Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

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

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Girls with Swords

Blizzcon 2013 Конкурс Костюмов. Costume Contest

Update November 2016 replaced missing video.

Big Pharma

Pill me
I'm down here in Vail, Arizona, just south of Tucson, and I've been watching some broadcast TV. Lots of ads aimed at older people with all their medical problems. Some of them are promoting drugs, some are from law firms offering to sue the bejeezus out of the drug companies. No surprise there, there are a lot of retired people down here. I think half of Iaman's neighbors are retired government employees of one flavor or another. Most ads from law firms are full of sympathy (oh dear, you've been hurt), righteous indignation and offers to help you exact your revenge. This one was different.
     One ad from a law firm stuck out because of the way they phrased their message. It was missing most of emotional claptrap found in other ads. This one laid it out very simply.
  • Drug companies make a great deal of money from drugs that help people.
  • Some people who take that drug, a small minority we hope, are injured by that drug.
  • The drug companies know this is likely to happen, so they set aside funds to pay for those claims / lawsuits.
  • So if you have been injured by a drug, step up the plate and say your piece. You will collect.
Which reminds me of an opening scene in Fight Club where (Ed Norton) is explaining how the automobile companies decide whether to include a safety feature in their cars or not.

I will be watching for that TV ad. I hope I can find it.


Seville, Spain. Via Cousin John and Maria Moreno de Tena.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

How the Mysterious Dark Net Is Going Mainstream | Jamie Bartlett | TED Talks

A little long (15 minutes), but really good. Never heard the Dark Net described like this. Transcript available hear if you rather read about it.

Clinton's Blacklist

Envigado F.C.
Looking for pictures to go with my last post, I stumble over this article about how a Colombian football club (soccer to US'uns) has managed to get themselves on Clinton's backlist because they are suspected of laundering drug money for the evil drug cartels.
   The Clinton List? That would be Bill Clinton, who set up this list back when he was President. It is apparently still hanging around despite a couple of Federal courts declaring it unconstitutional. (At least I think it's Bill, or Will, not Hill. I couldn't find the origin, The best I could find was a list of revisions going back to 1994, which, along with rumor and innuendo, kind of points to Willy.) Is the ACLU working on this? If not, why not?

US Embassy in Lima, Peru
Short refresher on South America:
  • Brazil is the big country with Rio de Janeiro and the big fuss about the World Cup.
  • Venezuela elected chubby Chavez, a populist who made friends with Cuba and pissed off everyone who had any money. He's dead but his policies live on.
  • Peru, a poor mountainous country famous for being the home of Peruvian Marching Powder. The US Embassy is the biggest building in the capital, funded almost entirely by the DEA.
  • Argentina and Chile are back to back across the Andes mountains. They are the southernmost countries, have temperate climates as opposed to tropical, and might almost be considered first world countries. They both also have a history of mass-murder carried out by right wing death squads. That seems to have gone away, but it's still a feature on most of the rest of the continent.
  • Columbia is trying hard to be a first world country, mostly by emulating the USA by fighting the commies (FARC) and the druggies, which may be the same thing. They pursue this course because we give them a lot of money to do so.
  • Bolivia, which is also famous for Peruvian Marching Powder, probably because both here and Peru are mostly high elevation mountains, and coca leaves are what people use to in order to function at 15,000 feet without oxygen.
  • Uraguay and Paraguay are smaller countries on the border between Argentina and Brazil. Uraguay is on the Atlantic Ocean, Paraguay is land-locked.
  • Ecuador is a small country on the Pacific Ocean.
  • The Guinea states, three small countries on the northeast coast. France has a space launch port there.
So once again the War On Drugs is distorting world affairs like nothing since the U.S.S.R. collapsed, or the Saudi Oil Embargo, which got me to wondering why, if the War On Drugs is so manifestly evil, do we continue to pursue it? Which brings me to money, movies and conspiracy theories.
    There are people in the USA who are making billions of dollars off of the illicit drug trade. I'm not talking about the gang bangers shooting each other on downtown street corners, or flashy blacks with their gold chains and their pimped out Escalades. I'm talking about the guy in the big house. He wears a gray suit, drives a Mercedes, might have an office somewhere, but he doesn't conduct any real business in it. He is totally invisible. Might even have friends on Capital Hill. I mean what better way to influence legislation?
    This-guy / these-people really like having all that money coming in and if anyone even thinks about changing the law I'll bet they get a visit, a very discreet visit from a nobody who manages to convey the message that they should drop any attempt to change the law or . . .  Whatever-it-is is left unsaid, but you can bet that the message is crystal clear, something along the lines of "nice kids you got there, shame if sumthin' were to happen to 'em". Now they might get all self-righteous and call the cops. That might protect his family, for the moment, but all it really means is that a little more political arm twisting will need to be done to see that no reform bill ever makes it to the floor.

Update November 2016 added caption to top picture so that we have a reference to the name of the club. Wikipedia has an article about the Envigado F.C. (Football Club), but it does not mention being blacklisted.

bookmarks, history & blacklist

    I'm thinking that an app that combined the functions of bookmarks, history & a blacklist might be a good thing to have.

Iconic History by Carnegie Mellon University interaction design student Shan Huang
    History records way too much stuff, stuff that I don't need, like all my Google searches, visits to gmail and YouTube. I've tried a couple of history apps but I haven't found one I like.

