Saturday, December 31, 2011

Various Little Projects

Now that the semester is over, and I do not seem to have any classes for next semester, I am starting to work on the various little tasks that have been annoying me to get them done.

1. A while back, the mounting plate for my camera tripod failed.  Probably because I was a bit paranoid about a $1000 camera falling off of it, I had tightened the 1/4"-20 screw that holds the plate to the camera a bit too tightly, and eventually, the screw cut right through the plastic.  I tried to find a replacement, but this plate seemed to be in between two sizes (a problem that last time I bought one, required a bit of sanding to make the plate fit my tripod).

I have been thinking of machining a replacement mounting plate out of aluminum, that my great-grandchildren would probably be able to use.  When I spent a couple of my spare minutes today looking at it, I realized that what I really needed was not a complete replacement, but just a metal patch on the bottom of the plate, to fill in the hole in the plastic.

I rather overdid this.  I started with a scrap piece of .10" thick aluminum, and machined it to a 0.85" x 1.10" rectangle (exactly the size to fit in the bottom of the plate).  Then I drilled a 0.25" hole for the 1/4"-20 screw to go through.  I epoxyed the plate to the bottom.  The screw is actually held in place by the flexible rubber on the top of the plate.  Voila!  Problem solved!

2. I have a few more wired Ethernet connections than I had ports on the back of my D-Link router.  I mentioned back in August that part of the Frankenstein cabling system that I had included a 10Base-T router that had been scrapped by HP shortly after I started work there in 2001.  While this worked, it also slowed any Ethernet connections through that bridge down to 10 Mbps--so any wired connections there were slower than the wireless connection.

I scrapped the antique--but it also meant that at least two of my wired connections could not be connected.  My dual boot Linux/Windows notebook was only running on wireless, which meant inferior file transfer speeds on Sunday mornings, when we move the worship service from my wife's desktop to the notebook.  In addition, the far end of the house has a wired connection for when we have visitors staying.  Admittedly, we have not had many visitors, but it seemed silly to have a cable going there but nothing connected.

There is an almost antique Linksys wired router here--one that has eight LAN connections on the back.  I found this really useful description of the steps required to convert a wired router into a bridge, and sure enough, it worked perfectly.  Now I have every wired connection (an inkjet all-in-one, a LaserJet all-in-one, two notebooks, my wife's desktop, and the remote bedroom) operational, and six wired ports to spare!

3. I am going to try and write at least and submit at least one article to PJMedia every day.  It has become considerably harder to get published there in the last few months, at least partly because they have so many interesting and important people writing for them.  Much like the secret of being a great photography--take lots of pictures, and throw most of them away--the trick to getting articles published is write many, get a few accepted, and the rejects get inflicted on all of you.

4. It is time to again find the public domain finite element modeling software that I saw last year, so that I can use it to verify that six one-inch, .050" wall tubes will make a sufficiently stiff half-Suerrier truss for Big Bertha's final rebuild.

Battery Tender

A few weeks back I asked my highly knowledgeable readership about what is variously called a float charger, battery minder, or battery tender, and received a number of very useful responses.  One reader recommended the Deltran product line, and that's what I bought.

I was not immediately sure if this was the Deltran product, but when it arrived, it was indeed.  This is the Battery Tender Junior, which is both very reasonably priced and very small, so I can close the hood with just the power cord leading to my outlet.  (This is important because the car is outside.)  I believe that this won't get a battery fully charged as quickly as the big units, but hey, it's a battery tender, not a charger.

The product is indeed quite small, and while there are detailed instructions, it turned out to be very nearly idiot-proof.  I connected red to red, black to black, then plugged it in.  (Perhaps the only not completely obvious part of the process, but you would have to be a bit stupid to plug something into the wall where the far end are two pieces of metal that can short together.)  For the first few hours, the light on the wall wart was red, indicating that it was charging; now it is green, indicating that the battery is fully charged, and the battery tender is simply keeping on an eye on its charge.  Nicely enough, the meaning of all the different LED signals (blinking red, red, blinking green, green) are on the wall wart, where you cannot lose it.

And Nothing Else She Was Doing Disappointed Them?

