Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Scale model of the U.S. government...

Scale model of the U.S. government...  Watch the whole thing; there are lots of interesting details.  Love the audio effects!

The wisdom of doctors...

The wisdom of doctors...  Via my lovely bride:
So I asked my Doctor, "Doctor, what are we going to do about this dangerous virus from Africa?"

He said, "I don't know, he has two more years in office.
No Obama fan, she :)

Oh, the stupid...

Oh, the stupid ... it burns!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Oh, happy days!

Oh, happy days!  We got enough done today that I can safely go back to Jamul on Wednesday.  I've got a bit of slightly less essential tractor work I'm going to do tomorrow – but no matter what happens tomorrow, I'll be hitting the road for California bright and early Wednesday morning.  I get to see my wife and our animals on Thanksgiving, have Thanksgiving dinner with friends, and then pack our household to actually move up here for real.  Yippee!!!

I took the photo at right this morning, from a field near Wellsville.  I had an appointment with our health insurance agent, whose home office is just a couple hundred yards from where I stood to snap this.  We had beautiful weather today, as you can see...

Rocket Man...

Rocket Man ... bluegrass style!

Kill Bill...

Kill Bill...  An opening skit from Saturday Night Live skewers Obama's executive order Constitutional runaround.  The “Do Not Mock Obama” rules on mainstream media seem to be relaxing a bit.  Via friend, reader, and former colleague Tim B., who watches a bit more TV than I do :)

97% of climate scientists think mankind is causing global warming?

97% of climate scientists think mankind is causing global warming?  Uh, not so much!  50% is closer to the mark.  Doesn't so sound much like “settled science”, does it?  Reader, friend, and former colleague Simon M. passes along this study.  The broadly-quoted 97% meme has been soundly debunked on several previous occasions, too, but it never hurts to pound a few more nails into its coffin...

Quote of the day...

Quote of the day...  This quote from Thomas Jefferson has come to mind often these past few years:
...yet experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms, those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny...
He wrote this in 1778, in a document called Preamble to a Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge.  Considerably more diffusion is needed!

Titan flyover...

Titan flyover...  This is a video constructed from radar data collected by the Cassini robotic explorer on several close flybys of Titan, the largest moon of Saturn.

That new car smell?

That new car smell?  Obama said yesterday that Americans want “that new car smell” in their next president, and that Hillary Clinton would make a great president – implying that she's got that desirable smell.

He really does think that American voters are stupid chumps.

My neighbor's dog just left a steaming pile on my lawn; it's a perfect metaphor for that speech.

If there's any justice in this world, Obama's comments on Hillary's odorosity along with his endorsement should guarantee that she loses...

How were trig tables made before computers or calculators?

How were trig tables made before computers or calculators?  I've read before about how early mathematicians made logarithm tables.  The methods are heavy on tedium, low on cleverness.  I've also read how some mechanical devices were contrived to estimate trig functions (sine, cosine, and tangent), but the precision of these devices was quite low: a couple of digits, three at the very most.  But I knew that mathematicians were using much higher precision trig functions hundreds of years ago.  How did they do it?

Here's an explanation of how they got tables at one degree intervals.  That's enough for many kinds of work, but I know there were tables at much smaller intervals (down to 10s of arc-seconds, I believe) that filled entire books.  I don't fully understand the math being described here, but I'm guessing that method for getting to one degree intervals can be extended to smaller intervals.  What jumps out at me about the method is that it involves some clever hoop-jumping, along with an awe-inspiring amount of tedium as well...

“His word is a ping-pong ball in flight.”

“His word is a ping-pong ball in flight.”  That's Rex Murphy describing the value of Obama's word, in his piece on the recent carbon dioxide reduction agreement between the U.S. and China.  Here's his conclusion:
So this great historic deal is really nothing more than yet another trot out of verbal commitments, a last gasp for Mr. Obama, a placation to the always fierce warming constituency, and for the Chinese, a little chuckle or two at how easy it is to charm the eagerly gullible.
You owe it to yourself to read the whole thing – and anything else you can find that Mr. Murphy has writtenHis speeches are just as good.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Progress report...