Marked Book
    I use some bookmarks, well, actually only two. I go on binges where I bookmark everything and organize all these marks into folders and then I never go back, at least not using bookmarks. I'm thinking of trying a new technique where I put everything in just one list, but that could quickly become too long and full of dross to be useful.
    The apps displayed on the Chrome browser's New Tab page is pretty good, I use it a lot. However, 5 of the eight slots are taken up with games, and I never use the other three. I don't even know what they are. Maybe I should check. Did that. One is another game that I play once a day (instead of ten or twenty times). I get there using one of my two bookmarks. Another is Wikipedia, which I do visit often, but I usually use the address typeahead feature to get there. The last is my bank, which I visit once in a blue moon. My blog was on there, which was handy, until I clicked the wrong spot or pressed the wrong key and it vanished.

Mr. Blacklist hisself ("Red' Reddington) has a meet in the Black & Gold record shop in Carroll Gardens. This picture is only here because it has Mr. Blacklist in it, and it looks cool.
    Lastly I want a blacklist, a list where I can send all the sites I never want to visit again for whatever reason. So this one needs a little extra functionality to popup a warning if you ever try to go there.

I also posted this on the Chromebook help forum. You can follow the discussion, if there is any, there.

P.S. Found a couple of good paragraphs about Hollywood blacklists here.

Update November 2016. Added explanatory note to last picture.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Danger! Black Hole Ahead!

Big, Bad Black Hole
"This is seen when the tremendous gravitational pull of the black hole forces the gases to emit light."
Force gas to emit light? 'Okay, gas, glow, dang you, or we'll telll your momma.' Well, that's sort of okay, but a not a really good explanation. Here's mine:
A black hole exerts gravitational force on all matter its vicinity. If there is enough matter being drawn in, then it will be compressed as it gets closer to the event horizon. If there is enough compression, the matter will heat up, and if it gets hot enough it will start glowing incandescently. A black hole off floating by its lonesome, if there could even be such a thing, could swallow small amounts of matter without leaving any trace at all.

Science Fiction

Water of Mars! Maybe. The blue color is suspected to be pyroxene, which is some kind of mineral.
 "The image is produced by draping an orthorectified (Infrared-Red-Blue/Green(IRB)) false color image (ESP_030570_1440) on a Digital Terrain Model (DTM) of the same site produced by High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (University of Arizona). Vertical exaggeration is 1.5."
Credits: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
Cool picture, and while it might be scientifically accurate, it is not exactly what you would see if you were there.

Scott Sanders, Hero of the People

I'm reading a story in The Orange County Register about how Scott is battling corruption in the Orange County District Attorney's office, and I come across this line
"The Orange County Public Defender’s Office, which has a budget of $72.6 million, handles some 79,000 cases a year with a staff of 211 attorneys, according to Public Defender Frank Ospino, who is Sanders’ boss."
The story gives us some numbers:
  • $72.6 million 
  • 79,000 cases 
  • 211 attorneys 
What do they mean? Using basic arithmetic we get:
  • $920 per case 
  • 375 cases per attorney 
  • $345,000 per attorney 
The $72.6 million does not go directly to the 211 lawyers. That's the budget for the whole office with all the staff of support personnel, and who know's what other costs that covers. Entry level salary for an Orange County Public Defenders is $63,000 a year. Scott makes four times that. He's been there a while.

Needless to say, not everyone agrees with the "Hero of the People" assessment.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Empathy & Revenge

Murder of Agamemnon, by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin. January 1817. Clytemnestra hesitates before killing the sleeping Agamemnon. On the left, Aegisthus urges her on.

The Atlantic has a story about how caring about people makes you a vicious killer. Ok, I exaggerate a little, but I recognize many of the described reactions and techniques.

Robotic Helicopter Landing Platform

Helicopter landing on ship in rough weather
When the weather is nice and the sea is smooth, landing a helicopter on a ship is not much more difficult than it is on land. (I really have no idea, but let's just pretend this is true for the moment.) When the wind starts blowing and sea returns to its normal heaving self, landing that chopper gets a lot more difficult, and at some point, when the wind or waves get to be too much, they won't even try.
    A while back I came across the RAST helicopter landing and handling system that gets used on Navy ships. Then yesterday I'm watching a show about the Sinop-D, an ancient shipwreck in the Black Sea, and their underwater robots have mechanical arms equipped with force feed-back, so the operator can tell, just by how much the controls resist, how much effort the machine is exerting.
    So this goes into my brain and today I get this idea for ships that carry helicopters. What they need is a landing platform that is mounted on a robotic arm that can compensate for the pitch and roll of the ship. That way it can provide a nice, stable landing platform for a helicopters even in recalcitrant weather. Once the chopper is secured to the platform, the platform can gradually step away from being stable and back to being locked to the ship with all it's unpleasant gyrations.
    Building something like this that would support multi-ton helicopter from a storm tossed ship would be a bit of a trick. Nothing really new, just bigger and faster and more sensitive than anything we've got now.

