Monday, May 25, 2015

Progress in Paradise...

Progress in Paradise...  The brush pile is gone!  The whole darned thing is burned up, and only a small pile of char is left.

The stacking that I did yesterday worked a treat – picking it up with the tractor's fork was easy.  I dumped two fork loads onto the ashes of my last burn, and then lit it.  Well, more exactly, I tried to light it.  I used the cardboard from five boxes as “kindling”, but never got a sustainable fire going.  I called Debbie and had her bring me some more cardboard, and after using a total of nine boxes worth of cardboard, I finally got the darned thing going.  The problem was that this bunch of brush was all green wood (as opposed to the dead willow wood I'd burned previously).  With all that water in the wood, I had to heat it for quite a while to boil it all off.  Once I got a sustainable blaze going, though, it burned hot and fast.

Over the next few hours, I dumped load after load of brush onto the same spot, where the fire was burning.  The pile of glowing embers got taller and taller, and ever hotter.  At the peak, I couldn't stand within about 10 feet of the fire – it was just too hot.  After a total of 22 fork loads, I had it all on the pile.  Then I just had to wait for a couple hours while all those glowing embers burned off.  I kept stirring the pile with my tractor's fork (that's a very handy tool, that pallet fork!) to keep oxygen flowing to it.  Finally when it was down far enough I wet it all down until it stopped steaming.  Done with the brush!

As I worked today, locals who knew me honked and waved as they drove by.  My burn pile was just 30 feet or so off the road, so I was in view almost all day.  Two people stopped to see if I needed help (I didn't), and one of those sent their kid back with a mason jar full of ice water for me.  That sure tasted good!  A neighbor pulled over in her car and shouted to me that I was doing a good job.  I think she's really happy to see all the dead wood taken down and burned off.

Now the only remaining work after the Mormon horde's service project is a bunch of logs I set aside as firewood.  I need to saw them up into lengths of 18" at most (that's what my stove will accept), and then haul them back to a wood pile that I've got going.  I have a wood splitter on the way, and once it arrives I'll split those logs up and pile the wood up in the shed's second floor, in the storage section.  There it should dry out over the summer very nicely, and give me a great supply of firewood for heating my office next winter.

Debbie and I had ourselves a homey dinner at Angie's.  We both had the special: a half dozen fried shrimp, potatoes, homemade dinner rolls, and iced tea.  We were way too full for dessert :)

To the great surprise of...

To the great surprise of ... exactly nobody other than the most credulous and uninformed progressives (i.e., 90% of them), ObamaCare's promised premium reductions are turning into giant premium increases!  Debbie and I are still stunned by our over-$1,200 a month premium (and that's for a plan with sky-high deductibles!), and we're reliably informed that we should expect a 25%+ increase for the coming year.

We feel very fortunate to be in a position to actually pay such a premium.  Several of our neighbors, including some with large families of young children, cannot afford any health insurance – even with ObamaCare's subsidies.  They go without any coverage at all, and rely on a well-established network here of cash healthcare providers and the safety net of the LDS church if someone had a catastrophic illness or injury.  If we didn't have the ObamaCare fine (for not buying insurance) hanging over us, we might do the same.  The LDS church provides that safety net for everyone, not just their members.  I like their system far better than I like ObamaCare (or, for that matter, any other form of federal welfare/involuntary wealth transfer)...

Mark Steyn...

Mark Steyn ... on the fifth anniversary of “Everybody draw Mohammed” day.  The lead:
Five years ago, a cartoonist with The Seattle Weekly, shocked by the way Comedy Central had censored "South Park" after the usual threats from violent Muslims, proclaimed May 20th as "Everybody Draw Mohammed" Day. What was novel about this particular promotion was that the cartoonist, Molly Norris, was not a "right-wing" "Islamophobe" but a liberal progressive, and therefore a rare if not all but unique example of a feminist leftie recognizing that the Islamic enforcers were a threat to her way of life. This was a very welcome development.

Unfortunately, Miss Norris was not so much recognizing reality as blissfully unaware of it. When the backlash against her idea began, she disassociated herself from it and signed off with - Lord help us - a peace symbol.
Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.

