Archive for September, 2005

Broken handlebar

September 16, 2005 5 comments

Fortunately this happened while I was just riding across campus with no one around, and not while crossing Linden street in heavy traffic.

So much for the inherent superiority of steel over aluminum alloys and composite materials.

Categories: Geeky

Four things that got my attention today

September 14, 2005 6 comments

1: T-shirt on campus: “If you weren’t wasted all evening then you wasted the evening”

(Hey kids, you need to know; alcohol in excess is a destroyer.  No joke: Every year I see young people’s lives ruined forever by an alcohol-related accident, fight, or rape.  So have a beer.  Have two.  Stop there.)

2: Some of the conservatives on my blogroll are congratulating themselves with the notion that atheists weren’t lining up to help the Katrina relief effort.  How do you know – did you ask all of them?  I’m an atheist but I gave my donation to Mennonite Disaster relief because – I know this is wierd – they’re good at disaster relief.

I can’t go to Louisiana, so I’m glad to see anyone helping out.  Not everyone thinks changing bandages or delivering supplies is the best time to discuss religion – or lack of religion.

3: Good quote from The Daily Show’s Evolution, Schmevolution series:

“Basically, Intelligent Design is the idea that life on earth is too complex to have evolved without a guiding hand. We’re not saying it’s God; just someone with the basic skill set to create an entire universe.”

Yes, kiddies; ‘Intelligent Design’ is really just Creationism in drag.

4: And one from a few years ago; a different time but similar genius:

Everything is changing. People are taking the comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke.
- Will Rogers

Categories: Blogging, Geeky

SCM Galaxy 12

September 12, 2005 18 comments

Driving along this Sunday in my ‘67 VW, I came upon a trash pile with interesting stuff in it.

Slowing down, what did I see, but a really nice-looking portable typewriter.  (Shown here in its case, on the hood of my car)

Upon later examination, it’s in amazing – practically new – condition.  It still has the original packing, the case key on the little red string, the manual, warranty card, and coupon for “Learn Touch Typing” on five LP records with printed guide.  The shipping tape held the platen cover in place. 

‘Spoze if I sent in the coupon, Smith Corona would send me the LP’s?  Do you suppose they even remember they once made typewriters?  I can’t find much evidence they even exist.

The machine works perfectly.  This was a deluxe model, with “Jewelled escapement,” power-spacing, 2-color ribbon, and lots more.  Having many years experience on manual typewriters (in the days when “personal computer” was an oxymoron) I found it wonderful to sit down and type out a couple pages.  I don’t know what I’ll use it for but it’s nice to have – and it’s the same color as my car!

The red and chrome sticker inside the case reads; “5-year warranty on all parts”.  (Judging from the style I’d say it’s 30 years old.)  The letter “M” in SCM stands for “Marchant”, a company which made calculating machines that were once very important in business, and even in the Manhatten Project.  They later merged with Smith-Corona to form the “Smith-Corona Marchant” company.

Categories: Artifacts


September 12, 2005 2 comments

Everyone’s mad at Barbara Bush (that’s the old one, for those who don’t pay attention to such things), for saying;

“What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality,” she said in a radio interview from the Astrodome in Houston, Texas.

“And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this — this is working very well for them,” she said
- Japan Today

First of all, she’s eighty years old.  She might not be up on the latest fine nuances of political correctness.  Let it go.

Second (and this isn’t directed at her, but at people who promote the use of this odious term,) what the hell does “underprivileged” mean, anyway?  Look up “privilege”:

Privilege, n

  1. A special advantage, immunity, permission, right, or benefit granted to or enjoyed by an individual, class, or caste.

  2. Such an advantage, immunity, or right held as a prerogative of status or rank, and exercised to the exclusion or detriment of others.
Categories: News

It has been four years

September 11, 2005 Comments off

Do you remember your emotional state as the events of 9/11 unfolded?  Probably with a clarity reserved for few other things, no matter where you were.

I was … angry.  I knew US foreign policy, our long habit of supporting monsters who happen to be our temporary friends, was the cause.  The last four years have served up nothing to change that assessment.

I was … fascinated.  I never would have thought the towers would have fallen.  Structural disasters have always been an interest and that was a doozie.