Friday, September 25, 2015

H. Wilson Sundt Generating Station

AREVA Solar Power System
Adjunct to the Tucson Power Plant

I noticed this power plant shortly after I got here. It's a big industrial looking establishment, but it doesn't really look like a power plant - no giant smokestacks, no billowing clouds of steam. Looks like it might be a cement factory, but it's very clean looking, much cleaner than a cement factory ought to be. And there's this weird, long, silver rail propped up on stilts. Looks like one rail for a gantry crane, but like I said, there's only one. Iaman tells me it's some kind of solar dohickey, which is what the video is about.
    Our basic way of making electricity is to spin a generator using a steam turbine. You can make steam any number of ways; by burning fossil fuels, concentrating radioactive isotopes till they get hot, or use the sun like they are doing here. Disadvantage of using the sun is it only works during the daylight hours, but that's also the time you need power for your air conditioners, so perhaps here it works out.
   5 megawatts = 6,705 hp. I think they said that's enough for 600 homes. Utilities need to plan for worst case which means you've got everything turned on, and in a big house that could come to 10KW. This solar contraption cost about $8 million, which is kind of steep for that much power production, but then it doesn't use any fuel.

Hide and Seek - Namie Amuro

The Craft of War
Tune: Hide and Seek - Namie Amuro

A perfect blend of action and music, Via Look! A Baby Wolf!

Update January 2017 replaced missing video.
Update December 2019 replaced missing video.
Update July 2020 replaced missing video.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Vratsa, Bulgaria

Wondering where to go, I ask Google for cheap houses in Europe, which leads to Vrasta, Bulgaria, which leads to
Vratsa is the home of a professional Quidditch team operating within the fictional Harry Potter universe. The Vratsa Vultures have won the European Cup seven times. - Wikipedia
Well, isn't that something.
Turns out the cheap houses are 300 square foot apartments in Sunny Beach on the Black Sea, site of future sea battle between Barack and Vladimir. Book your ringside seats now.

Lotsa Mules

June 18, 1911 Building  the Los Angeles Aqueduct
Via Posthip Scott

King Clock

Old Town Clock of Prague
Looking for a picture of the clock tower from Neal Stephenson's Anathem, Google directed me to The Paltry Sapien. Seems like this clock might be where Neal got his idea for a clock that not only shows you the time but a dozen other bits of astronomical information as well.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Leg Bones

An X-ray showing a right hip (left of image) has been replaced, with the ball of this ball-and-socket joint replaced by a metal head that is set in the femur and the socket replaced by a white plastic cup (clear in this X-ray).

I'm in Vail, Arizona, babysitting my 230 pound little brother who is going in for hip joint replacement surgery tomorrow morning. He is a little concerned about how the surgeon is going to fix the length of his leg. The surgeon's plan is to compare kneecaps. Iaman's concern is that the reference leg also needs a joint replacement, so that leg might not be the right length either, and so should not be used as a reference.
    This reminds me of a couple of horror stories I heard. Not to worry, they turned out okay. One was from a woman I know in Iowa. She was in an auto accident in her younger years and both of her legs were severely injured. When they put her back together she was four inches shorter than she had been. Her legs, from what I have seen of them, are not disfigured. There might be a couple of scars, but nothing prominent. Then again, she could have been pulling my leg. I have no corroborating evidence.
    The other story is about a young man in Ohio, He was a few years ahead of me in high school. He got a job as a lineman working for the power company. He fell 80 feet from a power pole. He landed on soft ground, which I suppose saved his life. He sustained severe injuries, mostly to his hip joints. The doctors were able to put him back together, though he too ended up several inches shorter than before.

P.S. Operation was a success.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Disability-Adjusted Life Year

Age-standardised disability-adjusted life year (DALY) rates from All Causes by country (per 100,000 inhabitants). Color indicates rate. It ranges from 9,250 for light yellow to over 80,000 for dark red.

Detroit Steve sent me a link to a complicated DALY chart. There are a bunch of diseases listed, but what the heck is a DALY? Wikipedia knows:
    The disability-adjusted life year (DALY) is a measure of overall disease burden, expressed as the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death. It was developed in the 1990s as a way of comparing the overall health and life expectancy of different countries.
    The DALY is becoming increasingly common in the field of public health and health impact assessment (HIA). It "extends the concept of potential years of life lost due to premature include equivalent years of 'healthy' life lost by virtue of being in states of poor health or disability."[2] In so doing, mortality and morbidity are combined into a single, common metric.
    Looking at the burden of disease via DALYs can reveal surprising things about a population's health. For example, the 1990 WHO report[citation needed] indicated that 5 of the 10 leading causes of disability were psychiatric conditions. Psychiatric and neurologic conditions account for 28% of all years lived with disability, but only 1.4% of all deaths and 1.1% of years of life lost. Thus, psychiatric disorders, while traditionally not regarded as a major epidemiological problem, are shown by consideration of disability years to have a huge impact on populations.

Swingin' Hot Spot

big yellow taxi - joni mitchell in concert 1970

Hadn't heard this song in a long time, so here we go.

Update March 2017 replaced missing video with different one. Same artist and same tune, different venue.

