Mexico, off the coast of Yucatan. They're running the Bolder Won out to Alacranes Reef for fly fishermen and scuba divers.

Alacranes Reef, also known as Scorpion Reef
The reef is a protected area, so designated in 1971 by a convention in Ramsar, Iran. (Iran? That hotbed of mad muslim bombers? Well, 1971 was before the revolution.)
    Up until now I thought the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico were synonymous. They aren't. The Yucatan Peninsula and Cuba separate the two. The Caribbean Sea is to the south and east and the Gulf of Mexico is to the north and west.
    There are several other places of interest that could be marked on this map, like the Dry Tortugas, which are about as far west of Key West as Alacranes Reef is north of the Mexican coast. Then there is Treasure Island, site of the pig farm (it's the pinky-nail sized island south by southwest of Havana with the city of Nueva Gerona).

Monday, April 27, 2015

House Dream

Rengstorff House, Mountain View, California, 1867. 
This is not exactly right, but the overall look and setting matches my dream remarkably well.
My parents have purchased a big, old house. White, three stories, with a flat roof. It sits on a large lot, perhaps even a corner lot. The previous residents have left some things. Nothing substantial, and not evenly distributed. A bedroom on the second floor (the mom's room, I suspect) has a couple rows of open topped boxes stacked along one wall. They don't appear to hold anything very interesting, clothes perhaps. A bathroom on the second floor has been stripped of everything, including the toilet and the sink. The bathtub is still there. There is plaster dust and dirt scattered on the ceramic tile floor. The tiles are those small, hexagons that used to be so prevalent, about one inch across. I come across a high chair sitting in the middle of the entrance on the main floor. It's old, made of wood. It looks sturdy. It's finished with a thick, dark varnish. I'm wondering why we have it. Did the previous residents leave it here? Or did we bring it with us? Then I remember someone in our family is due to deliver a baby, so, yes, we are going to need this.
    I'm wondering where I am going to stay so I head upstairs to see how many bedrooms this place has. In the right front corner of the house is a second staircase going down. Just past the stairs is a bathroom, and in the back corner of the bathroom is an opening to something. I go look, and find an opening that lets you look down into another bathroom half a story lower down. There is another stairway on the other side of the bathroom that connects the two.
    I'm wondering about the condition of this place. My dad, in this dream, is getting on (in real life he passed away several years ago).  Has anyone taken a look at the roof? Flat roofs, it seems, suffer neglect until they start leaking, and then it's a big crisis.
    The interior decoration is from another era, or maybe just a higher class. In other words, it has been decorated. It is not a model of sterility that you get from new houses. Some rooms are carpeted, some have bare wood floors. In one room (a bathroom?) the carpet has a floral pattern. The walls are decorated with moldings, though most of the walls are painted white.
   I never did find out how many bedrooms there were.

P.S. I just realized what the problem is with flat roofs: you can't see them from the ground. If you want to know condition of the roof, you have to actually climb up there, and who wants to do that? With a conventional pitched roof you can see the surface of the roof, or at least some of it, so you can see if you have a serious problem.

Friday, April 24, 2015

I'm all outta gum

Scene from Stand Up Guys with Al Pacino as Val, Christopher Walken as Doc, Alan Arkin as Hirsch and Julianna Margulies as Nina Hirsch.

I was perusing the new Heavy Metal website and I come across this line in a comic and it triggers this memory of Christopher Walken saying the same line, so I have to go track it down. Turns out it's been used in umpteen different places in umpteen different ways.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

3D Fish Painting

Nothing heavy this morning, just a little civilization for your enjoyment. Via Sharon. Pictures here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Freedom to Write, Freedom to Think

Syafolee has an excellent post up about what writers should write about. She hasn't been posting much lately, probably because she's too busy enjoying that San Diego sunshine.

Nika Riots

The Empress Theodora at the Colisseum
Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1845–1902)
Roberta X mentions the Nika riots. Wikipedia has the story, and quite a story it is. Emperor Justinian manages to squash an uprising 1500 years ago in Constantinople. Theodora plays a crucial role. Make this your history lesson for the day.


Ghoncheh Ghavami
Tam links to Popehat, who is perturbed by a petition to disinvite Bill Maher to speak at a Berkeley commencement ceremony. The petition comes from They are unhappy with Bill claiming that Islam is not a religion of peace. Who is Never heard of them, so I go to their website, and what do I find? I find this picture (above) of a lovely woman who was jailed in Iran for watching a volleyball game.
Waaaa? On one hand they are condemning Bill Maher for condemning Islam, and on the other they are condemning Islam for being Islam? Do I have that right?