I don't ordinarily pay much attention to entertainment news, but this article from the December 31, 2011 Daily Mail just disgusts me:
New reports claim that Katy Perry wanted her husband to file for divorce so that she didn't have to be the one to end their marriage - and disappoint her evangelical Christan parents.
Hmmm.  "California Girls" has lyrics that are suggestive;  "I Kissed a Girl" and "Last Friday Night" are well beyond that:
Last Friday night Yeah we danced on tabletops And we took too many shots Think we kissed but I forgot
Last Friday night Yeah we maxed our credit cards And got kicked out of the bar So we hit the boulevard
Last Friday night We went streaking in the park Skinny dipping in the dark Then had a ménage-a-trois
Her parents are not responsible for Katy Perry's decision to make this kind of garbage aimed at the tweens, but if she held off on divorce to avoid disappointing her parents, this shows how much she is out of touch with her parents.  I am surprised (but not terribly surprised) to find out that under her real name, Katy Hudson, she released a gospel album in 2001.  The details are here.

Friday, December 30, 2011


Last year, I bought a Redfield 4-12x40mm Accu-Range scope.  You may recall that Leupold bought the Redfield name a while back, and now uses it for what is effectively a cost reduced (in the cosmetics and optional features) Leupold hunting scope.  I bought it partly because I have an older Bushnell 4-12x40mm scope with a bullet drop compensator for my M1A.  Unfortunately, it no longer focuses crisply above 10x.  This somewhat defeats the point of having a rifle whose effective range excess of my abilities to use it!  (Every tool you own should be more capable than you are, so that you have room to grow into it: that's my maxim.)

Anyway, I bought the Redfield because I could not find anyone who seems to be willing to try and repair the softness of the Bushnell for less than the Redfield cost--and to be blunt, I suspect that this Leupold-made Redfield will probably last longer than the repaired Bushnell.  Friends with expertise in this field indicate that Leupold's startling reputation is well-deserved; I am sure that the U.S. military buys Leupold scopes for reasons other than to make a fashion statement. 

So I will ask one more time: any ideas where something like this can be repaired at a reasonable cost?  My guess is that there is a bushing somewhere that holds one of the lens in position, and that bushing has corroded or deteriorated, causing the lens to move slightly--just enough to make it soft.

UPDATE: Now that I have the scope out of the rings, I have spent some fiddling with it. While it is still a little soft at 12x, it is not as severe as I remember it--perhaps because I had forgotten that this is an adjustable focus objective.  You can adjust the objective for ranges from 150 to 1000 yards (which is effectively infinity).  While I am still not thrilled with the softness, it is not quite the disappointment that it was the last time I looked through it.

There are two aspects to the scope that distinguish it from the Redfield that replaced it:

1. It has a bullet drop compensator, which allows you to dial in the range of your target, and it adjusts the point of aim accordingly.  BDCs are approximate, since there are about five different dials, one of which fits 5.56mm and 7.62mm NATO, and of course, is necessarily going to be a compromise between those calibers (and a variety of bullet weights and designs).  I used to think that this was a very valuable feature on a long range target rifle, but the Redfield's Accu-Range reticle is actually almost as good: you adjust the crosshair point for 200 yards (for the NATO calibers), and there are a series of points below the reticle that correspond to 300, 400, and 500 yards.  Yes, this is less precise on the surface than turning a BDC dial to 450 yards, but unless you are using a laser rangefinder, or are on a range of known distances, you are going to approximating distance to target anyway.

2. The reticle on the Bushnell is this:

Those are the minutes of arc (MOA) between the various parts of the reticle at 4x, measured by putting these against a ruler at 24 feet, and then doing the math.  (Divide these MOA values by 3 for 12x, since this is not a front focal plane reticle.)  A typical exterior door is 36" wide; if the door is just about exactly 15 MOA (the width between the vertical line and where the horizontal line goes wide), that means it is 36/15 * 100 yards away: 240 yards away.  Most SUVs are about 70-72 inches tall; most sedans are about 65 inches tall; deer are typically 18 inches across the brisket.

The Redfield Accu-Range reticle, of course, has similar capabilities--but for reasons that elude me (but perhaps to avoid cannibalizing sales of their tactical scopes), the MOA values are not nice round numbers.  You can still use it, but it is very useful to have nice round MOA values when using the reticle for rangefinding. 

