Friday, October 31, 2014
Halala Pala has been a special cat in our household for almost ten years. We're pretty certain he was a Maine Coon, either purebred or close to it. He had all the classic Maine Coon attributes: fat, fuzzy, affectionate, and tiny voice more suited to a mouse than to a cat of his portly magnificence. He loved to chase a laser pointer or feather on a string. Oh, and he loved to eat :)
He was one of the cutest kittens I've ever seen (first picture below). Not just his appearance, but his behavior as well. You'd never guess that such a cute little kitten would, two years later, attain the level of magnificence you see in the second photo – but he did. The rest of the photos were taken recently, when he was still in remission. I've written about him several times before.
We'll miss you, Halala Pala. We rescued you, and we're grateful for the the years of affection and companionship you gave us...
I threw this under the microscope because I could feel the deformation, but not really see it with my naked eye. It surprised me that I apparently had more “resolution” with my fingertips than with my eyeball...
I've read several more formal studies that primarily concentrate on two things: the impact on crime, and the impact on society more generally. In both areas Portugal has shown rather large improvements since 2002, when the country decriminalized drug possession. Most interesting to me is that the improvements track quite closely the major claims of American libertarians (including me!) who advocate decriminalization here: large decreases in property crimes, and large decreases in the number of young men in jail. One big surprise to me: Portugal is seeing much lower rates of domestic violence. Of course, with any studies such as these, there is no proof of causation. All we have is the lagging correlation, which is suggestive, but not proof...
Is this a different kind of impact than other technology advances have made upon us? I think it's only different in its details, really. As with most other advances, there are benefits and there are drawbacks. Loss of privacy, whether actual or perceived, is definitely a drawback. Convenience and ease of use are definitely benefits - if I can say "Show C-SPAN" rather than picking up the remote, scrolling through the directory to find C-SPAN, and then clicking to show the channel, I'd much prefer the simple voice command.
One thing you can depend on about technology advances: if there's competition, the manufacturers will be falling all over themselves to provide what consumers actually want. If the majority of consumers say they want privacy protection (in particular, if they're willing to pay for that), the manufacturers will be providing it. Unfortunately, it seems that we can also depend on our own government to exploit technology to snoop on us – this I find far more worrisome than the commercial use. Apple's recent cloud encryption decision may point a way for manufacturers to shield their consumers from the possibility of government snooping – and I, for one, would absolutely pay for that!
Thursday, October 30, 2014
Humans have never been this safe before. Ever.
When you show this to someone who believes, deep in their low information heart, that the Iraq war killed more Americans than all other wars combined ... you can tell from their face that their brain is frying right in front of you.
Orbital Sciences (the builders of Antares) chose to use refurbished Russian engines for Antares because at the time of their choice it looked like the best combination of cost, speed, and reliability. Years of NASA mismanagement (which continues unabated) had practically destroyed anything resembling innovation or advancement in American rocket technology. The Russians had a solid, reliable – even though old – rocket engine technology, and it was available cheaply because of the fall of the Soviet Union and the Russian desperation for hard dollars. American companies – especially those in bed with NASA – were forecasting decades and multiple tens of billions of dollars in development costs. Did Orbital Sciences make a bad choice? I don't know any reason at all to believe that.
A rocket blowing up is not exactly a new phenomenon. We've had our own share of that with American rockets, and so have the Russians, Europeans, and Chinese. Rockets, especially the larger ones, are marvels of complex technology straining at the very edge of what's possible. It's amazing to me that any of those rockets don't explode! Someday we might advance rocket technology to the point where launches can be thought of as routine and safe, but today is clearly not that day.
Here's some additional coverage, some of it a bit more objective than the Fox News report: here, here, and especially here...
This reminds me, though, of an odd factoid I read years ago: a ranking of voting preference by profession. Sanitation workers and septic tank cleaners were top of the list for progressives. Hmmmm...
When I was a young lad in the early '60s, I remember eagerly watching the news as it showed the grainy black-and-white photos returned by early NASA robotic missions to the moon. We've come a long way since then, but the Chinese have progressed even more. In the early '60s, while we were shooting for the moon, Mao was firmly in control and his crazy policies were killing millions and had the country retreating rapidly toward the Stone Age. Now China is successfully developing and launching robotic explorers on their own, and seem on pace to rival NASA's capabilities...