Logical thought is kind of a trick. It sometimes takes a certain amount of work. Not everyone comes by it naturally. Emotions can get in the way. So can years of conditioning. If someone tells you that something is wrong every day for a dozen years, you might start to believe them, no matter how illogical that thing is. Like a woman watching a volleyball game is a sin comparable to driving a car, and we all know that women should never be allowed near any kind of mechanical device, right? Am I right or what?

Sometimes I think studying Computer Science made me like I am, or maybe it just aggravated my natural tendencies. Computers are machines and figuring out how to make them do what you want can be a very frustrating experience. You know what you want, you tell the computer what you want it do, and you tell it no uncertain terms, and it goes and does something completely wrong. Was the computer being illogical? No, you simply missed something, you made some assumption about what would happen, and assumptions never cut it with computers.

I suspect that large segments of the worlds population is unfamiliar with logic and may even be incapable of logical thought. I thought America was above that, but that would be illogical.


Migrant worker cooking meal over campfire, Edinburg, Texas. 1939
Marilyn's Numbrix Puzzle is my second wake-up activity. This was the toughest one I've encountered. Usually I can do them in about 3 minutes regardless of difficulty level. This one took me two tries of over five minutes each. I might have been able to fix the first one, but it was easier to just start over. I've sometimes wondered how difficult you could make them, and what it would take to make a solution unique, like what is the minimum number of squares you could preset that would require a unique solution. But I've got other fish to fry so I'm not going to worry about it.

Sister Dorothy Stang

The body of Sister Dorothy Stang arrives in Anapu, where she was murdered two days earlier.
I'm poking around and I come across a mention of a murder in Brazil. Dorothy Stang was a nun working with poor farmers who was killed by the local capos back in 2005. I'm reading the Wikipedia story about her and I find the section about the trials of the killers confusing, so I pulled it apart and organized it the way I thought it should be done. It doesn't paint an encouraging picture of Brazilian justice, but then this is the rain forest, so I guess we should be grateful that they even pretended to have a trial. Or ten.

Prosecutors said Moura had ordered Stang's death because she had sent letters to the local authorities accusing Moura of setting illegal fires to clear land, which led to his receiving a substantial fine. 

Roniery Lopes, a witness in the trial of Regivaldo Galvão for fraud, was shot in November 2009, just before he was to testify.

The US Attorney's Office, Transnational Crime Unit, in Washington, DC, pursued an indictment of the four people under a statute on international homicide. The key elements of this statute require 

  1. the victim be a US citizen, 
  2. that the murder take place outside the US, and 
  3. that the murder was carried out to influence, pressure, or coerce a government or civilian group. 

Stang's murder met all the key elements. In June 2005, two men were charged with conspiracy to murder an American outside the United States in connection with her death. 

I'm not really sure what the US Attorney's involvement here was. Perhaps it was just a matter of political pressure. All the trials seemed to have taken place in Brazil, so I don't see how any US law could have any bearing on the matter.

Clodoaldo Carlos Batista
2005 December 10, convicted. Nothing else is said. I suspect he couldn't afford a good lawyer.

Rayfran das Neves Sales
2005 December 10, tried, found guilty and sentenced him to 27 years in prison
2007 October 22 tried and found guilty, and a judge in Belém sentenced him to 27 years in prison
2008 May 6 tried, found guilty and sentenced to 28 years in prison.
2013 July released from prison.
2014 September 20 was arrested again facing accusations of having killed a young man and woman with whom he had a drug deal. They supplied 50 kilograms of cocaine from Bolivia, but instead of paying them for the consignment, Sales fatally shot them.

Regivaldo Pereira Galvão, a rancher suspected of ordering the killing, 
? arrested and charged with the murder and released.
2008 December arrested and charged with the murder. 
2007 May 15, city of Belém, sentenced to 30 years in prison.
2010 May 1 tried, convicted
2012 August 21, the Brazilian Supreme Court conceded an habeas Corpus to Regivaldo Galvão. The defense attorney claims that jury decided to condemn Reginaldo before all the legal recourses available to the defendant were exhausted. Regivaldo Galvão was freed the following day.

Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura, aged 36, ordered Stang's death. 
In a second trial, Moura was acquitted of all charges, because the gunman, Rayfran das Neves Sales, declared in court to have killed Dorothy Stang for personal motivation. 
2009 April 7 the Court of Justice, in Pará, decided to void the third trial. 
2009 April 22 Superior Court of Justice of Brazil freed him pending a decision about his request of Habeas corpus.
2010 February 4 Superior Court of Justice revoked his habeas corpus.
2010 February 7 arrested after surrendering voluntarily to police.
2010 April 12 tried, convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
2013 May 15 Brazil’s Supreme Court overturned the conviction
2013 September 19, Pará State, tried, convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison


No, we're talking about deviant sexual behavior, we're talking about words. I slept well and I'm feeling pretty sharp so I get through the first three words in this Jumble puzzle in quick order. But now it's time to give older son a ride to the Max, so I minimize the browser window. On the way to the train I ask older son what do you call words like rezoom and rez-oo-may? He replies with "homonyms", but then quickly amends that to "homographs", neither of which are the same as "homophones". "Homonyms" I recognize, probably from elementary school when we had a month long lesson on synonyms and homonyms. I don't think I've used "homonyms" since. So what's the diff?

  • Homonyms (also called homophones) are words that sound like one another but have different meanings. Some homonyms are spelled the same, like bark (the sound a dog makes) and bark (the outer layer of a tree trunk).
  • A homophone is a word that is pronounced the same as another word but differs in meaning, and may differ in spelling. The words may be spelled the same, such as rose (flower) and rose (past tense of "rise"), or differently, such as carat, caret, and carrot, or to, two, and too. 
  • A homograph (from the Greek: ὁμός, homós, "same" and γράφω, gráphō, "write") is a word that shares the same written form as another word but has a different meaning. When spoken, the meanings may be distinguished by different pronunciations, in which case the words are also heteronyms.
So homonym and homophone mean the same thing, but homograph is the word I needed. Older son tells me that rezoom and rez-oo-may are not homographs because rez-oo-may has accent marks, kind of like John LeCarre. Who uses accent marks? He does, he grew up with a Mac, words are his speciality, and he knows the Alt codes for accent marks.

Why is the picture of the Jumble puzzle up there? Well, like I said, I was feeling pretty sharp this morning and my score reflects that. The nx symbols by each unscrambled word are score multipliers that you get for completing the puzzle quickly. Most days my multipliers are 1x, but occasionally I have a good day and I'll get a couple of 5's. Very rare to see nothing below a three.
    But how can this be? The elapsed time shows almost an hour, which is correct. I started a few minutes before 7 and ended finished sometime before 8. These multipliers fall by one every few seconds. You might notice there is no pause button. Evidently the multiplier timer is not connected to the elapsed time timer. The game is suspended when you minimize the window, but the timer keeps on keeping on, regardless.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Chemical Weapons

Actresses perform with an orange curtain at a ceremony to mark Agent Orange Day in Hanoi. U.S. warplanes dropped about 18 million gallons of the defoliant on southern Vietnam during the 1960s. (Kham/Reuters)
We're coming up on the 100th anniversary of the first use of chlorine gas in WW1. That will be Wednesday. Sarah Everts has a good story about the use of poison gas during WW1 on the Chemical Engineering website.
    At the end of the story there is a little multiple choice quiz. This should be a snap, all these web quizzes are like Trivial Pursuit. Whatever pops into your head in response is probably the right answer. Not here. I got 4 out of 8, and that was only because I was lucky.
    Reviewing the correct answers, I noticed that the names of two chemicals that go into making Agent Orange (the Vietnam War era herbicide) are very similar:
  • 2,4,5-Trichlorophenoxyacetic acid and 
  • 2,4  - dichlorophenoxyacetic acid
They are almost identical. One has a 2,5-Tri prefix, the other a 2,4-di prefix. The rest of it can be broken down as follows:
  • chloro - contains chlorine, same stuff in you find in bleach and swimming pools.
  • pheno - phenol is a basic building block for many plastics, amongst other things.
  • oxy - short for oxygen
  • acetic acid - vinegar, yuck.
The problems with Agent Orange came from the process used to make the first chemical. Producing chemical #1 entails some heating. If you let it get too hot, some of the substance will turn into
  • 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin
or TCDD for shot. The only thing this chemical name has in common with the first two is the chloro part.
TCDD has been described by Yale biologist Arthur Galston as "perhaps the most toxic molecule ever synthesized by man".

A note about the picture: I don't recommend Googling for Agent Orange images. Most of what you will get back is real horror show.


