Wednesday, November 25, 2015

If you are...

If you are ... a PCA (Programmer of a Certain Age), then you'll no doubt remember – and fondly – the HP-16C “Computer Scientist” calculator.  That's a photo of it at right (not mine, sadly).  I bought one of these shortly after they were announced in 1982, and I put lots of hours on it.  It was useful not only for programming, but also for digital hardware design (and especially for debugging).  Sometime in the early '90s, when it was on my lab table and I was soldering, I killed it by dropping the hot soldering iron on the keyboard.  Those keys work very poorly when melted to the case :)

I was seriously bummed when I discovered that HP no longer made them, and I couldn't get a replacement.

But I was all smiles when I found out that a guy in Switzerland had started a company (Swiss Micros) to make emulations of all the old HP calculators – including the HP-16C!  His version of it is called the DM-16, and it's quite a faithful copy of the original – but with a more modern (and powerful) computer inside it, and a much smaller form factor.  Oh, and also a titanium case! Naturally, I ordered one immediately – and today I received it.  That's a photo of mine on the right.  Within a few keystrokes, I remembered how to operate most of it.  That sure brought back some memories!

Burglary in Paradise...

Burglary in Paradise...  Well, there's much more news about the two burglars recently caught after invading a home in Paradise.  Aren't they cute in their purple suits?

For starters, the police have searched their home – and found evidence linking them to seven other burglaries.  Then there's the fact that their (rental) home is in Smithfield Canyon – just a few doors down from the B&B where Debbie and I stayed almost two years ago when looking for a home here.  There were two teenagers (their children?) found on the property, along with numerous animals.  All of these are now being cared for elsewhere.  The out-of-state owner of the property returned and reported a vehicle was missing; that's now listed as stolen.

Now these two are being held without bail.  That's probably actually good for them, as the folks of this community are not likely to be shy about administering a little homespun justice if they were found out and about...

Rosetta is still studying Comet 67P...

Rosetta is still studying Comet 67P...  Among its science results are a stream of beautiful comet photos, like the one at right.  More Rosetta news here...

Curiosity is approaching the black sand dunes of Mars...

Curiosity is approaching the black sand dunes of Mars...  These are the Bagnold Dunes on the northwest slopes of Mt. Sharp.  Much more here...

Pluto is the pits!

Pluto is the pits!  Well, Pluto has the pits – a lot of them!  The photo at right was taken by the New Horizons spacecraft during its July flyby of Pluto.  The pits are in a lake of frozen nitrogen, are up to a kilometer in diameter, tens of meters deep, and are not impact craters.  The current best guess is that they're areas where the nitrogen ice sublimated away for some (unknown) reason.  Just one of the many surprises uncovered by New Horizons!  Via APOD, of course...

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  Google created the photo at right, taking the photo I posted yesterday and “stylizing” it.  I didn't ask them to do this (though I don't mind).  I wonder what their objective is?  I really don't have a clue!  There's no link offering to sell me printed copies, or anything else that might generate some revenue from the photo.  They're just doing it, to several photos a week.  Weird.

Somehow I managed to get everything done yesterday that I had planned to do.  It doesn't usually work that way :)  All my winter-sensitive gear is now in the nice, heated shed – and the snowplow is mounted to the tractor.  The only thing that was challenging about that entire effort was removing the backhoe.  There are two large pins (about 2" diameter and 8" long) that hold the backhoe onto the back of the tractor.  Everything has to be perfectly aligned in three dimensions, plus all the load taken off the pins, before the pins can be removed.  The first pin was easy – took me all of 30 seconds or so.  The second pin took a half hour.

One of the things on my list yesterday was to remove two large apple logs from the back of my pickup.  They've been there for a few days; I was waiting for some decent weather before hauling them off.  There's a story behind those logs... 

Several months ago, I went to Zollinger's Fruit and Tree Farm, where I bought quite a few plants.  Somewhere in that process, I got to talking with Ron Zollinger, and he mentioned that toward the end of October he was planning to cut down an old orchard on the farm.  The trees were over 40 years old, not producing well, and many were not healthy.  I told him I'd love to have a couple of the trunks from those trees – I could slice them up and turn them into bowls on my lathe. 