Now there's video (from Moline, Illinois) of this “calibration error” in action. You decide: fraud or calibration error?
The speakers in the video at right are leaders in the black community, well-known and well-respected. I speculate that the scales have (finally!) fallen from their eyes because of Obama's overt failure to deliver – despite his being black himself. Whether I'm right about that is irrelevant, though. I'm hoping that their disillusionment is the beginning of a trend – not to have minority voters vote Republican, but rather to have them think about who they're voting for, rather than voting reflexively for any one party...
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
I got to wondering exactly how these bits were made, and what they look like close up, so I stuck a used one under the microscope. This one still has some life in it. In the left hand photo (about 15x) you can see the composite of metal and diamond chips that make up the working surface. The white “frosting” is dried porcelain tile powder from the last time I used it. When drilling, I keep the bit wet, so the ground off porcelain forms a kind of slurry or mud that sticks to the drill bit, then dries very hard. The diamond chips are transparent, and pale yellow or green in color. I have no idea what kind of metal they're embedded in. The right hand photo is centered at the same spot, but I zoomed it to 60x; in it you have a clearer view of just those chips.
I couldn't see any of this with just my eyeball. With my fingernail I can readily feel that the surface is rough, but to my eye it just looks like a matte-finished metal surface. It's very different when magnified!
The roofers skipped a couple days because the head demolisher was sick. They were back today and demolished another quarter or so of our home's old roof; they're just over half done with that now.
I've been busy as heck, installing ceiling fans, fixing electrical problems, and (most recently) installing blinds. Prior to this morning, the only privacy in our bedroom was provided by the thick foliage on the trees and shrubs outside. In the past week, basically all the leaves of deciduous trees fell off. Not wanting to frighten all the local young women, I thought it would be a good idea to get those blinds up. As of this afternoon, we've got blinds on all the bedroom windows, plus the bathroom window. The latter was a real pain to put up, as I had to drill four holes through the porcelain tiles lining the window casing, and I had to drill them up, as the blinds mounted on the top. My arms hurt :) But I got it done...
The last ceiling fan I just finished yesterday morning. It was far more challenging than I had expected, mainly because someone (presumably the previous owner) had seriously botched the installation of the one I was replacing. The old ceiling fan was mounted to a blue plastic junction box, which in turn was held in place by two nails into a joist – not even close to being strong enough to hold up the fan. The previous owner “solved” this problem by putting six large sheet metal screws into the sheet rock on the ceiling. Ack! That fan was right over their bed, too – totally unacceptable. So I had to get rid of all the old bad installation, patch the screw holes, repaint that part of the ceiling, install a new metal junction box (working in a 5" diameter hole!), and only then could I install the new fan. I was very glad to finish that one, I don't mind saying!
One nice thing about the old ceiling fans: all four of them have new homes. One of our neighbors lives in an older house, and they're always looking for ways to upgrade. They took the three nicest fans to replace two not-so-nice ones they have now, plus add one to their workshop. The fourth old fan has a much more interesting future ahead of it: one of this blog's readers (“eg”) inquired about getting just the motor from it – to make it into a potter's wheel! That particular fan had a kind of cheesy looking fake brass exterior, and I was just going to toss it. How great that someone can use the one part that looks good on it!
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
A San Diego company had themselves a real problem. They'd contracted with an independent consulting engineer (very common back then for anything involving microcomputers) to develop a TTY modem that ran on a single chip microcomputer. This was to be part of a device to allow deaf people to use telephones. Telephone companies had recently been mandated to provide such devices for deaf customers, and this company was trying to win the bid to supply the local telephone company with thousands of them.
The problem was that the engineer they hired had quit in a huff, and claimed to have accidentally destroyed the source code for the firmware on the chip. All the company had was a single mostly-working chip, from which the object code could be read. They wanted someone to reverse-engineer the code, deliver the reconstructed source code, and (ideally) to fix the problems.
I took that contract, but only on an hourly rate basis, as I had no idea what I was going to find. The company didn't like that much, but they also had no alternatives.