The reflex to shut down free speech (and yes, cartoons are a form of speech) is one of the things that most disturbs me about progressivism.  They, of course, rarely acknowledge that they want to shut down free speech – they weave calming words around the notion, casting it as a right to be unoffended, rather than as a curb on free speech.  That's just a marketing ploy, though.  The reality is that they want you to stop saying whatever it is that they don't want to hear.

To which I say, “Fuck off, progressives!”

Memorial Day...

Memorial Day...  Many others have written of this day's meaning far better than I ever could.  I'll be burning brush today, and while I'm doing that I'll be thinking of the ones we honor today...

Geek: what takes 80 seconds to do a double SHA-256 hash?

Geek: what takes 80 seconds to do a double SHA-256 hash?  An IBM 1401 mainframe computer, that's what.  The bad performance isn't just because of slow clock speed – it's also down to the fact that the 1401 doesn't have a conventional binary ALU; instead it uses BCD math.  The logical operations in the SHA-256 algorithm are relatively easy with a binary ALU; they are horribly difficult using BCD. 

Even on the old computers I first learned to program on, I never had that particular problem – they all had binary ALUs, though they didn't use two's-complement math (they used one's-complement math because back then it was slightly faster).  I did, however, once have almost the inverse of this challenge: I implemented a BCD-based floating point package (complete with logarithms and trig functions) that ran on an Intel 8080 microprocessor.  This was made slightly more bearable by the built-in support for adding two BCD digits packed into a byte – but still, multiplication and division were quite painful.  And painfully slow...

Fourteen untranslatable words, illustrated...

Fourteen untranslatable words, illustrated...  Very cute.  I only knew two of these words.  Via friend and former colleague Aleck L.

Like riding a bike...

Like riding a bike...  Via friend and former colleague Doug W., and my lovely bride (who remains the only adult American I've ever met who never learned how to ride a bike!)...

Watching this reminded me of an experiment I read of many years ago, wherein a man wore a pair of glasses that turned the world upside down.  After a few days wearing these glasses, he saw the world right-side up again!  Through the magic of Google, I found that experiment: it was done by Professor George Stratton in the 1890s.  The underlying observations closely match those of this video...

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Tired, I am...

Tired, I am...  The brush pile remaining turned out to be about three times the size I had estimated.  It took me all day simply to cut it up into (roughly) 6' long pieces and pile it up.  The resulting pile is 33' long, 6' wide, and about 4' high on average, after compacting by jumping up and down on it.  I've stacked it with branches all running in one directly so that I can pick it up easily with my tractor's fork (it's designed for pallets, but works great for brush stacked parallel).  I used two tanks of fuel on my chainsaw to do all the cutting.  I didn't actually burn any today; that will be tomorrow's job if the weather holds.

When I'm working with the chainsaw, I am careful to work only when I'm not dog tired.  I always wear my safety gear (helmet, hearing protectors, face screen, Kevlar leggings, Kevlar gloves, and steel-toed heavy leather boots).  The locals all look at me a little funny in this get-up.  I strongly suspect that none of them have ever even seen this safety gear, much less used it.  Manly men wouldn't stoop to such aids :)  I couldn't care less about the appearance, but I care a lot about keeping as many parts of my body intact as possible.  I've seen the videos showing the Kevlar leggings and gloves at work; I find those videos quite persuasive.  The boots seem commonsensical, as there are times when the end of the chainsaw blade is down near my feet.  The helmet with its integral hearing protector and face screen is actually very convenient, as is the absence of saw-ejected sawdust and wood chunks in my eyes.  Besides, the get-up is only confirming what the neighbors have already figured out: I'm not normal (at least, not by their standards!).