Well, he didn't get around to cutting down those trees until two weeks ago.  Just before they started cutting them down, Jake (his son) called me and told me I could come up and mark the trunks that I wanted.  Then a few days later, Jake called and said I could come pick up the logs.  So this past Friday, I drove up and they loaded them into the back of my truck with their forklift.  I'm guessing that the bigger of the two was close to 300 pounds, and the smaller about 2/3 of that.  Two beautiful big logs!  They wouldn't accept anything for them; just sent me on my way with a big smile.

I love living here!

Now I'm the proud owner of two gigantic apple logs.  These will need to dry out before I can turn them – probably a couple of years.  To keep them from cracking, I need to coat the ends with something airtight.  Paraffin wax used to be the standard way to do that, but recently I read that latex paint works just as well – and that's a heck of a lot easier than wax!  So today I'm going to paint all the cut ends.  I'll keep them in the heated part of the shed until spring, then I'll take them up to the second floor (except in winter, that's the warmest part of the shed).  I'll check them in about a year and see if they've dried out.  If not, I'll wait another year.  Cutting and turning something that big (the biggest of the two is 20" in diameter) will be fun!

Today I have to go get blood drawn – third time in the past few months.  My blood levels of cobalamin (B12) have been a little low, and I've been adjusting the dose of the injections I give myself.  Hopefully we zero in on a new dosage before I run out of blood to give the vampire ladies :)

We're also taking my truck in for a once-over by the good folks at Hyrum Tire.  This is in preparation for the longest trip my old (2007) truck has ever made: to Virginia and back, and we'll be pulling a trailer on the way back.

Look what our weather is supposed to be like for the next couple of days (click to embiggen)!  That looks downright wintry!  There's a cold front moving through as I write this, and the next week looks like colder-than-normal weather.

I'm leaving next Wednesday for Virginia, and I was slightly worried about whether I'd run into snow on the way there.  Looks like I'll miss that.  I'm taking a southerly route, so there shouldn't be any cold weather other than the first day of the trip.  I'm doing the same thing on the return trip, so our only risky day there is the last day, on the way home.  Fingers crossed that we don't get a mid-December storm!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sunrise in Paradise...

Sunrise in Paradise...  The view out our office window early this morning:

Gas prices across the U.S...

Gas prices across the U.S...   Sometimes I just love the Internet :)  The map is kept up to date here...

I missed a day!

I missed a day!  I can hardly believe it!  It's rare for me to miss a day of posting on the blog, but I did it yesterday.  My feeble excuse is that I was busy :)

Early in the morning, I traveled up to Newton with realtor and friend, Bruce N.  We met with the bishop of the ward our cabin is in, a fellow named Valjay Rigby.  I described the situation with my brother moving out here with him, and his response (along with his wife's) could hardly have been more friendly and welcoming.  Any of my readers who are not LDS (Mormons), but who are moving into an area that has lots of LDS – my advice to you is to get to know the bishop of the ward your new home is in, along with all the ex-bishops you can find.  Not only can they get you plugged into your new area quickly and easily, they know everybody.  When you have a question about how to get something done, who to lean on for some particular kind of help, or even something completely off-the-wall – these guys will either know the answer, or they'll know who to ask.  They are an invaluable resource, and they don't care whether you're LDS.

We also visited the post office and signed up for a P.O. Box, so the cabin can now get mail.  This is something my brother needed as he filed his change of address notifications.

Later in the day, Debbie had another physical therapy appointment (the second go-around with an electrically-driven steroid patch), and we went grocery shopping for our Thanksgiving Day meal.  We're going all-traditional this year, and it's just the two of us (unless one of you wants to stop by!).  Roast turkey, stuffed (of course!), mashed potatoes, cranberry-orange relish, and pumpkin pie for dessert.  The next day the turkey carcass is going into the pot to make stock for a giant tureen of tlapeno (Mexican chicken soup).  We've done that once before, and it was fantastic!

