Archive for December, 2009

Oh, well that makes sense

December 31, 2009 Comments off

Our Internet connection has never been great, but recently it degraded to awful.  Once a connection to a website was made, it was quite fast but making the connection was a frustrating process.  Turned out to be a NAT conflict between the modem and the router.  Once we got the modem to quit tryin’ to be mister DHCP an’ all that, and let the router do the DHCP and firewallin’ ‘n stuff, it’s a LOT faster.  The modem is in “bridge mode” now, which means it’s just a bridge between Verizon and the router.  What I don’t understand is why it got so bad recently but it’s working great now.

Over break this has cost me several days on projects.  Now to try and make up for lost time.

Categories: Uncategorized

Car door handle: the ice storm edition

December 31, 2009 Comments off

There I fixed it:

From my photo album; Design

I have written about the flipper-type car door handle problem before.  In a nutshell the trouble is that when a car door is frozen shut, you can’t put any serious pull on those crappy little door handles without risk of breaking them.  And they are difficult to replace.  Since Illinois is prone to ice storms, this problem crops up fairly often.

The mounting surface of the handle was hollow, so I filled it with J-B Weld epoxy, then sanded it to match the curvature of the car door at the intended attachment point.  Then I attached the handle to the door using four 3/16” steel rivets, with adhesive between the handle and the door for good measure.  It ain’t comin’ off.

The black stuff is POR15 Patch, which may be considered a one-way adhesive.  (I used some of it to fix my radiator)  At this temperature, it’ll take a week to set, though.

Recently I did this on my son’s old Toyota and he liked it, so I put one on the passenger side of MrsDoF’s Mitsubishi.  I will probably put one on my Honda too.  Because of the curvature of the door, the handle does not protrude beyond the vertical plane of the door’s edge, so normal care in opening the door in parking lots will suffice.

Categories: Uncategorized

Tropic Thunder

December 30, 2009 Comments off

I love deep, intellectual movies.  Just finished watching “Tropic Thunder”, in which Robert Downey Jr. says this wonderful line:

“I know who I am!  I’m a dude playin’ a dude disguised as another dude!

Yes, that was actually Robert Downey Jr.  But since he was playing an Australian actor who underwent an operation to make him black to fill a black character role in a Vietnam war movie, scripted from a book written by an author pretending to be a Vietnam veteran, who was in turn played by Nick Nolte, he was:

A dude playin’ a different dude who was playin’ a dude disguised as another dude, in a movie about a movie written by a dude played by a whole different dude who was played by some other dude.

See?  Intellectual.  How many of us remember who we really are, if we really knew, or how many roles we have folded into other roles so that we can’t even keep the script straight anymore.  Got to give Downey and Nolte credit for that.  And to Ben Stiller, who directed the movie and also played a dude playin’ another dude who forgot both of those dudes and got stuck on a previous dude.

By the way, I found the movie (which was a Christmas present from my son) very funny, so I am recommending it to people who are adequately forewarned regarding my low standards for ironic humor.  I would have laughed my ass off while watching the movie, but I was I doing cardio so I was using the ass at the time.

What was I saying?  Oh yeah, Tropic Thunder, fun movie.  (Profanity, sexual and scatological humor, violence, brief cannibalism.  May be offensive to ________.)

Categories: Uncategorized

Ripping them a new one

December 30, 2009 Comments off

Dana Hunter of En Tequila Es Verdad is a blog quandary: when she isn’t ripping cons a new bodily orifice for stupidity and hypocrisy, she’s writing fun articles about science.  So what’s the quandary? I try to be selective about sharing her posts on Google Reader but just end up leaving out a lot of good stuff.

One regular feature of her blog is the “Happy Hour Discurso”, in which today she lays in a volley of heavy rhetorical artillery on the conservative overreaction to the underpants bomber.  Let’s see, you gots Lieberman wanting to declare war on Yemen, Buchanan advocating torture, Tom Ridge saying we can’t trust our justice system to handle terrorists, and blaming Obama even though terrorism was around before him and will be around afterward.  Here’s a little sample:

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) doesn’t want Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to face criminal charge in a federal court. Former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge doesn’t want Abdulmutallab to have legal rights. I had the same thought Josh Marshall had about the search for elusive consistency.

Remember, the AbdulMutallab case is virtually identical to the Richard Reid “Shoe Bomber” case from December 2001—to an uncanny degree. Same explosive, (PETN), same MO (blowing up an airliner bound for the US), same failed attempt.

  It’s really about as close to identical cases and you get. And, of course, Reid was tried in civilian courts and is now serving a life sentence. Seemed to work fine in his case. And unless I’m misremembering, I don’t remember anybody criticizing this approach at the time.

