Sunday, May 31, 2015
About three-quarters of the logs were black willow. That wood burns hot and clean, but it's relatively soft. The rest is box elder (a kind of maple), and that wood is hard – so hard that cutting it up made the chainsaw blade smokin' hot, and required quite a bit of physical effort to get the blade to “bite” into the wood. There was one particular box elder log, about 20' long, that looks like it has been drying out for many years. I'm going to save the pieces of that one for turning on my lathe.
Now I'm back in the house, recovering from the (substantial) physical exertion of all that sawing. Plus, it's actually warm outside (about 80°), and that added to the physical impact. I'm about to help my recovery along by eating some beef stew that my lovely bride just finished cooking. As soon as she gets the gravy made, it's time to eat! After I recover from eating that meal, we'll go load up all that wood in my pickup, and then stack it in the shed. That's the last step to finishing up the work done two weeks ago by the Mormon horde...
Update (4:30 pm)... All the wood has been moved and stacked. It turned out to be more like 2/3 of a cord. With that plus the additional half cord or so that my neighbor is giving me, I should be nice and toasty in my office all winter!
The beef stew was delicious, by the way. You should have been here! There are some leftovers, but they'll be gone long before any of you can get here :)
After all the hard work today, we decided that we felt like ice cream floats. We just got back from a jaunt to Ridley's, where we got some Americana sodas and some Tillamook ice cream. They're in the deep freeze now, and in an hour or so we're gonna have us a good old fashioned ice cream float!
Update (6:30 pm)... Those ice cream floats (I had vanilla bean ice cream in black cherry soda) were every bit as good as we were hoping. Yum! Now for a walkie with the doggies, and we're off to bed. I suspect I'll sleep well tonight...
After I finished mowing, we headed up to WalMart to buy fertilizer. My brother Scott (aka Mr. Green Thumb) recommended Ironite, but the price of that (for our 3 acres of lawn) stopped me. We went for this stuff instead, for a small fraction of the cost. Strictly by the numbers, it should be good stuff, with nitrogen, potassium, and iron. We'll see. I spread 300 pounds of it yesterday afternoon in less than an hour, thanks to the tow-behind-the-mower fertilizer spreader I bought last year. That thing works great!
Saturday, May 30, 2015
I'd say that firewalls have been relatively ineffective for quite a few years now. Keeping a single firewall patched and configured correctly is a big job all by itself, perhaps impossibly so. Keeping all the firewalls a typical enterprise has patched and configured correctly is harder by a couple orders of magnitude. Add to that the fact that by their very nature, the protections of firewalls lag behind the threats in the real world. Firewalls are never up to date, even if you have the latest patches and configurations applied. Making the publicly-exposed apps secure is the first and most obvious step; making all apps secure is the holy grail.
In my last job before retiring, I worked with over a hundred large enterprise customers. There was a wide range on competence in their approaches to security, but by far the most popular approach was something like “buy all the right stuff, know all the right buzzwords, but actually know very little”. There were a few enterprises I worked with that actually had very competent, right-on-top-of-things security teams who took their work very seriously – but these were notable exceptions. There were many occasions when I was allowed physical access to “secure” facilities with no proof whatsoever of who I was (not even an ID check!), and many is the time I was allowed to plug my laptop right into their network. On a few memorable occasions I was given access credentials (including administrative access) to the company's critical systems. One time I called into a customer – a household name that anyone would recognize – I had never personally met, and at the end of the phone call I had VPN access and their Windows Domain Administrator credentials. Crazy!
But my favorite unsecurity experience involves a government organization (of course!). I won't name the city involved, but it was a large western U.S. city with a recently centralized IT department. The IT facilities were scattered around the city, in a couple dozen places; these were the formerly standalone facilities for each of the city departments. I arrived in town to help them deploy a test version of our product, and that required setting up a server in each of these facilities. The IT manager handed me a key ring with labeled keys for each facility, a spreadsheet with credentials for each server (they had about 200), gave me a map of the facilities locations, and told me to go for it. I was never asked for any identification, never asked to maintain confidentiality, and nobody even asked me for the keys and spreadsheet back!