I used to be appalled by suburbia - endless rows of houses, all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look the same. But recently I've come to realize that houses are just basic shelters. People have been building houses for thousands of years and we've got the process down to a science, especially in the last couple of hundred years. They might not be architectural marvels, they might be lacking in character or charm, but they are solid, durable structures that will protect you from the weather, and they will do it for a price you can afford. The things that people put their energy into, color of the paint, color of the roof, the lawn and whatever landscaping they do, all that is just trimmings on the basic structure. Shoot, the floor plan is just a bit of flash. The only thing that really counts, as California Bob reminded me, is the metrics: the square footage, number of bathrooms and bedrooms. The nicest thing about houses is that they are quiet, well, as quiet as your immediate family is. No neighbors walking across your ceiling, no hooligans blasting heavy metal till 3 in the morning. Dull, boring and comfortable.
    It's still a bit disconcerting to see how far suburbs have spread across the landscape. It's no wonder traffic has become so congested. I really think we could use a new model for suburban living, but as long as land on the outskirts of town is cheap, and people are willing to spend the necessary time in their cars I don't see that things will change. Self-driving cars are going to insure that we continue on this same path. Replace your windshield with a big screen TV, talk out the front seats entirely, replace the rear seat with a lazy boy, and shoot, you wouldn't even have to go home, you could just crawl around in traffic all night long. In the morning you could go back to work. So you smell a bit, your co-workers will just have to suck it up. Or get some of those smell blocking chemicals. Latest thing from the chemical industry.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Gol Durn Whippersnappers

Went to the store, the bill was $17.99. I reach in my pocket to see what kind of cash I have stuffed in there and I come up $8. Well, that's half of it. Do I have a ten in my wallet? No, but I have a 20. I give the 20 and the 8 to the cashier and he looks at it, apparently confused. He wants to know if I want a five back, no, I tell him, I want a ten, but never mind, just take it out of the $20. I was surprised he didn't just punch it into the register and wait for the machine to compute the change, that's what most cashiers seem to do these days.
     On my way home, I make a left turn off of the main drag into a side street. There is a car sitting there at the stop sign. As I approach the crosswalk a biggish kid on a Razor scooter comes sliding out from behind the car on a diagonal track across the street towards the corner. I might have been able to hit him if I hadn't slowed down. He's gone, but here comes his younger sibling up the street and he veers towards me, causing me to slow some more. Ok, stupid kids playing stupid games. Except for the smug look on his face, that really pissed me off. Useless little shits. I go a block before my rage gets the better of me and I turn around and head back to the corner, see if I can find out where they are going. They are riding down the middle of the street, playing chicken with oncoming traffic. Okay, there wasn't much traffic, and they weren't really serious about it, but WTF?
   Another thing. They both had gauge earrings. I'm guesstimating their age at about 10. I'm beginning to understand why some retirement communities don't allow any kids at all, ever.

Edge of Tomorrow

Emily Blunt as Rita Vrataski, because who wants to look at Master Sargent Farell?
I have been thinking about belief, the protestant work ethic, Catholicism, and South America, and this scene from Tom Cruise's Science Fiction thriller Edge of Tomorrow pops into my head.
Master Sergeant Farell: Private Kimmel, what is my view of gambling in the barracks?
Kimmel: Dislike it, Sergeant Farell.
Master Sergeant Farell: Nance, why do I dislike it?
[Farell holds out the pack of cards]
Nance: Cause it maintains the notion that our fate is in hands other than our own.
[each soldier takes a card from the pack Farell holds out]
Master Sergeant Farell: And what is my definitive position on the concept of fate, chorus.
Squad: Through readiness and discipline we are masters of our fate.
[Cage watches as soldiers eat the cards they were gambling with, Farell walks over to Cage]
Master Sergeant Farell: You might call that notion ironic, but trust me, you'll come around.
I tried to find a clip to show you, but no luck. This scene is just the best, the delivery, the message, the situation, it's all just great. Master Sargent Farell, it turns out, is wrong, though you could argue that they were deceived if they they thought they were "ready".
    I saw the movie on the flight home from Argentina. Those earphones they give you on the airplane? They aren't worth a shit. Fortunately you don't have to hear anything to enjoy the movie. They background roar of the jet works pretty well as a sound track. I watched it again on HBO once I got home. It's a fine movie, never mind all the nay-sayers who are claiming that there are all kinds of things wrong with it.

Bonus: Master Sargent Farell uses 'ironic'. I have no idea what he is talking about.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Drone Aerial Refueling

Seen above the Chesapeake: The X-47B successfully engages the refueling drogue of an Omega K-707 tanker yesterday afternoon.

South America

The Altitude Land. BOLIVIA by Alexander Koval
Countries in South America seem to suffer once crisis after another. If it isn't an economic collapse, it's a revolution, so it was encouraging to read this story by Hernan Luis Torres Nunez comparing Venezuela and Bolivia.