The firmware had originally been written in assembly language, as most performant things were back then. That was a mixed blessing. It was easy to get the source code back without useful symbol names – but quite challenging to actually understand the code and assign useful symbol names. I spent several weeks totally immersed in that code.
A big part of the code turned out to be a floating point package, one that the previous engineer had apparently written himself. I had just written one of these a few years prior (as part of Tarbell Basic), and I'd also written one while in the Navy, so I had some familiarity with how to do this. This particular package had some trigonometric functions in it that were used by the modem software – and those trig functions were written in a way that caused cumulative errors of exactly the kind described in the linked article.
So I went back to the company who hired me and told them that I'd found a significant problem, and it was one that could be fixed. Naturally, they wanted to know what the problem was. While explaining it to the engineering team, I discovered that the source of the trig function algorithm was a scientist who worked for the company: he had handed that algorithm to the former programmer, who implemented it as asked. So the source of the problem wasn't the programmer, but rather this scientist (a physics guy who knew about digital signal processing). Next thing I know, I'm lecturing this scientist on the details of how floating point worked, and he really, really didn't want to hear it :) In the end, the only way I could convince him was by constructing simple test cases and showing him the results.
There was a happy ending to all this, though. Once I convinced the scientist of the errors consequent to his algorithm, he was willing to listen to some alternatives. One of them was a well-known approach that avoided the cumulative error problem and also was many, many times faster than his algorithm: a simple polynomial approximation. I didn't invent this; I got it from a book written in the '50s by someone with the appropriate degree. Even the scientist was happy with this one!
One consequence is that I paid serious attention to the classroom work, even when it didn't appeal to me – something I had never done before. I also started observing the students that did well and those who did not, the better to guide myself. There was an “Aha!” moment for me one day that I can still remember vividly. The instructor posed a problem on a blackboard (with chalk!) and asked who had an idea how to attack it. The couple of high-performing students I was observing looked puzzled and kept their hands down. Nearly everyone else raised their hand – and not a one of them had any clue how to tackle the problem posed. The “Aha!” was that the best students were the ones most comfortable with being ignorant. How interesting!
That started me on what became a lifelong (and by now, pretty much reflexive) habit: to frankly acknowledge my own ignorance, both to myself and to others. I don't always succeed at this, as my friends will attest :) I'm better at doing so on technical subjects than on others. I've learned that recognizing my own ignorance is a prerequisite to motivating myself to address that ignorance. In other words, a key step in acquiring new technical knowledge is to recognize that I need that knowledge. That might seem like a little thing, but it's played a very large role in my career. There are an infinite number of interesting technical subjects that I'm ignorant of, and therefore no end of things for me learn. I've never been comfortable when not learning; in fact, any situation that doesn't require me to learn something new is one that I find boring. I've also learned that admitting ignorance does not lower the degree of respect that others have for my technical ability – in fact, it may do the opposite. Because people know that I will readily admit to not knowing something, they tend to believe (not necessarily with justification :) that if I am not claiming ignorance, I must have some idea what I'm talking about.
Because of this context, I found this article quite interesting...
So what's Mr. Reynolds talking about? He's riffing on a study showing that just 70% of Americans believe people are generally better off under capitalism, with its attendant inequalities – but 95% of Vietnamese believe that. Maybe we should take on some Vietnamese advisers!
The column makes some interesting points, and is well worth the read...
Monday, October 27, 2014
This particular screwdriver is a high-quality (German) Wiha, made with very hard, tough steel – one of the best you can buy. I got it about 18 months ago, and it's been used a lot – first with my FJ Cruiser modification project, and now for the past six months during remodeling our new home. I suspect this sort of wear is inevitable when you are frequently applying great force onto a small metal face...
The construction of this particular flag is impressive. First, it's actually two flags stitched together back-to-back, so that the flag looks correct from both sides. Second, each blob of black or white for the serpent, and the green grass the serpent sits on, is actually a piece of cloth cut out in the right shape, then stitched into place with an embroidered border – it looks practically indestructible. Finally, the letters are entirely embroidered. For the price ($25 including shipping) it's an amazing bargain. I'd be willing to bet that the entire construction of the flag is automated: a computer-controlled laser to cut the cloth pieces, an industrial robot to place them on the yellow background, and a computer-controlled sewing machine to do the rest. I can't imagine how else they could sell a product this nicely made for that price...