I was frequently amused by IT organization's focus on things like firewalls. Most of them had far worse security problems than out-of-date firewalls, and the problems didn't appear to be on anyone's schedule to be fixed...
Friday, May 29, 2015
This is most excellent news for all of us in the southern Cache Valley who depend on Porcupine Reservoir for our summer irrigation water. Just a month ago everyone here was worried about a water shortage – now we're actually a little bit ahead of the water curve. Most years the draw from the reservoir would already have started. Not this year! We're sopping wet at the moment. The storm total ended up being 3.7 inches just north of Paradise, and it will have been something similar over the entire southern Cache Valley.
This is such a pretty drive for us, south from our home through the beautiful farms and towns of Paradise and Avon, then up the canyon to the reservoir. There isn't any stretch of that drive that isn't pleasing to the eye. This time of year, the fields are full of babies: colts, calves, kids, lambs, and more. The trees and waterways are full of chicks and fledglings. The fields are lush shades of green, as are the hills all the way up to the mountain peaks. Lots of plants are still in bloom, though that's winding down. The smells of farms and forest fill our nostrils on the whole trip, and the sounds of farm animals, birds, insects, and frogs are with us all the way. As I write this the sun is setting, and around our house we hear dozens of birds complaining about the night time that is about to start.
We feel lucky as hell to live here...
We need a generator. We've lost count, but this is either the fifth or sixth power outage we've had this year...
A guy is driving around the back woods of Montana and he sees a sign in front of a broken down shanty-style house: 'Talking Dog For Sale'. He rings the bell and the owner appears and tells him the dog is in the backyard.
The guy goes into the backyard and sees a nice looking Labrador retriever sitting there.
'You talk?' he asks.
'Yep,' the Lab replies.
After the guy recovers from the shock of hearing a dog talk, he says 'So, what's your story?'
The Lab looks up and says, 'Well, I discovered that I could talk when I was pretty young. I wanted to help the government, so... I told the CIA.
In no time at all they had me jetting from country to country, sitting in rooms with spies and world leaders, because no one figured a dog would be eavesdropping.'
'I was one of their most valuable spies for eight years running...but the jetting around really tired me out, and I knew I wasn't getting any
younger so I decided to settle down. I signed up for a job at the airport to do some undercover security, wandering near suspicious characters and listening in. I uncovered some incredible dealings and was awarded a batch of medals.'
'I got married, had a mess of puppies, and now I'm just retired.'
The guy is amazed. He goes back in and asks the owner what he wants for the dog.
'Ten dollars,' the guy says.
'Ten dollars? This dog is amazing! Why on earth are you selling him so
'Because he's a Bullshitter. He's never been out of the yard'
Most software engineers viewing this will have the same reaction I did: some variant of “Holy crap!” Why? Because that robot is doing something that is incredibly challenging to program, especially in real time. Almost every element of that robot, from sensors to actuators, poses a very difficult programming challenge. That challenge is even harder if the solution you're seeking is a general one (i.e., let this robot run anywhere and jump over obstacles) as the MIT program is, and not a specific one (i.e., jump over this set of specific obstacles).
Most other people will look at this and say something like “Well, this is cool and all, but what else can it do? Just run?”
And in a very roundabout way, that's why I'm not too worried about artificial intelligence powered robots taking over the world anytime soon :) It's just too damned hard for conventional computers and conventional programming methods, no spectacular breakthroughs are around the corner (at least, none that I know of), and consumer expectations are light-years ahead of the reality. I suspect that the spawn of Roomba is what we can reasonably expect for quite a long time...