  Most of the criticisms we’re hearing are pretty silly. But that’s where the buck stops. It happened. Obama’s president. It’s natural that the political opposition will try to pin it on him. But can we at least get some demagoguing that isn’t so transparently ridiculous and easily refuted by pointing out the policy the accuser followed when they were in charge?

Right. The Reid and Abdulmutallab cases offer nearly identical circumstances—same chemical, same target, same intended consequence, same month of the year, same twisted ideology. Reid was charged, convicted, sentenced, and locked up for life. Neither conservatives nor liberals whined about it. But if the Obama administration subjects Abdulmutallab to an identical process, Republicans are outraged? Either they’re idiots or they think we are.

En Tequila Es Verdad: 30 December 2009 Happy Hour Discurso

Occasionally (and by “occasionally” I mean “practically every day”) some con will say something so blindingly stupid I’m just unable to come up with a good response.  But Dana never seems to have that problem.  So just in case you aren’t aware of her blog, here you go.  It’s good clean fun for all.


Categories: Uncategorized

Berkeley High School, race, and AP classes

December 29, 2009 Comments off

As much as I’d like to avoid the “R-word” I just don’t know how else to approach this:

Berkeley High School is considering a controversial proposal to eliminate science labs and the five science teachers who teach them to free up more resources to help struggling students.

The proposal to put the science-lab cuts on the table was approved recently by Berkeley High’s School Governance Council, a body of teachers, parents, and students who oversee a plan to change the structure of the high school to address Berkeley’s dismal racial achievement gap, where white students are doing far better than the state average while black and Latino students are doing worse.

Paul Gibson, an alternate parent representative on the School Governance Council, said that information presented at council meetings suggests that the science labs were largely classes for white students. He said the decision to consider cutting the labs in order to redirect resources to underperforming students was virtually unanimous.

East Bay Express: Berkeley High May Cut Out Science Labs (Emphasis mine.)

Now I don’t really care if someone thinks that science lab classes are a valuable educational experience or not; huge numbers of people find that they are and that’s good enough.  But they aren’t “for white students”; they’re for high-achieving students.  The proposed solution to poor kids having trouble getting into AP classes seems to be: cut out the AP classes.  That will make everyone equal, won’t it? 

Actually, it might, and that’s the trouble.  If there’s no “Up” we all stay on the ground.

I’m not saying race isn’t a factor in AP class availability: if there’s racism on one side, there can be on all sides.  But it would be better to approach it as a class issue rather than a racial issue.  A big chunk of the poverty equation is half-assed education foisted on people who live in poor neighborhoods – a vicious cycle.  If wealthy America can’t reach into the third world that is our own poor social strata, we can expect to be having this conversation every year from now on. 

And yes, we are our brothers’ keeper.  It does fall on the wealthy to open doors for the poor.  Much as we love to point to the exceptional performer from a poor neighborhood and say; “Why can’t they all be like that person?”, it can be an attempt to blame the poor for their poverty.  It always comes back to “Why can’t they be like us?, said by a person who enjoys the advantages of both race and economic position.  How well could they do in an actual foot-race if they had to start 100 yards behind everyone else on the track? Suppose an entire team had to run a longer race.  Would that change the win/loss record?

Over the long haul we can change the equation.  The even bigger issue to me is this: every school funding proposal has to fend off attacks from conservatives, but military spending proposals never do.  Our defense budget helps keep entire nations poor and radical, justifying its own existence. And it keeps our own poor down as well.  Dwight Eisenhower described it as a “theft” from humanitarian progress and warned us to be on our guard against letting it take control of the bottom line.

I’m all for “freeing up resources” to help low-achieving students go farther.  In fact, I’d like schools to be islands of opportunity in poor neighbourhoods.  The school should be like a beacon, the best thing around anywhere, because kids can see our priorities.

Sometimes it seems that conservatives would like to turn the US into an ignorant, third-world nation. It really burns me up to see liberals trying to help them do it.  And Berkeley, which sees itself as the center of the liberal universe (note to Berkeley: you aren’t) should know better.


  • “Shouting past each other” comes from being on the wrong side of the “what you did” vs “what you are” conversation divide.  See YouTube: “How to tell people they sound racist”.