Today we have the last forecast day of relatively mild weather (should break 50°F).  Tomorrow we have 3" of snow in the forecast.  So today I'll be scrambling to get all the outside stuff done: sprinklers and hoses put up for the winter, backhoe and forks removed from the tractor and snowplow mounted, pickup cleaned out and ready for the trip back to Virginia (which starts just over a week from today, the Wednesday after next).  When I mentally tote all that up, it seems like about 3 hours of work – but something will likely go wrong, and if past experience is any guide, I'll be luck to finish by sundown :)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Networking in Paradise...

Networking in Paradise...  I temporarily mounted (on a simple shelf) the shed's networking gear, outside my future second-floor office (photo at right).  The tiny red box is the amazingly powerful MikroTik RB2011UiAS-IN router.  It's far smaller than the Cisco SG300-20 switch it's sitting on, or than the TrendNet AC1750 wireless router standing vertically alongside it.  All this stuff is on the other side of the wall from where they'll eventually live.  Then I ran the networking wires on the ceiling of the first floor, up to this gear, and made correctly-sized patch cables for all the interconnects.  The result is a neat temporary installation, and a simple move once I figure out how I'm going to mount this gear inside the office.  It won't be a crude shelf like this, but I haven't yet decided what it will be.  I'm leaning toward an enclosed wooden cabinet, with some slow (quiet) fan driven ventilation and filtered air input.  Sounds like a nice little wood-working project, doesn't it?

Awesome breakfast and orange cake in Paradise...

Awesome breakfast and orange cake in Paradise...  Debbie's at it again – says she's breaking out the inner farm girl.  First she made me an awesome breakfast – simple, but really good: homemade hash browns, eggs over easy, applewood smoked bacon, and fresh squeezed orange juice.  I was stuffed by the time I finished that off!  Then she made a Moroccan orange cake, with orange icing.  Oh, my.  So good, especially with a nice glass of milk!

Why are blue (Democratic) states turning red (Republican)?

Why are blue (Democratic) states turning red (Republican)?  Interesting discussion from the perspective of a liberal.  The lead:
It is one of the central political puzzles of our time: Parts of the country that depend on the safety-net programs supported by Democrats are increasingly voting for Republicans who favor shredding that net.
The central conclusion of the writer (Alec MacGillis) is that the problem (from the Democrat's perspective) is different than it appears at first blush.  It's not that the welfare recipients are voting Republican against their own self-interest.  It's that they're not voting at all.

For me the most interesting bit in here was the frank admission of the dependency of the progressives (Democrats) on the essentially purchased vote of the welfare recipient.  It's also interesting, as always, to see the chain of thought of a dedicated progressive...

The doomed moon of Mars...

The doomed moon of Mars...  Via APOD, of course.  Click the thumbnail to embiggen.  Full resolution version here...

If this is “high fashion”...

If this is “high fashion” ... then I'm a fan of low fashion.  Otherwise, speechless, I am...

Well, we have a well in Paradise...

Well, we have a well in Paradise...  Elray is all finished with the well drilling, and yesterday afternoon he drove down (with his lovely wife, Laura) to start up his rig and drive it out.  It's been here for a month and a day, long enough that Elray seemed to become part of the family here – I joked to Laura that if he had been here any longer, we'd have to file the paperwork to adopt him.  :)

The well is producing 30 GPM at minimum, and the static water level is just 38 feet below ground level.  That means we have 283' of water column in the pipe, a modest cistern all by itself!  We're going to install a low-capacity pump (which Elray will install over the next few weeks) and pump it into a much larger cistern.  I'll run a pressure tank from that larger cistern, so the larger (and less reliable) pump will be easy to access and service.

For those interested in the underground geology, I've reproduced Elray's meticulous “drill log” in the screenshots below.  I've seen the log for my neighbor's wells (these are all public record here in Utah), and they're not nearly as detailed.  Elray does nice work!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Lasagna in Paradise!

Lasagna in Paradise!  Debbie cooked up a huge batch (three full-sized pans like the one at right).  Most of this is going in the freezer, but one corner of one pan was our dinner tonight.  It was brains-fall-out-on-the-table great! 