I was also anxious – I knew it would result in a war and my assessment of the president’s intelligence was no comfort to say the least.  As Donald Rumsfeld might say; “you go to war with the idiot you have.”

Some time after that – I can’t remember when – I started reading John Hoke’s Asylum.  He lived in NYC at the time and watched it all happen, finally running from the clouds of smoke and dust, trying to find his girlfriend who is now his lovely wife.  He wrote movingly about his experiences and thoughts.  Today he writes about how memory has frozen images as a series of stills. 

…No. Motion. Just. Single. Frames. Like a child’s flip book, my memory needs a thumb to flip the corner of the pages to put things in motion…

Memory is so deeply mysterious and fascinating – the plasticity of the routine and the deeply etched clarity of traumatic events.  He concludes in rememberance of the dead, the injured, and all of us.

In the last four years my feelings have come to include an abiding sadness at the deep division in our country and in the world.  In particular, the radical Muslim and radical Christian world are hard at work trying to define each other as inhuman, beyond understanding and unworthy of making the effort to work something out.  That the blood of the hateful will be spilt is a given, but in the battle the field of destruction radiates out like ripples in a pond to flow around the innocent.  And yes, most Americans, and most people in principally Muslim countries, are innocent of this conflict.

Go read the whole post at John Hoke’s Asylum: September 11, 2005.

Here are some more:

  • Orac recalls with fresh outrage his discovery that some people really genuinely hate America, with some thoughts thrown in about Ward Churchill.

  • Les over at SEB just says briefly; “I understand now” to the many people who recall traumatic international events of their lives, and calls for rememberence.
  • Cajun shares a clip that expresses how he felt about the event, the wars that have followed, and a jeremiad against the American Left.
  • UTI shares the thoughts of Alon Levy, a 17-year-old who will help you feel much better if you worry that the young are not paying attention to the world around them.
  • ***Dave walks quietly through a far deeper Christian meditation about 9/11 than the thundering sermons dominating the Christian landscape since then.
  • More as they come in
Categories: Blogging, Geeky

Les Visiteurs

September 10, 2005 1 comment

We rented “Les Visiteurs” this evening, a 1996 French comedy released in 2003 in the US by Mirimax.  Wait! don’t run away!  This movie was the highest-grossing film ever in France, and for good reason… it’s funny!

The story begins in the year 1123, when a knight and his squire have got themselves into a bit of a pickle after a run-in with an evil witch who slips him a hallucinogen causing him to kill his future father-in-law.  They consult a (somewhat senile) wizard, who, in an attempt to send them back in time to head off the mishap, instead sends them almost 900 years into the future.  Suffice it to say, they’re not impressed with the modern age and really, really want to go back to their own time.

The squire is a genuine idiot, and a jerk.  The knight, while hardly in touch with current political realities (or modern plumbing) is intelligent and noble, and with the help of a distant descendent must find a secret potion that will release everyone from the cultural clash that results from their presence.

Thread A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court backwards through the scatological mind of Monty Python, add French humor (something we Americans have seen too little of), and you’ll have the idea.  The only downer was that MrsDoF couldn’t get much crocheting done, because she had to stop and read the subtitles.  But we both enjoyed it immensely.  (I’ll spare you recounting all the actors I never heard of – you can click the link and read that off the review site.)

Categories: Movies, Reviews

The absolute, utter worthlessness of newspaper numbers

September 9, 2005 4 comments

Being just generally interested in machinery, I was thrilled to see an illustration in the Chicago Tribune about the huge pumps in New Orleans.  Hoping to understand them better, I poured a cup of tea and sat down to disappointment…

The first illustration is of a flooded pumping station.  Looks like it has three outputs and the caption says, “Each station can pump about 29 billion gallons per day.”  OK, that’s about 9.67bn gallons per pump per day, which works out to 6.72m gallons per pump, per minute.  I’m not buyin’ it.

The next illustration shows a pump impeller about three feet across.  To move that much water through a 3-foot tube, the impeller would have to turn at a speed far beyond where cavitation would occur and efficiency would drop.  Designers of submarines and ocean-going ships would be beating a path to the pump manufacturer’s door. 