Bob Hope

USNS Montford Point (MLP 1, left) is shown here conducting 'skin-to-skin' operations with USNS Bob Hope (T-AKR 300, right). The navy is exploring options for arming support vessels if they are to be part of an amphibious combat operation. Source: Military Sealift Command
The US Navy has a cargo ship ship named for the famous entertainer. Who knew? Certainly not me. He lived to be 100 years old.
Celebrated for his long career performing United Service Organizations (USO) shows to entertain active service American military personnel—he made 57 tours for the USO between 1941 and 1991—Hope was declared an honorary veteran of the United States Armed Forces in 1997 by act of the U.S. Congress. - Wikipedia

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Busy Hands

Just wanted to show what I've been working on this winter. All are dollhouse miniatures--1/12 scale. "Taller" items are about 7/8". I am working on a full line and will adding new items as well as new glazes and designs. I bought the furniture at the Cincinnati Miniature Show last weekend where I met a lot of nice people and got helpful advice.
Not me, a friend of mine posted this on Facebook. Some people knit, some people play cards, some people blog, and some people, like Gayle, turn a thousand pounds of clay into pots every year. These miniatures are a new thing for her. She has a page on Facebook.


U.S. Marines with Maritime Raid Force, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, breach a door with a demolitions charge during breach training at Fort Pickett, Va., April 10, 2015. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Joshua W. Brown.
See that squiggly, glow-in-the-dark cord in the center of the picture? What are they doing? Playing with silly string? No, it's Nonel, a non-electric means of detonating explosives. If you are old like me, you might remember seeing signs around road construction projects asking you to turn off your radios. It wasn't your radio receiver they were worried about, it was the radio transmitters. Only a few people had them back then, being as they cost fortune and were bolted into your car, not like the miniature ones everyone carries around in their pocket these days. Rumor had it radio signals could cause electrically operated detonators to explode, leading to all kinds of mayhem.
    Anyway, we don't see those signs anymore because about 25 years about Nonel replaced electrical detonators and now most everyone uses it. Nonel is a plastic tube filled with a low grade explosive. You trigger it at one end and the explosion races down the tube and triggers the blasting cap at the other end. This explosion causes the tube to light up, but only for a split second, and somehow the photographer managed to capture it here.

The brief flash of light you see before the ground erupts is the network of Nonel strung to all the explosives buried in this blasting site. Dyno Nobel has a video up on YouTube that gives a good overview.

Carbon Arc Lights

Three videos for your amusement. Special for Roberta X.

Posthip Scott sent me a link to a page which included this video of a WW2 anti-aircraft searchlight. They don't actually turn the light on here, this video just demonstrates the remote control. Not a big deal now, but a bit of a trick before the advent of digital electronics. Not to mention big, expensive and power hungry.

Carbon arc lights used to be used in commercial movie projectors. If you ever seen one they look like huge pieces of complicated equipment. They are, but the bulk of the machine is the big, empty chamber for the arc light.

You would want to be careful of your eyes when you start the arc. Too much looking at bright lights can blind you. We know this because it used to happen to captains of sailing ships because they used to take sightings of the sun to navigate. Funny, I remember being warned, rather severely, about this: don't look at directly at the sun, it will blind you. Hard to imagine that there was once a time when people didn't know that. I mean, it's painful to look at a bright light, I wouldn't think anyone would be able to look at the sun long enough to cause any damage. Perhaps there is some deer-in-the-headlights reaction that forces us to look?

This one gives a bit of history of arc-lights. It's not a great video, but it's not too painful either. When I was in Austin, Texas, back around 1980, they still had several 'moon towers' scattered around town. They are 150 feet tall and originally employed carbon arc lights for illumination. The had no lights at all when I was there. Evidently they do now.

I never used to be impressed by General Electric. The principles involved in their products were so elementary as to not even warrant consideration. General Electric's trick, that I didn't appreciate at the time, was packaging up these elementary principles in machine that people could use. It wasn't especially complex, but there were a lot of little details that you had to get right or the product would be a flop. Details that I thought were obvious, but like so many things they weren't obvious to everybody.

New, Miniaturized Chinese Attack Dog

A trainer holds a newborn puppy at a police dog training base in Hohhot, capital of north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, April 14, 2015. (Xinhua/Shao Kun)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Quote of the Day

    This idea is basic to doing any kind of fancy math with a computer, but it seldom gets mentioned. Being as the paper was written by a couple of guys involved in molecular biology, I suspect that the M after the numbers in the last sentence refer to Moles, as in the molecular concentration of a particular substance in a fluid. fM would be femtoMoles. 10 to the minus 14th power written in decimal form is .000000000000001