Anyway, I took a half-dozen or so breaks during the day, before another bout of chainsaw work.  During these breaks, I perched myself over the irrigation canal bank, under the shade of a big old black willow tree.  The burbling of the slow-moving canal was pleasant, as was the sight of the water.  The birds, though, were a great entertainment.  The trees along the canals are hosts for quite a few nests, all of which are occupied by hungry babies at the moment.  I watched as four pairs of robins, two pairs of red-winged blackbirds, an uncountable number of house finches, two pairs of warblers (unidentified), one pair of Bullock's orioles, and a pair of something that looked a grosbeak all worked hard to feed their babies.  Under our bridge, a hundred feet or so away, were the nests of about 20 pairs of barn swallows, also busily feeding their babies.  A pair of mallards swam along the canal, no babies behind them yet – probably soon, though.  All of these birds – most especially the robins and the blackbirds – were hollering away at me.  They were most seriously displeased, to steal a favorite phrase from Jane Austen.  I was pleasantly entertained.

As I worked away, several people honked in greeting.  I don't know who they were; I couldn't see them and I didn't recognize the cars.  Two cars actually stopped to see if I needed help.  One of those people was someone I'd never met before; the other a person I'd met once in the Paradise Post Office.  Both offered to run home, throw on some sacrificial clothes, and then come back to wallow in the mud with me piling brush.  I told them I was fine on my own, and to keep their Sunday something fun – but the offers sure put a smile on my face. 

After I finished piling all that brush, I took our three dogs out for a half-mile walk up the dirt road that runs east from our house.  It was a lovely late afternoon, with puffy clouds covering perhaps half the sky, leaving lots of sunlight all around us.  The hills to our west were a beautiful dark green in various shades, different crops being slightly different colors.  There was a slight haze in the air that layered a dreamy sort of look over the whole scene.  We could hear horses snuffling, cows mooing, sheep baaing, and dogs barking.  Barn swallows swooped all around us, no doubt catching food for their babies.  As we walked by our neighbor's pasture, the four horses within came trotting over to see us – we're all becoming friends now.  Even the dogs stick their noses through to greet them.  A half mile or so away, I could hear one of my neighbors to the south mowing her small lawn behind her house.  A little north of our place, I saw another neighbor stringing out hand line (irrigation pipes that you carry by hand, in 30' long pieces), preparing to irrigate.  That seems a little premature to me, but maybe he just wanted to be outside on such a gorgeous evening.

I love living here...

Mark Steyn at his best...

Mark Steyn at his best... and that's pretty damned good!  Movies and politics mix well in his hands.  A small sample that had me spitting out my morning tea:
The nearest they got to solving the problem was in Primary Colors (1998). The Bill Clinton character was played by John Travolta at his most ingratiating, whereas Hillary was such an unsympathetic character that, as with Hannibal Lecter or the Die Hard terrorist masterminds, they had to fly in a Brit to play her. The role went to Emma Thompson, presumably because Alan Rickman and Jeremy Irons turned it down. (If memory serves, Rickman drew the line at the prosthetically enhanced ankles, although he'd totally nailed the robotic voice that tells you to fasten your seat belt.)
Go read the whole thing!

For all you selfie-stickers out there...

For all you selfie-stickers out there...  You know who you are!

Seven people I've known...

Seven people I've known ... are on this wall, including one I called “friend” and another “mate”, both from my service in the U.S. Navy.  Actually, it's possible there are more that I'm unaware of.  My friend was a hospital corpsman I met in boot camp, killed in 1972 while treating a U.S. Marine injured in combat (the Marine survived).  My mate was a fellow DS (data systems technician) who served on PT boats, then became a DS, and then volunteered for another “tour” on PT boats.  He was killed in a firefight along a river just 25 miles northeast of Saigon in the last days of American involvement in the war.

I think of them both every year around this time, along with the thousands of others who were casualties in America's many wars...

Early morning walkies in Paradise...

Perambulation in Paradise...  Some scenes as the dogs and I took our early  walk in Paradise, on a quiet Sunday morning:


1993 Camry recalled by Toyota...

1993 Camry recalled by Toyota...  Because you really should have bought something new by now :)  It's the Onion, folks.  But it made me (a serial Toyota owner) laugh out loud.  The average mileage on our vehicles is well over 150,000 miles – and we still think of them as new!

Babi and Aton...

Babi and Aton...  Closeup imagery of Comet 67P, taken by the Rosetta robotic explorer.  More information here...