Police Etiquette

Morpheus didn't say this. I have no idea if Mr. Fishburne ever said it or not.
Wondermark points to a Pacific Standard story by Ezekiel Kweku that talks about black people and the police, wherein I found this paragraph:
. . . the tactics I use to avoid being arrested or killed by the police have been instilled too deeply in me for me to forget. It is a carefully calibrated etiquette that feels like a delicate dance, . . . . Answer questions quickly, but not so quickly that you come off as snippy. If you have to move, move deliberately, but not so slowly that you look reluctant to obey or are stalling for time. Speak calmly and conversationally, but be polite and not too familiar. Answer questions, but don’t offer any information you don’t have to. And on it goes, each balance to be carefully struck, each parameter to be tuned in response to changing circumstances.
It struck me as I was reading this that these are the same rules that I follow. It was kind of surprising, because it made me feel just like I do when I am talking to the police. I'm not sure where I got these rules. Did my parents drill them into me? Or is is just part of being respectful, or perhaps 'showing respectfulness'? All I know is that I don't treat an encounter with the police the same as would with any other, non-police person.

OK, that's a post, but now I need a picture, so I go a Googl-ing and I find a very good article by Max Tucker entitled How To Deal With Cops. He covers the same ground from a slightly different perspective.
Part 1: Understanding CopsThe first step in dealing with cops is empathy. Seriously, it sounds like bullshit, but understanding them and relating with their position is critically important if you want them to let you skate on the stupid things you do. 
The 3 Things You MUST Understand About How Cops Think: 
1. Cops’ first and biggest concern is safety: I cannot over-emphasize this: The job of a police officer puts him in potentially dangerous situations every day, so everything he does starts with ensuring his personal safety. I’ve known and been friends with so many cops and all of them say the same thing: You’re always on guard because you never know what you’re walking into, and mistakes can get you killed. Every single cop knows other cops who have died in the line of duty. When an officer comes up to a car he’s pulled over or knocks on the door of a home that has reported a domestic disturbance, he has no idea who he’s going to be dealing with. You may understand that you are a perfectly nice, non-threatening person, but he doesn’t know that–he’s thinking about the guy who graduated with him at the police academy and got gunned down by a tweaker on a routine traffic stop last week. This concept—the primacy of personal safety—is drilled into them from the beginning of training onward, so understand that when a cop walks up to you he is–at the very minimum–suspicious and wary.
That is why the first minute of your interaction with a police officer—especially during a traffic stop or potentially dangerous situation–is so crucial. In this small window it is imperative you display the fact that you’re not a threat to him. This can mean hands up and open, a nice calm demeanor, a submissive tone, etc. Your specific actions depend on the situation, but everything you do upon initial contact with a cop should be about displaying the fact that you are not a threat. If you do that right, you will put yourself in a great position with the cop who has your immediate fate in his hands.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Compton Cowboys

Fire on the Hill - Official Trailer from Brett Fallentine on Vimeo.

If you are like me, when you hear 'Compton' you think of hip-hop and gang bangers, not cowboys, so when I heard about this I had to check it out. I like horses, so I think this is very cool.

Update April 2015 replaced missing "Teaser" with "Official Trailer".

Biking the LA River

Deepest Congo? No, Los Angeles River. I have to admit that this is the only photo that looks like this.
Hillel Aron has a story in LA Weekly about his bike ride along the Los Angeles River. It's thoroughly entertaining. I plotted the places he mentioned on a couple of Google Maps (because even Google has limits).
Part 1
Part 2

Hillel's route leads past a number of LA landmarks, and following along ties them to the river and so to each other, so it doesn't seem like such a vast, unknowable city anymore.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Sweet Meteor O'Death

Sweet Meteor O'Death
"The odds of a near-Earth object strike causing massive causalities and destruction of infrastructure are very small, but the potential consequences of such an event are so large that it makes sense to take the risk seriously," John Holdren, science advisor to President Barack Obama, told the Science, Space and Technology Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. - From a 2013 story on Fox News
We've gotten by so far without doing anything about the threat of rogue asteroids, and we will probably continue to do so. For a while, anyway. However, if we are really in love with ourselves as much as we claim to be, we probably ought to start thinking about what we could do about it if one ever did decide to show up.
    Gaining some space faring capability would be a good start and a mission to Mars would be a step in that direction. Personally, I think Venus is more interesting, but I can see how Venus's toxic, super-heated atmosphere would put people off. Much better to freeze and aphixiate than to boil in acid. Besides, we should be able to drive on Mars while the most we could hope to do in the near term on Venus is to fly around in the clouds.

Via Dustbury.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Drone Racing

Drone racing: First Person View (FPV)

Seems to have exploded. There are videos from all over the world of people racing their drones using VR (Virtual Reality) goggles. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Via Detroit Steve.

Mitsubishi Timing Belt

Mitsubishi 3.8 Liter DOHC V-6 Timing Belt. You cannot see the whole thing when the engine is in the car. Once you have removed a couple dozen bits and pieces, you can see part from above. To see the lower end, you need to take off the right front wheel and the splash shield. Nice that someone pulled their engine out just so we could see this.
I just realized our Mitsubishi Endeavor was overdue for a timing belt. The factory maintenance schedule calls for replacement at 105,000 miles and we are at 113,000. Not something you want to stall on as failure of this $2 part will destroy your $5,000 engine, so belly up to the bar and flex your credit card or prepare for two days of hard labor.
    It probably costs more than $2, but it doesn't really matter how much it costs because the big pain is the time and effort needed to do the work. The Endeavor, like most modern cars has the engine mounted transversely, which means the front of the engine (where all the belts are) is pushed up against the right front fender. A whole boat load of stuff has to come off before you can even see the timing belt, much less get to it. A shop will charge 5 or $600 just for the labor.
    Since you are going to all this trouble, it might be a good idea to replace some other items that are in there as well, like the water pump, tension rollers and a couple of seals. I had Accurate Auto do the work. The bill was just a shade over $1,000. The engine might still blow up, but it won't be because I neglected some important maintenance.
     Accurate Auto used to be in an old, converted gas station downtown that didn't have hardly any parking. Then I started going to Eric Heaton's on 25th. Eric lost a technician and now he has a backlog of work as long as your arm. I didn't want to wait on this deal, so I called Accurate and found that they had moved to a spacious facility next to Hale's restaurant on TV Highway.