The quantity of food that went into this is staggering: six pounds of hamburger, four pounds of sausage, nine big cans of tomato sauce, six cans of tomato paste, a half-dozen boiled-down tomatoes from our neighbor's garden (the last of the season, dang it!), three big boxes of lasagna noodles, nearly a gallon of ricotta cheese, several pounds of mozzarella cheese, a pound of Parmesan cheese, and all sorts of spices.

Now I'm in a pasta coma :)  And I will be again, quite a few times over the winter!

Jonah Goldberg has long been...

Jonah Goldberg has long been ... one of my favorite political commentators.  The fact that he's a fellow dog lover doesn't hurt my opinion of him at all :)  Here's one paragraph from his column this week, describing what happens when Zoë (one of his two dogs) runs in to steal a squirrel trapped by Pippa (his other dog):
Now I should say, I’m a big softy when it comes to these things. I hate to watch Zoë kill anything, but I nonetheless admire the commitment and passion. She raced-in, her paws barely touching the earth. She barreled Pippa out of the way; the little spaniel bouncing off the dingo like Robert Reich in a windstorm. Zoë grabbed the “beast,” hurling it into the air and catching it again in her mouth with a skill usually associated with frat guys’ tossing chicken McNuggets into each others’ mouths. When I yelled at her to drop it, I might as well have been commanding the statue at the Lincoln Memorial to dance. My commands were drowned out by the Viking battle drums beating in her ears. My futile attempts to grab her collar only encouraged her to run away and chomp more ferociously. I wasn’t trying to save the squirrel’s life. That would be like trying to revive the Thanksgiving turkey by chanting over the leftover-sandwiches. But I didn’t like the prospect of the bowel stewing that might accompany a breakfast of raw squirrel, healthy or sick. Finally, her war dance concluded, and the awareness came that she could not bring home her trophy, never mind enlist my wife in her cause of making a necklace of squirrel skulls. She ran off and buried it. Somehow I don’t think it was respect for the dead that motivated her.
The world needs more writing like that!

The column, as always, is well worth your time to read...

Civil asset forfeiture abuse...

Civil asset forfeiture abuse...  This program is one of those things that makes me ashamed of my country.  It quite literally gives judges and law enforcement a license to steal from innocent citizens.  If you find that hard to believe, then you need to do some reading (and follow my link here to find a source).  This year the program has reached a new milestone: the cops are stealing more from citizens than the crooks are.  A lot more.

Here's some more from Reason...

The bits are flying in Paradise!

The bits are flying in Paradise!  At about 4:30 this morning, I braved the cold (22°F) and walked out to the shed with my arms full of networking gear.  Except for the Ethernet isolator, this was all stuff I bought and configured last January, and then just stored until I got the cabling all done.  This morning I plugged it all in with the router, switch, and wireless router all sitting on top of my jointer, and ... it all worked, immediately.  My initial test was to connect my phone to the shed's (new) wireless network, and that worked perfectly.  Then I came back in the house and logged into each piece of equipment's administration page and checked it out.  All working correctly!

The only anomaly I noticed was that the Ethernet link between the house router and the shed router took an unusually long time to come up – around 45 seconds.  Usually an Ethernet link will establish in under 10 seconds.  I think what's going on there is that the Ethernet isolator is powering up.  It draws what little power it needs from the data lines, and I'm guessing that it takes a little while to charge its storage capacitors (you could think of them as tiny rechargeable batteries).

Given that this is a residence, we have quite the network installed here.  In the house, there's a cable router which feeds the main house router, which in turn feeds a 20 port switch, the shed's router, and two wireless routers.  In the shed there's the main shed router, which feeds another 20 port switch and a wireless router.  When I finish moving my office from the house to the shed, we'll have a fairly even split of networked gear between the two buildings, most likely using 8 to 10 of those switch ports in each place.  That leaves us plenty of room for expansion!

Comcast may have notoriously bad service, and they clearly do inject content into insecure web pages (HTTP vs. HTTPS), but ... they are delivering some nice, fast Internet to us: 180 mbps down, 24 mbps up, quite consistently.  That's way faster than we used to have in Jamul, so for us this is a huge step up.  Partly this is just plain luck: we live on the highway that the main Comcast feed for the southern part of Cache Valley runs alongside.  The cabin we've purchased for my brother isn't quite so lucky – Comcast doesn't even service that area.  Instead we're connecting him through a wireless ISP (Rise), at 50 mbps down and 5 mbps up.  Even that is way better than what he's used to, so I'm expecting a big smile from him when he connects for the first time...