Expanding the ScopeRoller Product Line (Phase 2)

I added the other measurement device to the ScopeRoller webpage yesterday.  This is a precision, flexible semidisposable ruler intended for use on the fence of cutoff saws (or chop saws, as some call them).  It makes it possible to quickly and easily measure the length of an object that you are about to cut to about .050" accuracy.  As the example shows, you would normally use this for positioning a stop, so that if you need to make a lot of items that are 2.80" long, you position the stop once, and just keep cutting.

The stop is at 2.86" because when cutting aluminum tubing, the blade on my cutoff saw actually takes about .06"-.07" more material than the blade itself.  (This is likely because of both blade vibration and bearing irregularity.)

My experience using this tells me that I can cut ten workpieces in a row and have them all come out within about .030" of each other in length.  This is good enough that for many purposes, there is no point in turning them on the lathe.  Even when I do need better accuracy than that, it means that I can square and trim to length in a fraction of the time that I used to spend.

I have also added most of the ScopeRoller products to the database, so if you do a search now for ScopeRoller, you will get several pages of products, with links.  Now, if only paying customers end up doing this!

Victor Davis Hanson on the End of Civilization

A very depressing column by Victor Davis Hanson on living in a place where civilization has collapsed:
Last week an ancestral rural school near the Kings River had its large bronze bell stolen. I think it dated from 1911. I have driven by it about 100 times in the 42 years since I got my first license. The bell had endured all those years. Where it is now I don’t know. Does someone just cut up a beautifully crafted bell in some chop yard in rural Fresno County, without a worry about who forged it or why — or why others for a century until now enjoyed its presence?

The city of Fresno is now under siege. Hundreds of street lights are out, their copper wire stripped away. In desperation, workers are now cementing the bases of all the poles — as if the original steel access doors were not necessary to service the wiring. How sad the synergy! Since darkness begets crime, the thieves achieve a twofer: The more copper they steal, the easier under cover of spreading night it is to steal more. Yet do thieves themselves at home with their wives and children not sometimes appreciate light in the darkness? Do they vandalize the street lights in front of their own homes?

In a small town two miles away, the thefts now sound like something out of Edward Gibbon’s bleaker chapters — or maybe George Miller’s Road Warrior, or the Hughes brothers’ more recent The Book of Eli. Hundreds of bronze commemorative plaques were ripped off my town’s public buildings (and with them all record of our ancestors’ public-spiritedness).
 It is worth reading in full--one of those reminders of how rapidly parts of the United States are collapsing into something that is not truly anarchy--because the criminal justice system will take action against you if you attempt to respond to this widespread criminality--but is not authoritarian in any sense, either: the petty criminals are not even slightly afraid of the police, who, as Hanson points out, are more interested in writing traffic tickets than in stopping felonies.  Processing felonies is a money-loser for California; writing tickets to middle class people for using a cell phone while driving makes money for the state.

The only good news is that it will be a number of years before this madness takes over the rest of the country, and I can hope that it won't be too many years that I will have to live in what Hanson compares to "living in a Vandal state, perhaps on the frontier near Carthage around a.d. 530, or in a beleaguered Rome in 455."  It is unfortunate that the Republican Party has pretty well abandoned any effort to stand for anything except being Democrats Lite, out of fear of being called intolerant, racist, and homophobic.  If only Christianity still had any significant influence on Americans, there might be a starting point for a moral revival.  But alas, we're way past that point.

Someone Couldn't Wait Two Weeks?

ELKTON, Md. (AP) –Two out-of-state doctors who traveled to Maryland to perform late-term abortions have been arrested and charged with multiple counts of murder under the state’s viable fetus law, authorities said.
An 18-year-old woman who was 21 weeks pregnant had her uterus ruptured and her bowel injured, and rather than call 911, Brigham and Riley drove her to a nearby hospital, where both were uncooperative and Brigham refused to give his name, authorities said. 
A search of the clinic after the botched abortion revealed a freezer with 35 late-term fetuses inside, including one believed to have been aborted at 36 weeks, authorities said.
 A normal pregnancy is 38 weeks.  She couldn't wait two more weeks?  She had a pressing engagement somewhere else?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

F-35B Test Landings

I shudder to think what this plane costs, but if you read Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff, and its harrowing account of learning to land on an aircraft carrier, I think you will appreciate this video.