Progress in Paradise...

Progress in Paradise...  Looks like we have a cloudy, but dry, morning.  I'll be heading out soon to (I hope!) clean up the last of the brush left behind by the Mormon horde one week ago.  I'll likely be very tired when I get back in, so blogging will be iffy today.

Debbie and I watched more television yesterday than I have in quite a few years now.  We've been intermittently watching a British series called Foyle's War, set in England from WWII through the early Cold War years.  Stuck inside on a rainy day, yesterday we watched the last three episodes of the entire series.  We've quite enjoyed these.  The acting is excellent, the story lines intriguing (especially for anyone who loves British mysteries), and the production quality is very high.  While they took a few liberties with actual history, for the most part the events depicted are completely consistent with reality.  Most of you know that I watch nearly zero television.  For me to watch an entire series, it has to be particularly well done, and on a subject that appeals to me.  Foyle's War hit the mark especially well.  Highly recommended!

We have a bit of Mo'i news, or perhaps more accurately, preliminary Mo'i news.  He's our 16 year old field spaniel, who just a few months ago was struggling and (we thought) near the end of his rope.  In January he developed a strange condition that had no organic cause that our veterinarian could detect: he started compulsively drinking, and as a result, urinating uncontrollably.  We started putting diapers on him, and that cured the problem of urination in the house – but of course that was merely treating the symptoms. 

A few weeks ago, we noticed that his compulsive drinking seemed to be tapering off.  Shortly thereafter, wet diapers started tapering off as well.  Finally, two days ago, he hit a milestone that I was watching for: 3 weeks without a wet diaper.  So yesterday, for the first time in five months, we let him go all day without one.  No “accidents”.  With a little trepidation (as waking up to a urine-soaked kitchen is not high on our list of preferred awakening modalities), we left the diaper off last night.  This morning he woke me up later than usual (at 4:30 am) with his “I have to pee!” bark, and I took him out for his morning walkie.  The kitchen was unsullied. 

So for reasons we have no way to discern, Mo'i's odd thirst and urination issue looks like it might be over – just a strange five month episode in his life.  Meanwhile, he is in much better physical condition now than he was in January, thanks to walks we've been taking with him.  We'll do a mile or so this morning, something he simply could not have done in January.  One theory we have about the odd behavior is that it was some kind of response to the stress of moving to Utah.  If so, it was a stress our other dogs felt none of – they (very obviously) couldn't be happier to be in this land of cool, green grass.  It's harder to tell with Mo'i – at his age, his cavorting days are over.  The stress theory is just a theory, though; really it's just a correlation between his behavior and the timing of the move.  But we have no other theories.

In any case, to have our relatively normal Mo'i back with us is a joy that we're cherishing while we have it.  At this moment he's in much better condition than when we left California, is clearly enjoying his life up here, and has no bizzaro behaviors.  We'll take that!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Storm total...

Storm total ... is 2.85 inches, as of 7 pm this evening.  We still have more rain in the forecast, too – tomorrow afternoon through Thursday.  Our fields are saturated, and the baby alfalfa plants are practically leaping for joy, while the rye and orchard grass is growing almost visibly.  What a difference from the desert of California!

Raindrops kept falling on our heads...

Raindrops kept falling on our heads ... nearly all day long.  It stopped around 2 pm, but now (at 5 pm) it looks like it's going to start again.  I didn't have a chance to work outside today at all.  Maybe tomorrow morning.

Debbie and I took a drive up to Hardware Ranch today, and a few miles beyond.   We saw a male Lazuli Bunting, a gorgeous male meadowlark, and – best of all – a pair of Sandhill Cranes with two chicks, much like the photo at right (which isn't mine).  We sat and watched the four of them for quite a while, enjoying the show.

We picked up the mail on the way home, and in there had quite a surprise.  Just a week ago Wednesday, Debbie and I got our cars registered in Utah.  Debbie ordered a custom plate for her truck, and the clerk there told us it would take 6 to 8 weeks for them to arrive, along with her new registration (the standard plates they just handed us on the spot).  Then they issued us a temporary registration good until July 31st.  Well, her new plates showed up today.  That's ridiculously fast – just nine calendar days, and seven working days since we ordered them.  And that includes delivery by U.S. Post Office, which may well have eaten up half of that!