Syria conflict for dummies!

Syria conflict for dummies!  Passed along by reader Simi L., who is responsible for a great many belly laughs from this writer:
President Assad (who is bad) is a nasty guy who got so nasty his people rebelled and the Rebels (who are good) started winning.

But then some of the rebels turned a bit nasty and are now called Islamic State (who are definitely bad) and some continued to support democracy (who are still good).

So the Americans (who are good) started bombing Islamic State (who are bad) and giving arms to the Syrian Rebels (who are good) so they could fight Assad (who is still bad) which was good.

By the way, there is a breakaway state in the north run by the Kurds who want to fight IS (which is a good thing) but the Turkish authorities think they are bad, so we have to say they are bad whilst secretly thinking they're good and giving them guns to fight IS (which is good) but that is another matter.

Getting back to Syria. President Putin (bad, as he invaded Crimea and the Ukraine and killed lots of folks including that nice Russian man in London with polonium) has decided to back Assad (who is still bad) by attacking IS (who are also bad) which is sort of a good thing?

But Putin (still bad) thinks the Syrian Rebels (who are good) are also bad, and so he bombs them too, much to the annoyance of the Americans (who are good) who are busy backing and arming the rebels (who are also good).

Now Iran (who used to be bad, but now they have agreed not to build any nuclear weapons and bomb Israel are now good) are going to provide ground troops to support Assad (still bad) as are the Russians (bad) who now have ground troops and aircraft in Syria.

So, a Coalition of Assad (still bad) Putin (extra bad) and the Iranians (good, but in a bad sort of way) are going to attack IS (who are bad) which is a good thing, but also the Syrian Rebels (who are good) which is bad.

Now the British (obviously good, except Corbyn who is probably bad) and the Americans (also good) cannot attack Assad (still bad) for fear of upsetting Putin (bad) and Iran (good / bad) and now they have to accept that Assad might not be that bad after all compared to IS (who are super bad).

So Assad (bad) is now probably good, being better than IS (no real choice there) and since Putin and Iran are also fighting IS that may now make them good. America (still good) will find it hard to arm a group of rebels being attacked by the Russians for fear of upsetting Mr Putin (now good) and that mad ayatollah in Iran (also good) and so they may be forced to say that the Rebels are now bad, or at the very least abandon them to their fate. This will lead most of them to flee to Turkey and on to Europe or join IS (still the only constantly bad group).

To Sunni Muslims, an attack by Shia Muslims (Assad and Iran) backed by Russians will be seen as something of a Holy War, and the ranks of IS will now be seen by the Sunnis as the only Jihadis fighting in the Holy War and hence many Muslims will now see IS as good (doh!).

Sunni Muslims will also see the lack of action by Britain and America in support of their Sunni rebel brothers as something of a betrayal (might have a point) and hence we will be seen as bad.

So now we have America (now bad) and Britain (also bad) providing limited support to Sunni Rebels (bad) many of whom are looking to IS (good / bad) for support against Assad (now good) who, along with Iran (also good) and Putin (also, now, unbelievably, good ) are attempting to retake the country Assad used to run before all this started?

This should clear it all up for you. Just so you know I am not taking any questions on this subject!!!!!!!!!

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  I worked some more this morning on my KABtronics clock kit – got the seconds decoder, LED drivers, and LED done.  When I finished, I powered it up – and got nothing on the LED at all.  A little inspection and I found a row of 7 resistors that I'd forgotten to install, and these were the current-limiting resistors for the LED segments.  Once I actually loaded all the parts, it all worked on the first try.  The circuit board now weighs perceptibly more than it did when I started, just from the weight of the 200 or so components I've mounted (and soldered).  I'm in awe of the job the kit's maker did on it.