Thursday, May 28, 2015
At first I thought these freckles were actually a different kind of grass that somehow was getting established in our lawn. Then I noticed that the freckles would come and go. The final clue was that the freckles never appeared where I didn't walk the dogs. That's when the lamp of understanding was illuminated: lawn freckles are where the dogs pooped and we failed to pick it up (with three dogs, it's sometimes hard to keep track of who's doing what at any given moment).
After doing a little reading (and multiple sources agree), I've discovered that the reason we have these islands of goodness instead of islands of burned spots is simply that its been raining all the time! When the rain stops – and it may have done so now – we're going to have little brown burned spots all over, instead of these freckles.
But I think the real message is that my lawn desperately needs some nitrogen. I think I'll be visiting the fertilizer store sometime soon now...
CaliforniaHere in Utah, I think the solution would be even cheaper than in Texas. Our governor would most likely grab a nearby rock and bonk the coyote over the head, costing the taxpayers nothing...
The Governor of California is jogging with his dog along a nature trail. A coyote jumps out and attacks the Governor's dog, then bites the Governor.Texas
- The Governor starts to intervene, but reflects upon the movie "Bambi" and then realizes he should stop because the coyote is only doing what is natural.
- He calls animal control. Animal Control captures the coyote and bills the state $200 testing it for diseases and $500 for relocating it.
- He calls a veterinarian. The vet collects the dead dog and bills the State $200 testing it for diseases.
- The Governor goes to hospital and spends $3,500 getting checked for diseases from the coyote and on getting his bite wound bandaged.
- The running trail gets shut down for 6 months while Fish & Game conducts a $100,000 survey to make sure the area is now free of dangerous animals.
- The Governor spends $50,000 in state funds implementing a "coyote awareness program" for residents of the area.
- The State Legislature spends $2 million to study how to better treat rabies and how to permanently eradicate the disease throughout the world.
- The Governor's security agent is fired for not stopping the attack. The state spends $150,000 to hire and train a new agent with additional special training re the nature of coyotes.
- PETA protests the coyote's relocation and files a $5 million suit against the state.
The Governor of Texas is jogging with his dog along a nature trail. A coyote jumps out and attacks his dog.And that, my friends, is why California is broke and Texas is not.
- The Governor shoots the coyote with his state-issued pistol and keeps jogging. The Governor has spent $.50 on a .45 ACP hollow point cartridge.
- The buzzards eat the dead coyote.
Dexter. The photo at right is not of Anabelle, but it looks a lot like her. Those are small cows, bred to be useful for both milk and beef. They're also notoriously ornery. When we spotted Anabelle, she was practically dancing around the neighbor's parcel – she looked like she was about as joyful as a cow could possibly be. The sheep just followed Anabelle all over the place.
Well, we watched for a minute to see if our neighbors (Nick and Maria S., plus five kids) saw what was happening. We called them, but got their answering machine. Figuring they must not be home, we ran out – I dashed over on my ATV, and Debbie drove over.
By the time we got there, a couple minutes later, two of the kids (the only two who were home) had seen the commotion and were out trying to herd them back in. Another couple of neighbors also came over to help, and after just a couple minutes more, Nick and Maria came home with the rest of the kids. We had quite a crowd out there trying to corral the miscreants!
Nick quickly found the escape point: Anabelle had pushed the bottom of one stretch of fence up and out. He fixed that, and the rest of us ran around like mad men trying to convince Anabelle that she should go back in the paddock. Anabelle did not want to go back – she was really enjoying her freedom. Maria, we discovered, was already quite fed up with this ornery cow. We all sense hamburger (or possibly a sale) in Anabelle's future.
Debbie and I came home laughing about the experience. The animals' escape had turned into a very enjoyable social outing for us and several neighbors :)
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
As I wrestled with my paper towel decision, I suddenly heard mad giggling. A little girl – maybe six or seven years old – burst around the corner. She looked like she was part Chinese, with long jet-black hair arranged in pony tails with big red ribbon bows tying them. Those pigtails were flying completely out of control, and she was waving her hands and giggling as she ran behind me. I turned around to watch her – her joy was infectious, and by the time she passed me and I was watching her disappear down the aisle, I was laughing myself.
