Thursday, August 28, 2014

Office hours...

Office hours...  Saw an article on this study, which looks at when people actually go to work (graph at right).  This immediately brought two thoughts to mind:

First, in my last job I kept very strange hours, which will surprise exactly nobody who knows me :)  I generally arrived at work between 5:00 am and 5:30 am (after a one hour drive), and left around 2:00 pm.  I was in almost perfect sync with people who worked on the East Coast, in a time zone +3 hours from mine.

Then I recalled one quite interesting problem I worked on at that same job.  Our product was a SaaS product (otherwise known as a web application), and generally people logged into it when then came into work, and remained logged into it all day long.  Each of our customers had a separate instance of our product.  One of our large customers – out of hundreds of customers – was having a problem we were having trouble tracking down.  Every morning their system would start thrashing like mad: CPU utilization spiked, disk I/O spiked, and response times were in minutes instead of seconds.  After a half hour or so, every single morning, their system would settle down and start behaving normally.  Diagnostics showed nothing.  We swapped out hardware; no change.  People were pulling their hair out trying to figure it out, while the customer was issuing escalating threats on a daily basis.  I was one of the team troubleshooting the problem.  I was chasing down a strange symptom we observed, and happened to look at the table that contained login information – and noticed that almost 1,000 (of 1,200 total) users were logging in within a 3 minute period.  This seemed almost impossibly synchronized – how could 1,000 users all log in with such a synchronized schedule?  That question prompted a phone call to the customer, who verified that in fact all their employees did report to work in exactly this synchronized fashion.  About 90% of the employees were union members, and they clocked in precisely at 9:00 am, and out at 5:00 pm.  In fact, our contact at the company was surprised there was as much as a 3 minute spread in the logins, until he realized that many workers probably grabbed a cup of coffee on the way in.  Anyway, the high number of concurrent logins was the root of our issue.  We had the company solve it temporarily by telling their folks to log in on a staggered schedule (based on the last two digits of their SSN); then we fixed the concurrency issue with a simple queue mechanism.  No other customer had ever reported this issue, in years of experience with hundreds of thousands of users.  It's all the union's fault :)

Mystery of Death Valley's “traveling rocks” solved...

Mystery of Death Valley's “traveling rocks” solved...  It's ice!

Multiculti gone horribly wrong...

Multiculti gone horribly wrong ... in a new and awful wayPress reports are saying this happened (and is continuing to happen!) in multiple U.K. cities.  This immediately makes me wonder if the same thing is happening in other European countries, most especially in southern France and Scandinavia...

Did Michael Mann help write the EPA documents...

Did Michael Mann help write the EPA documents ... the same ones that he claims validate his research?

This somehow seems of a piece for the guy who falsely claimed he was a Nobel Prize winner...

Brainwashing our young...

Brainwashing our young...  Progressive view of U.S. history mandated...

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Take no prisoners...

Take no prisoners...  Afghanistan has ordered its soldiers and police not to take Taliban prisoners – but to kill them outright instead.  Why?  Because captured Taliban are finding it relatively easy to bribe their way out of prison.  That means the only way to stop a Taliban operative is to kill him.

Most Americans have no experience with the kind of pervasive corruption one finds in many other societies, and are constantly surprised (and appalled) at the effects of it.  Afghanistan is one of those countries, and reportedly one of the worst – but it is certainly not the only one.  I was once responsible for business subsidiaries in Russia, where we routinely paid bribes (for things as mundane as getting an Internet connection) and protection money (it would be a shame if something happened to your nice, modern office).

Locals quickly figured out that American money was being poured into our office in St. Petersburg, and it was obvious that people were angling for every possible means to take a chunk of that for themselves.  Not by the means Americans would generally expect, either.  One example will give you a flavor for it.  Our staff there asked us if we would spring for a bottled water delivery service, so our engineering staff could stop drinking the municipal water – which smelled like gasoline and tasted worse.  We said “Of course!”, since we didn't really want to lose staff members to poisoning.  The first day's delivery consisted of 20 liter (~5 gallon) bottles filled with distinctly cloudy water.  When our staff complained to the water delivery guy, he said: “Oh, you want the clean water!  That will be 30 rubles (about $1) extra per bottle, cash only.”  This enterprising fellow had found a way to bribe us for our water!  Complaining to his boss didn't help, because of course his boss got a cut of it.

Take that story and repeat 100 times, and you'll see why we estimated that about 1/3 of our St. Petersburg operating budget went to bribes and protection money...

Worried about Curiosity's wheel wear issues?

Worried about Curiosity's wheel wear issues?  Here's a very detailed article about it...

What the engineer should know about programming...

What the engineer should know about programming...  A magazine article from 1957.  Things have changed just a tad since then :)

Who needs that damned Constitution, anyway?

Who needs that damned Constitution, anyway?  Certainly not King President Obama!

Related thought: do you suppose any foreign politician looks to the U.S. as a political model any more?  I read an article the other day talking about a debate amongst German talking heads, wherein the conclusion was that Putin's Russia was a far more viable model for Germany than Obama's America...

Barn: pier footing forms...