Really, you shouldn't miss anything Ms. McArdle writes, because the worst of it is better than almost anything else you'll read on economics, politics, policy, and cooking...
Dear Mr. Page...
I always love your articles and I generally agree with them. I would suggest, as in an email I received, they change the name to the "Foreskins" to better represent their community, paying tribute to the dick heads in Congress.
I agree with our Native American population. I am highly insulted by the racially charged name of the Washington Redskins. One might argue that to name a professional football team after Native Americans would exalt them as fine warriors, but nay, nay. We must be careful not to offend, and in the spirit of political correctness and courtesy, we must move forward.
Let's ditch the Kansas City Chiefs, the Atlanta Braves and the Cleveland Indians. If your shorts are in a wad because of the reference the name Redskins makes to skin color, then we need to get rid of the Cleveland Browns.
The Carolina Panthers obviously were named to keep the memory of militant Blacks from the 60's alive. Gone. It's offensive to us white folk.
The New York Yankees offend the Southern population. Do you see a team named for the Confederacy? No! There is no room for any reference to that tragic war that cost this country so many young men's lives.
I am also offended by the blatant references to the Catholic religion among our sports team names. Totally inappropriate to have the New Orleans Saints, the Los Angeles Angels or the San Diego Padres.
Then there are the team names that glorify criminals who raped and pillaged. We are talking about the horrible Oakland Raiders, the Minnesota Vikings, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Pittsburgh Pirates!
Now, let us address those teams that clearly send the wrong message to our children. The San Diego Chargers promote irresponsible fighting or even spending habits. Wrong message to our children.
The New York Giants and the San Francisco Giants promote obesity, a growing childhood epidemic. Wrong message to our children.
The Cincinnati Reds promote downers/barbiturates. Wrong message to our children.
The Milwaukee Brewers. Well that goes without saying. Wrong message to our children.
So, there you go. We need to support any legislation that comes out to rectify this travesty, because the government will likely become involved with this issue, as they should. Just the kind of thing the do-nothing Congress loves.
As a diehard Oregon State fan, my wife and I, with all of this in mind, suggest it might also make some sense to change the name of the Oregon State women's athletic teams to something other than "the Beavers."
In my imagination, Pelosi would start up a non-stop screeching, demanding help in the form of a helicopter ride out. Harry Reid would hide under a chair. McConnell would be a puddle of protoplasm in a corner, wobbling like Jello. Boehner would be crying in another corner. A few – Cruz and Ryan come to mind – might actually try to put up some kind of defense as the terrorist approaches. Overall, though, the security cameras would show us a pathetic scene. Any other outcome seems ... not credible.
Contrast that with what actually happened in Ottawa last week, when a heavily armed Islamic terrorist actually attacked their Parliament. With no other weapons at hand, MPs (the rough equivalent of our Senators and Representatives) fashioned spears from flagstaffs, and positioned themselves at the doorway to the chambers, ready to impale the terrorist if he tried to enter. They had no need, though, because their Sergeant-at-Arms shot him dead with his sidearm.
Canadians: showing more American spirit than Americans...
Sunday, October 26, 2014
A serious RC enthusiast could afford to buy an actual turbine jet engine, delivering crazy levels of performance, as you can see in that video. Some nutcase with technical ability (or access to it) could make a formidable drone with one of these.
We live in amazing times...
The company's products were automation tools for court stenographers, and at the time they were revolutionary. Most stenographers still worked with old-fashioned mechanical machines and did their editing and typing of transcripts by hand, on a typewriter or primitive dedicated word processor. With Xscribe's products, their familiar stenographic machine was connected directly to a computer, they could create codes on the fly (an enormous time-saver), they edited on a CRT, and the printed the final transcript directly to a computer printer – near-magical levels of automation by the day's standards.