Until suddenly I was knocked over, flat on my face. My empty shopping cart went scooting down the aisle, and I flipped over to discover that I had a young lady stretched out on top of me. It was the little girl's mother, a Chinese woman who was perhaps 25 years old, and in the process of changing her countenance from one of laughter to one of shock. Just as I was figuring out what had just happened to me, the little girl came running back – crying. It couldn't have been more than three seconds since she ran by laughing and giggling, and here she was somehow already crying and fearful.
A minute or so later, the little girl (named Chamomile!) was back to being happy. Her mom was just fine, and she was now worried about me. I was myself now pondering a completely different problem, this time of physics: how on earth could this woman (named Suzy), who couldn't weigh even 90 pounds and was only about 5' tall, have knocked me down with such force? I figure she must have traveling at about 0.5 C (half the speed of light, for you non-nerds) to have pulled that off!
Suzy fussed over me for a while, but eventually I convinced her that I wasn't likely to die anytime soon, didn't need an ambulance or even a medical exam, and she and Chamomile left to do their shopping. I finished mine and got into a checkout line with my shopping cart. It looked like something out of a cartoon, with giant plastic wrapped collections of paper towels piled perilously high. The clerk checking me out looked at my cart resignedly, and started scanning things. As she was ringing up my stuff, Suzy came over to check on me again. She seemed surprised to find me still conscious and apparently functioning :) After she left, my checkout lady was very curious about why all the fuss from Suzy, so I told her the story. She said, with a serious face, "We frown on knocking customers down at Walmart!" – and then cracked a smile.
All in all, I didn't really mind getting knocked down...
There are (so far as I know) three entirely separate mechanisms contributing to the effect we saw today. When all three are working at once, the difference in brightness between the “halo” and an area in the sunlight a few degrees away can be as much as 10:1. Also there can be some pretty color effects. Here are the mechanisms, from smallest to largest contribution (in terms of halo brightness):
- Grasses, like most plants, have a mechanism inside them that causes their leaves to tend to aim directly at the sun. The wind still blows them, and many leaves are oriented such that they can't bend far enough, so this effect is slightly subtle. Certain kinds of trees (not grass, though) are particularly good at this – especially trees in the north, where sunlight is scarce. Those grass leaves that manage to point directly at the sun are also pointing directly at your head, where your head's shadow is (as in the photo). Those leaves will reflect a little more light back toward you than the surrounding leave.
- Grass leaves are covered with tiny hairs and (sometimes) equally tiny dust particles. Since we've just had rain, the grass in our case probably didn't have much dust on it. But those hairs are certainly there. The ends of those hairs act like little tiny retroreflectors, though not particularly good ones. This contributes to the halo effect in grass, and even more on plants with hairier leaves (such as Dusty Miller).
- The grass this morning was covered with raindrops and dewdrops – so much that the dogs were soaked within moments of their first passage through it. Each of the tiny drops acts as a combination of retroreflector and prism, bouncing the sun's light straight back toward the sun – and breaking it up into colors. This effect is by far the strongest when there as many droplets as we saw this morning. It really was quite beautiful...
Doom. I smell the doom approaching...
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
We did take an early evening drive out to Porcupine Reservoir. With the dramatic stormy skies, spots of sunlight, and the lush green of the fields and hills, it was very pretty. The reservoir's level is distinctly higher; it's now within 24 or 30 inches of spilling over. Better late than never! We didn't see any loons, but did see a solitary Sandhill crane, a boatload of mallard pairs, and two terns doing their fancy flying while looking for fish. Lots of horse and goat babies all along the drive.
This morning Debbie walked into the cattery to see one of our cats (Kapua, aka “mom kitty” ) very excited about something she saw in one of the north-facing windows: a fledgling robin. It had either fallen or flown into the well, but couldn't fly straight up to get out of it. It was a very confused and unhappy little fledgling.