One Of The Reasons That I Am Glad That I use Blogger, Not Wordpress

CAIR (a terrorism unindicted co-conspirator)  has persuaded WordPress to take down a blog called "Bare Naked Islam".  I have never visited the blog, but I look forward to doing so once they find a blog host that isn't Shari'a-compliant.  (Or is the correct term Shari'a-subservient?)

Never, Never, Never Ask U.S. Buildings For a Quote

Earlier this year, I contacted several different vendors of prefab steel buildings about a quote.  I can honestly say that all of them but one behaved in a professional manner.  They told me what it was going to cost, did a bit of a sales job on the advantages of their product--but when I finally decided that the cost was excessive at this time, that was the end of it.

U.S. Buildings, however, does not take no for an answer.  They have called me at least a dozen times since I told them I was no longer in the market for a building.  Each time, I explain, with decreasing politeness, that I am not going to be buying a building, and that they should take me off their calling list.  And it never happens.

I do not (and cannot) believe that this kind of high pressure, refuse to follow instructions approach is actually ever successful.  Or are there a lot of people easily pressured into buying stuff over the phone?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Am I Missing Something Here?

Back when I was young, a coupon was something that you took to the retailer, and it gave you a certain amount off each item of the appropriate brand and size that you bought.  Now I see this in Craig's List, and I find myself this really complicated?  Or will I be seeing similar requests involving breathing next?

I need help learning how to Coupon!
With the economy being how it is I would love to learn how to coupon. I need ways to save money and feed my family. I'm hoping someone out there can help me get started on it.
Many years ago, a member of the SSU rifle club described a fellow student as, "not smart enough to buy bread at the market without assistance."  I do hope that "how to Coupon" is not really at this level.

Ron Paul

One of the reasons that I think so little of Ron Paul was that I was one of those supporters from his 1988 campaign who received his newsletters--and found some of what was in them disturbing.  I do not find his explanation--that he did not actually read these newsletters sent out under his name--particularly impressive.  Either he was just making money without bothering to see what these newsletter said (a greedy and morally objectionable action), or he really did believe what the newsletters said, and his thinking has "evolved" since then.  Neither is a strong argument for making him the Republican nominee.

But that was then; this is now.  The December 25, 2011 New York Times has an article about Paul's history of support by groups that range from conspiracy theorist (such as the John Birch Society) to really objectionable, such as Stormfront, a neo-Nazi group.  But while Ron Paul can't control who supports him, his response to that support suggests that Ron Paul does not see neo-Nazis as quite as objectionable as I see them:
The white supremacists, survivalists and anti-Zionists who have rallied behind his candidacy have not exactly been warmly welcomed. “I wouldn’t be happy with that,” Mr. Paul said in an interview Friday when asked about getting help from volunteers with anti-Jewish or antiblack views.
But he did not disavow their support. “If they want to endorse me, they’re endorsing what I do or say — it has nothing to do with endorsing what they say,” said Mr. Paul, who is now running strong in Iowa for the Republican nomination.
There is not even a pragmatic argument for refusing to condemn white supremacists--we are not talking about a significant fraction of American voters, even in the Deep South.  For every white supremacist that might sit out the election if Ron Paul condemned their views, there would likely be a dozen voters who are charmed by Ron Paul's blunt speaking and in love with his foreign policy approach who would be more inclined to vote for him.  My guess is that Ron Paul is not as hostile to those offensive ideas as he pretends.

Let me emphasize that this is not a criticism of libertarian ideas.  I can respect but disagree with non-interventionism.  (And mostly, what I disagree with is the rigid black and white idea of it--the U.S. has a long history of making things worse by sticking our nose into the problems of other countries.)  It is a criticism of racist craziness that is not intrinsically libertarian.

UPDATE: What is really disturbing is how the "hatred of the blowback from foreign intervention" seems to have taken over the brains of some many of Ron Paul's followers.  My favorite example is this comment on an article over at PJ Media where one person asked:

Stupid Paulistinians, why do terrorists kill Russian school children when Russia supports Arabs against Israel?
Stupid Paulistinians, what did Spain do to deserve being invaded by the Ummayads?
 And the response?