  • 1 milli-whatever is written as .001
  • 1 micro .000001
  • 1 nano  .000000001
  • 1 pico  .000000000001
  • 1 femto .000000000000001
    Whenever you are making calculations, you want to use numbers as close to one as you can because inevitably you are going to encounter a multiply or divide by a zillion and if you started with a very big or very small number your result will be off the scale and your answer will be worthless.
    Just for reference, a double precision number in today's common floating point format can have at most 16 significant digits,

Your Very Own, Personal, Internet

Caitlin Dewey has an amusing story about internet personalization on The Washington Post. Her description of what an algorithm does is a little weak, but hey, we can't all be computer scientists.
    I ran into this problem this morning. There was plane crash in Hiroshima, so I wanted to take a look at the airport. I pull up Google Maps, zoom way out, pan across to Japan and zoom in until Hiroshima appears. Now I ask for 'airport'. It shows me several, but not the Hiroshima airport. Make a more specific request and it takes me back to Oregon. Fuss with it and eventually I get the Hiroshima airport. Okay, what about all those other airports in this region? What happened to them? Cannot get Google to show them to me for love or money. Stupid Google.
Via Indiana Thomas.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Virtual Protest

Virtual protestors in hologram form took to the streets of Spain to protest an anti-terror law. (Getty)
They are protesting the new 'Citizen Safety Law' which will allow the government to fine people protesting outside government buildings.

Scheduling Problem

Scheduling Problem by Hideki HASHIMOTO
I was working on a programming puzzle over at Coding Games dot com and I wasn't getting anywhere. The problem involved packing as many events as possible into a given time frame. Each event has a start time and a duration and there is a whole raft of them, many more than could possibly fit. Your mission, Jim, should you choose to accept it, is to pick and choose from this raft of possibilities so that you can get the most events on the schedule. It's kind of a make believe problem, because you are going to be charging for the amount of time each event occupies, so it doesn't really matter whether you schedule one job or three as long as they generate the same amount of revenue. But then things are never that simple. There's always the special case where somebody's nephew just has to be on the schedule, or we get brownie points on some big shot's benchmark for having the most number of events, never mind the extra wear and tear on the facilities from all the set up and tear down. So it's kind of arbitrary, but it's also the kind of thing you could run into in real life.
     I sit down and start writing some code. My first attempt is to exhaustively test all possible combinations. That works fine for the first couple of tests where there are only a handful of events to schedule, but it falls flat when the number of events goes up to something like 15,000. Okay, brute force isn't going to work, so I try a couple of schemes and one of them seems like it is getting close to the 'correct' answer, but then I'm kind of stuck. I turn to Google, and lo and behold, Wikipedia has a whole bunch of pages about scheduling algorithms. I poke around for a bit and then I notice Activity selection problem, which sounds suspiciously like the problem I am working on. I skim the article which is basically incomprehensible because of the cryptic notation used that is supposed to mean something, but then I notice the phrase 'Sort the set of activities by finishing time'. Okay, I haven't tried that specifically, so I do, and presto! We have a solution. Actually the solution requires picking the next activity that starts after the current on finishes. You just march down the list picking the next event that that we can accomadate.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Blast from the Past

From Wikipedia:
Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi was the Shah of Iran from 16 September 1941 until his overthrow by the Islamic Revolution on 11 February 1979.
As late as 28 September 1978 the US Defense Intelligence Agency reported that the Shah "is expected to remain actively in power over the next ten years." - John Pike, American Federation of Scientists.
I want to rant and rave about the stupidity and incompetence of the US intelligence community, but that's kind of pointless. They are bureaucrats and they operate under the whim of our elected officials, who are veritable flags in the breeze of public opinion. Who am I kidding? Big money runs the world and governments get to squabble over whatever scraps aren't making a profit this week.

More posts about Iran.

Precision Attitude Determination Subsystem (PADS)

A Marine fires a TOW (tube-launched optically-tracked wire-guided) anti-tank missile during a live-fire demonstration, March 30, 2015, as part of a military exercise at Camp Adazi, Latvia.
Cool photo, looks like it could be some kind of Sci-Fi death ray weapon. Then I notice the odd bar-shaped box on top of the site, the one with the two rounded ends, the thing that looks like it could be a film magazine for a movie camera. Turns out it is a Precision Attitude Determination Subsystem (PADS). Supposedly it uses GPS. If that's the case, I'm guessing the two round compartments on the ends hold GPS antennaes and the length is there to give them enough separation so that their difference in altitude is measurable. Why do you need something like that? Because you could be shooting at something that was 5 miles away.

Looking for info about this device is what led me to the Orion Attitude Control Motor.