Debbie and I both thought of getting a dish towel to cover the fledgling with. We know from (hard) past experience that you can turn a bird “off” by covering its head. But Debbie had the real winning idea: to throw the towel so as to cover the fledgling, while I stayed at some distance. That worked perfectly: I got it covered on the first throw, then packed it gently into a bubble in the towel, and took it outside – to the vast disappointment of the feline crowd watching the whole affair carefully.
I let the fledgling go at the end of our front door walkway. It flew away from the house, toward the pines in our front yard, then did an about-face and flew straight back to the house, landing in a planting about one foot from another well window. Sheesh. Dumb as a stump would be a welcome upgrade to its brain-power. As of this writing, the fledgling had not fallen back down into the other well window. I bet it does, though...
Update: just a few minutes after I first posted this, Debbie called up. “Bird in the window, again!” Down I went, dish towel in hand, and repeated the entire exercise. This time I let it go at some distance from the house, under a blue spruce. Hopefully it will stay there for a while before diving into a window well again.
Stumps are positively brilliant by comparison!
Monday, May 25, 2015
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 :)
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)...
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.Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.
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.
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!”
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...
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
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...
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!
I think of them both every year around this time, along with the thousands of others who were casualties in America's many wars...
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
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...
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...
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...
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
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?
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 :)
Thursday, May 21, 2015
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...
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
First we drove out to Hardware Ranch and partway to Ant Flats. On that trip we saw a beaver working on his dam, a half dozen or so kingfishers, and an osprey gnawing on a fish atop a power pole, while a magpie tried to steal the fish away. On the way back down from Hardware Ranch, we took the Left Hand Fork road and moseyed along it for 5 or 6 miles. That's a beautiful drive in a steep canyon with a burbling brook at the bottom, and there are trails galore that leave from it. This area is just 30 minutes or so from our house, and I suspect it will take us several years to explore it all.
After this, we drove down to Porcupine Reservoir as far as the road would take us. I was hoping to share the loons with Jimmy and Michelle, but we didn't see a single loon anywhere. We did see lots of baby farm animals though: goats, horses, cows, and sheep.
Mantua in Sardine Canyon, traveling at 60 MPH, we had a special surprise: a tire failure. Our left front tire started making some odd noises, then just a few seconds later it disintegrated – lots of loud noises and smoke. The truck was perfectly stable through the tire issue; slowing down, driving off the road, and stopping were no problem at all. The ABS system kicked in when I turned to leave the road, and it worked perfectly – we were rock-solid stable throughout. We piled out of the truck and went to work to change the tire. Partway through this effort, a sheriff pulled up: Brian Nelson. He was incredibly friendly and helpful. First he lent us a star wrench, which was much easier to use than the single-handled wrench that came with the car. Then when I ran into a lug nut that I couldn't break loose, he got on the wrench with me until we got it going. He helped raise and lower the jack. When we were all done, he brought out some clean-up towels to get the worst of the grime off our hands. We all left the scene with big, happy smiles on our faces.
But those smiles were soon supplanted by moans of gustatory pleasure as we dug into our meal at Maddox House. Between the four of us we had filet mignon, ribeye steak, fried chicken (me!), and salmon. All was delicious, as were the accompaniments: homemade rolls, raspberry butter, carrots, birch beer and sarsaparilla. None of us had any room for dessert, dang it. Someday I'm going to get to try one of their fruit pies!
After we staggered back home, holding our bellies to salve the pain of being so full of good food, we had a fun evening playing cards. The four of us teased each other and laughed for hours, and we didn't retire until way past my usual bed time. Jimmy and Michelle promised to come up again, sometime later this year, for a longer visit. They also volunteered their slave labor to help around the place, a promise which I am certain they will regret!