Yesterday afternoon, UPS delivered my Black Box SP426A Ethernet isolators.  They were the last component I needed before installing a router, switch, and wireless router out in the shed – so that's what I'm going to be doing this morning.  With any luck at all, I'll soon have network communications (including Internet access) out there!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Burglary in Paradise!

Burglary in Paradise!  A home invasion burglary, no less, with the robbers holding the homeowners at gunpoint.  The pair were caught after a high speed chase.  The two photos at right are the robbers, whom the sheriffs believe may be connected to a string of armed robberies in the county.

This has been the talk of the town for the past few days, as nothing even remotely like this has happened in Paradise within anybody's memory.  So far as we can tell from the information at hand, the house in West Paradise (a couple miles SW of us) was targeted completely at random, as with the other burglaries attributed to this pair...

Putin vs. Obama...

Putin vs. Obama...  Via friend, reader, and former colleague Simon M. (click to embiggen):

Muskrat in Paradise...

Muskrat in Paradise...  Not a very happy one, though.  This fellow fell into our basement window casement sometime last night.  That's the third time this has happened since we moved here, and always when it was raining.  This one was very aggressive compared with the other two – he attacked the stick I used to try and herd him into a box, instead of running from it like the other two.  Maybe he didn't have his coffee this morning :)  Instead of trying to herd him, I decided to just put an old 2x4 in the casement so he can climb out by himself.  Eventually I think he'll figure that out...

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  We're looking at buying the two parcels immediately adjacent to the cabin we just purchased up near Newton.  These parcels would add about 10 acres to the area that my brother Scott could work with, and they come with water rights for irrigation water and a well.  That means we could develop the parcels (add a well, driveway, etc.) and someday sell them.  It also means that my brother could grow things on that land for the next ten or fifteen years, until the point we wanted to sell.

I've written before that there was a challenge to this plan – to wit, the parcels have the water rights (for irrigation), but no way to actually deliver the water to the property.  The canal from which the water would be drawn is a mere hundred yards away, but for some reason the water company was denying permission to connect and draw water.  We made our offer on those two parcels contingent on that problem being solved, and the sellers are in the process of attempting to do just that.  I offered to help where it made sense.

It turns out that the very first step could use a particular attribute that I possess: being an outsider with no particular axe to grind with the water company.  We needed to gather some information to help us understand the water company's position, so yesterday I met a member of the water company's Board.  It was fascinating to hear the other side of the story.

It turns out there are two main issues. 

The first is that the water company isn't certain that the parcels we've got an offer on are actually part of their designated area for delivering water to.  That's because the parcels are just south of the southernmost end of the water company's distribution canal, an area that's close to (and possibly over) the edge of their “decree area”.  That “decree area” refers to the decree that established the water company (along with a hundred or so other water companies in the area); that decree defines their distribution area. 

The second is that this particular water company made their shares freely transferable, and that led to an unanticipated consequence.  The way development of the area panned out, more people wanted water at the southern (downstream) end of their canal than on the upstream end.  Because the shares were freely transferable, that led to a gradual shift in the share ownership toward the south.  Eventually that got to the point where the capacity of the canal to deliver water was exceeded, and the only mechanism the water company had to control this was to start refusing to connect anyone with shares that originated upstream of the point where they wanted to draw water.


For our sellers to get the water company's approval, they have to show two things.  First, that the parcels are actually part of the decree area.  That one is at least easy to attack – the sellers need to hire someone who can read the legal description of the decree area (gobbledygook to normal mortals) and figure out whether they are.  Second, they have to show the provenance of the water rights are not from upstream.  I'm not sure how they can do that, as it will require tracing the chain of share ownership.  I believe (since water rights are real property in Utah) that all of this chain is recorded at the County office, so it might not be hard to do that.

On a completely different note, Debbie and I took a drive up the dirt road to Liberty last night.  I was very sleepy (I'd gotten up particularly early yesterday morning), but nonetheless we saw some deer, about a million turkeys, a colony of muskrats, a kingfisher, and ... best of all ... a bald eagle.  That eagle is almost certainly a migrator; this is the season they are flying south through our area.  Hopefully we'll see more, but we got a great view of this fellow, just sitting up in a tree glaring at us.  Or considering us for supper.  Probably the latter :)