School Dream

Winston University Lecture Hall
I am in a basement corridor. It is wide and long so presumably it is underneath a large building. It's clean and adequately lighted. There are your typical basement accoutrements (pipes, light fixtures, that sort of thing), but not many doors, so it looks like it is used for moving stuff from one place to another. There's nobody down there but me. I walk down the hall and it turns to the left and then to the right and eventually I come to a Tee. There are a couple of men wheeling carts laden with boxes across the Tee. The left hand of the Tee goes outside where they are loading boxes on a truck. Evidently this is the school's commissary and the boxes contain food.
    I go outside and I am walking down a city street. The school campus is mixed in with other buildings. I cross the street on a diagonal. On the far side are some train tracks and just past the tracks is a tall curb which gives onto a train platform. There is a short commuter train coming down the tracks with it's headlight on. It is at least a block away so I have no trouble crossing the tracks and stepping up onto the platform.
    I head up a slight rise to the Hamilton's, a collection of medium-high rises that are part of the school. I see a sign on the wall announcing the class I am looking for. It's a permanent sign and gives the professor's name, the name of the class (Flying), the days and times. I go inside. It is an auditorium style lecture hall with tiers of seats arranged like you would find in a theater. There are high windows around the outside and the walls are pale yellow. Instead of the typical foldaway desktops you would find in such an arrangement, there are full size tables in front of each row of seats.
    I find my friend in the midst of this. He has some papers in front of him and a stack of half a dozen books. I ask him about the class as I am considering taking it. He says it's okay, but lately all they have been talking about is economics, which he isn't too thrilled about. Class is about to start so I make my way out between the rows of tables, chairs and people.
    I go to see a professor about something and he starts telling me about his pen. It's kind of like a fountain pen, or a calligraphy pen. Most of the pen is black or brown or metal, but part of the grip is glowing slightly with a dim red light. First off he's telling me about how the grip directs your fingers, or their force, to a point just short of the pen's tip. I don't get what he is talking about, but I don't object. Then he starts telling me about the tip, how it is U-shaped, and how by rotating the pen you can bring any of several edges to bear on the paper and so determine the width of the line you can draw. They all seem to be variations of wide, from 1/16 of an inch up to a quarter. There does not seem to be a way to make a fine line.

Airline safety

Airliner burns at Las Vegas airport last week.
I asked a question on the Wikipedia Reference Desk:
I have always heard that "flying is safer than traveling by car" on a per mile basis, and I believe that is true. But what about on a per trip basis? Say I make about two car trips a day (I drive to work and then I drive home). In 40 years that could add up to 25,000 trips. I've had two accidents that were serious enough to make my car undrivable. I don't know how many airline flights I've taken, not many, maybe 100. My point is all you can do about these kinds of things is you can either decide to make the trip or not, so the odds of an accident on a per trip basis are more meaningful then on a per mile basis. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:55, 12 September 2015 (UTC)
I got back a couple of replies. I thought this one was especially good.
Indeed; ultimately, what we choose as our denominator when we normalize statistics for comparison is purely a heuristic. Should we compare number of trips? Number of miles? Number of passengers multiplied by number of miles? Number of dollars spent? Whichever value we choose represents a heuristic model of our threat: if we count miles, that implies that (for some reason) we believe the risk is uniformly distributed over distance; if we choose number of trips, that suggests that we believe the risk is quantized - e.g., because of the adage that the riskiest part of a flight is the takeoff and landing. There is no universally correct answer.
I feel safer when I fly myself than when I fly on a commercial airline, even though accident statistics very clearly show that airline transport is safer than general aviation. This may be an illusion, but it is a real psychological effect. The process of Aeronautical Decision Making is the "systematic approach to the mental process of evaluating a given set of circumstances and determining the best course of action." It means becoming fully informed about all the pertinent objective facts of a situation. It also means to think clearly through the details, and to be aware of our own mental limitations. Finally, it means to take a reasonable course of action, based on all available data.
It is also worth emphasizing the formal distinction between probability and statistics, because this is relevant to making good decisions about outcomes.
In my short career as a (non-commercial) aviator, I've seen many mechanical failures - on the ground and in the air. Thus far, none of these interesting occurrences have resulted in a fatal accident. But from this perspective, I recognize the widespread fallacy of fixating on Gaussian distributions. The mean and median event rate for a large population has zero impact on when I will experiece an event. This is the causation-correlation fallacy. It is tragic that in the basic tiers of formal schooling, we spend so much time studying bell-curves for large populations. We ought to spend more time studying Poisson distributions and their effect on probability. Bell curves are fantastic ways for institutional regulators to study safety on the macro-scale, and do provide actionable information if your decisions can affect large numbers of events. However, I am only one individual. I do not represent 300 million air travelers; I do not actually feel effects of n-accidents-per-hundred-million. What I care about is likelihood of a single event - one single event, not n-events-per-mille - and all I care about is how that single event will affect me (and my aircraft and my passenger). Recognition, and realistic understanding, of these types of probability distributions, is more useful for me to inform my judgement than all the bell-curves in the world. My aircraft will not suffer an accident because the national average for aircraft predicts it. My aircraft will only suffer an accident if a mechanical or systems failure occurs, or if there is a fire, or if I command the aircraft to do something unsafe, or if some outside occurrence creates an unrecoverable situation. None of that is caused by nation-wide average. Quite the opposite: the nation-wide accident rate is caused by the aggregation of all of these individual events.
This perspective completely changes the way I evaluate, and reduce, my risk - whether the risk is related to automobile traffic, operating or riding in aircraft, or participating in any of the other uncertain activities of ordinary life.
Nimur (talk) 15:44, 14 September 2015 (UTC)

