Friday, July 30, 2004


After reading Lileks yesterday(you have to scroll down), I was worried about my Chili Cheese Burrito. But, my local store still carries it.

Not Cool

Two men wrongly imprisoned for 18 years, sue and win compensation. Then 25% is deducted for "room and board". How the judge or the Lawyers representing the state(Britain in this case) face themselves? And what were they trying to do anyway? The sums these men recieved was each less than a million pounds. Would 25% of this even cover the cost of the litigation?

This Land!

For those who don't know it, JibJab's This Land! is being threatened with a copyright suit. According to this post, the music and harmony was actually stolen from an older song, and that at most 13 words from the original song are used in the parody.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Just got a digital camera!

However, I'm not sure this is a good thing.

Ummm... Ahem.... Hi!

Well, I'm back. I don't have a real excuse for not blogging in the last two weeks or so. I've just been caught up in other things. I could have found time for an entry or two, but I didn't. I'm hoping to crack my mental indifference here.

As far as the leak from last week is concerned, it turned out to be even weirder than I thought. Essentially this is what seemed to have happened. High humidity, combined with someone accidentally setting the AC way too low, caused the condensation drain pipe to overflow. This overflow ran down the side of my AC unit into the catch pan(this is supposed to happen), and from there it should have drained away down a second drain pipe. Instead, some brilliant person decided to drill a hole in the drain pan(and the pressboard flooring underneath). Thus, the overflow fell down onto the ceiling sheetrock, and from there it creeped down my upstair's hall's wall and then down to the kitchen ceiling. Our temporary solution is to simply make sure no one ever cranks the AC down that low again. I will attempt this weekend or next to get something to patch that pan with, although exactly what I'm going to use I haven't determined. On the positive side of things, I didn't have to replace or fix any plumbing, and nothing seems to be actually broken as far as the AC is concerened.

At work I am finally seeing some light at the end of this database tunnel. Without getting into too many details, I figured out how to match data from the switch to it's type in the parallel database. This fix was crucial, because without it I was continually updating forms that didn't need updating(for example: a customer has a PIC of 222(MCI) which is stored in the switch as 0222, the update process was continually trying to update the 222 in the database with 0222. so every time I bashed my switch data against my db data I was coming up with thousands of updates). I am now sitting here waiting for the updates to complete, which is apparently going to take a while.

Driving Gripes
I'm not a huge fan of driving. I don't get much chance for recreational driving anymore, so most of it is just going to work or going shopping. There are a couple of things that really tick me off about traffic, so I thought I'd list them:

  1. When you're pulling into a turn lane, get right on in there. People seem to want to slowly drift into turn lanes, while at the same time slowing down, this causes traffic to back up behind the you.
  2. If there is space between me and the car in front of me, that space is brake space. No one likes tailgaters, and I don't like to tailgate. But, if I leave so much as 5 feet between me and the car ahead, this seems to be an indication to others that they can come right on in. I wish they wouldn't do that.
  3. If you accidentally miss you're turn, or you get into a turn lane mistakenly, just live with the mistake. You can always turn around in a safe manner a ways down the road. Why should the rest of us have to stop and wait for you to squeeze you're way back to where you should have gone?
I have many more, but that's enough complaining for now.

Thermal Depolymerization
This is an old technology which seems to be developing into something practical. Essentially, this is a method by which organic material(rubber, plastics, sewage, people, etc.) can be converted into oil. The trick has always been that it's not energy efficient enough to be practical.

A new company called Changing World Technologies claims to have solved these efficiency troubles. They have, in fact, constructed a plant to turn the unused turkey bits from a turkey processing plant into oil. The amount of oil isn't much, but so far the process seems to work.

A point I'd like to make about this technology is that even if it turns out not to be as efficient as promised, it still could to a world of good. First of all, as this article says, it completely decontaminates virtually all types of waste. Thus a real problem of society, what to do with all of that garbage, would be fixed. Secondly, a system like this should work well with other types of fossil fuels, so that a coal rich society(such as ours) should be able to convert the coal directly into oil, hopefully reducing the carbon output to the air.

Finally, even if the advertised efficiency of 85% isn't true(15% of the garbage's energy content require to process said quantity of garbage) even half this efficiency could be turned to great use. The main problems with alternative energy sources are cost and availability. The Wind doesn't always blow, and the sun doesn't always shine. However, there are places like Arizona ,where the sun shines most of the time, and North Dakota, where the wind blows most of the time. The problem has always been how do you store that energy in a manner that it could be moved to places where it can be used. I see Thermal Depolymerization as a way of transporting it. In the midwest, you could grow the densest fastest growing vegetation you could find, and then ship it to the Depolymerization plant. Harvesting would be easy, because you would simply rip up the entire plant. The Depolymerization process would be powered by Wind(which would be abundant here, and which is also currently the cheapest of the alt. sources). You could also ship in garbage from all over the country to feed the plants. The net result would be abundant fuel, as well as a cleaner environment. This would even close the carbon cycle, since all fuel would effectively be bio-fuel.

I'm sure there are lot's of technical reasons why this is a long shot, but I just thought it was a cool idea.

Monday, July 19, 2004


I have a leak at home. I'm sure it will be expensive to fix. Dang it.

UPDATE: OK, this may turn out all right. I have isolated the leak to a toilet backflow(my master bathrooms), and I've got a coworder who is offering to come over and help me fix it. So, we'll see how this goes.