  • h/t Pam’s House Blend for the link and story.
  • Razib Khan at Gene Expression brings a much more nuanced analysis with Science in Berkeley: it’s a white thing
  • I missed the Carnival Of The Elitist Bastards this month partly due to life-stuff, but mostly because nothing really forced me to the keyboard.  This news item did, but too late for the 26th deadline.
  • I don’t write much about race issues here in the Decrepit Zone, because it’s so easy to be misunderstood.  That is: I don’t want to be misunderstood on such an explosive topic, and equally I don’t want to level charges of racism at anyone else over debatable cases.  When you call someone a racist you are really accusing them of a Very Bad Thing, but the term is binary while the phenomenon it describes is a complex continuum. What do I mean by debatable cases?  Some racism is really obvious: the lynch mob, the “Whites Only” sign, or the photoshopped image of Obama as a witch doctor.  But other things are called racist which may not be, depending on how you look at them.  For example “Affirmative Action” can be seen as racist, or as a transitional remedy to racism.  People can, and do debate about it. Also as a white dude I’m aware that racism is sneaky and it’s easy to find oneself with unexamined attitudes that came in with childhood.  Over time we try to straighten these things out without shouting past each other* but it’s a minefield.  You see why I’d rather write about computer software?  At least then when I sound like an idiot, I don’t also sound like a bad person. I usually avoid gender issues too, and for the same reason.
  • Excellent post and discussion on the meaning and function of racism in culture: Is ‘Blacks have excellent rhythm’ a racist thing to say?
Categories: Uncategorized

Movie: UP

December 27, 2009 Comments off

MrsDoF and I just watched the Pixar animated movie UP.  She asked for the movie for Christmas and I must have dutifully bought it for her, and wrapped it, but then had a “Did I leave the iron on” moment of self doubt over whether I got the right movie.  When she unwrapped it, I was relieved.

The story is about an old man who ties balloons to his house and floats away for an adventure, with a little kid from the neighbourhood.  In the beginning it’s a bit slow (more on that in a moment) and toward the end there’s more dialogue and full-on Indiana Jones levels of action. I wonder if it might even be too intense for young children, but it’s been a while since I watched a movie with young children.

I hope that kids who see it will catch some understanding of the sense of loss that accompanies advancing age; people with AARP cards will certainly catch on.  But the story is also about renewal and finding the good even if your original goal wasn’t accomplished.  Like most movies aimed at kids, it isn’t particularly subtle. 

At the beginning the movie feels like an indy animation project; almost no dialogue and storytelling almost exclusively by pictures.  I’ve seen lots of independent animation projects that used this technique but on big-budget animations only Wall-E and UP.  I hope to see more of this kind of visual storytelling in the future.  Only kids’ response to it will tell.

You may have heard that the movie sets an amazing standard for animation and this is true.  Also amazing is how the cartoon characters fit into a photo-realistic cartoon environment. 

In his book, Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud discusses how identifying with characters is easier when the characters are visually abstracted. (Maybe this explains the appeal of XKCD!  Well that and the incredibly original writing)  And sure enough, despite the photorealistic animation, the characters are cartoony enough.

While the visualisation is realistic, the story isn’t on most levels; both toon physics and toon probability applies.  But hey, it’s a cartoon!  Has anyone shown it to their kids?  Did the kids like it?

Categories: Movies, Reviews

NASCAR ice cream

December 27, 2009 Comments off

Back when John Kerry was running for president (and I think he would have made a fine president) he had problems with authenticity.  At one point, trying to impress Southern voters, he said; “Who among us does not love NASCAR?”

From Notes

Well me, for one.  It must take a lot of skill but I find it boring.  Now Baja racing, that’s pretty exciting but I digress.  Point is, it was news to me that NASCAR has an official ice cream.  Must say I approve of their choice.  Not sure what ice cream has to do with racing, but there you go.  And what the heck does racing have to do with shotgun shells?

Categories: Uncategorized

Tragedy on Christmas day

December 26, 2009 Comments off

It’s a common amazing urban sight: men and women up on scaffolding in cold, wet weather laying bricks, applying siding, fixing roofs, doing and repairing construction.  I’m not separately afraid of height, of cold, or of wind, but together it’s a combination I would only attempt under the most extreme duress.  How do they do it, day after day?  Next time you’re tempted to complain about the weather while you go from car to office…

I hope it doesn’t bother them but I sometimes watch, fascinated by their skill.  When heavy machines are involved, it seems as if they could pull the tab on a pop can with a giant excavator, so perfect is their mastery of the medium.  They are working with tons of suspended weight, as delicately as a cat walking on a railing.

Yesterday, Christmas day, a suspended, cast concrete facade slipped off a column of a building on campus.  It fell downward about eight inches, hit the ground and buckled in the middle, coming to rest wedged between the building and the column’s steel core.  Someone saw it and called the fire department.  Finding tons of concrete precariously suspended next to an office building, the fire department contacted Stark Excavation.

A careful plan was devised and one of their most experienced operators (30 years) set about bringing down the column.  From the pictures it looked as though the plan was to pull the column to the North using a heavy excavator.  Probably the arm of the excavator was strapped to the column with the idea of letting it down gently.  But something went wrong and a column segment came down on the machine, killing its operator. 

Imagine the impact of this event at Stark Excavating.  It’s not a big company, and this person had been there for thirty years, operating their biggest equipment. Some Christmas for the employees and their families.