The Soviets in Afghanistan in the 80′s
The Spanish Inquisition
It’s called blowback.
 Actually, the Chechnyan terrorists are not because of Afghanistan, but because there is an ongoing effort by Islamists to separate Chechnya from Russia.  I am not at all happy with how Russian security forces have operated in trying to put down that war, but it is not because of Afghanistan.

The other answer: "The Spanish Inquisition"--just shows the ignorance.  The Ummayyads invade Spain in the 700s.  The Spanish Inquisition starts in the 1400s.  This isn't just blowback; it's time travel blowback.  And to quote Monty Python:

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition--and not seven hundred years early.

Solyndra & Politics

If newspapers were still a significant force in American society, Obama would be packing his bags.  The December 25, 2011 Washington Post has a detailed and damning account of how political operatives and political interests (and maybe worse) dominated the Solyndra scandal:
Meant to create jobs and cut reliance on foreign oil, Obama’s green-technology program was infused with politics at every level, The Washington Post found in an analysis of thousands of memos, company records and internal ­e-mails. Political considerations were raised repeatedly by company investors, Energy Department bureaucrats and White House officials.
The records, some previously unreported, show that when warned that financial disaster might lie ahead, the administration remained steadfast in its support for Solyndra.
The documents reviewed by The Post, which began examining the clean-technology program a year ago, provide a detailed look inside the day-to-day workings of the upper levels of the Obama administration. They also give an unprecedented glimpse into high-level maneuvering by politically connected clean-technology investors.
 It gets worse.  Much worse:
The administration, which excluded lobbyists from policymaking positions, gave easy access to venture capitalists with stakes in some of the companies backed by the administration, the records show. Many of those investors had given to Obama’s 2008 campaign. Some took jobs in the administration and helped manage the clean-energy program.

Oh Yeah, This Guy Is Definitely Qualified For the Job

The December 27, 2011 Washington Times reports:

During two days of recent congressional hearings into how as much as $1.2 billion disappeared fromMF Global customer accounts, the chief operating officer of the imploding investment firm responded again and again that he did not know.
Yet as the House and Senate interrogated Bradley I. Abelow and other top executives at MF Global Holdings Ltd., lawmakers did not mention Mr. Abelow’s role as a financial adviser for theEnvironmental Protection Agency, which as of Tuesday listed him as the chairman of its financial advisory board.
Can someone explain to me why someone who managed to "lose" $1.2 billion is considered qualified to do anything for the federal government?  Is some significant fraction of the missing money going to mysteriously get contributed to the Obama 2012 campaign?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Get Ready: Total Solar Eclipse Across the U.S. August 21, 2017

I recognize that not everyone takes the same long-term planning approach that I do, but I have been looking forward to this with anticipation since 2008.  The path of totality will come ashore along the northern Oregon coast, pass over my house, cut a swath through the Midwest, and exit through South Carolina.  Maximum totality will be over southwestern Kentucky (and only 2 minutes, 40 seconds at that), but what the heck, for most of of us it will be in the middle of the day, so, as long as there are no clouds, it should be spectacular.  It also appears that this is reserved just for the United States.

How Desperate Do You Have To Be To Abuse Cough Syrup?

The December 26, 2011 Washington Times reports that:
California also became the first state in the nation to require a prescription for obtaining any drug containing dextromethorphan, an ingredient found in many popular over-the-counter cough suppressants, including Robitussin, NyQuil and Dimetapp.
The law was prompted by a spike in the use of cough syrup as a recreational drug.
How tragically sad do you have to be to abuse cough syrup as a recreational drug?  Okay, I admit that when I was young, I had a girl friend who spent an evening with a mutual acquaintance abusing cough syrup--and by morning, both of them were exhausted, but unable to go to sleep. 

It's Still The Wild West Out Here

December 27, 2011 Idaho Statesman reports that the Idaho Court of Appeals has upheld a conviction of a woman for cattle rustling.  She was apparently also convicted of  "aiding and abetting in the attempted murder" of the owner of the cattle, her father-in-law.