UPDATE2: Then again, maybe not. It turns out that it isn't the toilet backflow. That backflow just happens to be directly underneath an upstairs wall that is itself underneath my air conditioner. It looks like the condensation drain pipe is clogged, or the filter that feeds it is. Hopefully I can get it fixed tonite or tomorrow.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Free Speech

I've just found an old link I meant to blog on(or maybe I did blog it, but I don't remember doing it). Anyway, it's about how free speech as we know it wasn't the norm until well into the twentieth century.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Solar Power

Years ago(around 1992 or 93), I had an idea. I had taken an alternative energy sources class, and learned about many of the limitations of the various forms. Most of the "clean" energy sources suffered from high costs. Solar in particular(then and now) was expensive due to the high cost of materials to produce photo-voltaic cells. They also suffered efficiency loss due to clouds and angle of sunlight issues(on a flat array of solar panels, light doesn't shine directly on them except for a limited time of day). I was also interested in astronomy at the time, and had looked up how different telescopes worked. A basic reflector telescope allows starlight and moonlight to enter in at the top, it is reflected by a parabolic mirror at the bottom, and is reflected by a normal flat mirror out the side of the telescope. This is also similar to how a satellite dish works. The parabolic dish reflects the satellite's signal to an antenna, focusing the tenuous power into a single point which in effect amplifies the signal. It occurred to me that you could use the same principal with a solar collector. Instead of using expensive solar cells across a wide area, you could use an array of parabolic mirrors, each of which focused the suns light to a point where a solar cell would be placed. I thought it was a neat idea, but I didn't have a practical way to explore it myself. I had always wondered whether or not it was workable.

Well, it looks like it just might be. Here is an article from last year about a company that plans to make small cheap parabolic solar collectors. They will each rate 250 Watts, and cost around $250 apiece. They've replaced the solar cells altogether with a Stirling heat engine, which is cheaper. I certainly hope it works.

UPDATE: After checking out their site, Energy Innovations, It appears that they will be going with photo-voltaics after all.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

The Song Remains The Same...

...even though the players change. Matt Welch on the 90's when Republicans were anti-war, and Democrats bombed Iraq and Invaded Yugoslavia.
To be only slightly unfair, Soros seems to oppose toppling tyrants only when it is Bush’s White House doing the dirty work.

Why? Because the president has embraced the doctrine of military pre-emption, allowed some members of the neoconservative Project for the New American Century to have positions of influence on foreign policy, and noisily mocked multilateralism in favor of case-by-case bilateral arrangements, thereby making the rest of the world, including longtime allies, nervous and surly.

The criticism is valid enough, and Albright shares it, though to a less vitriolic degree. (Soros decries "Bush’s rabid unilateralism," while Albright worries diplomatically that "the great institutions forged by the trans-Atlantic partnership that saved freedom in the twentieth century are in jeopardy" and "must be rescued and revitalized if that blessing is to survive the twenty-first.")

But both fail to acknowledge that the democratizing idealism of Bush administration officials such as Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz is in fact suspiciously similar to their own nosy Wilsonianism. They do not ponder whether aggressive Democratic interventionism made Bush’s Republican (and therefore less palatable) version more possible. To the contrary: Soros even writes an entire chapter on how to overcome that annoying obstacle of "sovereignty" when meddling in the affairs of tyrants. He and Albright both skate over the fact that, in Kosovo especially, their pro-war and anti-U.N. arguments could be cut and pasted into Dick Cheney’s talking points on Iraq.

Can You Read This?

I picked this up off of a comment from a Crooked Timber Post(nothing to do with the commentary itself).

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit mcuh porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, it atcaluly tkaes in the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh?

I can read it. I bet you can too. Incredible.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

They're going for it

It looks like they think they've fixed the troubles on the original spaceshipone flight. They are now going to attempt to get the X Prize. This will require them to do the same thing they did before twice within one week. I hope they make it.

Hat tip Instapundit.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Movie Physics

These are fun. Click Movie Reviews on the left to see which ones they've done.

Titanic gets a good rating:

With a little research of historical accounts, we were able to confirm the somewhat gentle sinking rate. Chief Baker Charles Joughin was clinging to the railing on the stern (just like the hero and heroine of the movie) when it sank. He stepped off into the water without getting his head wet. Apparently, he was stone drunk at the time, which was widely credited for his survival in the frigid water before being picked up by a lifeboat. So much for the dramatic heart-rending scene where DiCaprio and Winslet were sucked under and torn apart from each other.

Friday, July 02, 2004


Virginia Postrel has a good post on productivity. Apparently it's been increasing at a phenomenal rate despite the choppy economic picture of the last 3 or 4 years. There are lots of reasons for it, such as improved use of existing technology, pushing people to work quickly, etc.

The thing that I think about, regarding my own company anyway, is that we have no process at all. We are profitable(or so they tell us) and we seem to have a good record in the industry, but I know from working with the systems that what we have as an operational support system is complete garbage. It's a slow, unresponsive, practically useless piece of junk that we paid too much money for. What really makes the company keep going is that most of us know how to work without the thing, and at the same time we know how to work with it just enough that it looks as if we are making use of it.

So I'm wondering how many other companies are like mine. They've just fired their way down to the core competency, and then let those folks do whatever it takes to get the job done. Whereas before the downturn they might have put more restrictions on people and insisted that they follow the "process" no matter how idiotic it was.