We love living here!  It's like the exact opposite of the dysfunctional California DMV.  Anyone who lives there can tell you that to get your custom plates there is going to take a lot longer than that – and you'll be lucky if they don't screw it up...

Caution!

Caution!  Put down your morning beverage and prepare to waste a couple hours before reading any posts on this site.  Via friend, former colleague, and proud papa Simon M. (with one kid an up-and-coming golfer, and the other an accomplished computer scientist)...

Precomputation renders Diffie-Hellman vulnerable...

Precomputation renders Diffie-Hellman vulnerable...  The Diffie-Hellman key exchange algorithm is at the heart of a great many cryptographic systems, including those that you likely use every single day.  News that it may be vulnerable isn't exactly comforting, even when that vulnerability costs hundreds of millions of dollars to exploit.  That cost is only going to go down, too.  Today only a major state actor (like, say, the NSA or FAPSI) could afford this, but that could change relatively quickly.

The new attack is enabled by the use of an enormous table of precomputed partial results for a particular prime number used in the Diffie-Hellman scheme.  The details aren't important to understanding the vulnerability.  The key is that you need one of these tables for each possible prime number being used – and that most Diffie-Hellman implementations use one of a very few number of such primes.

There are three main mitigations available, but both are going to be challenging to roll out.  One mitigation is to use longer keys (this always seems to be the mitigation for a vulnerability!).  Another is to stop using the magic few prime numbers, and switch to using frequently generated prime numbers. The last is to quit using classical Diffie-Hellman. 

It will be interesting to watch how the world reacts to this.

Much more technical information in the original paper, and here, here, and here...

Robot employment act...

Robot employment act...  The image at right is from the article The Robot Employment Act? on Marginal Revolution.  The article discusses in some detail how a rising minimum wage causes an increase in automation (robots).

The economics of this are very straightforward.  Take a job that needs to be filled 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (typical for a factory job).  That's 21 shifts (8 hours each) per week.  To hire a minimum wage worker at $15 per hour costs the employer $131,040 per year in direct wages, plus roughly $25,000 more in social security, unemployment insurance, etc.  Call it $150,000 a year.  That actually understates the cost a bit, because there is more overhead associated with management, human resources, parking lots, break rooms, rest rooms, etc.  We'll ignore all that (though it's actually not insignificant). 

What does a robot cost?  Well, that depends entirely on exactly what that minimum wage worker was doing.  Some jobs are very easily handled by robots: repetitive assembly work, welding, parts painting, etc.  Some are less easily handled: short order cook, maid, house painter, etc.  These are difficult precisely because they require (or seem to require) human judgment, analytic capability, and motor skills.  However, progress in these areas is happening very quickly.  There are, for instance, fully operational short-order cook robots right now.  They don't look anything like the photo above; they're more like automated stoves with food and implement handling capability.  But they work, and they cost about $300,000 - plus $20,000 or so a year in maintenance and power.  Ask any businessman what he'd choose: a worker who costs $150,000 every year, or a robot that costs $300,000 up front and $20,000 a year thereafter, and you'll get the answer very quickly.  The robot wins!

If it isn't blindingly obvious why that's so, consider the 10 year cost of the worker versus a robot.  The worker would cost 10 x $150,000, or $1,500,000.  Ouch.  The robot would cost $300,000 + 10 x $20,000, or $500,000 – just one third the cost of the worker.  Furthermore, the robot is going to get cheaper and cheaper over time, and the worker ... will get more expensive.

This is how robots are going to take over.  They're going to be the cheapest way to get something done.  The minimum wage raising accelerates this process by forcing workers to cost more – and precisely the class of workers whose job is most easily automated.

Jeff Bezos at Amazon, with his robot armies in his warehouses, is leading the way...

Rain drops in Paradise...

Rain drops in Paradise...  I thought I'd be working outside this morning, finishing up the brush burning.  As I write this, it's gently raining in Paradise, and the weather radar shows more on the way.  It might be just a tad wet out there for a while!