Xscribe made the classic mistake of insisting on closed, proprietary, and grossly non-standard hardware. They were killed off by the advent of PC-based competition. I lost track of the industry after that. But this morning I came across the video above, by one of the founders of a free, open source stenographic software package called Plover – and references to open source stenographic input hardware as well. The stenographers were tired of being plundered by overpriced vendors, and they're fighting back. I've no idea what their success will be, but I'm fascinated that open source solutions are attacking niche markets like this. It makes sense, though, because the market is too small for large economies of scale, too small to attract lots of competitors (which would drive the prices down), yet big enough that a collaborative effort might just work. I suspect there are quite a few markets like that...
So where's the satisfaction in that? It's this: we have the great good fortune to possess the financial wherewithal, in our retirement, to be able get the best quality ceiling fan we can find. I did the research, and found a make and model that had great reviews online, was documented as being made with top-notch materials and parts, and matched our taste in its style. The price was roughly double what the old fans likely cost.
The quality difference was driven home to me as I disassembled the old ceiling fans – perfectly serviceable, but visibly not as well made, presumably not as durable, and observably noisier and less stable (they vibrated and had some motor whine, especially at high fan speeds). The new ceiling fans are made of heavier materials, have rubber noise and vibration dampening throughout, and were perfectly balanced without any adjustment at all. The fit and finish are perfect. Even at the highest speed setting, there's no vibration and no motor noise with the new fans – just the quiet rush of the air being moved.
It's such a little thing, really ... but I have lived most of my life in financial circumstances that did not allow me to make such choices. Virtually every purchase we ever made was compromised by the price we could afford to pay, and usually it was quality that was compromised. It's very satisfying to me that now we need not make any such compromise for most of the ordinary things we need, because we can afford to buy the quality we really want. There's another factor at work here, too: the more experience one has, the more one appreciates fine quality...
Saturday, October 25, 2014
So that got me curious, of course. Just what is this “gecko-like nano-suction”, anyway? I envisioned a perfect array of thousands upon thousands of little tiny suction cups, but that's not how it works at all. Instead, the surface is pocked by thousands of randomly shaped and placed little microscopic pockets, as you can see below. The silver arc is the edge of a dime, to give you some scale. The photo is at 60x magnification. You can see dozens of oddly shaped little squiggles here; those are the little pockets that act like suction cups. Some of them, if you look closely, are filled with dirt – which will wash right out, making it good as new.
I had a heck of a time getting that dime off there when I finished taking this photo :)
I don't have any photos of it, unfortunately. What made it so beautiful to me was the way that the locals had so carefully maintained this cemetery over several hundred years. The oldest gravestones I found dated to the 1600s; the newest ones were very recent. All were simple and plain – and all, even the oldest, had fresh flowers on them. The lawn and plants were immaculately maintained, and the surrounding and overhanging forest had irrigation ditches to keep the trees watered and healthy. The atmosphere was somber, dignified, and peaceful.
I have fond memories of something that happened there, as well. As I was walking around, a local family – husband, wife, two young kids – came in bearing flowers. The kids were happy and full of energy; they immediately went bounding off to play amongst the tombstones. The couple went over to a grave near one corner, cleared the older flowers away and set a new bouquet down. The husband took out some hand shears and started clipping the grass around the grave, and pulling a few weeds. The wife stood silently, crying a little. I felt like an intruder on this scene, and quietly walked out.
I started to get into my rental car when I saw the husband walking toward me with a friendly expression. He waved and greeted me, in Estonian, which I don't know a word of. I asked if he spoke English, and he replied that he did – but just a little. He said that he and his wife were afraid that they had intruded on my solitude, and that they didn't want me to think I had to leave because they had come in. We laughed together when I told him that I'd had the same feeling about them. He assumed I had a relative buried here, but I told him I was just sightseeing, and had been struck by the beauty of this little cemetery as I drove by. He dragged me back in to meet his wife, whom he said spoke perfect English.