Progress report...  Working in the snow and just barely freezing temperatures turns out to be not too bad at all.  I got a lot done today, and I'm back on track to make the trip back to Jamul in time for Thanksgiving.  Hooray!

The first thing I did today was to fill the trench over the water pipe to a depth of 2 feet.  That took from 7:30 am to 3:00 pm.  It wasn't physically difficult, as the tractor did nearly all the work – there was about 6 feet of trench I had to do by hand, but the other 250' was all with the backhoe.  I had to jump on-and-off the tractor a few hundred times, to switch back and forth from driving to using the backhoe.  That turned out to be just enough activity to keep me warm.  I got wet later in the day, and that chilled me pretty thoroughly – but a 15 minute break in the nice, warm house cured that.

At 3:00 pm I went to work laying the two network cables in the trench.  I had to shove them through the hole Jim J. drilled in my basement wall on Friday, then unspool the rather tight coils for 220' along the trench.  I left plenty of slack so the dirt under the cables could settle and move the cables without breaking them.  That whole job only took 45 minutes.

Then I spent an hour shoveling, filling the hole next to our house's basement back up.  I don't want it to freeze there, because our water supply enters the house right next to where we dug the hole.  I got about 3' of dirt in there, roughly a cubic yard of wet, mucky, heavy stuff.  By the time I was finished, I was drenched in sweat and very hot.  That was a big change from just a few minutes before :)

I called my builder (Jim J.) tonight to verify that we were in sync.  He's planning to be here in the morning to lay down the gas pipe.  With any luck at all, that means I can completely fill in the trench tomorrow afternoon.  Then on Tuesday all I need to get done is to place the transformer foundation – and I'll be finished with everything that must be finished before I leave for Jamul.

When I looked out the window this morning, I wasn't at all sure I'd be able to get anything useful done.  I was far too pessimistic – it turned out to be rather a good day to work!

Welcome home, soldier!

Welcome home, soldier!  I've posted quite a few videos of dogs welcoming their soldiers home.  Here's one showing cats.  Not quite the same vibe, eh?  We have both dogs and cats in our household, and my homecomings are definitely dog-centric: I'll be mobbed at the door by the pooches, while most of the cats either just ignore me, or head for the hills.

On the other hand, we've had some cats who behaved more like the one in the video at left.  One of our current cats – little Maka Lea – will come running over to me, trying without much success to push his way through the mob of dogs to greet me...

We aren't what we eat!

We aren't what we eat!  That's the conclusion of this study, the most recent of a bunch of recent studies that are overturning what decades of nutritionists have been telling us is health eating.  A diet heavy in fat – even saturated fat – is not what drives up fat levels in the bloodstream.  It's carbohydrates that do that.  Dr. Robert Atkins and Gary Taubes were right all along – perhaps not on the mechanism (the jury's still out on that), but at least on the “carbohydrates bad, fat good” thinking.

If you're interested in the story of how the nutritionists got things so badly wrong, I recommend The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet, by Nina Teicholz.  Not only is the direct story interesting, it's a terrific and detailed examination of how science in general can fail.  I saw many parallels between the ways that nutrition science went horribly wrong, and the way climate science has done so.  When I finished reading this, I had an urge to go make some egg salad (eggs, mayonnaise) with bacon – but not in a sandwich (bread is heavy with carbohydrates), just in a bowl.  But then I remembered how poor a record nutritionists have in general.  I think I'll stick with my own personal diet: anything I want, but all in moderation...

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Airborne Beer...

Airborne Beer...  This WWII soldier who fought in the Battle of Bastogne inspired the brewer of Airborne Beer, 65 years later. 
Here the soldier (Vincent Speranza) tells the story.  It's 11 minutes long, and worth every bit of it.  The beer and mug he describes are shown at left.

You'd think the climate scientists would be embarrassed...

You'd think the climate scientists would be embarrassed ... when someone outside their field finds them making the sorts of mistakes you might expect in an elementary school science fair project.  But they don't seem to be embarrassed at all – they just go on their methods are sound and their results unquestionable.  Steve McIntyre takes them to the woodshed again...