As Ars Technica points out:

Views on copyright law have never broken down cleanly along ideological or partisan lines, but many of the key supporters for the Stop Online Piracy Act have come from the political right. The legislation is sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and it enjoys support from right-leaning, corporate-funded organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Tax Reform.
But a growing number of right-leaning individuals and organizations have come out against SOPA. Last Wednesday, the Heritage Foundation, one of the nation's largest and most influential conservative think tanks,published an article by senior research fellow James Gattuso warning about the "unintended consequences" of SOPA. And on Thursday, he was joined in opposing SOPA by Erick Erickson, editor of the popular conservative blog RedState.
 And that includes me as well.  I agree with Gattuso's careful statement of the problem with SOPA:

SOPA would undercut other policy goals as well. The requirement that search engines omit links to rogue sites undercuts the role of search firms as trusted intermediaries in conveying information to users. There are, of course, other circumstances where search engines already omit information and links—for instance, Google routinely screens out child pornography from its search results. But there has never been a government mandate that information be withheld from search results. Imposing such a mandate would represent the first step down a classic slippery slope of government interference that has no clear stopping point.
Arguably, the limits placed on search engines as well as other third parties under SOPA would also violate constitutional protections of freedom of speech.[5] But even if not barred legally, any such restrictions should be imposed only after the most careful consideration, only when absolutely necessary, and even then, to the smallest degree possible.
 As Gattuso points out, some of the most dangerous aspects of SOPA, which would allow scum like Righthaven to shut down websites without even going before a judge, have been scrapped.  But what remains in the law remains overreaching.

Sherline Rotary Table

Several months back, I made a jig to simplify drilling and tapping three 1/4"-20 holes in 2" OD aluminum tubes for ScopeRoller.  There were several reasons for making the jig:

1. I wanted the holes quite perpendicular to the tube.

2. I wanted them consistently at 0.375" from the end of the tube, without having to remeasure the location for the hole each time.

3. I did not want to keep having to adjust the tube's location in the drill press vise.

4. I wanted the holes as close to 120 degrees apart as I could manage.

This actually worked out rather well.  I started with a piece of aluminum tube, and bored it 2.00" inside diameter and 1.00" deep.  Then I used a protractor to mark 120 degrees apart, and then marked where the holes should go in the exterior of the tube where the 120 degree marks crossed 1.000" - .375".  I drilled and tapped these holes, plus one more into which I put a 1/4"-20 set screw.

Now I can slide the 2.00" tube into the end until it seats, turn down the set screw, and use the end of the collar as a stop when I put it in the drill press vise.  With the holes in place, you just position a .203" drill above each hole, drill through the collar and the tube, rotate and repeat twice, then use a 1/4"-20 tap to thread each hole.

This all works, but I confess that I wanted something a bit more precise for the 120 degree angles than using a protractor.  I bought a 4" rotary table from Sherline, which looks like this:

This attaches to the tilting table for the vertical mill, allowing me to rotate objects perpendicular to the vertical axis.  It allows you to precisely turn an object in 0.1 degree increments--and a bit finer, if you are prepared to interpolate between the lines on the handwheel.

I needed to make a new one of these collars for a somewhat smaller diameter set of tubes (for a different production run of telescope casters), so my son and I spent some time making the smaller collar out of a piece of scrap acetal using the rotary table--and my, did this work well!

The art to any mass production activity (or even multiple production, because ScopeRoller's volume hardly qualifies as "mass") is to make everything as identical as the customer can afford--and that means creating tooling that lets you minimize the time that you are spending positioning workpieces and adjusting tools.

Corn Ethanol Tax Subsidy Expires

Wow!  Something good happened in D.C.!  The December 24, 2011 Detroit News reports that Congress failed to renew the 30 year long tax subsidy for corn ethanol:

Washington —The United States has ended a 30-year tax subsidy for corn-based ethanol that cost taxpayers $6 billion annually, and ended a tariff on imported Brazilian ethanol.
Congress adjourned for the year on Friday, failing to extend the tax break that's drawn a wide variety of critics on Capitol Hill, including Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. Critics also have included environmentalists, frozen food producers, ranchers and others.
The policies have helped shift millions of tons of corn from feedlots, dinner tables and other products into gas tanks.
Environmental group Friends of the Earth praised the move.
 Whatever the original merit of the argument for this subsidy (and I regard production subsidies as, at best, a bad idea, when they are not a corrupt idea), it was becoming increasingly apparent that this was not a good idea.  There are places in the world where ethanol produced from crops makes sense, such as Brazil, because sugar cane is a very efficient converter of sunlight into glucose.  It might even make sense for sugar cane grown in the U.S.  There is at least one company working on sugar cane ethanol production in Hawaii--a place far from petroleum.  But for corn?  No.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Am I Missing Something?