Well, it wasn't so perfect :) But it was, truly, much better than his. Both of them were very warm and friendly to this strange American tourist (this was back in 1993 or 1994, and foreign tourists were very unusual at that time). She told me that the grave they were visiting was for her father, who had died about 15 years earlier. What made her sad today was that he had not lived to see the end of the Soviet occupation (1991). That would have filled him with joy, she said, and that's easy to believe. The three of us talked for about an hour – me with lots of questions about what it was like to live on Saaremaa, them with lots of questions about America. Like so many other Estonians back then, when they heard I lived in California, they assumed I was on a first name basis with every Hollywood star :)
Our conversation was intermittently in English, and intermittently in Estonian as the husband and wife came up with things they wanted to ask, or talked about something I'd said. After one of these Estonian interludes, the woman asked me if I'd join them for dinner, at their home, just a couple of miles away. I jumped on that opportunity!
The conversation continued before, during, and after the dinner. The kids about 12 or 13 years old) joined in, too, with lots of questions of their own. The dinner itself was simple fare: a little pea-and-carrot salad, something I'd call roast pork, with a savory sauce, and boiled potatoes with (the inevitable) dill. There was a slightly sweet cold soup, tomato-based, again with dill. There was beer to drink (including for the kids), a local brew. I'm not a beer fan, and I didn't particularly like theirs, but I drank it anyway :). It was well after dark when I finally took my leave, with lots of smiles, good cheer, and waves goodbye. I had a standing invitation to visit the next time I came to Saaremaa.
A couple of years later, I did just that – but when I drove up to the house and knocked on the door, an unfamiliar face greeted me. When we found someone who spoke English, I found out that the family I knew had moved away – the husband had found good work in Poland, and they all moved there. I think of them, now and then, and hope that they're doing well. The Smithsonian cemetery story brought them to mind once again...
There are several things in this clip that should raise the hackles of anyone who isn't avowedly socialist. One of them stands out. Says Hillary:
“Don't let anybody tell you that it's corporations and businesses that create jobs.”That's the language of socialism, in all its many guises, pure and straightforward. Governments create jobs, not private industry, say those true believers. And, to my great distress, a plurality of Americans today agree with that.
This is the candidate who – according to virtually every poll – currently would beat any conceivable candidate that the Republicans could field against her, including Mitt Romney version 3.
This is your cup of morning doom. You're welcome...
Russell Brand - soap-dodger, lech, former husband of the infinitely more talented Katy Perry - is the most irritating person on earth. This much we knew. But I don't think any of us realised just HOW irritating till his most recent appearance on BBC Newsnight last night in which, besides revealing himself to be a 9/11 Truther, he also emerged as a preening, ignorant, manipulative bully with disturbing communist and Islamist tendencies.“soap-dodger” :) I love James Delingpole's rants...
Russell Brand - soap-dodger, lech, former husband of the infinitely more talented Katy Perry - is the most irritating person on earth. This much we knew. But I don't think any of us realised just HOW irritating till his most recent appearance on BBC Newsnight last night in which, besides revealing himself to be a 9/11 Truther, he also emerged as a preening, ignorant, manipulative bully with disturbing communist and Islamist tendencies.
Yesterday I inventoried all the parts I'd need, and made an epic purchase at Lowe's. My entire shopping cart was filled to the brim with large quantities of parts. The checkout clerk thought I was an electrician stocking up for the month. Just to give you a flavor: I bought 84 switches. This sort of thing comes along with a 4,800 sq. ft. house, I suppose. That pile of components is intimidating :)
When I got home, I broke out my tools and went to work in the living room. My first effort was to figure out why one switch, placed as if it were a light switch, didn't work. After some effort, I determined that it was supposed to control the top outlets on three separate dual outlets scattered around the room. The reason it didn't work? Somebody who didn't understand these things had replaced two of the dual outlets, and had not removed the “shorting bar” that allowed the upper and lower outlet to be controlled separately. I fixed that. Then I discovered one outlet with a missing ground wire – that's actually dangerous. I fixed that. The next outlet had the “hot” and neutral wires reversed – also potentially dangerous. I fixed that. I've only redone half of one room, and I've already found three errors, two of them potentially dangerous. I'm a little surprised the former owners survived!