New Jersey potatoes...

New Jersey potatoes...  My father's uncle Edward Dilatush (my great-uncle) grew potatoes near Robbinsville, New Jersey.  The farm has long since succumbed to suburban development, and nobody grows potatoes there any more.  As best I've been able to tell, Edward's potato company operated from around 1910 through the early 1950s.  He was part of a group of New Jersey potato growers that cooperatively marketed their potatoes under the “Garden State” brand.  Those of you who don't hail from New Jersey, besides being fortunate, you may not be aware that New Jersey calls itself “The Garden State”, and for much of its history that was an appropriate moniker.  These days, something like “smelly, polluted, Mafioso suburb” would be more on point.

But I digress.  At right you can see a photo of a burlap 100 lb potato sack bearing Edward Dilatush's name.  The Garden State branding dates from 1933, so it's no older than that.  The nice two-color silk screening was probably not done during WWII (everyone had better things to do then).  So most likely this sack dates from either '33 to '41, or from '47 to the early '50s...

Update: my mom tells me that Edward was my grandfather's uncle, or possibly his cousin – not his brother as I had believed.  Oh, well, at least I got the family right!

It's been raining all day...

It's been raining all day ... and I haven't been able to work outside at all.  A half hour ago the rain turned into a quite intense snowstorm.  The temperature is still over 40°F, so maybe this snow will all melt.  On the other hand, evening is nigh and the temperature will certainly fall below freezing.  The forecast was recently updated to show a high probability of snow all day Sunday and Monday.  I'm suddenly feeling much less optimistic about leaving here (for Jamul) on Wednesday.  Dang it!!!

Dang it!

Dang it!  I had just an hour to work outside before the storm hit us.  It's raining fairly hard right now, but worse there's a 15 mph wind (with higher gusts) that blows it sideways.  I was hoping I could work under my tractor's roof, but with the rain blowing sideways that didn't work out so well.  So I'm stuck doing inside work now, things that don't absolutely have to get done before I leave for Jamul.  Dang it!!

The storm is forecast to be just like this all day today.  We're supposed to get 2/3 inch of rain, and the wind isn't supposed to let up.  That should melt all the snow and ice in the yard, but we'll see.  Tomorrow we've got a 50% chance of snow forecast, with temperatures never going above freezing.  It's possible I can work in that, if the snow isn't too intense...

The approaching storm...

The approaching storm...  The view to the north of our home, just a few minutes ago.  Note the war zone in the back yard :)

What is that?

What is that?  It's the tiny Phillips-head screw in the hinge of my eyeglasses.  I noticed the white color and put it under the microscope to see what that came from.  I think it's soap – I wash my glasses daily when I take a shower, using ordinary soap and water.  I suspect it doesn't all rinse out of that tiny little screw head, especially with the (very) soft water we have in our Utah home.

This photo was taken at 60x with oblique lighting.  It certainly doesn't look here like it looks to my naked eye!

Comet 67P...

Comet 67P...  This is from a few days ago, taken by Rosetta.  You can easily see the outgassing taking place at the “neck” connecting the two large ends.  I've read that the leading theory for how Comet 67P come to have this bizarre shape is that two (nearly) round comets gently collided and fused together...

Solar flare...

Solar flare...  This image of the recent sunspot AR2192 was made from many images collected at various wavelengths by the Solar Dynamics Observatory (a robotic satellite).  The detail in this image is stunning.  I remember as a kid in the '60s looking at photos from the Kitt Peak solar telescope (in Arizona).  Those would show a sunspot like AR2192 as a fuzzy, indistinct black dot on a mostly featureless background.  Via APOD, of course...

Nuclear waste...

Nuclear waste...  A sober look at the problem and the failed solutions, and why we have failed solutions.

This is a great example of the class of problems that advocates of centrally managed government (i.e., technocracy, dictatorship, Communism, etc.) point to and say “See?  This is what I mean!”  I've got no other answers, but I don't think centrally managed government is an answer, either...

Scale...