Monday, September 14, 2015

Quote of the Day

Georges Asfar in Damascus, c. August 1954. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.
Balanche thinks the war will continue, grinding out the shape of a divided Syria, because the determination of Iran, Israel, Jordan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the U.S. to secure their interests remains stronger than any desire to end the fighting. -  writing for Bloomberg.

Note that the only connection between the picture and the quote is Syria. I have no idea who Georges Asfar is. I just thought the picture was cool.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Map Versus Map

How do you get from Russia (just north of Georgia) to Syria without flying over Turkey?
Russia is sending all kinds of stuff to Syria, humanitarian aid and military weapons. Bulgaria got itself in the news by saying that Russian aircraft that want to fly over Bulgaria will have to land and be inspected to make sure they aren't carrying anything inappropriate. I'm thinking, Bulgaria? Who cares? But then I look at the map and if you want to fly from Russia to Syria you are going to have to cross over some other country, like Turkey, or Bulgaria and Greece, or Iran and Iraq. Since Iran is opposed to ISIS, and the purpose of all this aid is support the Syrian government against ISIS, I wouldn't expect them to object. Since Iraq is a US puppet state, I wouldn't look for any cooperation there. And Turkey, well, Turkey forced a passenger plane to land for inspection back in 2012. That kind of thing kind of sticks in the craw. Mucking about with airliners is good way to get people up in arms.

Google's Rejection Notice
    Al-Monitor tells us that Russia has been working on the Latakia Airport in Syria, so I pull up Google Maps to see what I can see, and Google can't find it and wants to know whether I want to add it, so I say sure. Wikipedia gives me the coordinates and I fill out the form and Google rejects it. Since it's not a burger joint or a swinging hot spot in the lower 48 I guess they don't care.

Bassel Al-Assad International Airport
Wikimapia doesn't have any trouble finding it.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Space TV

Kelvin Jones : Call You Home
from Joe Connor on Vimeo.

Joe expounds:
Yup, that really is a TV in space, for real. I created this video by sending a vintage Sony TV into orbit on a weather balloon provided by Sent Into Space, surrounded by cameras so as to capture this spectacular footage hovering above the Big Blue Marble itself.
More precisely, it took two launches - both from Snowdonia in Wales, with two identical TVs, with each launch providing the opportunity to rig the GoPros in different positions.
I'm pleased to say that all TVs in this music video were harmed as they crash-landed back to earth. We sent the TV off from Snowdonia and it landed in Bury, Manchester - taking in my hometown of Warrington on the way which can be seen in the promo. I'm proud to say that the TV got 99.997% above the atmosphere, just 0.003% below the Armstrong line - surely the highest TV in history.
Update 9/13/15: This video got me thinking about how glass-tube-type TV's are rapidly disappearing and how much grief people will put up with to get something they want, like their favorite sitcom.

Watching Westerns while on the job. Very bad.
Which reminded me of a scene from the movie Brazil, where we have a bunch of young guys in suits in an office with some kind of displays on their desk and they are all watching an old Western, until the boss sticks his head out of his office door, where upon they all simultaneously switch back to their work screen until he goes back inside, and then poof! Back to the shoot-em-up!

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy

September 5, 2015. U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy arrives at the North Pole.
First U.S. ship to reach the pole unaccompanied, which implies that other U.S. ships have been there before. Since you would need an ice-breaker to reach the North Pole on the surface, that kind of implies that we went in the company of some other country's ice breaker. That wouldn't have been Russia, would it?

Healy? Where'd they get that name? Wikipedia, as usual, provides the story:
Healy was . . .named in honor of United States Revenue Cutter Service Captain Michael A. Healy (1839 – 1904) . Healy patrolled the 20,000 miles (32,000 km) of Alaskan coastline for more than 20 years, . . After commercial fishing had depleted the whale and seal populations, his assistance with introduction of Siberian reindeer helped prevent starvation among the native Alaskans.
I am beginning to suspect that we (as in we - the human race) won't be happy until we have killed and eaten every critter on the planet. And then we'll be sad.

Healy has a web cam. They put up a new pic every hour.