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Sunday we all went to Angie's for a local style supper. Yesterday we drove south from our home, through Paradise and Avon, then up and over the pass (on a four-wheel dirt road) to Liberty and Eden. That was a beautiful drive. It was overcast but not raining, and we traveled through lush greenery, lots of flowing water, and spring flowers. The blue larkspur at around 6000' was my favorite. In some places there were patches six feet or so across that were solid blue. Michelle spotted a pair of Sandhill Cranes foraging in a meadow. We also had a nice viewing of a blue heron, and a couple of does.
We went to the Red Iguana in Salt Lake City for our supper, and a fine meal was ours. I'm still not hungry :) We're going to do some more driving in the mountains today, then we're headed to Maddox House for a BEEF dinner tonight!
While we were gone yesterday, we got another three tenths of an inch of rain. The storm total (since last Thursday) now stands at 1.7 inches. Woo hoo! We're going to be driving past Porcupine Reservoir today – we're hoping it's full now, or nearly so...
Sunday, May 17, 2015
We had a very nice dinner last night with Sheila Miller, her sister, and a good friend of theirs. We met at Cafe Sabor, and as usual, the food was very good. The friend and I were the designated drivers. The other three hogged down multiple flagons of alcohol mixed with various things to disguise its flavor. By the time we were ready to leave the restaurant those three were ... very happy. The evening was full of good conversation and funny dog stories. Sheila's sister (Debbie) is a gifted storyteller, at least when she can keep track of the story line. That got harder after the first margarita :)
When we left for the restaurant, our storm total rainfall stood at 9/10ths of an inch. It rained the entire time we were gone, sometimes hard (according to the weather radar). As soon as it's light this morning, I'll check the gauge – but I'd bet we're well over an inch now. There is much relief amongst the farmers here, who have all been quite worried about the possibility of severe drought. That doesn't appear to be much of a concern any more!
Saturday, May 16, 2015
“Please, please champ, don’t beat my brains out – because if you did, I’d have to become a Democrat.”I don't like to think about what it might have been like to have a President Mitt Romney instead of a second Obummer term, because cry...
This is turning out to be a highly social weekend for us. First the Mormon horde, then Sheila, and (allegedly) our friends Jim and Michelle are showing up tomorrow. Woo hoo!
Debbie had a nice meal waiting for us when we finished: chicken salad sandwiches on nice buns, with tomato and lettuce, chips, cookies (her homemade chocolate chip cookies with cranberries and orange), and lemonade. The sandwiches and cookies were a big hit – they disappeared quickly, though Debbie of course made way more than we could possibly eat :)
Now that we're done, I'm all sore and creaky. Those guys were all way younger than I, and in trying to keep up, I think I've strained ... everything. No more working for me today!
Fallible, we humans are...
Friday, May 15, 2015
What I would like to emphasize is that human actions have very large effects on the ecology, which have nothing to do with the climate. Carbon dioxide is what we're producing in big quantities and putting into the atmosphere. This happens to be a very good fertilizer for all kinds of vegetation, good for wildlife, good for agricultural production, so it has many benefits. And this is something you have together with the climate effects, which are much less certain, so it's a question of drawing a balance. I'm just saying I don't understand it and neither does anybody else. I'm skeptical because I don't think the science is at all clear, and unfortunately a lot of the experts really believe they understand it, and maybe have the wrong answer.That's Freeman Dyson, in a quote from an interview about his new book...
Of course [the weather] concerns me, but of course, we don't know much about the causes of those things. We don't even know for sure whether it is more variable than it used to be. I mean the worst disasters were the Ice Ages, and nobody really understands for sure the causes of Ice Ages, so I'm not saying the climate disasters aren't real, I'm merely saying we don't know how to prevent them.
The chart at right shows the result for my own given name (“Thomas”). You can see that “peak Thomas” (the raw data is downloadable) was in 1952 – the year I was born. I've always assumed that I was named after my dad, but (perhaps coincidentally) my name was also at its peak popularity that year.
I tried about 20 names from my family or Debbie's, and the results were quite a surprise to me. Try some of your own, and if you find something surprising, leave a note to tell us about it!