I've felt a little lonely in this opinion. The lamestream media absolutely delighted in the “feud”, and coverage has been overwhelmingly pro-Hachette. Yesterday, though, I ran across a couple of articles by people who share my perspective, and have some interesting points to make: CoyoteBlog and Megan McArdle. Reason has been taking the same position since the news broke. You might note a pattern there: all three sources lean libertarian (Reason rather overtly so). The dominant ideologies (progressive and conservative) tend to support Hachette's position, for different reasons, with a few exceptions on the conservative side. There really aren't all that many issues where the libertarians stick out quite so much (drug legalization is another), so it's interesting to see that this is one. Probably it just boils down to the libertarian notion that it's best to keep government out of things, whereas both progressives and conservatives (these days) seem to agree that BIG BAD GOVERNMENT is a good thing...
Friday, October 24, 2014
The next step for the Chinese space program is to land a robotic explorer on the moon (something they've already done once), collect some rock samples, then return to Earth. Their space program is ambitious, and more than a little impressive...
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Thought you might want to consider getting on board early.
A German Engineer just started his own business in Afghanistan He's making land mines that look like prayer mats. It's doing well. He says prophets are going through the roof.
For example, the netting was stapled up with hundreds upon hundreds of staples, at an average interval of about 2 inches. They did this with a staple gun that works like a machine gun – they just run it down a stud or rafter, and the staple gun spits out staples at a rate of 8 to 10 per second. When you see how many staples they put in, you'd think they spent days doing it – but it actually went very quickly.
Blowing the insulation in was also a fast job. A huge machine inside their truck has a hopper full of the raw fiberglass, and a large blower. When the installer presses a trigger on his “insulation gun”, this machine starts chopping and fluffing the fiberglass, then blowing it at high speed down a long flexible hose to his gun, where it fills whatever cavity he's working at that moment (see the last two photos below).
The bottom line: a three man crew installed top quality insulation in the walls and ceiling of a 4,000 sq. ft. barn in about 9 hours. That's darn fast!
In just a few weeks, Rosetta's little lander (Philae) will attempt to land on comet 67P. Awesome!
I've long been fascinated by cavity magnetrons, less for their technical attributes than for their contribution to the Allies victory in WWII. Their invention by British scientists, and mass production by American industry, led directly to small, lightweight, high resolution airborne radars – and gave the Allied air forces a huge advantage over those of the Axis. That same device is what cooks your food in today's microwave ovens.
But this is about to change. As this article describes, recently introduced high frequency, high power transistors are about to revolutionize the world of the microwave oven. The transistors are better in many ways, but what the consumer will notice is infinitely variable power, and no loud noise.
My electronic career got started with devices that used vacuum tubes as their active components. It's been many years since I last designed something using a vacuum tube, but I've still got a fond place in my engineer's brain for them. Once the microwave industry has converted (which I expect will happen extremely quickly), there will be no more high volume vacuum tube production – just low volume boutique production for the crazy people (some of my friends amongst them :) who think vacuum tube audio amplifiers sound better than solid state ones...
Of course, with the tumbling cost of robotics and the rising cost of labor, this was inevitable at some point anyway. But high minimum wages are hustling that day forward, and long before society has adjusted to that reality. Once the robots are widely deployed at fast food joints, hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost. Perhaps worse, one of the largest employers of young people with zero job experience will stop providing that valuable introduction to the world of gainful employment. As a society we don't have good alternatives yet...
It's wonderful that I can listen to it still, almost 50 years later, on incredibly high quality equipment that's tied to my computer.
It's been a hard day's night, say the Beatles...
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Once we had it up, just sitting in the sleeve, it was time to make it perfectly vertical. The sleeve is about two inches larger in diameter than the flagpole's bottom is, so there is some “wiggle room” there. The way you secure the flagpole in the perfect position is interesting: nothing but sand holds it in place. First we poured the sleeve about 1/3 full of sand, then we maneuvered the flagpole into a perfectly vertical position (using a level). After that, we gently banged the side of the pole to vibrate and settle that first bunch of sand. We re-checked the vertical, tweaked it for a final time, then filled the whole sleeve with sand and vibrated it.
There was one more step after that: covering the sand with a sealing layer of silicone caulk (so the sand won't get wet), and then installing the decorative aluminum flashing on the bottom. I took the photo above before I'd finished those steps, as the light was failing. But it's all done now, and ready to attach a flag to. As soon as it warms up just a tad in the morning, Old Glory will be flying over our heads...