Yesterday afternoon, my rain gauge was showing 2.4 inches for the storm total.  It's been raining since about 8 pm last night, so we're probably getting close to 3 inches at this point...

Friday, May 22, 2015

Progress in Paradise...

Progress in Paradise...  This morning saw fine weather again, so I headed out early to burn some more of the brush collected by the Mormon horde last Saturday.  I made good progress, getting about half of the brush burned.  The remaining brush should be easier to deal with, as it's quite a bit smaller diameter, on average, than the stuff I've already cleaned up.

The fire today was quite hot – hotter than I realized at first.  When I got done for the day, my glasses were hard to see through.  I cleaned them, to no effect.  Only then did I notice that the heat had distorted the surface of both lenses, in a spot near the center and covering about a third of the lens.  I can see clearly through the top (distance) and bottom (near), but in the center it's all fuzzy.  Who knew that plastic lenses were less resistant to heat than my own skin?

After finishing up with the burning for the day, I drove Debbie's truck down to Hyrum Tire to get the new rubber installed.  I'm really impressed with these guys.  I drove in without an appointment.  They asked if I was going to leave the truck or wait for it to be done.  When I indicated the latter, they swarmed my truck with three workers (see photo at right).  In no time at all they had the truck up on a lift, and all four tires removed.  They had two tire machines plus a balancer going, and very quickly had the old tires off the rim, new tires on, balanced, and mounted back on the truck.  It was fun to watch a competent bunch of guys do their thing.  They teased each other and bantered away as they worked.  Competent workers, good advice, cheerful folks, quality products, and good prices.  Pretty hard to beat!

After that it was off to Macey's grocery store to pick up some essentials for Debbie and I.  She's making chicken soup, hoping that the “Jewish penicillin” will conquer the virus that's giving her a sore throat.  She's making her usual 5 gallons, so I will be the accidental beneficiary of this effort :)

Partly cloudy, no rain in sight until early this afternoon...

Partly cloudy, no rain in sight until early this afternoon ... so I'm headed out to burn some brush piles.  Got my burn permit in my pocket, and I'm going to fire up the tractor after I take the dogs for a walk.  Debbie's out with a cold, mostly manifesting as feeling like crap and a sore throat.  Sure hope she doesn't get the nasty cough she's prone to...

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Progress in Paradise...

Progress in Paradise...  If you're one of those people who are so bored with life that you actually read this blog regularly, then you'll remember when the Mormon horde descended on us.  Last Saturday morning, a small army of my neighbors descended upon us, armed with chain saws and muscles more bulging than mine, and cleaned up an enormous amount of brush and dead wood.  The only thing the left behind was ... a dozen or so prodigious brush piles.

This morning the weather was unexpectedly fine, so Debbie and I set out to burn said brush piles.  We set up a water line, armed ourselves with matches and paper to start a blaze, a pitchfork, and drove the tractor out to a spot near the southeast corner of our property.  This spot is on the peninsula formed by a bend in the irrigation canal, and it's a long way from any structures or trees – a perfect spot for a burn.  It was also conveniently close to about half the brush piles left behind by the Mormon horde.  We put a bit of brush on the spot and in short order we had a nice blaze going (photo above).  The fire was so hot that I couldn't get closer than about six feet to the brush pile, unless I was willing to have my beard burned off (which I was not). 

We worked as hard as two ancient and decrepit people could, for about 5 hours, until we could plausibly say that rain was threatening us.  At that point we sat down and didn't get up for about an hour, while pretending to watch the fire closely.  Since everything for about 100 miles in every direction had just been soaked with almost 2 inches of rain, in reality there was no fire danger at all.  But our burn permit required us to remain in attendance, so we had our excuse :)

As I write this, I'm about to stagger off to my bed to rest my weary bones.  With any luck at all, tomorrow morning we'll get up and do it all over again.

Oh, and we burned about one fifth of the brush.  We have quite a bit more work to do!  And we are also learning in a very direct way just how much that Mormon horde accomplished on a rainy Saturday morning...