Yet today when I walked to the site, there were Stark employees, putting the column facade sections on a flatbed.  They’d already secured the other columns with heavy straps.  It’s an icy cold, windy day.  Most construction sites are full of voices and shouting, but the area was quiet and somber.  They were doing their jobs.


  • Pantagraph story: Equipment operator killed while trying to remove column at Hovey Hall.  Be sure to check out the photo gallery. 

  • Pantagraph story, with details about the accident: Hovey hall accident victim identified
  • In the Pantagraph photo gallery, Dr. Bowman’s face pretty much says it all.  There are an awful lot of buildings on campus whose foundations were dug by Stark.
  • Here’s a 3d model of Hovey hall
  • These huge facades appear to have been connected to the steel columns by welded flanges at intervals on the columns.  The building is 40 years old. 
  • I’ve always been fascinated by structural collapses.  I’m struck by the responsibility that architects and engineers have when they design systems to hold heavy objects up in the air.  When the systems are built (struts, beams, flanges, bolts, etc.) they are storing energy which hopefully will never be released by accident.  That energy storage system must account for static and dynamic loads, fatigue, expansion and contraction, and even corrosion.  If it fails, there should be a redundant load path to ground.  Where none exists, catastrophic failure is possible.
Categories: Uncategorized

“And nothing was stirring, not even a Prawn…”

December 25, 2009 Comments off

Had a really good day today.  Two sons in the house, good time catching up.  Did a Windows 7 clean install and then Ubuntu 9.10 on my new laptop, so it dual-boots now.  (Both 7 and Ubuntu are noticeably faster than Vista).  Watched District 9 with sons; such a heartwarming story.  That is, the story of a guy enjoying a movie with his sons while MrsDoF was at Christmas eve service, is heartwarming.  District 9, not so much – though it is a good movie (which sensitive souls should avoid).

So what do you think; when Christopher Johnson comes back in 3 years, will it be to just peacefully collect his people and leave?  Or will there be a price to pay for the way the humans treated the Prawns?  And will Wikus elect to be returned to his human form?  Or to stay a Prawn?

Categories: Uncategorized

Thanks, Microsoft Windows!

December 22, 2009 Comments off

I’m in the middle of setting up a new computer that came with Windows Vista.  It is going through a number of updates, and I’m uninstalling the crapware (trial versions of every damn thing Microsoft makes, trial McAfee, etc.)  I started working on this machine almost three hours ago and it still isn’t ready to use.  At this moment the screen says; “Configuring updates… Do not turn off your computer”.  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen the Windows slogan; “Please Wait” on screen.  Have also lost count of how many times I’ve had to restart the damn thing.  Dialog boxes keep popping up telling me I should buy this, upgrade that, backup something else and beware of the other thing.

At one point in the update process (update three of 45, if I remember correctly) it just seemed to stop and sit there, doing nothing.  After a while I became suspicious that it had tripped over something and moved the update dialog box only to find another dialog box had appeared behind it that needed a response before the process could continue.  But unless you knew that you could move a dialog box by dragging its title bar (because Alt+Tab wouldn’t flip them) you would never have known about the hidden dialog box. It’s no wonder that so many Windows machines never get all their security patches.

You might be wondering why I’m going through all this heartache since, if you are a regular reader, you know I’m going to partition the hard drive and install Ubuntu on the machine as soon as the Windows nonsense is done running its course.  The reason is simple: I work in an all-Windows environment and sometimes I need to use Windows.  The rest of the time, I use Linux.  Even for a non-expert like me, it works better.

I hold no grudge against Windows though.  If not for a comically bad user experience, this excellent ACER Timeline laptop would probably never have been returned to the store by its first owner, and then “refurbished” and resold to me at a steep discount.  Thanks, Windows.


  • The patch update process is a bit smoother in Win7, which also runs faster. I find 7 the least irritating of any Microsoft release ever, so if I can pick up an upgrade license for cheap, I will.

  • The machine is an ACER Timeline with wide screen, 3 gigs RAM, multi-card reader and 360gb hard drive.  It’s very light and only an inch thick.  Has a switch to turn off the trackpad when you’re using an external wireless mouse. Very nice webcam, HDMI, DVD burner, Bluetooth, Intel ULV, WXGA, 2 USB on each side, clean back edge. Not bad for $400.
  • I just wish they rounded the front edge a bit better for comfort.  Not as bad as an Apple laptop, but still less radius on the edge than I’d like.  It has a great keyboard though – an obvious imitation of the Apple laptop keyboard which I didn’t like the first time I saw it, but got used to and which affords long typing sessions.
  • No, I don’t really believe it’ll run for 8 hours on a single charge.  But this model is known for excellent power management.
  • UPDATE: 28 December – the machine now dual-boots Win7 and Ubuntu 9.10.  I’m going to have to remember to bring up Windows once in a while to apply updates but most of the time I use Ubuntu.
Categories: Uncategorized