Barn: pier footing forms...  Our builder finished these yesterday afternoon, but the field was too wet and mucky for a concrete truck to get in.  We're hoping they can pour today.

The first photo just shows a rough form, sitting in its hole in the backfill.  The second shows the two rows of four piers.  The last shows the forms finished and ready to pour.  These are held up by stakes and are only roughly in the design position.  The top of them is several inches below the needed top of the pier foundation.  Once the footings have cured a day or two, a round form will be placed on top, and the top of this will be carefully positioned and set to the right height.  These will be poured next, after which the pier/footing “assemblies” will be backfilled around and compacted.  At that point (hopefully still this week), it will be time to put a layer of fine gravel over all the backfill, and carefully level it...


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The EPA deals in political propaganda, not science...

The EPA deals in political propaganda, not science...  Warren Meyer of CoyoteBlog seems to be surprised by this.

I am not.  I would expect the EPA to pay attention to the science only when it serves their political interests to do so.  That's not very often, actually.

Lois Lerner had a Blackberry...

Lois Lerner had a Blackberry...  That's significant because some of her emails would have been stored on that device.  But the IRS destroyed it, too!

They're just laughing in our faces, now.  They don't even care if we know they're corrupt, lying sons of bitches.  They don't think there's anything that we the people can do about it.

Are they right?

Airstrikes in Libya...

Airstrikes in Libya ... were conducted by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, acting on their own.  They didn't coordinate the strikes with the U.S., or get prior clearance for them.

The U.S. is receding from the forefront of world affairs.  There is no effective leadership.  Tin pot dictators like Russia's Putin, and posturing closet Islamists like Turkey's Erogodan are competing for the role.  I just hope things don't go to hell too fast, so that our next president has a fighting chance to reassert this country's leadership...

The best of Harry Reid...

The best of Harry Reid...  Now there's a sentence I didn't expect I'd ever write!

Ok, he wins...

Ok, he wins ... best ice bucket challenge evah!

Farmers rule!

Think about it...

Think about it...

Barn: initial backfill is complete!

Barn: initial backfill is complete! All the pit run needed is in. Despite our recent rains (over 2" in just the past few days) making a muddy mess of the field, the gravel truck managed to get all the required loads fairly close to the barn's foundation, and the builder shuttled it into the foundation with his loader/backhoe.  In the photo at far right, the builder's son is compacting the backfill down, in preparation for covering it with a layer of fine gravel.  In the other photo, a sprinkler is wetting down the backfill in preparation for that compaction.

The next step is to pour footings for the steel piers that will hold up the center of the roof, along with the second story storage area.  There are two rows of these piers, with three or four (I've forgotten which) piers in each row.  The rows of piers will be topped by a large gluelam beam that in turn will support the interior sections of all the trusses.  This combination of steel and engineered wood is very common these days, thanks to technological innovations in the building industry.  A few decades ago, the choices would have been far more limited – along with far more expensive, and not as strong...

Philae candidate landing sites!

Philae candidate landing sites!  The ESA has released the list of eight candidate landing sites for the Philae lander.  Later this fall, Rosetta will launch Philae for the short trip down to the surface of comet 67P.  As is usual in landing site selection, there's tension between choosing a scientifically interesting site, and a (relatively) safe site.  I don't envy those who must choose...

I recommend RealClearScience...

I recommend RealClearScience...  And this manifesto they've just published nicely sums up why.  The list at the end is in line with my own thinking on a bunch of “controversial” (or at least, unsettled :) science...

Why do I study physics?

Why do I study physics?  Very nicely done!

Triton flyby...

Triton flyby...  The just-released movie at right shows a robotic space explorer's flyby of Triton, Neptune's moon.  If you follow these things, as I do, you might be startled to hear that, as there are currently no explorers anywhere near Neptune!  The movie was made from a collection of still photos taken by Voyager 2, in 1989, as it zoomed past Neptune on its way to interstellar space.  Via APOD, of course...

California leads the way...

California leads the way ... in drunk state Senator driving.  Hueso is from San Diego, not all that far from Jamul...

Once speculation, now admitted...

Once speculation, now admitted...  The U.S. government is now admitting that they do, in fact, have all of Lois Lerner's emails on backup tapes.  They just don't want to take the trouble to retrieve them

My, that's very convenient for the (most transparent evah) administration, no?

The Neo-Neocons...

The Neo-Neocons...  This editorial by Bret Stephens, in today's Wall Street Journal, caught my eye both because of the author and the title.  “Neo-Neocon” is one of my favorite blogs; its author is a woman who's gone through a political transformation in part because of the same issues Bret raises in this piece. 

Stephens' piece is focused mainly on a parallel topic: the way that some (many, actually) progressive political figures have changed their attitude toward military intervention against violent fundamentalist Islamic movements.  The emergence of ISIS while Obama was president neatly and cleanly exemplifies this, as Stephens documents...

Why do Nigerian scammers say they're from Nigeria?