Scale...  Here's a fascinating (and not particularly technical) article about the scale of Amazon Web Services (AWS).  The whole thing is interesting, but a couple of points in particular jumped out at me:
  • An educated guess places the total number of AWS servers at between 2.8 and 5.6 million servers.  If each of those was a standard 1U rack server, these would fill a standard equipment rack between 929 miles and 1,858 miles tall!  Each of those servers has many millions of transistors on its chips, so the total number of transistors in AWS is in the range of tens to hundreds of trillions.  That scale is just mind-boggling!
  • Amazon designed their own networking gear, mainly to save costs.  To their own surprise, the network availability went up when they did this.  This is a surprise because by default you'd expect the Ciscos of the world to have better quality product than you could make yourself.  The Amazon engineers figured out why, though: it's because their equipment was much simpler, with only the features they actually needed.  Typical commercial network gear is larded up with an enormous variety of features, many of which interact with each other in complex and often poorly documented or understood ways.  I have quite a few personal experiences with that complexity that backs this up.  Still, I was surprised myself to read that Amazon boosted their availability with home-brew switches and routers.  You couldn't do this, though, unless you had a scale similar to AWS.  Most companies couldn't even imagine dedicating engineering teams for years to build that sort of gear.

Progress report...

Progress report...  Yesterday was a very busy – and long – day for me.

In the early morning I hauled junk out of the house and into a couple of dumpsters I'd ordered up.  This junk was comprised primarily of two things: old house components (Venetian blinds, broken lights, etc.) and packing material left over from online (mostly Amazon) deliveries.  The latter was the biggest part of it – it's been accumulating since we started the remodeling in April, and over that period we've purchased a lot of house parts, both big and small.  For the most part they ship in big, bulky protective boxes with lots of padding, and that adds up fast.  For example, just a couple weeks ago I ordered and received 10 steel wire shelving units.  Each of these came in a thick box with lots of interior padding and supports.  All by themselves, those boxes made a big pile!

Then around 9 am it warmed up enough that I could stand working on the tractor, and I started the remaining trenching.  Shortly after I began, my friend and neighbor Tim D. – a serious glutton for punishment – showed up to help, with a big smile unaccountably plastered all over his face.  We worked steadily from then through 4 pm to finish (hooray!) the deep (4') water supply trench between the house and the barn.  Along the way we discovered an unmarked gas main (yikes!), an expected gas main, and an expected irrigation pipe – and we miraculously failed to break any of them.  Tim worked this entire time down in the trench, and refused to swap places with me.  He's crazy, but in a good way :)

At around 4 pm Jim J., my builder, showed up with a roll of plastic 1" water pipe, drills for getting through my house's foundation, and a bunch of tools and parts.  Over the next two hours, Tim, Jim, and I laid the water pipe all the way from the house to the barn, with a tee over to where our greenhouse will (we hope!) live one day.  We couldn't quite finish that job, as we were short a coupler and an end cap.  Jim is hoping to have them this morning, and then that pipe will be completely finished.

Today Tim is coming over to help again.  We've got a short stretch of 2' deep trench (for a gas line) to dig, and then we're going to fill in 2' of dirt on top of the water pipe.  We may get stopped by a snowstorm at any point, as the forecast calls for it to start momentarily and there are threatening looking clouds in the sky.  With luck we'll get that done, and then we'll be ready for the gas line and for two direct-burial network cables.  Both of these will go on top of the water pipe, at a depth of 2'.  The gas pipe will go in on Monday, weather permitting.  My hope is to be completely ready for that by Monday morning.

If we get the gas line in on Monday, then late on Monday or early on Tuesday, I'll be filling in the trenches completely.  One final thing remains then before I can head down to Jamul: I have to place the electrical transformer foundation.  That's probably only a couple hours of work – but I can't start it until all this other stuff is done.  I'm working towards having all this finished by Tuesday evening so I can head down to Jamul on Wednesday, and make it there for Thanksgiving dinner with our good friends Jim and Michelle B...

Friday, November 21, 2014

“Blatherskite”

“Blatherskite”  Megan McArdle on Obama's speech last nightBlatherskite defined.  Wonderful...