Orion Attitude Control Motor

NASA Tests Orion Launch Abort System (LAS) Attitude Control Motor (ACM)
This is a solid rocket motor. It weighs 1700 pound. It has one charge and one combustion chamber with eight valves and eight nozzles. Once ignited it burns until it is exhausted. It is used to control the attitude, or orientation, of the Orion spacecraft. In normal operation it is used to orient the spacecraft in preparation for re-entry. It would also be used in case of emergency during launch when the spacecraft is separated from the booster.

Update August 2015. Replaced missing video.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Pic of the Day

Kirov-class Cruiser Kalinin, Pacific Fleet, Vladivostok, 1955
More pics here


California. What a fine state, as in what a fine state of affairs you've gotten us into. California, land of sunshine and apricots, blue skies and sunny beaches. California does provide a counter balance to the heavy concentration of money and political muscle concentrated in Bos-Wash (the Boston to Washington D.C. urban nightmare of the east coast).
    As you may have heard, the epic drought in California has finally resulted in mandatory water restrictions, which seems to have triggered an outpouring of crazy. Don't eat this! Don't eat that! Sinner! Repent! We are all going to die!

This is just the first chart from Alissa's story. It's here because her's is too small to read. This one can be embiggenated. I got this one from Denis Bider. It was derived from an interactive chart posted by the L.A. Times.
   Alissa Walker has a fine story on Gizmodo about how much water it takes to produce our food. That's where most of the water goes - agriculture, as in irrigating the Imperial Valley. People started trying to irrigate the Imperial Valley back around the turn of the last Century. One of their first attempts sprung a leak, with surprising consequences.
The first canals were being constructed by 1900 under the guidance of chief engineer George Chaffey.
The Imperial Canal was completed within two years. It received water from the Colorado River, which, by the time it had flowed to the Imperial Valley, contained massive amounts of silt. The Imperial Canal filled with silt at an alarming pace. Attempts to create a diversion around the silt blockages led to disaster, when winter flooding in 1905 tumbled the diversion canal. The whole of the Colorado River poured into the Salton Sink, forming the Salton Sea. The area was a scene of flood for two years until the canal breach was mended. As the waters dried up the Salton Sea was reduced in size, but it is still the largest lake in California. - Wikipedia
Store-enough-food-for-a-year Mormonism is starting to look like good advice.

Via Posthip Scott.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

3D Printing

3D printing is coming along. They are now printing parts out of metal. They use powdered metal in your choice of flavors, and zap it with a laser which melts it. Essentially they are making parts by laying down a continuous bead of molten metal. Some characters in Australia claim to be making parts for jet engines using this technique. I have my doubts. Some parts, possibly, for prototypes perhaps, but real production parts for high stress locations, I don't see it. Not this week anyway.
    The part being made in the picture above was six feet tall when it was finished. It's about half way done here. It took 2 weeks to make. It would be a real trick to make it using conventional techniques. It's possible that some parts built this way could be stronger than ones that were conventionally made.
     The surface finish is coarse. I'm not sure what you could do about that, unless the layers you were putting down were really thin, like a ten-thousandth of an inch. That could make your robot really tired because it would have to make a 100 times as many passes. And then you've got all your thermal constraints and metal crystallography. Ought to keep the whiz kids busy for the next few years at least.

P.S. None of the videos I found were worth a sh**. I would think that with something as cool as this someone could make a really cool video, but all the ones I saw were just crap, with narrators blathering on about saving money. I'm thinking no one has really grasped what can be done with these machines.

Ghost Gunner

Ghost Gunner Cutting AR-15 Lower - Time Lapse

This is a promotional video from the guys who make the black box you see sitting on the table in this video. This black box is a minature, self-contained, 3-D milling machine. It sounds like they made it for the sole purpose of machining receivers for AR-15 rifles. On the other hand, it looks like it could be used for any other project where you need a small milling machine. I'm intrigued because it looks like what these guys are doing it totally illegal, though appearances can be deceiving. The BATF has their rules on what constitutes a gun, and I'm pretty sure one of those rules is that the part in question has to be operable, and it wouldn't take much to make any gun inoperable. A hole drilled in the wrong spot, or the wrong size, or some little tab missing, and the thing won't hold together much less fire.
    The whole argument about guns seem to be based on the premise that controlling guns will reduce gun violence. I am pretty sure that's a lost cause. However, as long as there is a sizable portion of the population that believes it, then it is unlikely anything will be done about the root cause of much of the violence, and that is the war on drugs. As long as heroin is illegal, guns are going to be the go to method of resolving business disputes in the drug trafficking industry.
    The other problem I have with gun control efforts is that some of the worst massacres in history were committed against people who didn't have any guns. Now it might be that in wars, more soldiers, i.e. people with guns, get killed than civilians, that is, people without guns, but at least if you have a gun you can shoot back. You may still end up dead but at least you have a chance to make the bastards pay for it.