Inspired by Lloyd.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Age of the Unicorn

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II In Milan
The Nation has a story about the surge of hugely valued venture capital funded start-ups. The huge value is totally pie-in-the-sky. Anything's value is determined by what someone is willing to pay for it, and while some people might claim to be willing to pony up a huge amount of cash to purchase this thing, if the thing is not for sale, does their offer even count? No, it doesn't.

What I see is a group of people with a great deal of money who are willing to bet on some long shots. No surprise there, that is what venture capital is all about.

The other thing I see is that they are doing some really trivial things (like order a taxi with a smart phone) that are taking advantage of the huge pool of underemployed young adults. Would you rather make $200 a day driving a cab for 12 hours, or spend 8 hours over a hot grill and make $100? This is stuff that could have been done 50 years ago, except everyone was busy making real money back then. These guys are finding niches in the existing market and exploiting them. Nothing wrong with that, but it is not going to cause a fundamental change in our society, which is what we really need.

What would make a huge, positive difference would be the negative income tax. If everybody was getting a subsistence allowance, we could eliminate:

  • welfare
  • minimum wage laws
  • unemployment compensation
and all the bureaucracies that go with them.

The Republicans would love to see the minimum wage laws go away. The pay for a lot of jobs would drop to $1 an hour, but if you add that to your weekly dole you'd at least be able to buy beer on the weekend.

Then again, it might be the end of civilization as we know it. But I kind of think we are on the road to hell now, so trying something radical might be a good idea.

Alfa Romeo 4C

2015 Alfa Romeo 4C Hot Lap! - 2014 Best Driver's Car Contender
Laguna Seca

A little spendy, very light, very spartan, very quick. A supercar on a budget. It's so light that that extra 100 pounds you are carrying around will affect your track times. Via Posthip Scott.

A Perfect Tempest in a Teapot

The ocean has gone plaid!!!
Older son got a ticket from the Transit Police last night. His job provides him with a free Tri-Met pass, and since everything is an App these days, he's got it in his Smart Phone. Since it's now so-much-more-convenient, the cops need a scanner to tell whether his pass is valid, and the scanner said "no, not a valid pass", so the copper wrote him a ticket and now he has a date with the court. Count up another win for the petty fascists. Just one more reason why I'm glad I don't carry a smart-phone.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Generation Y

Reina Street in Central Havana. (14ymedio)
Generation Y is a blog from Havana, Cuba, written by Yoani Sanchez. I would say that her writing is exceptional, except that I think she is writing in Spanish and someone else is translating it. In that case we would have to give at least half credit to the translator. Whatever. In any case she is writing about life in Cuba and what she writes is pretty wonderful. She hasn't been arrested so far. So, plus one for writing skill.


There are two kinds of knowledge (at least). One is what's in your head, everything you know and / or believe, everything your senses are telling you, all your thoughts, all knitted together into one complex whole. It's what we use to make decisions, to run our lives.
    Another kind of knowledge are factoids, small bits of knowledge about one specific thing. These can be communicated to other people, they are small and simple enough that they can be explained in a finite amount of time. They can also be stuck together to build bigger things, like ideas, plans and concepts. The are kind of like Legos (the small, plastic, toy building blocks) or bricks. You can stack them up and make things. They are also kind of like blueprints or plans. They can be used to guide the construction of some sort of thing.
     Not all of this knowledge is true. Just as if you build a house out bricks made of dung, a belief system built on bullshit is liable to collapse.

    Science is built on factoids, factoids that get tested. Some of them are found to be true and are kept. Some are found to be false and are thrown out. Some are true for a while, and then later on are found to be false, so we keep them around for a while, but when we find out the truth, we throw them out.
    I suspect that a  lot of religion is made up of stories to explain stuff that confused people, stuff for which we had no direct evidence. Stories are like strings of popcorn, where each popped kernel is a factoid, each of which may be true, or not. People's beliefs are based on the stories they have been told. While many religious beliefs are benign, some are not, and some only reveal their true character when pressure is applied.     Killing people, for instance, is one of those issues. Some people think you should never kill anyone. Some people think they should kill everyone who is different in some specific way. Some people think there are times when killing is justified. I would like to think that if we could just show all the wrong-thinking people the error of their ways, they would reform, and start believing and behaving correctly. Unfortunately, I don't think there is enough time in the universe to do that. Lunatics seem to popping up with ever increasing frequency, kind of like if the dead were coming out of their graves. Is it just a fluke that Zombie movies and games are all the rage these days? I don't think so.

Super Pressure Balloon

Super Pressure balloon shortly before release. Note the yellow machine on the ground.
While reading about some NASA balloon projects, I came across this picture of the launch of a balloon from an airport in New Zealand. I thought it gave a pretty good idea of the size of the thing.

Super Pressure balloon being inflated. Now you can see how big that machine is.
Especially when you find out that the little bitty yellow device on the ground in the top picture is actually a giant frigging 80 ton crane.