It's a beautiful morning in Paradise...

It's a beautiful morning in Paradise...  Right now (8:30 am) it's 28°F outside.  The forecast is calling for partly cloudy, no precipitation, and a high of 43°F today.  Tomorrow it says snow.  Lots of snow.  That could put a crimp in my trenching and pipe-laying...

In the photo (looking north from my house) you can see the trenches that are now making my back yard look like a WWI battleground.  Our back lawn is going to need some repair next spring...

The secret life of passwords...

The secret life of passwords...  This is a completely non-technical piece about how people choose passwords.  I found it absolutely fascinating, particularly the story of how Cantor Fitzgerald, with an assist from Microsoft, leveraged this knowledge to recover passwords lost when so many of their employees were killed on 9/11...

Obama's “amnesty”...

Obama's “amnesty”...  Several readers (including my brother Scott!) have already written me to see what I think about this.  I was rather busy yesterday (see earlier posts) and haven't had much time to digest this.  Nevertheless, here's a first take.

What did Obama actually announce? 
  • More border security, details to be determined.
  • Easier immigration for high-skilled immigrants, details to be determined.
  • A promise not to deport (for three years) illegal immigrants who meet these requirements: have been here for five years, are not criminals, pay taxes, and pay a fee.
So far as I can discern, that's what he actually said he would do.

The reaction of most of the talking heads has been predictably filled with breathless partisan doom-and-gloom rhetoric, making it challenging to actually find any facts in the mess.  The only semi-sober analysis I saw was this one from Reason.

The way that Obama did this is of a piece with the growth of unilateral presidential power ever since 9/11.  I think this may be the single biggest success of the terrorists on that day.  It strikes at the very heart of what makes this country America, and I fear greatly its long term consequences.  Obama's assertion of presidential power here, if not rebuked in some effective way, is one more step along the path blazed by George W. Bush.  So far, it's been a one-way path, with continuous movement of the boundary outward from the presidency at the expense of Congress.  This is the most worrisome thing I see about Obama's action, at least so far.

Politically this is a long-expected move by the Democrats, even if the form isn't quite was most people thought it would be.  This is a step toward (but not there yet!) a flood of new Democratic voters and the Democratic goal of a permanent majority.  At least, that's what Democratic strategists seem to believe.  I'm not so sure they'd actually get the results they wanted, though, even if they succeeded on the face of it.

What Obama just did seems rather mild compared to the rhetoric on the right, though.  They seem to see this as an irreversible step down a slippery slope to doom.  I see this more as a stupidly implemented, easily reversible step that should be a part of a much broader reform of our immigration policies.  I'm all for an actual amnesty (which this is not), one that applied to anyone who wasn't a felon, was actually working towards assimilation with American culture, and wasn't agitating for the overthrow of the U.S. government.  I'd also like to see our current immigration restrictions completely removed, as they were before the 1860s, back when that motto on the Statue of Liberty actually meant something:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
Emma Lazarus wrote that, and for about the first half of this country's history it was the literal truth.  Today's immigration controls have turned that motto from truth into a cruel, viscous joke – but nobody's laughing except the lawyers who take hopeful immigrant's hard-earned money knowing that there's little chance of success for them.

However, even someone as pro-open-immigration as I will not support actions like Obama's taken in isolation.  Those actions only make sense to me if they are part of a much broader set of reforms that include not only open immigration, but active deportation of felons and agitators, requirements for assimilation (including English and meaningful citizenship achievement), and more.  I don't see anything but bad consequences to piecemeal implementation over the course of years; this is something that really needs to be dropped into place quickly.  I've never thought this was politically feasible (and it certainly isn't now), so my default position is to oppose any significant change until real reform does become politically feasible.

There is one good thing I can think of that will come from Obama's amnesty: Congressional gridlock.  I think Obama just dropped a nuclear weapon on any possibility of cooperative Republicans.  It will be outright political war for the rest of his term in office.  Nothing will get done.  Yay!

“We will need writers who can remember freedom.”