Why do Nigerian scammers say they're from Nigeria?  The Nigerian email scams are notorious – the butt of jokes, and everyone knows about them.  So you'd think it would behoove the scammers to stop telling people that they're from Nigeria, wouldn't you?  Au contraire, say researchers at Microsoft: the scammers carefully and intentionally tell you they're from Nigeria.  Why?  Because then they know that any responses they do get are from the tiny percentage of the population that doesn't know about the Nigerian scams...

Seen in the northern Pacific...

Seen in the northern Pacific...  An airline pilot saw these strange lights two days ago, under a thin cloud cover, while flying over the northern Pacific between Alaska and Japan.  He has no idea what they were...

A small step in the right direction...

A small step in the right direction...  The progressive/socialist bastion of Vermont has moved to start treating drug addiction as a health and social problem, instead of as a criminal problem.  It's not the more complete withdrawal from the war on drugs that I'd like to see ... but it's a move away from the war, at least...

Russia is still in denial...

Russia is still in denial...  Ukraine captured Russian soldiers inside Ukraine.  In the face of some rather convincing evidence (including videotaped interrogations of the captured soldiers), Russia has admitted that the soldiers were there – but denies that they're there intentionally.

This is so reminiscent of the verbal games and deceptions employed by Hitler just prior to his invasions of Poland and Czechoslovakia.  We've forgotten the lessons of history, I'm afraid.  Knuckleheads like Putin need to be stopped sooner, not later.  That's not happening, and I am concerned about that...

Really!

Really!  Today's Pepper and Salt, in the Wall Street Journal:


23 years of Linux...

23 years of Linux...  On August 25, 1991, Linus Torvalds made the first announcement of the free, open source operating system Linux.  Torvalds is still the leader of the project, which has now captured a large and growing share of all non-desktop operating systems.  In my recent experience, Linux absolutely dominates the enterprise server market, something that I would never have predicted as recently as ten years ago.  Yesterday Torvalds made a sentimental minor release of Linux, on its 23rd birthday...

Weird flowers...

Weird flowers ... that look like other things, like the Flying Duck Orchid (Caleana major) at right.  Plus, a couple of bugs that look like flowers!  Via my CCPOAA mom...

Monday, August 25, 2014

Another loony in a wing suit...

Another loony in a wing suit...  It looks like he comes within a few inches of some of those trees...

A magnificent solar flare...

A magnificent solar flare...  An “M-flare”, just a medium-sized one.  But this one was captured in a movie by the SOHO satellite...

Galaxy Arp 188...

Galaxy Arp 188... Via APOD, of course.  As usual, click to embiggen...

Amazing story...

Amazing story...

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Grout...

Grout...  The fellow who did the tile work in our remodeled master bathroom did a really nice job, but there was one imperfection that we didn't like: the grout, in certain places, hadn't been properly removed.  When grout is correctly used, all of it should be below the level of the surrounding tile or rock.  In the case of our bathroom, some of the right-angle joints (and especially the triple corners) had a “bead” of grout that was too high.  It's easy to see how this happened: when you apply grout, the last step is to clean off the excess with a sponge.  That works great on flat surfaces – but not so much on right angled joints.  You can see this on the photo above right (click to embiggen).

After a bit of research on the web, I headed down to my local Home Depot to get a grout brush.  I expected to be using this and my pocket knife to (laboriously) work that excess grout off.  However, when I arrived at Home Depot and started looking at the tile tools, a friendly fellow came over and asked me what I was trying to accomplish.  He told me about a special tool made for exactly my problem: a carbide-tipped scraper with a small triangular blade (see photos at right).  I headed home considerably better armed for the battle than I had expected.

With just a little practice I got the hang of that scraper.  It's important to wet down the grout and tile before you start – that keeps the dust from flying, and (more importantly) it helps prevent the scraper from “biting” into the rock, by lubricating it (same principle as shaving foam).  It's also important to be gentle and to use light pressure.  It's far better to make ten very light strokes than to try to remove it all with one muscular stroke, because that greatly reduces the chances of a catastrophic mistake (removing too much grout, or a chunk of rock).

The results are better than I had hoped for, and with far less work.  To go over the entire shower took me about 4 hours of work.  With just my pocket knife, that would have been more like 4 days.  Furthermore, this was easy work, with relatively little skill required (a vital element, when it's me doing the work!).

Bottom line: if you have an excess grout situation, get this tool!

Buh-bye, hard disks!

Buh-bye, hard disks!  A terabyte on a postage stamp, faster and more durable than flash memory, coming soon.

The first non-volatile RAM I ever worked with (back in '72) was made with magnetic “cores” – tiny toroids with wire strung through them.  These had a density of about 78 bits per cubic inch.  The first versions of these new memories will have densities of roughly 2 x 1015 bits per cubic inch – a density increase of about 3 x 1013 in just 55 years.  It seems unlikely that non-volatile RAM advances will keep up at that rate!  On the other hand, as recently as 20 years ago I would never have guessed that I'd live to see the density of flash memory today...

Good doggy!

Good doggy!

Seen in Los Angeles...

Seen in Los Angeles...  No normal human could ever figure this out...

The complete Feynman lectures...

The complete Feynman lectures ... are now online...