I was reading a recent decision by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.  The question was whether an illegal alien enjoys the "right of the people to keep and bear arms."  The Court of Appeals decided that he did not.  I don't find their reasoning very persuasive, but what really confuses me is the sentence that Portillo-Munoz received for being an illegal alien in possession of a firearm: "The district court sentenced him to ten months imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release."  I see no sign that the court ordered him deported. 

This is a guy who was convicted of a crime in which a rather important component of the crime was being illegally in the United States--and yet I can't see any sign that anyone made any effort to deport him.  Am I just stupid?  What's the point of having someone on "supervised release" if he has been deported?  And if he was not deported--what's going on here?  I feel like a large white rabbit and a little English girl chasing him are going to run past me at any moment.

Collecting Rainwater Is Illegal

Someone sent me a pointer to this bizarre report about how it is unlawful in Utah to collect rainwater.  Here's the news report of what happened when Miller Toyota decided to do something good for the environment by collecting rainwater from their roof and using it to wash cars:

Yes, it is unlawful in Utah! You understand that on many islands and coastal communities of the Aegean Sea, this has been the way that they have operated for thousands of years--gather rainwater in cisterns.  Government out of control, again.

UPDATE: A reader tells me that in the meantime, Utah's legislature has corrected this matter:
Rainwater harvesting is now legal in the state of Utah, starting May 11 2010. Senate Bill 32 was approved in the 2010 session that provides for the collection and use of precipitation without obtaining a water right after registering on the Division of Water Rights web page ( There is no charge for registration.
Storage is limited to one underground 2500 gallon container or two above ground 100 gallon containers. Collection and use are limited to the same parcel of land owned or leased by the rainwater collector.

Samba on Linux

Non-computer geeks might want to skip this one.

Samba allows you to access Linux file systems from Windows networks--very useful if you have a mixed collection of PCs around the house, as I do.  I have installed Samba on previous Ubuntu Linux versions, and after a certain amount of struggle, usually managed to get it working after a small amount of editing the smb.conf file and exasperation.

Something that has been added recently to the available Linux packages is system-config-samba, a GUI that significantly eases configuring the smb.conf file.  It appears that you still need to restart the smb daemon from the shell after you use the GUI: sudo restart smbd.  Nonetheless, the GUI is certainly easier than trying to get all the magic incantations in the smb.conf file.

One thing that I wanted to do was to have Windows network access to the Windows file system that is on the same hard disk as the Linux box.  (This is a dual boot system.)  I thought that I would just set up a symbolic link from my home directory to the Windows file system (which is located under /media), but it turns out that Samba does not seem to like symbolic links, and I can't make a hard link from the home directory to the Windows file system.  Instead, you have to add the Windows file system to the Samba list.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Cool Aspects To Linux

I needed to extract the audio out of a WMV file and convert it to an MP3, and while I could not find a program immediately to do this, I did find this very simple set of instructions for how to do it:

i have downloaded some videos in wmv format and i needed to convert them into mp3 to play on my mp3 player. after searching google for how to do this on ubuntu i found a solution:
- first install lame and mencoder:
$ sudo apt-get install lame mencoder- Run mencoder command to convert wmv file to mp3 file:
$ mencoder audioFileName.wmv -oac mp3lame -ovc frameno -of rawaudio -o audioFileName.mp3
And it worked like a charm.

Alaska Trip: Inside Passage

I posted a few of these images back in 2007 when I went on a cruise to Alaska, but Blogger has made it a lot easier to post pictures than it used to be.


I did not look carefully at the pictures that I tried to take last night; this one of Jupiter actually did not come out half bad.

This was ASA 1600, 1/180th second, 18mm eyepiece projection with a 2000mm f/4.5 telescope. 

Thursday morning, my wife persuaded me to shoot this picture of the Moon with Earthshine.

ASA 1600, 1/10th second, f/5.6 with the 18-200mm Tamron lens.