“We will need writers who can remember freedom.”  That's a line from Ursula K. Le Guin's short speech upon acceptance of her Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the National Book Awards a few nights ago.  The speech was pretty good, and it's worth a couple minutes of your time to read it and ponder.  Ms. Le Guin's work had a big impact on me in my youth, when I greedily devoured everything she wrote.  Earlier this year I've started reading some of her more recent works, and re-reading some of my favorites from the past.

I have just one quibble with that line from her speech.  We will need citizens who can remember freedom, not just writers.  But the writers might help those citizens remember...

Progress report: good, with a twist.

Progress report: good, with a twist.  With the able assistance of Tim D., my friend and neighbor, we made lots of trenching progress yesterday.  We were going so fast that we thought we'd actually finish yesterday.  Right about the time we had that thought, the twist: we struck a water pipe, about 2' in front of Tim in the photo at right, and quite close to our house.

Now the weird thing about this is that we were, at that point, being extremely careful about where we were digging.  The main water line into the house is directly behind Tim, about 4' below ground level.  The obvious course for it to take is straight out from the house, then left toward our pump house.  Just to the right of that, on the house wall, you can see where our electrical service enters the house.  For it, too, the logical route for it to take would be straight out from the house, then left toward the pump house, where our meter is.  Furthermore, when Trent J. hand dug here, he found that the power kept on going down after 4'.

So we dug with the backhoe to the right of all that, right next to the concrete wall for the entrance to our basement, just to the right (in the photo) of Tim's left foot.  In the area where we were most concerned, this all worked very well.

Then, most unexpectedly, as I started to lift out a chunk of dirt low in the trench, water started bubbling out.  Fast.  Very fast.  I got the backhoe's bucket out, gently, then ran to the pump house (about 200') and shut off our pump.  When I got back, Tim was out of the trench.  Fortunately, he was wearing overshoes, so his feet didn't get wet.  The trench had a couple feet of water in it.  And the house had no water.  It was 2 pm.

I already had a sump pump, purchased a few weeks ago for my last adventure in repairing our home's water supply.  We rigged that, and a few minutes later we had just a puddle left.  Tim insisted on jumping back into the trench and digging with a shovel in the muck (and I couldn't help feeling very guilty about that) while I operated the backhoe to remove what he'd dug out.  We soon discovered that at the bottom of the trench was a capped end of a galvanized steel pipe, and the water was coming in from the side of the trench.  Evidently the backhoe had moved that pipe, and broken it somewhere further into the dirt.  We had no idea how far into the dirt the break was.  I was dismayed to find the pipe was steel, as nothing is harder to repair. 

So the two of us, shovel and backhoe, dug out a big hole to the side of our actual trench.  That went surprisingly quickly, though if I had been working on this alone it certainly wouldn't have.  The combination of Tim on the shovel and me on the backhoe worked well for this work, just as it does on the usual trenching. 

Just a few inches from where we first spotted the leak was a valve – and it was turned off.  The valve, in turn, was broken off from the pipe beyond it.  We'd found the leak.  Tim dug a bit around it, removed the broken off valve and capped pipe, and we soon discovered the remaining pipe end was a 1" copper pipe.  Celebrate!  Celebrate!  Dance to the broken pipe!  Why?  Because copper pipe is a breeze to fix – all I'd need to do is to solder on a cap.  Woo hoo!

Tim, knowing I'd object, ordered me (I'm still laughing about this!) to run down to Ridley's (our local sort of large general store, four miles away in Hyrum) to buy the parts I'd need to fix it.  I also had to buy a propane torch, as mine is down in Jamul at the moment.  Ridley's had everything I needed, and just before 4 pm I had it fixed.  I cut a clean end (with a tubing cutter), cleaned it (wire brush and emery cloth), slathered it with flux paste, put the cap on, heated it up nicely, then soldered it.  The repair held without a drip on the first try.  It had been less than two hours from first break to repaired pipe.

It would have taken much longer without Tim's help, and almost certainly I'd have spent a night without water.  I'm beginning to wonder whether he's quite alright in the head, though – because even after today's experience, he's planning to come back and help me again today...