OK, so how much can the pumps really move?  (I wanted to get some idea of the horsepower involved.)  The second illustration says each pump moves up to .25m gallons of water per minute.  That’s 1/26th of the amount in the first caption, but still a hell of a lot through a 3-foot tube – about 80 feet per second or 54 miles per hour.  Minumum horsepower (just lifting the water the 30 feet in the illustration and ignoring turbulence, friction, etc.) is roughly 1,800.  There are electric motors in that range and more, but by this time you wonder if the writer has any clue.

Something is not right here.  Not only do the illustrations contradict each other, moving water that fast gets wasteful of energy.  Did the paper lose track of the differences among the capacity of one pump, all the pumps in a single pump house, and the combined pump houses in the city?

Hey Chicago Tribune, why even print numbers if they just don’t add up? Why not just say; “The pumps are really big!  See the big pretty pumps?  Can you say, ‘pump?’”

One problem the pumps now face is the amount of debris in the water, including, well, human remains.  I wonder if a steam-condensation PDX pump (which has no moving parts) could be adapted to the purpose?


  • These are literally back-of-envelope calculations.  If I made a mistake of more than ten percent, let me know and I’ll correct.

  • The title of this post was originally “…newspaper diagrams” but discussing it over breakfast this morning with MrsDoF I realized there was nothing wrong with the illustration itself.  The artist did an admirable job showing how the pump worked as simply as possible.  The problem lies in the numbers themselves – hence the name change.
  • Maybe Cajun will stop by and help us out.  He knows all about high-powered equipment and he lives in Louisiana.
Categories: News

Advanced.  High-tech.  Memory.

September 7, 2005 6 comments

Above is an old hard drive – not a computer but just the internal component for rotating data storage – that weighs twenty pounds and cost nearly ten thousand dollars.  It held about 350 megabytes of data (one-third as much as my keychain drive) and consumed more power than a typical computer does today.

Below is a 1 Terabyte data storage chip about the size of a dime

How much is a terabyte?  It’s a stack of roughly one-thousand, four-hundred CD’s, each one burned completely full.  (Or nearly three thousand of those enormous hard drives you see above, weighing as much as ten Ford Excursion SUV’s.)

The chip is practically non-volatile; it holds its data on only a half microamp at five volts. Suffice it to say that kind of power is not hard to come by.  It is faster than your hard drive – by far – and even with write operations, uses so little power it’s hardly worth accounting (2.5 microamps at 5 volts).

The devices made possible by this technology are fairly mind-boggling, but the important thing to remember is that when data storage becomes essentially free (not only in money, but in physical space, weight, and power requirements) then the meta-data – information about the data that allows us to find the data and use it – becomes like the other blade in a pair of scissors.  You really can’t say which is more important.

Welcome to the Google future, everyone.

(via email from Pete)

Categories: Geeky

Oprah versus a real hero

September 7, 2005 1 comment

You remember Oprah, the self-absorbed talk-show diva who got all bent out of shape because some fancy store in France wouldn’t stay open late just for her?  Well she’s doing a photo-op on Katrina, even visiting the Superdome with a bunch of other celebs.

To be fair, she forked over something like a million bucks (“pocket change” in the language of her income bracket), which is a very good thing.  But the sight of her wearing a bright pink top and a wireless microphone, looking pissed off with storm rubble behind her is just too much.  Seems she wanted to “go get the real story” or some such.  I feel ill.

Maybe she could just send “Dr. Phil.”  He could slip on a bannana peel, fall into the flood waters, and be eaten by an alligator.  Yeah, I know… I’m always trying to find a silver lining…

Well HERE’s a hero – Houston Chronicle: 6-year-old becomes a hero to band of toddlers, rescuers
“BATON ROUGE, LA. – In the chaos that was Causeway Boulevard, this group of evacuees stood out: a 6-year-old boy walking down the road, holding a 5-month-old, surrounded by five toddlers who followed him around as if he were their leader…”

Categories: News

Bush vows to find the real culprit no matter how long it takes

September 6, 2005 3 comments

Rest easy, America: president Bush, anxious to make sure no repeat of the Katrina response occurs, vows to lead the investigation himself.

Here’s a place to start, Mr. President – your head of FEMA, Mike Brown, is a complete hack in a job that’s too big for him.    The guy was fired from his last job organizing horse shows, but his college roomate brought him on at FEMA and you bumped him up to director.  Of FEMA!

Was he unaware of this?

Actually, here’s a whole bunch of places to start

Categories: News