Super Pressure Balloon's route around the bottom of the world.
This was a Super Pressure balloon, designed to maintain a constant altitude for days on end. This one managed to stay aloft for a month before a leak prompted them to bring it down in Australia.
     Most high altitude balloons are zero pressure - the pressure of the helium inside is the same as the air outside. During the day the balloon warms up, the helium expands and the balloon goes up. During the night, it cools off, contracts and the balloon loses altitude. With a Super Pressure balloon, the volume is fixed. It stays the same day and night. Since the volume doesn't change, the altitude doesn't change, at least not as much as a conventional balloon. These things are flying around at an altitude of about 25 miles, three times as high as your typical jetliner.
    I suspect the term 'Super Pressure' is a bit of a misnomer. I suspect you would be hard pressed to be able to measure the pressure in the balloon when it is at altitude. Since there is almost no air at that height, it wouldn't take much to keep the balloon inflated. Just how much pressure? At 33.5 kilometers, which was this balloon's nominal altitude, the atmospheric air pressure is about 19 millibars, so one millibar of pressure is probably enough to keep this thing happy. (Ground level air pressure is around 1,000 millibars.)

Fun with Chromebook

Not. Little problems keep cropping up. I used to complain about them on the Google Help Forum, but evidently that it not the proper place to voice your complaints as a couple 'experts' got their knickers all in a twist. So I Googled and found there is specific jobbie for 'feedback'. Google claims they read them all, but who knows? It might just all go in the bit-bucket. Whatever, gives me a place to vent. Here's my latest:
The 'Find' text (Control-F) function is being stupid. Open it on one tab (web page) and enter your text and it will find it, or not. Go to another tab/page and you get no response. Used to be it would tell you if your search term was there or not. Now it just sits there looking stupid. Only when you erase the text and re-enter it does it wake up and fly right.

Cookies For All

This message now appears at the top of this blog when you access it from Europe:
This site uses cookies from Google to deliver its services, to personalize ads and to analyze traffic. Information about your use of this site is shared with Google. By using this site, you agree to its use of cookies.
The European Union now requires 'cookie' warning messages on all web pages that can be accessed from Europe. I don't know whether to be upset, offended, or relieved. Relieved because Google (the beneficent) provided the message for free. I didn't even have to think about it. Upset because this sounds like more stupid government meddling. Offended because - how dare they interfere with the free dissemination and collection of important information. I mean, I need to know your shoe size.

I'm not going to worry about it too much. The internet is a haphazard collection of protocols and rules, and we are just beginning to sort out all the implications of what we have created. There are going to be hiccups but I am confident we will figure it out, eventually. It may take a few years (decades? centuries?) but we'll get there. Of course there are always going to be people, to use the term loosely, who will attempt to strangle the 'net in order to promote their twisted view of reality. China, I'm lookin' at you.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Ceres, Part 2

Circling Occator Crater on Ceres (Silent)
The crater is about 60 miles in diameter and about 2 miles deep.

Space probe Dawn has moved closer to Ceres and is now orbiting at an altitude of 900 miles. Dawn has been busy doing what space probes do, which is taking pictures, so we have a better picture of the two white spots that showed up when Dawn arrived here six months ago. Still don't know what they are, but they appear to be near the center of a large impact crater. So once upon a time Ceres got hit with a pretty big rock. A collision like that releases a lot of energy in the form of heat, possibly enough to liquefy rock and shoot a stream back out into space. But what is the white stuff? It could be ice, but water ice would sublimate (evaporate), so you would need a pretty good size deposit for it to survive how many millions (billions?) of years since the big crunch. It could be some other kind of ice, but you still have the same problem. If it is some kind of solid, how has it managed to not become mixed in with the surrounding rock? We find mineral deposits on the Earth that are relatively pure. The only one I can think of that would be white is salt, and for some reason that seems unlikely. I guess I've never heard anyone suggest that they had found salt anyplace outside of Earth.

Part 1 here.


Kennedy Space Center, Florida, Feb. 2, 2015. Charles Bolden delivers a “state of the agency” address. Left to right, the three spacecraft on display are the Boeing CST-100, NASA's Orion and the SpaceX Dragon. Photo: NASA/Amber Watson
Typical NASA, the didn't identify the spacecraft in their photo. I had to figure that for myself. Stack Exchange provided an answer. The Dragon and Orion have both been to space, though not with any passengers.

This diagram shows the seven pieces of Orion’s primary structure and the order in which they are welded together. Credits: NASA

I came across this photo while I was reading about the welding operation NASA was using to build the Orion. The are going to a great deal of trouble, building one complete shell structure just to check their tools and procedures. A spacecraft is a pressure vessel, and while the pressure is not that high, the spacecraft itself is rather large. I have an air compressor in my garage that holds 100 PSI, but it's only about a foot in diameter. These craft are considerable larger, and while the pressure is lower, when multiplied by the area it gets big, as in tons of force. The shell has to be able to withstand the strain, and it probably doesn't weigh any more than my air compressor.

Robotic Friction Stir Welding Automation - Courtesy of CRIQ

To my surprise, I found they are using friction stir welding, which is kind of a bizarre technique. Watching the way aluminum will gum up a file or a grindstone might give you some idea of why it works.

Update: Jack provided this snippet from a different Wikipedia article:
Friction welding (FRW) is a solid-state welding process that generates heat through mechanical friction between work pieces in relative motion to one another, with the addition of a lateral force called "upset" to plastically displace and fuse the materials. Technically, because no melt occurs, friction welding is not actually a welding process in the traditional sense, but a forging technique
Update November 2020 replaced missing video.