Update February 2019 replaced missing video with another on the same subject. The original video has gone missing due to a 'terms of service violation', whatever that means.
Update January 2021 replaced missing video with a different one. Not too many old Ghost Gun videos around.

Sandy Boulevard, Portland Oregon 1939

Via Posthip Scott and cafe unknown.


Thieves broke into Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Ltd. in London over the weekend and looted 300 of the 600 safe deposit boxes. Reading the description of the heist I am reminded of several heist movies. Seems I'm not the only one. From the Daily Mail:
Police may never find out what was stolen in Hatton Garden because victims often prefer not to reveal what their secret boxes contained.In the Baker Street heist of 1971 thieves raided security boxes said to have contained compromising pictures of Princess Margaret.The raid, known as the Walkie Talkie Robbery, and the ensuing conspiracy theories formed the plot of the 2008 film The Bank Job starring Jason Statham.The thieves escaped with cash and valuables worth £3million – equivalent to £33million today – from a branch of Lloyds Bank in central London. Like the latest heist, the villains took their time. They rented a leather goods shop two doors down, and tunnelled for 50 yards.But when they reached the bank, their conversations over walkie talkies were picked up by ham radio enthusiast Robert Rowlands who lived nearby.He alerted police, but they did not take him seriously. Officers checked nearby banks, including the one the thieves were in, but found no sign of break-ins, leaving the gang to flee with the contents of 300 safe deposit boxes. Four men were later jailed.
International Business Times tipped me to the story. They also had this gem:
A security guard was alerted when an alarm went off on Friday but said he "wasn't paid enough" to check inside the safe, according to reports.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


K -266 Oryol, an Oscar II type nuclear powered submarine

Employees and journalists gather around the Indian Navy's first indigenously-built Scorpene attack submarine at Mazagon Dock in Mumbai, India, Monday, April 6, 2015. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)


Uniberp pontificates:
There are now 254 millions cars currently roadworthy/licensed in the U.S, more than twice what there were in 1980. Compared to 1990 193 million, so 25% more than that now.
There are 4 million miles of roads, only a small percentage greater than in 1990. Presumably it was not that much less in 1980  also. There was no big boom in roadbuilding since then, not like there was after ww2.
Additionally the average annual mileage in that same time is up 25% or more, so the effective loading is even greater. Only airbags and people's financial fear of insurance hikes keep deaths at acceptable minimums, statistically. The costs continue to rise, to the point that owning a late model a car is now  as expensive as feeding a family of four. Of course you cannot make the money if you don't have a car.
In grad school I took a computer simulation class. Inherent in those studies is "queueing theory" which is useful in calculating the number of cash register that should be staffed at a given time, to balance the need for service against the store operators desire to keep you in the store shopping for more goods. If they reduce the number of open registers too much, people will abandon their carts or avoid returning to that store due to slowness. If they overstaff registers (punch presses, welding stations, call center seats, etc,) the business is not only overpaying for idle workers or equipment, but also expediting purchasers exits from the store. Thing have less value if you do not wait at all for them, and can go without if the wait is too long.
Traffic is another application for queueing theory, which gets extremely mathematically complex, using Poisson distributions to predict system requests, load, and abandonment. It's not even close to easily understood, in fact better to look at it as only a possible mathematical framework for generally random and emotional behavior. In practical terms, I think it's easier to identify the workable niches in a system than attempt to collect data and create a convincing mathematical argument. Most of us live/work in far too small a sample.
The thing about traffic, is that there is no abandonment. When a person gets into a car, do they ever say, "oh traffic is too heavy" and turn around and go home? No. They sit there. They have to. This breeds psychotic behavior and the commensurate tragedies. I see expensive car damage accidents on open one-way roads almost everyday in my commute, especially now that the weather has changed and people are newly confident that their car will withstand another day of high-speed abuse because they were too tired to get out of bed on time. They blame the roads, the other drivers, the speed limits, anything but the sad fact that they are there, pushing the lambda to 1, exceeding the threshold of capacity until the pot boils over into the ditch, either figuratively with money or a dented fender. The same thing really.
P.S. Queuing Models: The Mathematics of Waiting Lines, a video / slide show with a version of "Money For Nothing" by Ghost Town Trio. The video is sort of meh, but the tune is interesting.

P.P.S. There are about a thousand cars in the picture. What would 250 million cars look like? It would look like a highway that was 1,000 lanes wide running from New York to Los Angeles. Fortunately, most of the cars are confined to LA and Bos-Wash, where people spend a thousand hours a year in their cars instead of a more normal 500.